Apple has officially taken the wraps off of iOS 7 at its Worldwide Developer Conference today. iOS 7 is the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system that debuted back in 2007 on the original iPhone. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, iOS 7 is the biggest change to the platform since the iPhone was introduced five years ago. The new design is evident in everything from sharper, flatter icons, slimmer fonts, a new slide-to-unlock function, and a new control panel that slides up from the bottom of the screen for frequently accessed settings. The stock apps have all been redesigned — including a major revamp of the weather app with new animations that are scarily reminiscent of Yahoo’s great-looking Weather app graphics.
Apple’s head of design Jony Ive notes that the new icons feature a new palette of colors — gone are the bold, primary colors of old, replaced by modern shades and tones. Flat design is very prominent in iOS 7 — everything from the buttons to the switches to the chrome surrounding apps has been modernized and flattened. Apple says that the new design makes your phone “appear bigger” because each app makes better use of the screen real-estate available to it. The calendar, phone, messages, Game Center, and others have all lost their skeuomorphic designs and now feature clean, flat layouts. The signal bars in the upper left corner of the phone have also been replaced with a series of dots.
The new built-in apps all feature sliding, gesture-based navigation. Folders can now support hundreds of apps — the 12- to 16-app limit is a thing of the past. Notification Center has been redesigned with greater control over how many notifications you can view at once and the ability to view Notification Center from the lock-screen. You can now drill down to just your notifications for today, which gives an “at a glance” view of upcoming calendar events, weather, and traffic for the day.
Control Center is the name of the new swipe-up menu that gives you quick access to commonly used functions. It lets you control your music and toggle airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, flashlight, brightness, and more. Needless to say, iOS users have been asking for this feature for a long time.
Multitasking has been upgraded with support for all apps, not just the limited services or stock apps that earlier versions of iOS were constricted to. Apple says that the new features let apps update in the background — without affecting battery life — and it has smart features to update certain apps during certain times of the day or when you have stronger wireless coverage. Push notifications now trigger apps to update in the background so that apps are always updated with new content and there is no more waiting for them to refresh when you open. The new card-based multitasking interface is strikingly reminiscent of web OS with large previews of each app.
Apple’s Safari mobile browser now features improved full-screen browsing, gesture-based navigation, and a new flipping card-tab overview that is very similar to the interface in Google’s Chrome for iOS and Android. The separate search bar is gone and you can now perform searches right from the address bar. Safari for iOS also supports Apple’s new iCloud Keychain, which syncs passwords and credit card information across devices.
AirDrop is a new feature in iOS 7 that lets you share content with other iOS users through the Control Center. It lets you share with other users who are close by, and tells you who you can send content to right within Control Center. This is Apple’s answer to Samsung’s group sharing features and the tap-based NFC sharing supported by other platforms. It works on the iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch, fourth-generation iPad, and iPad mini.
Camera and Photos
The camera has been refreshed with improved UI, square photo framing, and new filters. Also upgraded is the Photos app, which features the same flat redesign as other stock apps. Photos’s new Moments feature organizes images by time and location, and can provide an overview of all of the pictures you’ve taken in a particular year. It also has gesture-based pop-up previews of images that you bring up by sliding your finger across the grid of images. In addition to sharing still images, Photos supports sharing video through iCloud, too.
Siri in iOS 7 features a predictably flat new interface (no more linen!), and has been upgraded with new voices, so you can choose from either a female or male voice in English, French, or German, with more languages added over time. Siri can now control functions such as toggling Bluetooth or controlling brightness and playing back voicemail messages. The service can search Twitter, Bing, and Wikipedia to provide more information for queries.
iOS in the car
iOS’s in-car functionality has been greatly improved with version 7 — it’s now possible to have iOS on-screen in a number of cars coming in 2014. You can control the system — place calls, play music, look up directions — all with your voice thanks to the improved Siri integration.
The App Store is getting the ability to show you apps that are popular for where you are such as in a museum, for example, and also features automatic app updates in the background.
One of the biggest upgrades to iOS 7 is in the new music player, which features a brand-new user interface and Apple’s new iTunes Radio service — the company’s answer to streaming music services such as Spotify, Radio, and Google Music All Access. iTunes Radio lets you choose songs to listen to on demand, and it has the ability to curate radio stations based on particular songs, artists, albums, or genres. It’s very similar to how Pandora works. iTunes Radio works on iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and iTunes on the Mac and PC. It’s provided for free with ads, but iTunes Match subscribers can listen to it ad-free. It will be available in the US to start.
Other new features for iOS 7 include notification sync across devices, FaceTime audio calls over Wi-Fi, better search in Mail, and the ability to block phone calls, FaceTime calls, and messages.
Without a doubt, iOS 7 is the biggest overhaul the platform has received since its introduction as iPhone OS way back in the heady days of 2007. Many (fair) comparisons will be made to current and existing mobile OSes, and whether or not it is enough to keep the naysayers that claim that iOS has gotten stale and boring at bay remains to be seen. But needless to say, it’s going to be the platform of choice for many millions of smartphone and tablet owners.
It will be available for the iPhone 4 and later, iPad 2 and later, and the fifth-generation iPod touch. Developers can download a beta version on the iPhone today, while the rest of us will have to wait for its official release later this fall.