In its annual WWDC opening keynote, Apple announced iOS 7, which was described as the “biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone,” and aptly so. After loading the beta onto my old iPhone 4S, my first thought was “It doesn’t even look like it’s running iOS anymore.” And that’s a good thing. Especially after a boring, nigh-featureless iOS 6 release, iOS has grown stale. Beyond stale in fact. And after switching to Android, the only thing I miss from iOS is the larger selection of games. Let’s see what iOS 7 is bringing to the table.
New Home Screen
iOS has been the object of much ridicule for not having changed much in the six years since its original release. Look at the home screen of the original iPhone, and then look at the home screen of an iOS 6 device. It’s got a wallpaper, a differently-styled dock, and icons can go in folders. But for all those years, it’s preserved the same basic aesthetic. No more. The iOS 7 UI is radically different. And it’s received a lot of complaints (although I personally like it).
Possibly the first thing you’ll notice here: the icons. They’re flatter. People in internet comments threads have raged that they’re uglier as well. I don’t get it why. I like them. Maybe it’s just the boredom with iOS that caused me to leave the platform, making me think “different” is automatically “good.” Or maybe taste is just really, really subjective.
Other stuff to notice here. The Spotlight page is gone. You now get to Spotlight by dragging down from the top row of icons. I like gesture-based UI’s. They’re cool. But they’re not exactly intuitive. I, admittedly, had quite a bit of trouble using Windows 8 for quite awhile. It was fun once I figured it out though. But the problem is, most people aren’t geeks, and, in fact, get quite frustrated when they can’t figure out how something works. So back to the Spotlight gesture, and how it’s confusing. When I first read about it, I thought “It must be in the Notification Center somewhere, because it’s the same gesture.” Once I found out it wasn’t, I started a bit lower. These two gestures are confusingly similar.
One really cool thing you can’t see in the screenshot: The wallpaper is animated. And it also tilts as you tilt the screen (Apple kind of went overboard with this effect and is using it in other places as well; more on that later).
Every aspect of the iOS 7 UI has been modified. Here we see the default Utilities folder. Oh, and what’s this? I’ve added Newsstand to it! Yep, that’s possible now. That app that nobody used, yet took up space directly on everyone’s homescreen, can finally be banished to a place less in-the-way.
Death to Skeuomorphism, Part Deux
If you read my OS X 10.9 post, you’ve already seen me parading Scott Forstall’s head around on a stick, metaphorically speaking. Well, I get to do it again, because Apple has (almost) thoroughly eradicated his influence from iOS 7 as well.
I’ve used Windows Phone for a sum total of ten minutes (playing around with the Lumia 920′s at the Microsoft Store), and I’ve gotta admit, this Calendar app looks like it would be right at home on Windows Phone. I’m not saying iOS 7 is a wholesale ripoff of WP, but some things, like this, do have an eerie resemblance. I’m also not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s most certainly an improvement from the old app.
Much as Apple did in OS X 10.9, their quest to remove skeuomorphism from their products seems incomplete. Although that just seemed like an oversight, as the Reminders app was thoroughly untouched. This seems just… I don’t know. Apple clearly changed the Notes app. And it’s much less horrible and blatant than it used to be (oh, and they finally stopped using that Marker Felt font). But it still has a distinctive paper-textured background. And it actually looks decent. But if you’re going for a “purely digital” interface, it’s still an unnecessary compromise. Look at Android and WP. That paper texture would feel out of place in both. Because both have, more or less, transitioned to fully-digital interfaces (not entirely sure I’m using this term correctly, but whatever).
Notification Center has been revamped to show more information. As shown above, it now displays a somewhat-detailed weather forecast (as well as a very large stock ticker, which can fortunately be disabled, as it occupied about half the total notification panel, or one full screen). It also now supports organization, such that it only displays today’s events by default, having a separate tab for notifications. Notification Center is also now accessible from the lock screen (although this too can be disabled).
