24 Hours with iOS 7

Although I’ve been playing with the beta version of iOS 7 for a while now, it’s always good to get the final product. Beta software can be buggy (sometimes the experience is so buggy you have to wonder if beta is used as in “beta than nothing”), and there are often changes at the last minute. Overall, my experience with the beta of iOS 7 was positive—although I did not install it on my iPad since that device is far more mission-critical on a daily basis.

Having had the golden master release installed on my iPhone 4S and my 3rd generation iPad, I can share a few thoughts.

First, the design overhaul is an improvement. It’s clear, crisp, and beyond the time to say goodbye to the silly “leather pad” look to the Calendar. Oddly enough, though, there are some apps that still don’t use the new user interface, notably in the keyboard. I wouldn’t remark on this if it wasn’t for the fact that these are Apple apps. (Find My iPhone, I’m talking about you.) The Google+ app also is stuck in iOS 6 user interface mode.

Second, I haven’t noticed any significant hits against the performance of my two iDevices. There are times when the keyboard input seems a little slow to catch up, but it’s not enough to make me head back toward iOS 6. Apps launch just fine, and I’m more than satisfied with the performance.

Third, Siri is finally ready for prime time. Siri can do a lot more for users now than she used to (the “she” part will inevitably become the subject of debate as there is now an option for a male voice). The only downside is that I suspect Apple’s servers are getting hammered with Siri requests as people try out the improvements. This should get resolved soon enough.

There are plenty of opinions and reviews of iOS 7 (such as Ars Technica, and David Pogue had a great one, but hell if I can find it on the New York Times web site now) that I refer you to. TechCrunch also has a nice article with iOS 7 tricks. (Did you realize there’s a built-in level in iOS 7?)

With iOS 7 going into general release, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of bug reports (like this one) that Apple will be inclined to fix quickly. Word has it Apple is already testing iOS 7.0.1. Stay tuned!

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Should you use the iOS 7 beta?

A reader emailed me this past week to ask if she should use one of the various resources in order to start using the iOS 7 beta. I have her my quick advice, but I thought it might be worth sharing here in a little more detail.

There are two legitimate ways to gain access to iOS 7. One—the route I took—is to become a registered developer with Apple and pay the $99 annual fee that gets you access to all developer tools, including betas of new iOS versions. Now, I didn’t pay the $99 fee just to get access to the iOS 7 beta. I’ve been a registered developer for a while now and paid the fee a while back so I could try a few things. I’ve messed around with coding for iOS for a while just as a hobby, and I’ve come to learn that I’m not going to be releasing any apps any time soon. Coding has changed a lot since I learned to program in BASIC back in the 1980s. I’m way behind the learning curve.

The other route is to sign on with a service that charges you a small fee so that your iOS device becomes a registered developer device with Apple. (Google will help you find these. I recommend finding an article at a site like Gizmodo and hope that the folks there have weeded out the scams for you.)

So, if you’ve decided that you’re willing to start off down one of these paths, should you do it? My answer is “probably not.” Here’s why.

  • When you install iOS 7 beta on your device, it’s very much like restoring the device to the original factory settings. Your apps, your music, they all get wiped out. Even when you install a new beta version, apps and music you downloaded are wiped out. Playlists? Those are gone too.
  • You will have to update the iOS 7 beta as new versions are released because Apple puts an expiration date on the beta versions. If you don’t update before the expiration date, your device becomes bricked.
  • It’s beta software. It can crash, make it necessary to reset your iPhone, and apps may not work well with it.

Unlike many people, I use my iPhone mostly as a phone. The only non-Apple app I use regularly is RunKeeper. So, when I update the beta software and RunKeeper gets wiped out, it’s not like I’m having to reinstall 40 apps that I rely on for running my life. Indeed, I have specifically not put the iOS 7 beta on my iPad for this very reason. Ditto with installing OS X Mavericks on any of my Macs. (I don’t know if the wiping takes place on the Mac side, but I am not going to even chance it.)

Now, if you are like me an use your device for a couple of purposes, then you might not be too inconvenienced by dealing with the aftermath of a new iOS 7 beta installation. Because iOS 7 will be released sometime this autumn (my money says late October or November), the wait is not too much longer.

iOS 7 experiences

Shortly after Apple released the beta of iOS 7 for its iPhone devices, I decided it was time to take the plunge. Way back in the day (and I mean way back), I used to do some programming. I have thought about trying to learn my way around iOS app development, so I figured now is as good a time as any to sign up as an Apple developer. That done, I downloaded the iOS 7 beta and installed it on my trusty iPhone 4S. [For those who are wondering, I spent time over the weekend trying to pick up C++. I didn’t, and it’s going to take a while to learn the ropes.]

Installing iOS 7 over a working version of iOS 6 is not for the faint-hearted. I worried that I very well might brick my iPhone. Fortunately, my worries were for naught, and the only “problem” is that I had to reinstall apps I use frequently. (This was actually a useful way to clean out the apps I rarely use but never get around to deleting.)

First things first: the appearance. There are some things I love about the new design aspects, and a couple of things I haven’t yet come to love. Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • The “flat” style of icons leaves me a little unimpressed.
  • The re-design of various icons to take advantage of space principles really makes a difference. I was immediately struck by how great the newly designed icons look, and how clunky old icons look in comparison. It all has to do with positioning of the icon and use of positive and negative space, but when it’s absent it really makes you take note.
  • The new typeface is nice and elegant. I wondered if it would be pleasant to read since it’s so thin. It’s just fine.
  • Some new icons (notably Photos) aren’t suggestive of what the app does. The old Photos icon of a sunflower never worked for me, but the new one doesn’t either.
  • I can’t figure out how the heck to make playlists in the Music app on the iPhone. I could do it under iOS 6. I’d prefer not to have to do it via iTunes, and hopefully this is a temporary thing.
  • iTunes Radio seems nice, works fine. Apple definitely has an uphill battle to cut into the market share of Pandora or Spotify. But, for users of iPhones who have not discovered streaming radio, iTunes Radio will probably be the first choice for those users since it’s built right in.

The parallax effect (how the background image moves when you tilt the phone) works best if you tilt the phone side to side. Now, this is really nothing more than eye candy. It doesn’t make the phone or any apps work any better. But it is cool to look at, suggesting that the iPhone is just a little bit more than a digital device. It’s not alive, by any means, but it feels a little magical.

To my pleasant surprise, none of the apps I use regularly (such as RunKeeper) are broken by the beta. That being said, with Apple’s release today of the iOS 7 beta for iPads, I’m not rushing to install it on my iPad. There are some things there (Westlaw Next, for example) that I don’t want to take a chance on because once you install iOS 7 beta, there’s no way to go back to iOS 6.

Using iOS 7 in beta form is not for everyone. For one thing, each beta version has an expiration date, and once that date passes, your phone is bricked. (No word, yet, on whether you can install the new beta and unbrick the phone.) Thus, you would need to make a habit of logging into Apple’s developer site regularly to see if a new beta version has been released.

As I make new observations and conclusions about iOS 7, I’ll post them here. Anyone else using it? How has your experience been?