Last Monday Apple introduced us to iOS7 and announced that a beta would be available to developers later that day. Beta operating systems – especially for devices like mobile phones – can be buggy as hell, which is why they aren’t recommended for the general public. I, though, am a licensed Apple developer, so I bravely and gallantly downloaded and installed iOS7′s beta on my iPhone 5 to spare you, the reader, any troubles. You should be glad I did.
I have been using it for a week and can report that while there have been some much needed improvements, there are elements that don’t quite work as advertised — and some that just take some real getting used to.
Gone are almost all instances of Skeuomorphism, as they’ve been replaced by a more emphatically “flat” design reminiscent of Microsoft’s Metro design language. This is clearly the most striking change and while the new design is pretty, it comes with something of a learning curve.
Certain actions that have become second nature to some will have to be re-learned, such as swiping left to find the Spotlight search bar – it’s now at the top of the Springboard and is revealed by dragging the icons down, something most apps use as a way to refresh content.
Of the built-in apps, the new Safari is the most changed. Invoking the navigation buttons and menus was a little tricky at first, but it becomes easier after a few tries. The Cover Flow-like carousel has made way for a more Rolodex-like interface that allows for more than eight tabs. I’ll take it.
Double-clicking the Home button no longer reveals the familiar volume and rotation lock controls, as those now live in the mighty Control Center, a feature that should have first appeared in iOS5 or before. It groups the most used controls – WiFi power, brightness, Bluetooth toggle, etc. – into a top-layer menu that can be accessed from about anywhere. It’s one of the best new features in iOS7; there isn’t a user that enjoyed navigating through the expansive Settings app to toggle basic settings.
I did have one problem with Control Center: It’s far too easy to open it with your butt, or at least with my butt. Last week, I somehow set my iPhone into Airplane Mode while it was in my pocket just before bed. I awoke to several panicked voicemails from a friend who was there to give me a ride to the airport. I made it, but it could have been a lot worse had is car horn not woken me up. In another instance, I awoke early to an alarm for 6:14AM with the title “cecldcdbniknikhukniyou”. I somehow managed to set it while I was asleep via Control Center, as I keep my phone on my nightstand. It was an unpleasant thing.
More pleasant, though, is the new Siri. It’s a stepped improvement over iOS6’s, and some of its new features are indeed useful. I asked it where I could see Man Of Steel and it dutifully gave me a choice of theaters, even specifying which were in 3D and 2D, something many of us will use. For other things, such as how to tell if my dog has fleas, it was about as good as using Google myself. (He does not have fleas.)
The new iTunes Radio is shaping up to be a respectable alternative to Pandora or Spotify. It lives in the unified Music app and is a great way to discover new music. It uses the current iTunes content as a basis of what a user might like and does a pretty decent job of matching that up with songs a user doesn’t have. Interestingly, it seems to be able to use information about a user’s entire iTunes library, not just songs that are loaded on the iPhone. When I searched for Iron Maiden, it appeared to know which albums I had on my MacBook, even though I only have one on the phone.
The OS itself is buggy, as it is a beta; I can’t recommend a hobbyist user install it out of curiosity. Many apps just don’t work at all, notably the handy Wikipanion, the notorious Photoswap, and the indispensable (for some) One Bus Away. It’s prone to random restarts, freezes, and other annoyances one would expect of pre-release software. I’m sure these issues will be fixed in time for its public launch, but for now, stay away.
Bugs aside, the new features are more welcome than not – especially the ones that are late to the party, like Control Center. That said, iOS7 still comes across as an almost new operating system altogether. Many things are familiar, but enough is new in both how it looks and how it behaves that many users are likely going to be turned off at first.
Judging from what I’ve experienced for the last week I must say that Apple has perhaps crammed too much “new” into iOS7. A stepped release might have been wiser, maybe starting with the overall UI, and then moving onto the other new features in periodical updates. Having almost every aspect of an operating system change can sometimes be too much for users – just look at Windows 8. Humans fear change, and change is what iOS7 is all about.