After using iOS 7 for almost one full day, I would not really call it a beta release. It seems more of an unplanned pre-beta. Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I always do a fresh install and never restore from a backup. This gives me a far better idea as to what is actually happening.
In short, my summary of the current iOS 7 beta is that it is a step forward in terms of the technology and required feature sets, but, the UI is terrible and the UX inconsistent at best. Let’s hope someone at Apple wakes up before the UI/UX of iOS 7 make it an even bigger disaster than the iOS 6 “maps”.
For those interested in the details of my experience with the iOS 7 beta in a day, here it comes. Keep in mind this is a first beta and bugs are expected. Just ’cause I mention some of those, it does not mean that those will remain in the final release.
So, right after a fresh restore of iOS 7 on my iPhone 5, I saw the all too familiar “slide to unlock” text. The problem was, there was nothing to “slide”. There is no slider and the default colour scheme makes it almost impossible to figure out anything around the message.
Okay, so I “slide” nothing anyway and get to the home screen. The first thing I wanted to look at was settings so I could set up my other email accounts and tweak settings to suit me. The moment I started the settings app, the brightness went down and I could not really see anything. No problem, a reset of the phone fixed the brightness issue.
Then I went into the mail settings to set up my email accounts so that email would start off while I configured the rest of the settings. To my surprise and dismay, Apple had removed the options that made my family setup perfect. I use a common cloud account on all devices on which contacts, find my phone and bookmarks are shared, otherwise, all devices have their own Apple IDs as the main iCloud account. In iOS 7, when you add a second iCloud account, you no longer have access to the “Find my iDevice” or the “Safari” bookmarks in the second iCloud account. Effectively, you cannot control shared stuff from a common, shared, iCloud account anymore.
Anyway, I set up all my different email accounts and noticed that GMail accounts had contacts as well. Not that I need or use them, it is an addition. Unfortunately, there are still no notifications for GMail, at least, not in this beta. This is one of the most required updates for a large number of people. The other issue is that if one has to use a different app just for GMail, then, the unified experience of the email on the iDevice does not exist anymore.
Once I was done with the email setup, I started to look at the other options. The first thing that struck me was that there were no “buttons” or “frames” to visually mark out any of the “touch/click” points. It was just an angle bracket and text at the top of every option to go back, for example, “< Settings”. This literally threw me back to the good old console days with no graphics when we would do similar things. Either number options or use brackets, mostly angle brackets, to signify something different. It seems like the design team at Apple is trying hard to make the iOS UI a 17th century one just like OS X which has never been updated.
Although Apple designers seemed to have learned the use of gestures, the overall implementation is quite inconsistent. For example, although the slide-in gesture works in Settings and Mail, it does not in Photos nor in Contacts and maybe more. The overall colours and contrast make it very difficult to read and visualise apps and folders, unlike iOS 6.
So, instead of looking at more settings, I decided to set my passcode and wallpapers first. How I got the wallpapers is a separate issue since there were none on the phone, so, I just downloaded some of my white dog, a Lhasa Apso, and set the lock and home screen to 2 different photos. Then, I locked the device and guess what…I could no longer see or read the “slide to unlock” message since the wallpaper was also white and there is no “slider”, so, you cannot see anything! Very impressive “design”….
The all new Control Center has only one option. Display on home screen or not. You cannot customise anything on the Control Center itself. The 2 options that I would really like to see on the Control Center are a “Home” button and a “Lock Device”. This would make the overall UX buttonless and take away the reason for a large number of Jail-breakers. Of course, this is only the functional part. The UI part for the Control Center can only be termed pathetic at best. It’s positively ugly and in-consistent with the rest of the UI. Compare this with the jailbreak tweaks/toggle apps like SB Settings etc.
This also adds an option to allow or dis-allow the use of the microphone. Always good to have these kind of options and more so you know which apps needs to access what functionality.
This has a couple of really required options. One of those is only partially implemented. You can now see photos of contacts in the favourites list, but, not in the contact list. This is really a half hearted option.
The other, more important, is a “Blocked” list. You can add numbers that will be blocked for all FaceTime and Normal calls as well as Messages.
Although this “blocked” list will probably be a favourite for most, including myself, the design part has not really been thought out. This same option and list exists in 3, yes, 3 different places in settings. Extremely redundant and confusing at best.
Think most of the world would agree that we simply skip this one. Apple “maps” only exist in their dreams. With no option to change the default maps app, all location apps remain more or less dead since iOS 6.
iTunes & App Stores
One feature that needs to be mentioned is the ability to auto-update apps when on a WiFi network (default). Although I would never use this feature, but, it is a major step forward for the vast majority of iDevice users.
The two new services that are now integrated in iOS 7 are Flickr and Vimeo. Vimeo??? Where is YouTube? The divide between Apple and Google shows. Apple discards the best service in their interest, not in the interest of the iDevice users.
This has a new option to control the true multitasking offered by iOS 7. Most people would probably never need to fiddle with this one, but, it’s there.
Another interesting option that has been added is “Text Size”. As and when apps support dynamic text sizing, this will come into play.
