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Home » Columns and other comments, Features and such, iPhone, Technology

Apple iOS 7 — works better, looks horrible

By: 25 June 2013 One Comment
The Arkansas flag. Reimagined. By Apple. In California.

The Arkansas flag. Reimagined. By Apple. In California.

Be careful what you wish for, for you may get it.

Yes, that’s an old proverb that has been attributed to St. Teresa of Avila and, well, a lot of other people. We’ll stick with the St. Teresa attribution because she’s fascinating.

Who coined that phrase doesn’t really matter so much as the fact that it may prove very true in the case of Apple iOS 7. Apple users (myself included) have howled about how boring Apple’s mobile operating system has become and have demanded change. I’ve got iOS 7 Beta 2 running on my iPhone 4S and it’s clear that Apple has created a whole new look for it’s operating system and that may or may not turn out to be a good thing.

In a nutshell, iOS 7 does offer a lot of improvements over previous versions, but the operating system is divisive. It has been ridiculed by some users and praised by others. Frankly, I found it a headache inducing mess that has too many gradients, an obnoxious amount of pastels and icons that look they were banged out by either third graders with severe cases of ADHD or the design team at Fisher-Price (take your pick).

I’ll go on at length about the odd icons in a bit and there’s even a slideshow at the bottom of this post where you can see iOS 7 in action. At this point it seems wise to mention a couple of things. First of all, it isn’t exactly easy to get the beta and load it on your favorite iDevice so I’m not going to spend any time telling you how to get it. I should mention, however, that it is a beta and, as such, is full of errors. I’m downgrading back to iOS 6 soon as it works well and iOS 7 is too rough in its current form to be reliable. Also, bear in mind that iOS 7 is in beta and that means there will be a lot of changes between now and mid-September when Apple is expected to release it to consumers.

One more thing — iOS 7 will run on the iPhone 4, 4S and 5 (and the next iphone), the iPad 2, 3, 4 and Mini and the 5th generation iPod.

Before griping about the awful icons Apple has included with iOS 7, I should mention there are some features in it that are welcome changes. Perhaps the best of the lot is simple, indeed — a control center that is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and makes it easy to get to apps that are perhaps most commonly used. No longer will you have to wade through menus to put your iPhone in airplane mode, turn WiFi on or off, set an alarm, take a photo, use the calculator, etc. Music controls are in that panel, too, and Apple has even added a handy flashlight app which is available in the control center.

Another great feature is that folders are no longer restricted to one level of apps. Folders, then, become like huge closets you can dump as many apps into as you want. That leads to some tidiness as one can simply create a folder called, say, “Games” and put all your games in that instead of creating a slew of folders to hold all your apps. That simply change means I reduced the number of screens on my 4S from about five to one. Everything is accessible from one screen now and I like the heck out of that.

One screen? What? Yes, the search screen has been eliminated in iOS 7. That is not available by swiping down on the home screen (not at the top, now — that accesses the notification center) and is very convenient. The notifications center has changed, too, so that users can switch between their daily calendar and stock quotes (yes, that garbage is still in there), have a look at notifications they missed (very handy) or look at all notifications (essentially what the current notification screen does). You can configure what is included in the notification center — the stocks are there by default, but they are easy to dismiss. Good news, there.

Another change involves Siri. Yes, the voice assistant is as worthless and hard-of-hearing as ever, but now users can opt to use a male voice for Siri. Both the female and male voices sound less robotic than expected, too.

The pictures app has also changed significantly in that one can opt to take a “square” photo (great for using with Facebook and such) and one can choose to take actions on several photographs. Sharing or deleting several photos at once is now easy and that is great. The shutter speed has increased quite a bit, too.

Another noteworthy change is to the dialer app. When a call comes in, the user is immediately given the option of sending a text to the caller stating he’s busy and/or set a time to call back later. That’s a great addition, indeed. Another new thing involves wallpapers — anyone who has envied the “live” wallpapers in Android will be glad to know that those are now available on iOS. The ones included with the beta are little more than irritating, pastel bubbles that drift stupidly around the screen, but one can’t help but think Apple will work on those.

