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iOS 7.1 Tweaks Visuals, Adds CarPlay and Other Features

Nearly six months after the debut of iOS 7, Apple has released iOS 7.1, the first update to make significant feature changes to the mobile operating system, along with visual tweaks that should make using an iOS device easier for those without perfect vision, and bug fixes that promise to address home screen crashes.

The update is about 200 MB if you install directly on a device via Settings > General > Software Update; if you download via iTunes, it’s about 1.25 GB and may take several tries to download successfully, if my experience was indicative.

Most of the visual changes in iOS 7 revolve around making text bolder, identifying text-only buttons better, and increasing contrast, along with reducing additional animation.

  • In Settings > General > Accessibility, the Bold Text option now applies to the keyboard, Calculator app, and many icon glyphs, significantly increasing readability. (Turning Bold Text on or off requires restarting your device.)

  • A new option in the Accessibility settings, Button Shapes, draws shaded outlines around previously text-only buttons, which can make it easier to distinguish label text from controls.

  • In Settings > General > Accessibility > Increase Contrast, two new options — Darken Colors and Reduce White Point — join Reduce Transparency in making the interface less washed-out. I particularly like Darken Colors, simply because I prefer more saturated colors to iOS 7’s pastels.

  • Those who find the motion aspects of iOS 7 nausea-inducing (or just irritating) will be happy to learn that the Reduce Motion option in Accessibility now includes the Weather and Messages apps, and multitasking animations.

I strongly encourage everyone to explore these settings to see which are the most comfortable for your eyes.

You’ll also see a new, rounded look for the power-off screen and for the call button in the Phone app. Plus, the incoming call interface now offers separate circular Decline and Accept buttons below the controls for Remind Me and Message.

New to iOS 7.1 is support for CarPlay, which is designed to use Siri voice commands and prompts to let you control certain apps, including Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, and third-party audio apps, without looking at your iPhone (only the iPhone 5, 5c, and 5s are supported). With CarPlay’s “eyes-free” approach, you’ll be able to answer an incoming phone call, dictate text messages, request directions, and navigate your music library. CarPlay also integrates control of these iOS apps with the car’s own buttons, knobs, and touch screen. But don’t get your hopes up unless you’re planning to buy a Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Honda, or Hyundai in the near future. Most other carmakers are promising future support for CarPlay later on. Also note that CarPlay isn’t available in all countries.

Speaking of Siri, iOS 7.1 makes it possible to control when Siri listens manually by holding the Home button down while you speak and releasing it when you’re done — a sort of walkie-talkie interface. Apple has also added new, more natural-sounding male and female voices for Mandarin Chinese, UK English, Australian English, and Japanese. No mention is made in the release notes of improved accuracy or responsiveness for Siri, which some people found less functional after the update to iOS 7.

iTunes Radio receives several minor tweaks, including a search field above Featured Stations to make it easier to create stations based on a particular artist or song. You can also now buy albums from within Now Playing, and you can subscribe to iTunes Match directly within iOS 7.1 to eliminate the ads from iTunes Radio.

Other welcome changes include:

  • The Calendar app on the iPhone can now display events in month view (tap the inscrutable little button next to the magnifying glass), and includes country-specific holidays for many countries.

  • On the iPhone 5s, a new setting in the Camera app automatically enables HDR.

  • Support for iCloud Keychain has been added for more countries.

  • FaceTime call notifications are automatically cleared when you answer a call on another device.

  • Touch ID fingerprint recognition on the iPhone 5s has been improved.

  • iPhone 4 users should see overall performance improvements after upgrading.

  • The unread message badge on the Mail icon can now display numbers over 10,000.

Last, but certainly not least, iOS 7.1 includes a variety of security fixes as well.

If you notice other changes, let us know in the comments!


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Comments about iOS 7.1 Tweaks Visuals, Adds CarPlay and Other Features
(Comments are closed.)

What happened to the camera short cut icon when I swipe up?! I'm on a call now, and I swiped up, but the shortcut is now gone!!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-10 15:35
In Control Center? I'm still seeing it where it was before. Or is there some other place you're talking about?
Sue Boettcher  2014-03-10 17:55
I would be interested to hear more about the white point setting. Is it possible to make the background just not so damn white? That's the main reason keeping me from updating – ocular issues, And the text is just so darn unreadable. I'm sorry to gripe, but I gotta wonder what they were thinking.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-11 10:45
That's exactly what Reduce White Point does - it makes the whites a bit more gray. Whether that's enough for your eyes is impossible to say - I strongly recommend finding an upgraded device where you can look at the before and after. And play with the Bold Text option too - that's a big help.
Sue Boettcher  2014-03-11 18:20
I think it says something about a UI which requires a whole raft of "accessibility" settings in order to make it usable for the majority of people. Or at least a sizable minority. Thanks, Adam, for the info.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-12 07:02
I agree - accessibility in iOS 7 is definitely more for the masses than in the past, which is... unusual. ;-)
Ian McMahan  2014-03-10 18:04
Any reason for iPad users to update? Most of the new stuff sounds specific to iPhones.
Chris Kohuch  2014-03-10 20:17
Various security fixes are included as well.