Android users will be all too familiar with this one. You know the settings toggles panel? iOS basically has the same thing now, except it’s accessible from the bottom half of the screen, by swiping up.
Control Center includes everything you’d expect. Toggles for airplane mode, Wi-fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb mode, and orientation lock are present, as well as music controls. Also a somewhat arbitrary shortcut panel including links to the clock, calculator, and camera apps, as well as a flashlight toggle. I hear the sound of a trebuchet. It sounds like every third-party flashlight app being launched out of the App Store…
iOS 7 now supposedly supports “full multitasking.” As no apps are currently built to take advantage of it, only time will tell if this is indeed the full multitasking we’re used to (e.g., apps can perform any task in the background), or some limited form of “full” multitasking.
Along with new multitasking functionality, iOS 7 brings with it a new multitasking interface. Except it’s not actually new. Jailbroken users have had this for years in the form of ProSwitcher. That said, it’s definitely nice, if not a little laggy on my 4S (as is anything multitasking-related actually).
downloaded the Chrome source code, and made its own iOS port thoroughly revamped Safari (that said, the new Firefox nightlies look an awful lot like Chrome themselves…).
Describing its new user interface guidelines for iOS 7, Apple mentions deference, that is producing a UI that’s “out of the way.” It’s pretty nice, although, of course, Chrome did do it first. Look at the above pair of screenshots. The first is with the UI visible. Scroll down the page, and the UI, aside from a small strip showing the name of the site, disappears completely. Scroll back up, and the UI reappears.
I’m serious. I’m not taking a bunch of Chrome screenshots and claiming it’s Safari in iOS. I know this looks exactly like the tab view in the Android version of Chrome (and acts like it too; tilt the screen and the tabs tilt with it). But it isn’t. It’s Safari.
The iOS 7 Camera app now has four modes, switchable by swiping across the screen. This one is the Square mode. I don’t know why it exists. I realize your average iPhone photographer probably doesn’t want to go into Photoshop, but I’m fairly certain MS Paint even has cropping functionality, as does the Camera app itself, so I don’t exactly understand this. The app is also supposed to have filters with live previews, although this is only supported on iPhone 5, so I didn’t get to try it out. Regardless, it’s nothing new if you’ve ever used Instagram.
iTunes Radio. It’s like Pandora, but it’s not. Hey Apple, if you want someone to write your slogans for you, I’m available.
Okay, that’s the only bit of snark I have about iTunes Radio. It’s actually really nice. You pick a genre, and it produces a station based on it. You can also make a station based on an artist or song. Considering I travel a lot, this is my salvation from needing to consider something like an XM subscription. Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Didn’t see that one coming. And as far as I know, it doesn’t have the same 40-hour a month limit that Pandora does.
iOS 7 being a radical departure from its predecessor, legacy apps pose a special challenge. I would think Apple would be able to overwrite its own legacy elements in third-party apps, much as a .NET app looks native in any Windows version it’s run in. But I guess it’s either not that easy, or apps would then look like a mashup of iOS 7 elements and custom elements made for iOS 6. So the solution Apple went for is to display legacy apps in a sort of iOS 6 mode where they look exactly like they would in the older OS, keyboard and all. It’s not a perfect or elegant solution, but I suppose it’s the best we’ll get, given the circumstances.
iOS 7 is many things. But original, it is not. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Yes, everything it did, Android, Windows Phone, jailbreak developers (themselves inspired by WebOS), and Pandora did first. But iOS wasn’t (and still isn’t) perfect. As a matter of fact, I still won’t be using an iPhone as my primary phone. I like my sideloading, terminals, and root access too much. Although not having iOS around much will hurt a little more now. I like the new UI, a lot. And iRadio. So yeah, it’s not enough to bring me back because I have very specific needs, but it made my brief venture back into iOS pretty nice. I look forward to dusting off my old iPad and loading the forthcoming iPad beta of iOS 7 onto it. Who knows? If I get bored enough, I might do a writeup on it once it’s out.
