First Look: iOS 7 Beta 1

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).

iOS 7 home screen

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).

Redesigned Folders in iOS 7.

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.

Calendar app in iOS 7

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.

The iOS 7 Notes app (if anyone’s wondering what this note is, that also showed up in the OS X 10.9 review, it was a list of stuff I needed in Glitch a long time ago)

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

 

iOS 7 Notification Center. Felt texture begone!

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).

Control Center

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

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…

Multitasking

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.

Oh look, it’s ProSwitcher! I mean, the iOS 7 multitasking view.

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).

Chrome Safari

Apple has 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…).

Safari in iOS 7, with full UI in view.

Safari in iOS 7, with the UI hidden.

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.

Tab view in iOS 7

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.

What is this, I don’t even.

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

iTunes Radio

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.

Legacy apps

The Twitter app, in iOS 7.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *