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Review: Apple's iOS 7 is much more than a pretty face

Michael deAgonia | Sept. 19, 2013
More than a superficial coat of paint, iOS 7 represents a new direction for Apples mobile OS.

If you think back to 2007, the first iteration of the iPhone operating software was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Since then, Apple has continued to improve the iPhone experience, each year releasing a major new version featuring hundreds of changes, tweaks and additions, both large and small. Even as features were added, the overall interface remained consistent: drop shadows, detailed textures, and app designs based on digital equivalents of real-world elements (called skeuomorphism . The original goal of skeuomorphic element design was to ease iPhone customers into using and navigating a touch screen.

However, this approach was clearly more suited to the iPhone audience of six years ago; since then, nearly all mobile devices have built-in touch screens, and most of today's device-buying population understands the concept and basic navigation principles of multi-touch screens. That has allowed Apple design guru Jony Ive and his team of designers to break free of an interface built around digital metaphors for real-life objects. The result is an OS that, instead of doubling down on showy graphics, actually shows restraint.

The new Control Center at the bottom of an iPad Lock Screen gives quick access to basic controls. The translucent look allows colors "under" the Center to show through.

While iPhones and iPods have always been somewhat immersive, it's clear that Apple's designers hope to make iOS even more immersive by downplaying overly elaborate interface pizzazz and prioritizing content.

Different, yet familiar
iOS 7 may look and behave a little differently from its predecessors, but if you look past the new fonts, brighter color scheme and new animations, iOS is still pretty much the mobile OS you already know.

The Home Screen still sports the same number of apps and folders, and you still navigate by tapping and swiping. The main difference is in theme and behavior. Basic animations accompany navigation: icons zoom onto the Home screen after the device is unlocked; tapping a folder zooms again; tapping an application zooms into the app. The system apps and folder icons sport a brighter, more vibrant 2D look, but the use of multiple visual planes in iOS 7 gives everything a subtle 3D feel.

The Home Screen also offers a more layered feel, as if the applications float just underneath the device's glass screen; this layered look is emphasized by the parallax effect Apple applies, where the background shifts subtly based on how the phone is held. It's a neat effect, and it's subtle enough to not be obnoxious. (You can turn it off, if you want, under Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion, or you can double-down on animations by choosing backgrounds that move under Settings > Wallpaper > Dynamic.)

 

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