Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 7.0 | iLounge Article

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Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 7.0

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Safari

Safari goes very minimalist in iOS 7, putting focus on the content within the browser rather than the framework of the app itself. On pocket devices, the bottom blue-grey bar has been replaced with a much more subtle white bar that disappears as the user scrolls downward, reappearing when scrolling back up.

 

The matching top address bar also finally adopts the “omnibox” functionality introduced in Safari on OS X Mountain Lion, and borrows from the Chrome browser by immediately displaying the user’s bookmarks when tapping on it. As the user enters text in this box, the bookmarks are replaced by a list of top hits, search results, bookmarks and history that are refined as the user types. Safari also now preloads the top hit in the background for faster loading once the user selects it. Users can swipe down on this list to hide the keyboard and display more information.

 

A “Private” button is also now available in the bottom left corner to qu ickly enter “Private Browsing” mode—a very welcome change from iOS 6 where a trip to the Settings app was required to toggle the feature on or off. Tapping the “Private” button will automatically enable or disable private browsing mode right away if no other pages are open; otherwise the user is prompted to either keep or close existing pages. This remains an “all-or-nothing” setting—unlike the Incognito mode of Google Chrome it is not possible to open only a single Private Browsing page. The “Private” link is shown in green when Private browsing is enabled, blue when disabled, and much like in iOS 7, the top and bottom bars are rendered in dark grey to indicate that Private Browsing is enabled.

 

Safari’s Bookmarks screen has also been redesigned, separating the Reading List into its own tab alongside a new tab that gathers links from the user’s Twitter feed—assuming one has been configured in the iOS Settings app. The Reading List view has also been enhanced with abstracts and photo thumbnails displayed where appropriate, and is accompanied by a button in the bottom right corner to toggle between displaying all Reading List items or only unread items.

 

The view for switching between pages has also been completely redesigned, ironically replacing iOS 6’s flatter side-by-side page view with a three-dimensional vertical carousel display that is nonetheless more useful. Users can close pages here by tapping a small X in the top left corner or simply swiping the page away with a right-to-left gesture—as elsewhere in iOS 7, this gesture only works in that one direction. The iCloud Tabs feature has also been moved here from the Bookmarks menu and can be found at the bottom of the page carousel.

 

The Reader button is now displayed as a series of lines to the left of the address bar, getting a new font treatment and plain white background. Autofill works in much the same way as before, but adds support for filling credit card information which will presumably sync across multiple devices via iCloud Keychain—a feature that was demoed at WWDC but apparently didn’t make the cut for the iOS 7.0 release.

 

New Settings options for Safari provide the ability to turn on “Do Not Track” disable search suggestions and top hit preloading in the new Smart Search Field, and define which bookmarks folder is used for Favorites.

Mail

The iOS Mail app has taken a very slow and iterative approach over the years, gradually adding relatively minor but useful enhancements with each major iOS update, and iOS 7 follows this same trend. In addition to the new UI design, iOS 7 officially adds support for multiple email addresses, archive mailboxes in generic accounts, a customizable mailbox list with several new smart mailboxes for filtering mail, and adds some interesting new UI elements.

Multiple From Addresses

While it has been possible since iOS 3 to add multiple “From” addresses for a single email account simply by separating them with a comma, this was a workaround that just happened to work and never seemed to be officially acknowledged or supported by Apple. iOS 7 Mail finally adds official support for multiple “From” addresses on a single IMAP or POP account with a proper user interface in the Settings app for adding additional addresses.

 

Further, the iOS 7 Mail app will now choose the appropriate “From” address when replying to a message, based on which address the original e-mail was sent to.

Unfortunately, this feature only seems to be available for generic IMAP and POP accounts, and not pre-defined account types. Users of services such as Gmail who want multiple From address support on their iOS devices will need to set their account up as a generic IMAP account rather than using the pre-defined account type.

Archive Mailboxes

Generic IMAP and POP accounts also now gain the ability to define an “Archive” mailbox under Advanced settings. With this change, generic accounts can now take advantage of the same one-button Archive feature that was previously only available for Gmail and iCloud accounts.

