iOS 7 for iPad First Impressions: Messing With the BestS

Since its inception, the iPad has been the gold standard for tablets. Nothing else has come close, really. A lot of credit goes to iOS, which has ceded plenty of ground to Android on phones but remains easily the friendliest tablet software. So changing up iOS 7 means changing up the very best tablet OS there is. Here's how that's working out so far.

As usual, this comes with our standard "It's Just a Beta" forewarning. iOS 7 may be enough of an overhaul to make it fair to raise more questions than usual, but this is by no means a finished product. What Apple actually releases will almost certainly be substantively different from its current form.

That said, here's what we've noticed so far:

  • The "swipe from anywhere to unlock" tweak that was a nice little change for iPhone is a massive improvement for the iPad, where there is just more space. With a tablet, your hand is not always (rarely, actually) positioned to swipe a tiny bar at the bottom of the screen. Especially if you wake up your tablet from the top power button.
  • The Control Center is a spot where you'll notice Apple making the UI work for both phones and tablets. On a phone, your thumb is always within reach of the bottom. But on the iPad, you can use your thumbs to drag Control Center up from anywhere along the bottom of the screen. And doing it from the corners—where your thumbs probably are anyway—puts you right in position to change brightness or volume. It feels like it just fits.

iOS 7 for iPad First Impressions: Messing With the BestS

  • Some gestures just don't make much sense anymore, though. The four-fingers-up to slide up the old multitasking tray, for example, is sort of confusing now. Why would sliding four fingers up make this sliding panel interface show up? It's still functional, but it loses that almost tactile feeling of sliding your fingers up and seeing a drawer pop out from the same direction.
  • More concerning (and also something that can easily be fixed before the public release) is that basic navigation is, for the first time in a while, sort of muddled. For example, if you enter a folder and want to exit it and return to the home screen, all you have to do is tap anywhere outside of the folder. That makes sense, and even if you don't know that that's how it works, you'll figure it out in a hurry. That "tap anywhere to return to where you were" usage disappears, though, when you use the new multitasking. You tap outside of the multitasking panels, and nothing happens, even though you're tapping on the same wallpaper as you were when using a folder.

iOS 7 for iPad First Impressions: Messing With the BestS

  • iOS 7's multitasking in general makes a little less sense on a tablet than it does on a phone. For one, there is a ton of wasted space on the iPad's 4:3 display, and because the animations take longer to finish (and the panels can only move on one axis at a time), it's a little harder to manipulate.
  • The whole concept of multitasking in iOS 7 is also less tablet friendly. Before, you'd just slide the drawer up, and shift over to where you're at. One full screen app to another. Now you're shot off to some intermediary environment that can be jarring visually, and if you change your mind, you can't just return to your app by tapping 90 percent of your screen; you've got to swipe back to the left (since multitasking shifts you one to the right by default) and tap the tile for where you were. Overall, it feels less restful than iPads had previously.
  • Non-retina screens are not going to looks as great with iOS 7. The iPad Mini, which has a condensed but still sub-retina screen, looks mostly fine, and the thin typefaces are readable. Except, in certain instances they look sort of ugly—like in the new lighter-weight badges on apps like Mail or Newsstand. On a retina iPad or an iPhone, those look much better than the old style. But on the Mini (and presumably the iPad 2), they're pixelated and look sort of low rent. This will probably pop up in a few other places as well.
  • Animations, like returning to the home screen from an app, are running very sluggishly. Everything is running sluggishly on iPad Mini and iPad 3, actually, but again, this is a beta, so wait and see. This is more slowdown than usual, though, and again, because of how big a change iOS 7 is, it bears watching.
  • Parallax is there if you look for it, but it's not especially noticeable on day to day tablet use.
  • Some staples of iPad gestures—five-fingered pinch, four-fingered swipe to switch apps—are slightly muddled in beta. This usually wouldn't be something to bring up about unfinished software, but seems notable given the amount of changes going on, and the importance of these gestures. By themselves, these two gestures make using an iPad a totally better than other tablets. Right now, a few of the first party apps aren't recognizing them when you're interacting with a content layer (like an email in Mail). This will hopefully be fixed, but it will a big deal if it isn't.

iOS 7 is very nice. It adds a ton of features we've wanted for a while. But there are also some drawbacks beyond the bitching you've heard about icons and color scheme. Some of those will get cleaned up, but others, especially the iPad-centric, might just be the cost of going forward.