updated 09:01 am EDT, Thu October 3, 2013
Apple reimagines iOS 7 with a comprehensive overhaul
Apple iOS 7 is the biggest single upgrade to Apple's storied iOS franchise since it shipped on the original iPhone back in 2007. Rightly, much of the attention has focused on the vibrant new look of the iOS 7 interface, which has been driven by Apple design guru Sir Jony Ive whose design team worked closely with Apple software chief Craig Federighi and his engineers to transform the iPhone experience in the space of less than 12 months. However, there is a lot more to iOS 7 than meets the eye, with ground breaking 64-bit architecture underpinning the entire operating system including a native 64-bit kernel, libraries and drivers. In Part 1 of this short series of deeper looks at iOS 7, we are focusing on the revitalized iOS 7 UI, the Notification and Control Centers as well as Multitasking. In the first instance, we take a look at iOS 7 running on the iPhone 5s and 5c, Apple's latest premium smartphones.
iOS and the Apple smartphone paradigm
Apple's iOS 7 is a much more vibrant and contemporary experience than iOS 6. It is a long over due overhaul, but it has been comprehensive. Although a lot of the attention has focused over the years on the design of each iPhone, the franchise would have never been the incredible success that it has been if it weren't for iOS operating system, originally called the iPhone OS. The iPhone has always been a very minimalistic piece of hardware, while it is the operating system and its first-party applications that have defined the overall user experience. Apple's smartphone paradigm shift was all about dropping physical controls, including a physical keyboard, allowing for an endless reconfiguration of its multitouch display so that it can become many, many devices in one.
Colors, translucency and layers
iOS 7 does not change this paradigm fundamentally, but builds upon it subtly, with the use of layers and translucency providing users enhanced orientation and context. The use of more brightly colored icons helps considerably with this approach that fly in when you unlock the iPhone. These bright colors turn to a more pastel-like appearance when the new Control Center is launched, or when the revamped Notification Center is activated. This allows users to sense where they are in the user interface when other layers of functionality are triggered. The colors can also be tailored to your iPhone, which is most noticeable in its implementation in the colourful iPhone 5c range, but it works well across all iOS 7 compatible iPhones including the iPhone 4 and 4S. Changing your wallpaper now also results in system wide color effects, helping to harmonise the entire iOS 7 experience.
iOS 7 also includes a number of new animations, most noticeable of its which is the gentle zoom apparent when launching and closing apps, that changes from left to center or to the right, depending on the position of the app on the Home screen. It also serves to build on the concept of layers that Apple has embedded throughout the operating system. It creates a sense of almost three-dimensional-like depth as you navigate throughout the various applications and functions of the iPhone, akin to taking the user on a small journey in and out of each application. This is most effective when diving into folders and launching applications. It makes the iOS experience more engaging and even more fluid. It gives a sense of deep unification to the design of iOS 7 that is consistent from each built-in app and across the whole OS in a way not previously seen from Apple, or any other maker for that matter.
Parallax effect and 'peeking':
Another aspect that of the UI that has changed is the introduction of a parallax effect that can be seen on both the Lockscreen and home screen. Tilt your iPhone and you can seemingly take a peak behind the icons, with Apple using the gyroscope in the iPhone in tandem with the UI. It introduces a sense of fun and playfulness into the user experience, while also reinforcing the idea that the icons themselves are layered over the background wallpaper. Apple has also extended the concept of layering throughout the operating system through the new ability to swipe from left to right through out built-in apps and even areas of the iPhone allowing you to 'peek' at screens lying 'underneath' other screens. It is a function that can be seen in any of Apple's built-in apps where there is a sense of hierarchy, as in Safari when browsing from one page to the next, or in Settings, when moving between functional hierarchies as well.
While the UI has been given a significant revamp in ways that are visually apparent, they are much less obtrusive than the way in which iOS6 and previous versions of the operating system used more real-world references (ie. skeuomorphism) to help users navigate their digital domain. Folders, for example, now have a light, unobtrusive, partly translucent background picking hues from the wallpaper theme, making apps a lot easier to see than the previous dark cloth-like background. At the same time that iOS 7 may add new transitions and layers to the user experience, it also strips away many non-essential elements wherever possible, helping to push user content forward. You will find that various bars and buttons have been removed altogether, or quickly recede from view when no longer needed.
The Control Center gives iOS 7 users quick access to frequently used settings for the first time. Like the Notification Center, the implementation of translucency embodies the design philosophy behind iOS 7, helping you to keep oriented to what screen or app you are in when you launch it. This is particularly important when you realize that if can be launched from the Home screen, the Lock screen, in apps and even when in Settings. Control Center gives you the ability to quickly toggle Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb and Orientation lock with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen and a tap. Other settings that can be quickly adjusted here include AirDrop, audio-visual controls, launching the torch function, timer, calculator and even the camera app. Further, with the camera function included in the Control Center, you can almost instantly launch the camera app, regardless of what you are doing on your phone resulting in fewer missed photo opportunities. At this stage, users can't define the functions available in Control Center, but it is possible that this might come in the future and is certainly something we would like to see.
