updated 05:37 am EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
Apple iOS 7 built-in apps are worth exploring deeply
In this Part 3 of our series on the Apple iOS 7 mobile operating system, we look at more of the most frequently used built-in apps that Apple has baked into its revamped mobile operating system. In Part 1, we look at the overall iOS 7 experience and interface, while in Part 2, we covered off on Mail, Safari, Camera, Photos and Siri. Not only do the new apps look different, Apple has also improved them, cleaning up interfaces and adding new features in what is the most comprehensive upgrade to Apple's mobile OS since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. On this occasion we take a closer look at Music, Video, Maps, Calendar, Reminders and Notes.
The Music app looks reasonably familiar if you are a long time iOS user, although it now adopts white and light gray theme, with red font used as a stylistic accent - there are also touches of translucency present to maximise screen real estate and context. In particular, the new look provides a greater contrast for your album art. Functionally, the Music app builds on Apple's long-standing tradition with iPod music players, adopting a hierarchical way of ordering and searching through your collection. One interface enhancement that might go under the radar, however, is the Search field. As with the way Spotlight is activated from the Home screen, pulling down from the top of the Albums view, for example, reveals a Search function limited strictly to your music collection. A double tap on the Home button still brings up quick access controls, while a swipe up from any app on the iPhone launches the Control Center, which also provides quick access controls.
While the Music app interface is simple, don't confuse that for the application lacking in power. The Music app gives users enormous flexibility for organizing your music into playlists or creating Genius playlists from tracks while on the go. Long gone are the days when you needed iTunes on a Mac or PC to be able to do this and in just about every way that I can think of, you are no longer tethered to a Mac or PC to enjoy your music and edit it on the fly. Gone, however, is the Cover Flow feature, replaced with a new 'flatter' musical landscape view that looks great and is more functional, allowing you to quickly scroll through more albums simultaneously. As before, this function is triggered when you put your iPhone into landscape mode. It's worth remembering that you can use Siri to control your music playback too -- it's great to use when driving, as it keeps your eyes on the road when searching for music.
The headlining feature addition to the Music app is iTunes Radio, currently on available to US customers, but set to roll out internationally beginning early in 2014. Apple's pitch for iTunes Radio is that it lets you 'Hear where your music takes you." iTunes Radio builds on Genius functionality by tailoring Apple's entire music collection around the songs and artists that you have in your own music collection. You can pick a favorite artist or track and create a streaming 'radio station' that plays music by similar artists. It's a great way to discover new music, while Apple also makes it very easy to buy new tracks directly if you want to keep a new song you've heard. You can, of course, search the iTunes store for more music by your newly discovered artist, but unfortunately, you cannot download entire albums, as Apple does not currently offer a subscription service for offline listening. Apple says the more you use iTunes Radio, the better it will become at playing back music that you are more likely to enjoy based on what you listen to and what you choose to skip.
The Video app adopts a the same white and light gray them background from the Music app and elsewhere in iOS 7, but it gets a blue colored font that adds a subtle stylistic touch that distinguishes it from the Music app. The lighter overall theme similarly creates a strong contrast with the artwork for your purchased movies and TV shows. The more transparent effect that used to define the controls when viewing video has been replaced by the translucent effect. You get a vertical scrolling view of your movie and TV collections, as well as your purchased music videos if you have them in your collection. Like the Music app, a lot of the power in both apps is provided by iCloud at the backend. As with the Music app paired with iTunes Match, any movies, TV shows and music videos not on your device can be downloaded at any time over cellular or Wi-Fi networks. It can't be understated just how good it is to have access to all your media on the go, with a iTunes on your Mac or PC still playing a role, but only if you prefer to sync your content directly to your device.
The Maps app also gets an attractive and highly functional upgrade in iOS 7 as well. As in Safari, Maps in iOS 7 pushes the content forward, while the UI elements move further into the background, while translucency also works this effect in certain modes. It not only adds greater consistency between the overall UI and the various built-in apps, it delivers you maximum mapping imagery and relevant trip information in a way that is easier to view and follow when on the go walking or when using your iPhone in the car as a GPS unit. Yet, as with other built-in apps in iOS 7, Apple has introduced change in ways that are warranted, yet equally, it has chosen to retain core functionality where it has been successfully implemented in the past.
