Apple took the wraps off iOS7 yesterday and its unveiling created a lot of buzz all over the world. Before yesterday, the general feelings by tech experts and enthusiasts alike is that iOS had stagnated in recent years, with very minor updates and not a lot of innovation. This is partly because the smartphone platform has matured, but right or wrong, there wasn’t a lot of excitement around iOS. Just comparing iOS to Android feature for feature it was obvious that Android had not only caught up to iOS, but surpassed it in many areas. iOS badly needed a facelift if only to put some new shine to the platform.
We have recently seen Mac community high profile names like Andy Ihnatko switch to Android, and just anecdotally, I’ve had friends and family — some of whom are pretty well-entrenched iPhone fans — at least sneak a peek at the latest Android phones. And that speaks to how little iOS has changed to keep the attention of it’s users. iOS7 rejuvenates that community — right now the internet buzzing with opinions on Apple’s redesigned OS.
Android for Now, but Still an iOS Fan (yes, it’s possible)
I’m not posting this to bash iOS or sing the praises of Android. I’m no rabid fanboy of either platform but pride myself in always making an educated decision in going with what I think is best for me. I didn’t hesitate making the switch to Mac from PC when OSX looked so much better than Windows XP. I just feel that since I have used both platforms as my daily driver, my opinion carries a little more weight than those who have only ever used one or the other.
It’s disappointing to see so much hate on the internet between iOS and Android fans. Come on people! Just because you’re a fan of one platform doesn’t mean you have to be blind to legitimate upgrades of the other.
Wishing 7 had been 6
This time last year I was lustfully eying Android Jellybean’s features, but being an iPhone user since the beginning, I wanted to see what iOS6 would bring to the table before I made the decision. Unfortunately, iOS6 didn’t bring in some of the features that Android users had been enjoying for a long time.
Ignorance really is bliss! If I didn’t have friends who showed off Android’s notification shade, quick toggles, and multi-tasking, I would have been happy with my iPhone. But seeing those features on Android, there was no denying that it was just better in some areas, and it was enough to get me to switch. Fast-forward to a year later, Apple announces the biggest changes to iOS since the iPhone’s debut. iOS7 looks great and addresses a lot of the features I was missing a year ago. I got the Nexus 4 a few months after last year’s WWDC, and I wonder if had this iOS7 update come a year earlier, would I have switched?
Take those 3 aforementioned features: 1) notifications, 2) quick toggles, and 3) multi-tasking – how Android had been superior in those areas when compared to iOS6, and the promise of iOS7:
Android had a notification center long before Apple implemented theirs in iOS5. Before iOS5, Apple gave every notification it’s own dialog box, which was clunky (not to mention annoying!) having to close multiple dialog boxes at a time, all the time. And even iOS5’s version of notification center was so bad I ended up hardly ever using it. One of the things that appealed to me about Android was it’s notification shade–it is one of the core features and is used all the time. And in today’s connected world, that’s how it should be, since you are receiving notifications throughout the day.
Android’s notification shade is probably the single most-used and most useful thing about the whole OS. You can swipe away single notifications within a group, pull down on one to see more info, or dismiss all of them at once with a tap.
And because Android is an open platform, you can add functionality to it (I have added toggles and shortcuts to apps at the top)
I was excited at first, but ended up rarely using the iOS notification center simply because it wasn’t intuitive. You could not dismiss one notification at a time – only a group, and that involved tapping a tiny “x.”
Not that it was all that much simpler to hunt through your homescreens for notification badges and go into each app, but that’s what ended up happening in practice.
Sadly, besides looking so much better than previous versions, and what might be a useful “Today” category, iOS7’s notification functions the same way.
2. Quick Settings / Control Center
Android has long had the ability to quickly toggle power-saving portions of the phone on and off through toggles and recently a quick settings pane. Android has had this useful feature for so long I was frustrated that it took Apple so long to implement it themselves. iOS7 finally brings this to the iPhone and it’s a welcome addition.
