Reviewing the Stock iOS 7 Apps

The update to iOS 7 is huge. I feel like I’ve read a few thousand articles about each of the new features — from the new multi-tasking to Notification Centre — but very few articles about the new apps in iOS 7. That needs to change. After all, these are the very first stock iOS apps to be designed from the get-go with the big screen in mind. Let’s not forget that the iPad wasn’t around until iOS 4.

Over the years, a lot of us have replaced the stock iOS apps on our iPads with apps that were more aesthetically beautiful or functional. iOS 7 is such a significant change that it’s time to revisit those stock apps and see if they’re worth keeping around. Without further ado, read on for our thoughts on the iPad’s stock apps.

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Safari

Why not start with the very reason Apple initially pitched to get an iPad? I’m not trying to be superfluous here; that’s exactly what Steve was talking about when he announced the thing in 2010.

Surfing on an iPad with iOS 7 is really nice.

Surfing on an iPad with iOS 7 is really nice.

So how is surfing in Safari in iOS 7? It’s not bad. The iPhone feels like it’s getting the glossier treatment, but the translucency of the URL bar is really nice. It’s too bad that it doesn’t recede into the background the way it does on iPhone. That being said, as an overall experience, Apple was right when they said the iPad was the world’s best browsing experience, and this new Safari does make it better.

I love Shared Links.

I love Shared Links.

Reading List still isn’t all that great, but the new Shared Links feature is pretty nice! The problem with the Shared Links is that it gets filled up really quick with Instagram and Foursquare links. If Apple could ignore those and focus on the quality stuff getting shared, that’d be great.

It’s also worth noting that, although Apple doesn’t feature them in the toolbar like they used to, you can bring your favourite bookmarks back to Safari in the Settings.

Rating: 9/10

Mail

Apple also pitched the iPad as the best way to manage email. While some people might not say that’s technically true, I think that’s always been a little subjective.

Mail is mostly just a new skin.

Mail is mostly just a new skin.

Mail still doesn’t allow for email management in the same way that, say, Mailbox does. And it still doesn’t allow for attachments, which I think is fundamentally important than letting me “schedule” my mail.

One thing I’m really happy about is the ability to choose a Reply From address, which addresses a significant problem with the app before. If Apple can allow real attachments — not just photos and video — and the ability to open compressed folders within the app, like you can on a Mac, then the Mail client here would be feeling particularly robust.

Merry Christmas to those of us with a few different email aliases!

Merry Christmas to those of us with a few different email aliases!

Oh, and Apple still doesn’t allow for real IMAP push support. Come on. Mail’s new skin is nice, but that there isn’t much extra functionality here. I don’t want a different app — I just want Mail to get better.

Rating: 7/10

Music

Disclaimer: I don’t have iTunes Radio in Canada yet, so I can’t review it. I’ll assume it’s as awesome as I’ve heard it is.

Mmm. White.

Mmm. White.

The Music app has received some welcome improvements. The interface is a lot nicer than the mixed bag we had in iOS 6, but I have serious problems with the way the app treats the Repeat button. I want to be able to repeat an album no matter what, but the button is contextual (I’ve written about this here before).

Thankfully, the app now allows you to stream music from that you’ve purchased or stored in iTunes Match without forcing you to download it (this was contextual in iOS 6, based on whether or not your iPad was cellular and had a SIM installed).

Please, Apple. Just let me repeat an album when I'm in the Artists tab.

Please, Apple. Just let me repeat an album when I’m in the Artists tab.

What do I think? Honestly, it’s mostly fine if you want to listen to music from the iTunes Store, but I’ve moved on to Rdio and have zero regrets. (Apple could also learn from Rdio’s interface.)

Rating: 6/10.

Calendar

Apple, why are you doing this to me? Your new Calendar app is dipped in a garish red colour that looks just plain old ugly, and I’m not attracted to it in any way, shape, or form. You tease me by allowing Siri to book my events if I speak to her in natural language, but you still don’t allow me to create events by writing in natural language like Fantastical or Calendars 5.

This is it? Come on, Apple.

This is it? Come on, Apple.

To make matters worse, the new Calendar app in OS X Mavericks has a ton of great features, like travel time and address autocomplete from Maps — and even the weather! Why isn’t this a part of the iPad app?

Right now, I have zero reason to use Calendar on iPad. This redesign isn’t enticing, and the lack of features compared to the Mavericks app or some of the competition — particularly the excellent Calendars 5 from Readdle — are practically insulting. I’m sorry, Apple. I want to love it. I really do.

Rating: 4/10.

Notes

Well, this looks promising. That sun-bleached yellow is a little off-putting, but I can handle it. There’s no legal notepad, which is a relief because I hated those in real life too. The textured pages, which are quite subtle, are a really classy touch. Good work guys.

Apple has never made their love affair with Helvetica clearer than they do here.

