It's certain that in a few months' time the vast majority of contemporary iPhones and iPads worldwide will be running iOS 11, the next major software update that will be hitting Apple devices. Announced just two days ago during the opening keynote of WWDC 2017, it's revamping a few core OS elements with the hopes of improving the user experience while also clearly showing that Apple is ready to further open iOS to developers and users. Things like a file manager, a customizable Control Center, and native easy-to-use screen recording were unthinkable features for iOS users just a few years ago, but lo and behold, they are about to become reality.
Armed with an iPhone 7 Plus
that's running the first iOS 11 Developer Preview, we took upon ourselves to provide you with a verdict about the upcoming iOS update and tell you what's good and what's bad about it. Is iOS 11 shaping up to be a milestone chapter for Apple's software division or merely an incremental, forgettable update? Let's find out.
6/27 Update: iOS 11 Public Beta
has been released for all the adventurous iOS users to download and try! Don't worry, installing it and getting back to a former stable version of iOS is easy - just follow our guide
Sorry, iPhone, it's all about the iPad
Admittedly, iOS 11 is shaping up to be a more substantial update for the iPad and not the iPhone. Tablets will score an all new dock that's rather similar to the macOS one and will allow for both drag-and-drop and multitasking by swiping apps to the screen. Additionally, iPad users that also have the Apple Pen will have their experience supercharged as iOS 11 introduces a host of new features that will allow for a more natural and fluid interaction with the tablet - Instant Markup and Instant Notes are awesome, and so is the all-new Files app that we'll talk about later.
The public beta has also introduced a way to disable the "Show Recents" option which displays recently used apps on the iPad's Dock. With this feature off, the only apps that will appear there will be the ones you've added personally.
Refreshing the paint
Let's start with the more obvious new changes, and these are the visual ones. The slightly refreshed typography makes app names easier to read, especially when viewed against a brighter wallpaper. Various menu and settings titles now look bolder, larger, and "in your face" while still retaining the overall minimalist appearance that iOS has been known for during the past semi-decade. The current lack of app names in the dock further makes the whole interface look cleaner and decluttered. Changing up some of the status bar icons achieves the same thing—gone are the round signal indicators, substituted for less intrusive bars that also take up less screen real estate. A bunch of new animations breathes new life to iOS... but all of these changes we've mentioned so far are merely cosmetic ones and don't really improve the user experience that much.
Bigger and bolder is the recurring visual theme of iOS 11
Control Center, reimagined
We already made a comprehensive overview of Control Center, available for you to check out right here
, but the gist of it is that iOS 11 introduces a customizable Control Center that's very different and way more useful than the previous iterations of this quick settings hub. You are free to choose among no more or less than 17 separate toggles and features, some of which are only accessible from Control Center. Control Center now takes up the whole screen now, heavily employs 3D Touch, and utilizes nifty sliders for volume and brightness that we really like. We've got a hunch that Control Center will undertake additional changes down the line and will probably be a bit different in the final release of iOS. Anyway, we're cautiously liking the all-new Control Center.
Courtesy of the recently-released public beta, the Bluetooth toggle in Control Center will now disconnect you from a paired device, rather than turning off entirely (much like the Wi-Fi toggle). Also, the option to disable the "swipe up to open" function of Control Center while inside an app is now back.
Control Center looks quite good in portrait mode
What's... "Cover Sheet", precious?
Surprise, surprise, it's a mix between the good ol' Notification Center and your Lock Screen. In iOS 11, swiping down from any screen will bring down your Lock Screen
Cover Sheet with all your pending notifications. Once it's down, you can see all of your previous undismissed notifications by swiping up on it. Just like on your lock screen, the camera is available by swiping to the left and the widget panel can be accessed by swiping right. Essentially, the new Cover Sheet pane is eliminating one of the core iOS elements—the Notification Center—and is arguably making it easier to explore and interact with your notifications. Using the Cover Sheet felt a bit weird in the beginning, but we can easily see it growing on us in the not-so-distant future. iOS doesn't have a pristine track record when it comes to notifications, but it's great that Apple is trying to revamp the experience. Who knows, Cover Sheet might be the solution to the many woes some people have with iOS notifications.
Do Not Disturb While Driving
A new "Do Not Disturb While Driving" tab has been added to Settings. The feature will detect when your iPhone is in a vehicle and limit notifications while you're travelling. Incoming calls will be enabled if the handset is connected to a hands-free device or the vehicle's Bluetooth system. There are several options on how to enable DND while driving - you can turn it on manually, let the phone decide automatically, or it can be activated only when paired with the car's Bluetooth system.
The new App Store
Make your amends with the App Store you know and love, as it's getting overhauled. The new one is already fully functional and available in the iOS 11 beta. It will greet you with a Today view that puts featured content right in front of you, including the Game of the Day, curated app collections, picks with tips and tricks for the more popular apps out there, various daily lists, and so on. As a whole, the App Store is now more of a lively lifestyle hub for games and apps, which appeals to us. There are two new categories, Apps and Games, which will let you easily discover new content. The info page for every app and game has also been revamped with bigger icons, bolder text, and richer information. One downside of the new redesign is the fact that everything looks unnaturally enlarged, with the worst offender being the search bar in the Search tab, which is comically big.