If one were to sum up iOS 7, Steve Jobs (himself most ironically stealing from Picasso) did it best:
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
It’s that time of the year again. Apple has delivered the opening keynote of WWDC 2013, and with it, developer previews of OS X 10.9 and iOS 7. I’ll most likely be reviewing iOS 7 tomorrow (well sort of… these posts aren’t actually reviews as I don’t give final rankings as they are developer previews, although I will give my opinion on where Apple is going).
For starters, Apple ditched the cat names. This is so jarring that I feel the immediate need to purchase a cat and name it Mavericks. This is the end of an era. But does it signal the end of the OS X platform? Does it signal a merge with iOS? I think not (I’ll explain why in a bit).
Okay, so remember how a bunch of people have been fantasizing about iOS on the Mac? It’s not happening. Along with the Mac Pro updates, Apple has proven with the updated Finder that they do indeed still see the value of real tools like file systems, as instead of trying to minimize its presence, they’ve improved one’s ability to use it. Goodbye TotalFinder and PathFinder. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Most noticeable here is tabs! Yes, a file browser in a mainstream OS finally has tabs! Apple has heard my pleas! Remember the days of web browsing back when IE ruled both PC and Mac? Back when you had to have a different window for every page? How did we live? Oh wait… we’ve still had to deal with that in our file browsers. But no more! The greatest UI enhancement to come to web browsers in the last decade has also come to Finder. If you manipulate large numbers of files often, this will be a life-changer. And of course, for those times when you do need multiple windows, that’s still supported. And just like in Safari, you can split and merge them to your heart’s content.
Okay, enough on the tabbed Finder. Yes, that alone would make Mavericks the most important OS X release since Snow Leopard to me, but there are other things that are also important. Like tags. Remember those kind of useless colored labels that you’ve been able to tag your files with since who-knows-when? Well now you can search by them.
Oh, and it turns out that you can indeed assign arbitrary tags by right-clicking a Finder item then clicking the Tags label itself. That’s much more useful. It took me awhile to realize this. D’oh.
And while on the topic of not useful, what’s with the full-screen mode? There are many applications I resize to fill my screen. Finder has never been one of them. Despite needing to manage legions of files, I’ve never found the need to do this, despite being incredibly liberal about the amounts of screen real estate I give the application I’m working with. So… yeah, I don’t get it. As a matter of fact, I dare say it’s entirely impractical. When working with a file manager, you often want to drag and drop things into other applications. But when they aren’t in view, you’ve got a problem. Ah well. I suppose the fact that it’s there doesn’t do any harm, but I just can’t see any practical use for it.
Death to Skeuomorphism
Yes, this gets its own point (I’m obviously going to have a field day in the iOS 7 review…). And the most screenshots of any point in this post. Scott Forstall has been ousted from Apple, and with him, skeuomorphic design principles. And if you didn’t watch the WWDC keynote, you missed it. They thoroughly roasted Forstall. But sadly not literally. Suffice it to say I was hoping they were leading up to a burning of his effigy. The result? Apps that look more clean and less gaudy. Take a look. First the old 10.8 apps, then the new 10.9 ones.
I’ve long been wondering when iBooks would come to the Mac. Long have I struggled to find an app suitable for reading stuff. And maybe I’ll still struggle for awhile. Maybe it’s a bug in my upgraded install, but it seems to me as though it’s not included in this developer preview. (apparently it’s not just me)
Safari has been updated to version 7, bringing with it a few new features, most of which are somewhat obtrusively visible by default on the Top Sites page.
Apple touts the “revamped” Top Sites page itself as a major feature, although the news is you can basically customize it a little. It isn’t really a big deal in my opinion.
Safari also now includes half of a fully-featured Twitter client, in the form of Shared Links. It displays tweets from people you follow in the sidebar if the tweets have links in them.
