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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The Notification Center is still activated by swiping down from the top of the screen, and in iOS 7 you can now access this feature from the Lock Screen. It's also been refined to sport the frosted glass look and has been divided into three separate sections: Today, All and Missed. They deliver exactly what you'd expect: today's notifications, all notifications that have been pushed to your phone or iPad, and any you may have missed in the last 24 hours. You can use side-to-side swipe gestures to quickly navigate between the three sections, and up and down gestures to scroll through the lists.

The Today section contains virtually everything you need to know about your day. iOS 7 learns where you spend time -- such as work or home -- and gives you information about how long it would take to get, say, back home from your current location, automatically accounting for current traffic conditions. The Today view displays the date, current weather and expected forecast, birthday information of friends due that day or coming up soon, your calendar info, reminders, stock quotes and even a sneak peak about your next day.

One welcome change is that once you've viewed something in Notifications and dismissed it, you've effectively dismissed it on other iDevices.

Control Center and Airdrop

New to iOS 7 is the Control Center, a centralized location for quick access to basic settings, apps and features. Using a bottom-to-top swipe gesture -- the exact opposite of the Notification Center gesture -- gives you access to Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the Do Not Disturb option, Rotation Lock toggles, brightness, music controls, AirDrop and AirPlay settings, and, finally, Flashlight. (Until now you had to use a third-party app to turn on the camera's LED flash for use as an ad hoc flashlight.) The Control Center also gives you easy access via shortcuts to the Clock/Timer/Alarms/Stopwatch, Calculator and Camera.

This feature is well-implemented, with the quick access to Music and AirPlay feeling more natural here then on the Multitasking tray. Moving the AirPlay function here means that the Music and Video apps are a little less cluttered, and since Control Center is system-wide, beaming content to an AppleTV via AirPlay is just a bottom-up swipe and a tap away.

Another new feature that arrives with iOS 7 is AirDrop. It's a dead-simple way to securely share files from your iDevice to anyone else with an iDevice running iOS 7. AirDrop is located in the Share Sheets screen in supported apps, above iMessage, Mail, Cloud and social media sharing options.

Anyone with a device running iOS 7 (with AirDrop turned on) will show up in the AirDrop section of the Sharing sheet. To send a file, tap on the recipient's image and, after the recipient is alerted and accepts the transfer, the data is beamed over using Wi-Fi. For security, the point-to-point transfer is encrypted between the two devices.

AirDrop
AirDrop allows for easy file swaps between iOS 7 devices -- when it works. It's still a bit flakey.

AirDrop settings are located in the Control Center, so turning it on/off and selecting whether to accept files from everyone or only people in your Contacts is easy. Also note: To use AirDrop, both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi must be on, although you don't actually need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network.

When it works, AirDrop works well. The recipient device avatars are supposed to show up automatically in the Sharing Sheets, but there were several times during testing that devices didn't show up until I toggled AirDrop on and off. Once the devices could "see" each other, AirDrop proved to be a fast and easy way to transfer files. It seems if you're relatively close to the other device -- within about 15 feet -- the transfer will begin reliably begin. Further away than that and you may have problems. Apple engineers need to improve the reliability, and make it possible to transfer files between Macs and iOS devices. The concept is already killer; it's the implementation that needs more polish.

Multitasking

Multitasking is greatly improved, as is the interface for switching between apps. Previously, when you pressed the home button twice, a small row of icons appeared at the bottom of the screen so you could quickly jump to recently-used apps. Depending on the direction of the swipe, you could also access other functions like music and brightness controls. In iOS 7, you still press the home button twice to switch between recent apps. But now the interface seems to zoom out to show you application previews above each app's icon. This makes it even easier to find what you're looking for.

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