The 7 best new features in iOS 7

Behind the radical new look and retooled user experience are some easily overlooked capabilities you'll enjoy

iOS 7

The key changes lurking under the all-new surface

Once you switch to iOS 7 from a previous version, you're in for a shock: It looks really, really different, and some apps -- Photos, especially -- work very differently than before. It took me about a month to make the mental adjustment to iOS 7, but now iOS 6 feels passé. Once you get past the user-interface adjustment, you start seeing some very useful new capabilities.

There are a couple dozen new features worth your while, including automatic app updates, shared browser links in Safari, and more detailed feedback from Siri (which can now be male or female). Here, I've picked the most compelling ones. (For the full details on what's new, check out my "iOS 7: The 'Just What You Need' Book.")

iOS 7 Control Center

Control Center

Android's quick access to commonly used functions through its notifications tray is a boon, especially in Samsung's feature-laden version. Now, iOS 7 makes using common features easy, and it doesn't mix them with notifications. Swipe up from the bottom to open the Control Center to access Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb and Rotation Lock or Mute (whichever the physical side switch is not set to). You also control playback of music, videos and podcasts, and manage AirPlay.

There are also quick access buttons to the Camera and Clock apps on all iOS devices, plus the Calculator app and new LED flashlight on iPhones. If you have an iOS device with a Lightning connector, you also can set up AirDrop file-sharing feature here.

iOS 7 lock-screen timer

Timer in the lock screen

The timer in the included Clock app is very handy, such as to get alerts about parking meters about to expire. But until iOS 7, if your iPhone was locked, you had to unlock it and go to the app to see how much time you had left. Now, the countdown displays in the lock screen, and you can dismiss the timer alert sound there as well.

iOS 7 day view in Notification Center

Today view in the Notification Center

The Notification Center has been expanded in iOS 7 to add two panes: Missed, showing only alerts and messages not already seen, and Today, which shows you the weather, a snapshot of your calendar and, optionally, your tracked stocks and a summary of tomorrow's day. It's a very handy way to see what's shaping up right now.

iOS 7 driving directions from OS X

Driving directions from OS X

OS X Mavericks adopts iOS's Maps app, which can send maps and driving directions from your Mac to your iOS device. They show up in the iOS Maps app, ready for you to follow while driving or walking, and they remain in your bookmarked directions for access later if needed.

iOS 7 Mail app

More email management

The Mail app in iOS 7 has several changes that will make using it easier. One is the new set of options that appear when you flick to the left over a message or select messages and tap More for both iPad and iPhone. When you flick, you get the More button in addition to the Trash button, and from More you get the options in the message view's Mark and Move controls. When you select multiple messages, tap Mark to get your options. The Move to Trash option is very handy.

Also handy: When you tap Edit in the message list but select no messages, the Mark button becomes Mark All, to quickly flag or mark as read all of a mailbox's messages.

iOS 7 smart mailboxes

Smart mailboxes

Another welcome Mail enhancement is the addition of predefined smart mailboxes, such as Unread, All Drafts and Attachments. You can display any or all of these mailboxes, which show aliases to messages that meet their respective criteria, and you can order these mailboxes in the mailbox pane as you see fit. Now you can see in one place just your unread mail or find all the drafts you had saved across your mail accounts.

You can also add mailbox folders to the mailbox list, saving you the step of drilling to the Accounts section and then navigating to those folders each time. It's great for mail folders you use all the time.

iOS 7 iCloud Keychain

iCloud Keychain

Coming soon to iOS, iCloud Keychain does two things you'll appreciate. One is that it can save credit card information entered on websites so you don't have to keep re-entering that data. (Relax: You still need to enter the CVV code, as iCloud Keychain intentionally does not retain that verification code.)

The other is that your saved passwords and credit cards are synced across your Macs and iOS devices if they're signed into the same iCloud account and have iCloud Keychain enabled. Apple has added extra verification to protect iCloud Keychain data, so another user would need more than your iCloud sign-in information to enable it. Use the Safari controls in the Settings app to manage the saved passwords and credit cards.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.