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iOS 7 Beta 1 Test Drive

Hello! Hello! Back after a long time to the blog. The idea for this post was proposed by a friend who knows my penchant for testing dev and beta builds of practically any software I can lay hands on. So that combined with the excitement around iOS 7, Apple’s newest iteration of its mobile OS that runs on iPods, iPhones and iPads resulted in this blog post.

iOS 7 is the second major release of iOS since Steve Jobs’ demise and while its predecessor stuck to the Job-esque design templates involving skeumorphic design elements and over the top animations, iOS 7 has finally struck out off the beaten path. The biggest change in the OS that is obvious is the much flatter design. Elements have been flattened with emphasis on function over form clearly evident. Jonny Ive’s influence is visible across the design with curved edges to windows and icons ubiquitous in the OS. As expected, the OS does take a bit getting used to especially for people who may have been with the platform since its 3rd or 4th iteration.

Currently the OS is in beta and as such it does have a few niggles especially in terms of how the third party apps fit into the new design. The iOS 6 versions of most apps work with iOS 7 (I had only one game fail on me. Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, GMail, etc. all are working perfectly). Also bugs spring up in random places and so it is not recommended for the faint of heart. Add to it the fact that you need to pay Apple a US$99 annual fee to be able to install the beta on your device(s) and most people should stay well clear of the beta and await final release that should be freely available sometime in October 2013, going by precedent. So Yours Truly has installed the beta OS on his own iPhone to demonstrate the new functionality of iOS 7. Please bear in mind I am however restricted by the fact that I have an iPhone 4 due to which a few major features of iOS 7 are not available to me – Siri, Panoramic Camera, Air Drop, Live Camera filters – to name a few. These features are only available on newer devices.

But enough of the chatter because I am sure you want to get the dirt on this! So lets take it away.

I tried initially to install iOS on my iPhone using the update functionality of iTunes. However, that didn’t work out quite well and things went pear shaped as I was put into the notorious “Connect to iTunes” screen. After multiple attempts, I was still not able to get the phone out of this recovery loop and so was forced to restore the firmware via iTunes. Thank God I had taken a backup before I began (Beta Testing 101!). Anyway the restore went smoothly and I was greeted with a screen that looked somewhat like this:

iOS 7: Welcome Screen

iOS 7: Configuration Start Screen

Configuration was pretty standard and similar to the one in iOS 6 and once I had punched in my WiFi password, the phone activated successfully and I was finally shown the new homescreen.

iOS 7: Welcome Screen

iOS 7: Welcome Screen

iOS 7: Home Screen

iOS 7: Home Screen

iOS 7: About Screen

iOS 7: About Screen

The first thing that will strike you about the interface is the new typography. Apple dumps its bold typeface for a sleek crisp font that does improve legibility. The OS tries to guess the colour of the typeface depending on the colours in your homescreen wallpaper but it is not an exact science and if the wallpaper is fairly colourful, you can be in a scenario where some or all of the text is illegible.

That said, the swiping and animations right from the unlock to the application open and close are quite different and fresh. The OS is designed in a multi-layer manner with the wallpaper being in a layer all its own. Thus it shows up in the translucent parts of applications that support it too. Similarly the top status bar is also in its own layer and being the top most layer you can see app content in the translucent sections as you scroll through.

A much touted feature of the Homescreen is the parallax effect added by Apple that allows the app icons to reposition across the wallpaper based on the angle at which the phone is held thus creating a perception of depth. I was not able to see this effect on my phone but it could also be due to the fact that I am currently not using Apple stock wallpapers. I will be testing this functionality when I have more clarity on this.

Moving on to the component wise details.

Lock Screen

The lock screen has not been changed drastically but there is a new unlock animation. Instead of the slider that used to hitherto slide right on swipe, the whole screen swipes right. Though this may sound clunky, the animation seems smooth and natural provided you do not have a lock code.

iOS 7: Home Screen

iOS 7: Home Screen

Lock code keypad has also been changed but, as in previous iOS versions, stays in sync with the Phone app. The lock screen wallpaper is subtly visible underneath as well as when you press the numbers to put in your pass code.

iOS 7: Lock Code screen

iOS 7: Lock Code screen

Control Center

One of the most significant additions to iOS 7 has to be the Control Center. Accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, the Control Center is an overlay and can be accessed from anywhere or any application in the OS as well as from the lockscreen (the latter can be turned off). It contains toggles for Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, DND and the Orientation Lock, brightness control, basic music player controls and shortcuts to utilities like the clock, calculator, camera and a flashlight!

iOS 7: Control Center

iOS 7: Control Center

The Control Center provides some features that were hitherto provided by a popular Cydia tweak called SBSettings that could be installed on jailbroken devices. While the Control Center in this beta version is not customisable at all in terms of toggles or apps pinned to it, this may change in future versions or even by the time iOS 7 is released publicly. In either case, it is a step in the right direction by the fruit company. The flashlight app is a nice option.

