iOS 7 on an iPhone 4: First Impressions

Before I get into this mini-review, I wanted to remark how ridiculously time-consuming it was to update my iPhone 4 to iOS 7. I waited until I was home from work in order to make sure I could receive calls, and then promptly forgot until after watching a few episodes of New Girl (Season 2 is up on Netflix now!). By that time, it was 9pm, and a nagging, geeky voice in my head went “Ermagerd! Erfern!” I said to my partner, “I need to update this before I go to bed; I need to use it for my alarm!” So I got my charger, plugged it in, had to refresh the update screen a few times before it stopped saying I was already up to date, and then it said I had to have nearly 3 GB of data free before I could download the update.

So I sat and deleted some well-loved but strangely huge apps (Flipboard & Pinterest, why are you over 700MB?), as well as a ton of old photos and games I never play, and then it was finally time. I allowed it to start feeding off of the WiFi while it downloaded. The screen said “Downloading: About 18 hours remaining…” and I laughed to myself, until I returned an hour later to read “Downloading: About 21 hours remaining…” I smiled sheepishly and looked at the time… Eventually the download bar updated to “44 minutes” and that seemed pretty accurate… Until it took until 2:15am to install and launch iOS 7.

But damn is it pretty.

Sure, an iPhone 4 is not the ideal piece of tech for iOS 7 and probably even slows it down an extra split-second per item. Sure, I can’t use AirDrop, or hear the new Siri, or look at sexy parallax backgrounds like I’m playing with a handheld, retro labyrinth game… but you know what? I really really like it. So far, I don’t have any major gripes, though I was a little surprised to hear the new text tone earlier this morning. I actually think it hits a few more higher-register notes in there, which made it audible from my pocket while I was in the car. So, that’s actually a good thing.

ios7calendarmain
No more ripped pages. Just a normal, sleek calendar.

While the whole “Slide to Unlock” arrow on the front screen doesn’t make as much mechanical sense as the physical slider, I’m actually happy to see the skeuomorphic design of Macs past be retired. I was tired of ripped paper, cardboard, coil-bound notebooks, shiny metal buttons, and clunky design hampering an otherwise slick interface. As a graphic designer, the past few years have trained us to get used to flat design (no, not living space design) that strips things down to 2D, non-representative, blocky graphics and minimal gimmicks. I was not 100% on board originally, as I previously enjoyed bringing “real life” things into web and design projects in order to provide nice texture and interest. Print design in particular starts to get risky with fields of solid colors, because if your printer isn’t very consistent, it shows with banding, uneven coverage, and mismatched colors across a single job. Removing texture raises the bar a bit for people in the industry. But we’re talking interface design, and we’re living in a content-driven society that allows us to custom feed our favorite subjects through a funnel that really should be clean and unbranded.

The largest improvement in iOS 7 isn’t really the default apps, though I am happy that I can throw Newsstand and Facetime into a folder, because I have yet to find a use for them. It’s the fact that so many app developers have been inspired to update their apps to fit the new design scheme, and it just makes the whole iPhone experience so much more classy and feel much more well-designed. A lot of my apps updated immediately: Twitter, Facebook, Alien Blue, eBay, Pandora, Evernote, Zillow, WordPress. Sexy new flat design, really clean interfaces with large, legible fonts and nice colors.

ios7evernote
Evernote looks *beautiful* in iOS 7.

Another major improvement is the ability to add a handful more apps per folder. I have a lot of Photography and Photo-editing apps, and it was annoying keeping them in separate folders, but now I have the option of putting pages of apps into a folder, with a similar swipe-to-the-right layout.

ios7folders
Multiple pages in a folder = freedom!

The task manager is also spectacular, showing a preview for each open app and allowing for a quick swipe-up to close the running task. This may be my new favorite feature; just the way it feels. I will say though that getting to the task manager is hit-and-miss, as the double-tap on the home button doesn’t always respond.

ios7tasks
Swiper, no swiping!

This is also true of the swipe-up dock, which takes a few tries to show up most of the time*.  But when it does, it’s worth it, giving me immediate access to WiFi settings, brightness controls, sleep mode, volume, camera, flashlight, alarms, etc… I can now take those off of my main screen and delete that flashlight app!

ios7dock
Um, yeah, hi. Thank you, Apple. Thank you.

Also, I do actually like the new Photos setup. The ability to sort photos by “Moments” and “Collections” (as well as “Years”) is pretty spectacular. A little creepy when it tells me that it knows that  I took a group of pictures at a Petco though… I know, geolocation, but still…

But yes, so far, I am digging iOS 7. I don’t feel the need to “play” with it, but it’s definitely an improvement and I’m happy I updated, though my brain is angry at me for staying up past 2am. I had dreams about giant spiders that crawl into windows to devour people at night. I hit one with a rake, but I’m a little worried it’s still out there…

* – Apparently I was starting too high while swiping upwards. Now that I’ve started from the home button, it seems to work perfectly almost every time.

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