Apple released the much anticipated iOS 7 yesterday at WWDC 2013 and it is fair to say that most of the early reactions have been positive. There are many interesting features, most of them expected/demanded by the technology enthusiasts. Before proceeding further, it is important to understand that what was shown yesterday at the event was only a developer preview (almost like a pre-beta version as iOS 7 for iPad is not even available for a preview) and it is expected to be a little more polished and tweaked by Fall 2013 when it releases to the general public.
Disclaimer: The impressions and thoughts that follow are purely based on features that were shown off yesterday and not based on any hands on experience. Or plainly put as Andy Ihnatko said on Macbreak "You cannot judge a language based only on one poem". So take it with a grain of salt.
Overall look and feel
The Johny Ivification of iOS was quite expected and the so called flat(ter) design was imminent. But as Tim Cook mentioned it over and over again iOS 7 certainly feels like "the biggest change since the introduction of the iPhone". The fact that Ive took over the iOS design only seven months before is kind of astounding when you see these changes! The OS now feels very Mac OS X like for the lack of better comparison that I am aware of. The color palette is very bright and contrasting and of course there are absolutely no signs of skeuomorphisms from the past.
The app icons are flat, though they still have the legendary rounded corners. Most of the system app icons have changed to different degrees, like the Messages app which almost retains the same color combination but drops the textures and 3D looks or the Game Center app which sports a totally new app icon with colorful bubbles of different sizes (no idea on what game this represents).
Once inside an app things have changed quite a bit too. The interface and navigation buttons are plain text/arrows/symbols with no buttons with 3D textures. Most of the apps have a white background with bright colors, predominantly blue, red and black on top. As speculated before based on the WWDC app released before the event the selected tabs/buttons just light up without an area around them also lighting up as before. Minor cues like the cellular strenght indicator has changed from successive bars with increasing heights to solid dots (to indicate reception) and hollow dots (to indicate lack of reception) have been tweaked. The new design overall looks more suited to the digital age than the old one that was miming real world objects and experience (eg. the compass app).
There is no shortage of new features in iOS 7. Some of the most interesting ones are the Control Center, Multitasking, AirDrop, iTunes radio and Safari. While some of them have decent upgrades to their features like the Notification Center and the Photos app. Siri still looks like a dud in beta and the Camera app has only changed visibly with very few new features.
The Control Center is probably the most useful feature for majority of the iOS users and was the most demanded one as well. It is basically a quick access sheet to all your most frequently used settings like wifi, volume control, do not disturb mode, bluetooth, etc. A quick swipe from the bottom of the screen up (opposite to the Notifications Center) brings it up and it can be accessed even from the lock screen. So far there is no information on whether the set of options on this sheet can be modified or not, but nevertheless this is a great feature and would save a lot of time and touches.
Multitasking has never been one of iOS's strengths and the reason Apple provides was that to have good battery life, they had to sacrifice true multitasking for a gimmick like multitasking for major apps (major apps deemed by Apple). Now with iOS 7 multitasking comes to all apps and though still sounds like a hi-tech gimmick, it looks closer to real multitasking. The visual elements of Multitasking looks a lot like WebOS (is it because it has been made 'open', so no risk of patent infringement?) where with a double click of the home button, all apps form smaller rectangular cards that can be swiped from left to right (to move across different apps) or bottom to up (to kill an app). The cards apparently hold on to their last active state and hence give much better information on what the app was doing in the background. Apple also mentioned about a 'clever' algorithm to manage multiple apps where the apps that the user uses the most getting more importance in background processing and apps getting background updates at times when the user is expected to use it (which the algorithm learns with time and usage) to further enhance the multitasking experience without affecting the battery life.
AirDrop makes sharing data (photos, videos and contacts) with nearby iOS users (your contacts and/or everyone) by creating a local wifi network between iOS devices. This is Apple's take on Android's bump feature that lets users share data by bumping their phones with each other. However the scope of AirDrop is still not totally clear. From the demo, the feature looked very neat though making sharing with multiple nearby iOS users as easy as tapping on their icons once.
iTunes radio brings the Pandora experience to the iOS where users can stream songs for free (with ads or free with iTunes match subscription of $25 a year) . Its more of an added iTunes feature than a stand alone app as many had speculated. Safari got some much needed improvements like unlimited tabs and unified search field, along with some visual cues and gestures like full screen (edge to edge) utilization and swipe back and forward browser history.
The most important feature that Notifications Center acquired was lock screen access and a tabbed layout with a Today tab that shows a summary of the day's activities including cues like weather (a weak imitation of Google Now). The Photos app gains Moments and Collections, similar to Events in Mac OS X, where the app intelligently sorts the photos taken based on meta data like the time and location. And a cool zooming out feature allows a global view of all the photos sorted by year. Scrubbing over these minute thumbnails enlarges the photos one at a time to quickly get to that one photo.
Siri gets a facelift with a new wave like animation and a voicelift with a male voice along with the female voice, both of whom are more closer to human like. A few additions to the feature set include adjusting iOS settings (like brightness, bluetooth, etc.) and more questions that can be answered. Also to many's dismay the default search engine that Siri uses is Bing and not Google (not sure if this can be changed). But as pointed out by many bloggers, even with iOS 7 Siri is nowhere close to Google Now !
The camera app has updated interface that is very clean (with minimal on screen controls) and swipe anywhere to shift from photo mode to video mode to panorama mode and to a square mode (wait what?), where the photos are squared off in terms of the aspect ratio (similar to Instagram). There are also 'cool' new (albeit very few) live filters which have been included.
In conclusion there are a boatload of new features in iOS 7, but there are many more that it still is missing, like the actionable notifications that was demoed for Mac OS X Mavericks, ability to chose default apps, some kind of an alternative file management, etc. Majority of the iOS users will be happy with the latest upgrade that though might have a (much needed) learning curve, still is very intuitive.
Again no one should be surprised that most of these features existed in Android or other mobile OS, as Apple historically waits for others to experiment with rusty new technology and does not include it in their products unless they are near perfect. Remember, it is sufficient to satisfy a few power Android users as normal people who own an Android phone hardly use it (Apple web share beats Android almost 3 to 1), hence do not care about even updating their Android OS to the latest version. Whereas iOS users use their mobile devices more frequently and fervently and Apple has to appease a mass market and not just a few power users.
All in all, iOS 7 might not convince many to shift from Android or other mobile OS to iOS, but will definitely keep the existing iOS users more than happy - your old (not too old though) iOS device will feel like a new one with iOS 7. A fitting byline for iOS 7 is what Leo Laporte said on this week's Macbreak "iOS 7 - some copying, some catching up and some innovation".
Source of all images: Apple.com