In a world of constantly shifting interfaces and continuously updated graphics, Apple’s iOS has remained stubbornly stagnant for the better part of the last five years. While the software platform driving the hugely successful iPhone and iPad line has certainly added new capabilities in that time, the interface has remained largely untouched. While that’s been a comfort to those who like to stick with the “it just works” software of iOS devices, it’s been a frustration to more well-traveled mobile enthusiasts – those who’ve seen new interface innovations from other platforms like Android and Windows Phone and wondered why Apple didn’t seem to have any interest in keeping up.
Today, to the glee of much of the Pocketnow team, that interface got a huge facelift. A renovation so large that it, in and of itself, constitutes a “new feature” of sorts. We thought we’d take a look at some specific aspects of this reinvention, so let’s have a gander at three new iOS 7 features that current and prospective iPhone users will soon have in their hot little hands.
For years now, Android users have reaped the benefits of a platform capable of being “skinned,” its interface elements rethought and enhanced by phone manufacturers to provide a more useful, more enjoyable experience. Perhaps nowhere is the benefit of this skin-ability better illustrated than in terms of the utility toggles Samsung places in the notification area of its Galaxy smartphones.
With a single swipe and tap, owners of Samsung’s Galaxy S devices (and others) have been able to execute functions like turning WiFi and Bluetooth on and off, set vibrate and ring behavior, and control screen brightness – all without resorting to the time-wasting and sometimes confusing settings menu. It’s a handy capability, one we’ve badly wanted to see become standard in newer Android versions.
With iOS 7, Apple finally brings this capability to the iPhone with Control Center. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen -any screen- brings up a panel full of shortcuts to play music, start a timer, or even kick on the LED flashlight … along with the full suite of more basic features outlined above. It’s a huge boon to the iPhone’s usability, and it’s presented beautifully in the new, flattened design language of the revised OS. Speaking of which …
Not just flatter, but better
The iPhones of years past -up to and including every single one currently on the market- have featured an operating system heavy on skeuomorphism (though the more apt term, as Taylor Martin kindly reminded us on today’s special WWDC edition of the Pocketnow Live, is “photo-realism”). That means the current iOS 6 interface features elements meant to distract from their digital nature: faux stitched leather and linen textures, machine-turned details on “aluminum” buttons, and so on. As platforms like Android, Windows Phone, and even the new BlackBerry have embraced a more digitally-authentic approach with flattened and simplified UI elements, there’s been a call for Apple to take similar steps to modernize its interface.
iOS 7 does just that. It doesn’t go quite so far as the rather extreme Modern UI of Windows Phone, but rather takes cues from the latest versions of Android and even fledgling platforms like Jolla’s Sailfish to present an iPhone operating environment totally unlike what we’re used to seeing. The new system font features ultra-thin characters reminiscent of Android’s Roboto mixed with Windows Phone’s Segoe WP. It introduces a new color palette favoring bolder tones straddling the line between neon and pastel – while removing color from list elements to make them easier to parse. It adds fun elements like a stock “parallax effect” wallpaper and animated stock apps – like the HTC Sense-esque falling snow and lightning strikes in the Weather app. And it mixes in fun elements like a translucent keyboard and Control Center backing so a user remains immersed in whatever visual is on-screen “in the background.”
It does all this while maintaining the familiar grid of apps and folders – though these are improved in both utility and aesthetics by unlimited folder capacity and redesigned icons, respectively. iOS 7 is a nearly perfect union of the established and the exotic, a simultaneous satisfaction of divergent goals that doesn’t feel (too much) like a compromise.
Siri can be dude-ified … and s/he’s smarter, too
Siri is a polarizing feature – either you use it or you don’t. There’s a correspondingly black-or-white nature to public opinion of Siri’s usefulness, as well; either you find it helpful or you don’t. The disagreements between both sets of camps makes for fun reading in the comments of any voice-interface article.
Unlike Samsung’s approach with the rival S Voice (i.e., “release it and forget it”), Apple seems hell-bent on keeping Siri relevant and pushing the boundaries of what the feature is capable of. The last major update to Siri brought more utility in the form of live sports scores, OpenTable integration for restaurant reservations, and more. Today’s announcement brings still more features to enhance Siri’s usefulness, including direct integration with Wikipedia, live Twitter searches, and a realtime waveform animation to display how well the assistant hears you.
It’s also now possible to shift Siri’s gender to male, for those of you who prefer a more masculine personal assistant – but even if you leave Siri set to its “original” female gender, her voice has received an overhaul to sound a little more natural, a little less “1960s robot secretary.” And there’s added language support and boosted speed here as well – all of it encased within the new, fresh iOS 7 design aesthetic.
Apple has at last provided confirmation of the old adage that “good things come to those who wait.” And there’s so much more to iOS 7 – more visual enhancements than we could hope to cover here, and literally hundreds of new features to boost the usability of one of the world’s most popular smartphones.
While users will have to wait for the fall to experience these improvements, developers are getting their first looks right now – and so are we. So if there’s a feature or service we didn’t call out above that you’re waiting to see, don’t worry; much more coverage is just around the corner. Check out the iOS 7 articles from some of the other fine voices here at Pocketnow, and stay tuned for hands-on video with the new iOS 7 beta, coming to you just as soon as we can film it!