This means that Maps in iOS 7 retains several key features first introduced in iOS 6 that continue to look amazing, including the interactive 3D views with Flyover mode. Zooming, panning, tilting and rotating maps is effortless, intuitive and just plain fun. Dropping a pin on a location gives you both spoken and text-based turn-by-turn directions by tapping the Quick Route button next to the location's name. Maps has also learnt some new tricks too, allowing you to quickly share a location via AirDrop, Messages, Mail, Twitter of Facebook. Further, Apple has been on a massive hiring spree, picking up ground truth specialists all around to the globe following Apple's controversial decision to drop Google as the supplier of its mapping data. Consequently, Apple Maps is getting continually updated with more accurate mapping data, while users still have the option to provide feedback through the app if they encounter any errors.
The Calendar app has had a comprehensive overhaul adopting the now familiar white theme running throughout iOS 7, which extends to the updated 'live' app icon. Like the Clock app icon that now shows the active time 'widget-style,' the Calendar icon now tells you what day of the week it is at glance, in addition to the live date as before. It's a small, but welcome touch. The overall interface is much cleaner and leaner with blood orange colors and fonts contrasting with the white and light gray theme. Light gray dots indicate days with scheduled events, while a large blood orange dot punctuates the current day of the week.
As with some of Apple's other iOS 7 apps that offer a different function when you switch your iPhone into landscape mode, doing likewise in the Calendar app will switch you from a Year, Month or Day view into a Five day view. It's a really clever way of using the 4-inch iPhone screen-real estate giving you maximum value for every precious pixel. As with many other built-in apps in iOS 7, you can also use swipe gestures at a previous hierarchy or day, depending on which view you are in. Tapping on each day or event also initiates a really slick animation as the Calendar reveals the details of each day reminding you just how well Apple understands and implements touch based user interfaces.
While adding Calendar events manually within the app is pretty simple and straightforward, it doesn't get any easier than using Siri to assist you with this. It makes what is already one of the most pleasant, easy to use and functional interfaces to another level of simplicity. Add to this the power of iCloud synchronisation across your devices as well as being able to share calendar events with your spouse or friends and colleagues helps you to understand why the iPhone has become such a popular choice in Enterprise as well as with consumers.
Reminders and Notes
The Reminders app looks a lot more playful than the original version of the app that debuted in iOS 6. This playfulness is exemplified in the way colors are used to help organize your various lists, to do items and general Reminders allowing you to customize the entire color palette of the app. If you have an iPhone 5c, you will find that you can get quite deep with the color matching combinations that you can generate with this app. You can also have fun with Apple's rubber-banding effect, which is employed to good effect here, allowing you to sneak a peek into top of each list by pulling down in each tab. Being able to set location and time-based alerts also makes it very functional and useful. Like the Calendar app, the combination of using Siri to set up reminders and coupled with manual control of your lists works extremely well.
The Notes app, like the Reminders app, uses a light parchment effect (although with ruled lines as well), which is one of the few real-world software references in iOS 7. However, the way it is employed here is very subtle and works very well in these contexts. The updated color palette also helps to ensure that there is no mistaking this version of Notes with the version that it replaces from iOS 6. There is a less of a sense of play with Notes, which comes across as being strictly about helping you quickly jot ideas down without unnecessary flourishes getting in the way of helping you get what's on your mind in writing as quickly as possible. iCloud integration means these are available across your devices and from iCloud.com. Voice to text recognition powered by the Siri engine also helps you dictate your ideas faster than you can type them.
There is a lot to explore in iOS 7, much more so than meets the eye at first glance. The more I dig into each of the built-in apps, the more I appreciate what eaech app has to offer. There is tremendous value in taking the time to work through each of them properly to fully take advantage of the functionality that each offers. You soon begin to realise that nothing exists in iOS 7 that isn't there by design. The software and design teams responsible for each app have rethought the purpose and function of each app, looking to improve implementation and functionality, but retaining what worked well so there is plenty that is both new and familiar at the same time. Moreover, there is now a much more consistent overarching design language and color palette tying the apps together, making for a deeply integrated and unified user experience.
By Sanjiv Sathiah