A detailed look at Apple's iOS 7

Apple's updated mobile OS showcases a confident design

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The use of it

Apple's iOS has always had an interface that scales with experience, one that's easy enough for a 3-year-old to use and powerful enough for rocket scientists. So rule No. 1 should be to not mess with the workflow too much. Thankfully, despite the new look and feel, iOS is still iOS. There is still an emphasis on one-handed operation, with modest improvements to step up that convenience for users. The Notification Center may still require a bit of stretching to activate, but access to common system controls via the new Control Center is a breeze. And the layout of Control Center seems to be designed to accommodate one-thumb control, as it covers the bottom two-thirds of the screen.

New to iOS 7 is the ability to navigate by swiping from the left edge of the screen, though it will be up to developers to take advantage of the feature for it to achieve full success. Currently, most system apps do, and I imagine that number will expand as the final release date approaches.

Spotlight searching is now available with a swipe-down gesture from anywhere on the home screen, making it much more convenient for regular use. And Siri, as shown at last week's demo, gets some improvements, with a new look and extended routines, new voices and added voice actions. You can now use Siri to control system settings like enabling/disabling Bluetooth and turning on Airplane mode.

Safari in iOS 7
Safari in iOS 7. (Image: Apple)

Final thoughts

I always consider any major redesign of iOS to be a dangerous undertaking, given how popular and straightforward it usually is already. Change for change's sake is generally a no-no to people comfortable with how things already work, and change in the wrong hands can do more harm than good. When I heard that Ive was taking over for Scott Forstall as lead software designer, I saw it as his Kobayashi Maru test: a no-win scenario. Too much change -- especially in workflow and usability -- and Apple gets dinged for jumping the design shark; too little change, and Apple gets hit for being timid and unable to keep up with its rivals. (Cue the "Tim Cook isn't Steve Jobs" debate.)

Making changes, even minor changes, is almost always divisive and polarizing. There are always going to be critics. But what I see in iOS 7 is the public reveal of the culmination of months of hard work by the Apple design teams. In other words, this interface didn't just happen; Ive didn't sketch this on a napkin days before WWDC. I don't buy the talk that iOS 7 is a declaration of war, or that Apple's "cool factor" is back or anything overly dramatic like that; this isn't about being cool. The only thing iOS 7 does is finally show the cards Apple execs have kept secret during a long period of radio silence.

This is just what the teams at Apple do, and have been doing since the return of Jobs in the late 1990s. Sure, iOS feels different than previous iterations, but functionally, it does the same things. From what I've experienced, Apple engineers knew when to say no; lines were drawn where they needed to be, and the new features -- in concert with that restraint -- will be appreciated by users once they start working with iOS 7 themselves.

Computerworld's Ken Mingis chats with Keith Shaw about Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, where the company unveiled iOS 7, a new desktop OS, and new MacBook Air and Mac Pro models.

This article, First Impressions of iOS 7, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter (@mdeagonia).

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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