Sept. 18, 2013 — -- Ever since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, the phone has looked pretty much the same.
Okay, the hardware has gotten sleeker, the phone has gotten faster, the screen has gotten slightly taller and the camera improvements are impressive. But the part of the phone you interact with every single day -- the touchscreen and the software on it -- has remained relatively unchanged. Parts like the yellow-hued Notes app, the gray and blue colored Calendar or the rounded icons all look as they did on that day in June 2007 when people first lined up for the iPhone.
That changes today with the launch of iOS 7, Apple's latest software for its iPad and iPhone. Apple's chief of design Jony Ive has said "while iOS 7 is completely new" it is "instantly familiar." It is a serious change, but is it one you should make today?
Everything In Its Right Place, Sort Of
You can think of iOS 7 like an episode of "Trading Spaces." Apple hasn't changed the actual house layout, it hasn't really torn down any staircases or built out a back porch, but it has replaced all the furniture, repainted the walls and redone the floors.
Icons are new (though not always better), menus are translucent and with new shades of light blues and purples, the keyboard is cleaner and everything is generally tidier. The overall design does take some getting used to, especially the zooms and swooshes that appear when you transition between screens. There is also a Parallax effect, meaning when you move the phone, parts of the software move. It's a fun trick, but that's about it.
iOS 7 like an episode of "Trading Spaces."
But despite those appearance changes, which I quickly adapted to, most things are still in the same place. Your apps are on the home screen, your apps go into folders on that home screen and you can swipe from the top of the screen down to see your notifications. Some things have been relocated. For instance, you can't swipe to the left anymore to get to Search, instead you swipe down from the middle of the home screen to get to the search field. It's been the most jarring change for me and not exactly a welcoming one; at times I mistakenly swipe down and get the notification tray.
Yet, after a week of using the software, the general novelty and the newness wears off and it begins to feel like home.
Much Needed Feature Additions
But it is the new features that really make it feel like a more functional home.
The main addition and my favorite one is Control Center. Finally addressing all the times you've had to go digging through the settings menu to turn on Wi-Fi or lower the brightness, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen, no matter what app you are in, and get easy access to specific settings. There are shortcuts to the Wi-Fi, volume, brightness, Bluetooth, toggles and even a built-in flashlight and the calculator.
I do wish there was the ability to customize what settings were visible and that you could actually join a Wi-Fi network from the panel, but if there is one reason to upgrade to iOS it is this feature.
The multitasking features are also improved. Now when you double-tap on the home button you are presented with images of the open apps. Instead of having to close the apps by tapping a small red minus button you can swipe up to kill the app. It's similar to how apps work in Android, I just wish there was a "kill all" switch instead of having to swipe through each app.
If there is one reason to upgrade it is for Control Center
And those apps themselves are going to start to look different too. All of Apple's core apps have been freshened up.
Safari - With a cleaner design, an improved tabbed view and an address bar that finally functions as a search bar, Safari is now in the lead over Chrome on my home screen.
Mail - Other than the cleaner design, the Mail app still lacks what competing e-mail apps have. You still can't easily attach something to a message, the conversation view is no better and there are no organization features, like stars or labels.
Photos – The time and place photo organization tools are a big help when trying to pinpoint an older photo you took. Also, the new Airdrop feature, which lets you share a photo with another iOS 7 user via a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is a great way to share group shots.
Siri - Siri has grown up with a new more mature voice -- or voices, as there are now male and female choices. The personal assistant is actually just that now too -- it can do more and give you more information with new sources like Wikipedia. However, there have still been a few times this week when Siri didn't understand my requests. And, as I've said before, Siri still doesn't know me as well as the assistant behind Google Now.
Weather - The new weather app is very reminiscent of one of my favorite weather apps -- Yahoo Weather. But one change I can't get used to is that the weather icons have been removed from the notification tray.
Others have been refreshed too but the best part is all of them can now be put in folders, including Newsstand, which Apple used to force you to keep on the home screen.
Many third-party apps will be updated too for the new software with slightly different designs and other additions. And you can also set those apps to update automatically. That means no more red bubbles next to the App Store icon anymore, but also little control over what app updates you decide to download.
Should I Upgrade?
Apple's operating system was in need of a major change and iOS 7 finally delivers on that by adding a series of much-needed features, such as Control Center and improved multitasking. Yet, there are a lot of places where I wish Apple had gone even further in terms of improving the layout and features.
Apple had to change and now so do we
But I realize I am of a certain type of group, a more techie group that is excited by changes and new additions. There is another group, which will feel like their iPhones have been working perfectly fine: "Why all off this new stuff?!" Yes, iOS 7 is a big change, but it is one that is worthwhile and finally pulls us away from the first iPhone that was introduced six years ago. Apple had to change and now so do we.