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Apple's iOS 7 will be compared to Microsoft Windows 8 because redesigns of successful products are thankless. Microsoft got into trouble by trying to make Windows work across desktop PCs and tablets while forcing its new Metro interface on customers. It was too much to ask, too quickly -- particularly of business customers, who view change as a risk.
Apple isn't trying to overhaul its interface. It isn't tearing down the underlying structure and rebuilding. It's polishing, renewing and shifting some walls.
iOS 7 manages to be both familiar and engagingly different. There will be complaints, but the praise will be louder. It is fundamentally a vital and beneficial update for Apple's mobile products.
iOS 7 looks more sophisticated. Skeuomorphism, the simulation of real-world textures in digital designs, has been mostly banished. The typography is more refined, the colors more harmonious and dynamic, and the inclusion of background parallax -- a 2-D simulation of the way objects at different distances appear to move at different speeds when the viewer's perspective shifts -- gives a sense of depth.
The graphic elegance might come at a cost: Time and power. The transition animations in iOS 7 take a bit longer than their plain predecessors, trading some efficiency for aesthetic enrichment. And users of beta versions of iOS 7 complained about poor battery life, which isn't surprising with so much graphics processing and the growing popularity of location services. If Apple hasn't managed to address these issues already, expect a chorus of complaints and the rapid release of an update.
But iOS 7 brings changes of substance in addition to changes of surface. Control Center, for example, provides quick access to a number of useful settings simply by swiping up. This alone is a meaningful improvement over swiping back and forth through multiple app screens to find the Settings icon and then trying to navigate down that rabbit hole.
AirDrop is another useful addition. It simplifies the process of sharing files between iOS apps. It would have been better if it could share files with any mobile device or at least with OS X devices. But it's better than syncing with iTunes and then dragging files out of iTunes.
There's a lot more to iOS 7 than that. Read on to see some of the highlights and tell us what you think. Is iOS 7 going to be a hit?
The price might help: iOS 7 is available, free, for: the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5C and 5S; the iPad 2, third- and fourth-generation iPads, and the iPad Mini; and the fifth-generation iPod Touch. Devices need at least 3 GB of free space for the installation process, but the actual download ends up taking only about 650MB to 750MB of space, depending on the device.
The typography in iOS 7 makes the iPhone feel more spacious, because there's less font and more background. The system font, Helvetica Neue, was used in iOS 6 -- Apple ditched a thinner version, Helvetica Neue Light, during beta testing. But iOS 7's new Dynamic Type system scales fonts to make them more legible.
The new Control Center in iOS 7 is accessible even from the lock screen, making it much easier to go into airplane mode when on a plane, for example. The best thing about it, however, might be the flashlight button (unless you happen to be the developer of an iOS 7 flashlight app).
The Notification Center can be accessed by swiping down, in contrast to the upward swipe that reveals the Control Center. Apple obviously considers these two panels important enough to make them available by default in front of the screen lock, which might not please those who consider their appointments or call logs sensitive. However, Apple provides a setting to put these Centers behind the lock screen if desired.
The default Camera app has received an update in iOS 7. Borrowing a page from Instagram and other photo apps, Apple's Camera app now lets you apply filters. It's not quite a match for the Camera+ app or other feature-rich photo apps, but it brings Apple's app up to the baseline of necessary functionality.
The iOS 7 version of Apple's Maps app is an improvement over the last iteration and will probably win new fans if only because of its ubiquity. It adds support for turn-by-turn walking directions and looks better. Apple hasn't said much about it, which suggests the company is continuing its renovation in quiet after iOS 6 Maps bombed. Interestingly, the app now includes a link that explicitly mentions all the data sources used in the app, as if to suggest blame for errors should be directed somewhere other than Apple.
If you go looking to search for something on your iOS device by swiping to the right, you won't find the search box. In iOS 7, you access search by swiping down from the middle of the screen (do it from the top edge and you get the Notification Center). The results are separated into categories -- Applications, Events, Mail and Messages -- which makes search results easier to sort through.
The background images in iOS 7 are lovely, but what's really impressive is seeing them with the parallax effect: Tilt your iPhone and the background shifts, creating the illusion of depth in the two-dimensional screen. It doesn't serve any function beyond being delightful. Sometimes that's enough.
Apple's personal assistant Siri has become more useful in that it can query more data sources. Apple has also attempted to make the software more appealing by providing lists of suggested searches. It's likely that Siri is underused because potential users are unsure of the command syntax and limitations. However, Siri's limitations are still all too evident if you start asking questions that deviate from the suggested formats or if you haven't provided data, like contact information, for Siri to identify the people you're asking about.
The iOS 7 multitasking interface, invoked by pressing the Home button twice, is a big improvement over what exists in iOS 6. Instead of having to tap and hold an app to make it ready to dismiss, you can just swipe the app page up and away to close the app.
AirDrop makes sharing easier among people with iOS devices. It would be nice if Apple would acknowledge that there are also a few Android devices in the world as well. With Google's recent acquisition of Bump Technologies, it probably won't be long before Google has a cross-platform sharing solution.