iOS 7 Review

iOS 7 has come with much fanfare. It looks different and has animations (although whether it has more animations than previous versions is less obvious). Unlike developers who have been using it for the past two months, I only was able to get access to it (legally) on release day. I have an iPhone 4S and iPad 3, both were on the latest release of iOS 6.

The upgrade itself went smoothly, namely since I was diligent to upgrade all my apps prior to upgrade. Downloading the upgrade binary took longer than actually applying the upgrade. The setup prompted me for a passcode which I enabled. It was something I’ve thought of enabling for a while but decided it was the time since they prompted me. All applications and previous preferences were in place after install.

I have seen plenty of screenshots of iOS 7 after WWDC so I knew what I was getting into visually. A few pieces did surprise me when I started using it hands on. First, the animations do make the system coherent. I’m not sure why but actions flow from one to the other. I attribute it to the fact that things zoom in and out in a consistent manner. I also noticed how crisp the fonts look. They’re svelt and look sharp as can be on the iPhone. I love crisp fonts and this only helps.

Control Center is quite nice to use. It makes common tasks accessible. Works as advertised.
The multi-tasking is nice but does slow down quite a bit on my 4S. I’m expecting the 5s to handle this task much faster. The swipe motion is easier but less intuitive I think than the older “x box” method. iOS 6’s method was more consistent with how to delete applications from the home screen while this has no existing metaphor. Not a huge change though and overall I like the new multi-tasking dialog.
Now onto the negatives.

The new interface isn’t bad but I don’t love it. While it has a refreshing feel to it, using iOS 6 doesn’t feel “old” to me. I’ve heard a lot of people say using iOS 7 makes the old interface feel old and antiquated. I beg to differ. I find iOS 6 to feel much more refined via iteration. I saw someone say iOS 7 feels like their old disco jacket. I didn’t get the honor of living through the disco era but I agree. I can’t find the adjective to use for the iOS 7 interface but I am starting with gaudy.

The colors also get in the way itself. I was driving and using Apple Maps to get around. The map happened to have been white and the “Slide to Unlock” text was off white. I couldn’t tell that it was in the lock screen. On a similar note, Apple Maps has a refined interface and while improved, still isn’t where it needs to be. Someday perhaps I’ll do an Apple Maps review.

The interface has some small quirks which could probably be fixed with tweaks. For example, I was in control center and accidentally turned off bluetooth instead of sliding the window down. When trying to open control center with the on screen keyboard, it pressed a bunch of keys. Small things like this don’t feel like Apple level polish. I’ve also had two phone restarts and quite a few application crashes. I’ve talked to others who haven’t had any problems whatsoever so looks like my mileage is varying.

Finally, the Siri voice is smoother but does some terribly pronunciation. I find it hard to understand and in many ways prefer the old Siri voice. I could work up some examples to show. It is much faster to recognize speech though.

My iPad hasn’t been upgraded as I need some specific functions to work in a couple of weeks and don’t want to take that chance. I’m looking forward to that upgrade and see how it feels on the iPad but I expect my experience won’t change too much.

Overall I like iOS 7. It has a fluidity to it and has some nice features such as control center. However, the interface doesn’t sit with me very well as I prefer more subtle colors to the brightness it has. It also has some quirks which bother me. I’ll happily upgrade my iPad when I can and will be fully iOS 7 then. Unfortunately, using iOS 6 is refreshing for me. Possibly for familiarity. But if iOS 6 is a refreshing escape from iOS 7, I think that will be a bad omen for this release for me.

iOS 8 Wishlist

Note: This list may be updated.

Less Crashing

iOS 7 is mighty unstable both itself and applications. Newsblur crashes almost daily for me and the OS crashes once or twice a week. I’m expecting much of this to be fixed prior to iOS 8. In case Apple doesn’t consider this a widespread problem, iOS 8 needs to be much more stable.

Update: iOS 7.1 appears to be much better in this regard. We’re not a week in yet but this was a focus of Apple’s and seems to be better.

Custom Map Directions

iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks allows sending directions from a computer to a phone. Relatively obvious feature and it works as advertised. Adding the capability to do custom maps on the computer and having the custom map on the phone would be very appealing.

More Keyboard Shortcuts

Apple increased the number of shortcuts available with iOS 7 but they’re still falling short of where it needs to be. Applications are probably going to be adding support for keyboard shortcuts in the near future. Apple needs to step up their game even more though.

Better Animations

A lot of people love the current animations but they wear on me. They feel slow and unnecessary. I disabled them and have been glad they’re gone but do miss having the defaults setup.

Better Siri Integration

iOS 7 “improved” Siri. Supposedly the voice got better although I’m not sure it’s better. That’s another section. I’m looking for integration. Control the Podcasts app with Siri. Allow third-party applications to tie into Siri. That is the killer feature of Siri for people who drive (aka. screw the city folk).

