The reveal of iOS 7 in beta form at WWDC 2013 showed what many suspected: a drastic and long-overdue rethink of the user interface in Apple's mobile OS. iOS had a design that still worked but was starting to look out of date, particularly after a steady stream of UI improvements on Android.
It's admirable of Apple to essentially throw away the previous design scheme and replace it with something more modern. Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jony Ive was the leader in the redesign and his work on physical devices finally extended into the software. iOS 7 removes a lot of of the visual bloat to make many actions more streamlined, but these changes also require a new period of learning: there are new gestures, settings panels, icons and more to get used to.
Google released 4.2.2 in February 2013 adding bug fixes and small improvements, but as a comparison between newest versions on both platforms, Android 4.2.2 will be compared to iOS 7 Beta. The official release of iOS 7 is slated for the Fall, but we don't expect future versions of the beta to change dramatically.
The core homescreen of iOS doesn't change. It's still a grid with icons and folders. All the first party apps have new 'flat' icons, but 3rd party app developers will need to update their icons to match. iOS 7's design is much cleaner and modern compared to the past, but the live wallpaper feels superfluous. This also applies to Android which has its own collection of live wallpapers.
But iOS 7 still suffers from old problems. Beyond putting icons where you want, you can't customize the homescreen, and the lack of widget support is still disappointing. Apple has fixed folders by allowing you to add more than 9 apps, creating pages within the folder that you can swipe through. This feels like a stop gap solution because Android contains an app launcher to display all your apps.
The new app icon design is a negligible annoyance because each icon is named like before. Android still leads against iOS for the ability to customize your homescreen with information that you may want without opening apps or new menus. iOS 7 Beta is slowly moving the operating system forward, but doesn't look like it will allow expanded customization like Android or other platforms.
Android's notifications have improved a lot over time and now include the ability to interact with notifications. Twitter and Gmail allow you to perform actions directly from the drawer and show other information like app updates and music controls when playing Google Play Music. iOS 7 updates the Notifications Center to match the new design, but it doesn't add much in functionality. You still can't dismiss all notifications at once and it doesn't allow for direct interaction with notifications.
Apple's Control Center is a new feature already found in Android: Quick Settings. Apple adds options like music controls and access to apps like a flashlight, calculator, and Do Not Disturb. Until now, you had to open Settings and drill down for the specific option. It's nice to see Apple taking cues from other systems to add more ease-of-use for iOS users.
One problem that I foresee is that swiping up from the bottom of the screen might lead to problems when using apps. It already happened to me, using an app's refresh button and pulling down the Notification Center by accident. It's possible that this problem will continue in Control Center.
Apple will allow background apps in iOS 7, but the operating system will "learn" which apps to allow to run consistently depending on usage. It's a big difference from before when apps were suspended. Ron of Droid Life stated that Apple "straight up copied Palm's implementation of multitasking."
Having used webOS, I can't argue with this. Multitasking in iOS 7 is almost identical to webOS except it uses the empty space more efficiently. Android's multitasking hasn't changed with apps aligned on the right and you swipe left or right to close.
Apple has improved on the backend of multitasking by allowing apps to be persistent, but instead of closing icons, you close an entire card with a new gesture. Swipe upwards to quit an app. I'm not sure this is the best gesture they could have used for this function, however.
It's difficult to compare Google Play Music All Access and iTunes Radio because they're designed to serve different purposes, but it's easy to compare music players. Google Play Music is centered around streaming online, but allows you to download tracks for offline listening. iTunes has always been about carrying your music library on the device.
The recent updates to Google Play Music made it much more visual by offering different sections like "Listen Now" and creating "Instant Mixes." Generally it's easier to find new music in Google Play Music compared to Apple's Music app.
Both music apps work well enough, though the settings for Google Play Music are contained in the app while settings for Music in iOS 7 are still within the Settings app, the default location for settings in iOS.
Chrome vs Safari
With both operating system's first party browsers, Safari hasn't really evolved. Users who use Chrome can be connected on multiple devices with a single login and access many of Google's services. Safari's redesign makes navigation easier, but the lack of sharing options is disappointing. Safari does offer syncing across devices, a feature also found in Chrome.
Apple is adding new social sharing options to iOS 7, such as support for Flickr and Vimeo, and rumored support for LinkedIn. That said, Apple's control over sharing is disappointing. In Android, new apps can add new sharing options to menus throughout the device. In iOS, Apple needs to decide to add sharing options in an OS update, and that can really feel limiting.
When I used iOS as my primary device, I rarely used the calendar app. It didn't give me enough information about appointments and events. The updated Calendar app on iOS 7 Beta is designed to be minimal, but for some reason even after connecting my Google account and enabling it in Settings, it wouldn't show any notifications in the month view.
The only time I saw any information was in the daily view. iOS 7 beta did show the event in the Notifications Center, but the lack of notifications in a monthly view is a problem for any Calendar user. Google Calendar is much more informative in monthly view, displaying multiple calendars for events and appointments.
It may be another work-in-progress for the beta to connect all existing services and a final decision can't be made until the final version of iOS 7 is released with completed first party apps.
iOS finally gets dynamic
The iOS 7 Beta finally gives users something new visually. The backend and functionality of iOS have been updated with each major release, but the visual interface remained stagnant. Finally with iOS 7 there is something new to see and while there is a new learning curve with the release because of added features like Control Panel, it shouldn't take long for users to feel comfortable.
When I left iOS for Android, I never found a compelling reason to look beyond Apple's keynotes, but now I want to see the operating system in its final form.
Generally, the functions that iOS 7 offers exist on other platforms. The beta isn't convincing enough to switch and the continued lack of customization is still disappointing (though there are rumors of extra customization options, hidden in the beta). The new user interface is compelling. iOS 7's design is a stark difference from iOS 6 and is finally updating one of my biggest problems with Apple's mobile OS.
When it releases this Fall, it will be interesting to see how far Apple has gone to coax Android users into reconsidering the iPhone.