 

A setting on the same Advanced screen allows the user to choose the default behaviour, and if “Archive” is selected, tapping and holding on the archive button in the mail app will offer an option to choose to delete the message instead; sadly this doesn’t work with the opposite setting, however.

Customizable Mailbox List and Smart Mailboxes

The main mailbox list can now be customized, allowing the user to change the order of the default smart mailboxes such as the universal inbox, and VIP list, as well as enable or disable additional items.

 

Pre-defined smart mailboxes are included to allow the user to filter for unread messages, flagged messages, VIP list items, messages from all inboxes, all sent items, messages with the user’s e-mail address in the To or CC line, messages with attachments, and more. Additional mailbox folders can also be selected to be displayed on the main screen, saving the user from digging down into the account-specific folder hierarchy for frequently accessed folders.

New User Interface Conventions

As mentioned earlier, the swipe-to-delete/archive gesture in iOS 7 now only works from right-to-left, however this gesture now also presents a “More” option that can be used to choose additional actions for the selected message, such as flagging, marking unread, or moving to a folder. A “Move to Junk” option is now also available to quickly move the selected message to a designated Junk Mail folder. The same options can also be found on the flag/mark menu when viewing a message or working with multiple messages selected at once.

 

A left-to-right gesture is now used to move up one level in the mailbox hierarchy, taking the user back to the message list when viewing an individual email, or back to the folder list when viewing the message list.

 

The flag symbol has been replaced by default with a simple orange dot, similar to the blue dot used for unread messages. An option is available under the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section of the Settings app to change this back to the older orange flag style.

Other Changes

With the introduction of CardDAV support by Google late last year, Gmail accounts now include official support for Contacts in addition to Calendars and Notes, saving Gmail users the trouble of manually configuring a CardDAV source to keep their Google Contacts in sync with their iOS devices.

 

The same pre-defined account types continue to be supported, although iOS 7 adds up to date icons and Hotmail under its new Outlook.com name.

Messages

Messages remains mostly similar to prior iOS versions, with a new gradient colour design for iOS 7 and a few minor UI changes. Instead of having to scroll up to the top of a conversation to access contact details or place a call, a Contact button now remains fixed in the top right corner which slides down options for placing a call to that contact or viewing additional information such as their address book entry.

 

The Edit button that appeared at the top for deleting and forwarding individual messages appears to have been removed at first glance, but in fact it has actually been moved to the context menu accessible by tapping and holding on any message and selecting the “More” option. This selects the current message and displays delete and forward buttons at the bottom of the screen allowing you to quickly forward/delete a selected message or select additional messages to perform a bulk operation.

 

Messages also adds expanded support for the data detectors previously introduced in the Mail app, allowing contextual elements such as dates to be tapped on for linking to the Calendar app.

 

Timestamps in conversations are added less frequently now, however pulling any conversation bubble to the left will display a timestamp beside each entry.

Phone + FaceTime

The Phone app remains largely the same as prior versions, with the only significant changes other than the iOS 7 UI being the addition of contact photos in the Favourites list—a feature that can be toggled off from the Phone section of the iOS Settings app.

 

Keypad gets a rounded button layout that looks visually very different from the iOS 6 keypad but retains most of the same functionality, with the Add to Contacts and Delete buttons having been removed from the keypad but appearing once a number has been entered.

 

The Visual Voicemail section now displays playback controls which only appear once a message is selected, sliding in below the entry rather than appearing in a common section at the bottom of the screen. A playback button, scrubber, and Speaker, Call Back and Delete buttons all appear within this grouping, while the Greeting and Edit controls retain their former position at the top of the screen. Tapping on the selected message hides the controls, returning to the main Visual Voicemail message listing.

 

On the iPhone, iOS 7 now breaks FaceTime out into a separate app, making it somewhat consistent with the iPad and iPod touch. Despite this, however, FaceTime calls are still received in the normal way and can even continue to be placed through the standard Phone app if users prefer.

