The iOS 7 beta schedule was disrupted a few weeks ago when Apple suddenly shut down its developer portal due to a security breach. Without access to the developer portal Beta 4 was delayed for a week but Apple got right back on schedule (almost) with Beta 5’s release last Tuesday. As mentioned in my Beta 3 coverage, the last beta fixed a lot of stability issues and added some extra finesse to the user experience. There were not a lot of major visual changes but Apple tied up a lot of loose ends that prevented it from functioning as a primary OS. Let’s see what we’ve got in the last two beta releases.
- More solid performance – once again my phone is a bit snappier with this release. I feel like I’m about equal to the performance that I had in iOS 6 in most areas, faster in some others. The app switcher still needs to be just a tad faster for me but everything else is looking pretty good.
- More interface tweaks – better icons in the Settings menu, an option to disable Control Center while running apps, tweaked notifications that let you pull down Notification Center, and slightly different button styling on the phone and shutdown screens, modifications to the UI for video recording, and new swipe gestures for Notification Center that make it much easier to navigate.
- Animation fixes – the new animation used to launch apps makes the icons fly off the screen as the app opens up but in previous betas one of the icons usually got stuck in the process leaving a big pixelated mess on top of the app for a few seconds. That has finally been addressed and it make the entire OS seem much, much more polished.
- iTunes Radio and the Music app are much more stable. iTunes Radio can finally pick up where a song left off without completely going berserk.
- The iPhone 4S now supports live photo filters like the iPhone 5. Woo. Hoo.
- Battery life seems to be improved over previous releases a bit which is always nice.
- Less stable – It’s not nearly as unstable as Beta 1 and 2 but some of the stability of Beta 3 has worn off. There seems to be a new “Apple Screen of Almost Death” that happens every so often. Occasionally when Photos or Safari crashes I will see the Apple logo on a black screen as if the phone was rebooting. It goes away in 5 – 10 seconds and the phone acts as if nothing ever happened. Either this is a really fast reboot or the Apple screen is showing for some other reason, maybe a SpringBoard crash? I’m not sure but this has been happening more often than it did in Beta 3. Definitely still some work to address.
As expected with a Beta release, some of my apps haven’t worked perfectly or at all. eBay was the biggest one for a while – it refused to open – but in Beta 3 that was fixed. It still had some other issues (it was difficult to view pictures, you can’t see how much time or how many bids are on an item, and the first couple rows of item information are all squished together) but it functioned OK. I’m not sure if it is broken because there are bugs in iOS or if eBay is going to need to release a new version to fix the issues but it hasn’t improved at all over the last couple of betas. There are also issues with RedLaser which can still scan a bar code but cannot show you what the camera sees while it is doing it. Scanning is more of a guessing game than anything. It is possible that Apple changed some APIs or default behavior and also possible that the apps are doing something that is not recommended (like assuming the size of screen elements or the source of data). Either way I think there will be a large flurry of app updates that get released along with iOS 7 not only to update the look and feel but also to fix some issues that Apple doesn’t seem to be addressing.
As for release, several news outlets are reporting that Apple will release new iPhones on September 10th meaning that a release of iOS 7 will be near. Usually Apple announces new iPhone models on one day with the actual release set for one or two weeks later. The final version of iOS is usually released on or a few days before the new iPhone is available in stores. Apple has to give developers two or three weeks to get their apps into the store so they are ready to go with the iOS release which means that the beta cycle may be winding down. My guess is that we will get a Beta 6 on August 19, Golden Master (final) on September 2, and a public release on September 16, which puts it a few days ahead of the next iPhone release (assuming it is announced on Tuesday September 10 and is available in stores on Thursday September 19. That gives developers one more beta to test their apps on before the GM build, at which time Apple will probably ask for app submissions. The GM build generally becomes the public release build unless a show stopping bug is found. Everything else is built into the first point release. I expect due to the major changes in iOS 7 that there will be a 7.0.1 release within a few weeks of 7.0 and a 7.1 within a couple of months. The 7.1 release will probably contain a few substantial features due to the amount of change that has gone into the release.
UPDATE: I wrote this post a few days ago and the timeline above were based on what was known at the time. “Sources” report a similar schedule. iOS Beta 6 was unexpectedly released this evening but appears to be nothing more than a bug fix for an urgent issue. It is only about 15 MB in size and includes instructions to fix an issue with iTunes in the cloud. I think that what was originally slated for release next week as Beta 6 will instead be called Beta 7.
Overall another good release with solid improvements. Before I wrap up, there are a few of features from iOS 6 are not in iOS 7 that I don’t believe will be coming back before the final release:
- When creating / adding music to a playlist in the Music app you can no longer choose songs from an existing playlist. You can choose songs from the entire song list on the device or filter by artist, genre, or album. You used to be able to choose from existing playlists as well. I found this extremely useful because I’d add songs from my New Music smart playlist into my Favs playlist to save for later. It’s no longer an option and I hope it comes back.
- The calendar has always had a list view that shows you all of your events in a forever-scrolling list. Each date is displayed as a category header as you scroll. It was a really easy way to scroll through your calendar of for several months to find out what was coming up. As of iOS 7 it’s gone. I. Love. List. View.
I’m still pretty excited about this release. It’s fresh, it’s new, and it has new features. Due to the full UI overhaul it doesn’t have as many new features as I’d like (ability to turn on/off wifi, cellular, silence based on geofencing) it does freshen the platform quite a bit. I’m also excited because the 2 year contract on my 4s will be expiring so I’ll be eligible for the New Hotness® complete with 4G and the longer screen that everyone has been toting around for a year. I always love software upgrades and iOS 7 forces them on developers so I’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of changes I will get in my apps over the first month. Many will have new UIs to match iOS 7 and many will take advantage of improved background tasks which will really improve my phone. I’ll also be able to get back on our Bring Your Own Mobile program at work so that I can see my email and know when I have an 8 AM meeting in the morning.