Apple today released the developer beta of iOS 7—due to release to the public in fall of this year—and as expected, the entire operating system has received a look-and-feel redesign, with every app changing at least a little from its prior incarnation. Since all of the apps have been redesigned, we won’t repeat that point in the following descriptions. Instead, we’re focusing on the key differences, and on the new features that have been added. Below, you can see comparison images between iOS 6 and iOS 7, directly highlighting the visual changes that have been made for numerous iOS integrated apps and UI elements.
iPod touch 5G
Note that the iOS 7 beta is solely for the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, and fifth-generation iPod touch. A version for the iPad 2, iPad mini, and fourth-generation iPad has yet to be shown, and in some cases, features listed for the iPhone/iPod touch apparently will not make it over to the iPad (such as Camera Filters). Other features, such as the redesigned Home Screen, may look substantially different on Apple’s tablets than they do on the pocket devices. Read on for all the details we know so far; we’ll be adding additional pictures as we get them in.
iOS 7: Broad Interface Changes
Lock Screen: The famous iPhone lock screen—arguably one of the defining features of iOS since the very beginning—has been redesigned, eliminating the Slide to Unlock bar and translucent panes in favor of a cleaner display of white text above a colored background. You can still unlock the device with a swipe, but it’s now implicitly indicated rather than obvious.
UI Bars: Wherever possible, Apple has attempted to eliminate or neutralize the top-of-screen bars that used to be black, white, or gray throughout the operating system. In many cases, the bar is just gone, in favor of high-contrast white or black renditions of the icons and text that used to be there. In other cases, the bar is white or light gray, merging with the UI elements of the app that’s running. Signal bars have been replaced with signal dots (full or empty); Wi-Fi, clock, Bluetooth, battery percentage, and battery icon elements have been left alone. Elsewhere across the OS, buttons have been eliminated in favor of blue words and icons that serve the same purpose without having specifically defined edges.
Home Screen: Quite possibly the most controversial and exciting element of the iOS 7 redesign, the Home Screen adds two aesthetic features some users have been hoping for—animated backgrounds and icons, which can shift positions based on the angle and motion of the device. Additionally, Apple has replaced all of the icons and some of the fonts. All of the icons have become cartoony, with plain gradients providing spots of color, and the text has become thinner. As much as the background animation strikes us as impressive, particularly in its interactivity, the icons look like big steps down from prior designs, with some (Game Center and Newsstand) looking particularly weak.
On a somewhat brighter note, folders now can contain multiple pages of icons, finally enabling combination of what used to be multiple same-named folders (Games 1, Games 2, etc); folders can be swiped within, just like Home Screens. The folders look a bit goofy, though.
Control Center: Swipe up from any screen, including the Lock Screen, and you get access to this new feature—a dramatic, Android-like collection of settings buttons. Here, you can switch wireless and Airplane Mode settings, activate Do Not Disturb and an orientation lock, change brightness, music playback, access AirDrop and AirPlay, and quickly access the camera, calculator, timer, and rear LED flashlight on your device.
Keyboards: High contrast has shifted most of the keys from light gray to white, and almost all of the lettering/iconography on them to black.
Multitasking: Just as before, tapping the Home Button twice will bring up the Multitasking feature, which has expanded from a bar to become a larger overlay atop the screen. You’ll see previews of all of the current states of apps you’re running, atop their app icons. Swipe up and you’ll quit the app, easier than the prior hold-then-X command. Tap on the icon or preview and you’ll go to the app.
Notification Center: Swipe down from any screen—now including the Lock Screen—and you’ll see the new Notification Center. The gray linen background is gone, in favor of a translucent pane with text overlays, including separate tabs for “Today,” “All,” and “Missed.” The Today tab shows you the date, weather details, and upcoming calendar events; the All and Missed tables give you quick glances at past notifications that have come in, with the ability to access apps relating to each one.
Siri + Voice Control: Previously, Siri popped up at the bottom of the screen to take your request before expanding to fill the entire screen with an answer. Siri now fades into view as an overlay atop whatever you’re doing, and rather than using a glowing microphone icon to represent your voice, instead uses a set of sine waves. The entire Siri interface, which previously served as a secondary variation on iOS, has been replaced by light translucent overlays with Helvetica and images. This is a disappointing set of changes given how nice Siri previously looked, but not surprising given how much of the rest of the iOS interface has changed.
Siri now features two voices—male or female—with improved synthesis. It relies upon Bing rather than Google for search, and also can check Wikipedia and Twitter, as well as integrating better with iOS apps. If Siri is deactivated on a device, or Internet access is unavailable, you still get access to Voice Control—the offline version of Siri, effectively—with a similar interface and more limited functionality.
Spotlight: Apple appeared to have eliminated the global search feature found in iOS, but it’s still here—a quick downward tug at the Home Screen bring up the Search bar no matter which Home Screen you’re on.
