Apple’s annual iOS release cycle ramps up again as the company officially took the wraps off iOS 11 at the 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose. The iOS 11 reveal made up a considerable chunk of the keynote, with plenty of exciting changes on their way.
iOS 11 is not out till the end of the year, leaving plenty of time for last minute tweaks as the beta program gets underway. Let’s take a look at what it all means, and how you can try it out for yourself before the official release.
A Slew of iPad-Specific Features
iPad and iPad Pro owners rejoice, because your tablet is getting a few more features with the arrival of iOS 11. Apple seems set on transforming the iPad family into the laptop alternative it promised all along. The first is the arrival of the Files app, a proper file management solution in the vein of Finder.
There’s also a dock, just like the dock you’ll find on macOS. This allows you to pin oft-used apps and switch between them just as you do on a Mac. New drag-and-drop features allow you to move text, photos, and files from one app to the other using Split View. You can even drag documents into the dock to open them in a specific app, just like on a Mac.
There’s also a new app switcher for iPad multitasking, with the ability to open multiple apps at once from the dock and have them both active on-screen at once. There are also a ton of improvements to Apple Pencil integration, including the ability to write directly into the Notes app, super-fast document markup, in-line drawing, and a new document scanner in the Notes app.
Despite the commonly held belief that Apple has transformed the Mac through the process of “iOSification,” they’re now taking the opposite approach with the iPad by implementing longstanding Mac features. It may take a little more for the iPad Pro to really stand on its own as a laptop alternative, but it’s a good start.
Remember iMessage apps? You probably stopped using them when you realized it takes a rather large number of taps to find the sticker or game you want. iOS 11 fixes this with a new floating app drawer that lets you launch any iMessage app with a swipe and a tap.
It’s also possible to send money using Apple Pay to other users via iMessage. When you receive funds you’ll get an Apple Pay Cash Card added to your Wallet app. With this you can pay for goods anywhere Apple Pay is accepted, send it on to other friends, or withdraw it to your bank account.
Finally, your iMessage conversations will now be kept in-sync via iCloud. If you delete a message on your iPhone, it will also be deleted from your Mac and iPad. Say goodbye to messy, out-of-sync conversations!
Further Siri Enhancements
Siri now sounds better than ever, with a new more eloquent and natural voice. You can now ask Siri to translate for you, from English to Chinese, French, German, Italian, and back again. According to Apple, you’ll need to set your language to US English for this to work.
— Sagar Vyas (@sags1995) June 5, 2017
Siri is also now context aware, so factors such as your location and calendar schedule will be taken into account when serving up information. Machine learning has been used to tailor the assistant to you like never before, with customized news, better QuickType suggestions, and Safari suggestions based on your habits.
As ever, Apple has stressed that everything Siri sends to its servers is encrypted end to end. You can also turn off these smarter features if you’re uncomfortable with your iPhone gathering data about you.
Smarter Photos and Videos
Live Photos allow you to capture the moment, as well as a still image, and iOS 11 can let you turn your Live Photos into loops or Boomerang-like bouncing videos. You can even capture long exposures, something you’d previously need to buy an SLR or fancy mirrorless camera for.
Support for HEVC and HEIF (High Efficiency Video Codec and High Efficiency Image Format, respectively) means you can shoot higher quality video that occupies half the space of the current H.264 codec. Images will also consume less space, but remain compatible with other phones.
Apple has also refreshed the Photos app with better filters for its Memories feature, plus there’s a new document scanner within the Notes app which lets you create digital copies without the need for a third party app.
A New Customizable Control Center
One of the most obvious changes in iOS 11 is a brand new completely customizable Control Center. The feature allows quick access to oft-used functions like volume and brightness with a flick up from the bottom of the screen on an iPhone, or via the app switcher on an iPad.
In iOS 11, you can customize the menu to feature only the functions you actually use. All shortcuts and controls now appear on a single page, so there’s no need to swipe to get to media controls either. You can use 3D Touch to access more functions, and the current design looks pretty great too.
A Fresh New App Store
iOS 11’s App Store looks a lot like Apple News, which is a good thing because Apple News looks pretty good. The design focuses on clean lines and bold text, with visual elements like screenshots and videos taking center stage.
There’s a new Today tab, which seems appropriate considering the pace of the mobile app space. Games and regular apps have also been spread across two tabs . Despite a few face lifts, the App Store has changed relatively little since being opened in July 2008, so it’s about time Apple gave it some love.
AirPlay 2, Apple Music, and MusicKit
AirPlay 2 represents a new era for wireless casting via Apple devices. The new standard allows you to manage multiple receivers individually throughout your house. Adjust volumes and enable or disable compatible devices using Apple’s HomeKit smart home system. The first device to feature AirPlay 2 is Apple’s new HomePod speaker and connected home assistant, on sale in December.
Apple is once again trying to work social features into Apple Music, with the arrival of recommendations from friends. You can now also have your own profile on Apple Music. You can use this to share playlists and your wider musical tastes with your friends.
The company is also introducing MusicKit, an API for developers to interact with Apple Music. Apps like Shazam have been able to connect to Apple Music for a while. A proper API should make these interactions more elegant and useful.
All the Small Things
Apple Maps receives a few small updates, including indoor mapping for “hundreds” of malls and airports in the U.S. This includes listing the shops beyond airport security and those on different levels within shopping centers. Apple also added lane guidance and speed limit information while driving.
— Rui Delgado (@rui) June 5, 2017
A new feature called Do Not Disturb While Driving does exactly what it says on the tin. Your iPhone will detect when you’re driving, using turn-by-turn navigation, or via connection with a Car Play device, and prevent any notifications from distracting the driver. This means your iPhone will answer incoming calls to notify the caller that you’re driving.
Siri’s machine learning has also made its way into Apple News. The app now suggests content that’s more relevant to your interests based on what you like to read. There’s also a new curated tab called Spotlight (confusingly) which highlights a new topic every week, like a magazine.
ARKit presents developers with a new way of building Augmented Reality applications for the platform. AR hasn’t really taken the world by storm. But Apple’s live demo was impressive so hopefully the new tools can empower developers to push the technology further.
There’s a new one-handed typing mode which moves the keys closer to the left or right-hand side of the screen, depending on which hand you’re using. iPad users even get an expanded QuickType keyboard, which puts symbols on the same keys as letters and lets you access them with a tap-and-flick.
Finally, Apple is also making it easier than ever to buy and switch to a new iOS device or Mac, with Automatic Setup. Just hold your iPhone near another Apple device (software update required, probably) to transfer much of your personal and sensitive information including settings and passwords.
For Beta or Worse
You can sign up for the public iOS 11 beta at beta.apple.com. Though, beware that beta software is unfinished and likely to cause issues. If you’re curious about iOS 11, it might be worth installing the beta on something other than your main iPhone — an iPad or spare iPod Touch is a better choice.
What are you looking forward to with iOS 11? What would you have liked Apple to include?