While Control Center uses a white looking frosted glass pane translucent effect, Notification Center adopts a darker translucent effect like looking through a tinted window and fills the whole display when the layer is launched. Functionality and information presented in the Notification Center has been ramped up significantly. Users now have the opportunity to swipe between current information three primary tabs labelled 'Today,' 'All,' and 'Missed.' These can be accessed by swiping between them, or by tapping on each label. Even better, the Notification Center (and the Control Center) can be initiated from the Lockscreen if the user defines it in Settings without the need for unlocking your iPhone. It is a substantial improvement, giving iOS users similar notifications functionality to other operating systems, while also grouping notifications by type to help you to quickly see what alerts are most important to you.
The 'Today' tab presents you with the day and date, while also providing weather information in conversational English. You can set the types of notifications that you want to see in Settings, but by default you are presented with Calendar information, Reminders, Stocks and also a conversational English snapshot of your next day. The 'All' tab provides you with all the notifications from apps that appear in the Settings under Notifications. Again, you can select which apps you would like to receive notifications from and how and whether you want them to appear when not in the Notification Center (ie. as banners, alerts, or badges). With background app updates enabled (over 4G and/or Wi-Fi), you can also quickly which apps have been updated in this view, or when song downloads have been completed. The 'Missed' tab gives you a summary of any notifications not yet addressed including missed messages and phone calls.
Another area that Apple has improved markedly over iOS 6 is the way multitasking has been refined and improved. Since its inception, iOS has always been capable of supporting full multitasking as it is built upon the full Mac OS X kernel. However, the iPhone has always been a delicate balancing act between adding new functionality while maintaining battery life in a device that gets thinner and lighter every two generations. To this extent, Apple has been much more careful than others which have introduced more advanced multitasking, but potentially at the expense of battery life and overall usability. That doesn't mean that Apple has always succeeded in addressing the needs of its power user base that want features like full multitasking (or more features sooner rather than later). That said, with each new version of iOS, Apple has extended its functionality significantly. Over 200 new features have been added to iOS 7, just as iOS 6 brought with it over 200 new features over iOS 5.
In iOS 7, the operating system monitors the apps that you use most frequently and now updates them with the fresh content in the background, where apps were previously suspended when not in use. The multitasking interface has also been given a comprehensive overhaul that is stylistically much more sophisticated and in keeping with what users expect from Apple. In Mac OS X Apple is a leader when it comes to the visual presentation of its user interface. Expose and Mission Control are prime examples of how Apple has previously created engaging, functional and attractive multitasking solutions that have since been emulated by the competition their mobile multitasking solutions. Now, instead of an app tray that appears beneath the Home screen with a double tap of the Home button as in iOS 6, the same action in iOS 7 presents users with a screenshot of each open application in a separate window (introduced after a clever and subtle transition). The relevant app icon situated beneath each screenshot, adding further clarity, accompanies these. You can then side scroll through open apps or dismiss them with an upwards flick.
iOS 7 UI is an inspired reimagining of the original iOS interface. The introduction of the layered approach to the UI has built upon an outstandingly simple to use interface, adding additional depth and sophistication to the user experience without detracting from its original essence. This is an achievement that should not be understated as there hundreds of millions of iOS users that Apple could have potentially alienated by simply bringing change for change sake. Under the stewardship of Sir Jony Ive and Craig Federighi, Apple has deftly handled this critical transition.
For some iOS users, the new look and functionality will take some adjusting to. iOS 7 places a stronger than ever emphasis on looking as attractive as it is easy to use. If you pause to reflect more deeply on Apple's approach, you will soon realise that there has been an equally renewed emphasis on improving the overall user experience as well. The changes are deep, system wide and go far beyond the design of its icons and the color palette. While it seems inevitable to say that iOS 7 is the best version of iOS yet, it was no fait accompli that this would be the case. iOS was in need of an overhaul in the face of quickly evolving competition, yet Apple has delivered an experience that is instantly recognisable, but new at the same time.
Apple is constantly under pressure to demonstrate its ability to innovate. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream media attention has not taken the time to dive more deeply into the quality of the software and hardware engineering in iOS 7 and the new iPhones. Apple's discipline and focus on its product has never been more evident than it is now. When you stop to consider that in addition to redesigning iOS 7 visually, and functionally, it has also rearchitected the entire OS. Its 64-bit foundation paves the way for Apple's future and has been delivered at least 9 - 12 months ahead of the competition. Innovation is alive and well at Apple and even if the mainstream media may have glossed over it, you can bet that is has not gone unnoticed by its competition who realize that Apple has just blown them away - again.
By Sanjiv Sathiah