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Overview of iOS 7.1: What's New and What Improvements You'll Discover

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Jason R. Rich offers an overview of what you can expect after you upgrade your iPhone or iPad to run the iOS 7.1 operating system. This free update to the Apple OS for its mobile devices offers a handful of new features and functions, improves the performance of the iPhones and iPads, and tweaks the appearance of some bundled apps.
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With each new version of the iPhone or iPad that's released, Apple continues to enhance the power and capabilities of its mobile devices. As the technological capabilities of smartphones and tablets improve, Apple periodically updates the iOS operating system that allows the iPhones and iPads to function.

In early March 2014, iOS 7.1 was released for the iPhone and iPad. While this update fixes many of the bugs and problems people were experiencing after upgrading to iOS 7, it also allows many of the Apple smartphones and tablets to run a bit faster, while offering a handful of new features and functions.

The majority of the improvements offered by iOS 7.1 actually happen "behind the scenes." For example, especially if you're using an iPhone 4/4S or an iPhone 5/5C/5S, or one of the latest iPad models that utilize Apple's A7 processor, the device will run faster overall, plus respond more efficiently to onscreen touch commands.

Issues relating to the Touch ID fingerprint sensor have also been addressed, so iPhone 5S users should notice improved accuracy when unlocking the device or confirming an online purchase. After upgrading to iOS 7.1, deleting and then resaving your fingerprint(s) should eliminate the issue where the iPhone stops recognizing saved fingerprints.

As you begin using some of the apps that come bundled with iOS 7.1, including Phone (iPhone only), Camera, and Calendar, for example, you'll notice a handful of cosmetic tweaks to the appearance of onscreen icons. The majority of these command icons still work exactly as they did in the past. Only their appearance has changed.

For example, many of the icons associated with the Phone app on the iPhone now look different (shown in Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 After iOS 7.1 is installed, the icons displayed within the incoming call screen of the Phone app look a bit different, but they still function exactly the same way

Figure 2 Some of the icons, including the End button within the call-in-progress screen, now look different when using the Phone app on the iPhone

How to Upgrade to iOS 7.1

Upgrading your iPhone or iPad to iOS 7.1 costs nothing, and the process takes about 20 minutes. The easiest way to download and install the iOS update is wirelessly. Begin by using the iCloud Backup feature to create a current backup of your device's content.

To do this, make sure you're within a Wi-Fi hotspot to access the Internet from your iPhone or iPad. Next, launch Settings from the Home screen and tap the iCloud menu option. From the iCloud Control Panel, scroll down to the Storage & Backup option. From the Storage & Backup submenu, tap the Back Up Now option (shown in Figure 3).

Figure 3 Using the iCloud Backup feature, create a manual backup of your iPhone or iPad before installing iOS 7.1

After the backup is created, return to the main menu within Settings and tap the General option. From the General submenu, tap the Software Update option. The Software Update menu screen shows that the iOS 7.1 update is available to your device (see Figure 4). Tap the Download and Install option.

Figure 4 From the Software Update screen, tap the Download and Install option to begin the auto-installation of iOS 7.1 onto your iPhone or iPad

The auto-installation process begins. You'll be promoted to agree to Apple's Terms and Conditions. From this screen (shown in Figure 5), tap the Agree option.

Figure 5 To proceed with the installation of iOS 7.1, you have to agree to Apple's Terms and Conditions

Next, your iPhone or iPad will download the iOS 7.1 update (shown in Figure 6). How long this download process takes depends on the speed of your Internet connection.

Figure 6 As iOS 7.1 is downloading, a progress meter displays, along with the approximate time this part of the installation process will take

Once downloaded, the message "Preparing Update" appears under the installation progress bar on the screen. Within a few minutes, the Verifying Update message (shown in Figure 7) displays.

Figure 7 Once the "Verifying Update" message appears, the process is more than halfway completed. Expect your smartphone or tablet to restart automatically

During the final stages of the installation process, your iPhone or iPad restarts automatically. Then, after the iOS update is completed, the Home Screen displays and you'll once again be able to use your smartphone or tablet. All your previous personalized settings, apps, and data remain intact.

What to Expect from iOS 7.1's Siri Feature

Beyond some of the cosmetic changes made to the various apps that come bundled with iOS 7, you will notice some improved features and functions as you use your smartphone or tablet. For example, when using Siri, it's now possible to manually control when Siri listens to your voice commands.

