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iOS 7 review: Radical redesign is more than skin-deep

At a Glance
  • Apple iOS 7

    Macworld Rating

    iOS 7 sports a revolutionary new design, under-the-hood features like Control Center and card-based multitasking, and app updates.

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Such tweaks and revisions—not just relating to how the OS looks but to how it works—abound in iOS 7. Just three that come to mind are accessing Spotlight by swiping down from any home screen instead of having to swipe all the way back past your first home screen; swiping left and holding in a Messages conversation to see timestamps for individual messages; and tapping on the current temperature in Weather to get additional info, including humidity, chance of rain, wind speed and direction, and the “feels like” temperature. Those are little changes, but they all serve to enhance the experience of using iOS.

But don’t worry: Not all the changes are that minor.

Centers of attention

Layering is important in iOS 7; certain system-level features live on layers that can be temporarily superimposed on the rest of the user interface. Two of those are existing features—Notification Center and Siri—while the other, Control Center, is brand new.

Control subject: To start with the new stuff, Control Center is a feature that many iOS users have clamored for since the earliest days of the iPhone. Toggling certain system-level features could be an onerous process that first required you to navigate to wherever you’d hidden your Settings app, and then had you drilling down to the appropriate sublevel until you found the switch you were looking for. Woe betide you if you did any of those things regularly, such as dealing with Bluetooth settings.

Control Center simplifies many of those tasks: Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Do Not Disturb can all be enabled or disabled from the panel, which is available with a swipe up from the bottom of any screen (including, by default, the lock screen, though you can disable that in Settings).

Control yourself: Control Center puts many of iOS’s frequently used features at your fingertips.

Several of the items that used to be available by swiping left on the multitasking bar in earlier versions of iOS have moved here too, including media playback—with an interactive scrubber!—and volume controls, the orientation lock, and AirPlay. And, yes, at long last, iPhone users have an easily accessible brightness slider. There’s also a Control Center option for iOS 7’s new AirDrop sharing feature (more on that later).

Also new are four quick-access buttons: One toggles the iPhone’s flash for use as a flashlight, while the other three can be used to launch the Clock, Calculator, and Camera apps, respectively. (On the iPad, which doesn’t have a flash or a calculator app, you’ll just get the other two buttons.)

I give Control Center a hearty thumbs-up: It has certainly made my life easier. That’s not to say it couldn’t stand a couple improvements. Some other features would be helpful to have access to (for me, the VPN), and some of the existing features could be expanded: For example, tap and hold on the Wi-Fi control to bring up a list of Wi-Fi networks. Being able to swap out the quick-launch items for apps of your own choice would be nifty, though I’m not holding my breath on that one. But a button that launches the Settings app would be much appreciated.

One potential complication for Control Center is that its gesture—swiping up from the bottom of the screen—could conflict with certain apps, especially games. Fortunately, Settings allows you to disable the gesture while you’re in apps (so it’s accessible only from your home screens).

You will be notified: Just as you can swipe up to access Control Center, Notification Center is accessible via a swipe down from the top of the screen. But it has gotten a revamp here, most obviously in the form of the new Today pane.

A sort-of answer to Google Now, Today gives you information about your day at a glance: the date, a brief summary of the weather, information about your next appointment, and your commute (or travel time to your next destination if it’s in your calendar).

Also included on the Today pane is information from your calendar, any reminders that are due today, info on your stocks, and a quick paragraph about events for tomorrow including the time your alarm is set for in the morning.

The end result gives new meaning to the idea of a personal digital assistant, providing the information you want, when you want it. It’s a great idea in theory, perhaps suffering only a bit from a lack of depth: I’d like to see even more information in that Today pane, or at least have the option to pull from additional sources or apps.

No country for old notifications: The revamped Notification Center has three panes, each of which serves a distinct purpose.

Google Now, for example, can connect to your Gmail to include information about flights you’ll be taking, sports scores you’re interested in, and so on. Some of this information is handled elsewhere in Notification Center (or in Passbook or Siri), while other types are absent. I understand the inclination to simplify the Today view, but if the goal is to make it relevant, customization is key. At least the Settings app does let you turn off pretty much any individual item in the Today view.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    iOS 7 sports a revolutionary new design, under-the-hood features like Control Center and card-based multitasking, and app updates.

    Pros

    • Extensive, eye-catching redesign
    • Control Center gives quick access to frequent features
    • More extensive multitasking capabilities

    Cons

    • Minor bugs are not uncommon
    • AirDrop feature lacks Mac compatibility
    • iPad version feels uneven, sluggish
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