At this week’s WWDC event Apple finally showcased iOS 7 for the first time, outlining what fans can expect from the iPhone 5S / iPhone 6 software. With a host of new iOS 7 features inbound and a bold new design for the user interface, it is arguably the most important version of the software to launch since the original iteration arrived in 2007.
Critics of Apple have long complained that iOS has started to look pretty stagnant when compared with Windows Phone 8 and Android, but the company set out to prove them wrong at WWDC 2013. The success of its preview of iOS 7 will depend on personal opinion, but it is indisputably a good thing for Apple to be forging a new path for the iPhone 6 software. Apple kickstarted the iOS 7 presentation by pointing out that over 600 million devices running previous versions of this software have been sold so far, before bragging about the enviable stat that shows how iOS addicts tend to be far more active users than those with Android smartphones and tablets.
How do the iOS 7 features stack up
When it comes to the interface, the most immediate and noticeable change concerns the lockscreen. Rather than sliding across to unlock, you now have to slide upwards, which is surprisingly similar to the system that has been present on Windows Phone since 2010. This upwards swipe will also bring up various settings, including a volume control, when carried out from the home screen.
The home screen is still familiar from older iOS versions, albeit with overhauled icons that have had a fresh coat of paint.
Apple has added extra translucency to certain elements from the interface, so that some elements including the keyboard can be seen while still revealing the content which they are covering up. It is a little bit like the Aero effect found on Windows Vista and 7, although Apple probably would not want to see comparisons between iOS 7 and a Microsoft product.
Multitasking has been improved through the addition of a fresh app switcher, letting you swipe between open programs with ease. It has also implemented multitasking for all apps, not just a select few, which is good news for third party developers.
iOS 7 will actually actively monitor how you use apps and then allocate processing power in multitasking, depending on the regularity with which you access them. This means that social networking service that you use multiple times each day will fire up quickly, while less useful tasks can be relegated to the bottom of the priority list.
Apple describes everything about the new user interface as being ‘flat’, which Is a pretty effective way of describing its new minimalist look. Clean lines, crisp text and handsome, translucent UI elements all come together to create something that is definitely attractive and a bit more consistent than the older iOS experience. The folders system is retained, but this time each folder can have several pages rather than just one, which is good news for people who like to download loads of apps and organise them into easy-to-manage groups.
Notifications have also received attention, so you can change the view to see messages and interactions based on the timeframe within which they arrived. This will also let you pick out any alerts that you may have missed during your busy schedule.
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Apple is updating the Safari web browser in iOS 7 and it starts off in fullscreen mode by default, which means you will have to tap the display if you want the all in one address and search bar to appear. The search bar also contains your bookmarks and a list which collates content from social networks in which you might be interested. Hopping between open browser tabs is handled in a flashy 3D animation and the influence of Android and webOS is apparent here.
The basic Camera app for iOS 7 benefits from having been improved with a number of new features. As well as having Instagram-style filters available by default, it also organises pictures into ‘moments’, which is basically a PR-ified way of saying that they are grouped by date and time, which should reduce scrolling when you want to find a snap to show to friends or share online. Pinching to zoom in and out will allow people to control this portion of the interface, which is a nice touch that boosts the intuitive nature of the platform.
Another standout iOS 7 feature is better integration with in-car entertainment systems, which is good news for people who like to pop their iPhone in a cradle while they are driving. Quite how far compatibility of this will stretch remains uncertain, but it is nice to see Apple addressing a few more niches in the market.
Apple dropped another bombshell at WWDC 2013 in the form of the iTunes Radio app, which is effectively a streaming service with Twitter integration that lets people create playlists and stations that can then be shared with friends or the world at large. iTunes Radio users can buy the tracks they stream in an instant and AirPlay compatibility will make it easy to incorporate the app with playback on Apple TV. This is basically Pandora but associated with the iTunes service.
Siri is back for iOS 7 and it should be better than ever, with a new, less robotic voice endowed upon this digital personal assistant.
It can do a few new things, including playing your voicemail to you, altering a few more settings in the phone and even harvest data from Wikipedia without bringing you into the Safari browser, which makes it a whole lot cleverer this time around.
When it comes to the iOS 7 release date, developers can get their hands on it immediately. Everyone else will be able to download this Apple iOS update at some point in the autumn and it is compatible with everything from the iPhone 4 up. Expect the new iOS 7 features to give Apple a boost after recent drop in innovation, and it would not be a surprise to see that it has been built with new versions of the iPhone in mind.
Check out our history of the iPhone infographic.