iOS 7: First Impressions

iOS 7 was announced a couple of weeks ago, and sparks are flying just about everywhere. Now that things are calmer, and I’ve been using it for about 10 days, here are some of my notes on the new version of iOS.

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Before and after

It’s all about context

The biggest change in terms of UX is the much-talked-about contextual animations/hierarchy. The entire interface is like a real-life Prezi. When you open up an app, you zoom into it’s actual location on the screen; folders mean you zoom in twice. You return out of an app the same way. It takes a little getting used to, but the context feels smooth and intuitive.

You see this context in little things too, when switching to the dial pad during the call.

Everything else looks dated

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Breathing again

There is little doubt that iOS6, while powerful, was starting to look dated anyway, but the interface refresh in iOS7 means that most apps now look incredibly dated, especially when enveloped in iOS7’s interface. There are exceptions — some apps, with vibrant colors and less bezeled interfaces — don’t look incredibly out of place, but everything else looks like it was made in the last century, or thereabouts.

Changes to iOS core apps — Mail, Phone/Contacts, Messages, Weather, Clocks, App Store and the like — are mostly welcome. The only one I’m not really enjoying is Mail, where the text seems a little cramped for room. I still prefer the interface of something like EvoMail, except that it’s not entirely stable in iOS7, but I’m sure that won’t be the case for long.

Messages looks amazingly different and fresh. I actually hope they bring this feel to the desktop eventually.

Whoa, camera

The interface for the camera — and it’s modes — has changed a bit and is smooth, but what really took me by surprise was the speed with which pictures are taken. It’s so incredibly fast that I assumed something was wrong and clicked again. And again. When I realized I’d taken 5 pictures instead of the 1. The usual wait for the shutter to snap and load into the camera roll seem to be over. Dang!

The little things

There are some fairly subtle, not hyped changes that Apple has included that are quite nice as well. Some highlights:

  • When your phone is charging and you wake the device, the display first shows you how far along the charge cycle is, before switching to date
  • The entire screen can be slid to unlock now, unless there are notifications, in which case, as expected, the specific notification slides into the app itself.
  • If you use a Panoramic picture as your lock screen wallpaper, moving the phone around reveals that direction of the picture. Nifty.
  • The top bar (with carrier, battery information) has lost a font size point in the home screen, getting just a little more out of the way.
  • There is a clear attempt to humanize the today view in Notifications.
  • Spotlight (or phone search) is now a pull down from any screen, in a nice frosted glass view, and enhanced search.
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  • Mail and Spotlight searches seem to be significantly improved, and real-time.
  • Calendar looks great, but no longer shows me if I have an appointment on a day or not unless I drill down to the day’s view.
    Update: This is fixed in Beta 3.
  • Siri is definitely improved and fun to talk to (seems to voice recognize better as well). There are reports that Siri can be trained to pronounce names correctly but I haven’t tried this yet.
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Overall

This post was not meant as a comparison to anything but iOS6 and my overall feeling of using iOS7. While still in beta, there’s a lot to like in terms of smoothness and context. Even though I didn’t have any direct problems with datedness (so to speak) in iOS6, now that I’ve used iOS7 for a week I realize how smooth it feels when those are cleared.

I’m also intrigued by some possibilities. Marco Arment’s post makes a helluva point about this:

Apple has set fire to iOS. Everything’s in flux. Those with the least to lose have the most to gain, because this fall, hundreds of millions of people will start demanding apps for a platform with thousands of old, stale players and not many new, nimble alternatives.

Ofcourse, despite the complaints, developers will start to update their apps soon enough, but he’s right that it won’t be easy. The changes are fairly drastic, enough to require design and technology changes and upgrades.

So that’s where we are so far. I plan on continuing to use the beta on a day to day basis; but now that’s mostly because I can’t seem to enjoy iOS6 anymore.

Chirag Desai @Chirag