I have been using Android since buying an HTC Hero in the summer of 2009 and have loved every minute of it. Of course, as a gadget obsessive, I also try everything else on the market, but it always feels like coming home when I finally give up and return to whatever Android phone I have to hand.
The last time I used any sort of iPhone exclusively for any extended period of time, it was an iPhone 3GS. Since then, I have merely dabbled with using an iPhone a little here and a little there. The iPhone 5 has always been a device I wanted to try as I think the hardware is particularly attractive, and with the announcement of iOS 7 I felt the time was right.
So I managed to get hold of an iPhone 5 and I installed the first iOS 7 beta and used it all the way through to the release of iOS 7 Beta 5. The screen shots shown throughout are from Beta 5.
The iOS 7 setup screens are shockingly different to previous versions. Very white and minimalist with lovely typography fluidly animating across the screen welcoming you. Landing at the home screen is no less of a surprise. Everything looks and feels different from previous versions. Gone are all the heavy gradients, faux backgrounds and 3D highlights. What you are left with is a clean, young feeling, fresh interface which looks particularly well integrated on the white iPhone.
Whereas Android is broody, dark, minimalist and extremely familiar, with the same basic design having been around for a few years now, iOS 7 is very bright, minimalist and initially quite flat. Many buttons have been replaced with just text, there are new fonts, new animations and new icons. My first half an hour with iOS 7 was largely spent feeling the flat nature of the design.
But soon, that flatness gives way to something far more important, far more pervasive and far more interesting. iOS 7 is one of the most richly layered and least flat operating system designs I have seen. Layers can build up with a pleasing transparency allowing you to see down to the layers below, the colours peeking through giving you an impression of that depth. It is an extremely effective and compelling experience. Android devices have had partially transparent notification drawers before, but this is something different. It is more subtle and somehow more real. iOS shows its depth off well in the new notifications centre and the control centre brought up with a swipe from the top or bottom of the screen respectively.
This multi-dimensional character is also shown off very effectively in the new live wallpapers which are available that twist and turn as you move the device around. The icons and notification counters on icons also move slightly as you move your device around. It is almost like a pair of eyes following you around, but it does increase that sense of depth whilst also having a minor functional element in making it appear that you are viewing the icons head-on even when in reality you are not.
Folders enhance this feeling of a three dimensional space massively. Tapping on a folder to open it from the home screen causes a zoom effect as the icons inside the folder take up the screen. Opening an app also performs a zoom into that app. It is a very attractive feature and does make the operating system feel very deep.
There are more visual changes to iOS and its core apps than it is worth listing here but some of the most notable are the calendar and the contacts apps which display absolutely no skuemorphism any more and instead are simple flat designs with screens that move side to side as you select different items much as Android panes move side to side. It is within these stock apps that the influence of Android and Windows Phone can be most keenly felt. I don't believe Apple have copied the design of any of their competition, but there are influences dotted throughout iOS 7.
As well as the visual changes there are some interesting new interactions that have been introduced with iOS 7, primarily around swipe actions. In many apps including in the settings, you no longer have to reach to the top left corner of the screen to go back, but rather a simple swipe from left to right anywhere on the screen will take you to the previous screen. In the notification centre, you can now swipe between the panes too.
Despite all this, iOS 7 remains the same in many ways. It is still a closed ecosystem. The apps are still fantastic but extremely tightly sandboxed. And you still can't choose your own tone for when you receive a text message! But there are some great new API's which will help app developers, especially allowing for some multi-tasking so that when receiving a notification, the app can fire up and load new content. This will help in apps such as GMail which will be able to load new messages before you open the app. Of course, individual developers will need to update their apps to take advantage of such things.
Ultimately, if you didn't enjoy using iOS before, you are unlikely to enjoy it any more now. If it was the rather out of date design and heavy feel to the operating system that was stopping you, then iOS 7 is going to be a real breath of fresh air. It is bright, colourful and modern in look and feel. It is something genuinely a little different and I found it to be a lovely system to interact with. Once apps are updated to share the new design of iOS 7 and take advantage of the new multi-tasking API's, I could even see myself using an iPhone as my primary phone.
The design of iOS has caught up with Android and Windows Phone in terms of modernity and with its superior apps, amazingly fluid operation, new interactions and updated API's, it will remain a compelling and attractive option for most users. Is it better than Android? I don't think iOS 7 will change how people feel about that question, but it will keep iOS users very happy and hopefully will drive Google and Microsoft to even greater heights over the coming years.