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

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While iPhones and iPods have always been somewhat immersive, it's clear that Apple's designers hope to make iOS even more immersive by downplaying overly elaborate interface pizzazz and prioritizing content.

Different, yet familiar

iOS 7 may look and behave a little differently from its predecessors, but if you look past the new fonts, brighter color scheme and new animations, iOS is still pretty much the mobile OS you already know.

The Home Screen still sports the same number of apps and folders, and you still navigate by tapping and swiping. The main difference is in theme and behavior. Basic animations accompany navigation: icons zoom onto the Home screen after the device is unlocked; tapping a folder zooms again; tapping an application zooms into the app. The system apps and folder icons sport a brighter, more vibrant 2D look, but the use of multiple visual planes in iOS 7 gives everything a subtle 3D feel.

The Home Screen also offers a more layered feel, as if the applications float just underneath the device's glass screen; this layered look is emphasized by the parallax effect Apple applies, where the background shifts subtly based on how the phone is held. It's a neat effect, and it's subtle enough to not be obnoxious. (You can turn it off, if you want, under Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion, or you can double-down on animations by choosing backgrounds that move under Settings > Wallpaper > Dynamic.)

iOS 7, as a whole, is structured in layers, with zooms, overlays and, of course, the parallax effect that highlights the new design direction. Your choice of background even influences how some portions of the OS and apps look. Some spots in iOS -- including the Notification and Control Center, phone dialer and passcode unlock screens -- reveal whatever color is beneath the current layer, using a diffused and translucent frosted glass effect.

Translucent layers
The translucent look of iOS 7 allows background colors and images to affect layers "above" them, such as this Lock Screen password entry keypad.

The all-important Lock Screen

The Lock screen features a less cluttered look that will still feel familiar to anyone who's used iOS. There is still the requisite time display at the top of the screen and the date underneath that. As before, Swipe to Unlock is located at the bottom. The camera icon on the lower right offers quick access to the camera, and there are a couple of matching graphical slits at the top and bottom of the screen that point to the Notifications and Control Center. More about those two in a minute.

There are differences from iOS 6, mostly in the realization that graphic elements -- like the top and bottom borders that framed the time/date and Swipe to Unlock -- have been stripped away; the words just float in the same visual plane as the time, date and other interface elements, providing a largely unblocked view of your background.

Another change between the iOS 6 and iOS 7 Lock Screens is that you can log in by swiping anywhere on the screen; you're no longer limited to the Swipe to Unlock slider. I'm not sure about this feature; I found this change problematic. On more than one occasion, I found my iPhone open and running apps in my pocket, a problem I never had until the entire screen became an unlock zone. This hasn't happened in the final release of iOS 7, but I don't know for sure if Apple tweaked the design just before release or if I've simply been lucky so far.

The iOS 7 Lock Screen is more useful, too. If you play tunes a lot, you'll notice that when music is playing you no longer have to tap the Home button twice to bring up the Lock Screen music display. Album art, title and music controls automatically show up once the screen is active, making it easy to change songs or turn off your music altogether.

Notifications

Another Lock Screen staple: app notifications, which now fade into view after you swipe down from the top of the screen. If there is more than one notification already on display, the others fade away, becoming mostly transparent for a few seconds to emphasize the newest notification. As before, swiping a notification takes you directly to the app.

Notifications
The Notification Center can now be accessed from the Lock Screen. Note: Your background image will change how the Notifications screen looks.
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