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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Associated Press reviewer likes Apple's iOS 7

Apple's iOS 7, demonstrated on an iPad mini.

Apple Inc.

Apple's iOS 7, demonstrated on an iPad mini.

11

September

There's been plenty written about the next iteration of iOS, the software that runs Apple's iPhones, iPads and iPods (the iPod touch, anyway).

All of it guesswork, or at best nonspecific vaguespeak. While you might even know some early adopters running early versions of iOS 7 on their Apple gizmos — anyone can, if they shell out $100 or so a year to join Apple's iOS Developer Program — they've had to sign a nondisclosure agreement that bars them from talking about it in any but the most general terms.

That changed a bit when Apple demonstrated iOS 7 yesterday as they also introduced their two new iPhone models, the 5s and the 5c. It was the first time they let nondevelopers try out the software themselves, however briefly.

One of those nondevelopers was Associated Press writer Michael Liedtke, who liked it. He points out some features that I either hadn't heard about or had either forgotten, too, like the ability to zoom while shooting video. He briefly describes other new features, too, like iTunes Radio (described as Apple's own Pandora service).

One important piece of information he doesn't point out, though, is that while iOS 7 will run on any iPhone from the 4 on up to the most recent models, not all features will be available on every model. Much like Siri was a feature of the iPhone 5 and 4S but not the iPhone 4, you'll see more features disappear the older your iPhone. A few sites have put together compatibility tables (like phoneArena.com and TechCrunch), but I don't suspect you'll really know all the new features your old iPhone 4 gains with an upgrade until you actually upgrade.

(Obligatory parenthetical word of caution: Apple is well known for treating the pool of users who install the initial releases of iPhone software as testers. If you upgrade to iOS 7.0 on the first day, it's a safe bet that some stuff that's supposed to work on your iPhone won't — and even that some stuff that's always worked on your iPhone will stop working. If that's a deal-breaker for you, you're best off waiting st least for iOS 7.0.1 to come out to clean up some of those bugs. The good news, whether you upgrade on Day 1 or decide to wait, is that those early updates come pretty frequently.)

Most of the criticism of iOS 7 has been about its new look. Jony Ive — er, Sir Jony Ive, these days — is the guy responsible for creating Apple's iconic hardware designs, and the look, feel and function of Apple's iOS was added to his plate this time around.

If you've been following that development, you already know what skeuomorphism is. If you haven't, it's sufficient to know that while Steve Jobs believed in stripping away any unecessary elements from Apple's hardware designs he liked software that used ornamental visual cues borrowed from physical objects to offer clues about its functions. That little page curl at the lower corner of a map in Apple's Maps app, for example? Seeing that, anyone would realize there's another layer of information beneath the map they're using — because book pages curl that way.

That design language extended into all aspects of Apple's iOS software. App icons on the home screen look like 3D buttons, because that tells you to tap them with your finger to make something happen. It even extends to visual cues that don't have anything to do with function, like the little ragged edges of torn paper in the Calendar app on your iMac, or the stitched leather in Apple's Find My Friends app. (Fun fact: Jobs had Apple's designers make it look like the stitched leather seats he liked on his personal jet.)

Under Ive's leadership, iOS is backing away from all of that. If a visual element doesn't relate to the software's function, it's likely already been stripped away. iOS home page icons no longer have that 3D gloss. Shadows are less prevalent. While using Apple's apps, you'll find yourself more likely to be tapping icons and words, as opposed to embossed "buttons."

No doubt iOS 7's new language will take a little time to learn. But imagine it more like learning to understand a Vermonter or a Bostonian than, say, French.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 4:39pm]

    

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