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Keep Calm and Update: Everything you need to know about iOS 7

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It’s finally here: Apple’s iOS 7 is now available to download. iOS is the mobile operating system that powers Apple’s line of iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices, and version 7 represents the biggest update to iOS since it launched alongside the original iPhone back in 2007. iOS 7 focuses mainly on redesigning the operating system, applying a new coat of paint to all of the icons and apps, while also packing in a few new features.

Many people are hesitant to update to iOS 7, and that is completely understandable. iOS 7 completely changes the way your iPhone or iPad looks, and even tech nerds such as myself agree that the design is extremely polarizing – it is good in some places, bad in others, and you either love it or you hate it. However, it is important to realize that while iOS 7 introduces a completely new look, everything is still in the same place, and very little has changed in terms of how you use iOS.

Let’s take a look at iOS 7 and compare it directly to iOS 6.

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The new iOS 7 lockscreen (left) compared to the familiar iOS 6 lockscreen (right).

Starting with the lock screen, you can already see a few of the big changes coming to iOS 7. The fonts are thinner, the glossy black backgrounds are gone, and everything looks a little flatter. But it still works the same: you slide from left to right to unlock your phone. In addition, the new lock screen gives your wallpaper more room to shine through, plus you can swipe down from the top of the screen to access your Notification Center, or swipe up from the bottom to access Control Center (more on that later). You still have quick access to the Camera as well, simply by swiping up from the camera icon in the bottom right.

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The new iOS 7 homescreen (left) features all new icons that are larger and more rounded.

Once you unlock your device, you’ll see the new homescreen. The icons are now larger with slightly rounder edges. Apple has also redesigned all of the icons for their stock apps — the ones that come preinstalled on your device. The new icons look very different from their old iOS 6 versions, but each is still easy to identify. Many people have complained about the new iOS 7 icons, but here is what I have noticed: I ended up moving most of the stock apps around, or putting them into a folder to make room for some of my favorite App Store apps. Once you get to customizing your homescreen, it looks much better than you might expect! You will also notice the thinner fonts, and lack of shadows behind the app icons. Again, while the new homescreen looks quite different, everything still works the same.

Plus, iOS 7 introduces moving wallpapers — Apple calls them “Active” wallpapers, and a collection of brightly colored moving “bubble” wallpapers are included with iOS 7. If you do not choose an active wallpaper, Apple has also added a “parallax” effect to the homescreen — as you tilt your device, the wallpaper moves around behind the icons, giving you a faux-3D effect. It is very nice and subtle, but for those who want to, it can be turned off in the Accessibility settings.

Apple's default iOS 7 homescreen (left) compared to my personal, customized iOS 7 homescreen (right).

Apple’s default iOS 7 homescreen (left) compared to my personal, customized iOS 7 homescreen (right).

As for some of the new iOS 7 features, Control Center is hands down my favorite. Control Center is a new panel that gives you quick access to on/off toggles for Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, and Rotation Lock, as well as a Brightness slider, Music controls, AirDrop, and shortcuts for Flashlight, Timer, Calculator, and Camera. To access Control Center, you swipe up from the bottom of the phone, and Control Center pops up similar to Notification Center. Having easy access to these settings is a great new addition to iOS. Multitasking (or App Switching) has also been redesigned. You still double click the home button to use it, but apps now look like cards showing a live preview. You slide through them left to right, and swipe one up to close it.

iOS 7's Control Center (left) and new Multitasking/App Switching screen (right).

iOS 7’s Control Center (left) and new Multitasking/App Switching screen (right).

As you can see in the screenshot above, iOS 7 introduces AirDrop, a feature that has been on the Mac since since 2011. AirDrop allows you to wirelessly send photos, videos, webpages, and more to other iOS users over the air, as long as you are in the same room. You can send something using AirDrop by tapping the “Share” button found in many apps, and selecting AirDrop. It uses a local WiFi connection to do this, so you need to have WiFi turned on, but you don’t actually need to be connected to the internet. When you turn on AirDrop, your device becomes visible to others so that they can share to you; thankfully, Apple let’s you choose whether you want to be visible to everyone or just your personal contacts, so you won’t receive random files from strangers. Developers are also able to integrate AirDrop sharing into their own apps, so you’ll be able to send things like podcast episodes or text documents to your friends wirelessly. This is a much faster way to share content with people, rather than having to email a document or text a photo, and it works great.

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The iOS 7 Share menu with AirDrop (left) and the redesigned Folders (right).

Every part of iOS has been redesigned in version 7. Messages, Phone, Safari, Music, Weather, the keyboard, everything looks new. Not only that, but it feels new. iOS 7 was designed in layers, so as you move in and out of apps, the screen zooms in and out, almost as if you are traveling into the app. The same goes for Folders, which have also been redesigned, and feature scrollable pages within them.

Below are some more comparison shots showing the new iOS 7 designs compared to the old iOS 6 apps, so you can get a feel for the new design:

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The new Music app includes a pretty big addition: iTunes Radio. Taking aim at apps like Pandora and Songza, iTunes Radio is Apple’s take on a streaming music service. You can choose to listen to pre-built stations in different genres, or create your own stations featuring music from your favorite artists. iTunes Radio lets you view a list of the songs you’ve heard, with buttons to buy each song from iTunes, of course. iTunes Radio is U.S. only for now, and is also available on Mac and AppleTV. Plus: it’s completely free with ads, or you can listen to an ad-free version by subscribing to iTunes Match, which costs $24.99 per year.

Though all of these apps have been given a new look, everything works the same. The design does take some getting used to, but in the end it is much brighter and cleaner. After a few days or weeks with iOS 7, iOS 6 starts to look old and dated.

Besides the design and new features, there are a few big reasons why you should update your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to iOS 7 later today:

Your favorite apps will support it: many, if not most, third-party developers will be updating their apps for iOS 7. That means your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and others will all be updated with new designs to fit in with iOS 7. However, that also means that many apps will not be updated anymore if you stick with iOS 6. Your favorite apps are moving on, so don’t get left behind.

The new, modern design makes your old device feel new again: feeling a little bored with your older iPhone or iPad? The completely new design of iOS 7 makes it feel like you just got an entirely new phone or tablet! There is so much cool stuff to explore in iOS 7, that it will make you fall in love with your device all over again.

Control Center is awesome: Control Center is one of the best new features in iOS 7. It makes it so much easier and faster to access the settings that you use every day.

It is the future: iOS 7 is the future of Apple’s software. All of their new iPhones and iPads released this year will ship with iOS 7 on them, and every new version of iOS from now on will use this design. We also expect that Apple will bring this design style to Mac OS X sometime soon. As much as you love your current iPhone or iPad, chances are you will eventually get a new one, and it will come with this design of iOS. You might as well get used to it now — and trust me, you will love it!

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