iOS 7: First impressions

Ten things I'm happy Apple is fixing in iOS 7

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iOS 7: First impressions

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I love my iPhone, and have loved it since I ditched my Sony Ericsson 710a way back in 2008. But no device is perfect, and every year I look forward to Worldwide Developers Conference keynotes and the new iOS features that typically come with it. iOS 7—previewed at this year’s WWDC—brings fixes for quite a few of my long-term quibbles—here are the ten I’m most looking forward to.

No more digging around settings

As a general rule, I like keeping the automatic brightness control off, so as to save my battery life. Unfortunately, this means that my screen’s occasionally too bright (or too dim) for the environment. But until iOS 7, there’s been no easy way to change my brightness on the iPhone without diving into several Settings menus.

Control Center: Never dive into the Settings app to enable Bluetooth again.

Thank goodness, then, for Control Center. In addition to bringing easy on/off controls for Airplane mode, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Do Not Disturb, and screen rotation, there are big friendly sliders for both brightness and volume. Not only does this bring the iPhone ahead of the iOS 6’s paltry controls implementation, but it gives the end-user more control over basic settings (and eliminates one of the major reasons I ever thought about jailbreaking my device).

iOS 7’s Control Center also reminds me a lot of OS X’s menu bar widgets: Your controls on iOS 7 may not live in your iPhone’s menu bar, but you can access them anywhere—even on the lock screen. There are even app shortcuts along the bottom of the Control Center to quickly turn on your LED flash and launch the Clock, Calculator, or Camera apps.

Of course, seeing those app shortcuts makes me hope we’ll soon be able to customize them, but that might be a wish better saved for iOS 8.

Goodbye, multitasking bar

The multitasking bar was a godsend when Apple first introduced it in iOS 4. It was limited, sure, and you had to do a lot of tapping and swiping, but it at last brought some semblance of multitasking to the iPhone and iPad.

But three years later, it’s time for a change, and iOS 7 delivers. The new multitasking interface feels much more in tune with the modern mobile OS. No more accidental tapping on app icons because you tried to switch too quickly; instead, you get beautiful miniature screen captures of your apps to swipe through, with the icons along the bottom (just in case you’re not sure what’s on the screen).

The feature I love most about the new multitasking screen, though, isn’t the captures themselves; it’s when you need to quit an app. In the past, force-quitting an application involved tapping and holding on an icon to make it shake, then tapping the red delete button. Inevitably, this rather confusing process got me questions from my relatives: “Did I just delete my Facebook?”

Quitting an app in iOS 7 feels much more natural: You just remove it from the carousel by dragging it upwards. The card disappears, and your other apps slide over. Easy peasy, and no scary delete button to frighten your parents.

I still would like to see a Multi-Touch gesture for opening the multitasking screen on the iPhone (a pinch from the home screen, maybe, a la Mission Control on OS X?), but I suspect Apple worries about overloading the iPhone’s smaller screen with too many gestures. (And, no, Android fans, I don’t think the the solution is to make the iPhone bigger.)

Photographic updates with friends

Based on the popularity of apps like Snapchat, it’s obvious that people like sharing images with their friends. Apple tried to hop on this bandwagon with Shared Photo Streams in iOS 6, which let you send pictures to your buddies; unfortunately, the “shared” in Shared Photo Streams wasn’t very sharing-friendly at all. Photo streams were one-way trips: You could send images to your friends and add more throughout the week, but if they wanted to give pictures back to you, they had to create their own separate stream. Aggravating at the least, and it did a lot to convince me not to use Shared Photo Streams, an otherwise very nifty feature.

Thankfully, iOS 7 addresses the core problem, giving you the option for one- or multi-way Shared Photo Streams. In addition, Apple’s added support for video sharing—so you can spice up that static stream with a moving picture or three.

In the future, I hope we’ll see even more control over who can see and post to streams. I love the concept of having a shared repository of great images, and it would be great to see Apple further iterate on that.

Easy local file sharing

Given the iPhone’s popularity, it’s not surprising to be at a party with friends who all have an iPhone. Less fun, however, is trying to share images or files with those friends on the spot. You have two options—email and Messages (which only really lets you send photos or video) or using a third-party app like Dropbox.

So hallelujah for AirDrop, Apple’s OS X peer-to-peer sharing network, coming soon to an iOS device near you in iOS 7. It uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to wirelessly share photos, video, Passbook passes, map data, contact cards, and possibly even more (depending on how third-party apps implement it) to your nearby friends—no email or messages needed.

