Culture

iOS 7: A Small Review and One Big Gripe

Control Center

People hate iOS 7 so much, they’ve upgraded 200,000,000 devices to it since its release last Wednesday — double the upgrade pace iOS 6 enjoyed last year. I believe that makes it the most widely-used version of any mobile operating system.

Not bad for an OS that’s only five days old.

OK, it’s barking remarkable.

I’m pleased as punch with the performance improvements and enhancements over iOS 6. Nothing just appears; everything comes from or goes to some particular place as you touch or swipe the screen. That might seem a small thing, but it isn’t. You always know exactly where you are, how you got there, and what will happen with your next gesture. (Want to have fun with Android owners? Ask them what the Back button does. Almost every answer will begin with, “Well…”) In iOS 7 everything has a certain cause and a certain effect — everything is done with a purpose. The visual clues give your eyes memory, the way your fingers remember how to tie your shoes.

I was afraid my ancient iPad 3 would find its graphics co-processor — already running at Ludicrous Speed just to maintain the Retina Display — overwhelmed by all the new visual bells and whistles. But it still performs with all the speed and slickness you expect from an Apple mobile device. My son’s iPad mini handles iOS 7 just as nicely. My iPhone 5S won’t arrive until Thursday, but my two-year-old 4S feels faster, no joke.

The new Control Center (cribbed pretty shamelessly from Android, but turnabout and all that) is a great addition. I find it’s a little too easy to activate it when swiping up to scroll through web pages, but there’s a setting to disable it while you’re in apps, or also from the lock screen. Turn it off in apps/leave it on in Lock, seems to be the best combo for both me and my wife.

Siri is smarter. Last week, I could not for the life of me get her to understand that I wanted her to play Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim’s recording of “One Note Samba.” “Siri, play ‘One Note Samba’,” I must have said a dozen times with perfect diction. Every time she’d reply, “I’m sorry, Stephen, but I can’t find one note somber.” And finally me shouting at my phone, “No! It’s samBA, samBA, samBA!” like a demented dance instructor.

I tried it again in the truck this morning, and instead of getting Siri’s error message, my reply was Frank singing, This is just a little samba, based upon a single note…. That’ll put a bounce in your step on a Monday morning.

Siri

iOS 7 is also more security-minded. As you go through the quick initial setup scheme, it will default to having a four-digit passcode. If you choose to turn it off, the OS will ask you if you’d like it to stop using autofill for your browser logins. Smart.

If you thought the camera was fast before, now it’s faster, and complete with HDR, Instagram-type filters, and other nifty new tricks. It’s the best camera I’ve ever used that didn’t say “Nikon” on it and pair with my shelf full of lenses. And remember, this is a two-year-old iPhone 4S we’re talking about here. I got all this new speed and functionality from a simple OS upgrade. Can’t wait to put the new 5S camera through its paces later this week.

Graphically, iOS 7 is hit or miss.

Home ScreenI like the colors, which I find fresh and modern, and as I said earlier, the visual cues are stunningly well thought out. But the icons are a little too big on the phone screen, so there’s not enough of that pleasing “white space” between them. They feel crowded, especially since under Jony Ive’s new guidelines, the picture part of each roundrec icon is even bigger. You have crowded images inside of crowded icons. The overall effect is far too busy. Making things worse, I find the icons get washed out and become less easy to differentiate at glance, if you use a light-colored wallpaper. I switched to the dark grey textured one that comes with iOS 7, and the problem went away. But I’d still like to have my old wallpaper back, which was a gorgeous sunlit bright red sculpture from Isla Mujeres, Mexico. On the 8″ and 10″ iPad screens, everything looks just fine.

I still grin like an idiot every time I notice the parallax effect, as wallpaper appears to glide underneath the launch buttons.

The new weather app is too busy, too. The old one might have looked dated, but you never had to focus and actually read the thing. So I’ve stopped using Apple’s app and started using Weather 2X, which is a totally glance-able (and inexpensive) alternative. The new compass is just a joy to use, and includes a bubble level. Maps doesn’t seem to have gotten much of a facelift, but it was already newer and more modern-looking than some of Apple’s other built-ins. Like Siri, Maps also feels smarter. Calendar is more functional and easier to navigate, but each event bubble now features and ugly and useless dark line down its lefthand side. Ditch that, and it would be perfect.

The App Store is still the App Store and Stocks is still Stocks, although each has received the new iOS look. I like them. I can’t begin to tell you how useful Photos has become. You just need to dive in and start using it and you’ll get three or four “Oh, YES!” moments as you navigate and edit your shots. The larger your on-phone library, the more you’re going to love this thing. That’s true on your iPhone, but it’s even more true on your iPad. If I sound effusive, it’s because I’m effusing. It’s clear that Apple takes its pictures as seriously as I take mine, and so it’s impossible not to love all the care and effort they’ve put into an app where I spend so much time.

The new Share button is badly proportioned, and on iPhone (but not iPad) there’s now an extra step before you get to how you want to share your file. That’s a usability issue for sure, but not a major one.

iOS 7 should use the word “Trash” or use a trashcan icon, but not both. In some places you get the word and in other places you get the icon, which is just useless trivia for users to have to remember. More consistency would be appreciated.

Voice MemosAnd some of those icons… they are just not immediately indicative of what the dang app is. A postmodern artist’s color palette for Photos? Wouldn’t that be better suited to a painting app? A couple of snapshots for Photobooth? That makes me think photo library, not selfies. A sound wave icon for Voice Memos doesn’t tell me anything at all — it’s a memo app, not a wave editing app. These are bad icons.

But in the end, my only real complains with iOS 7 are aesthetic. When it comes to use and function, the best mobile OS in the world just got better — a lot better.

Except for one tiny thing. And it really isn’t a big thing, but it’s so bone-headedly stupid that I have to go off on a little rant here.

Mobile Safari, your default iOS web browser, has a simplified address bar. That is, it only shows the domain you’re visiting and not the actual page. So if you’re reading this review on your iPad with iOS 7 right now, the URL would show as “pjmedia.com” instead of “pjmedia.com/vodkapundit.”

photo

To me, that little red oval represents a very big gripe.

Forget how lame that truncated address is for browsing — it’s even worse for work. I write for three different subdomains of PJMedia, and so I have got to know, at a glance, where the hell I am. But Safari won’t tell me. To make things worse, if you tap the address bar to see where you might really be, the page you’re looking at disappears and you’re instead shown your “Favorites” links. In other words, unless you’re on the main domain of any site in the world, the URL address and the actual page in your browser window will never ever match each other.

I want to find who came up with that one and smack them upside the head with a brick.

You can understand maybe wanting a simplified URL bar, because most addresses contain an awful lot of information. But if you’re going to go that route, don’t show me a fake URL. Show me “PJ Media” instead of “pjmedia.com.” “PJ Media” is true even if the address is “http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2013/09/21/gop-senators-plan-filibuster-of-republican-house-continuing-resolution/.” But “pjmedia.com” is a lie.

The former is a smart way to simplify things. The latter is just dumb and wrong.

But honestly, the URL bar — a tiny thing — is my biggest gripe with iOS 7. And while Apple might have overshot with changing the aesthetics, the aesthetics are also the easiest things to fix. Some different paint on iOS 7 would be appreciated, but what’s under the hood is a screaming hand-built V-8 beast of incredible power.

And that’s how well it runs on my outdated hardware. Thursday is going to be full of awesome.

*****

cross-posted from Vodkapundit