Quick toggles built-into the OS are pretty new to Android, coming in Jelly Bean 4.2 at the end of 2012, though toggles have been available as widgets or add ons to the notification shade (as I have them in my notifications screen above) for far longer.
iOS has long been stuck in their 2007 settings menu where you have to drill down through multiple menus to turn different things on and off.
iOS7 introduces their version of quick settings, called “Control Center.” Just like all of iOS7, the implementation looks great.
The icons, sliders, and text are still a little bit of a mess. It’s not immediately clear at a glance what is on or off and readability isn’t great. I supposed you would get used to it.
Multitasking on iOS is another feature that I rarely used because it is a bother. The reality is, even if I knew another app was open, it was easier for me to hit the home button once and tap the app from my homescreen because I knew where it was rather than double-clicking the home button and hunting through pages — 4 apps at a time — to find the app I wanted to switch to. Also, the number of steps it took to close open apps made it so I never closed apps!
Android’s multitasking is accessed by a tap of a button. It gives you large previews of your open apps, and closing an app is just as effortless as switching to one: simply swipe the open app either left or right! It’s so easy and fluid that Android owners use this killer feature constantly.
In contrast to Android simple tap and swipe method of closing an app, iOS’s involves a double-tap, then long-pressing an app until it “wiggles,” then hitting a tiny “x” to close the app.
iOS7 comes to the rescue here again with slick-looking multi-tasking of their own, complete with swiping up to kill an app. Simple, visual, and easy!
iOS7 is a Welcome Upgrade
I’ve been fiddling with the iOS7 beta for an evening now and while it’s a polished beta, it’s still a beta. Laggy performance and random app crashes I’m sure will all be ironed out by the time it’s released to the masses.
Besides the three features I mentioned previously, here are my quick first impressions.
- The whole iOS7 theme seems to be “light” and “airy.” The absence of borders and bars, transparency, removal of any superfluous adornments, simplifying of icons, and even the choice of the lightest of fonts with thin strokes gives the OS a feeling of space and room.
- It’s interesting to see that Apple’s apps are now predominately white-themed. Google has been moving in that same direction with their Google Now “cards” look. iOS7 and Android’s newest Music player look strikingly similar:
Google Play Music (left) and the Music App in iOS7 (right)
- I love the animations when opening and closing an app or opening a folder. Little visual cues about where you are going or where you are coming from are small details that is classic Apple. Love it.
- I’m happy to see that Apple’s embracing gestures further
- I wish Apple had introduced something akin to widgets or something totally different for their home screens. Folders are still the only way to manage your “desktop” on iOS, and I much prefer Android’s philosophy. Give people more ways to customize their phones to their liking!
- Auto-update apps – another headache for me on iOS fixed with iOS7, and another one of those features that Android users have long enjoyed
Android fans can gripe all they want about how iOS stole this and that from Android, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a great upgrade for iOS. If nothing else, it puts a fresh coat of paint on a stagnating OS, and gives people something new to try out. As for me, I think after using iOS since 2007 and then a mature Android for a year, I now prefer Android — at least for now. I have gotten so used to Android’s philosophy of being open, allowing for endless ways of being able to tweak and personalize my phone for my needs.
I’m quite happy with being able to turn the default Android 4.2 home screen (left) into a home screen carefully crafted to the way that works for me (right):
And that’s the beauty of Android–infinite ways to make the phone what you want it to be. Unhappy with the icons (the way a lot of people feel about iOS7’s)? Change the icon set. The stock keyboard not working for you? Download and install one of the really great keyboards available on the Google Play Store.
Very different than Apple philosophy of making the iPhone the way they believe is best for you–and there’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s carefully polished UI works and makes 99% of it’s owners happy. When the dust settles from the initial storm of complaining that accompanies every change, I think users will be pretty happy with what’s new in iOS7. And guess what? This is good for the Android OS also. Competition always brings out the best out, and this is nothing but win for us as consumers.