Both my wife Anne and I upgraded our previous iPhones (her a 4, me a 4S) as well as our iPad 3s to iOS 7 when it came out so we were familiar with it before we upgraded our iPhones to 5S’s. Like many, we’ve been exploring, learning, groaning, grinning, squinting, and getting comfortable with the new look and functionality of an OS both of use daily on iPhones and iPads.
I’ve been keeping some notes on my experience with both the new OS and the new iPhone and they follow, in no particular order.
Oh my god, how could we have ever lived without this new cable system for iOS devices. Incredible technology and design, and for us, with iPad 3s, another important reason to upgrade to a newer model iPad so we have one cable type. I can now see why Apple released the iPad 4 to get their entire line on this cable, it’s an incredible piece of technology.
Anne wanted a new iPhone mostly for the ability to use talking navigation in the Maps app. The 4S has it and I love it, the 4 doesn’t (thus the “S”). I wanted a new iPhone for the improved antennas, both wifi and cellular.
My guess is, the iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S are very similar in feel. Not just the same shape, but a lighter, taller, and thinner design that has a different hand feel than the older models. My guess is that the biggest antennae improvement came with the 5 although I didn’t have one so I can’t say for sure. But, both of the antennas in the 5S and the software that controls them has been improved significantly. No more dropped calls and much better signal strength in our rural part of the world. But, in places like Los Angeles and New York with faster cellular networks, using the 5S on a cellular network is like using a 3G on wifi; it’s extremely fast. We’re not just talking the faster processor here, we’re talking faster cellular connections.
The iPhone 4 had a great new camera, the 4S improved it a bit but had Siri, the 5 had all of this and great reception and the 5C and 5S continue that with great improvements everywhere.
For us, TouchID on the iPhone 5S has been a mixed bag and I’ve been reading that others are having issues with it too. I’m not throwing in the towel and my guess is as I train more fingers (I’ve got 3 trained) and learn tricks to better training things will improve. However, at least for Anne and me, TouchID feels rough around the edges. Could be our old skin (my thumbs are totally munged from years of outside work and rock climbing) or just an early version of the firmware. Hopefully in time it will work first time, every time. But, for now, it takes at least a few tries to unlock my iPhone, Anne may have turned it off already.
But, both of us are extremely happy with our iPhones 5S’ even with the TouchID hiccups.
I use Pages on my Mac but don’t share documents with my iOS devices so the problem with iWork in iCloud crashing the iPhone 5S hasn’t happened to me. As a matter of fact, neither Anne nor I have crashed our iPhone 5Ss at all, ever.
The form and function of iOS 7
iOS 7 is a different story and while I applaud Apple and Jony Ive for a thorough gutting of the old iOS, it feels to me like iOS 7 is a bit too long on form, not long enough on function.
The form/function discussion has been going on for as long as anyone can remember, maybe brought into the light a bit more during the Bahaus period by the various designers (both in and out of Germany) who were experimenting with minimalism.
I’m all for minimalism, but not for its own sake. There are elements in iOS 7 that feel like they’ve been stripped of usability to make them work visually with an overall look, and this bothers me. I’ve always considered Mac OS and iOS perfect balances of both usability with a clean aesthetic but it seems to me that iOS 7 may have pushed a bit too far into cleanliness for the sake of a particular look.
A piece of me wishes there were a Settings slider with “Form” on one side and “Function” on the other and we could set up our various personal spaces to suit ourselves.
But, it’s too soon to go nuts over this stuff, I’ve only been using iOS 7 for a month now so time will tell and no doubt some of my complaints will be addressed in future updates.
iOS 7 Typography
I’m at the place in my life where I have reading glasses but only use them for reading and at times like right now when I’m working on a computer. I prefer not to have to put them on for casual use of my iPhone to answer a call, to answer a text, to adjust the countdown timer, and for other quick things like that.
However, the thin Helvetica typeface used in much of iOS 7, coupled with it’s flatter graphical design elements have made some pieces of the process of using both iPhone and iPad a bit tougher for me.
If you’ve never used Apple’s Timer in their Clock app, check it out while you’re reading this. The time adjustment piece has remained similar to the way it was: you turn a wheel up/down to move minutes and hours. The thinner type makes seeing the times on the wheel tougher but it’s doable. The space that you have to grab to move the wheel has gotten smaller/thinner but it’s not a big problem.
However, the two circle/buttons that Start, Stop, and Pause the clock timer are much tougher to see than the denser 3D buttons they replaced. This is a place where the more nuanced look of iOS 7 may not be working well. Compare the timer buttons to the big, red bar with “End” on it when you end a call. While I liked the old “End” call bar a bit more, at least the new End bar is easy to see and a nice big target to hit. The timer buttons need work and they’re an example of a bit too much form, not enough function.
You can make the type in iOS 7 a bit easier to read in a few ways.
Settings/General/Text Size: drag the slider to change system type size
Settings/General/Accessibility: Turn Bold Text on. Consider turning Larger Dynamic Type on and dragging the slider.
These changes have worked well for me, especially Bold Text. They have not, however, made the Clock timer easier to see and use.
iOS 7 Lock Screen
While I’m no fan of the spindly Helvetica type of the time on the lock screen, here’s a great new feature in iOS 7 that I use often: If you use the timer in the Clock app (I use it for baking and cooking) the time remaining will be displayed under the time of day on the lock screen. Very handy in case you can’t get TouchID to work!
By the way, if you use Passbook for travel or purchasing things passes appear on the lock screen as well and you can get to them without unlocking your phone. Very useful touch.