And, here’s something else that’s new. Multitasking is obviously going on in some apps that are running in the background. When an iOS 6 user taps twice on the home button, he’s greeted with a list of apps along the bottom of the screen and can choose to stop them from running. In iOS 7, that strip of icons is still there, but windows showing the current state of each app is listed above them. To close an app, simply swipe up on it and it’s closed.

Another feature that I’ve read about but haven’t been able to test is AirDrop. I’ve not been able to test it because Apple has reserved that feature for the iPhone 5 and whatever phone comes next. We saw this kind of thing with Siri — “we’ve got a dandy new feature, but it won’t work on older hardware. Go out and buy something new, kids.” At any rate, Apple says AirDrop will allow iOS 7 users to exchange photos and documents with other people using the service through Bluetooth and WiFi. That sounds great, but it also sounds like Apple will again avoid implementing near field communication (NFC) in the next iPhone. We’ll have to wait and see what develops.

It’s worth mentioning that those who own the iPhone 4S need not worry — iOS 7 is plenty fast on the phone. I can’t say how it behaves on an iPhone 4, but my 4S doesn’t lag under it. Oh, and iOS7 is murder on my iPhone 4S. But, again, this is a beta release and one would hope Apple will fix that problem before the new operating system is released to the public.

So, there’s a brief rundown of the significant changes to iOS 7. To get to those changes, however, one has to wade through the simply terrible new user interface. Gone are the highly-textured icons in favor of flat, crude ones in pastel colors that look downright primitive. Apple was, seemingly, going for simple, but come on — cave drawings and stick figures are simple, but they’re not exactly what you want to have forming the basis for the icons on your smartphone. A lot of words come to mind when looking through those icons — juvenile, lazy, confusing and idiotic to name a few and things go downhill from there. And, no, using gradients to “fade” colors from dark to light doesn’t help — that’s the kind of nonsense a kid who has just figured out how to use Photoshop likes to do. There are times when the icons don’t look anything like what they are supposed to represent, such as a bunch of pastel-colored bubbles for the new Game Center app. Luckily they’ve got the name of the apps they are attached to printed under them, but that sort of defeats the point of having descriptive icons, doesn’t it?

Also, the colors are simply maddening. The atmosphere of iOS in the past may have been a bit dark, but that many irritating pastels hasn’t been inflicted on the public since the leisure suit craze of the 1970s. To make things worse, there are a lot of times when one is greeted with white letters on a light background, making things hard to read. The new emphasis on minimalism is overdone to the point where it’s sometimes hard to figure out what to do. That all starts at the lock screen, where one is invited treated to a “slide to unlock” message printed directly over an up arrow. The up arrow brings up the control center and the user is supposed to slide to the right as always to unlock the phone. That’s second nature for those of us who have been around iPhones for awhile, but what about new users? It’s easy enough to figure out, but that system lacks the clarity we’ve come to expect from Apple.

Again, this is just a beta and things may improve, but the childish icons, irritatingly peppy (preppy) pastel colors and “white-on-light” lettering seems like a misstep from the mighty Apple which is famous for designing things that look great and work well. Instead of continuing in that direction, iOS 7 feels more like Apple’s In Utero album — a conscious effort on the part of Nirvana to get rid of its “casual” fans and appeal only to the “true believers.” Yes, that’s overstating the point, but one can’t help but wonder if the design team at Apple got sick of people demanding change and decided to, by God, give them a big old pile of change. So, there.

Love it or hate it, iOS 7 should be released to the public in mid-September. It is a beta at this point and, perhaps, some major changes will be made to the interface between now and then. If you want to have a look at how the new iOS looks in its beta form, have a look at the below sideshows — mouse over the photos for the comments about each slide.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =

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