Also I'm not sure what your experience has been, but I have had frequent problems with Safari crashing since the 7.0.x updates (low memory errors) which seem to have finally been solved with this iOS 7.1 update.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-11 10:50
As Chris said, the security fixes are worthwhile, and the visual tweaks in Accessibility may be useful for your eyes. But realistically, I don't see any downside to upgrading at this point, so it's better to keep up if there's no reason not to.
Jonathan Orr-Stav  2014-03-10 20:11
For future versions, Apple might want to consider adding a "Scottish English" voice options, since "UK English" really refers to English (RP) accent, and Scotland may no longer be part of the UK after the referendum in the summer (at Schiphol airport, I've already noticed a sign saying they accept the "English pound" and "Scottish pound").
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-03-12 14:25
"You canna take our FREEDOM!"
James French  2014-03-11 00:14
All the changes are very welcome improvements. They have also reduced the size of the on-screen buttons during FaceTime calls and made them circles at the side. The old ones obliterated half the picture!
Still haven't fixed FaceTime's inability to reconnect if your phone or iPad changes network during a call. It says 'reconnecting' but it has never happened, in my experience.
Maybe a tad OT, but can anybody help me with iOS re-install from iTunes?

Specifically, I'd like to re-install iOS on my iPhone from iTunes in the same way as I can on OS X: boot in recovery mode, chose to install Mavericks over the existing Mavericks and what I get is a fresh OS install without losing my settings, apps, or documents.

Basically, I just want a fresh iOS on my iPhone 4 without losing any of my settings or personal stuff. Any simple way to do that from iTunes? And what (if anything) will I lose in the process? What do I have to set up after doing this to get back to where I left off?
Robert Morrison  2014-03-11 10:02
This Apple Support article describes the process.
Thanks, Robert.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-11 11:37
Looks like iOS 7.1 also makes it easier for apps to work with iBeacons. This isn't a big deal just yet, but likely will once iBeacons become more commonplace.
Mark Altenberg  2014-03-11 12:51
Lots to like, especially in the finer details.

The 'slot machine' date selector got a subtle but very welcome improvement, resulting in a smoother and less frustrating UX. That control was a big pet peeve of mine in iOS 7.

And maybe it's my imagination, but the lower right icon in Safari, the one that displays previously viewed pages on iPhone, seems easier to tap now.
Once again the upgrade automatically reboots and turns Bluetooth ON. It seems conceivable that thy could do a upgrade without messing with current settings.
Clint Warner  2014-03-12 11:16
If you switch to the new list view in the current day in the calendar app, the Today view calendar is updated to show a list of events rather than the entire day's timeline
Ian Crew  2014-03-12 11:34
Am I the only one that really doesn't like the new, bolder font on the keyboard? The old one was light and elegant, the new one seems heavy and clunky. I wish there was some way to switch it back.

(And yes, I am one of those folks that liked the look of the early betas of iOS7 even better than what they eventually released.)
No, I'm with you on the keyboard.

Although I like the visual improvements in iOS 7.1, I prefer the 7.0.6 keyboard.

IMHO shift vs. shift hit vs. caps lock is a catastrophe.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-17 07:29
Our friends at Macworld have a nice roundup of changes in iOS 7.1, along with their opinions.
arodesigns  2014-03-17 10:35
7.1 has adversely changed the way iPhone/iPod Apps display on a non-retina iPad Mini. Gone are the "1X/2X" buttons, and an ugly menu bar (with Wifi, time and battery status) covers often-critical App screen space. Many games are unusable now because scores, player names, etc. are hidden. This is not a problem on full-size iPads.
edinburghmac  2014-03-20 09:13
One thing that's definitely for the worse is that the music app now displays albums in reverse chronological order (i.e. newest first). I used to like to listen to an album in it's entirety and then seamlessly listen to the next album released but this no longer works. I don't understand why controls can't be introduced to allow sorting however we would like, alphabetical, chronological, reverse chronological etc rather than impose the behaviour (and why introduce the change from chronological to reverse chronological anyway?).
Constance H  2014-04-21 05:58
Well, it screwed up the podcasts. No matter what I do I can't sync them from my computer to my iPod.
I went to a Genius Bar in NYC and they have no answer either.I don't want to sync via WIFI.