Like many people, I went ahead and upgraded my phone to the Developer Preview of Apple’s latest iOS, version 7. Days later, I’m wondering if I will be downgrading next week because of a handful of issues that I would consider to be critical defects for my own usage. It’s still up for debate because there is so much that I am loving about the new iOS that I’m unsure if I could live without them for the next few months.
To kick things off, let’s talk about the seemingly most controversial change thus far, the icons. The icons changed, they have more of a flat feel to them like the rest of the UI. In my opinion, the icons aren’t nearly as bad as a lot of folks have been making them out to be. Could they use some work? Absolutely, but for the most part the new icons look good and are fairly consistent with each other. What makes the icons seem so bad is the fact that with previous versions of iOS a certain icon style had been established. With the change, you end up with a phone with a bunch of cool new Apple icons and a bunch of app icons that were designed around the old style. Yes, it is somewhat shocking at first, but I’m sure the app developers will start to design their icons around the new style. I haven’t checked the documentation but I hope that Apple is allowing developers to include multiple icons for different versions of iOS to help with backwards compatibility of the visuals. While still on the topic of the icons, the border radius has been increased a bit. It’s not a bit deal, but it helps to throw off the old style icons a bit more as a lot of app icons had a border inside the icon to give it that beveled look.
More about the visuals, the UI is flatter and blah blah blah it looks like the Windows phone. Fact is, flat design has been becoming very popular and I don’t necessarily think that’s Microsoft’s doing. To counter balance the flatness, Apple added dynamic wallpapers and parallax scrolling to static background images as well. I thought it was cool for a few minutes but have since disabled it as it was a bit too buggy for my taste right now. The background would make sharp movements when coming out of an app or unlocking the screen. I was also concerned that the effect would eat up CPU cycles and degrade battery life. As I don’t have metrics to prove it, since disabling it my phone does seem to be running cooler (temperature, not style ;). The setting is under General > Accessibility and it called “Reduce Motion”. I’m unsure of what other motion was reduced but overall the UI feels a ton snappier.
Quite possibly my favorite improvement is making the entire lock screen the unlock button instead of just the button at the bottom. Speaking of the lock screen the improved Notifcation Center and the new Control Center are both accessible (swipe top down or bottom up respectively). I barely remember the old Notification Center at this point, but I remember everything being on a single screen and it being somewhat of a pain to navigate if you had a lot of notifications. Notifications are now split into sections, today, all and missed. Today is your day at a glance (tomorrow as well) and the notifications themselves are in the all and missed sections). I read someone’s review bitching about how hidden the close button was on the notifications, and I just can’t agree with that. The icon itself is still grey on grey and in my opinion is very hard to miss.
The new Control Center really was that missing feature for me when I was defecting from the Android platform. The Control Center gives you a bunch of quick links to toggleable settings, display brightness, music player controls, AirPlay toggle and app icons. The app icons include flashlight (I immediately removed my third party flashlight app), compass, calculator and camera. It would be nice to see those icons become configurable down the road as I never use the compass and would prefer to swap it out for something else. The AirPlay button is something I have yet to try but from the way the option reads, it seems like it would mirror your phone to the Apple TV, not just a particular app (as it were with iOS 6). This is assuming that I got that correct, I just always remember the AirPlay link showing up in particular apps (Photos, Music, Videos, et cetera) not as an option to mirror the device as a whole.
What I am not too fond of right now is the fact that when playing Temple Run 2 I end up swipping up the Control Center quite a bit. That’s obviously my fat fingering problem more so than iOS. Since we’re on the topic of games, my games are noticeably lagging. Also, Monster Story reset itself when I upgraded, which gave me a good reason to stop wasting so much time on that one. Dragon Story was fine though, and Nimble Quest crashes after 2 seconds of starting a level. The Bank of America app crashes when trying to use the camera to scan a check, and Instagram started to crash when applying filters (although I was able to post a single screen shot post-upgrade). Overall, the affected apps haven’t been important enough to sway me to downgrade and I assume the stability will be improved as new previews are released. I’m actually unsure of how often Apple releases updates to their beta releases as this is my first time using the Developer Previews.
Of course the camera got some love! The camera now flashes quickly when you take a photo (no shutter animation) and it feels significantly faster because of it. New camera mode for square photos (do we blame Instagram for that?) and the panoramic mode feels improved as well (quality of the photo especially). I assume these changes may be why some of the apps I am using that leverage the camera have been crashing.
One thing that threw me for a loop with the new iOS was the lack of a search page. I rarely used it and I always felt it somewhat of a hinderance as I generally saw the page when I scrolled to the left too fast. So yeah, I was actually happy to see it go but I couldn’t imagine it being removed entirely. After some toying around I found that you could get to search by swipping down and it is more of a HUD than a dedicated workspace. I was hoping that swiping up would have revealed the task list but no such luck. I’ve never been a fan of double tapping the home button and really am hoping for a gesture (sans jailbreak) to reveal it in the future.
The task list itself is 3D and shows the app icon and a screen shot of the app itself. What has me a bit confused is that it shows all of my apps, even ones I haven’t ran since the last reboot. You can still close out of the app by swiping up on it and throwing it away. I’m hoping to get to the bottom of that soon as I have to suspect that if all of the apps are started up by default that may actually be the root cause of a lot of my problems.
Safari’s updates are probably some of the most promising thus far. Most notable for me is the ability to toggle private browsing right from the browser itself. Because of that, I immediately removed Chrome which I was only using for the easy access to incognito tabs. Other improvements include a universal location bar (FINALLY!!~!) and the browser chrome shrinks / hides as you scroll down the page (is the hiding new? can’t remember :-/). I did find that Google Image Search seemed to be affected by these changes as the chrome covers the close button and cuts off the top of the photos. Unsure if Google or Apple will make the change to fix that one (assuming it’s ever resolved). Back to those damned icons, another blog I read was bitching about the new sharing icon in Safari, that it didn’t even resemble the old icon. Guess what arm chair designer, the old icon was a square with an arrow pointing right, the new one is a square with an arrow pointing up. Sorry that you’re too daft to see that resemblance.
Another big improvement for me has to do with folders. Folders no longer are limited to how many icons they can hold (or if they are the upper limit is high). My personal usage is to toss all the icons I don’t use (mostly Apple stock apps) into a few folders and stash those off to the last workspace. With this change I am now able to toss everything into a single folder that I can keep at the end of my second workspace (yes, I only have 2 workspaces). Newstand has been updated so it can be thrown into a folder as well!
I think that just about covers it. I’m very excited about iOS 7 and I can’t wait to see what the final product looks like in comparison to this early preview. Keep in mind that I haven’t necessarily tried all of my installed apps, so there may be more issues down the road. Also, this blog post is coming to you from the developer preview of OS X Mavericks. Mavericks seems significantly more stable than iOS 7 and unfortunately at the moment a lot of the improvements seem to be lost on me (just not noticing much of a difference). Blog post on OS X Mavericks in the future, maybe. To all the father’s out there, happy belated Father’s Day!