This might be a pretty good time-waster. How much time have you spent browsing through links people have posted on Twitter? Now that functionality is built right into it! Considering I’ve got a full Twitter client open most of the time anyway, I’m not quite sure it’ll change much, but depending on your work/time-waste flow, maybe it’ll appeal to you.
Apple also claims that Safari now uses less memory. This, if true, is a very good thing, as in my experience, Safari is a memory whore. Anyway, that comparison is nearly three and a half years old, so let’s do a new one. I’ll compare Safari 6.0.4′s memory usage on OS X 10.8 with Safari 7′s on 10.9, with the same tabs open on each (my blog, The Verge, and my email).
Also worthy of note here is that each tab finally seems to have its own process. Ever had one tab freeze, and had Safari proceed to tell you that you must reload all of your tabs to fix it? And you were probably right in the middle of something important. I’ve yet to manage to get a tab to freeze, but if my theory is correct, it won’t do that anymore. Now for the memory usage comparison. Not counting the third-party Flash plugin (which is irrelevant to these tests anyway), Safari in 10.8 has a total memory usage of 763.4MB. For a mere three tabs. None of which are anything particularly intensive. Meanwhile, in 10.9, the total usage for Safari is 392.3MB. This is an improvement of nearly 49%, and possibly the most important improvement in Safari in general. Also, the new Activity Monitor. It shows a lot more information. I think I like it.
Apple has brought its (controversial) Maps app to OS X. I find the gestures to manipulate the map a bit… awkward. I suppose it’s a limitation of using a 2D screen and touchpad to navigate 3D objects. And I knew my town’s skyline was pathetic, but I didn’t realize the tallest building in Downtown Lake Charles was almost completely flat.
The primary use case of this will probably be to plan routes that will later be navigated using the mobile app, and of course Maps supports this scenario (although I can’t get it to work). At some future point when it does, it’s supposed to allow you to plan a route, then send it to an iPhone.
Another massive improvement is the ability to run full-screen apps on multiple monitors. (for those of you who haven’t used 10.7 or 10.8, yes, this was an actual thing we couldn’t do, hence why we never used full-screen apps) This should’ve been around since the beginning, but running an app in full-screen mode no longer blacks out the contents of your other monitors. Or… linens out. It actually showed the linen texture thing across the other monitor. Maybe it’s just a part of the whole skeuomorphism removal thing.
You’ll have to just picture these things side by side. Grab can only screenshot one screen at a time, and if I stitched them together, it would be hard for me to fit the image in this post. Just believe me when I say I saw both of those things at the same time. Which is unbelievably awesome. I personally still don’t see why I’d prefer a full-screen app over an app resized to fit the screen, but now I don’t have to loathe the idea anymore.
OS X Mavericks now also includes actionable notifications (notifications that you can interact with), iCloud Keychain (basically a cloud-based password manager), and numerous performance and power enhancements. I haven’t done in-depth testing, although everything does seem faster. And that can only be a good thing.
One of the performance and efficiency related improvements in Mavericks is a feature called App Nap. Basically, what it does is cut CPU usage to apps that aren’t active. I haven’t been able to test its effect on battery life, but it does have an obvious effect on CPU usage, as seen below. What’s more, it’s impossible to tell when “resuming” the “paused” app that its state had even been altered, so congratulations to Apple for accomplishing a seemingly impossible feat here.
OS X 10.9 Mavericks is quite the interesting update to Apple’s desktop operating system. It brings with it a lot of things that it should’ve had long ago (proper multiple monitor support) as well as things that are much-appreciated in the first mainstream OS to have it (Finder tabs). iBooks and Maps are also fairly common-sense additions, as are the performance and power tweaks, some of which are fairly impressive. As some of these are more difficult to examine in practice, you can read more about them at Apple’s site. Other things, like full-screen Finder, are kind of pointless in my opinion, and the omission of a new design for the Reminders app still boggles my mind, as Apple seems to have desired to banish skeuomorphism completely from its software. Actually, I would’ve liked to see a complete visual redesign of the OS to match iOS 7. The current design has been around almost completely unaltered since Lion and is getting a little long in the tooth. Ultimately, the things Apple did do are good (or harmless), but the things they didn’t are a bit disappointing. They’ve got until the final release to redesign stuff, and I’d say that’s likely for the Reminders app, but I doubt a full visual redesign of OS X will happen between now and then.
Yeah, I’ve got a thing for really long names for my posts. But it’s eye-catching and sums up the points I’m about to make. Microsoft has totally bungled almost everything they’ve put their hands on lately. Windows Phone, Bing, and now the Xbox One (note: I really do like Windows 8 though, and while I’m still primarily a Mac user, my Samsung Series 7 Slate is my favorite of all the tablets I’ve owned).
Right now, however, I’m focusing exclusively on the Xbox One. Don’t get me wrong. MS haven’t shot themselves in the foot. It’s more like they dropped a nuclear bomb straight onto themselves. First off, from what I’ve heard, the Xbox One and the PS4 have the same processor, but the PS4 has a superior GPU.
But non-geeks don’t care about that, as long as it plays their games
But it doesn’t. If there’s one thing the Xbox One doesn’t do, it’s play games. For starters, it isn’t backwards-compatible with Xbox 360 games. Hmm… so you’re going to buy this console at launch and have maybe a dozen launch titles and no legacy games to fall back on. Sure you might still have your 360, but what if you’ve decided (like me) that your living room is already cluttered enough and you’d like to get rid of it? Or what if you want to sell your 360 to help you afford this likely-overpriced brick?
Maybe they just couldn’t pull off backwards-compatibility?
No… just no. You know the Asus Transformer Book Trio? If that’s possible, surely MS can make a product that can run both Xbox One games and legacy 360 ones. In fact, it’s running three different operating systems at once. This wouldn’t be much of a stretch. Yes, it’s a different architecture, but those chips are from 2005, dinosaurs in this industry. They’re cheap enough they ought to be selling them right next to the Pringles and Lays by now. MS could easily throw one in without significantly increasing the price of the console. Basically, due to MS stinginess, your Xbox One will be virtually useless for quite awhile after buying it.
But wait… there’s more!
So not only can an Xbox One not play 360 games, it can’t play Xbox One games either.
I’m dead serious. The Xbox One can’t play Xbox One games. No internet connection? Crappy connection? Then your console won’t allow you to play your games, even offline. It has to phone home every 24 hours just to enable this. Oh, and like to try out games borrowed from your friend? You can’t. Like to try them out by renting them? Too bad, you can’t. Oh, and aside from the 24 hour phoning home restriction, my favorite, multitudes of restrictions on used games that essentially mean you won’t be able to buy them (publishers can, and most likely will, prevent it altogether, or apply additional “transfer fees”). I happen to like buying used games. New games are about as overpriced as name-brand clothing, and if you buy either thing, you’re a sucker. And so are MS for trying this kind of thing. Making enemies with the likes of GameStop et al. is in no way good for them. Due to the large number of people who purchase their games (and consoles) through such stores, they have great power to influence one’s console purchase. And guess which console they’ll push (hint: it’s not the one that has essentially waged war against them).