Volume Controls: Pressing one of the hardware volume buttons now results in this translucent pane appearing briefly on screen before fading away.
iOS 7: Integrated App Changes
Activation Lock: An anti-theft measure implemented by Apple after considerable pressure from law enforcement authorities, iOS 7 now enables a device to be rendered inert when stolen: any attempt to disable Find My iPhone or wipe the device will require an Apple ID and password to be entered, and prevent it from being used until it’s reactivated. Additionally, a Lock screen message can now continue to be displayed even after the device is erased, aiding in its recovery.
AirDrop: Originated on the Mac, AirDrop is supposed to provide a dead-simple means for sharing content between multiple devices. It relies upon the dual-band Wi-Fi hardware in certain current-generation iOS devices to remain on one Wi-Fi network while temporarily creating a separate Wi-Fi connection to a given user’s device, sending files to that device. Multiple photos, videos, or contacts can be selected and shared by tapping on the face icon of a nearby iOS 7 user; a preview is shown before the content is accepted or declined.
App Store: Black/gray bars at the top and bottom of the screen have gone white, with blue text and icons at the top of the screen and dark iconography at the bottom. “Genius” has disappeared in favor of “Near Me,” an app to show you which apps are being purchased by people in your immediate area—possibly because Genius-like functionality has been folded into Search.
Calculator: Apple’s classic calculator has been replaced with a cleaner design, now featuring a grid of function and number buttons with a plain number above them. The M buttons are all gone from the portrait default view.
Calendar: The prior dreary gray interface has been replaced with a lighter version, dropping grid-like lines in the month view in favor of nicely spaced numbers; “Sun/Mon/Tue” have been replaced with “S/M/T”, and events are presented as color-coded blocks of time with the current time shown as a line within them.
Camera: In photo modes, opaque black bars are now at the top and bottom of the screen, providing access to flash and front/rear camera-switching features, while the prior image preview/Photos and shutter buttons remain. You can now swipe to toggle between Video, Photo, Square, and Panorama modes, with a filters button replacing the prior still/video toggle in the Photo and Square modes.
On the iPhone 5 and fifth-generation iPod touch, nine filters (eight plus neutral) let you change the look of your image in an Instagram style; Square automatically crops the image into a square box rather than a 4:3 ratio. In Video mode, both bars become translucent to show you the full 16:9 video image, and a timer appears on the screen. Filters aren’t available in Camera on older devices running iOS 7, but most include post-shot filter additions in the Photos app.
Clock: Unlike the Weather app icon, which really could have benefitted from showing the current temperature/conditions, Clock actually does have an icon that tells the current time in analog—just as the persistent top-of-screen digital clock does. The gray bar at the top of the screen has been lightened up, as has the black bottom-of-screen bar, and their iconts have been simplified; World Clocks are now right-justified with more prominent names and text, yet omitting digital time. Skeuomorphism lives on in iOS.
Compass: The old-fashioned nautical compass has been converted into a generic-looking airplane compass, now with the current city indicated alongside map coordinates (if Location Services are active).
There’s a new compass calibration tool that’s better than just waving the iPhone around in a figure-8 pattern, and new visual positional tools that enable the device to show orientation. One tool is a level, which shows overlapping dots and shifts to a green color to indicate that the device is perfectly flat.
Contacts: The stale gray-lined background with white pills has been replaced with a plain white background featuring black text with blue headers and icons. Square contact pictures are now circles, and the dark gray bar at the top is again replaced with a light gray bar with blue text buttons.
FaceTime: Just as with the Phone application, FaceTime moves to a boxy button design with fewer top-of-screen overlay elements. Apple is adding FaceTime Audio to this, expanding it to VoIP calling, though the name FaceTime makes little sense for that purpose. It now appears to be a standalone app on iPhones as well as iPod touches and iPads; FaceTime was previously folded into the Phone app on iPhones.
Game Center: Arguably the poster child for redesigning iOS 7’s look and feel, this app has been completely stripped of all textures save one—there are now bubbles rather than banner-like badges on the screen, and everything here has been redrawn. The requests button has become Turns.
iOS in the Car: Certain upcoming cars will apparently include custom screens and Lightning interfaces, enabling iOS to display its Maps, incoming calls, messages, and other data as you drive, using Siri as a conduit for voice commands and reading messages aloud. While the look of the displays is obviously iOS-inspired, the interface is not identical to iOS, with a different aspect ratio and possibly a different resolution. This feature is promised for 2014 in 16 different manufacturers’ cars, though Apple’s history of implementing in-car features has been spotty, so we’ll have to see what actually happens here.
iTunes Radio: Integrated into the iOS Music app (see Music, below), iTunes Radio is shown as a bottom-of-screen Radio icon. Parroting Pandora, it provides you with a list of 200 genre-based “Featured Stations” and “My Stations” you create based on artists and songs you like. Songs you’ve heard can be purchased from the iTunes Store from a History listing.
iTunes Store: Black/gray bars at the top and bottom of the screen have gone white, with blue text and icons at the top of the screen and dark iconography at the bottom. The app is now officially called iTunes Store, not iTunes.
Mail: Elimination of the gray top of screen bar and darker gray buttons in favor of colored text for the buttons.
