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Review: Apple's iOS 7 is much more than a pretty face

More than a superficial coat of paint, iOS 7 represents a new direction for Apple's mobile OS

September 18, 2013 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple has officially released iOS 7, the latest update to the software that powers the iPhone, iPad and the newest iPod touch. The free upgrade packs many new and improved features, including a visual style that forgoes heavy-handed graphics for bright colors and a text-centric layout. The new user interface is thoroughly modern, while still referencing the less serious days of multicolored iMacs and the original candy-colored Aqua interface of OS X.

iOS 7 home screen
The iOS 7 home screen shows off the new color palette used for app icons.

While the updated look is the most noticeable feature, there are plenty of other changes deserving attention. There's the new Control Center (which gives you quick access to a handful of settings and apps); the revamped Notification Center (sporting at-a-glance details about your day -- like weather, appointments, missed notifications and more); a new multitasking interface and background processing for apps; and an easy way to exchange data between iOS devices using AirDrop. There's also iTunes Radio -- the new streaming music service tied to the iTunes Store that's aimed at other streaming services like Pandora -- and an enhanced Siri.

The other big change with iOS 7 is that the OS itself is 64-bit, meaning it can take advantage of the 64-bit A7 chip in the iPhone 5s, which arrives on Friday.

Device compatibility

iOS 7 represents a massive overhaul of the classic iOS interface in favor of a simpler design. But many of those "simple" on-screen effects (like transparencies) and built-in features (like AirDrop, Siri, and live photo filters) actually require pretty modern hardware.

As a result, iOS 7 is compatible with the recently announced iPhones, the iPhone 4, the 4S and last year's iPhone 5. The only supported iPods are the 5th-generation touch models; iPads are supported going back to the iPad 2, including the 2012 iPad mini.

But not all features will work on every device. For instance, Siri is still only available on the devices that shipped with support, so don't expect Apple's virtual assistant on anything before the iPhone 4S, 2012's iPad 3 (with Retina display), and the aforementioned fifth-gen iPod touch. Other features have been scaled back, dialed down or removed entirely on less powerful devices; and still other features -- such as the 3D Flyover in Maps -- aren't available in all regions.

If you're curious about which model supports what features, scroll to the bottom of this page for details. Apple also has a feature compatibility page so you can check to see what features are supported in your area.

Installation

For this review, I tested iOS 7 on an iPhone 5, an iPad mini and an iPad 2, with a focus on features for the U.S. market.

Before updating to iOS 7, I highly recommend that you navigate to Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup > Back Up Now and do a backup of your data. If you're upgrading by installing the update through iTunes, update to the latest version of iTunes first (In OS X, go to the Apple Menu > Software Update and check for updates), and then make sure to initiate a backup in Tunes under File > Devices > Back up.

Take this step seriously. It's easy to do and if something goes wrong in the update, your data is preserved.

To install iOS 7, there are a few options. From an iOS device, you can navigate to Settings > General > Software Update and run the update from there. After the download is complete, your device will update in place, leaving all of your settings, data and apps intact.



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