Is Siri smart at last?
Even die-hard Apple fans should acknowledge the fact that Siri has been lagging in the whole smart assistant game for a while now, letting Google's Assistant eke out a lead when it comes to contextual awareness, voice recognition, and providing follow-up information. Apple promises to fix a lot of these existing issues with iOS 11, and so far it seems to be on the right track, but probably not there yet.
First and foremost, Siri now sounds way more natural and human-like. The Siri screen has also been refreshed and now feels more polished and modern: aside from featuring a new activation button (which might be giving us a sneak peek at the next iPhone's home button
), the Siri interface screen will also display results in a more pleasing manner. Siri has different intonations for most words, which implies that you won't hear the same exact words two times in a row. Further crossing that uncanny valley, eh, Apple?
Back to the essential new improvements, Siri is now capable of learning from your interests and throwing related content straight into your News app feed, as well as suggesting recently-searched movies, songs, and book titles as topic suggestions in the keyboard. Additionally, your latest searches will appear as suggestions in Safari's search bar for a more intuitive browsing experience.
"No hablo ingles" situations
Translation is also one of the key new Siri features that we dig very much. Just ask the assistant how's this and that in Chinese, Spanish, French, German, or Italian, and it will immediately provide you with a coherent translation.
Finally, you're now able to type to Siri. Well, not "type" in the regular sense of the word – you can simply edit your queries to Siri after speaking them out. A neat workaround for situations where you can't really raise your voice up.
No, hell hasn't frozen over, but Apple is throwing in a dedicated file manager in iOS 11. However, don't let its name fool you - you won't be given a full-blown system file explorer, but merely a hub that will let you access YOUR local and cloud-based files. You will be able to use Files with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, Baidu, Tencent Cloud, and Adobe Creative Cloud, as well as supposedly all of your local photos, documents, and other compatible files. The app will be able to make full use of the useful drag-and-drop feature on the iPad. It's full of potential, but sadly, we couldn't get Files to work on the first iOS 11 Dev Beta - we hope it becomes fully operational with the later beta releases. Yet. we are not going to look the gift horse in the mouth and will assess Files for what it would likely become - a potential productivity game changer for iOS users.
With the arrival of iOS 11's public beta, users can now directly save documents, photos, and various other files straight to the new Files app, which is a great addition.
The Files app in iOS 11 will let you 'touch' your files
Your storage is precious
With iOS 11, Apple introduces a pair of new file formats that are certainly going to save you a lot of space, especially if you're a video enthusiast, or even worse - a data hoarder. HEIF for images and HEVC for video retain the same quality as your regular JPEG and H.264 media file, but take up >50% less space. That's huge as it essentially means you will be able to fit twice as much media on your iPhone or iPad before you run out of usable memory. Rest assured you can later convert the new exotic file types to the more common and widely-adopted JPEG and H.264 ones.
Aside from adopting new file formats, Apple will also allow you to offload apps. This means that the app itself will be deleted but all of its data and settings will be kept safe, allowing you to reinstall it later on and continue from where you've left off, provided that the app is still up on the App Store, of course. Neat!
Pay with iMessage
The Messages app has also seen some love. First and foremost, iMessage users will be able to send money to one another thanks to the new Apple Pay app that has been launched on the iMessage store. Most interestingly, if someone messages you that you owe them money (ouch!), a contextual suggestion to send money with iMessage's Pay app will immediately pop up in the text suggestion bar at the top of the stock keyboard, allowing you to easily send the other party the required amount of money and be done with it. Additionally, with iOS 11, your iMessage stickers and apps appear as a swipeable strip at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to easily get to the content you have in mind. A welcome improvement that addresses a minor issue we had with the iMessage Store in iOS 10.
The News app has scored a needed refresh and is now way more snazzy at presenting you with the latest news. What's more, it's now semi-powered by Siri, so more news regarding your searches and interests will appear in the app.
Depending on who you ask, so far iOS 11 can be either viewed as a major or a minor software update. With the disclaimer that Apple might introduce a host of new features later down the line, we are inclined to deem this one an important update, not only due to the few notable additions to the operating system but also because of the message it sends. iOS has not been the walled garden it once was for a while now, but with iOS 11, we are seeing an unprecedented amount of "opening" Apple's software to users and developers alike. Customization and manually managing files on iOS were functionalities that were unthinkable once but will become reality for most iPhone/iPad users later this fall.
Can we expect Apple to further expand the feature set of iOS with other previously "unimaginable" features and functionalities in the future? Absolutely! Call it wishful thinking on our end, but iOS has opened up quite a bit since iOS 8 and the trend suggests it will further open up and evolve. If anything, iOS 11 seems to be worth the wait as it will most definitely spice up the user experience, and that's exactly what a software update should do.
Granted, many might easily shoot down this iOS version as "uninspiring" or "boring", and they may be right for themselves, but we should remember that both iOS and Android have pretty much matured by now — we shouldn't hold our breaths for any groundbreaking new features for either operating system. We should learn to appreciate incremental improvements, experimental overhauls, and UX touch-ups a lot more, because that's what we're going to get in the future, regardless whether we're talking about iOS or Android.
One thing is certain though - we are eager to get our hands on the next update, not to mention that the final iOS release can't come soon enough!