Everything you need to know about Apple's upcoming iOS 7, including a completely new design language, new multitasking, new controls, new apps, and more!

Everything you need to know about Apple’s upcoming iOS 7, including a completely new design language, new multitasking, new controls, new apps, and more!

Apple will be announcing the next-generation iPhone(s) on Tuesday, September 10, and their next-generation mobile operating system, iOS 7 won’t be far behind. If the last two years are any indicator, iOS 7 could ship as soon as Wednesday, September 18. Code-named Innsbruck, iOS 7 was introduced by Apple during the WWDC 2013 keynote back on June 10. A radical visual departure from previous generations of iOS, it focuses on clarity by removing all but the most essential interface elements and shifting from buttons to tinted text, deference by getting out of the way of content and apps, and depth by building the entire experience around a physics and particle engine that moves, blurs, parallaxes, and layers in virtual 3D. It touches every app, every pixel, and likely very nearly every bit of the system. It ships this fall, and here’s everything you need to know about it.

Note: This preview is based on information Apple has made publicly available, and our own analysis based on that information. In other words, no NDAs were broken during the course of this writing. It also means minor changes, cosmetic and functional, might have occurred in subsequent betas. We’ll address those in a future update.

iOS 7 compared to previous iOS tent-poles

iOS 7 design gets objectified, gamified, dynamic

The iOS 7 design discussion has been distracted by Home screen icons, glyph weighting, and typeface choices, and it’s a shame because, while absolutely important, it’s also superficial and the real changes, the real break-through of iOS 7 is all below the surface. Apple has built a physics and particle engine to power iOS 7, they’ve turned interface elements into objects and increased the already stellar support for direct manipulation. They’ve gamified huge swathes of the experience, so that interactions can be even more easily discovered by play, and even more delightful in use. They’ve made it dynamic so it’s no longer dead pixels stuck under glass, but it angles, collides, and bounces. It moves. It breathes. It’s alive. So much so I think, for the first time in a long time, the future of human interface is starting to become clear.

We also discussed iOS 7 with some of the best mobile designers on the planet to talk on the Iterate podcast, including Marc Edwards, Loren Brichter, Sebastiaan de With, Dave Wiskus, Louie Mantia, Brad Ellis, Chris Clark, and Neven Mrgan.

Lock screen gains access to notifications, controls, some confusion

iOS 7 preview: Lock screen gains access to notifications, controls, some confusion

The Lock screen exists in some between-space, where your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad are no longer off or asleep, but nor are they fully awake and functional yet. With iOS 7, however, Apple has greatly increased the Lock screen’s functionality, mainly by giving it access to Notification Center and the new Control Center, while retaining its own notifications and fast Camera access.

Gestures controls, consistency, and collision

iOS 7 preview: Gestures controls, consistency, and collision

iOS 7 continues Apple’s long history of gesture-based controls, some system-wide like the new swipe up from the bottom bezel to open Control Center, and some app (or multi-app) specific, like the new swipe right from the left bezel to travel back to the list views in Mail or Messages. Gesture controls can be tricky, however. If not direct they can be hard to discover, if not consistent they can be hard to habituate, and if not carefully considered they can collide and conflict with each other, both system-wide and app specific.

Control Center promises quick access to all your most common toggles

iOS 7 Preview: New security features

Quick access to system-level toggles has been one of the most constant, consistent power-user feature requests — nay, demands — for years now. Everything from jailbreak apps like SBSettings to iOS 6’s brief flirtation with URL Schemes for Settings made it a must-have on every geek list, come every Apple iOS keynote. And now, with iOS 7 and Control Center, it’s finally a reality.

Notification Center gets new Today screen, predictive traffic info, and more

iOS 7 preview: Notification Center

Notification Center debuted in iOS 5 as way to quickly, easily see all your system and push alerts in one, unified place. Far less obtrusive than the original, modal iOS alert system, better looking if not as feature-rich as the Android or webOS notification centers that preceded it, Notification Center was a first step towards Apple better handling all the alerts all of us now get all day. With iOS 7, Apple has taken another… half step forward.

