In taking the wraps off iOS 7 at this week's Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook called it the most significant overhaul of Apple's mobile operating system since the company got into the smartphone business back in 2007. The Alabama-born Cook isn't just whistling Dixie: iOS 7 is a dramatic re-invention of its mobile software that goes beyond mere additions and enhancements. Apple is changing the very look of iOS itself.
Something as different as iOS 7 is going to raise questions. Fortunately, we have some answers. While there's still much to be learned about the new OS between now and its arrival later this year, we can still provide an overview based on what we've seen and heard so far from Apple.
[Related: Will I be able to update to iOS 7 on my iPhone? | Apple iOS 7 announced at WWDC 2013 | How to update your iPhone or iPad to Apple iOS 7 | Apple iOS 7 for iPhone and iPad preview & first impressions | Massive iOS 6 uptake is good news for Apple's iOS 7 launch]
What's the biggest change with iOS 7?
Where to begin? The entire look and feel of the system has been overhauled, with flatter icons, less skeumorphism, and thinner typefaces. That said, anybody who's used iOS will probably feel mostly at home: Apple hasn't changed the home screen much, and the basic gestures and interactions are largely the same, with a few new exceptions.
So how is the new look different from the old look?
How did you feel about green felt? Wood bookshelves? Stitched leather? I hope the answer is "not great," because they're all gone in iOS 7. Instead they've been replaced with a new cleaner design that's largely about simple lines and icons. While there are elements reminiscent of Microsoft's recent Windows Phone design, iOS 7 clearly has its own distinct style. These aren't just subtle enhancements either; they permeate every bit of the interface.
iOS 7 also takes design cues from your content too, tinting controls and panels with the colors from the photos behind them. Apple's Jony Ive spoke about layering the interface, with panels such as Notification Center and Control Center visually residing "on top" of apps and the iOS home screen.
Will the new design mean I have to completely relearn how to use my phone?
Not really. Launching and using apps is largely the same. But there will be some new things to learn. For example, you can now swipe up from the bottom of the screen to summon Control Center (a handy panel that gives you access to many of your most commonly-used system features). There's another new swipe-from-the-left-edge gesture that means "go up a level" when you're in Mail, for example.
But, as Apple's Craig Federighi described it, it's a bit like getting a new phone that you already know how to use.
When will iOS 7 be available?
Apple says the updated iOS arrives in the fall, which has become something of a standard for iOS releases. iOS 6 arrived last September, while iOS 5 made its debut in October 2012. (Before that, both iOS and the phones that it powered were on a summer release schedule.)
When iOS 7 becomes available, we expect you'll be able to upgrade the same way you could with iOS 6--either downloading the updated OS via iTunes or by taking advantage of iOS's over-the-air updating capabilities to pluck the new version out of the ether.
What devices will support iOS 7?
If you're looking to update to iOS 7 when it lands in the fall, you'll need to have one of these devices: the iPhone 4 or later; iPad 2 or later; iPad mini; or fifth-generation iPod touch. (And, of course, whatever new mobile hardware Apple releases between now and iOS 7's official launch, but why count our iOS devices before they're hatched?)
Specific features have more stringent device requirements (see below for details on these features):
- Panoramic photos are only available on the iPhone 4S or later and fifth-generation iPod touch.
- You can't shoot square photos or video using the iPad 2; all other devices can use this feature, however.
- For the nifty new live camera filters, you'll need an iPhone 5 or fifth-generation iPod touch. Putting filters on after the fact in the Photos app is an option for the iPhone 4 or later, third-generation iPad or later, iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch.
- To AirDrop a photo or other file to your friends, you'll need an iPhone 5 or later, fourth-generation iPad or later, iPad mini, or fifth-generation iPod touch. You'll also need an iCloud account.
- Siri continues to be limited to those using an iPhone 4S or later; third-generation iPad or later; iPad mini; and fifth-generation iPod touch. It also may not be available for your country. And if it's a new Siri voice you desire, keep in mind that it'll only be available initially in English, French, or German.
What is this Control Center thing? How is it different from Notification Center?
If you've ever grumbled to yourself while navigating three levels deep into Settings to turn off Bluetooth, you're going to love Control Center. This new panel, which you can summon anywhere in iOS by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, gives you easy access to common settings, including Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, Orientation Lock, Brightness, AirDrop, and AirPlay. There are also media playback controls, and icons at the bottom enable you to launch frequently used apps and utilties: You can turn on the iPhone's camera flash to use as a flashlight, or open the Clock, Calculator, or Camera apps. But it's not to be confused with Notification Center...
Did Notification Center change?
It definitely received some overhauls. While you still summon it by swiping down from the top of the screen, Notification Center has a new translucent look, like much of the rest of the OS, and offers some different information. In addition to storing your notifications, as it did in previous version of iOS, it also offers a tab where you can view only your missed notifications, as well as a new Today view.
The latter acts a little bit like Google's Google Now feature, providing you an overview of what you have to do today, including the current weather forecast, upcoming appointments on your calendar, stock quotes, and even a quick paragraph about what kind of day you have tomorrow.
What's up with multitasking in iOS 7?
You can still switch apps by double-clicking the Home button, but the interface for doing so has changed: It now resembles the old interface for switching pages in Safari on iOS 6 and before, where you see a thumbnail of the page. A row of app icons still appears below, and you can swipe back and forth to find the app that you're looking for. Force-quitting apps is a little different though: Instead of tapping and holding on the icon, you flick a thumbnail up to dismiss it.
Behind the scenes, there are other, more significant differences. In iOS 4 and later, only certain tasks could run in the background (in order to save battery life). In iOS 7, we finally get full multitasking. So any app can run in the background, providing you with up-to-the-minute information as soon as you switch to it.
If any app can run in the background, what about battery life?
Apple's spent a lot of time making sure that battery life won't suffer from the new multitasking. It tries to collect updates from different apps and run them all at the same time, and keeps an eye on both power efficiency and the current network situation to make sure it doesn't run down your battery.
More iOS 7 questions answered on next page: New features, update apps, and more >>