To use Siri in the past, you had to press and hold the Home button, wait for the Siri prompt, speak your voice command, and then stop talking. However, if you were in a noisy area, Siri often had difficulty determining when you finished speaking.

Now, you can press and hold down the Home button when speaking to Siri, and then release the Home button when you're done issuing your verbal question or command. As you interact with Siri, both male and female voice options now sound more human.

Check Out the Calendar App's New Events View

From the Calendar app that's running on the iPhone, when accessing the Month view, you can now tap the new Events view icon (shown in Figure 8) to display a listing of upcoming meetings, appointments, and events along the bottom of the screen, which are listed by time of day. The Calendar also now displays holidays automatically.

When the Events View icon is not active, when you tap on a specific day when using the Month view, the Calendar app switches to the more detailed Day view for the selected day. You can then tap the Events icon at the top of the screen to see a day-by-day summary listing of upcoming events and appointments, as opposed to the traditional Day view.

Figure 8 Tap the Events View option to list the selected day's appointments below the monthly calendar

The Camera App Now Has an Auto HDR Feature

When using the iPhone to take digital photos using the Camera app in the past, you had the option to manually turn the flash on or off, or set the flash to Auto mode, so the iPhone would decide when and if the flash was needed as you took pictures.

When the flash was not being used, you had the option to manually turn the HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting mode on or off. By turning on HDR mode, the Camera app uses available light more efficiently when taking photos, and captures more vivid colors and detail, especially in low-light situations.

The iOS 7.1 edition of the Camera app still offers the HDR shooting mode. However, you now have the option to activate the HDR Auto mode, which allows the iPhone to decide when and if this feature should be used to enhance the photos being taken (see Figure 9).

Figure 9 The iOS 7.1 edition of the Camera app allows you to turn HDR mode on or off manually. You can activate the Auto HDR mode, which allows the iPhone to decide when this feature should be used

From within the Photos & Camera submenu within Settings, you can still decide whether the iPhone will save the original version of the photo and the same photo captured using HDR mode, or whether just the HDR mode version of the image will be saved.

iTunes Radio Also Has Some New Features

If you've become a fan of iTunes Radio, which is a customizable online-based streaming music service that's offered for free from Apple, once you install iOS 7.1 onto your iPhone or iPad, launch the Music app and then tap the Radio icon that's displayed near the bottom-left corner of the screen to launch the iTunes Radio service.

Displayed just above the Featured Stations heading (refer to Figure 6) is the new Enter an Artist, Genre, or Song Search Field. Use this Search field to quickly find specific music you want to hear or to more easily customize your personal streaming radio stations. As music is playing, it's also now possible to tap the Buy icon to purchase just the single you're listening to or acquire the artist's entire album.

The iPhone CarPlay Features Have Become More Accessible

For several years now, Apple has been working with many of the major car manufactures to offer iPhone integration with the in-dash infotainment system that's being built into many vehicles. Each car manufacturer has adopted this technology somewhat differently, and only in the 2013 and 2014 model year vehicles have consumers begun to really see this integration implemented.

Using terms such as "iOS In the Car," "Siri Eyes Free," and (more recently) "CarPlay," the ways in which iPhone can wirelessly interact with new vehicles continues to expand.

iOS 7.1 offers features that allow your iPhone to connect to your vehicle wirelessly (via Bluetooth) and then control the car's in-dash infotainment system using voice commands in conjunction with Siri.

The goal is to allow you to use popular iPhone features from your car while driving, without you ever having to look down at your iPhone's screen and take your attention away from the road. For this functionality to work, your vehicle must be CarPlay-compatible. If it is, you can stream music from your iPhone to your car's stereo system, utilize the Maps app from your vehicle's in-dash screen, have the iPhone read your incoming text messages and email to you, and use some Siri features while driving.

As you're driving (and while your iPhone stays in your pocket or within your briefcase or purse), you can access this functionality by using the special buttons on your vehicle's steering wheel, on the dashboard, or that are associated within the in-dash infotainment system. Some of these capabilities existed with iOS 7, but have been improved upon with iOS 7.1.

Final Thoughts...

Regardless of how you use your iPhone and/or iPad, the iOS 7.1 update offers useful bug fixes and improved functionality for your mobile device. Later in 2014, Apple will most likely release another major update to its iOS operating system, in the form of iOS 8, at the same time it releases new models of the iPhone or iPad.

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