I don’t often do product reviews – never actually, since an ill-fated Nook review where I was testing out posting a WordPress video and found myself turning Nook pages on-camera to some nice laughs – but I figured I’d sit down and write up my initial thoughts on the all-new, latest-and-greatest thing since sliced bread: iOS 7.
I will preface this by saying I’m a huge Apple fan. Not a fanboi, per se; you won’t find me camping out in front of an Apple store, or making an unboxing video, or commenting online responding to vitriolic Apple-haters. No, just a fan of the technology, the synergies between software and hardware, the build quality, the resale values, and the innovation. Up to a point.
Apple has, in my opinion, been at the forefront of innovation. Say what you will about “Windows CE had that”, or “they stole that from Android”, or “Xerox invented the mouse”, or “my old Atrix had a fingerprint sensor”, or “I still use my Zune every day”, and so on. Apple puts things together well and makes them work, and in the process has created three brand new product categories where nothing but a mishmash existed before (iPod, iPhone, iPad). And the stuff just works. But now that I’ve seen the iPhone 5s/5c announcement, and have spent a half a day with iOS 7, I only have one word to describe Apple’s 2013:
And this is coming from an Apple fan. I’ve owned a Mac since 1986 (my portable computer in college was a Macintosh SE FDHD I dragged to the Student Center for projects.) I’ve owned every model of iPhone save the iPhone 3G (went right to the 3GS back then). And I actually require all of my employees to use Macs, or they won’t get any tech support from me (my home is Windows-free – and no, I’m not referring to glass).
After a 2012 that saw the iPhone 5 released (which I did get; I was eligible for an upgrade and wanted out of my 3.5″ screen) that was a very nice upgrade, notably for the size and build, 2013 left me…wanting. Incremental at best, the new iPhone 5s/c series really blew me away with how little changed. In an age of intense competition, Apple seems to be falling behind. The iPhone 5c was theoretically a low-cost model to break into emerging markets, but at $549 unlocked (only $100 less than the 5s) that’s not going to happen. And the iPhone 5s bumped the processor to an A7 with 64-bit architecture, which most software can’t even take full advantage of yet anyway. Same size, same screen, same in most areas. This is probably the first year in 5+ that I have zero desire to upgrade. I’ll wait for a 6, or whatever is next. Again, this is coming from a huge Apple fan. (Oh, and the other 2012 product launch? The iPad mini. Crazy successful in terms of sales, but a more expensive/lower resolution device that was a direct response to the Kindle Fire, Nexus 7, and the like.)
But in any case, on to iOS 7. After rather impatiently waiting for Apple’s activation servers to allow me to activate it yesterday (2+ hours; what, didn’t Apple know they were releasing a major upgrade?), I got it up and running. First impression: visually stunning. Very clean, smooth, professional looking – much more so than the various skeuomorphic looks Scott Forrestal and his crew had been piecing together (why did one app have faux leather, one green felt, one grainy wood, one chrome?) But when Craig Federighi (man, has he come into his own now) called it “an exciting new beginning”, and others in Apple have said it’s the biggest improvement since the original iOS, I expected…more. More functionality, more features, more usefulness. More than just a facelift. But I’m not seeing it.
Siri is still a novelty (though I admit, it’s nice to reply to a text while driving via voice). Notification Center still could use some work (I’d like to do something with those notifications, not just see them and have to launch the app). Camera filters? Don’t get me started on why I DON’T screw with my 8 megapixel photos I worked hard to get, overlaying BS frames and grainy looks. AirDrop looks like it’s on the right track for file sharing. But those are ancillary.
There are three (in my opinion and for my everyday use; YMMV) major functional changes in iOS 7 over iOS 6:
- Control Center: swipe up from the bottom of the screen to gain access to most used Settings, like wifi/Bluetooth/Do Not Disturb on/off, music player, brightness, and the flashlight (which has hundreds of flashlight app developers screaming bloody murder – and why are there so many flashlight apps in the first place?)
- Multitasking in “Card” format app switcher: double click the Home button to see a visual carousel of most recent apps and what their last state was versus just the app icon
- Automatic App Updates: the App Store now downloads updates in the background and presents a “recently updated” list when launched
So if these are uber-helpful, why do I still call this underwhelming? Simple: I’ve had all three on my Nexus 7 since late last year. Swiping down in Jelly Bean brings up Android’s version of the Control Center where I can turn wifi on and off – and by the way, also launch the wifi settings app so I can choose a different network, something Control Center doesn’t do. Google Play apps update when I’m not looking. And the app switcher is something I had taken for granted as necessary, so much so that I had installed a jailbroken app on my phone to get the same function.
I honestly expected a lot more from iOS 7, for all its hype. Again, it’s visually stunning and adds some nice (necessary) features, but I can’t shake the feeling it’s still playing catch up. There’s really nothing in it that I can’t also do from my Nexus tablet with a software that’s pushing a year old.
UPDATE: For some reason, Apple decided to remove the ability to delete a message in Mail by swiping from left to right, the “right swipe”, and now it’s left-swipe only. NO IDEA WHY, as right swipe now does nothing. After six years of deleting emails by swiping right, they removed that function, only to replace it with…nothing? Someone explain that logic to me…I’m annoyed.
Now all of that being said, iOS 7 is much smoother than Jelly Bean, and owning the respective companies’ flagship devices for a year and using them day in, day out, I can say that with confidence and experience. iOS just works, where Jelly Bean still has plenty of hiccups, pauses, timeouts, force quits, and so on. And Android is still missing some things iOS has had for a while (hello, badges). iOS is much easier to use with far fewer issues.
But I was expecting a big leap in functionality and features. I don’t think I got either…
P.S. Wait, one other thing, and it’s the greatest improvement in iOS EVER: I can now put Newsstand in a folder. BE GONE!