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iOS 7: Control Center, Notification Center, Spotlight, Multitasking
By Nick Guy | 06.25.13

Soon after Apple debuted the completely redesigned iOS 7 on June 10, 2013, it became obvious that the iOS user experience has changed enough to merit a public re-introduction—a forward-looking discussion of the updated user interface and integrated apps. Our series on iOS 7 now looks at every key section of Apple’s new operating system, starting with setting up iOS devices, the new Lock Screen and Home Screen, then continuing through other major UI elements and built-in apps. For a broad look at all of iOS 7’s changes from iOS 6, check out our big picture look at iOS 7, published on June 10, as well as our articles on iOS 7 setup, the Home Screen, and Lock Screen; this article was published on June 12 and subsequently updated. Note that some features and graphics may change before iOS 7’s final release.

Control Center

Control Center is one of iOS 7’s biggest new features, and it’s something users have wanted for years. From anywhere within the system, you can now swipe up to reveal this new control panel, which rises as a translucent pane from the bottom of the screen in either landscape or portrait orientation. Control Center is designed to provide quick access to a number of useful settings, many of which were previously only available by diving into the Settings app. Across the top, there are buttons that toggle Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, and Portrait Orientation Lock on and off. Directly beneath that are a brightness slider and a mini player for audio content. An AirDrop wireless sharing settings menu is located next to an AirPlay receiver toggle, and finally, quick access is provided to four different apps along the bottom row. The first is a flashlight feature to activate the rear LED lights on certain iPod touch and iPhone models—the first time Apple has built such functionality into iOS. Clock, calculator, and camera icons each take you directly to those respective apps.

Tapping the AirDrop button brings up a prompt that allows users to turn the new wireless sharing feature off, make the device visible to everyone nearby, or only allow it to be seen by current contacts. Currently, the only setting for Control Center is a switch that disables access from the Lock Screen, should you want to reduce the number of swipe options that are available before unlocking the iPod or iPhone.

Notification Center

First introduced in iOS 5, Notification Center has received a rather significant overhaul. It’s still activated by pulling down from the top of any screen; this now includes the Lock Screen, unless the feature’s disabled in Settings. Notification Center is now split into three tabs: today, all, and missed. The first displays information about what’s going on that day. It displays the day of the week and date, and then information about the day such as the weather, and birthdays. Immediately above the calendar of the day, it lists the next event in plain text. By default, stocks follow, and then there’s a brief summary of information about the next day.

The “all” view is a list of notifications received, similar to how the feature worked previously in iOS. Organized by app, any listing can be tapped to open the appropriate app, or you can dismiss a notification by tapping the x-button on the right. “Missed” shows all notifications that haven’t been viewed within the past 24 hours.

iOS 7’s Settings app offers granular controls for Notification Center. Starting at the top, users have a choice of what information is viewed when Notification Center is accessed from the Lock Screen: Notifcations View, Today View, both, or neither. Turning them both off removes the translucent arrow from the lock screen, disabling the feature altogether. The Today View can be set up as desired with toggles for information such as Today Summary, Reminders, and Stocks, and below that, each app has its own control pane.

Update: Apple has added “Traffic Conditions” as a feature of Notification Center, bringing the service’s functionally closer to that of Google Now. When turned on in settings, you’ll be able to see when unusual traffic conditions will effect the commute to events on your calendar, all presented as conversational text.

Spotlight

While it initially appeared that Apple had done away with its Spotlight search feature, it actually only removed it from the previous location left of the first Home Screen. Now, Spotlight can be accessed from any Home Screen simply by swiping down anywhere between the status bar and the dock. Doing so brings up the “Search iPod” or “Search iPhone” bar at the top of the screen, while activating a keyboard at the bottom. The center of the screen displays a frosted translucent pane with categorized results.

Multitasking

As always, the multitasking app switcher is triggered by double tapping the iPhone’s Home Button. Instead of simply displaying the icons of the four most recently accessed apps, iOS 7 now includes a full-screen snapshot-based system. The three most recently used apps are displayed in their live states, with the one that was previously accessed in the center. You can still scroll through a carousel of apps in the order they were last used, now complete with snapshots of where you left off in them. To dismiss an app, you simply swipe up and away on the snapshot; up to three apps can be removed from the switcher at a time on iPhones and iPods.

The app switcher can also be accessed in landscape orientation, when summoned while using an app that displays content in that manner. All other app windows will appear sideways. As with iOS 6, some background processes will continue to show up on the device’s Home or Lock Screens; apps using the microphone appear as persistent red bars, while Maps continues to fill the Lock Screen with guidance, using a blue bar as it runs behind the Home Screen. Fine-tuning of the look of these elements will likely take place in later beta versions of iOS 7.

Note that there will likely be more to say about multitasking in the future, as Apple famously denied many apps the ability to run in the background based on battery life concerns. Apple says that iOS 7 multitasking will be battery efficient, and that new related software features will help preserve battery life, including updating during power-efficient times and based on a learned schedule.

iOS 7 on iPad: Debuted in iOS 7 Beta 2 (June 24, 2013)

Now that Apple has released iOS 7 for the iPad and iPad mini, it’s clear that Notification Center and Control Center work very much the same way on Apple’s tablets as they do on its iPhones and iPod touches. The former fills the iPad’s entire screen, while Control Center fills the width of the screen in either orientation, spreading out its buttons. Note that the calculator and flashlight icons found on iPhones and iPods are gone, as those features aren’t built into either size of iPad.

More Information

For more information on iOS 7, check out big picture iOS 7 guide, and other articles in this series, including iOS 7 setup, the Home Screen, and Lock Screen.

Next: iOS 7: Nike + iPod, Photo Booth + Voice Memos

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