48 hours with iOS 7

20130921-081549.jpgLike most geeks in the UK, I was frustrated by the inability of Apple’s servers to keep up with my downloading needs when iOS 7 was finally made available to us. Frantic attempts to get my hands on it failed miserably until time differences meant that most of the USA was tucked up in bed again.

As things panned out, I didn’t actually manage to download and start using iOS 7 on my devices until Thursday – so I’ve only had about 48 hours of usage to reflect on.

iOS 7 is definitely an improvement over iOS 6 in a number of ways. But there are a few changes that – for me at least – annoy at best and, at worst, make my devices more difficult to use.

I’ve been using iOS 7 on both my iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. The experience has been quite different on these devices, so I’ll also highlight where the device seems to have an impact on the iOS 7 experience.

But it’s the weekend, and I’m in a good mood – so let’s start with the positives.

Welcome Improvements

  • The clarity of the interface is the most obvious positive change. Jony Ive’s removal of pointless shadows and skeumorphism in the previous versions is like a breath of fresh air. No more leather or felt in these apps. They’re clean, minimalist and (mostly) easy to navigate.
  • Mail in particular is easier to use and seems to be speedy. Clear icons and an increased use of text to indicate functionality make Mail the kind of app you can use quickly and accurately.
  • The Photos app is gorgeous, as is the Weather app. Both really showcase this minimal design, in different ways. The fact that Weather now indicates the forecast with both symbols and a photo in the background make it useful at a glance or in more depth.  The auto-organisation of the Photos app is great, making it easier to navigate and use some of the less obvious functionality like photo streams.
  • Control Centre is a real time saver. Rather than digging around in the depths of the Settings menu every time you want to turn wifi on or off, this provides very handy access to most frequently used device settings: wifi, bluetooth, flight mode, screen brightness and so on. Just swipe from the bottom of the screen and all of these toggles are at your finger tips. Yes, this should save iOS 7 users time and frustration.
  • Multi-tasking is now much more useful and intuitive. Swipe away apps you want to close. No more fiddling around to tap the very edge of a jerking icon when you want to absolutely shut an app down.
  • I’m not a big Siri user, but the few instances I’ve tested it on iOS 7 have been positive. It seems responsive and the voice is easy to understand. I’m still unsure if I’ll use Siri more though.
  • I know it’s not down to Apple, but some third-part apps are really shining on iOS 7 – I’d highlight Evernote, which now looks amazing, and the app for my FitBit – another great example of applying clarity and functionality in design. The bar has definitely been raised in terms of design.

Pointless Annoyances

  • Despite its benefits, you can’t personalise Control Centre and the remaining settings appear to be quite difficult to locate – somewhere in the depths of what appears to be an even more complex settings menu.
  • Safari is less than intuitive and I can still can’t figure out how to paste a URL into the window. It’s disappointing that something so crucial to the functioning of a smartphone. I’d actually flag this as my number one gripe. Obviously, I’ll have to spend some time figuring out the changes to Safari in depth, but I’d argue that it shouldn’t be necessary when the rest of the iOS is so clear.
  • Not all of Apple’s apps have received the iOS makeover and now they stand out like a sore thumb – like Podcasts, which when opened, is like a bit of a shock to the senses. I’m unsure why this didn’t receive some love and can only hope it’s going to get some once OS X Mavericks is launched.
  • I’m hoping this is a transitional thing, but I’m still finding it difficult to locate less frequently used apps. There’s a lot of colour of the hoe screen now and for whatever reason, I’ve found it difficult to identify key apps (Music for example) through the visual noise. I think the wallpaper you choose makes all the difference and sticking to one of Apple’s stock images is recommended.
  • iOS 7 seems a lot slower on the iPad Mini. It hangs for a second or two every so often and the parallax view of the desktop is not as effective as it jumps around. It’s disappointing that such a relatively new device can’t keep up, but I guess that’s how Apple make their money.
  • Very specifically, Calendar on the iPad sticks, skips and shudders whenever it’s first opened. It seems particularly buggy and something that I hope a quick update will sort out. On my iPad, I live out of a combination of Calendar and Omnifocus, so this is definitely a problem – for me, at least.
  • The interface is also a lot harder to read on the Mini. The thin fonts can sometimes look a little pixelated. It looks like iOS 7 really needs a retina interface, so here’s hoping one is on the way for the iPad Mini.

In summary

On reflection, the above seems like I’m quite negative about iOS 7. I really really like it, but the above negatives are disappointing. Here’s hoping that imminent updates will smooth things over.

So what should you do? If you have a recent Apple iOS device and are still ambivalent about  downloading and installing iOS 7, I’d say: go for it. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

I’ve heard – though haven’t directly experienced – that older phone (e.g. iPhone 4) struggle to keep up. If you have one of these, I’d think twice before installing, as it appears nearly impossible to go back to iOS 6.

The bottom line: a big improvement over iOS 6 and hopefully the start of even more design innovation and user-centric apps from Apple.

  1. Good read; I owned and used an iPhone 4 for a year, but was never able to get on with the touchscreen keyboard. I have a fine motor control impairment and it seems that I need some tactile feedback and muscle memory to type with any accuracy whatsoever. This has landed me firmly in BlackBerry land, as they’ve mastered the hardware keyboard like no one else. But the new look of the iOS is quite compelling. Interestingly I think we would have criticized it a few years ago as looking too two-dimensional but now it seems rather refreshing.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Josh!

      Sounds like you’ve found a good fit in Blackberry. I was just thinking of them this morning when I read the news about massive lay-offs and a planned focus on the corporate/enterprise space. I really hope they continue to support the customers that have supported them to date! Tactile keyboards are definitely a favourite with some users and, as you point out, a necessity for others.

      I agree re the design of the iOS 7 interface – I think it’s very “now” and wouldn’t have been accepted in the early days of smartphones – we were still learning how to use them. But now, there’s a generally understood approach to interfacing with touch-screens, so I think they can get away with less “in your face” design and something more subtle.

      That said, I’m still trying to get to grips with Safari – and I’ve been using iPhones for years. It’s not as obvious as they might think it is.

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