Better Siri Voice

iOS 6 had a Siri voice which was robotic but relatively clear. The new voice is less robotic but makes sounds with humans do not make and that includes the Swedes. Its pauses for commas are awkward as well. “Okay, Paused, Kevin” has spaces more like periods, not like commas. Overall the voice is a step back, not forward.

Crowd Sourced Maps

Waze did a great job with crowd sourcing events on the road such as construction, speed traps, and objects on the road. They took it a step further and allowed collaborative map modifications. Apple’s accuracy problems would disappear in a matter of months if they allowed collaborative map editing. Crowd-sourced events would be nice too. Apple isn’t a social company and this will never happen.

Less U-Turns in Apple Maps

Apple Maps loves u-turns. Stop that. They can update this prior to iOS 8. Just fix this.

Multi-User Support

Not interesting for the phone but could be great for an iPad. Apple’s iPad nomenclature points to an iPad Pro. Multi-user on an iPad could be exciting for families who don’t need a full laptop anymore.

More Intuitive Photo Burst Mode

Using burst mode for photos on iPhone 5s is easy but choosing the desired photo and deleting the others is confusing. I have only used burst mode a couple times but I still fumble around every time.

Unlimited Photo Stream Use

Everpix went out of business. Modify Photo Stream to support all my photos and videos for life. Yes there are scale issues but it would make people’s family photos reliably available even with new devices. Apple could advertise this feature and I expect it to resonate with a lot of people, even if they don’t know it. Oh, and don’t compress the photos.

Better Appearance

I know a lot of people who think iOS 7 looks great. I’m not one of them. I have almost no ideas on how to improve it, but just improve it. Just because Johnny Ive knows how to make great hardware doesn’t mean he has a clue about software. I said this a while and feel like I have been proved right. I’m considering not moving my iPad to iOS 7 for performance and appearance reasons. While I’ve grown used to iOS 7 I am generally happier on iOS 6. iOS 7.1 may make some small improvements but time will tell

Inter-App Communication

x-callback-url exists and is being used well by numerous applications. A fully featured inter-app communication system could significantly change how people use applications. Text can be reliably moved from application to application using native methods. Safari would even play with this as x-callback-url isn’t supported by Apple whatsoever as far as I know.

Improved Touch Targets for Scroll Wheel

Previous versions of iOS used the slot machine style wheel. iOS 7 refreshed the look of the wheel. Not only was the look overhauled but the touch targets were also modified. An article is on the Internet about why it is more challening to use than the old one. Fix this.

Better Fonts

I know Apple loves their new font selection but it’s not a great font. It’s not very easy to read and it’s often too thin. I can’t articulate what I don’t like about it, but I don’t.

Context Sensitive “Grammar”

Full context sensitive auto-correction is hard and processor intensive. Instead, why not just use context sensitive punctuation. If I open a sentence with “Can” a double tap of the space bar should render a ? instead of a ..

Slide to Delete Behavior

A lot of apps have swipe to delete. A recent behavior, iOS 7 related possibly, is they require a very long swipe to keep the delete button visible. If you let go too quickly it will go to another screen. Tis ambiguity and precision required for swiping is very frustrating. Only makes me hate gestures more than I do.

More Informative Lock Screen…On Calls

I don’t want my lock screen constantly showing statuses I don’t care about. However, it’s not uncommon I need to access the phone controls while it’s locked and I’m using the phone. Mute, “press 1 to join the conference”, and similar functions all require access to the basic phone controls. iOS 8 would do me a favor if it gave me basic controls without having to unlock the phone.

Week of the iPad

Introduction

The iPad has changed how people work. Despite its influences I still have a hard time picturing its use every day. I am going to do a one week experiment to see where it thrives and where it doesn’t for a full time machine. It will be used full time for personal work. Any work for my job will be done on my work laptop and is not included in this experiment. I am able to use my iPhone alongside my iPad for daily work.

Prediction

I think it will do most common tasks very well. Internet browsing and email shouldn’t be a challenge. I do think there will be a few areas which make a laptop required for the near future.
* Sys Admin Work – Serial and SSH abilities are on the iPad but at this time I don’t have those applications.
* IM – Due to lack of full multi tasking on iOS I think IM is going to be very hard to use. iMessages is about the closest to good IM I think I will find.

Monday September 2, 2013

Today is Labor Day so I had a day off. Much of it was spent cooking and cleaning so I was away from my computer quite a bit. My initial prediction of IM being challenging was correct but I didn’t think of one thing: iMessages. iMessages obviously works quite well on iOS devices. If someone is an iMessages user IM is great. For the majority of people who don’t own a Mac or have iMessages, IM still isn’t great.

