Review: iOS 7 software has features to discover

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An iPhone with iOS 7 software (left) is displayed next to an iPhone with the older iOS 6 operating system. (AP) An iPhone with iOS 7 software (left) is displayed next to an iPhone with the older iOS 6 operating system. (AP)
SummaryStarting Wednesday, Apple makes its new software available for free for iPhone 4, 4S and 5 models.

The changes to Apple's iOS software became apparent as I drove to the headquarters of the company's rival, Google. As I navigated using Apple's mapping app, I noticed one of my favorite attributes was missing: the directions for each next turn presented in green boxes that resemble highway signs.

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Many of the changes in Apple's operating system for mobile devices are cosmetic. Gone are three-dimensional icons that mimic real-world counterparts, such as a magazine rack for the Newsstand app. They are replaced by larger, two-dimensional icons sporting abstract designs and pastel colors. Apple also extended that new look to many of its apps. In Maps, the green boxes are replaced with solid white across the top.

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It didn't take long to realize that deeper down, the new iOS 7 software is the same as the one I've come to know.

The new software does have several functional improvements, but those could take time to stumble upon. The good news is that even if you never discover them, you can still use your device the way you did before. The free update is available starting Wednesday.

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I'm covering the features specific to Apple's new iPhone 5S and 5C in a separate review. This one is about whether it makes sense to upgrade to iOS 7 on your existing iPhone or iPad.

The biggest functional change is the use of swipes instead of taps to access key functions. You can already swipe up from the bottom right side of the screen to quickly access the camera when your phone is in the lock screen. With iOS 7, you can also swipe up for the Control Center, which contains frequently used settings and apps. That's available whether or not the phone is locked.

Swipe down from the top of the screen to get recent notifications and the day's highlights, including the weather, appointments, reminders and stock quotes. Swipe down from the center of any home screen for a search box. From many apps, you can swipe from the left or the right instead of tapping the left and right buttons.

The Control Center is the most useful of the functional improvements.

From there, you can turn Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off. Before, you had to find those switches in the

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