Multitasking for every app, coalesced and just-in-time

iOS 7 preview: Multitasking

iOS 7 finally brings multitasking to everyone on the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. And by everyone, I mean every app, at practically any time. Of course, iOS has always had fantastic multitasking. From the very first demo of the very first iPhone by Steve Jobs in 2007, its ability to fade music out, take a phone call, grab a picture and email it, then return to the phone call, hang up, and fade right back into the music seemed miraculous to the crash-prone competition of the time. Thanks to some system-side smarts, however, it looks like iOS 7 will make good on the multitasking promise while at the same time protect battery life and performance. If they can do it, they’ll be the first to really nail multitasking on mobile.

Camera gains real-time filters, and… a square

iOS 7 preview: Camera

The Camera app has gotten the same design makeover as the rest of iOS 7, but Apple also managed to sneak in a few new features as well. First is, um,Square mode. The second is Filters. The bigger news, however, is what was taken away, including the signature shutter animation and button treatments are gone.

Photos automagically filters your life into collections, moments, and more

iOS 7: Photos automagically filters your life into collections, moments, and more

Just like its partner, the Camera app, the iOS 7 Photos app is newly redesigned, including not only all the new filters, but a newer, smarter way to organize all the photos that previously clogged up our Camera Roll – years, collections, and moments. Add to that a far more social version of Photo Stream, and things are fast approaching picture perfect.

AirDrop lets you easily share your stuff, no bumping needed

iOS 7 preview: AirDrop lets you easily share your stuff, no bumping needed

With iOS 7, Apple’s peer-to-peer, ad-hoc Wi-Fi file transfer protocol, AirDrop comes to the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Originally introduced on the Mac with OS X 10.7 Lion, and attached to the Finder to allow anyone to beam any file or folder to anyone else with in range, the iOS version doesn’t have a user-facing filesystem to work such universal wonders with, but it does have a great-looking interface, and incredibly easy point of access thanks to Control Center and Share sheets.

Safari amps up search, tabs, sharing, reading, security and more!

iOS 7 preview: Safari amps up search, tabs, sharing, reading, and more!

Safari is one of the most important apps on iOS, and so it’s not surprising it gets one of the biggest redesigns in iOS 7. The gateway to the web on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, Apple finally gives it a unified search bar, along with some slick new social features, a better reading list, and an all-new, all awesome new tab interface that really shows off the new design language of iOS 7. Also added is an incredibly important set of new features – the ability to generate, store, and fill passwords.

Siri gets a new look, access to settings, more services, still no predictive results

iOS 7 preview: Siri gets a new look, access to settings, more services, still no predictive results

Apple introduced Siri, their personal digital assistant, in iOS 5 as a secondary, natural language interface for the iPhone, and later iPad, and iPod touch. With iOS 7, Apple has continued to add new partner-based services, but also given Siri its first redesign. Gone is the linen and beautifully rendered sports, movie, and other widgets, and in their places is the starker design language and feel that permeates the rest of system.

App Store gets location-based popularity, goes kid-friendly

iOS 7 preview: App Store gets nearer, kid friendlier

The App Store debuted with iOS 2 (iPhone OS 2), and over the years added genius recommendations, card-based search, and more. Now, in addition to a complete visual make-over in iOS 7, it’s also getting in on the location game with Apps Near Me, and finally – yes, finally – adding a kids category for children of all ages.

Find my iPhone activation lock aims to keep out the crooks

iOS 7 preview: Activation lock aims to keep out the crooks

Find my iPhone – also referred to as Find my iPod or Find my iPad on those devices – has always been a great way to help you find your phone or tablet under a sofa, in another room, or even at a restaurant, coffee shop, theater, or similar public place. It’s been great for lost devices. Stolen devices, not so much. Now, with iOS 7, Apple is addressing theft with what they hope is a powerful new deterrent – activation lock.