 

The app itself has not changed significantly in functionality, although it now uses a dark theme, somewhat consistent with the FaceTime app for OS X.

Support for FaceTime Audio has also been introduced in iOS 7. As the name implies, this allows audio-only calls to be placed via the FaceTime network. This works in much the same way as placing a normal FaceTime call, with an additional option for “FaceTime Audio” presented alongside the normal FaceTime options when making a call to a FaceTime number or email address or setting it as a favourite.

Contact Blocking

iOS 7 now allows you to define a set of numbers that you do not wish to receive calls or messages from. A single block list is shared by the Messages, Phone, and FaceTime features, and adding a number to the list will block you from being contacted from that number by any of these methods.

 

The list can be managed in the iOS Settings app from the Phone, FaceTime, or Messages sections, although as noted above these are simply three ways of accessing what is ultimately the same list of numbers. You can also quickly add a contact to the block list by opening the contact record in Messages, Phone, or FaceTime in the usual manner—scrolling down will reveal a “Block this Caller” option which you can tap on to quickly add the offending caller to “the list.”

 

Music

In addition to iTunes Radio support for U.S. users, the Music app in iOS 7 gets a significant visual redesign while retaining most of the same core navigation features from iOS 6. The former text-bsaed artist view list has been replaced with an album cover and a listing of how many albums and songs are available by that artist, and tapping on an individual artist provides a scrolling list of all of their albums on a long scrolling page, with each album header parking at the top of the page as the user scrolls down through that album’s content.

 

The Now Playing screen gets a similar cleaner design refresh, but retains most of the same functionality with the exception of the AirPlay control, which has presumably been omitted due to its availability via the new Control Center. A “Create” button replaces the former Genius icon, which for iTunes Radio users provides two additional options for generating an iTunes Radio station.

 

Cover Flow has been redesigned as a flat scrolling mosaic of album covers. Entries without artwork are now represented, both here and elsewhere in the Music app, as a plain background with diagonal text for the album and artist name, a slightly more useful although still rather plain improvement over the bland grey note artwork used in prior iOS versions.

 

Tapping on an entry in the new Cover Flow view now zooms in on that particular album cover and displays the list of tracks on that album beside the cover, rather than flipping over and replacing it.

 

The Music app on the iPad retains elements of the prior iTunes-style layout, with playback controls persisting at the top of the screen. The Now Playing screen, however, takes on a more spartan approach, with artwork rendered against a white background and playback and scrubbing controls below.

 

iOS 7 also now provides the ability to stream purchased music from iTunes in the Cloud, regardless of whether or not the user is an iTunes Match subscriber. This is enabled by toggling on the “Show All Music” option in the Music section of the iOS Settings app (this option is also duplicated in the iTunes & App Stores section). Unlike iTunes Match, however, this will only show music purchased from the iTunes Store with the currently signed in account, and does not sync metadata or playlists from the user’s iTunes library—purchased content is shown as it appears on the iTunes Store, without any custom artwork or tags the user may have added.

Videos

A significant new feature added to the Videos app in iOS 7 is the ability to now stream purchased content via iTunes in the Cloud, much the same as the capability introduced to the Apple TV two years ago and iTunes 11 last year. This is enabled by toggling on the “Show All Videos” option in the Videos section of the iOS Settings app (this option is also duplicated in the iTunes & App Stores section), at which point the videos app will show all Movies, TV Shows, and Music Videos purchased with the current iTunes Store account.

 

Tapping on any item will provide a detailed information view. Users can tap the play button to immediately begin streaming playback over their current data connection, or use the iCloud download button in the top-right corner to download the item to their device for offline playback. If a movie or TV show includes chapters, a “Chapter” tab will also be shown allowing the user can begin playback at a specific chapter location.

 

Over a reasonable home Wi-Fi connection, this feature worked quite well in our experience, with playback of even 1080p HD content beginning in under 10-15 seconds.

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