A Guide To What’s Great In iOS 7


By the time you read this, millions of people will have already updated their iPhones and iPads to iOS 7, the latest incarnation of Apple’s mobile operating system.

It’s also the most radically different one since the launch of the iPhone back in 2007, bringing with it a brand new look and feel and a host of new features. In yesterday’s post, I suggested most people will find that upgrading is a low-risk endeavor, even though many apps don’t yet share the graphical design of the new iOS.

But what about the reward? Is it worth re-learning how to use your phone for some different-looking fonts, new icons and the myriad of other changes? The answer is a clear yes. Apple hasn’t hit it out of the park with iOS 7 primarily because parts of it feel disjointed and some things are still crying out for functional updates, but overall, there are more than enough positives to take the time to download and learn the new software. After a few weeks, iOS 6 will seem dated.

In the following vignettes, I’ll take you through some of the updates, noting strong points and weaknesses. The purpose isn’t to give you a comprehensive technical software review or to duplicate Apple’s very useful summary of the new features. But this post is designed to help get instant value from the upgrade.

For a look at what’s not so great, check out: 7 Misses in iOS 7

Hey, it’s a phone

Sometimes, between all the tweeting, texting and game playing, we forget the “phone” part of iPhone. Fortunately, Apple hasn’t this go round. When a call comes in, you can now do more than just accept or decline it. The “Remind Me” button let’s you ignore the call but have the phone bother you about it either in an hour, when you leave wherever you are, or when you reach your home. “Message” gives you a two-click way to send a text instead of answering the call, with three built-in replies including “I’ll call you later” and “I’m on my way”. You can make those texts say whatever you want by changing them in Settings >> Phone >> Respond with Text. Altogether, two small buttons offer a lot more power in call handling for the busy and the forgetful.

Strange plus: The phone dialer now has round buttons instead of the square ones it has had for years. Oddly, my accuracy in dialing numbers with it is much higher.

Never again: You can now easily block annoying callers by picking their number off the call list, hitting the “i” button and scrolling down. You’ll never hear from that caller again unless they get a new number

You’ve been notified

Apple’s been playing catch up to Android with notifications for a long while and iOS 7 does a solid job of narrowing the gap. The good news is that now when you get an alert from Facebook or Gmail, you can swipe it and go straight to the app, whichever app it comes from. Prior to iOS 7, you were limited to things like replying to a text message from the lock screen and could do nothing from the pull-down panel you get to by swiping from the top of the screen.

But about that panel: It now brings up a list of notifications as well as providing you two other choices, the Today view and the list of missed notifications. Sadly, none of the three panes is great. Today is a bit like Google Now on Android, an attempt to show you what your appointments are, what the weather is and the state of traffic between you and wherever your next destination is. It also throws in your stock quotes and a brief look at tomorrow. In theory, it’s all good. In reality, it’s pretty unsatisfying. You can shut off any module you don’t want, but you can’t add sports scores, for example, instead of stock quotes. You can’t customize it at all beyond removing things from it. And the weather information contains no graphics, so it’s not much of an at-a-glance tool.

Promising future: This feature could get world’s better if Apple delivers even a little of what Google Now tries to do and eventually allows users to customize Today with third-party apps and information. Potentially, it could allow Apple to offer widget-like functionality in a cleanly presented manner.

Pandora’s pox?

Apple’s entry into streaming music won’t kill Pandora for a whole host of reasons, but it might dent its popularity. The service, called iTunes Radio, is free for everyone but $25 annually will get rid of the advertising. Paying will also get you Apple’s oddball iTunes Match, a service that’s very useful if you still have a lot of MP3 files (but relatively unpopular since launching). The bundling of iTunes Match and commercial-free iTunes Radio actually represents some small-but-real synergy.

First, let’s just say iTunes Radio will be instantly familiar to people that use Pandora. There are a bunch of pre-built “stations” to listen to or you can roll your own by selecting any artist or song and then customizing the station. If you make a hip hop station but are just fed up with Jay-Z, you can actually tell iTunes never to play any of his music. By contrast, you can explicitly keep adding songs or artists later on to hone the station to your tastes. It works great and the sound quality is often terrific. I use Spotify and Pandora regularly. Anecdotally, iTunes Radio’s music quality is clearly better than the latter and comparable to the former.

Making history: Apple is the world’s biggest music retailer and iTunes Radio is designed to extend that dominance at least a little while longer. The History feature allows you to quickly pull up a list of every song you heard and purchase it for your library for $1.29 or less. For the oldie that Radio helps you re-discover or the top-10 hit you just need to hear over and over, this kind of impulse buying is likely to prove quite popular

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