Lex Friedman blogs here.

Lex is the EVP of Sales and Development for Midroll, the world's best podcast advertising network.

He was previously Macworld's senior writer, and continues to contribute to the publication. He is the cohost of the Not Playing podcast, a cohost of the Turning This Car Around podcast, a cohost of the The Rebound podcast, and the sole host of the Your Daily Lex podcast.

Lex's first book, The Snuggie Sutra, is exactly what it sounds like. His most recent book is a Dr. Seuss parody for adults; it's called The Kid in the Crib.

You should follow him on both Twitter and App.net.

Lex would be delighted to speak at your awesome event.

iOS 7: It's better than it looks

My wife doesn’t love iOS 7. At least, not yet.

Of course, merely acknowledging Lauren’s current lack of enthusiasm for the latest version of Apple’s multitouch operating system reveals that, as strictly as I attempted to adhere to Apple’s non-disclosure agreement regarding pre-release versions of iOS 7, I wasn’t perfect: Lauren saw glimpses of iOS 7 on my iPhone 5. She also saw iOS 7 in all of Apple’s promotional videos and photos and such. And she didn’t like it.

Or, more accurately, she didn’t like its look.

Design is how it looks, too

iOS 7’s radical design overhaul marks a dramatic departure from the Old Look. Even as iOS’s look evolved from the original iPhone to iOS 6, it was still recognizably iOS, just ever-refined. iOS 7 doesn’t look like a refinement. It looks like a do-over. And that’s allowed!

iOS 7 looks very different. Different isn’t always better. Many of us—my wife included—are resistant to change. Change can be hard, especially when the reasons behind that change aren’t immediately obvious. I think some casual users could look at iOS 7 and assume it’s something else. And I think that when they realize it is indeed iOS 7, some will love the look, some will hate it, and some will fall somewhere in between.

Yes, I’m a genius.

All that said: Were I to rank all of iOS 7’s new features from best to worst, I’d likely put its new look at the bottom. While I like some of the design changes, I’m annoyed by more: I want buttonier buttons. I want room for the full name of the person I’m iMessaging; “Dan” isn’t enough. I want Reminders to look less like… whatever the hell it’s supposed to look like.

As I used iOS 7’s successive betas, its look did grow on me. When I look at iOS 6 now, some aspects of its interface do feel heavy-handed.

But even as I grew more comfortable with iOS 7’s look, I never fell in love with it. iOS 6 felt, visually, eager to please. iOS 7 instead feels eager to impress. That’s a significant difference.

All these paragraphs later, let’s acknowledge the obvious: iOS 7’s design is here, and—while it will evolve—it’s going to stick around for a while. Opinions on the look are, of course, entirely subjective. If you hate iOS 7’s look now, trust that you’ll at least grow more accustomed to it in time.

But instead of harping on the look any longer, let me turn my thought experiment from a few paragraphs back into reality. Here are some of my favorite features in iOS 7.

Control Center

Swipe up from the bottom of your iOS device to access Control Center. The gesture isn’t perfect, but it works pretty well. (You can optionally disable the ability to trigger Control Center within apps and/or the lock screen if you’d rather it not interfere with those.) I leave it on everywhere.

After a couple days of doing the Settings App Dance, you’ll get better at remembering that Control Center is there, eager to help you toggle Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode, and the like. And I’ve quickly grown to rely on the flashlight toggle.

There are disappointing elements on Control Center, and though they’re fixable, I’m not yet confident Apple will address them. I’d love to choose which apps get shortcuts—I don’t need quick access to the timer (I use Siri) or the Calculator app (I use PCalc).

Finally being able to adjust the iPhone’s brightness on the fly is quite welcome. I’m less sold on the AirPlay controls here—only because they seem to have vanished from the Music app. That makes the controls far less obvious to me.

Notification Center

I’m pleased with Notification Center overall. The Today tab isn’t quite Google Now-ish yet, but it’s close, and it shows promise.

I’ve long longed for a view in Notification Center that was organized just like the lock screen: I want my notifications stacked up in the order they were received, not grouped by app the way Notification Center always has. The new Missed tab in Notification Center gets closer than ever to my dream, though I’d argue that the rules defining what qualifies as “missed” seem a smidgen nebulous. Still, on the whole, the Today and Missed tabs are a great addition.

Where previously Notification Center showed a visual weather forecast, you are now forced to read a couple lines of text to figure out the day’s forecast—which borders on comically dopey.

I may be the only one who ever used them, but I will miss the options to compose Facebook and Twitter posts from Notification Center.

Siri

I’m a Siri devotee. Not everyone is. I get that.

I use Siri to check the weather, set reminders, schedule timers, check scores, and more. I feared for Siri during the iOS 7 betas, because it was mostly awful. But with iOS 7’s final release, Siri seems speedier than ever. That may well change as millions of users upgrade and start pinging Siri’s new servers, but in my testing: Wow. Siri is insanely fast.

The integrated Bing search results work well. And the conversational ability of Siri is shockingly good now that it remains even more contextually aware. Siri’s really good. Seriously.

New gestures

Swipe to go forward and back works beautifully and naturally in Mail, Safari, and the like. The new multitasking screen is nice with its live app screen previews, and flicking away apps you want to force-quit feels intuitive.

The swipe down on each homescreen to see Spotlight is clever, too. There’s a few-day learning period to remember that it’s there, but it becomes very useful very quickly.

Other nice features

Even if you don’t snag a Burst Mode-sporting iPhone 5s, the Camera app’s shutter in iOS 7 is insanely fast.

AirDrop is pretty cool—when you remember it’s there, when there’s someone else with an iOS 7 device, and when it works. It’s one of those features you assume will only continue to improve.

The updated sounds, silly as it—well, sounds, sound great.

The Call Blocking feature, which also (and more importantly, for me) lets you block iMessages, is worth its virtual weight in real-world gold.

While the automatic app updates are worrisome to some (“What if I automatically update to a broken version of an app?”), I believe that the benefits outweigh the downsides. The incessant Update All dance sucked; this is way better. It feels like the future.

Disappointments

So yes, for my money, there’s a lot to like about iOS 7. But I have some complaints, too—besides my issues with the look.

I still believe it’s time for a new homescreen. There’s something to be said for the simplicity and immediate obviousness of iOS’s homescreen, but I still think users with many apps need a better solution than the straight icon grid and folder situation.

It’s annoying when Settings-related dialogs pop up and suggest that I should head to the Settings app to tweak things like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi; I want them to push me towards Control Center instead. That’s a fixable problem. In theory.

Some folks are finding that iOS 7 is buggy, particularly on the iPad. I don’t have that experience anymore—with one exception that I’ll get to in a paragraph. Your mileage may vary. If it’s very problematic, don’t panic too much. The 7.1 update will bring good news.

The Music app seems very wonky to me, especially but not exclusively on the iPad. If I search for a song from Spotlight and tap to open it, the Music app rarely plays it, and often crashes instead. It’s frustrating and needs fixing.

So…

You’re going to install iOS 7 if your device supports it. You’d be crazy not to. You’re making the right decision. It’s great. It offers tremendous upside, with a design that’s something less than awesome.

But the perks—improved Notification Center, Control Center, Siri speed, Call Blocking, and more—outweigh the overly whitespace-happy look. You’ll like it. Mostly.

Posted on September 18th, 2013