iOS 7 changes are overwhelmingly cosmetic (hands-on)

  • 11 June 2013
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To silence a growing chorus of discontent against an operating system design that's remained more or less static since 2007, Apple needed to go big. With iOS 7, it did. Apple's crisp, newly announced OS update gives the mobile operating system a radical new look and some first-for-Apple features for iPhone and iPad fans, like quick-access system controls, automatic app updates, and Apple's AirDrop file-sharing system.
The visual overhaul, which becomes available this fall, is a clean sweep that changes absolutely everything, from the typography and color schemes to the typical icon and button shape across the entire platform. And we mean the whole thing -- from the Safari browser to the photo app.
While there are a few notable new features in iOS 7, the new interface is by far the platform's deepest felt and most profoundly changed of the entire batch. Apple's other features are relatively uninspiring and do little to challenge competitors; however, we have a feeling that Apple is saving some major reveals for its next big iPhone announcement.
Gone are the skeuomorphic interface elements that make icons and apps look like leather or paper or felt. Gone, too, are the slightly bubbly icon effects. Flat graphics and a dappled, pastel color scheme bring an elegant look. When you move the phone or tablet, Apple promises a 3D effect that makes your wallpaper appear some distance behind the icons.
Circles enter the design language, along with visuals that look nearly transparent, like a pane of glass. See what we mean in the slideshow above. The most important part of any deep design work is that it feels smooth and connected from screen to screen. We had a chance to sit down with some of the folks from Apple after the keynote and check out iOS 7 for ourselves.
The overall look is completely different across the board, from the apps we saw in the keynote to more-minor interface elements such as animated transitions when opening and closing apps. The important thing to note here is that even though it looks completely different, it's still easy to pick up and use right away because the core functionality is largely the same. In other words, browsing in Safari is as easy as ever, but there are now extra tools on hand for sharing via AirDrop, and a smooth tab-browsing interface.
Control Center and Notifications
One of the few actually new features to come to iOS is the Control Center, which finally (finally!) puts your most-used settings front and center, and is available from any screen. In iOS 7, you can swipe up from the bottom of the display to bring up quick-access tools, like a Wi-Fi meter, brightness, Airplane mode, music controls, and more.
Control Center also integrates a small flashlight tool, signaling the death of so many third-party flashlight apps.
In the Notifications pull-down menu, three tabs show you all your alerts, the calls and messages you've missed, and a new "today" pane that tracks your goings-on. It's a small but useful expansion of the current notifications pull-down.
Safari browser
In addition to iOS 7's Safari overhaul, the biggest change to the browser is a unified search and URL field. The fact that Apple, in its pigheadedness, kept the two separate for some time was a usability thorn in our side. Hence, the grossly outdated update that combines them into one is both gratifying and enraging, since it was such a small tweak that every other mobile OS has been taking advantage of for years.
There's more flexibility with browser tabs as well. They now preview as vertically scrolling rectangular cards and look similar to what we've seen on some Android phones. You're no longer limited to eight, and you swipe them away in a gesture, just as with Android.
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