iOS 7 Preview: Control Center promises quick access to all your most common toggles

Control Center provides one-swipe access to to all your settings and media controls from anywhere on your iPhone or iPad!

Quick access to system-level toggles has been one of the most constant, consistent power-user feature requests -- nay, demands -- for years now. Everything from jailbreak apps like SBSettings to iOS 6's brief flirtation with URL Schemes for Settings made it a must-have on every geek list, come every Apple iOS keynote. And now, with iOS 7 and Control Center, it's finally a reality.

Here's how Apple describes Control Center:

Control Center gives you quick access to the controls and apps you always seem to need right this second. Just swipe up from any screen — including the Lock screen — to do things like switch to Airplane mode, turn Wi-Fi on or off, or adjust the brightness of your display. You can even shine a light on things with a new flashlight. Never has one swipe given you so much control.

Control Center icon

And, based on what Apple's shown off to date, here's how it works:

  • Like Notification Center, Control Center is a layer that you can slide out on top of the main iOS interface. It enjoys the same, bouncing, playful iOS 7 physics, and the same blur effect that mutes but doesn't entirely obliterate what's underneath. Unlike Notification Center, which comes from the top down, Control Center is activated by swiping up from beneath the screen, and rather than dark, smoked glass, it's given a light, frosted effect.
  • You can access Control Center from anywhere on your iPhone (or iPad), including from the Lock screen.

Control Center on Lock screen

  • The top row Control Center provides handy on/off switches for commonly used settings like Airplane mode (which, when turned on, will turn off the cellular radio), the Wi-Fi radio, and the Bluetooth radio, as well as toggles for Do Not Disturb mode, and the portrait/landscape orientation lock. Black means off, white means on.
  • Next is a slider for screen brightness, and a set of media controls that includes a positional scrubber, the title of the track/episode you're listening to or watching, the name of the album/series that track/episode is from, skip backwards or forwards buttons, pause/play, and a volume slider.
  • If available, AirDrop and AirPlay occupy the next layer, and allow you to quickly access sheets with their individual options.
  • The bottom row of icons consists of a Flashlight to toggle the LED flash on or off, and variants of Clock, Calculator, and Camera icons for quickly accessing those apps.

Control Center bullets

That Control Center functions so much like Notification Center, and even uses similar nomenclature makes it easy to understand, even for non-power-users who haven't been lamenting its absence on iOS for years. It'll give the obsessive compulsive among us nearly instant access to toggles we probably ought not be toggling all the time, but it'll also give plenty of regular people a fast, easy way to get at things as simple as media controls and even a flashlight when they need them.

Swiping up to reveal Control Center will be confusing for people who've spent any time on webOS, BlackBerry 10, some versions of Android, or even the iPad's gesture navigation system, and personally I do find the swiping up as a way to show the fast app switcher/multitasking cards much more intuitive than the double-button click. However, Android's current two-finger swipe down to switch from their version of notification center to their version of control center isn't as easy to use, and ultimately, as goes Apple and iOS 7 will go hundreds of millions of users.

As to the design itself, while I have concerns about the low contrast and thinness of the icons and typography used, overall the usefulness exceeds the usability, and hopefully the latter can at some point be brought up to match the former. Sadly, Apple hasn't said anything about the customizability -- or lack thereof -- of Control Center, but if the past is any indicator, we probably won't be able to change the settings, controls, or apps presented. At least not this go around.

I once wrote that iOS wasn't meant for geeks, and while I still think that's generally true, with iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, Apple is starting to show they now have more than enough love to go around.

Control Center will ship as part of iOS 7 this fall. Check out the resources below for more, and let me know -- how do you like what you've seen of Control Center so far?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.