iOS 7: Release date, new features and how to download

The latest version of Apple's mobile operating system includes a massive visual overhaul, but there's plenty of new features under the hood too

At their annual developers’ conference in June this year Apple finally unveiled iOS 7: the most dramatic visual overhaul of the company’s mobile operating system in its six year history.

Starting from tomorrow the new software will roll out onto Apple’s devices, though only from the latest models onwards, starting from the iPhone 4, iPad 2 and latest generation iPod (scroll down to the bottom of this article to see a chart of all compatible devices). In addition, iOS 7 will of course be available on the new iPhone models – the 5S and 5C – from their release date on 20 September.

The update is a big change for Apple; firstly in terms of design language (it’s ‘out with skeuomorphs’ and ‘in with flat design’, as the parlance goes) but also corporate responsibility (this is the first iOS overseen by Jony Ive, previously Apple’s lead industrial designer).

The update will be available to UK Apple users from 6pm this evening, with the download easily found under your iPhone or iPad's setting menus. Just navigate from 'General' to 'Software update' and you're all ready! Might be best to update over Wi-Fi to save on your data charges though.

It's also a smart idea to back-up your device just in case something goes wrong (small chance - but better safe than sorry). You can do this via iTunes or iCloud - head over to Apple's support site for more detailed instructions.

Meanwhile, let's have a look at what new functionality is being added with the update:

The new look

Although the new look of iOS has been covered pretty exhaustively (click here to read our own, pretty exhaustive, take on the flat 'movement') it’s safe to say that the design is a simpler iOS.

Versions 1 through 6 of the operating system embraced 3D effects from textures to drop shadows, and those inimitable skeuomorphs (‘metaphorical’ bits of design that refer back to older consumer products – think the leather stitching on Apple’s diary), but iOS 7 has dropped these in favour of flat, colourful icons and layered design.

The control center is key to introducing 'layers' to iOS 7; you can swipe it up at any time, with the 'frosted glass' effect reminding you you're only a step away from whatever you were previously doing. Extra control

One of the most obvious new layers in navigating iOS 7 is the control center (accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen at any time) a long-needed addition to Apple’s smartphones. Android users have had quick access to toggled settings (Wi-Fi, Airplane mode and Bluetooth for example) for a while now, though Apple is expanding with sliders for volume and brightness, basic music controls and quick access to the camera.

Building on this greater sense of control is an improved approach to multi-tasking (again, some might note, a long-time Android strength) including the ability to double-click on the home button to bring up full-page previews of your currently running apps.

A subtler subtle change is how the new iOS will handle data downloads, with users now offered the option to trigger automatic data downloads from messages and emails instead of having to wait till the moment you load the relevant app. Downloads are also lumped together and only start when you’re in a good signal area – saving your phone’s battery by  having it fruitlessly searching for non-existent data connections.

The overhauled Photos app - with the new automatic albums on the left and the redesigned camera interface on the right. Better photos, better photo albums

As with the overall look of iOS 7 the camera app has had a striking makeover, with a new minimalist black and white layout and its own all-caps font. Users can now take pics in a suspiciously Instagram-like manner, with filters built as well as a square-format offered (I would excuse Apple for this by saying that you can’t really patent a square – but Apple did try to patent a square with rounded corners).

Other software changes include the addition of Moments, Collections and Years for the Photo app – automatic groupings of your photos that will create albums that match, say, a day and a location so you get all the pics from your weekend trip to Brighton in one place.

The real changes to the camera though will take the latest iPhone to unlock. The 5S offers HD video recording at 120 frames per second and slow-mo playback; a burst capture mode that takes up to 10 frames a second; and True Tone flash – a dual amber and white LED flash that makes for more accurate colours and natural-looking skin tones.

The re-designed Safari includes better navigation through tabs and pages, as well as a new Smart Search field (to auto-complete search terms) and an iCloud Keychain, to store all your passwords in one place. Going on a web Safari

Apple’s in-house browser Safari does pretty terribly in terms of market-share on desktops and laptops, but it’s always been one of the best – if not the best – mobile browser. Along with the rest of the OS it too gets a visual update, with new minimalist icons for navigation, but there are also changes to how you manage tabs and bookmarks.

In recognition of the complex multi-tasking users now demand from their mobiles the Safari browser is no longer limited to eight tabs, and switching between windows has been revamped with a 3D scrolling effect. Bookmarks get the best changes though; with a new function that collates updates from Twitter streams and the like, meaning you don’t have to keep switching about with your apps.

AirDrop shows contacts nearby - simply click their portrait and select a file to send (pictures or a phone number for example). Apple promise everything will automatically slot into the right place on your handset. AirDrop's made for swapping

It's been around on MacBooks and iMacs for a while, but with iOS 7 AirDrop is finally going mobile. It's essentially a built-in app for swapping files with other nearby Apple users. The interface looks incredibly simple and easy to use, but we've yet to see how reliable the service is.

Files are shared via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and users can toggle their visibility on and off. You can automatically be seen by people in your contacts list but - if you want to live a little dangerously - you can opt in and be visible to anyone in the vicinity. Turning it on and off is easily done via the Control Center.

And of course, the update will also be coming to iPads and iPad minis. Conclusion

This list is a pretty brief one but it does indicate that iOS 7 is more than just a visual makeover, it’s a fantastic update of the iOS system. And this is without even mentioning a wide array of other changes including Siri updates (male and female voices! Integrated Wikipedia and twitter results!); the introduction of iOS in the Car (though we’ll have to wait for manufacturers to really integrate this better); and the launch of iTunes radio (a free streaming music service to rival Spotify, Rdio and the like - only available in the US for now though).

Apple's chart showing which devices will be compatible with the new iOS 7.

(Still curious about iOS 7 and the new iPhones? Click here to read our reviews of the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c)

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