- Review Date: 9/20/2013
- Bottom line: iOS 7 marks a major turn for Apple's mobile operating system, both visually and in all it has to offer. Users will embrace the long list of new features with open arms, and the design is a breath of fresh air. There's still room for improvement, to be sure, but iOS has truly blossomed in this release.
- Pros: Heightened security. Fresh design. Wonderful improvements to Control Center, Notification Center, and multitasking bar. Can download over Wi-Fi. Free.
- Cons: Missing photo management and organization capabilities.
Launching iOS 7 (free) for the first time feels like stepping into some far-away land. It reminds me of the moment Dorothy first finds herself in Oz. She feels uncomfortable in this foreign world. Yet it's mysterious and fantastical. There's a moment of hesitation, of maybe wanting to go back home where everything will be safe and predictable, before she finds her footing. The draw is too great to turn back. Apple's iOS 7 shimmers and glides. The so-called flat design looks cold initially, but soon seems cutting edge. Dive into the settings, and you'll uncover wonderful improvements in security. A new "share sheet" comes off as much more intuitive than the buttons we've come to know so well. Everything's different, but this is a time for closing your eyes, making the leap, and embracing change.
Yes, several of the changes mimic Android. Why deny iPhone and iPad owners of features that set the bar? I don't mind seeing best practices implemented wherever they make sense, and in iOS 7, they do. This is one mobile operating system that has blossomed into adulthood, and everyone with a compatible device should be excited to install it and explore it.
iOS 7: The Basics
iOS 7 is available to install on compatible Apple devices, which covers iPhone 4 and later, iPad 2 and later, and fifth-generation iPod touch. For a model-by-model list, see the complete list of devices that will run iOS 7. iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s will come with iOS 7 already installed on them.
Not all iPhones will get every single new feature, because some older phones aren't capable of them. For example, iPhone 4 does not include Siri, and thus won't see any of the improvements made to Siri. The most exciting changes, however, are universally applicable across all devices, and I honestly don't think iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, and iPhone 5 owners are missing out on anything massive.
Apple released the final code for iOS 7 on September 18, and it's free to download to any compatible device. There are a few ways to download it, and you'll want to backup your device before you do! We have a complete set of instructions in the article "How to Download iOS 7." If you're ready to roll now, just go to Settings > General > Software Update to install the new OS.
iOS 7 looks stunningly different. The stark differences between iOS 6 and iOS 7 are most apparent when you look at before and after images back-to-back. You'll notice a lack of 3D. Icons sit in a flat layer that seems to hover just above the screen's background—and changing the wallpaper to suit the new design is a must in my book. (Experiment: Set that old water droplet wallpaper behind the new app icons, and watch the horror of the two worlds colliding.)
The design of iOS 6, and really all versions of iOS prior to version 7, had icons that looked like buttons. As some design experts have pointed out, there's even an imaginary outside source of light that shines down on the app icons. It evokes the feeling of physicality, played up more by skeuomorphism. Buttons look like they are what they represent, rather than just images on a screen. In iOS 7 that external source of light casting shadows and so forth is gone. The new look evokes computers and a true digital experience that has little to do with real-world physicality.
The Calendar app icon is the perhaps the best example. Its background is solid white with no shading or shadows. Other icons, such as those for Settings, App Store, and iTunes Store, have some color change from top to bottom, but it's subtle and not meant to look like light is coming from outside. Rather, the color gradation seems to be coming from the apps themselves, almost like they are softly glowing.
Interaction and Controls
I love the new control center in iOS 7. iOS 6 didn't have much of a control center to speak of, but if you double-tapped the home button while the phone was locked, you could access a few buttons for your music or media: play/pause, skip forward or backward, and AirPlay. In iOS 7, a fully formed control center is just an up-swipe away at any time, whether the phone is locked or not. Here you'll find quick access to the media buttons, as well as a screen brightness slider; Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, flight mode, "do not disturb," and rotation lock on/off switches; a shortcut to the timer, world clock, alarm, and stopwatch; and a shortcut to the camera.
I'm not convinced that leaving the Bluetooth button accessible while the device is locked is a good thing, but the overall utility of having a true control center in the first place is definitely a huge step forward.
App folders look totally different when you open them and arrange icons in them. Tap one, and it spreads across the screen, much larger than before, to reveal multiple pages of apps within any folder. No more 12-app limit. I wanted to see if there was a limit, but when I got to 45 apps in one folder, I quit trying. These new folders are expansive.