Notification Center

Notification Center debuted with iOS 5 and Apple has continued adding features to it since then. This time the Notification Center gets a major overhaul. The top of the Notification Center shows a summary of events for Today. Scrolling down you see the calendar for the day and also a very helpful summary of events for the next day. The Notification Center also has tabbed views that enable you to view missed notifications.

iOS 7: Notification Center

iOS 7: Notification Center

iOS 7: Notification Center

iOS 7: Notification Center

Like the Control Center, Notification Center can also be accessed from the lock screen.

Task Manager

The Task Manager in iOS 7 has received a major revamp and is now dramatically different from its predecessor. Invoked by the old “double click home button” shortcut, the Task Manager now opens up a carousel of all running applications on the device showing a preview of the window and the app icon underneath it. You can navigate to any one of them by either touching the window or the app icon.

iOS 7: Task Manager

iOS 7: Task Manager

The loveliest feature in the Task Manager though has to be how running applications are closed. Simply drag the application window preview upwards and the application is closed. Quick. Intuitive. Easy. Lovely.

iOS 7: Task Manager close application

iOS 7: Task Manager close application

App Folders

App Folders are how Apple manages application grouping in iOS. Previously there was a limit of 12 applications per folder which has now been removed. Each folder has multiple pages inside with upto 9 apps per page but an unlimited number of pages.

iOS 7: App Folders

iOS 7: App Folders

Nesting of folders however is still not possible.

Onscreen Keyboard

The onscreen keyboard of iOS 7 also receives benefits of the visual redesign with the typography much thinner and crisper. One thing I did notice was that while the native iOS apps use the new keyboard, the third party apps are still showing the old keyboards. I wonder whether this is as per design, a bug or just because the app developers have not yet updated their apps inline with the new iOS 7 API.

iOS 7: Keyboard design

iOS 7: Keyboard design

Phone App

The Phone App remains same in functionality but again gets the new UI treatment. Dial pad buttons are round with large numbers.

iOS 7: Phone App

iOS 7: Phone App

Contacts App

The Contact App has been revamped with a very fresh look. The square contact photo has been replaced by a round one and the overall look is very crisp although if one of your contacts doesn’t have their face in the center of their picture, it may end up getting snipped off due to the circular frame.

iOS 7: Contacts App

iOS 7: Contacts App

Mail App

The Mail App receives a typographical update too and it really looks beautiful.

iOS 7: Mail App

iOS 7: Mail App

However the app has its fair share of changes as well. For instance, in older versions of iOS, the default action to delete a mail conversation was to swipe right on it. This has now been changed to a left swipe on the conversation that reveals options to move or delete the mails. This can be fairly annoying especially early on since swiping right on a mail conversation (old action) would land you up in the Mailbox view rather than activate the Delete option.

iOS 7: Mail App swipe right to delete

iOS 7: Mail App swipe right to delete

A very nice feature is that, in addition to the very obvious back arrow on top, the OS now allows you to go to the higher view (from individual mail to conversation view to mailbox to all mailboxes) simply by swiping from the left edge of the screen.

iOS 7: Mail App on swiping left

iOS 7: Mail App on swiping left

Pictures in the Mail App are now displayed edge to edge .

iOS 7: Mail App pictures edge-to-edge

iOS 7: Mail App pictures edge-to-edge

Calendar App

The revamped Calendar App receives a new icon that shows the actual day and date. Default view is the month view but the year view looks fabulous too. The list view has been relegated to the small magnifying glass icon and may not be set as the default view.

iOS 7: Calendar App

iOS 7: Calendar App

The Calendar App includes an inbox feature to manage your invites.

iOS 7: Calendar app Inbox for invites

iOS 7: Calendar App Inbox for invites

Clock App

Personally I was pleased with what Apple have done with the Clock App. The first change you would notice is that the icon is now a live icon i.e. it shows the current time via an analog clock.

The app itself has the standard views present in its predecessors viz. a World Clock view, Alarm view, Stopwatch view and Timer view. I loved the World Clock view because of its very plain but classy looks.

iOS 7: Clock App World Clock view

iOS 7: Clock App World Clock view

Safari

Safari, the stock browser on iOS has gone for a major revamp. Not only the looks but even how Safari works has been changed. For starters, the hitherto limit of 8 on tabs has been lifted so you can open as many tabs as you want. Additionally the tabs all show up in a coverflow like visual albeit vertically for you to chose from.

iOS 7: Safari tabs

iOS 7: Safari tabs

In line with competing browsers from Chrome and Opera, Safari now provides a unified address bar and search box again (making its return after being dismissed in iOS 3) that not only prompts with URLs but also suggests Google search results and history and bookmarks.

iOS 7: Safari unified Address and Search bar

iOS 7: Safari unified Address and Search bar

As you start browsing the page, the address bar and other control move out of the way to provide more reading space for the webpage.

iOS 7: Safari Webpage view

iOS 7: Safari Webpage view

Additionally, you can go back in web history by simply swiping from the left edge of the screen.

