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iOS7 upgrade: It's all about the swipe

iOS7 is free and available today. iOS7 includes swiping features, iTunes Radio, more camera filters, a better Siri and better Apple Maps.

By Anick JesdanunAssociated Press / September 18, 2013

Craig Federighi, Senior VP of Software Engineering at Apple Inc talks about iOS7 during a media event in Cupertino, Calif. September 10, 2013. Apple is bringing iOS to car dashboards with CarPlay.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

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Mountain View, Calif.

The changes to Apple's iOS software became apparent as I drove to the headquarters of the company's rival, Google. As I navigated using Apple's mapping app, I noticed one of my favorite attributes was missing: the directions for each next turn presented in green boxes that resemble highway signs.

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Many of the changes in Apple's operating system for mobile devices are cosmetic. Gone are three-dimensional icons that mimic real-world counterparts, such as a magazine rack for the Newsstand app. They are replaced by larger, two-dimensional icons sporting abstract designs and pastel colors. Apple also extended that new look to many of its apps. In Maps, the green boxes are replaced with solid white across the top.

It didn't take long to realize that deeper down, the new iOS 7 software is the same as the one I've come to know.

The new software does have several functional improvements, but those could take time to stumble upon. The good news is that even if you never discover them, you can still use your device the way you did before. The free update is available starting Wednesday. [There's no official release time but in the past Apple has released updates at 10 a.m. Pacific Time]

I'm covering the features specific to Apple's new iPhone 5S and 5C in a separate review. This one is about whether it makes sense to upgrade to iOS 7 on your existing iPhone or iPad.

The biggest functional change is the use of swipes instead of taps to access key functions. You can already swipe up from the bottom right side of the screen to quickly access the camera when your phone is in the lock screen. With iOS 7, you can also swipe up for the Control Center, which contains frequently used settings and apps. That's available whether or not the phone is locked.

Swipe down from the top of the screen to get recent notifications and the day's highlights, including the weather, appointments, reminders and stock quotes. Swipe down from the center of any home screen for a search box. From many apps, you can swipe from the left or the right instead of tapping the left and right buttons.

The Control Center is the most useful of the functional improvements.

From there, you can turn Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off. Before, you had to find those switches in the settings. That would have come in handy for my flight to Silicon Valley last week for Apple's event introducing the new phones and software. Likewise, a Do Not Disturb feature is easier to access. It lets you silence incoming calls and messages, though you can make exceptions for certain numbers or for those calling repeatedly, in case there is a true emergency.

The Control Center also lets you easily control music playback and adjust the screen's brightness. It gives you quick access to a flashlight feature, the clock, a calculator and camera. My only complaint: You can't pick the apps featured and replace the calculator, for instance, with Facebook or Gmail.

I found the left and right swipes useful primarily within certain apps. In the Safari browser, I use it to return to the previous page. In Mail, I return to the list of messages after reading one. Again, these are all things I could do before with taps rather than swipes, but sometimes the swipe feels more natural.

The new software also makes it easier to manage multiple apps at once. Double click on the home button to see all open apps, each represented by a large image showing the app's content rather than just an icon, as was the case before. Close an app by swiping the image up. In the past, you had to hold down an icon and hit the minus button.

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