Tuesday September 3, 2013

Plex is my media server of choice and requires port forwarding to work behind NAT. My router has no port forwarding on at the moment which would require some CLI work. As I suspected, administration on iPad is going to be really rough. It’s a shame. With such a nice screen split console in horizontal mode would be very welcome. Crisp console text? Geeky, but could be very nice.
Quick discovery. When using a Bluetooth keyboard there isn’t a keystroke to send an iMessage. I need to lift my hand and press the screen. iOS with an external leaves so much to be desired.
By default the fonts are a little small in some apps. In particular, I found NewsBlur to be a little small to read at a computer length distance. Editorial default font seems to be just fine though so I blame this on an app preference more than iOS. Feedback submitted via Twitter.

Wednesday September 4, 2013

When I got home I used my computer. I wanted to IM and check a few things quickly. The iPad, despite all its greatness, isn’t very good at multi-tasking. Want to send IMs while checking email and Twitter? iPad isn’t going to do that.
Smooth keyboard integration seems to be my biggest hang up besides IM. There is no alt-tab. It’s basically used for the keys and no interaction with the system.
My next experiment, I may use my iPad at work for taking notes with customers. I see no reason it wouldn’t do it and do it very well. I use Markdown for note taking making the iPad an optimal device. Sharing will be the hardest as I don’t keep notes in Dropbox.

Thursday and Friday, September 5 and 6

I wasn’t home much these days so I didn’t have much interaction. Of course I had my iPhone on me so I was using that. Long term it probably makes sense that Apple has a mobile OS on its tablets similar to the phone. Microsoft may make some sense having a hybrid model today but long term that’s going to be a hard transition, especially for a company which has such a hard time breaking backward compatibility.

Summary

Overall I liked using iOS on a full time basis. It does have some very real shortcomings.
While pretty good the default keyboard isn’t good enough for full time use. Using an external keyboard helps but only for typing. App switching, commands, or form submission don’t work with the external keyboard. Besides Apple doing a lot of things which don’t make sense, I can’t tell what keeps them from improving at least some of this function. I wonder if iOS 7 will support this but I would be a little surprised.
Instant messaging is a little tough if the person isn’t using iMessages. There are some mediocre rated apps on the App Store but they all require registration. I looked into libpurple on iOS and they have some license problems. A client server model with the server acting as a libpurple based proxy would work but that does require some registration. A self hosted system may be nice.
System administration isn’t great. There are SSH clients and even a console application (hardware purchase required) so I should be able to do better administration. During the week I didn’t use any web based administration tools and I expect those to be hit and missed. I doubt they are optimized for touch screen and many of them probably use Flash.
Finances are done just fine on iOS with the weak link being Mint’s pretty good but not very efficient app. Paying bills, checking balances, and stocks all work just fine.
iOS is a few applications and tweaks away from replacing my Mac OS X system as anything more than periodic use. The gaps are pretty major but I do think it wouldn’t take too much to bridge them.

Innovative Keyboards

Some digital ink has been spilled recently regarding the unique keyboard layout the Lenovo X1 Carbon has. If you haven’t seen it…

Take a moment and see how they moved away from the standard layout us touch typists know so well. To start, I’m not enamored by the backspace and delete keys being so close together. Perhaps using it will not be much of a challenge but I prefer a separate key or perhaps a modifier (as in the case of Apple) to use the delete action. My next complaint is Home and End where the caps key is. Yes, caps lock is terrible, albeit slightly useful at times. As a lightweight emacs user, I’m a fan of swapping the caps lock and control keys (note: I don’t actually do that today). Short of migrating both home and end to control, emacs users would be stuck on this laptop. A light at the top right of the left shift key implies caps lock functionality exists but it is not immediately obvious how.

Tilde key makes its home to the right of the space bar. Not that I use that key a lot, especially on Windows, but the location is odd. The layout implies it was placed at the bottom right to prevent the need for another row of keys. Which brings me to the function keys.

Watch the video first.

Interesting idea but I want keys on my keyboard. If I wanted a touch screen, I’d use a tablet. Better would be actual keys which change their function. As a non-Windows user, I’m also wondering how that works in Linux. Not for a minute do I believe Lenovo cares about Linux users but it’s a concern I have, especially if I am going to lay down over $1,000 for the laptop.

I give Lenovo credit for trying something new, especially with the function row but it’s not something I think I’d enjoy. If I alt+f4 a window, I want to be sure I’m hitting the proper key. The layout of the home, end, and tilde key leave much to be desired. The caps lock key’s biggest downfall is not its existence but its prime real estate on the keyboard. I doubt home and end are used frequent enough where they merit such privileged placement. Control on the other hand…

My work laptop is a 15″ Lenovo which in general is nice despite its heft and a few other things. Periodically I think about requesting an X1 Carbon since it seems like such a nice system. Unfortunately this new keyboard design makes me think I’m going to wait a generation until the keyboard comes back to earth.