/ Apple

The Many Irritations of iOS 7 (and some nice things, too)

I’ve been using iOS 7 for a while now. Here are some thoughts, in no particularly good order. I’ve probably forgotten something.

Background and Battery

When I got my iPhone 5, I found myself significantly underwhelmed by its battery life. I’d rather assumed that the overall battery life might have improved since the 4, but it seems Apple is content to keep battery life similar, and crank up the features. I’m not totally on board with this approach. So as you might imagine, I was nervous on hearing that iOS 7 would give apps new powers of running-when-not-explicitly-told-to.

However, I’ve not noticed a problem at all… in fact, I’d almost say my 5’s battery life is a little better since the upgrade. Annoyingly, however, an egregious problem in the Mobile settings is still not fixed; you can disable 4G, but not 3G. There’s reasons you might want to turn off 4G… if you live just at the edge of a tower, or if you’re just afraid of how very fast you might go over your data limit. But equally, there’s a very good reason you might want to turn off 3G: it’s a bigger battery hog than its older brother, and the worst times I’ve had with the 5 have been when it’s stuck slumming it in the previous generation.

Not only does background updating not have a painful effect on battery life, it’s also pretty marvellous. I’m sure Android users will rightfully scoff at Apple’s second stumble into this area,1 but it’s quite a joy to open Todoist, Pocket Casts, Instapaper or Twitterrific and find that it collected everything for you while you weren’t looking.

Reminders and Calendar

Whoever worked on the Reminders app for iOS 7 must have been seriously drunk. I can’t explain it any other way. The old app was a bit shit; the new one is atrocious. There are so many things to hate about it, but I’ll just pick one: when the app is showing you a list of all your reminder lists, it does not see fit to tell you which account they all come from, let alone helpfully group them by account.

The calendar isn’t much better. I mean, it’s less gross than Reminders, so that’s something. But the previous version’s rather useful month/detail design–somewhat limited on the old screens, but pretty functional with 4" of real estate–is completely destroyed. Why? Who knows. Luckily, we still have Fantastical.2

Video app

For the first time ever, you can view video descriptions on your phone; much appreciated when trying to work out which Colbert Report I’m up to. I’m glad of this, and of the better usage of TV cover art. But this app has always felt like an unloved stepchild to the Music app, and even now, it’s painfully unpolished.

Firstly, it’s less capable than even an Apple TV when it comes to managing media. There’s a swipe menu, but it’s only got a “Delete” option; there’s no easy way to mark something as watched or unwatched, or to hide it from iCloud. Which doesn’t seem like it would be that hard. And it’s a real shame, because every device I have has a different idea of what I’ve ‘watched’ and what I haven’t. iTunes on Mac or PC seems to behave at least vaguely logically; on iOS, random shows will suddenly return to an unwatched state for no discernable reason. Getting them to lose their blue dot requires toggling that state in desktop iTunes, which is pretty freaking irritating.

As of iOS 7, the app can show you your Cloud purchases alongside the media loaded on the device… which is great until you realise that you’ve been watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for four years, and all the episodes count as one 'season’. You’ll be wanting to hide your past episodes from iCloud if you’re in the same boat as me. However, when you try that, you’ll find out some fun things:

  • Your iOS device will regularly insist on continuing to display hidden episodes. Aside from signing out and in again, I’ve not found a reliable way to fix this. And signing out means there’s every chance all your songs will be deleted if you’re using iTunes Match. Hilarious. Eventually, they may disappear. And you’ll be happy, but still resentful.
  • When your episodes contain downloaded and undownloaded shows, their order will seem almost random.
  • You may end up with one copy of an episode you downloaded from a device, and a whole different copy of the same one that desktop iTunes synced to the device.

I start to wonder if everyone at Apple is just torrenting and dropping movies into GoodReader, at this point.

The little things

For the longest time, there’s been an irritating bug with playing videos on bluetooth headset. When you resumed from pause, the audio and video would often fall out of sync, as the video powered ahead and didn’t wait for the audio to wake the bluetooth up. Well, that’s fixed now, and I’m a very happy camper.

And finally, you can block contacts from calling you! I’m pretty sure my shitty old Panasonic used to be able to do this. Thank goodness that my years of cultivating the many phone numbers of “Telemarketers” in one contact are no longer in vain.