One of the most Android-esque features is iOS 7's revamped multitasking bar, which now shows a preview of all your open apps, rather than just the icons for them. Swipe the multitasking bar left and right, and flows gracefully, rather than showing the next set of apps that fits on the screen and then coming to a halt as it did in iOS 6.
A new notification center in iOS 7 shows your daily summary: appointments and reminders for the current day, as well as a summary of what's happening tomorrow. That's only the first tab, though. The next two, called All and Missed, show custom notifications from whatever apps you want to include.
iOS 7's look and feel will grab your attention, but once the wonderment wears off, you should get to know some of the new features because many of them are worth using but aren't turned on by default.
iOS 7 has a lot of great security features and enhancements, so many that this OS is easily the most secure of any Apple has released for mobile users to date.
My favorite security feature prevents advertisers from tracking your Web history and showing you targeted ads. It doesn't stop ads full force, but it does prevent them from being cherry picked based on what advertisers learn about you from your online history and searches.
This same feature (called Limit Ad Tracking, found in Settings > Privacy > Advertising) includes a reset button for essentially assigning a new anonymous ID to your device, which is another layer between you and what advertisers learn about you based on your iPhone's or iPad's activities.
Another great privacy feature is the ability to block any phone number from calls, text messages, and FaceTime requests. There are a few ways to turn it on, the simplest is to look in your recent call history, select the 'i' for more information on any caller, then scroll to the bottom and tap "Block this Caller." Another way is to go into the Settings, where it's hidden under either FaceTime or Messages. To block a number from this side, you have to have the number entered into your Contacts first. It's more convenient to do from the recent calls, but you may want to pre-emptively block someone this other way.
Another concept that iOS 7 borrowed from Android (as well as apps like Bump) is a new way users can share photos, contact information, and a few other kinds of data. "Share sheets" offer still offer the tried-and-true options, like posting a photo to Facebook and Twitter, or sending it via email, but they now also include AirDrop. AirDrop lets you wirelessly connecting two iOS devices, much like you might network two or more computers to share files.
If your iPhone- and iPad-toting friends are running iOS 7, you can connect your devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to send one another pictures, videos, phone numbers, and so forth—no more attachments via email or text messages when you're in close proximity. It doesn't take much to see AirDrop's usefulness and convenience.
Photos and Camera
Don't get your hopes up too much about the revamped Photos app. The albums are much better now that they display images grouped by date, but the Photos area continues to disappoint me. You can't name photo files, rearrange them, add captions, or tag them in iOS. You can't change the cover image on an album.
The photo editing tools are still fairly limited. New preset filters similar to those in Instagram and the Twitter mobile app are underwhelming, seeing as users came to rely on separate photo-editing apps long ago. The ability to shoot photos in a square aspect ratio, on the other hand, is better than some have let on. Profile pictures for online accounts are generally square, so iOS 7's default makes it easier to take a good headshot in the first place, rather than crop it later. A few tweaks help the panoramic feature in the camera work a little better, but the panoramic capability itself isn't new to version 7.
Digging around iOS 7, particularly in the settings, I found out six fairly overlooked features new to iOS 7 that I really liked. They don't look sexy, but some, such as the ability to turn on closed captioning or subtitles by default for all videos that have them, are very helpful if you need them.
We saw a lot of changes to Keychain coming soon to OS X Mavericks, and many of them will apply to iOS users, too. Keychain is Apple's next-best thing to a dedicated password manager, which will now work via iCloud across iOS devices. In other words, your passwords and login information can sync. But Keychain can't generate secure passwords on your phone, leaving you to still make up passwords for apps.
A QR code reader has been added… to Passbook of all places. We think it would have been better to incorporate it into the camera itself or mobile Safari. Heck, why not both?
Apple iOS 7 is a clear Editors' Choice. Unlike previous releases of iOS, when some users really did have to make a decision about whether to install them (remember the debacle when iOS 6 nixed Google Maps?), upping to 7 isn't much of a question. You should download it and install it (be sure to back up your device first, though), explore it, tinker with its settings, and develop your own opinion about the design.
But let it warm on you, first. You might find yourself initially turned off by the look, but in little to no time, this new world will quickly feel like a second home.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.