Apple has never made their love affair with Helvetica clearer than they do here.

You can’t swipe to delete notes yet, which is a shame because that seems to be an obvious feature compared to the rest of the app, and there are no ways to organize notes. I want to use this because I love the Siri integration, but I find myself using Simplenote because of the tagging options. Nonetheless, Notes is a solid upgrade.

Rating: 7/10

Videos

I’m actually really impressed with the work that Apple is doing with the Videos app. I love the new interface for actually watching movies or TV shows. The translucency of the app, with a great focus on content, really appeals to me.

On newer iPads (or the iPad mini), the video bar is translucent when it's activated. On an iPad 3, it's not.

On newer iPads (or the iPad mini), the video bar is translucent when it’s activated. On an iPad 3, it’s not.

But what makes this such a great update is the ability to stream your iTunes purchases from the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about filling up your iPad with an HD file every time you want to leave the house. This is great work. It’s not Netflix, but for those of us who prefer to purchase our films or TV shows, it’s a fantastic release.

Rating: 8/10

Reminders

Well, there’s no real additional functionality here. Thankfully, the interface has been revamped and it’s much more pleasant than it used to be to add reminders, but you still can’t share a list for group collaboration without using a Mac or the iCloud website. For shame, Apple. For shame.

The new interface is nice, but it's too bad it didn't come with at least a little extra functionality.

The new interface is nice, but it’s too bad it didn’t come with at least a little extra functionality.

Otherwise, the Scheduled tab is my favourite addition. The interface is a lot nicer on the iPad, where it has more room to breathe, than it is on an iPhone. I’ve been able to use Reminders as the sole place where I track my todos, and I don’t have any regrets.

Rating: 8/10

Photos

I’m not going to review the Camera or Photo Booth apps, except to tell you not to use them. With that out of the way, it’s easier to move straight to Photos. With iOS 7, Apple has really nailed the experience. It makes a great demo piece, and it’s a lot of fun to scrub through your photo collection. Scrolling through Shared Photo Libraries in iCloud is also a great experience here.

I love the Year view.

I love the Year view.

There’s a couple issues I have with the experience, though. The first is that, when you’re scrubbing through pictures in Years, the pop-up images could stand to be about twice the size they are now. Right now, it still feels like they’re optimized for a smaller display. There’s one other larger problem. If you select a photo in Years, the Back button takes you back one level to Moments instead of returning you back to the Years screen. That feels off to me.

As well, it’s a shame that you can’t swipe to go back organizational levels. I understand why you can’t do that when you’re looking at photos, since swiping takes you back one photo instead of back one navigational menu, but it’s a shame I can’t swipe to go back from Collections to Years. I also wish there was still an Events tab for those of us who appreciated that view. It’s not like Apple doesn’t have space for the tab on the bottom of the display. What Apple has here is beautiful, but some of the details just aren’t quite right yet. And that’s a shame.

Rating: 7/10

Maps

Oh boy: Maps is the bane of many people’s existence, the poster boy for the “If Steve were alive…” crowd that wants to shout about Apple’s “impending doom” from the top of Himalayan mountains. I’m still not sure what the purpose is of a full-fledged Maps app in a tablet, since most people don’t use them as GPS devices in a vehicle. That being said, I know some people in my family like the iPad Maps app. I think it’s a fun little toy.

A layer of gloss never hurt a mapping app.

A layer of gloss never hurt a mapping app.

Flyover is still as cool as ever (even if some areas are oddly rendered), and the interface is certainly nicer than it used to be, but it’s definitely slower than before on my iPad 3 too. As to whether or not the data is accurate, I can’t say for sure, but I can say it’s getting better all the time. Apple’s places of interest are returning more information to me every time I open the app, which is great. And it’s got just enough spiff and shine to make it feel like a shoe polish on an app that’s getting better. It’s still best in big cities. I just wish it had transit directions.

Rating: 7/10

Newsstand

Well, let’s keep this short. At least now we know it’s more than just a folder of magazines. It’s an app. We knew that before, but it wasn’t clear to a lot of people because it looked just like a folder. Now they know. Apart from the fact that it’s a very ugly app, there’s not much more to say. Since it fits in a folder now, no rating is really necessary. This is just a gateway to real magazine apps.

That’s a Wrap

There’s a lot to like about the new apps in iOS 7. Some things that we didn’t mention, like FaceTime Audio, are great new features. (And Game Centre has balloons! What’s not to be excited about?) There’s also a lot of questions, though. Why is Calendar so incomplete? Why isn’t the Photos app inescapably polished? And why can’t I add an attachment in Mail?

At the end of the day, iOS 7 was a dramatic new coat of paint for most of the apps. The enhancements to the operating system are numerous in many other ways, but as far as the stock apps go, there’s not much that makes ditching alternatives worth it. Hopefully iOS 8 brings more than a dramatic paint job.


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