Maps: The previously bizarre mix of green grid overlays and and new fonts have given way to… Helvetica with white and blue street tags. Once again, the gray top-of-screen bar has disappeared in favor of a unified white bar with black and gray text.
The 3-D driving direction maps remain lightly Gouraud-shaded, and the Flyover maps are as rough-edged and melty as ever.
Messages: Aqua-style text bubbles are gone, replaced with solid colors that darken as they’re closer to the bottom of the current conversation. Images now appear without gloss. Buttons have been reduced down to colored words, without edges.
Music: Yet another redesign for the Music app, this time moving the artist, album, and song details down below album art and a place-scrubber, above play/pause/track controls, a volume slider, and “Repeat/Create/Shuffle” buttons.
Newsstand: The wooden bookshelves are gone, replaced with translucent shelf-like gradients that let your background peek through. Once again, the button has been replaced with just a colored word (“Store”), but the Newsstand name has grown in size, as what used to be a folder now occupies the whole screen. Usefully, Apple now treats this like an app rather than a folder, enabling you to place Newsstand inside a folder.
Nike + iPod: This iOS 6 application is currently missing from iOS 7—it’s mentioned in the Settings, but the icon cannot be activated, likely a beta limitation.
Notes: Yellow notepads with brown tops are gone, in factor of a plain white paper facsimile and Helvetica text. Buttons are now yellow text and icons.
Passbook: Nearly identical to the prior-generation version, Passbook adds a “Scan Code” button to let you convert paper passes into digital ones.
Phone: During incoming calls, all of the obvious rounded-off buttons have disappeared in favor of slightly translucent bars, and prior translucent bars behind text have disappeared to let images shine through. The new dialer looks surprisingly amateurish.
Photos: A significant rethinking of the UI retains three tabs, but reorganizes them as Photos/Shared/Albums, replacing the prior Albums/Photo Stream/Places tabs. Photos displays the device’s collection of images in organized grids of “Moments,” combining time and location data to create useful titles. You can use pinch commands to shift from a given location (Moments) to sweep across greater swaths of time and places (Collections); Years aggregates all of the year’s pictures together.
The Shared tab leads to iCloud Photo Sharing, which nonetheless now allows both photos and videos to be shared, displaying both your own shared content and libraries you’re sharing with others. An Activity view lets you see a timeline-like listing of everything that’s happened across all of your shared streams. Interestingly, Photos will also let you apply post-capture filters to images, a feature that will work on every iOS 7 device except the iPad 2—a greater selection of devices than the Filters found in Camera.
Reminders: Oddly preserving the rounded corners that have been dumped in so many other apps, Reminders nonetheless makes other major changes, organizing multiple action items under aggregated headings, each separately colored, with radio dots rather than checkmarks indicating their completion.
Safari: Most users will notice the whitening of the interface—Apple has eliminated the gray top of screen bar in favor of a unified URL + search bar inside a gray pill, shifting bottom of screen icons to outlines atop a translucent pane. Tabs have become much cooler, now resembling a file cabinet you’re looking down into, complete with angled pages to let you preview what you’re selecting.
A Shared Links list automatically aggregates all of the links in your Twitter timeline so that you can click on them within Safari, and the Mac’s OS X Mavericks feature iCloud Keychain lets you synchronize names, passwords, and credit card information from computer to iOS. Search is now predictive, showing results from the web, your bookmarks, and history in a full-screen display.
Settings: A new mostly white theme removes the classic pinstriped gray background found in this app since the first iPhone. Beyond the prior Facebook and Twitter integration found in iOS 6, Apple has added Vimeo and Flickr integration for video and photo sharing, while making the switch-styled toggles here very conspicuously on (bright green) or off (white).
Within Settings, users now have the choice of “Stills” or “Dynamic” wallpaper, and a variety of other options have been added.
Stocks: The longtime blue-toned app has gone jet black with a gray bar to indicate which stock is currently highlighted; the prior white-on-blue graph has shifted to a gray version. Apart from nixing the melange of colors, this app has remained very similar—almost surprisingly so.
Videos: A box art/poster-style grid view eliminates text from the Movies display, with small per-item bars indicating whether a given video is on the device (no bar) or in the cloud (bar with cloud). Gray bars are again eliminated from the top of the screen.
A completely redrawn video viewing interface now places controls in unified bars at the top and bottom of the screen—one of iOS 7’s nicest-looking changes, in our view.
Voice Memos: Thus far, this iOS 6 application is nowhere to be found in iOS 7.
Weather: Highly similar to Yahoo’s recently-released Yahoo Weather app—but not the same—this app does away with the glassy center-of-screen weather panes in favor of an edge-to-edge background image with thin Helvetica text and matching icons. Unlike Yahoo’s app, Apple’s relies on animated weather art rather than local Flickr imagery, has a slightly different balance of font sizes, and lets the text appear directly atop the backgrounds. Still, the content is so similar to Yahoo’s that we wonder whether the companies collaborated—Yahoo still provides the data for the app, in any case.
We’ll have more on iOS 7 in the days and months to come. This article will be updated as the beta versions evolve.