Exploring iOS 7's Control Panel

I’ve been using iOS 7 for a few months now. Today is the day that it drops on a (largely unsuspecting) public.1 It’s a giant change in terms of look and feel.

The best thing about iOS 7, for my money, is the new Control Center:

To access the control center, just swipe up from the bottom of the screen. If you’re in an app that takes over the whole screen, you might need to swipe twice: the first time you swipe you’ll just bring up this tab:

Control Center is exactly what I was hoping for when I wrote The Case Against Widgets. It saves you delving into settings for a lot of things, but its functionality is restrained: you can’t really change it much.

1. Toggles

If you’re anything like me you’ve been dying for this since the first time you laid hands on an iPhone. I can’t believe it took Apple this long to instigate something like this. 2 From left to right the toggles are:

  • Airplane Mode

  • WiFi

  • Bluetooth

  • Do Not Disturb

  • Rotation Lock

These are all really useful to have quick access to. Now, instead of a home button press and three taps, a swipe and a tap is all it takes to flip your WiFi on. They’ll also help you squeeze as much battery as possible out of your phone, which is helpful given iOS 7’s increased background activity.

2. Brightness

iOS does a pretty good job of cleverly matching your brightness to the ambient light. Sometimes, however, you want to fine tune it. For example, I always set my brightness between Airplane Mode and WiFi when I’m using my phone in bed, as it’s easier on the eyes. This will also help those who like to squeeze as much juice as possible out of their phone.

3. Audio Controls

Previous version of iOS allowed you to access audio controls from the lock screen by double pressing the home button. Having this in the Control Center is even handier because it gives you quick access to these controls no matter what you’re doing on the phone. It also includes a time bar that shows how far through a track you are. Tapping the title takes you to the app that’s playing the audio.

4. AirDrop (and AirPlay)

AirDrop is a new feature in iOS 7. It’s been available since OS X Lion on the Mac. The purpose of AirDrop is to allow you to share files over a WiFi network with other AirDrop enabled devices. This kind of file sharing has been available via various apps since time immemorial, but this is the first time it’s been so easily accessible. Time will tell if it supersedes email as the quick way to share files.

AirPlay lets you play content from one of your Apple devices via an Apple TV. The button from this only appears on Control Center if you have an Apple TV on the same WiFi network.

5. Useful Shortcuts

From left to right:

  • Flashlight

  • Timer

  • Calculator

  • Camera

This quick access to a flashlight (AKA the camera flash) single-handedly destroys an entire ecosystem of crappy flashlight apps. Until this, if I wanted to light the way, I’d fire up an app that I knew had a white background and wave the phone around near the ground. This is so much better: now I can use my iPhone as I stumble over things on the way to the bathroom at 4am.

Honestly I haven’t found a good use for the timer yet, but what’s nice about this is that it’s a tap away from the alarms. The calculator is handy to have right there — I’m not one of those who keeps a calculator on my home screen (as good as Soulver is.) There can’t be enough quick ways to access the camera, in my opinion. Especially with the camera improvements in the new iPhone 5s, you’re going to use this button a lot.

I really like the way Control Center has been implemented in iOS 7. I’m glad it’s not the heavily customizable app-fest that Android aficionados would prefer. It’s simple, well thought out, and I can’t think of much I would change about it. If this was the only thing that had improved in iOS 7, I’d be happy.

  1. If you want to check if you can download it yet, go to Settings > General > Software Update on your device. 

  2. A few iPhones ago I even dabbled with SBSettings to replicate this functionality, but of course it was laggy and unreliable.