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TUAW's Don't Panic Guide to iOS 7


TUAW readers of long standing, this post is for your friends and family who are asking you about iOS 7. Feel free to share it with them in person, on your social networks, or randomly in coffee shops and libraries. For more info, scroll to the bottom of the post.

Breathe in, breathe out. Namaste! Chances are, you're here because someone you know suggested you look us up regarding iOS 7, the new operating system for the iPhone and iPad. Thanks for reading; we're here to help. Most importantly, don't panic. We're going to run down some of the most commonly asked questions and essential tips for iOS 7, with a minimum of jargon and handwaving.

If you have questions about iOS 7 that aren't addressed or linked here, drop a note in the comments, send us an email or a tweet, or hop over to our Facebook page to join the discussion there. You can also review our week one full coverage rundown, or keep an eye on our ongoing posts about iOS 7. Want to vent or inquire in person? Call into our Sunday night talkcast to connect with the TUAW team directly.

What is iOS 7? Do I need it?

Every so often, Apple delivers a major upgrade to the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch operating system (iOS). Each new version offers some additional features, new tricks and twists, and (if everything goes according to plan) more stability, fewer security issues and less misbehavior like crashing or connectivity problems. iOS 7 is the latest big upgrade, and unlike system upgrades for your PC or Mac, it's free to download and install.

You may be hearing more conversations about iOS 7 than you did about previous system upgrades; chances are, that's because it delivers a comprehensive design overhaul, turning away from the resemblance to physical objects like leather-bound address books and green felt card tables (a concept called skueomorphism) to a cleaner, more abstract visual language. Apple's legendary design chief Sir Jonathan Ive took over the look-and-feel reins of the operating system for this version, and it's his aesthetic that's at work here. Certainly your first five minutes with iOS 7 may come as a bit of a shock to the system, but that should pass.

As to whether or not you need it: if your phone or iPad is working fine, you do not need to install iOS 7 right away. Waiting a few days or a few weeks is not going to cause any harm, and chances are there will be one or two small updates to iOS 7 in the coming days that will clear up some rough edges and bugs. In the longer term, if your device supports iOS 7 (some older units, including most iPod touch models and first-generation iPads, do not), it's a good idea to move up; many iOS applications will start to require the new system. If you live in an area where iPhone thefts are common, iOS 7 also adds Activation Lock, an important anti-loss feature recommended by law enforcement.

If you have a new iPhone 5s that shipped with iOS 7 and the Touch ID feature, note that the fingerprint unlock option on that phone is just that: an option. If it gives you an uncomfortable feeling, don't use it.

If you're the sort who enjoys reading the manual before installing the software (I know I am), Apple has posted the iOS 7 manuals online in PDF format. You can also download them for free on your device in the iBooks store.

Although this should go without saying, we'll say it for the record: No, iOS 7 does not magically render your phone waterproof.

I already installed it, and I hate it! Can I go back to iOS 6?

Unfortunately, while this was briefly possible after the iOS 7 release, it's not anymore. Unlike a desktop computer OS (Windows or OS X) that can be installed wherever it's compatible and you have a license, iOS versions are digitally "signed" by Apple's servers to permit installation; the signing for iOS 6 was turned off the weekend of 9/21. Without those digital signatures, under virtually all circumstances it's impossible to install iOS 6 over an iOS 7 device. (There may be loopholes for iPhone 4 owners, which are still being investigated.)

For the record, if you bought a new iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s, they shipped with iOS 7 preinstalled. There is no way to downgrade those phones to iOS 6, nor is one likely to emerge in the future.

If you're miserable with the new visual look (as some who are on the verge of needing bifocals, like yours truly, might be), there are some quick tips to getting a bit more legibility in the main screen. Setting a dark-colored background can help, but first try turning on the Bold Text option -- it makes a huge difference!

You can also improve your iOS 7 battery life with these quick tips.

OK, I'm ready to install iOS 7; is there anything I should do to prepare?

There is! First of all, please backup your device. You can do this either via the iCloud service or by connecting your device to your computer and backing up in iTunes. We've got a full rundown here; Apple even explains how you can choose between the methods, or use both. Although an iOS backup should save the photos on your Camera Roll, you may also want to make sure that your device's photos are backed up to iPhoto, a pictures folder or a cloud service like Dropbox, Google+ or Flickr.

You also need a reasonable amount of free space on your phone (about 3.1 GB) before attempting to install iOS 7. If you're short on space, consider removing apps, music or books you don't need right now. You can check which apps are chewing up the most room via the Usage pane inside Settings: General on your device. (You backed up first, right?)

All the preamble steps are covered in this post. Once you're ready to go, you can install from the Settings app on your device, or by connecting to iTunes. Don't forget to update iTunes to the latest version available, as well.

Once I've updated, how do I do the things I used to do?

Although there's an enormous list of new and improved features in iOS 7, here are a few key changes that may be particularly tricky if you don't know how they work in the new world order:

  • Quitting/closing applications. Just as in iOS 6, you can double-press the home button quickly to bring up an application switcher, allowing you to quickly swap your active app without going back to the home screen. (You can also use a four or five-finger swipe on the screen to switch between apps.) Unlike the older system, you aren't presented with a small row of icons across the bottom of the screen; now you've got full views of the app's active state, and an easier swipe back and forth to navigate. But what if you want to close out an app? No more long-press and little red X; now it's a swipe up through the app's miniaturized image. Steve's video walkthrough may help.

  • Notification Center. iOS 7's alerts and reminders now get sorted into three buckets: Today, All and Missed. You can also easily dismiss notifications at the top of the screen by just tapping on the little bar in the center of the notification.

  • Search. To search, just swipe down slightly from the middle of any home screen. The search field has moved from its own homescreen pane to the top of the screen.

  • Folders. They can now contain more than just a few apps -- go nuts! Swipe left and right to see additional icons.

  • Control Center. Frequently tweaked items that previously required a dive into the Settings app? They're now accessible with an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen. Quickly set a timer, turn Bluetooth/WiFi on or off, pull up camera or calculator, adjust brightness and volume -- even turn on a flashlight! Control Center is also the new home for the AirPlay mirroring controls; you don't get to them via a double-press of the home button and a rightward swipe anymore.

  • Legibility and looks. Most of the aggravation and anxiety around iOS 7 involves the visual changes, and whether or not they actually reduce the legibility of the user interface. While the jury may still be out on that question, you don't have to wait to adjust the system to fit your own visual acuity. Simply open the Settings app, scroll down to General, then Accessibility. You can use the aforementioned Bold Text option to emphasize the icon labels, or adjust the text size in applications like Mail to make them easier to read. If the zooming, panning and parallax "wobbles" are giving you uncomfortable feelings, the Accessibility settings are also the place to find the Reduce Motion setting.

  • Siri. In addition to some new commands and data sources, Siri's got a new voice -- and it's a man, baby! Adjust your settings in the Settings app, General, Siri. You can ask "What can I say?" at Siri's prompt to get a rundown on the new capabilities.

Where can I go to get help?

Apple's support site and user community are certainly good places to start. You can also visit the Genius Bar at your local Apple Store, or check out your nearest carrier outlet for the iPhone.

Of course, sites like our own, Macworld, iMore, the Loop and many others are going to be posting scores of iOS 7 tips and recommendations over the next few days and weeks -- we'll link our favorites here, and we'll add suggestions based on your input.

To our regular readers: Thanks for sharing this guide with your friends and family who haven't necessarily been following along with every moment of the iOS 7 saga. If you want to give them a handy reminder card, just download our printable version here.

Towel image courtesy of ThinkGeek; you can buy your own Don't Panic towel there.

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