The Best Of iOS 7’s Minor Upgrades

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Apple revealed a number of notable new features with the debut of iOS 7 yesterday, but there are many smaller features that are now leaking out as developers have had a chance to play around with the new operating system. Though most of these didn’t get a shout-out during Apple’s keynote and accompanying demo at WWDC, they are the “little touches,” which help to make iOS 7 something bigger than an incremental update in terms of the new functionality it introduces.

There are hundreds of new features, tweaks and changes in any operating system update, but below are some of best “little” features in the new release, many of which have been flying under the radar.

Passbook Gets A QR Code Scanner

Apple’s pseudo mobile wallet Passbook, which previously offered a way for users to store their tickets, store cards, and coupons now has another new feature that makes it more utilitarian: a QR code scanner. Spotted in press shots on Apple.com by iMore, the apparent intention here would be to offer another way for users to load new passes onto their iPhones, as opposed to scanning just any QR code found in the wild.

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Compass App Becomes A Level, Too

The compass app, like all the other Apple default applications, received a minimalist makeover with a new design. But the compass also got a level feature, too. It now uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to detect how many degrees off of zero a surface is. The feature is accessed by swiping left from the Compass’s main screen. Nifty, but I’m also thankful that Apple did not launch “Level” as a standalone application. (source: CultofMac)

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Live Icons…Well, At Least One

With a nod to Windows Phone (!!!)’s concept of live tiles and Android’s widgets, Apple has taken its first baby step towards offering a more real-time interface to its homescreen with the smallest of changes: a live icon for the iOS 7 clock app. Before, this app’s icon was static, but now the app shows the correct time and even includes a second hand that moves. (You can see this in the Apple iOS video here and the unofficial one below).

New App Store Kids Section Groups Apps By Age Ranges

OK, this one did get a brief shout-out during the keynote, but it’s worth a mention. Though most will see this as a minor enhancement, this will actually be huge for parents. In the revamped iOS App Store, apps for children finally gets its own top-level category. (Before, the majority of kids’ apps were found in the “Education” section if remotely instructional, or tucked under the “Games” category if mainly entertaining.)

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With the introduction of the Kids section (above screenshot from iDownloadBlog), there’s an opportunity for parents – and their offspring – to better drill down to find those that are appropriate based on the child’s age. And, as The Guardian points out, this also sets up a structure where Apple could begin to enforce specific rules about apps based on those more granular age designations (e.g. no in-app purchases on ages X to Y, guidance on analytics and how in-app ads are used, etc.).

Black & White Mode

Because iOS 7 now uses transparent overlays for things like the Control Center (easy-access Settings you get to by swiping up from the bottom of the screen), the OS will use either black or white for app labels and the icons on the overlay, as appropriate. As iFans notes, the default wallpaper that ships with iOS 7 will serve up the black version, but the white version was demoed during the keynote.

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FaceTime Gets Its Own App, Now Does Audio Calls

Previously, iPhone users could access FaceTime from either the Phone app or Contacts app, but now Apple’s voice calling service has its own dedicated app – just like it does on the iPod touch. More importantly, however, the app now supports audio calls in addition to audio plus video. No wonder carriers like AT&T didn’t want to support FaceTime, right?

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Live & Panoramic Wallpaper

A concept popularized by Android is the idea of a “live” wallpaper – that is, instead of a static, unmoving image for your background, the wallpaper is animated, often subtly so. Apple’s iOS 7 now ships with at least two live wallpapers, and hopefully this will open up the OS to run third-party live wallpapers, as well. (See around 0:30 in the YouTube video below for a demo).

However, even for those who choose to use a static wallpaper as their background, as you tilt your phone the wallpaper stays with you. In addition, panoramic photos can also be used for wallpaper.

Turn-By-Turn Walking Directions in Maps (& More)

Great for city dwellers, or anyone else who would rather be steered by audio instead of having to peer down at their phone while trying to find their way around, Apple’s Maps app has been updated to offer turn-by-turn navigation for walking, in addition to driving. It also includes inclinometer support so it knows when you’re heading up or down hills, too, and a night mode will kick in when the sun sets.

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Access Notifications On The Lock Screen

A minor but ongoing frustration with iOS’s earlier implementation of the Notification Center is that it required you to first slide to unlock your device. That made no sense of course, as often the purpose of notifications is a quick check of what you may have missed – and Apple had required you take an extra step to accomplish this before. Now, you can simply pull down the revamped Notification Center from the Lock Screen. And with the redesign, it appears it will be easier to tap that “Clear” button when you’ve completed your review and want to dismiss the items.

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Unlimited Tabs In Safari

Safari’s revamp puts it more on par with something like Google’s Chrome app, with its new interface, improved bookmarks and sync, and more, but one of the biggest pain points has also now been addressed, too: no more limits on the number of tabs you have open. For heavy readers and web surfers, this was one of those minor but annoying issues that eventually forced us to other browsers, so it’s good to see it addressed.

Finding App Data Hogs Is Easier

cellular-250x443A way to see which apps are eating into your cellular bandwidth is now found in the iOS 7 Settings, according to MacRumors. This is the kind of feature that third-party applications like Onavo have provided in the past to data-conscious users. iOS 7 only offers the bare details, though, while Onavo offers tools to keep data usage down, as well.

Spotlight Search

The search function is no longer available to the left of the homescreen, but is rather accessed by swiping down from the center of the screen. MacRumors also discovered that you can now configure which search results categories display including things like iCloud documents, iTunes, Passbook updates, Reading List and more.

Twitter Music Gets Its Own Station

Twitter’s good relationship with Apple now sees the app’s new Twitter Music service integrated right into iTunes Radio. Spotted in screen shots on Apple.com, Twitter Music’s “Trending” section is available as its own station within Apple’s streaming music service.

Put Newsstand In A Folder

The app everyone loves to complain about, Newsstand, had been stuck on Apple’s homescreen forever, refusing to bend to your own ideas about app categorization. Fear no more says CultofMac, you can finally shove that thing in a folder. (Which is good, too, because I’m not so sure about that icon!)

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Tencent Weibo Integration

A significant new feature that speaks to Apple’s focus on gaining traction in China is the addition of Tencent Weibo, a microblogging site that’s like China’s version of Twitter. Tencent Weibo’s competitor, Sina Weibo, was integrated into iOS 6 last year.

Call And Message Blocking

As reported earlier, the new version of the iOS operating system now offers “Phone, FaceTime and Messages blocking,” allowing users to prevent specific people from being able to contact you.

Image credits: Apple.com; all other images have been linked to in the paragraph above the feature being referenced, please credit appropriately.