iOS 11: all you need to know about your next mobile OS


You can tell a lot about Apple by the mood of its keynotes, and WWDC 2017 was a doozy: there was so much to cover that Tim Cook didn’t even have time to show us graphs about how brilliant Apple is. Instead we were pummelled with announcements, and the most important ones may well be the ones about iOS 11: after all, it’s the operating system of Apple’s future. And it’s a future that’s looking rather exciting indeed.

iOS 11 vs iOS 10: iPad

The lines between iOS and macOS are getting very blurry these days: the iPad in iOS 11 has a Dock that’s much more like macOS, and which doubles as an app switcher for multitasking. You can drag and drop between apps, swipe the keyboard keys up to access extra characters, and use the new Files app not just for iCloud storage, but for third-party apps such as Box and Dropbox too. 

Pencil support is vastly improved too. There's a built-in document scanner to bring in documents, and you can use the improved Markup to scribble all over it. Inline drawings make it across to Mail too, and handwriting recognition enables you to search for handwritten documents. For all of Tim Cook’s chat about loving the Mac, it’s clear that the future of personal Macs is iPad-shaped.

iOS 11 vs iOS 10: Siri

Remember when Siri was the future? That seemed so long ago, with Siri’s initial promise fading as the likes of Google and Amazon raced ahead with virtual digital assistants. Even Samsung has one. iOS 10 opened Siri up to more than just Apple’s own apps, but its powers were still limited to certain kinds of apps: booking cabs, messaging, photo apps, payments, fitness, and VoIP calls.

With iOS 11, the SiriKit API was expanded to embrace other kinds of applications too: note-taking apps, task-management apps, QR codes and even online banking. If Apple’s Siri-powered speaker stands a chance of defeating Amazon’s rather excellent Echo, this move is long overdue.

There’s more to Siri than a few apps and a speaker, though. The new, more realistic voices come with extra intelligence too, courtesy of machine learning technology –a phrase we heard quite a lot during the keynote. Read about a holiday destination in Safari and Siri suggests it as a topic for you to follow in the news app, or as an autosuggestion in Messages.

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Siri can translate between languages, and offers multiple results to queries. Siri learns what you’re interested in and how you use your device to better understand context, and that learning is shared (privately) across all your Apple devices.

The key here, of course, is how effective Siri is in everyday interaction: our hit rate on iOS and Watch is pathetic, and if Siri doesn’t listen properly, it’ll be a huge disappointment.

iOS 11 vs iOS 10: Camera and Photos

The big news here is smaller images and videos. iOS 11 introduces two new formats for video and photography respectively: HEVC for video and HEIF for images. Both formats promise the same image quality in half the file size, and you’ll be able to export in formats other platforms can understand.

There are some cool new toys too. You can edit Live Photos to create perfect little loops or just change which frame is the still image, and you can turn a Live Photo into a long exposure shot with a single tap. The Memories feature can identify key events such as weddings and sporting events, and can automatically find the best pictures and videos for each. It’ll also automatically reformat its presentations if you rotate your device.

Apple also showed off ARKit, its new platform for augmented reality apps: think Pokemon Go for everyday apps. If developers embrace it, that could be a whole world of fun in future apps. The demo showed an AR Lego Batman, which looked fascinating.

iOS 11 vs iOS 10: Control Center, HomeKit and Multi-Room Audio

We weren’t entirely convinced by the Control Center in iOS 10: Android’s approach is more flexible and customizable, and we find ourselves swapping cards for no good reason on our iOS devices as we try to find the right one.

That’s changed in iOS 11, and the Control Center is now a single screen. Everything’s tappable, and 3D touch brings up further options and/or larger controls. That’s good news for automated home fans, who can also benefit from iOS 11’s new AirPlay 2 protocol and multi-room audio. Sonos is conspicuously absent from the list of partners so far, but we’re sure they’ll get on board eventually.

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iOS 11 vs iOS 10: Maps

Maps has lagged behind Google since its arrival in iOS 6, and that’s not just because Google has more users and therefore more data to analyze. Key features such as speed limits and lane guidance didn’t make it into iOS 10, but they have now, along with indoor maps for malls in eight cities and a whole bunch of airports, with many more to come.

iOS 11 also gets a new Do Not Disturb While Driving feature to promote in-car safety. As you’d expect it doesn’t disturb you when you’re driving, but you can configure it to send auto-responders or to let specific people through. It uses Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi to detect movement and prevent distractions.

iOS 11 vs iOS 10: Messages and Apple Pay

Messages got a major revamp in iOS 10, and it’s been revamped again for iOS 11. The app drawer has been redesigned to make it easier to access your messaging apps and stickers, and you’ll find Apple Pay in there too. You can now send or request money from friends without leaving the Messages app, and if you’re requesting cash it’ll even fill in the amount for you. Incoming funds are stored in your Apple Pay cash card, and can be spent normally or withdrawn to your bank.

Messages are now stored and synced via the cloud, so you can say goodbye to laptop notifications telling you about things you read on your phone last night. Messages will take up less storage space as a result.

iOS 11 vs iOS 10: Apple Music and the App Store

Good news, everybody! Ping is back! Well, kinda: Apple Music now gets Spotify-style playlists showing what your friends are listening to (provided they give permission). There’s also a new MusicKit API for third-party apps to access Apple Music, and a completely redesigned App Store that looks much friendlier than before. 

iOS 11: release date

The developer beta is available now, and non-developers can sign up for beta access at the end of June. The final release will be a free upgrade in the autumn.