Update: iPhone’s newest OS has been released. Check out our full review of iOS 8.
Earlier this summer, Apple unveiled iOS 7, which is the most ambitious change to its iPhone, iPod, iPad, and Apple TV operating system that we’ve ever seen. The new update brings a complete visual overhaul and a number of updated and upgraded features. There’s a little something for everyone here. But, with every change comes some good and some bad. There are always compromises and lingering issues. Below is our review of the new OS. For your reading pleasure, we’ve formatted things a little differently than usual. Here are seven things we love about iOS 7, and seven things we hate.
Love: The new Control Center
iOS 7 has a surprising number of small upgrades, but the Control Center is the best of them. This highly needed menu is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. It lets you easily turn on and off quick vital functions like Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the new Do Not Disturb mode, and screen rotation. (We wish the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth buttons would let you choose which networks or devices to connect to, but a toggle is a start.) The also lets you change the screen brightness and play, pause, or toggle the volume of any music or podcasts you have going. There is also access to the camera, alarm/timer, calculator, and a built-in LED flashlight. We haven’t used the calculator much, but everything else has come in handy on a regular basis.
Hate: The Notification Center
The swipe-up Control Center may be awesome, but if you swipe down from the top of the screen, you’ll see a feature Apple still hasn’t mastered. The Notification Center has new features like a “Today” view that tells you the temperature and your calendar for the day, but it’s still leagues behind Google’s Android notification screen. You get notifications, but they usually just accumulate in a big “All” list that you never look at. It’s still impossible to get rid of a single notification and if you do want to open one, be prepared to wait.
The entire iPhone screen still lights up every time you get a notification. We wish there were ways to customize the notification screen to fit our needs better. Currently, it feels like a place for Apple to shove a few of its own widgets, but they aren’t customizable or well thought out.
Love: The multitasking menu
We forgive you if you didn’t know that the iPhone had a multitasking menu in it. You could reach it by double tapping the Home button or, if you’re on an iPad, swiping up with four fingers. Instead of cramming it way down at the bottom, the new multitasking menu takes up the whole screen and lets you swipe up (and away) apps that you want to close, if they’re giving you a hard time or freezing up. As always, you don’t have to close apps for battery saving reasons. Apple does a great job of freezing them in place so they don’t suck up your battery life.
We’re happy that Apple offers a free backup service, but iCloud still needs a lot of work. Because it lacks a central interface, the iCloud really is just a cloud. It has backed up 4.6GB of our stuff and complains that we’re running out of space, but offers no good (or easily visible) way to fix this problem, unless we just buy more storage, which is ultimately what it wants. You can disable or enable apps, but we need an interface to manage all these files. It’s not obvious how to even view photos in your iCloud (boot up iPhoto). With apps and photos continuing to take up more and more space, Apple needs to invest more in its backup solutions. It’s good to know that our stuff is backed up, but it would be better to be able to check it out from anywhere, easily, and organize.
Love: The new photo gallery
Gallery app innovation has been at a standstill for years. Until now, the iPhone has just shown a grid of photos that you must endlessly scroll through. Now, the Photo app intelligently organizes your photos in some new ways. The default “Moments” view shows you your photos organized by day (and labeled by location). If you back out a level into the “Collections” view, the app bundles them more broadly, again by date taken and location. Finally, a new “Years” view shows you every picture you took in an entire year. Cooler still, you can hold your thumb over the collection of pictures to preview individual photos and jump right to them. This app is great and we hope other phones follow Apple’s lead.
Hate: Apps still don’t do much in the background
Apple claims that it’s allowing more support for apps to run in the background, but we’ve yet to see meaningful results. We hope that things will improve as developers update their apps, but we’re not hopeful. Using iOS is like always being 5 to 10 seconds behind. Though notifications from apps come in, the apps themselves don’t begin to update until you enter them. So if you got an email, you’ll have to download it (again) to read it for real. If you happen to be on a subway or in a plane, you won’t be reading that email until you’re back in reach of cellular service. Apps that you wish would run in the background and update on a schedule, like Apple’s own Podcasts app, still don’t.
If you want new radio programs to listen to as you drive to work, you have to make sure to open the Podcasts app and let it sit open while it downloads. Apple claims that apps will begin to update themselves at select times based on our usage, but this feature doesn’t appear to be present yet. If it is, we haven’t yet benefited from it. Google’s Android OS, by contrast, offers rich background updating and real-time notifications. Apple is years behind on this feature, and it does hinder the iPhone.
