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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Manually quitting an app is easier, too. You simply swipe up on the app when it appears in the multitasking bar. That's a lot better than having to double-tap Home, press and hold your finger on the app, and tap the X for the app.

Multitasking
Double-clicking the home button brings up the new multitasking view, showing which apps have been launched. To quit an app, just swipe up toward the top of the screen.

Background multitasking has been expanded, making iOS 7 the first version to allow full-on background processes for third-party apps that can take advantage of the new features. System apps that shipped with the device were always allowed more leeway than third-party apps, and Apple engineers had to craft APIs that allowed common functions to occur in the background.

iOS 7 can now intelligently track when and how often you use an app, and if you're consistent, it'll update any data before you launch the app.Let's say you check Facebook or a news app every morning during breakfast; iOS 7 will spot that pattern and update that app's content so it's ready before you even open it. The same thing happens when you get a notification -- say, a breaking news alert from your favorite news source. The notification triggers the app to update with the latest info, so it's available immediately.

There are also silent notifications that can trigger an app to download information such as the latest magazine or book you subscribed to or bought.

iOS 7 also has some networking tricks that helps ease the burden of multitasking on a resource-limited device like an iPhone or iPad. For instance, even though apps are capable of silent background downloads and updates, iOS 7 will smartly update data whenever the device is activated by a Swipe to Unlock and connected to a strong network signal. Because updates are intelligently queued together and run in groups -- instead of done sporadically throughout the day -- battery life won't take as big a hit.

And if you're worried about using up your monthly data allotment, you can restrict which apps use cellular data for updates or turn that option off all together. That's done in Settings>Cellular. (You can also disable automatic downloads of purchased music, apps, books, and updates in Settings>iTunes and App Store.)

On a final note, apps can update their preview state in the multitasking switcher, so you get an updated view without having to launch the app; a glance at the multitasking switch screen should tell you what you need to know at a glance.

Users who rely on the system-wide Spotlight search will find that it's now accessible via a pulldown swipe from the Home Screen; just use your thumb to swipe down anywhere on the screen and a keyboard will slide up, allowing you to type your search query. As before, Spotlight can search for apps and contacts, look through email and media like music, podcasts, videos and audiobooks, and search for events, reminders and messages.

Music and iTunes radio

In keeping with the new look, Music now sports a white theme with a bright reddish-pink text. Although the functions are more or less as they were before, there are a couple of notable exceptions. First, Coverflow is gone. In its place is a new view that shows you about 15 or so album cover thumbnails, and you can swipe side-to-side to browse through your library. When you find the album you want, tap on it to zoom into that album, where you can browse track listings and start listening.

The biggest addition -- and this will be huge -- is iTunes Radio. Like other streaming music services, iTunes Radio can build stations of similar music based around any artist, genre or song you choose. To get started, there are more than 300 stations based on genres, Twitter trends and even a bunch of stations put together by guest DJs.

To add a station, just click on the Radio toggle located at the bottom of the Music app. Doing so drops you into a screen where you can play one of the Featured Stations, pick one of your own stations or create a new one.

Once the station is set up, the interface looks just like the music player except there's no skip back control. In iTunes Radio, there is instead a star icon. Pressing that brings up a list of options: Play More Like This, Never Play This Song and Add to iTunes Wish List.

The upper part of the Now Playing screen displays the iTunes price of the current song -- with a tap or two, you can purchase it without leaving the music player. There's also an "i" button you can tap for more information. Here, you can see album information on the iTunes store (which opens via an in-app sliding sheet); create a new station from the current artist or song; tune the station for songs based on Hits, Variety or Discovery; toggle explicit tracks on or off and share the station.

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iTunes Radio allows you to create your own "station" based on artist, genre or even a single song.
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