iOS 7 - A Developer's First Impressions

If you're like me, after viewing Monday's WWDC keynote address, you want to check out iOS 7 for yourself. To get a beta copy of iOS 7, you must be enrolled in one of Apple's iOS developer programs ($99 annual fee). If you have been following my How to Unleash Your Inner App Developer blog series, you may want to sign up anyway so you can continue to follow my weekly tutorials as we move our demo app onto an iOS device.

If you sign up as a developer, you're in good company. Apple announced at WWDC that there are now 6 million iOS developers worldwide, with 1.5 million developers added in just the last year!

Installing iOS 7 on your iPhone

If you don't plan on installing iOS 7 right now, go ahead and jump to the next section. For those who are new to iOS development, here are the steps for installing the iOS 7 beta on your iPhone or iPod touch:

  1. Back up your iOS device in iTunes. In case you run into problems during the installation, you will need this backup to restore your phone;
  2. Log into the iOS Dev Center;
  3. Read and sign the iOS Developer Agreement;
  4. Near the top of the page, click on the iOS 7 SDK beta link;
  5. Further down the page under iOS 7 beta Downloads, click on the link for your specific iPhone or iPod touch model (there is a different installer package for each). The installation package (DMG file) is a little over 1GB, so this step takes awhile;
  6. After the DMG file has finished downloading, double-click the file to open it. When you do this, the installation file is mounted as a device at the bottom left corner of Finder;
  7. Next, open iTunes and connect your iOS device to your Mac;
  8. Click on your device in the iTunes toolbar;
  9. In the device details page, hold the option key down and click the Check for Update button. This launches an Open dialog. In the left pane of the dialog under Devices, click on iOS 7 beta. This displays a .ipsw file in the right pane of Finder. Click on this file to select it and then click the Open button. This begins the installation process.

When installation is complete, your iOS device will look very different!

The Home Screen

The first big change that's easy to notice is the flat appearance of the icons on the Home screen, similar to the appearance of panels on the Windows phone. My daughter described them as "cartoon-like." Personally, I like it. They're very crisp, clear, and easy to see. The next thing I checked out is the 3D effect of the Home screen background. As you tilt your iOS device forward, backward, and side to side, you can see "underneath" the app icons. It's a subtle, but cool effect. Ultimately, this visual trick is achieved by anchoring the app icons in place, but moving the background image in response to the device movements.

Figure 1 - iOS 7 Control Center

Getting to Your Content

HTC introduced an ad this year depicting iPhone users digging and digging for content on their phones, leaving piles of dirt beneath them. There's definitely some truth in this. Sometimes it takes too many swipes to get at the content you want. iOS 7 helps alleviate some of this with the new Control Center (Figure 1).  

The Control Center panel actually contains shortcuts to many of the actions I perform most often! At the top of the panel are buttons you can tap that turn the following options on and off: Airplane mode; Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; Do Not Disturb; and Portrait Orientation lock.

In the center of the panel is a brightness control, a volume slider, and buttons for controlling the Music app (if you tap the name of the artist/song it opens up the Music app), and an AirPlay button.

At the bottom of the screen are buttons for a new built-in Flashlight app, making it much easier to quickly see where you're going in the dark. There are also buttons for the Clock app (making it easy to set timers and alarms), Calculator, and Camera.

Speaking of getting to content quickly, the updated Photos app segregates your videos from your photos as shown on the left side of Figure 2. Now you don't have to sift through your photos to try and find the video you're looking for.

Another great feature is how iOS 7 categorizes your photos for you as shown on the right side of Figure 2. The new Photos app automatically correctly identified the pictures I had taken as being in Central Park and others specifically in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nice! 

Figure 2 - The iOS 7 Photos App

Updates to Notification Center (Figure 3) also help you get to your important emails, calendar events, tweets, and alerts more easily. As in previous versions of iOS, you can easily display Notification Center by swiping down from the top of the screen. However, iOS 7 goes a step further by not only displaying your notifications in the lock screen, but allowing you to interact with them! 

Figure 3 - Notification Center

Improved Battery Life

I sat up and took notice when Apple announced improved battery life with iOS 7. I currently have an iPhone 4S (holding out for an iPhone 5s) and it's old enough that the battery is at a point where it needs to be replaced. I don't have specific statistics, but I can definitely see an improvement in battery life. 

What's New for Developers

Here are some of the highlights that are important to developers:

  • User Interface - Although the UI has been completely redesigned in iOS 7, the standard system views in your app automatically gain much of the new look simply by running on iOS 7. That said, most apps will need some tweaking to fit more gracefully into the new iOS 7 design.
  • Multitasking - One of the bigger announcements for developers is the iOS 7 multitasking enhancements. Multitasking isn't just for a few apps. It's for all apps on an iOS device. There are new multitasking services developers can use in their apps to more fully support multitasking and take advantage of user down time.
  • AirDrop - I highly recommend developers look at integrating the new iOS 7 AirDrop functionality in their apps for a great way to share content in a peer-to-peer fashion. Apple had a great punch line in the WWDC keynote address about not needing to walk around the room and bump your phones with people. With AirDrop, you can tap to select multiple friends and share with all of them.
  • Game Development - If you want to develop games for iOS devices, the new Sprite Kit framework makes it easier to create graphics and animations for 2D and 2.5D games. This kit includes a graphics rendering and animation system, sound playback, and a physics simulation engine, providing the core functionality that most games need. Another welcome addition is the Game Controller Framework, which allows your app to discover and configure Made-for-iOS game controller hardware over wireless or Bluetooth.
  • Maps - For those apps that use Maps, there are plenty of improvements in iOS 7 including the ability to take advantage of 3D map support as well as improvements in overlaying custom content above or below other data on a map.


I'm interested in trying iOS 7 over a period of weeks to discover other improvements Apple has made to make iOS owners' lives a little easier. After using it for a few days, it seems pretty stable, with only a few speed bumps here and there.

If you're thinking of getting into App development, this is a great time to jump in the water. In addition to the iOS 7 beta, you can get an early release of Xcode 5, Apple's tool for building iOS apps, and begin putting together an app that takes advantage of all these great new features.

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Author Details

Kevin McNeish's picture

Author Details

Kevin McNeish

Kevin McNeish is author of the new book “Learn to Code in Swift” as well as the “iOS App Development for Non-Programmers” book series (, winner of the Publishing Innovation Award. Kevin is also an award-winning app developer, software architect, and conference speaker in the U.S. and abroad. He has spent much of his career making difficult concepts easy to understand. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @kjmcneish.