So, my first challenge: how to get in the rarified air of Apple considering me a developer worthy of the beta. I expected to have to embark on a crash CodeAcademy course, or a torchlit ceremony of Steve Jobs worshipping. Anything Cupertino could throw at me, I was ready. I'd fool these high priests of code, and escape with the beta prize, with none the wiser. So steeled, I launched my quest with a Google search and a silent prayer to the Holy Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), and began.
And found that anyone can be registered as a developer for $99/year. Seriously. That's it. An early-early-early adopter tax.
I decided that was simply too easy; after all, I had been ready for a challenge...and I'm notoriously cheap. After a few more Googles, I found there is a slightly sneakier (and cheaper) way. In order to use the beta, you need to have the unique identifier for your iOS device registered with Apple; this is a process that's included with the standard $99/year service. In fact, it gives you several slots you can use for testing on multiple devices. Some enterprising folks realized there were s
After searching Twitter for those that seemed likely candidates (as well as carefully monitoring the tweeted complaints and compliments on such), I chose a seemingly good service, iOSReg. Their tweets were routinely helpful, their mentions almost all positive, and they were transparent about their inventory (i.e. if they actually had any slots, and when you could expect, if ever, to be registered if you used them). So, in the wee hours of the Pacific US morning, the helpful Brits behind iOSReg tweeted they had slots, and 7 pounds and roughly 60 seconds later, I was now hooked up with a registered UDID.
Next step: getting the beta itself. Luckily, the folks at iOSReg were onto my idea, and included a PDF with specific directions on how to hit up a shady notorious Kiwi with the infamous monicker of Kim Dotcom (he of the military raid on his compound, defended by inflatable decoy drones), and his new service, Mega. Minutes later, the coveted prize was mine: My Precious iOS7 beta was downloaded. A few hidden clicks in iTunes later, and my iPhone 5 was sporting Sir Jony Ive's latest flatness. My quest was complete.
So, how have I enjoyed the fruits of my labors? I'll give you my promised impressions, but a word to those who choose to follow my footsteps: it's not a path for the faint of heart. In fact, there is nothing like installing a beta or jailbreaking your phone (mine is not) to make you appreciate what you take for granted with iOS: it just works, without any instability or worry. Go beta or jailbreak, and you are suddenly very conscious of how elegant iOS really is, in that everything. just. works. On the beta, not so much. Which brings me to my last missive: if you use an iOS as a secondary device, this is a reasonable idea, but if you use your iPhone as your primary device every day, you may want to reconsider this approach, unless you are fond of frequent app crashes, reboots, and mysterious app features disappearing.
Also, like all restores of the iPhone, it has the maddening experience of finding some data is backed up to iTunes, some to iCloud, and still some more that just isn't. Before you embark, make sure you know all the apps you had on the phone, and any that use non-cloud based data stores, make sure you have backed up to your computer, or you'll spend the hours I did in reloading them.
On to the impressions:
- The beta is very unstable, even within the stock iOS apps. Add a reminder? App crash. Try to take a photo of a check to deposit with your favorite modern banking app? Oh, you wanted to see the picture as you were taking it? Nope. Skype works once...and then crashes on every launch, requiring you to delete the app and reinstall it. You get the idea.
- AirDrop is everywhere. For those non-Apple computer users (like me), it's a new approach: you can transfer just about anything to another Apple or iOS device. Photos, links, you name it: AirDrop is pervasively baked in to be the most prominent sharing option. As it's not available in pre iOS7 devices, it seems clear that Apple is quietly telling those Samsung ads that show effortless data sharing to shut the hell up with AirDrop front and center.
- There's a lot of bugginess on dialog boxes. Most text beyond 100 characters is simply truncated, with no way to see the rest. Multiple menu options are messy, pushing outside the boundary of the dialog box. A good beta, but clearly not ready for prime time.
- New Smart Mailboxes. iOS 6 gave us the VIP mailbox, so we could be alerted to emails from the most important folks with push notifications, allowing us to ignore the rest. iOS7 takes it to the next level with a variety of Smart Mailboxes, including one for just Unread emails. Now that's helpful.
- Camera is definitely beefed up. Better UI for choosing flash and HDR. A new Square mode for all you Instagrammers. And speaking of that, a selection of several camera filters that you can see the filtered photo before you take the picture. Ability to zoom when taking video, as well as a much more subtle but helpful indicator that you are actually filming.
- For Pebble watch owners (and yes, thanks to the wisdom of the crowds, I am now one of them), some unexpected benefits: all push notifications come to the Pebble now. Yay second screen experiences!
- Being able to swipe to unlock on any part of the screen, instead of the designated slot on the bottom is a very nice touch, and helpful.
- Much has been made of the new Find My iPhone functionality that requires you to enter your Apple ID to use the phone, instead of just popping in a new SIM card. I can't find any controls for this, so I assume that I'd need to go to the iCloud to trigger this. No rush, thanks.
- Passbook is now on the Lock Screen. Why is this interesting? Well, if you use the Starbucks app, for instance, and have designated your favorite Starbucks within, your Starbucks card is ready to pay without unlocking your phone. Same with boarding a plane: your boarding pass is one click away without unlock. Nice touch.
- One enhancement to iOS6 I was happy about was Apple's poaching of the jailbreak developer who introduced the banner notifications along the top of your screen, instead of taking over the entire screen for every notification. It was slick, elegant, and controllable. iOS7 take a step back in this, making the banner notifications take up nearly twice the horizontal real estate. This is especially annoying, as many apps have important navigation controls that are completely covered by these notifications. Also odd: unlike the rest of iOS7's eschewing of black backgrounds in favor of translucency, the notifications are black backgrounds which makes it doubly annoying.
- Battery use has been dinged hard in the forums, but I've found the opposite.
- Remember that chip Apple added to Lightning chargers? Well, much to my delight those innovative Chinese manufacturers worked it out and I've stocked up on sub $10 charging cords. However, iOS7 now detects non-Apple certified devices, and pops a warning every time one gets plugged in. Nothing like paying the Apple tax, in either $ or annoyance. Thanks, Cupertino.
- Messages is...messy. The flattened UI is definitely an improvement, as is the contextual menus for calling the messenger, or seeing the details of the contact. However, new messages are pushed below the last message, requiring a scroll to see them. The cute three dimensional animation on sending messages is just that: cute, but unnecessary. Personally, I would have preferred a choice of views, but hey, I bought in to the Apple walled garden: I can't bitch too much at the feel of the walls on me.
Still lots to experience, but right now, I'd say this iOS beta is not ready for the casual user, something Apple has been quite diligent in stating, and I have been diligent in ignoring. Time will tell if I am to keep this on, as I rely on my iPhone heavily. If all follows past betas, a new updated beta should be due in a couple of weeks; I may try to hold on for that. However, intrepid readers, learn from my experience and decide for yourselves. I'm back to translucent, flat-land...see you there in the fall.