Reading List was introduced in iOS 5 and matured over time. Apple has now enhanced this feature and brought it inline with functionality provided in the desktop version of the browser that will ship with the newly announced Mac OS X Mavericks that debuted alongside iOS 7 in WWDC 2013. One of the major changes is a continuous reading list wherein when you’re done reading one saved URL you can directly proceed to the next one by simply scrolling down in the same page and Safari loads up the next URL as though it were the next page of the same website. It is slightly hard to explain this concept and unfortunately my Reading List is currently empty but you can definitely fire up good ol’ Google and find screenshots of this functionality.

Photos App

The Photos App again has fundamentally changed in its working. Instead of having to scroll through thousands of pictures that most of us usually have on our smartphones, Apple has made the Photos App intelligent to the extent that it categorises and organises the photos in groups called Collections. Collections may be defined on two criteria: time of capture of the photo and place of capture. Pinching out of a photo will take you back to its immediate parent collection.

iOS 7: Photos App

iOS 7: Photos App

And since we all have those thousands of pictures, Apple has now introduced a new functionality where you can “scrub” through your pictures by simply dragging a finger across the entire collection(s) and seeing a thumbnail preview of the image. Screenshots don’t do justice to this functionality and it needs to be experienced to realise how useful it is.

iOS 7: Photos App "Scrub" functionality

iOS 7: Photos App “Scrub” functionality

(The screenshots above also go to show why betas are called betas. Here the text “Select Items” from a previous operation has remained and is now overlapping with “Years”. This would probably require a reboot to resolve.)

Notes

The Notes App has lost its yellow paper and felt pen skeumorphism as Apple opts for a flat black on white look in this application as well. Again, the “swipe left to go up” functionality also features in the Notes App. Nothing more to report here.

Messages App

The Messages App has also only received a visual lookover. It incorporates the “swipe left to go up” gesture prevalent across the application.

Camera App

The Camera App receives enhancements all round with camera filters available (only post image capture in iPhone 4). The camera has a control at the bottom that allows the user to easily swap between video mode, still mode and square mode (for some weird reason Apple reckons a lot of users take square photographs thus justifying the need for a dedicated option).

Weather App

The Weather App also receives a facelift. As soon as you open the App, you would notice the prominent Yahoo! branding. While the Stocks and Weather iOS native apps were always powered by Yahoo!, the branding has become more prominent this time. The city view actually has neat little animations that change according to the current weather conditions. This is a direct lift from a similar feature in Yahoo’s own weather app for iOS.

iOS 7: Weather App City view

iOS 7: Weather App City view

(Notice the tiny raindrops in the screenshot above indicating Showers. Thunderstorm actually has some angry looking crowds and the occasional bolt of lightning.)

Pinching out of the city view takes you to a view that shows all the cities you may have added in the application with temperature and weather appropriate tiles. Additionally it also shows the local time in each city thus doubling up as a World clock.

iOS 7: Weather App multiple city view

iOS 7: Weather App multiple city view

(So Mumbai has showers, Pune is cloudy and Detroit has sunshine.)

Under the hood

Apart from these features, Apple has also tweaked features under the hood in iOS 7. Apple claims that there are over 200 such changes. Facetime can now make audio only calls over WiFi. One of the features monitors the user’s app usage and intelligently allows the apps to power up and use the resources as required. This means that apps do not keep the 3G radio engaged continuously thus draining valuable battery power. Apple has also managed to make sure that once the phone is in use, apps can take use of opportunistic updates to refresh their content while other apps are also accessing the network. Similarly, when a notification is received in a chat or internet messenger or similar app, it starts refreshing itself in the background ready to show the user the new content when s/he opens the app. During the last 24 hours of my usage, this last part was clearly evident in the working of Google Hangouts and WhatsApp.

I have been monitoring battery usage with my regular usage and it does seem that the battery is draining slightly faster. This may be due to just the inherent way the OS works but it could also be due to the diagnostic logging that beta builds do at a much higher level compared to public releases. A nice relief is that the issue with iOS 6 where the WiFi frequently switched off when the device was put in sleep mode has been resolved in iOS 7.

Phew! That about rounds up the iOS 7 Beta 1 test drive I had planned for today. I know the post is a long one, but then you, my dear reader, are used to it on this blog by now šŸ˜‰

I hope you enjoyed the iOS 7 preview. Please do provide comments/suggestions/feedback on this post in the Comments section below.

Until next time, take care and stay safe!

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  1. adil
    12 June 2013 at 23:44 IST

    seems u spent a lot of time on the beta version..:)
    Nicely written though not agreeing to some of your points around fonts.
    Informative none the less!

    • 12 June 2013 at 23:47 IST

      Installed it last night and tested it for last 24 hours. What points specifically do you not agree with?

  2. 14 June 2013 at 22:47 IST

    You could have submitted your thesis to the university for Ph.d šŸ™‚

    • 19 June 2013 at 14:52 IST

      You’re too kind šŸ™‚
      This is substandard compared to the stuff available on the internet on this topic

  3. 22 July 2013 at 21:19 IST

    But for the homescreen, every thing else is amazing. Looks like a bit metroish though !

    • 22 July 2013 at 21:37 IST

      Homescreen infact has changed the least… there are many more changes under the hood…
      And yes there are a lot of borrowed elements from Android and Win8 to the extent that ppl have even called it the Windroid look…

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