FaceTime audio for when you want to be heard but not seen

iOS 7 preview: FaceTime audio for when you want to be heard but not seen

Apple’s FaceTime is a built-in way for anyone on a recent iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Mac to quickly, easily make and receive video calls. It’s been a boon to long distance families and relationships, traveling lovers and parents, and those who use sign language alike. Sometimes, however, you’re just not dressed, styled, or simply in the mood to be seen. While there’s always been a workaround to kill the FaceTime camera, with iOS 7 Apple is, at long last, making FaceTime Audio its own, proper thing.

Phone, FaceTime, and Messages blocking promises to put an end to annoying contacts

iOS 7 preview: Phone, FaceTime, and Messages blocking

With iOS 7 Apple is adding the ability to block people from reaching – especially disturbing or otherwise harassing – you via the phone, FaceTime, and Messages. One of the downsides of the constant connectivity we enjoy on the iPhone is constant availability, and while it’s annoying when people we know expect us to respond 2/47, it’s even more annoying when wrong numbers or malicious people can reach us all day, every day.

iOS in the Car hints at the future of iOS everywhere

iOS 7 preview: iOS in the Car

iOS in the Car isn’t arriving this year with the rest of iOS 7. It’s currently scheduled to arrive in 2014 instead, and that’s because it requires the support of car companies, who have to enable the ability to receive it into their in-dash display systems. Traditionally Apple hasn’t done as well when they have to depend on other companies, but the potential of iOS in the Car seems to go further than just the car. Indeed, it could provide our first hints of iOS everywhere, and that’s incredibly exciting for 2014, and beyond. However, Apple touts 95% of car makers already include some form of iPod/iOS device integration, so what better place to start?

Big business gets big improvements

iOS 7 preview: Enterprise enhancements means more for big business

iOS 7 continues Apple’s tradition of consistently improving and extending Enterprise support for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Previous years introduced such basic, core functionality as Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, and hardware encryptions.This year offers more specific additions that, never-the-less, might make a big difference to big business, both those who manage devices in IT, and who use them, in corporations and SMB alike.

Accessory support for iBeacons, game controllers, and more!

iOS 7 preview: Accessory support for iBeacons, game controllers, and more!

iOS 7 will bring not only an entirely new design language to the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, along with powerful new APIs for app developers. But accessory makes are getting some great new features as well, and that means, presuming they take them and run with them, we’ll be getting great new accessories that tie into our location, that let us get our game on, and that make our existing speakers, keyboards, and more work better than ever.

Inter-App Audio isn’t contracts or intents, but is a start

iOS 7 preview: Inter-App Audio isn't contracts or intents, but is a start

While full-on inter-app communications — similar to Android’s intents or Windows Phone’s contracts — were high up on many geek’s iOS 7 must-have list, nothing of the sort was announced by Apple at WWDC 2013. Well, almost nothing. Apple has added inter-app communications to iPhone and iPad, they’ve just restricted to one very specific type: Inter-App Audio.

Sprite Kit and UIKit dynamics promise easier games, game-like apps

iOS 7 preview: Sprite Kit and UIKit dynamics promise easier games, game-like apps

I’ve written a lot already about how Apple is changing the interface game by making iOS 7 not only objectified but gamified. It almost feels like you play it as much as you use it. The original iPhone’s interface required good enough OpenGL support that it eventually birthed a mobile gaming empire. iOS 7’s physics and particle engine — rumored to have been built by a first-class gaming engineer who’s work you’ve likely enjoyed, a lot — seems poised to take all of this not only to the next level, but to the next generation. The reason for that is as simple as it is spectacular — Apple’s taken a lot of the new stuff behind their physical new interface, and bundled it together for developers as Sprite Kit.

And more!

Dozens of articles, hours of podcasts, and thousands of words later and we’ve still only scratched the surface of iOS 7, or more specifically, what Apple has shown off of iOS 7 so far. There’s more to it. Much more, both currently covered by the developer NDA (non-disclosure agreement) which prevents public discussion of it, and no doubt new things we’ll see this fall to go along with the new iPhone and iPad hardware Apple is almost certainly going to release.

Yet one thing remains clear – this is the biggest, most important iOS update ever, and our coverage of it is just beginning!