Small Bumps in the Flatness of iOS 7

Before I even start this post, I want to be clear: I really, really like iOS 7. I think that overall it’s a great leap ahead for Apple’s mobile OS, with features both blatant and subtle that show that Apple is still on the right course. It looks great, with a design aesthetic that I find refreshing and even inviting. Jesus, just the fact that I can now turn on the flashlight with a flick and a tap is enough for an overall positive rating.

But now having had it installed on an iPhone 5 and an iPad 4 for since its official release on Wednesday, I have a few criticisms and niggles, some minor and likely to be fixed, some glaring, and I thought I’d go over some of them here.

The Lock Button: It used to be that when you hit the lock button, the screen immediately shut off and you heard a satisfying “click!” When you hit it again, the screen popped right back to life, and, after putting in your passcode (assuming you have one), you’d come back to the interface with another “click.”

No more. Now, hitting the lock button fades the screen off, and the nice, chunky “click!” is replaced by an airier click, laden with reverb. The same is true for unlocking: fade in, echoey click. It makes the whole process fuzzier, it’s not clear when the device is ready to actually be used. Can I start doing things the moment the pixels begin to light up, or must it come fully out of fade before I can make something happen? This is an instance where a whiz-bang effect steps on functionality. Whether my device is operational or not needs to be a binary thing: either it’s ready to work, or it’s not.

Parallax Effect: Being able to peek around icons on the home screen to see the picture of my kid behind them is cool, but not necessary. I’m not against the effect, but on both devices there’s a noticeable hiccup before it actually takes effect, like the device needs to realize, oh shit, he moved me!, and take half a moment to actually engage it. The illusion is, therefore, immediately broken. If it doesn’t happen seamlessly, it looks more like the gimmick it truly is, and less like a wondrous “quality” of the display.

Notification Banners: The pop-over banners for notifications have always been a dicey proposition — dropping a distracting superimposed row of text over whatever you’re doing — though admittedly for some kinds of alerts a good thing. In iOS 7 they are more distracting. I’m not sure if I’m simply perceiving it differently because of the new colors and fonts, but they seem to take up more screen space than they did before, making them just about as aggravating as a pop-up window.

On the plus side, however, they can now be swiped away, rather than one being forced to simply wait for it to go away. Also, I found that the previous banners slowed down performance of whatever I was doing, dropping frame rates on games and whatnot. I’ve not seen that happen with the new banners, and so even though I lose track of where the bird is, my Tiny Wings game does not become glacial when one pops up. (But yeah, I’ve now just disabled most banners.)

Notification Sync: When I dismiss a notification on one device, it remains active on the other. Still. Come on.

New Gestures: This is more my own problem than a problem with the OS. A few days in, I’m still double-tapping the home button so I can swipe to change Airplay settings or advance a music track, when now that’s in the super-convenient Control Center. I’ll get it.

Similarly, the shutter button on the camera app is, I think, slightly off from where it was in iOS 6. It’s not a big deal in the long term, but in the short term, I’m missing a lot of shots because the button isn’t where my thumb has been training to think it is over the past seven years. Again, my problem, and I’ll just adjust.

Icon and Siri Gender: Uh oh, Paul’s gonna get all liberal on us. But look, both icons that represent a generic person, Contacts and Photo Booth, use what is obviously meant to be a male silhouette. Meanwhile, Siri, as it always has, defaults to a female voice (to Apple’s credit, you can at least now choose a male voice). Maybe I’m too sensitive to this kind of thing, but what it says to me is that the user is presumed to be male (and thus represented in the official, unremovable app icons) and the ostensible servant is presumed to be female. Apple knows better.

New Folders: I like that you can stuff way more into the app folders, but the number of apps you can see at a glance is now less than it was before. You now need to page through screens if you keep more than nine in one folder. I’d rather be able to see more of whatever I’ve chucked into one of those boxes at first tap than have space for more apps.

Half-Baked on iPad: This is the biggest one for me. My favorite object in life is my iPad 4, which, as of this moment anyway, is the top-of-the-line tablet that Apple makes. But right now, iOS 7 is simply laggy on the iPad. When I press the home button, I don’t get the smooth swoop of icons happily gathering at the springboard. Instead, I get a jerky, hesitant skitter. And I see this throughout the OS. “Half-baked” may be unfair, but three-quarters-baked seems right. The beast of Apple’s tablet line (again, as of now) shouldn’t be having trouble managing this operating system’s UI. I have to assume that cleanup is forthcoming. If it’s not, it feels like a cynical move by Apple to make upcoming iPad releases seem more appealing to current owners. I hope that’s not what ends up being the case.

But as I said, I really do like iOS 7 and though I kind of wish I had waited on putting it on my iPad, it runs pretty much like a dream on the iPhone 5.

Apps “breaking” due to the new OS has not been much of an issue for me, but there are a handful of things I’ve noticed.

For example, the email client Sparrow, which I use on my iPhone for work email, is no longer being developed since the company was swallowed by Google, but I still like it quite a lot. Right now, though, it has some weird glitches that appear when searching emails, where text fields appear in the middle of the screen.

The travel-booking app Kayak, which I’ve only started using on iOS 7, has inexplicably started refusing to load or freezing, which I assume was not the case before. I assume that will be fixed.

Here’s a weird one: In some text editors, like Drafts and others, there is a tiny quirk when using a Bluetooth-paired keyboard: the up and down arrow keys don’t move the cursor. I’m writing in iA Writer right now, and that’s working fine, but the other apps weirdly just don’t accept up and down arrow input from an external keyboard. I hope they fix that, like, soon.

Here’s looking to many more happy software updates that improve what is already a good thing. But, like, especially on the iPad. Move on that, please.

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