One of the best things about Apple’s iOS machine is how it churns out a new release every year that packs new features that most every old iPhone or iPad can use. Upgrades. You can count on something new from Apple even when you’re not standing in line to buy a shiny new iPhone 5S or 5C.
Other manufacturers push out updates too, but none are as good at it as Apple. It’s one of the reasons we’re enthusiasts here. So what do I find particularly interesting about iOS 7? Of the dozens of new tweaks, which grab my attention as a long-time user and actually promise to change how I interact with my iDevices? Here are eight that are on my mind now.
8. The Wholesale Redesign Into Layers
Look, the old iOS was getting clunky, chunky, and it resembled secondhand shirts that even Macklemore would pass by. Certain elements of Android and Windows et al sport a much more modern look — and while the “feel” of how those looks actually function doesn’t always satisfy in person, the new iOS 7 will change that.
Inside the new look, your background image will bleed color through transparent layers, and iOS 7 will pick up dominant colors and use them to infuse much of the experience. In this way, if you’re a deep earth-tone kind of guy, you don’t have to live with the pastel-ish little girl’s room mess that you see on Apple’s website and in so many screenshots.
Is this true customization? Not really — but it’s a start.
7. Control Center
Arguably, the least innovative but the most usable new feature, Control Center finally puts commonly needed controls into quick availability instead of forcing you to drill down into Settings to change something as simple as your screen’s brightness. Now, with a simple up-swipe from any screen, you’ll bring up a panel of frequently used tools and switches, like a button for Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, music — and even a flashlight.
About freaking time. Not having these features was not only embarrassing for Apple, it represented an outright pain in the ass for its most active users. I cannot imagine why it took so long. Now I’m just hoping that Apple will let us customize Control Center with the controls each of us uses most.
6. Photo Management
The world’s most popular camera is getting some new usability features and built-in filters, and that’s nice and all, but storing and managing your photos on your iPhone in iOS 6 sucks. In iOS 7, the new Photos app promises to radically change that. More to the point, if you buy a new iPhone, you should opt for more internal storage than you used before. Why? You’ll want to keep more photos on your phone, because you can manage them through Collections, Moments and Years, which are smart groupings based on time and place. Sort of like Events in iPhoto on your Mac.
Pretty much everyone I know likes to keep their photos on their iPhones — even when they back them up to iCloud or their Mac. I’m seriously looking forward to the new Photos app.
5. Sharing With AirDrop
While it’s easy enough to send a text with an image or an email with an attachment, AirDrop introduces a new sort of sharing for iOS 7 users: Via WiFi or Bluetooth, you can see other users and send them objects. While the idea is that you would be automatically visible in AirDrop to your contacts running iOS 7, you can also make yourself visible to anyone nearby using iOS 7 — or to no one at all.
To receive an object, you have to accept it. Simple communication is easier, faster and maybe more fun. Oh, and your stuff isn’t traveling through a cellular service provider’s messaging system or email, so your private snapshots might be just a little safer. Maybe even from the NSA.
4. Unified Smart Search Field in Safari
What? How is this important? I’ll tell you how: If you’re anything like me, you love the unified search/url fields in your desktop browsers. When you come to iOS 6 on your iPad or iPhone, you’re constantly typing the wrong thing in the wrong place — like a long search term into the url field, which gets you nowhere. Aggravating and baffling.
Unified search is finally coming in iOS 7, though, along with a new way to view tabs, which is patently unsexy but promises to be super useful.
3. iTunes Radio
Oh boy, if there’s one feature that promises to disrupt, it’s iTunes Radio, which offers built-in free radio channel-like music streaming. Tightly integrated with iTunes and making it easy to buy tracks you want to own, it will likely become an indispensable new music channel for most iOS 7 iPhone users — and it could make the apps for similar services like Pandora or Spotify get virtually dusty.
Why am I looking forward to it? Music discovery and the ability to de-clutter my music experience. Better yet, the ad-based free service might be less irritating than competitors, and if not, a US$25 annual fee to iTunes Match (handy service) will kill any ads that further clutter my mind.
2. Swipe From Left to Go Back
I am not a fan of the upper left back button in iOS 6. Sure, it’s always there, and sure, it has the nifty little arrow sort of icon that points you back, but sheesh — I don’t know how many times I try to swipe back from within apps, from within Safari, to no effect.
Apple has successfully introduced swiping navigation elsewhere in its ecosystem, and any time I run into an app or spot that doesn’t accept it, I’m briefly confused and irritated. Like the featured carousel items in iTunes on the Mac. You have to click the arrow buttons — can’t swipe them. Sheesh. I’m definitely looking forward to putting this tiny little tweak to use.
1. Privacy and Blocking
There are, it turns out, three related features that I’m pleased to see: better ways to limit ad tracking; a Do Not Track feature in Safari; and the ability to block someone from contacting you. Groundbreaking? No. But for people who value a small (if irrational and impossible) sense of privacy in a digital world, welcome. Very welcome.
Of course, you might experience ads that aren’t targeted to you personally, so if you get tired of hygiene product ads, you might want to let the world constantly update their data on you. And the blocking? Great for ex-friends, creepy people, and businesses that somehow got your iPhone number.
Of course, as we get nearer to Apple’s September unveiling ceremony, there’s the chance that we’ll see something completely new that even the beta-testing developers haven’t seen yet.