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WWDC: iOS 7

The biggest announcement to come out of Apple’s WWDC keynote address was the complete overhaul of iOS. The redesign of iOS has been highly anticipated as many users believe iOS has not aged gracefully. I agree. When it was announced Jony Ive would be taking over the design of Apple’s software design in late 2012, expectations were high. Rumors began to circulate that iOS would have a more flat design and many tried to guess how that might look. One thing that was clear is that users wanted something different. On Monday, Apple showed a very different iOS. One that has divided the tech world.

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iOS 7 is all new aesthetically. The flat UI, new color palette, transparent design, and new icons create a completely different look. This new look has been the most polarizing aspect of iOS 7. Some hail iOS 7 as a bold new look while others feel it is too flat and lacks any character. Personally, I like some of the aspects of iOS 7 and believe that the polarization caused by iOS 7 will only help Apple attract attention. It is true that most of the changes in iOS 7 appear to be cosmetic, but there are a few new noteworthy features.

Control Center

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While this feature appears to be derived from Android, it is an important part iOS 7. Users asked for quick access to certain settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, and music controls. Control Center delivers this and more in a new pane you access by swiping up from anywhere in the OS. I cannot argue that it is an important feature, and I like the way it looks. The transparency of the background on this pane looks great with any wallpaper.

Notification Center

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As with OS X Mavericks, Notification Center received some updates. It is smarter in that it now provides a preview of your day. iCloud has also been introduced to sync notifications across devices. One thing that is missing, however, is quickly reply. In Notification Center on Mavericks, you can reply to an iMessage from the notification. This would be great for iOS, but it is not there. iOS 7 is currently in beta and this could be coming in a later update, but it is a glaring omission.

Multitasking

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iOS 7 has a completely new multitasking interface. Well, when I say new, I mean new to Apple. The new interface is similar to what we saw on Web OS and several jailbreak apps. Nevertheless, the update is welcomed. When a user accesses multitasking, they are brought to a entirely new section in which they can see previews of all their running apps. To close a program, simply swipe up on the image to dismiss the app. It is a simple idea that works well, but one that Apple “borrowed.”

Air Drop

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Air Drop has been brought to iOS. Like on the Mac, Air Drop will recognize all your friends that are nearby and allow you to share webpages, documents, and more. Most phones currently use NFC for this, but Apple opts for data networks or Wi Fi. No word on whether this will work over Bluetooth. I could see this being important for business customers, especially on the iPad.

iTunes Radio

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iTunes Radio has been widely rumored and is now official. Like Pandora, users can stream music and create stations based on artists or songs. The system will be supported by iAds or will be ad free for iTunes Match customers. It works well, but one of the biggest complaints at this point is that the music on iTunes Radio is censored. Pandora does not censor its music, and Apple better correct this before iOS 7 launches to the public.

Other Changes

There are some other minor changes worth noting. Safari has received an overhaul and users can now have unlimited tabs open at once. Siri has been updated with a new voice and some new commands, but nothing major. The Camera app has received some filters and the ability to shoot square images. The Photos app will now organize your photos by date and location. The App Store has a new “Near Me” option where you can find apps that are popular in your area. Find My iPhone has been improved to prevent thefts. An iPhone can only be activated using one iCloud account. This means if someone steals your phone, they will need your iCloud account to activate it after it is reset.

Overall, if it were not for the complete redesign, iOS 7 would be a pretty boring update. Apple was under a lot of pressure to refresh iOS, but have they delivered? Yes and no. The new interface is great looking, but it is still a work in progress. Features are likely to be added to the OS between now and its release date in the fall. And that is a good thing because iOS 7 needs something more than just a new coat of paint for it to keep up with the competition. The new iPhone will need to do something else to keep users and the tech world interested.

For now, iOS 7 is a step in the right direction. It gives Apple something to build on for the new few years. The next few months will be critical, however, as Apple refines iOS 7 and gets it ready for release this fall. Until then, be sure to check out the gallery below comparing the apps in iOS 6 (left) to the redesigned apps in iOS 7 (right). Also be sure to check out Apple iOS 7 video (above) and watch the full WWDC keynote here.

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Mac OS X Lion Review

I decided to push my review of Lion back a week so it could be post number 100!  So, here it is….POST 100:

Apple released Lion on July 20 through the Mac App Store for a reasonable $29.99.  There are some who have complained about the lack of a disc option, but Apple is planning to release USB flash drives with Lion for $69.  Clearly it is cheaper to purchase the OS through the App Store, but not everyone has high speed internet and the file was a hefty 3.75GB.  That being said, the download is worth the wait as Lion’s features are a more noticeable transition from Snow Leopard then the Leopard to Snow Leopard upgrade in 2009.  Where Snow Leopard was a rewrite of the OS, Lion focuses more on end user features.  Apple has publicized this as iOS meets Mac OS X, but has it worked?  Lets find out.