If you are like me, you would not waste time and bandwidth downloading apps on the device directly and arranging them manually. To my surprise, iTunes 11.0.4 is clueless about iOS 7 and there is no beta update for iTunes that understands iOS 7.
Although a buggy experience, but, you can install apps using the current iTunes. Don’t try creating folders for more apps than what iTunes think it is meant for. It cannot even deal with the normal number of apps in a folder on an iPhone 5 running iOS 6.
This was just one of the reasons why I said that this iOS 7 is more of an unplanned pre-beta. Do not be surprised if your phone boots/re-springs at random, specially when using iTunes. Actually, the re-boot will happen even when doing nothing. Given this is a “beta”, it should be expected.
The simplest way is to install all the apps, music etc you want, create and organise the apps into folders as much as iTunes allows you, then arrange everything else manually and do not sync with iTunes again. If you sync with iTunes after putting in a bunch of apps in a folder, it will pull all those apps out onto pages. So, till we get an iTunes update that works with iOS 7, sync with iTunes only once to install all the stuff you want. Do not sync again after you have arranged your apps in folders.
After installing some apps and arranging them in folders, I discovered the fact that I could see far less in a folder than I could in iOS 6. Once again, the UI/UX leaves a lot to be desired.
Well, after all, I am looking at iOS 7 on the iPhone, so, the favourites need to be setup first. Once again, I run into the same “slide to unlock” nothing scenario. There is no demarkation for the search entry field unless you really push up the brightness to an un-usable level, or, you are used to the iPhone and therefore get by.
This major UI drawback can actually be seen in quite a few places. You would be very hard pressed to figure out where a text field actually is and which one is the active one. Pathetic!
If that was not enough, try to look at any contact details, absolutely ugly layout. There is absolutely no way any designer could actually do worse. It takes up 2-3 times the space to show the same details as iOS 6 and adds absolutely nothing excepting to make it worse by the choice of colours and icons.
Lastly, the phone keypad. I have serious doubts if people have actually seen a more pathetic choice of colours and design than what exists in the current iOS 7 beta. The same applies to when you actually make or receive a call. I will have a comment on the overall UI/UX a bit later…
The all new Control Centre provides some of the much needed functionality, the UI could not be worse than what it is currently. Talking up almost the full screen on the iPhone 5, it’s quite ugly and inconsistent with the rest of the UI. I still hope that the design team at Apple looks at stuff like “Auxo” and “SB Settings” and try and come up with a better design.
One of the great new features of iOS 7 is true, supposedly intelligent, multitasking for all apps. Although there is a new UI for the multitasking apps, it falls well short of the current jailbreak tweaks in terms of functionality and design. There is no kill-all apps functionality and since it also shows the home screen, it is also in-consistent in design.
This needs to be mentioned since I could not see any visual indication of any even in the current iOS 7 beta. If this is by design, then, it’s absolutely pathetic like the rest of the UI/UX blemishes I have already mentioned. If this is just another bug in the current release, then, let’s see what the next beta comes up with.
I mention the App Store for two reasons, a) It is quite buggy at the moment and b) it retains the button like appearance instead of using “angle brackets” for installing apps.
Battery & Charging
Although bugs are expected, I was surprised to see that it took my iPhone 5 almost seven hours to complete a 100% charge. Not sure if the indicator is the issue or something else. I also noticed that the battery drain in this beta is quite high. I should know more in a couple of days as to what the real issue might be.
This is a new app added to the iOS 7 iPhone beta. Although this makes it consistent with the iPad app and more accessible to users who had difficulty in figuring out how to FaceTime on the iPhone, it retains the lame issues of the iPad. Even though all registered FaceTime users are known along with their registered IDs, the app shows all contacts with all IDs. So, no real help excepting yet another redundant app since the Phone contacts would also show exactly the same information. Once again, we have a basic design issue.
Overall Technology and Features
Excepting for what Apple calls “maps”, the overall improvements on the technology side in terms of features and implementation seems to make iOS 7 a worthy successor of iOS 5. Personally, I am happy that I got the “Blocked” list and even the “Flashlight”.
This part requires some understanding. There is drawing and there is design. Both of these, combined with experience and technology go into the making of the terms UI and UX. In my opinion, the current iOS 7 needs UI/UX, what we have is just plain and simple drawings, flat, black and white, with no visual/graphical cues. The overall effect of this iOS 7 beta is absolutely pathetic.
Although existing iOS users would be able to figure out the UI, this would not be simple to figure out for new iDevice users.
Keep in mind that demos are demos are demos. They are carefully chalked out to present the best as they did at the WWDC keynote. The numbers in millions, billions and trillions mentioned at the keynote were not because of iOS 6, they were despite iOS 6 and the “maps” disaster. If the current iOS 7 beta is a real indication of where Apple is headed, then, it is a recipe for disaster. The momentum from the original iDevices and their UI/UX, the in-ability of Google or Microsoft/Nokia to consolidate, would probably continue this momentum for iDevices for the next few years, but, the trend would be downward.
As an individual, having invested a lot in Apple hardware and technology over the last few years, I would hate to see it all go waste. I can only hope that someone at Apple wakes up fast and takes concrete steps to arrest this downtrend.