I like Apple’s new Weather app in iOS 7. Like Passbook and other modern apps, the Weather app is now using lateral strips for the various places you want to track weather at. If it’s night at a place, the strip will reflect that (stars) and if it’s raining, the strip will reflect that. The images on the various strips are animated: clouds move, rain falls. Part of me is looking forward to seeing what the strips look like with snow on them (part of me can wait).
I’ve had a collection of weather apps over the years and each has great things about it but Apple’s new Weather app in iOS 7 is worth using for a while, it’s good.
For radar I use the Dark Sky app (thanks Gary), it’s one of the coolest weather apps out there and will ping at me when rain is 20 minutes away, among many other cool things.
iOS 7 Status Bar
I’m not sure what the top of iOS’s screen is called but we’re talking where the cellular connection strength, wifi connection strength, time of day, and battery level are at the very top of the screen.
The type of the various elements of that bar has been reduced in size and in various apps, it’s not well differentiated from the type and other elements of the apps. Now I can’t really remember how this looked and worked in earlier OS versions but to my eyes, it’s tougher to scan and see. I do like the green battery level color and I know the decision was made to give more screen real estate to foreground content but still, things that are on the screen ought to be big enough to see .
I routinely rip (digitize) movie DVDs that I own and move them onto my iPad to watch on plane trips. This is an important thing for me as I fly cross country monthly and enjoy watching a movie on at least part of each five hour trip. In the last version of the Videos app, ripped movies were listed as both a screen grab (not useful for identifying the movie until I figure out how to make a “poster” part of the rip) and as a text title. Somehow, the text title is gone in the iOS 7 version of the Video app and some of my movies are now categorized as “Home Movies.” I can live with odd categorization but without title text, there’s no way to differentiate one movie from another. I’ve searched online and others are having the same problem so hopefully Apple is working on it. While they’re at it, how about allow us to make a simple list rather than a matrix of odd shaped screens.
I also have videos in my Videos library that I bought from iTunes and as far as I can tell, there is no way to delete them in this version of Videos. Hitting “Edit” allows deletion of any of my ripped videos but not the ones that came through the Apple store. Again, an annoyance that Apple should clean up with an update to this app which no doubt few use but is important to me.
One of the best but probably least used new features of iOS 7 is both how Spotlight searching works physically, and how it works under the hood to both index and learn what you’ve been searching for.
In earlier versions of iOS, Spotlight was the left-most screen on the home screen. If you have multiple screens of icons on your iPhone or iPad, you might have noticed small bullets at the bottom of the screen to denote the number of pages of app icons you had. The left-most one wasn’t a bullet, it was a magnifying glass and pulling to the right enough times got you there. Once there you could search for things, like, someone’s name so you could call or text them.
One problem with locating the search screen as the left-most of all of one’s various home screens is that if you find yourself on screen 4 of 4 home screens, you have to swipe right 4 times to get to it. Still, this never stopped me from using it over the years and I mostly left my iPhone on screen 1 of 3 because that’s where I park my most used apps.
I find it interesting how few people use this feature but instead, go to either Contacts and search, or go to their Phone list and search, or go to iMessages and search. This is very much paralleled on the Mac where few people use Spotlight to search for things but rather, mine hierarchies of folders to find what they’re looking for.
On the current Mac OS (Mountain Lion), Spotlight isn’t smart about searches: if I search for a Numbers document that I use to keep track of my Visa card: Command/Space, type “v…” that Visa card doesn’t come up first no matter how many times I search. In other words, Spotlight on the current version of Mac OS doesn’t learn. This is the appeal of the free system extension for Mac OS called Alfred (thanks Edward). Alfred sits on top of Spotlight and uses the same index, but it keeps track of searches so that if I search for my visa card once and it’s the 20th hit and I choose it, the next time I search and type “v…” my visa card will be the top hit.
Alfred is a killer app and it makes searching on the Mac a dream. It does a lot more but that’s enough for me.
The new Spotlight in iOS improves two things:
You get to it by pulling down from any home screen. It’s not a pull down from the top, that would be the Notification Center but from within the app icon area. A small field pops up from any home screen and you can search.
The new Spotlight learns: things you look for often will work their way to the top and you can find them with a single keystroke. It’s like the Spotlight team at Apple are all Alfred users. No doubt the new Mac OS X: Mavericks will have this feature as well and at least some Alfred users will stop using Alfred (for this, to be fair, Alfred can be used for much more).
Unfortunately for me, text indexing happens within Apple’s Notes app but not within the SimpleNote app, which I use to sync writing between my Mac, my iPhone, and iPad. I really like using search and it would be great if every piece of text in every single app in iOS, not just the ones from Apple, could be indexed and searched.
Both Anne and I dislike the new Calendar app. Again, a bit too much form, not enough function. The Swiss Clock look is nice but not always the most functional look. Fortunately for me, I use and love Fantastical on both my Mac and my iPhone and it has a great user interface element called “DayTicker” which has become my calendar view of choice. Fantastical uses your Mac and iOS built in calendar data so you can enter events anywhere but use it to view those events. One great feature of Fantastical is its natural text input: “lunch with Anne at two o’clock tomorrow” will put an event where it needs to be. Siri will do this as well but I like having both text and speech inputs available to me.
Last words, for now
Both Anne and I are enjoying our new iPhones and while there are pieces of iOS 7 that we both find irritating they haven’t stopped us from using our iPhones a lot, maybe more than ever.
Neither of us has gotten dizzy with the 3D layered effect on the home screen (it took me a while to like but now I love the water/foam/beach image) and the iPhones feel solid, work fast, and are a joy to use.
Oh, Anne got a Silver 32GB model with a red case, I got a Grey 64GB model with a black case. Neither of us considered Gold for even a second. Boy, are we out of it!