Multi-Touch Gestures

Many people are probably wondering why this is such a big deal.  Apple already used Multi-touch with the Mac, but the experience has been taken to the next level.  Users using a MacBook or iMac with a Trackpad will find multi-touch very useful.  From swiping between desktops/full screen apps, pinch to zoom, short cuts, the user experience has been greatly improved with these simple gestures.  While there are many gestures available, users can customize gestures and can even view short demos in System Preferences>TrackPad.  The one annoying change Apple made is scrolling.  You can still use two figures, but it is the opposite of what we are used to.  They claim it is more natural, but I hate it.  Luckily, this can also be disabled in System Preferences.

Full Screen Apps

This is one of the simplest features of Lion, but also very useful for power users and those using 11″ or 13″ MacBooks.  All of Apple’s built in Apps have a new button at the top right corner of the screen to open the app in full screen mode.  When an App is place in full screen, its enters its own space.  Using a simple 3-finger swipe, the user can swipe between all open full screen apps and desktops.  This makes switching between Safari, Mail, and iTunes (the apps I use most) very quick.  What has amazed me is how fluid the system switches between apps.

Mission Control

Before Mission Control there was Expose and Spaces.  Mission Control combines these features along with Full Screen Apps to give users quick access to all open programs on their machine.  Again, a multi-touch gesture can be assigned to access Mission Control or by pushing F3 on the keyboard.  No only does this show all open apps, but you can add more desktops and arrange the apps between these desktops, much like Spaces.  What is annoying, however, is that I cannot rearrange full screen apps.  They are arranged in the order you opened them or the system will also order them by the number of times you use the app, but you cannot drag them around.  I hope this will be a change Apple will make in one of its early updates to Lion because I want to order the apps by my priorities.

LaunchPad

Launchpad is the most obvious carryover from iOS.  The iPad/iPhone like layout allows users to organize apps and place them into folders.  Again, this is accessible using multi-touch gestures, but I find the whole idea to be pointless.  What is wrong with the Dock?  Most users will probably skip this option….I know I have.

Resume

Resume is one of the most clever and useful of the changes in Lion.  It is probably one of the most simple as well.  How many times has your computer asked you to restart after an update and you skipped it because you were working in an app?  Of course, if you had restarted you would have lost where you were.  That is no longer the case with Lion.  Resume does two very important things.  First, it remembers where you were and what you were doing in an app.  If you were writing a paper in Word and quit, when you come back later, Lion will take you back to where you left off.  It will even remember your preferred screen size and layout.  The second thing feature of Resume comes when you are asked to restart or simply shutdown the computer at the end of the day.  When you turn the computer back on, all apps that were running when you shutdown are reopened and brought back to where you left them.  Both Apple and Microsoft had a feature where you could assign apps to open when you started the computer, but they would always default to the opening screen.  Resume carries out these two functions very well and it can do them both at the same time!  This feature is built into Lion and will work with any app, including third party apps.

Auto Save

Another simple and very useful tool in Lion is Auto Save.  After the initial save, you never have to tell the system to save the document again.  There are several new options you have with this feature.  The most useful of which is quickly duplicating the document.  This allows the user to save a locked version to use as a template.  You can also lock the document when you are finished with it and no longer wish to make changes. All these options are found in a new menu located at the top of the window next to the document’s title.  For now, Auto Save only works with Apple’s iWork and Text Edit document editors.  Third party developers need to be sure they take advantage of this feature.

Versions

Along with Auto Save comes Versions.  As the system auto saves, it also keeps a log of the changes made to the document.  If the user needs to pull a previous version of the document out, they get a simple, Time Machine like, interface that allows them to restore any version of the document.  As with Auto Save, this only works with iWork and Text Edit for now.  Microsoft says their next update to Office will take advantage of these features.

Mail

One of the apps that received a major overhaul was mail.  Not only can it be viewed in full screen mode, but it is now more iOS like with threaded messages and a more convenient reading pane.  Those familiar with Apple’s mail service will be comfortable with the button layout at the top of the screen, but with the messages on the left and the optional folder bar to the left of the messages, the new mail is even more user friendly.  It also is great for managing multiple email accounts.

Air Drop

Air Drop is a great new features for businesses using Macs or for a household with multiple Macs.  Air Drop allows users to quickly and securely share files between computers.  Air Drop is locoed in the new Finder and will search for all Macs on the local WiFi network.  You can then drag-and-drop files between Macs.

Other new Features

Many of the favorite apps from Snow Leopard remain and work better than ever.  The Finder has been updates and Spotlight search is now more inclusive.  Safari has a built in Reader option to save articles from websites and takes advantage of multi-touch gestures with pinch-to-zoom and two figure swipes to go back and forth between sites.  Dashboard has been placed in its own space to the left of the desktop in Mission Control.

Verdict

After using Lion for nearly two weeks, I have found very few bugs.  The release is remarkable stable.  It is obvious Apple has worked hard to bring all these new features to Mac OS X, but what is most surprising is how well they work together.  Individually, they are impressive features, but what is important for any OS is how all the features work together, and that is where Apple has always succeeded.  Apple has proven yet again that when an Operating System and the hardware are designed by the same people, they work together seamlessly.  Lion has already sold well over 1,000,000 copies and is truly the greatest release of Mac OS X yet, and at $29.99, Lion is a no brainer.

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