Review: New iOS software has features to discover

Review: New iOS software has features to discover (Image 1)
Review: New iOS software has features to discover (Image 1)

The changes to Apple's iOS
software became apparent as I drove to the headquarters of the
company's rival, Google. As I navigated using Apple's mapping app, I
noticed one of my favorite attributes was missing: the directions for
each next turn presented in green boxes that resemble highway signs.

of the changes in Apple's operating system for mobile devices are
cosmetic. Gone are three-dimensional icons that mimic real-world
counterparts, such as a magazine rack for the Newsstand app. They are
replaced by larger, two-dimensional icons sporting abstract designs and
pastel colors. Apple also extended that new look to many of its apps. In
Maps, the green boxes are replaced with solid white across the top.

It didn't take long to realize that deeper down, the new iOS 7 software is the same as the one I've come to know.

new software does have several functional improvements, but those could
take time to stumble upon. The good news is that even if you never
discover them, you can still use your device the way you did before.
Apple Inc. started making the free update available Wednesday.

I'm covering the features specific to Apple's new iPhone 5S and 5C in a separate review. This one is about whether it makes sense to upgrade to iOS 7 on your existing iPhone or iPad.

biggest functional change is the use of swipes instead of taps to
access key functions. You can already swipe up from the bottom right
side of the screen to quickly access the camera when your phone is in
the lock screen. With iOS 7, you can also swipe up for the Control
Center, which contains frequently used settings and apps. That's
available whether or not the phone is locked.

Swipe down from the
top of the screen to get recent notifications and the day's highlights,
including the weather, appointments, reminders and stock quotes. Swipe
down from the center of any home screen for a search box. From many
apps, you can swipe from the left or the right instead of tapping the
left and right buttons.

The Control Center is the most useful of the functional improvements.

there, you can turn Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.
Before, you had to find those switches in the settings. That would have
come in handy for my flight to Silicon Valley last week for Apple's
event introducing the new phones and software. Likewise, a Do Not
Disturb feature is easier to access. It lets you silence incoming calls
and messages, though you can make exceptions for certain numbers or for
those calling repeatedly, in case there is a true emergency.

Control Center also lets you easily control music playback and adjust
the screen's brightness. It gives you quick access to a flashlight
feature, the clock, a calculator and camera. My only complaint: You
can't pick the apps featured and replace the calculator, for instance,
with Facebook or Gmail.

I found the left and right swipes useful
primarily within certain apps. In the Safari browser, I use it to return
to the previous page. In Mail, I return to the list of messages after
reading one. Again, these are all things I could do before with taps
rather than swipes, but sometimes the swipe feels more natural.

new software also makes it easier to manage multiple apps at once.
Double click on the home button to see all open apps, each represented
by a large image showing the app's content rather than just an icon, as
was the case before. Close an app by swiping the image up. In the past,
you had to hold down an icon and hit the minus button.

The Siri
voice assistant is better, too. She sounds less robotic than she once
did and can adopt a male voice. Siri is able to handle a greater range
of commands, including adjusting settings and returning recent calls.

most useful change is the ability to edit voice commands. I asked Siri
how the Nets did, but she heard me as Mets. Instead of having to repeat
the phrase over and over until Siri got it right, I simply hit “tap to
edit.” Then again, maybe she's smarter than me: The Mets are still
playing, while the Nets don't start the regular season until Oct. 30.

Specific apps that come with iOS are also improved, including these:

  • The Maps app offers voice navigation for walking directions, though it
    still lacks biking and transit directions, as Google offers. The
    background of maps now dims at night so the screen light doesn't
    distract drivers.
  • Safari makes it easier to switch between open
    Web pages. Before, you got one page at a time and had to scroll through
    all to get to the last one. Now, all the open pages are presented like
    upright dominos, so that you can jump right away to one in the back.
  • The Camera offers eight filters to tweak photos the way you would on
    Instagram. But with Camera, you see what your filtered photo would look
    like before snapping. You can now take square photos, perfect for
    Instagram. In addition, photos you take are automatically grouped by
    trip and other attributes, so they'll be easier to find and share later.
  • The App Store offers suggestions based on your current location. I get
    an app for the American Museum of Natural History in New York when I'm a
    few blocks away, and apps for food delivery near my apartment in
    another neighborhood, where people with small kitchens don't cook.

new iTunes Radio service offers free Internet radio stations, with
buttons to easily buy songs you like on iTunes. I got my fill of 80s
music with a Hits of the '80s station. I can create new stations based
on songs or artists I hear, and I can move a slider between hits and
discovery, the latter for more obscure tunes. Sad to say, few of the 80s
songs were obscure, but that's a reflection of my listening habits and
not the software. Unless you pay for the $25-a-year iTunes Match
service, you'll get about four ads an hour.

Although I dismissed
many of the changes as cosmetic, a few of them improve functionality.
Gone are those familiar bars showing cellular signal strength. You see
five dots instead. The idea is to create more space for actual content.
In many apps, including Maps and Safari, menus automatically disappear
until you need them again, again to leave more space for content.

are all nice touches that make upgrading well worth it, especially for
something free. You don't necessarily need a new phone.


On Wednesday, Apple made the update available for free for the iPhone
4, 4S and 5 models, the iPad 2 and later, the iPad Mini and the iPod
Touch released last year. It will also come with new phones, including
the new 5C and 5S models out Friday. Apple warns that not all features
will be compatible with all older devices.

To get it, just respond
to the prompt when it arrives on your device over the next week, or go
to “Software Update” in the settings under “General” if you want it
sooner. If you don't want it, just ignore the prompt, though some apps
in the future won't work on older systems.

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