Lest you thought you might be waiting until iOS 8 for a new dose of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 7.1 is here with a bunch of changes, enhancements, and updates. The upgrade’s been in beta for a while, but it officially arrived on Monday.
Probably the most prominent addition in the new version is that of CarPlay, the “iOS in the Car” experience that Apple
recently showed off at the Geneva Motor Show. When vehicles that support it become available later this year, CarPlay will provide an easy way to use your iOS device while driving, with support for built-in apps like Phone, Messages, and Maps, along with first- and third-party audio apps. It also features full support for Siri, as well as touchscreens and physical controls.
While we’re waiting for CarPlay, however, there are plenty of other iOS 7.1 tweaks to tide us over. Siri now features an alternate control mode: The virtual assistant can now listen as long as you hold down the Home button, and then immediately stop listening when you release it, rather than having to wait until it thinks you’re done. (If you’re fine with the old way, don’t worry: It hasn’t changed.) Those who speak Mandarin Chinese, UK English, Australian English, and Japanese also get some brand new, more natural speaking voices for the assistant.
iOS 7’s iTunes Radio feature gets a new search field, so you can more quickly create stations based on a particular song or artist, as well as tighter integration with buying albums from the Now Playing screen (previously, you could just buy songs).
Those who felt frustrated with the radical interface design changes in iOS 7 have some additional recourse in iOS 7. The Reduce Motion option that turned off the OS’s parallax feature now applies to the Weather, Messages, and multitasking interface as well, and enabling Bold Text will now affect the keyboard, calculator, and some icons. Apple’s also added options for displaying button shapes, darkening app colors to provide more contrast, and decreasing the white point for even more contrast.
And the company is still continuing to refine the OS’s interface. Several elements of the Phone app have been reworked here, with a rounded icon-based button replacing the traditional Call button, and a brand new answer screen with round interface elements. The power-off screen has been tweaked as well, as have the shuffle and repeat controls in the Music app. If you were hoping for a return to pre-iOS 7 aesthetics, that train has left the station.
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of other enhancements: Calendar can now show an agenda-style list of events in the monthly view (an iOS 6 feature many missed), and will now specifically display holidays for many different countries; iCloud Keychain is now supported in additional countries; notifications for FaceTime calls will go away if you answer the call elsewhere; and the Camera app now has a setting that will automatically enable HDR on the iPhone 5s.
If it’s bug fixes you crave, iOS 7.1 has them in spades too. A bug that could cause a crash on the home screen? Gone. Better recognition of your fingerprints for Touch ID? Check. Improved performance on the iPhone 4? You betcha. A patch for problems with the Mail icon’s unread badge showing numbers greater than 10,000? Fixed, but you should probably still clean out your inbox a bit. In our brief time using the update, it also seems notably zippier in terms of performance.
The iOS 7.1 update is available for download over the air in Software Update. (We expect it will shortly be available via Apple’s support downloads site as well.) Depending on the model of your iPhone, it varies in size, but you’ll likely need a couple free gigabytes in order to install it. It’s compatible with any device running iOS 7 or later.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident.