By Alexandra Burlacu | Jun 11, 2013 02:44 PM EDT
The design of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system, has remained more or less the same since 2007, but the company's new iOS 7 now sports a much-needed overhaul.
The newly-unveiled iOS update comes with a dramatically different look and some new features Apple never embraced before, including automatic app updates, quick-access system controls, or the AirDrop file-sharing system. Apple is betting big with this one and iOS 7 is a major improvement.
While iOS 7 sports a drastic visual overhaul, the user interface (UI) itself is not all that different in terms of capabilities. Users will still handle their lock screen, home screen and apps in the same manner, but what's different is how the iOS 7 UI displays these areas. An iOS 7-running device will, for instance, be able to tell how the user is holding their device and react accordingly, such as displaying an animated lock screen that moves along with the user's motions.
The cosmetic overhaul, meanwhile, changes just about everything, from color schemes to the Safari browser or the photo app or the icon and button shape across the platform. Everything. Additional changes to the UI include multiple browser tabs, end-of-screen gestures that enable users to swing between open apps and other such options.
The new iOS 7 will also open applications in a slightly different manner. While iOS 6 or older versions of the OS bring the app forward from a black screen, iOS 7 will push the app from its location on the home screen and sport a far smoother animation. Users will also be able to pack countless apps within a folder, without limitations for a maximum number of applications. Here are the main changes iOS 7 has to offer:
Control Center and Notifications
The Control Center is one of those features that are absolutely new to iOS. This feature puts users' most-used settings front and center and is accessible from any screen. Users can also easily bring up quick-access tools by simply swiping up from the bottom of the display. Such tools include brightness, music controls, Wi-Fi meter, Airplane mode and more. The same Control Center also eliminates the need for third-party flashlight apps, as it sports a flashlight tool of its own.
When it comes to the Notifications pull-down menu, users now have three tabs to display alerts, missed calls and messages, as well as a new "today" pane that tracks their day.
Let's expand a bit on the aforementioned Air Drop feature. This is a peer-to-peer file-sharing service packed in iOS 7 and will soon support the iPhone 5, iPad Mini and fourth-generation iPad.
Simply put, AirDrop creates local ad-hoc networks among nearby users so they can easily share content. For instance, users who want to share a picture simply have to tap the share button and will automatically see other users nearby who are on iOS 7. Once there, tapping a friend's picture will do the trick - iOS 7 will use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to make the transfer and prompt the recipient to accept or decline. Those who don't want other iOS 7 users to find them can always choose to make themselves invisible to others from the Control Center.
As previously mentioned, iOS 7 also brings a Safari overhaul, including a unified search and URL field. Every other mobile OS had this feature for years but Apple, for some reason, kept them separate until now. Other than this overdue tweak, browser tabs now offer more flexibility. A new preview resembles Android options, such as vertically scrolling rectangular cards to find what you're looking for. Users can swipe these away in a gesture and they are no longer limited to just eight. Swiping left or right will now take users back or forward a page, while the navigation bars will make themselves scarce until users need them.
Apple finally made the iTunes Radio official, after numerous rumors and speculation. The music-streaming service expands Apple's iTunes with some neat features that include radio stations built around an artist, or featured stations.
iTunes radio is a free, ad-supported service, with an option for an ad-free experience for iTunes Match users. The Cupertino tech giant is rather late to the music-streaming party, but if anyone can catch up, it's Apple.
Camera and Photo Apps
Apple went out of its way to reorganize the camera app, as well as how images stay in the photo app. The camera app displays all shooting modes so users can tap their preferred choice to frame their shot, while a separate button will enable users to apply filters to still or square shots.
In terms of Camera Roll, Apple now handles photos as precious moments in time, organized around geo-tagged locations rather than just chronology. Users can also zoom out and see all of their photos from year to year, which should make it easier to find something.
We can't speak of a new OS update without including Siri, the popular, sassy virtual assistant that amuses (or insults) so many. Apple's digital assistant is all grown up now and with more personality than ever, including a...male personality. iOS 7 will bring a brand-new male voice, but so far this male alter-ego was not included in the beta release.
Male voice aside, users will now see a new soundwave animation at the bottom of the screen as they speak, while Siri's results will now pop up in full screen rather than just a card. The keynote also mentioned some high-quality improvements for non-English languages over time, which is good news for many.
Leaving the best for last, the Siri on iOS 7 also brings a major addition: the virtual assistant can now handle actions on the phone's system settings, such as turning Bluetooth on, play a voice mail, increase brightness and so on.
While this may not sound like much, this can actually save users a lot of time. Constant update notification may get a bit annoying at times, but users can choose to turn off automatic updates in the settings if they so prefer.
Ditching FaceTime when it's time to make an audio call is no longer necessary, as iOS 7 finally allows users to make high-quality calls over Wi-Fi in addition to those video calls.
iOS 7 also brings some notable changes in terms of multitasking capabilities. For instance, double-tapping the home screen will now bring up a tall preview of as well, not just tiny thumbnail icons of open apps. Swiping away a preview will close the app, similarly to how Android handles its recent app list.
iOS 7 will launch for iPhones and iPads sometime in the fall, with no precise launch date offered. Check out Apple's website for more details on iOS 7's features.
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