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Is it worth upgrading your iPhone or iPad to iOS 7?

MobileFeatures
by James Plafke, 20 Sep 2013Features
Is it worth upgrading your iPhone or iPad to iOS 7?

On Wednesday, Apple released iOS 7 to the world, ushering in a new age of design sensibilities. The OS looks quite different from past iterations, but like your mum always told you, looks aren’t everything. Will iOS 7 hurt your battery life? Will upgrading to iOS 7 increase or decrease the performance of your iPhone 4S or iPhone 5? Does the new OS introduce any bugs, or remove your favourite features from iOS 6? Should you pull the trigger and upgrade your iPhone, iPad, or iPod to iOS 7, or stick with a trusty older version of iOS, such as iOS 6?

First off, make sure your Apple device supports iOS 7. The mobile OS plays well with the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, the iPhone 5 and 4S, and even the iPhone 4. The iPhone 3GS and earlier are not supported. As for the iPad, the iPad 4, 3, 2, and iPad mini support iOS 7. The only Apple tablet that does not support the new OS is the original iPad. As for the iPod touch, only the most recent one – the fifth-generation iPod touch – will work with iOS 7. Also note that some features will be missing on older devices that support iOS 7 – for a full breakdown of this, see our article here.

Upgrading to iOS 7: Changes in functionality and usability

After using iOS 7 for a few minutes, you feel right at home. Compared to iOS 6, iOS 7 looks different more than it feels different. Native apps might have their options in different locations on the screen, but overall they work how they always have. You enable an alarm clock by sliding a knob to the right, you sort your music library by playlists, artists, or albums, and you still get mad at the inefficiency and subpar organisation of the Podcasts app.

The most noticeable differences in everyday use are unavoidable. Firstly, thanks to an admittedly slick fade, turning on and off the screen takes a little longer than it used to. While an extra two seconds added into your phone usage routine isn’t too much, it can be a little frustrating at times. Secondly, folders now work differently from previous versions of iOS. They don’t roll out on the Home screen anymore, but instead invoke an entirely separate menu that fills the screen.

Rather than the old 12 app limit (or 16 apps on the iPhone 5 with its bigger display), folders can now hold an infinite number of apps. That means if you’re a bit obsessive-compulsive with your Home screen organisation, you can now clean up all those Games folders on the second screen and slap all those games into one folder on the main screen.

However, the step forward does take a step back. While you can swipe through a single folder to access an infinite amount of apps, only nine apps are displayed per page in a folder. So, if you want that cleaner Home screen, you’ll be swiping more than usual.

Finally, perhaps the most noticeable difference in everyday use is that you can access the phone’s features from the lock screen, such as the Control Centre, as well as navigate your music playlists. This is extremely handy for users who frequently switch songs or answer text messages.

Another extremely useful new feature that technically removes a step from everyday use is the ability to set the App Store to automatically update apps. No longer will you have to open the App Store and tap the Update button.

The Music app organises your albums a bit differently from iOS 6 as well, but it’s simply a different way of doing things rather than actually introducing new steps when it comes to accessing your jams.

Upgrading to iOS 7: New visuals

The biggest difference between iOS 7 and iOS 6 – or any past generation of iOS – is the visual overhaul. Apple’s new mobile operating system has adopted a flat look, dispensing with the skeuomorphism of notepad apps that look like real-life notepads, or calendar apps that look like an actual desk calendar.

Now, Apple looks more like Windows Phone or Android – complete with skinny text and flat colours. The animations are now different as well, with classy fade-ins and fade-outs accompanying the display turning on and off. In iOS 6, opening an app would cause the app to maximise from the centre of the phone’s display. Now, the app invokes from wherever the icon is located on the display. So, if your Messages app is located at the bottom left of the screen, it’ll now expand from there when you open it. This gives the iPhone a livelier touch, as interacting with the phone makes it feel more alive.

The redesign of the native apps, such as Weather, Calendar, and Clock, are initially jarring. Losing the skeuomorphism we’re so used to is a shock, but the new design is much easier on the eyes. The apps aren’t as visually busy, and the text – though skinny – is bigger overall.

Perhaps most jarring, though, is the fact that the iconic iOS text bubbles have been redesigned to a flatter aesthetic. They also have a bit of physics to them, so if you scroll through messages too fast (not the message list), the text bubbles will bump into each other and quickly jiggle before they settle.

iOS 7 hidden features

One of the most useful additions to iOS 7 is the ability to see timestamps of sent and received text messages. There doesn’t appear to be a way to make the timestamps permanent, but when viewing a text, you can swipe to the left of the messages to invoke temporary timestamps.

Safari now compiles a list of links that appear in your Twitter feed. It’s buried in the bookmarks menu, but it’s there: Open Safari, click on the bookmarks menu, then click on the @ symbol tab. Now you won’t have to scroll through all of your friends’ inane Twitter ramblings to catch links.

Not entirely hidden, but new and not readily apparent is a built-in flashlight ability. If you invoke the Control Centre (swipe up from the bottom of the screen), a flashlight button is located in the bottom left corner. It doesn’t have options like dedicated flashlight apps do, but it’s nice that it’s there.

Should you upgrade from iOS 6 to 7?

Ultimately, the answer comes down to which device you’re updating. The older the device, the worse iOS 7 will run. The iPhone 4S seems to be sitting on the edge of being able to smoothly run the OS, as it lags out or stutters for half a second here and there. There are occasional reports that iOS 7 is a bit buggy on iPads, but our experience (using an iPad 3) is that it runs fine.

Battery life might drain faster due to the new visual effects and customary new OS bugs, but you can turn off the majority of the effects in the phone’s settings.

Overall, if you want to experience Apple’s new design philosophy, or are simply bored with looking at iOS 6 and skeuomorphism, updating to iOS 7 won’t shatter your world. In fact, it’s quite pretty, and some of the new features are well worth making the switch for.

For more on iOS 7, see our full review here, and our article on what's changed with iOS 7 compared to iOS 6. You might also want to check out our comparison of iOS 7 versus Android 4.3.

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