Apple iOS 7 is the next version of Apple's iOS operating system for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Our full review of Apple iOS 7 will appear on this page when we've had a chance to play around with iOS 7's new features. But in the meantime, here are our first impressions of iOS 7, and what we know so far.

Apple iOS 7

Apple iOS 7 was unveiled at WWDC 2013 where it was introduced by Apple boss Tim Cook and Sir Jony Ive. He called iOS 7 "the biggest change to iOS since the introduction of iPhone, packed with amazing new features and a stunning new UI".

As expected, iOS 7's design is a major departure from iOS 6, with a flatter, cleaner look and a vibrant palette of pastel-tinged colours and translucency effects. "You can actually see behind the icons," said Tim Cook.

Apple iOS 7: The end of skeuomorphism

Apple iOS 7 features far less of the 'optical illusion' quasi-realistic visual design that has been a favourite of iOS in the past: wood panelling, paper, ring-binders on calendars and diaries. Instead Apple iOS 7 has far more flat and abstract interface design features.

The app icons, too, are much simpler: on its own apps, Apple has made a concerted effort to dial back the gloss effects, textures, borders and other detailing that distracted the user and spoiled the unified effect you'd want, and we understand that third-party apps will be expected to submit similarly simplified icons.

Apple iOS 7 Home screen

Talking about the flatter, less skeuomorphic design, Cook joked: "In Game Center... we just completely ran out of green felt. And wood as well. This has got to be good for the environment."

Apple iOS 7 Game Center

iOS 7 Game Center: No green felt in sight

Initial reaction to the redesign has been mixed, with some claiming that the overall effect (and particularly the pastelly, psychedelic colour scheme) is reminiscent of Windows Phone, or of Samsung's recent Android skins. Others think Apple has simply gone too far with the flat effect.

We're not sure yet: major visual redesigns always need a little while to get used to. And we're glad to see the back of those ring binders and green baize tables. 

Apple iOS 7: Weather, Calendar, Messages and Mail

Tim Cook demonstrated the updated Weather app in iOS 7, which now features subtle weather-themed animations in the background: lightning striking and so on. Here's what it looks like when there's snow:

Apple iOS 7 Weather

Nice, huh? Although oddly 'realistic' when compared with the overall ethos of flat, clean and abstract.

Calendar, too, has a new, cleaner look. Apple has stopped trying to create the illusion of a physical calendar in your phone, which was always a strangely backward way of doing things. Jony Ive's influence is clear here: in the refusal to compromise and the determination to strip things back to the essential design features.

Calendar in iOS 7 is clear, modern-looking and (we'd imagine) easy to use.

Apple iOS 7 Calendar

Messages still has its characteristic 'speech bubble' design, but the bubbles are no longer designed to look 3D. Again, it's a matter of personal taste, and there's definitely some flavour of Windows Phone in the flat, primary colours, but it's got the pure Apple minimalism too.

Apple iOS 7 Messages

A new feature in the iOS 7 app Mail is the ability to display photos from the very edge to edge of the screen.

Apple iOS 7 Mail

Mail in Apple iOS 7 lets you display edge-to-edge photos

Apple iOS 7 Mail

Apple iOS 7: Game Center

Probably the single biggest visual change is in Game Center, which has entirely lost its weird, green-felt casino theme. It's gone rather abstract, with a design motif based on bubbles. Hey, us neither. (Mac expert Craig Grannell reveals his entertaining theory behind this design decision here.)

Apple iOS 7 Game Center

Apple iOS 7 Games

This one will probably a while to get used to, but it's certainly clean; and the old Game Center design was hideous. From bad to ok - that's our first impression, but it may grow on us.

Apple iOS 7: Multitasking and battery life

Apple iOS 7 - which Apple's Craig Federighi said is "like getting an entirely new phone, but one you know how to use" - sees a number of system-wide changes affecting all apps.

For one thing, there's multitasking for all apps in iOS 7. If you have an app you're using throughout the day, iOS will notice the pattern of use and provide that app with frequent power to work in the background. If it notices you use an app only a couple of times a day, it'll prepare it beforehand.

This is designed to improve battery life, which Apple claim is dramatically improved in iOS 7.

Apple iOS 7 multitasking

iOS has been criticised in the past for the way its apps work - or fail to work, to be more accurate - in the background. We often advise readers to close background apps if their iPhone is crashing or freezing, since they can cause minor issues, but as a general rule iOS 6 and earlier pretty much ignores an app as soon as you switch to another.

App multitasking is a nice idea which would help to replicate the convenience of desktop/laptop computing on a smartphone, although we will need to be convinced about the practicalities.

Apple iOS 7: Safari web browser

Like the other elements of iOS 7, the mobile version of Safari has been heavily redesigned. The 'screen furniture' has been pruned back, leaving more space for the web pages you're looking at. Apple claims this new fullscreen look will help you to focus on the web content itself, rather than the browser.

Another feature from Safari on Mac that's made it on to the iPhone and iPad is the smart search field. This means that typing in the field will where you'd put the URL will give you a top search hit as well as URL suggestions.

Another new feature is Tabs, which come in a wacky 3D view. In addition, you're no longer limited to just eight tabs, as you are with iOS 6. it's about time this limit was lifted, particularly if the iPad is to be taken seriously as a mobile browsing device. At this moment I've got 20 tabs open in Chrome on my desktop Mac, and that isn't excessive. 

You can touch and hold tabs to rearrange your iCloud tabs.

Apple iOS 7 Safari web browser

Also joining from Safari on the Mac is the shared links feature and the scrollable Reading List. It will also be possible to set parental controls.

Apple iOS 7: Camera

At WWDC Apple said that iOS 7 will offer "four cameras in one". You can swipe from photo camera to video camera to square camera to panorama.

Apple iOS 7 Camera

Apple iOS 7 Camera

New to iOS 7 are live photo filters, from black-and-white Mono and Noir to Instagram-esque Fade, Process and Instant - you'll be able to select a filter before taking the picture, and see the effect in real time. These effects are not destructive edits: you can remove the effect later.

There's also a new way to manage your photos. One issue pinpointed by Apple is the fact that most people have huge scrolling list of photos. "But you don't have to be this way!" says Apple. Using metadata, Photos can organise your photos into "moments".

This means that your photos will be automatically organised depending on when and where you took them.

Moments are drawn into Collections, so for example your holiday in Cornwall will be collected together. Photos taken around home or at school will be another collection.

You can tap and scrub through thumbnails to find the photo you're looking for.

Apple iOS7 Photos Moments collections

The Photos app also offers sharing – you can share photos and videos using AirDrop.

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Review continues on next page: updates to Siri and the App Store, Music and Find My iPhone, the new AirDrop feature, and our expert verdict >>