The back gesture is a welcome addition. Within a few days I’d gotten really used to it, and at this point it’s second nature. It does rather paint UI developers into a corner though. Twitterrific, for example, likes to throw a bunch of detail views in vertically, meaning the gesture makes no sense for leaving that screen. And yet, every day I keep trying, because hey, I want to go back. I suspect anyone making a halfway-standard app is going to have to conform to a left-right structure, or vaguely irritate a lot of people.

iPad

I have focussed on the iPhone and iOS 7 in this review, primarily because I feel like Apple did, too. I don’t care for the iPad version of iOS 7, or at least, not on an iPad 3 I don’t. Animations are often sluggish, typing is laggy at times, and the popover menus that take over the whole screen on the phone just look weird semi-floating over the rest of the interface. I feel like the 'transparent layer’ elements of iOS 7 would have felt more natural as Windows 8-style slide-in menus from the sides of the screen; having rounded corners and little arrows seems a bit out of step with the new design aesthetic.

And don’t even get me started on the sheer wasted potential of the multitasking design acting the same as the iPhone: one of the best examples of iOS 7’s design being “this worked on iPhone, let’s put it on the iPad too”. And, it’s slow.

In general, iPad app design still feels like it’s stuck with limited functionality for no good reason. Some third party apps push this limit; Apple doesn’t seem interested in it at all.

Still, at least iPad Calendar doesn’t suck.

Control center and Find My Phone

Control center is awesome, in general. The quick-to-hand torch control alone has proven useful every week at least. Having an Airplane mode toggle on the lock screen vaguely annoys me though–it feels like it makes things even more convenient for phone thieves than turning the thing off. I’m more than happy to be proven wrong in this vague misgiving.

Annoyingly, as Steve Gibson of Security Now pointed out, the brightness slider available from the control panel is kind of broken, since it’s only slidable while the brightness of the screen is dimmed behind the control center.

Notification Center

The Xs to close notifications are a little bigger. I like that. Having (a very limited) Google Now without sending all your data to the cloud is nice, too. Otherwise, there’s not much to get excited about here. Helpful driving suggestions are useless for the 71% of the week in which I use public transport.

Responsiveness

I have no problem with animated interfaces. Done right, they can quickly explain to users–especially novice users–exactly what’s going on in the OS. I think the animations in iOS 7 would probably do a good job at this, especially the apps expanding from, and returning to their icons when launched. But for the more advanced user, MY GOD WE COULD SPEED THINGS UP. Apple have compromised with all sorts of things in the “Accessibility” settings: bolder text, labelling on/off buttons. Why not a setting entitled “Make animations speed the fuck up”? I, for one, would be grateful. The speed is most galling for the unlock animation, as icons swoop down onto the page. I am repeatedly frustrated to find that I can’t switch pages until they’re settled.

This is a thread that runs through a lot of iOS 7, actually, and it’s a particularly upsetting one because responding instantly to touch used to be iOS’s 'thing’. Now, in all sorts of places, you’ll be touching and having no impact whatsoever: as your apps swoop into place, when you try to stop the select spinners from spinning, and when you try to tap the fading lock screen to stop it from disappearing. This all annoys me more than anything else I’ve bitched about, because it’s breaking what is perhaps the most important rule in making a touch-based OS.

The End

I never know how to sum up a random grab bag of irritations and irrelevancies like this. You never have to do it in person; people wander off long before you finish. Let’s assume that’s what you all did, too. If you really care for some kind of summary: iOS 7 sucks in many ways, but I reckon they’re moving in the right direction with it. They should just do it faster, and better, and fix the freaking iPad version.

The bit after the end where I remember a whole bunch of nice things I meant to say

  • The new lock screen is great: most wallpapers look better on the lock screen now.
  • Not having to double-tap to get to player controls when something’s playing on the device is great.
  • It’s probably my imagination, but Siri seems to understand me far more reliably in iOS 7.
  • Being able to see bits of two windows at once in the multitasking view is actually kind of useful sometimes. It’s certainly the first time that’s been possible in iOS that I can remember.
  • Text looks far, far prettier. Every time I type a capital T, I’m delighted to see the lowercase letter following it fit snugly underneath the upper bar of the T. I’m almost certain this is new.

  1. I say second of course, because the first was background updates for Newsstand apps… a feature that’s underwhelmed me in general, though I can’t say for sure whether this is because of Newsstand being shitty, or Newsstand apps being shitty. In any case, between its generic icon and the fact that every app can do what it does now, I’m not completely sure what purpose it serves any more. 

  2. Maybe don’t go out and buy Fantastical just yet though, coz there’s a new version coming this month