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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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If there’s one problem with AirDrop (and there might be more than one), it’s that it is bound to be this year’s feature that you end up explaining to the less technically savvy folks of your acquaintance, and which ends up sounding more complicated than it is.

“Make sure you switch it to Contacts,” I imagine myself explaining to my mother, so that random strangers can’t try to AirDrop things to her iPad. “But then you need to have the other person’s iCloud address in your contacts,” I will add. “But you can always turn it back to Everyone if you need to share with someone who’s not in your contacts.”

By this point, I will have pretty much ensured that she will never use the feature.

Which is kind of a shame because, as I said, AirDrop is great when it works. In my testing, I’ve run into problems with the Contacts setting; people who should show up in my AirDrop panel sometimes don’t. Either it’s a little bit touchy or those people are not the friends that I thought they were.

No contact, sport: While there are multiple options for using AirDrop, it may be one of the more confusing features in iOS 7.

But my biggest question is, “Why doesn’t AirDrop work with the Mac?” In case you don’t believe me, I’ve tested it—oh, I’ve tested it. It seems darned peculiar to release two operating systems with identically named features that work the same way yet are not compatible with one another. What gives, Apple?

My colleague Dan Frakes hypothesizes that there may be a technological stumbling block: On iOS, AirDrop uses Bluetooth 4.0 to configure its connection; not so on OS X. And only the newest Macs have Bluetooth 4.0, so perhaps AirDrop on OS X hasn’t been updated yet.

Personally, my theory is that Apple doesn’t want to make it easy to send arbitrary files from Macs to iOS, because it gets too close to feeling like a traditional computer with an old-fashioned file system. But maybe that’s just me.

Safari, so good

Not surprisingly, Apple’s Web browser gets a refresh in iOS 7, though perhaps the most contentious change has been the app’s newer, simpler icon. (It doesn’t really bother me, but different strokes, etc.) The functional changes to Safari are more significant, but it still remains the browser you’ve used for years.

Unification: The biggest change you’ll notice is the demise of the search bar. It’s now integrated directly into Safari’s address bar, just as it’s been on OS X since Safari 6. Start typing an address or search query into the bar, and Safari will suggest potential hits from your search engine of choice (Bing, Yahoo, Google, or Russian site Yandex), matches from your bookmarks and history, and places where that term appears on the current page. It will also autocomplete the top hit into the address bar so you can just tap Return to go there; both that and the search suggestions can be disabled in Settings > Safari.

Search smarter: The unified search and location bar is old-hat on the desktop, so it's about time it arrived on iOS.

Adjusting to that unified search field did take me some time, especially as Apple has reconfigured the keyboard. Gone is the .com key that’s been a staple since the original iPhone (you can still get the functionality by tapping and holding on the period key), and they crammed a few more keys in there, meaning I often found myself tapping the period or Go key by accident. But as with all muscle memory, I adapted in time. And not having two fields to tap between definitely simplifies things.

Also welcome is the new bookmark screen that appears when you first tap on the location bar: You’ll be presented with icons representing your Favorites (Apple’s new name for the Bookmarks Bar); tap any of them to go to that site. You can actually adjust which items show up there in Settings > Safari > Favorites by selecting any of your folders to use as your Favorites.

See through: As with the rest of iOS 7, Safari sports a new design that emphasizes light colors, thin lines, and translucency.

Invisible chrome: Safari on the iPhone makes a point of hiding the window chrome as much as possible.

The changes are more radical on the iPhone: As you scroll, the address bar at the top shrinks down to become just a small line of text indicating what site you’re on; the bottom toolbar, meanwhile, slides away, leaving most of the screen filled by whatever content you’re looking at. Tap on the address bar or near the bottom edge of the screen, and the chrome slides back in; it’ll also reappear when you’re quickly scrolling up or when you reach the end of the page. In landscape view on the iPhone, you don’t even get the shrunken address bar when you’re scrolling.

This full-screen display of content is an improvement over iOS 6’s attempt at the same feature, which worked only in landscape mode on the iPhone and required you to tap a button—even then, you were left with little overlays of back and forward buttons that could obscure content.

So how do you navigate when you can’t see any of the buttons? Apple has expanded its gesture support to Safari, letting you swipe to the right to go back a page, or to the left to go forward a page. This capability has actually been in Safari on OS X for some time, so it’s somewhat surprising that it’s only now making its way to the touchscreen-based OS.

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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