Love: App Store automatic updates
The App Store has a few new categories, but the big feature this go-round is automatic app updating. We love this. Android devices have had it for a while, but that’s okay. Instead of forgetting to update and having 38 app updates waiting for you, iOS downloads updates on an invisible schedule that it sets. The system works well. We haven’t had to think about updates for some time, and we don’t mind that. By default, Apple won’t update apps using your cellular data. Instead, it will wait until you’re on Wi-Fi.
Hate: Apple’s apps
Apple’s own first-party apps look newer, but most of them run mostly the same. We like the facelift, but still find many of Apple’s bundled apps subpar, like the Mail app, Passbook, and Reminders. There’s no way to get rid of any Apple apps. Don’t want nonessential apps like Stocks, Compass, Weather, Newstand, iTunes U, Reminders, iBooks, or Calculator hogging up your home screen space? Too bad. You can’t delete them. You’ll have to do what we do and hide them in a folder.
Love: The new Camera app
Apple’s new Camera app has a few new features, some of which you might like. The best feature is that you can take pictures extremely fast by tapping on the shutter button. Instagram fans, there’s now a “Square” option and some built-in filters so you can make your pictures look old and washed out before you ever open Facebook’s photo app. Other features are less prominent. You can toggle HDR on and off (though Apple never explains to you what HDR is, which is un-Apple-like) and while you’re recording video, you can also take pictures of what you’re recording – a feature originally made popular by HTC. All good stuff…
Hate: The new Camera app
…But the new Camera app also has some downsides. Yes, it can take pictures insanely quickly, but it can’t focus them that fast. Without realizing it, you’re going to accidentally take a lot of very crappy, blurry photos, and if you don’t delete them, they’re going to fill your cloudy iCloud drive right up. There’s no way to turn down the quality of pics either, so you’re always taking 8-megapixel shots.
Love: Siri has improved
Apple has enhanced Siri in a few new ways. First, you can tell when it’s listening because a sound wave appears at the bottom of the screen. Now, if you want to look up a celebrity, you can ask what they’re “saying” or about them and Siri will show tweets or Wikipedia pages. By asking Siri “What is Molly McHugh saying” I got an instant link to our star Social Media Editor. It’s also now powered by Bing. It can help you navigate, play your voicemail, return calls, control iTunes Radio, and do other things, too. If you want to give Siri a sex change, you can do that; a male voice is also available.
Hate: Siri still frustrates the hell out of us
Siri continues to get better, it’s still nowhere near being a feature that won’t frustrate you more than help you. Many times, it won’t be able to connect or won’t have an answer, and anytime it can’t help you quickly, it ends up sucking up much more of your time as you dig through the phone to find an app you realize you should have opened in the first place. For example, though it was easy to look up what “Molly McHugh is saying,” We tried to find out what DT’s resident anti-technologist “Andrew Couts is saying” and got nothing but a bunch of people I didn’t want to know about.
Though Siri now connects to a few new services, it uses Bing for search. We really wish Google and Apple would make up. We’d like our choice of search engine.
Using the Moto X has also made Siri feel antiquated. Moto X allows you to call Google Now (Android’s version of Siri) up by talking to the phone, even if the screen is off and it’s asleep. The iPhone should do this. By having to turn on the screen, hold the Home button, and wait for Siri to open before you can ask it something, you’re almost better off just doing that something yourself.
Love: The new visual design
We’ve been defending the design of iOS 7 for months. Seriously, we’ve defended it a lot, even as people nitpicked its icons to death. It’s a good looking OS and should be a welcome change for almost anyone who is considering an iPhone, or has been staring at the iPhone apps and homescreen for years. If you love glossy skeumorphic gradients, then yes, you will miss the way iOS has looked for the last six years. But times change, and this new design will grow on you. We promise. The new minimalist look to apps makes them easier to use much of the time, and as all apps begin to incorporate the new style, things will only improve.
Hate: Functionally, nothing’s really changed
If you were pinning your hopes on iOS 7 leapfrogging Android and being completely new and different, you may want to sit down. When you get past the new visual design and the half-dozen or so new features, a phone with iOS 7 will still work almost exactly like any iPhone before it. Functionally, it’s almost identical. The home screen layout is the same; the Settings are organized the same way; and most major qualms you had with any iPhone or iPad, you’ll probably still have with an iPhone or iPad running iOS 7. This isn’t a game changer; it’s a much-needed facelift, with a tummy tuck for good measure.
We like iOS 7 a lot and think you’ll be happy you upgraded to it. Keep your expectations for iOS 7 on the ground and your dreams for iOS 8 in the sky. The new OS is available now. To get it, follow our guide on How to prepare for and download iOS 7. Also check out our tips and tricks guide to iOS 7.