The AirDrop icon is all over iOS 7, and its settings even appear in Control Center, where you can choose to allow anyone to send you files, just your contacts, and no one. And according to this post from the Bluetooth blog, AirDrop may use the latest iteration of Bluetooth Smart technology.

Welcome back, keychain sync

Once upon a time, users of Apple’s MobileMe service (now known as iCloud) had an option called Keychain Sync, which would store passwords from OS X’s Keychain Access and let you access those on all of your Macs. It didn’t always work reliably—which was probably why it disappeared during the iCloud transition—but I’m really excited to see its partial return in the form of iCloud Keychain.

Granted, Apple hasn’t said how iCloud Keychain performs its magic, but the end result is similar: Enter a password in Safari on your Mac, and iCloud will remember that password for you on your other Macs or iOS devices. You can also store account information, credit card numbers, and your Wi-Fi networks and passwords.

All I know is I’ll certainly be overjoyed if I never have to manually enter in a credit card number on my phone again.

Searching in Siri

My colleague Lex Friedman uses Siri for search and all sorts of everyday tasks. But I haven’t been able to stomach it: I hate getting kicked out to Safari whenever I ask Apple’s virtual assistant something it can’t source Wolfram Alpha or its own servers for—and unfortunately, that happens pretty often.

So Siri’s new inline search options sounds pretty promising to me. I’m not quite as sure how I feel about Apple’s partnership with Bing search, having been a Google searcher since I dropped Alta Vista, but I’m willing to give it a shot. (And hey—currently, you can force Siri to search Wolfram Alpha by prefacing all queries with “search Wolfram Alpha,” so it’s possible you might be able to force Siri to search Google by doing something similar.)

No more manual downloads

There’s just something about those awful red update badges that tweak my OCD something fierce. I’ve turned them off in every app I can, but the App Store app has ever remained, mocking me silently with its “2 app updates” reminder. So when Apple announced during its keynote that John McCain would be getting his wish and automatic updates would indeed come to iOS, I cheered.

I do hope Apple does this sensibly: The company hasn’t publicly mentioned whether you can limit automatic downloads while on cellular data, or if you can disable automatic updates at all. That said, Apple’s been pretty good about letting users monitor and turn off cellular data for things like automatic music, books, and app downloads, so there’s a pretty good chance we might see a similar switch for updates in iOS 7.

Even more Multi-Touch gestures

I’ve long wished for more iPhone Multi-Touch gestures to match my iPad and Mac’s capabilities. Four finger swipes seem a bit crazy on the iPhone, but there are plenty of other gestures to add functionality. And while Apple didn’t include my most wished-for gesture (one for opening the multitasking bar on the iPhone), there are new swipes abound in iOS 7.

You can swipe upward to access Control Center. Swipe to the right to go back hierarchically. Pull down from the center to access the search screen. Swipe up on an app in the multitasking screen to force-quit it. Many of these gestures we’ve seen in third-party apps, and I’m very happy to see them come to the iPhone in the fall.

Mail search will actually work (we hope)

According to this feature slide, better Mail search is coming to iOS 7.

Oh, mobile mail search. The bane of my existence—and, I imagine, many an email-laden worker. Apple’s Mail app has been limited to searching solely in the mailbox you’re occupying for as long as I’ve had an iPhone, and for someone who has a lot of folders and organizational tics (yours truly), it makes finding messages almost impossible.

iOS 7, in contrast, looks to finally end our long national nightmare by letting us search all mailboxes from any mail screen—whether it’s our inbox or three levels down in a “coupons” folder. It’s a feature I’m eagerly awaiting—though I suppose it means I can no longer use the excuse “I’m on my iPhone and I can’t find that email with the information you need” when I’m not at work.

Thieves, beware

It looked as if senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi tossed in Activation Lock at the end of the iOS 7 presentation almost as an afterthought—but it’s clear Apple’s very proud of its new theft deterrent. Activation Lock prevents would-be iPhone thieves from wiping and reselling your phone by first requiring your iCloud username and password to unlock it.

I lost my phone once last year, and that experience (coupled with a few close calls from sketchy characters in major metropolitan cities) makes me incredibly grateful for any extra security measures Apple can implement. We keep so much important, private data on our phones these days that it’s vital to have efficient protection from thieves and would-be snoopers, and I’m glad to see the company taking an interest in these matters.

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


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


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