Get your head out of the cloud
Okay, so I do have a bit of bias to admit. I’m strongly against cloud-dependency. It’s the reason I’m always slamming ChromeOS. I’m not against the cloud as a concept, as long as you aren’t forced to use it. It’s great to have your data synced across devices, as long as you also have a local copy. What if MS goes out of business (yes, it’s unlikely, but not impossible)? Or, what if, more likely, they decide in a few years that every Xbox One user should buy an Xbox Two (it probably won’t be called this, but while not a legitimate reason not to buy the One, I do need to mention how illogical their naming pattern is). Those (completely unnecessary) verification servers cost money to run, and why would MS ever spend that money on allowing people to use their now-obsolete console, when they’d love to sell you an “Xbox Two”? And here’s the biggest problem. Why would you buy a console that its developers have to “allow” you to use, on a day-by-day basis, after you’ve bought it? One could argue that MS wouldn’t want to risk losing customer loyalty, but they’ve already proven that they couldn’t care less. Anyone remember the Windows Phone 8 debacle? Everyone who bought an expensive new top-of-the-line Lumia (I forget what it’s called… MS/Nokia suck at naming things logically) only days before WP8 was announced was stuck with no upgrade path. MS (and its fanboys) argue a bootloader incompatibility. Mhmm. Do explain how years ago, I was able to emulate EFI to boot a hackintosh, using open-source utilities developed by hobbyists. MS certainly had the capability to do the same for WP7.x devices, but why would they? They don’t care about customer loyalty. At all. They have an awful track record. Don’t think that they won’t try it again.
Microsoft is working hard to craft its biggest flop yet. It can’t compete with the PS4 on specs, it can’t play games (neither 360 titles nor its own for that matter), it looks like a VCR from the early 90′s, its name is hardly appropriate for a console that is, in fact, third in its series, and it’s being placed carefully on the path to planned obsolescence.
Sony, this is my appeal to you. I know you’ve made your mistakes (the geohot lawsuit anyone), but you’ve been doing great lately. Releasing the source code for your Android firmwares on time? And so far at least, not immersing your products in unnecessary DRM and cloud dependency. Keep it up, and you’re sure to win this generation’s console wars.
(P.S., if anyone at Sony is reading this, I was really impressed by one of your stores when I visited a few days ago… I’d love to review that 4K 82″ TV I saw )
…Let’s hope MS has at least solved the Red Ring of Death, or this isn’t a Windows Phone level failure; it’s a Microsoft Bob level failure.
Second in our temporarily-named How Not to ________ a Podcast series, Gwynne and I review Necomimi Brainwave Cat Ears, talk about bitcoins (Stupid Thing of the Week™), and the future of the podcast, which we obviously still have not named. Please comment or tweet suggestions!
There’s no behind-the-scenes video this time, although we did come up with a funny bit of comedy we might do based on this episode (it’s less lame than it sounds). I hope my editing skills have improved since last time; I spent about six hours and 60GB of hard drive space working on it. I’ve also learned the basics of FCPX, all on my own!
In case you didn’t catch my tweet, we will now be podcasting on a bi-weekly schedule, as six-hour editing jobs are a bit too involved to do on a weekly basis. We’ll have a new episode up in two weeks.
I was thinking earlier today of how to bring new life to my blog, which could really use more frequent posts, so the idea came to me of weekly video podcasts. Gwynne will help me with these, and we’ll (ideally) discuss audience-suggested topics in the future. For now, we improvised three topics:
1. Review of Carbon for Twitter (we were originally going to review Necomimi Cat Ears, but the batteries apparently died). I was inspired to do this instead by a discussion in Skype-PBMS.
2. KISS Hello Kitty: April Fool’s joke, or product of some sick, twisted mind?
3. Chromebook Pixel. Because I can’t do anything on the internet without complaining about it (and we couldn’t think of some third topic that would actually be relevant).
I suck at editing. I hope to be better at it by week 100 or so. I also hope to have some sort of title for the podcast by that point. And hopefully we’ll learn how to actually do a podcast.
No, really, in a year or two, we’ll look back to this first episode and think, “Wow, we’ve gotten so much better at video podcasting since then.”
We also did a behind-the-scenes video that’s longer (and possibly even more awful) than the actual podcast.
We’ll accept suggestions for future topics (we would really like to review items provided by ThinkGeek), as well as a title for the podcast, both in the comments, and on Twitter.