iOS 11 preview

At WWDC 2017 on 5 June, Apple announced and demoed its new iOS 11 operating system for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. iOS 11 officially launches today (19 September).

We decided to jump in, naturally, and we've been running the public beta for several months. In this preview article we discuss the new features and interface changes in iOS 11, but also read up on the latest iOS 11 news for details of features that made it to the final cut.

iOS 11 review

Interface

Apple continues its gentle evolution of the iOS interface - there's no radical system-wide redesign like we saw in iOS 7, but a variety of tweaks and improvements.

Lock Screen and Notifications

Lock Screen and Notifications have now been combined into one screen - this ought to make it a bit simpler and easier to use.

Control Centre

Apple has made significant changes to the Control Centre, introduced in iOS 7 but in recent years suffering from feature creep. The two-screen format of the iOS 10 Control Centre feels like an unnecessary pain (there are so few controls on the second screen, and several of the front-page controls are so large, that it could surely have been condensed into one), and a betrayal of the simple, quick-settings purpose of the feature.

In iOS 11 Control Centre gets a new look, for a start. Instead of a light grey solid pane with controls on the top, the entire screen blurs out and the individual elements sit on top in their own near-black rounded rectangles. It's hard to say if this is better or worse, aesthetically, but it's at least different. It feels fresh while remaining consistent with Apple's post-iOS 7 design language.

iOS 11 review: Control Centre

More significantly, Control Centre is now a single-page affair, so you'll no longer try to adjust the brightness slider and accidentally switch to the second page. This is a good thing.

There are new options in Control Centre, such as a nifty screen recording function and a Mobile Data on/off toggle. And it uses 3D Touch (or long-press, on an iPad or older iPhone) to allow quick access to more settings and features. 

iOS 11 review: Control Centre 3D Touch

Hard-press the clock/alarm button, for instance, and gives you quick access to a timer; force-pressing the Bluetooth/WiFi toggles box reveals options for AirDrop and personal hotspots; and so on.

Finally, and as long requested by users, Control Centre is now customisable. There's a page in Settings where you get to decide what appears there. It follows the same format as the Notifications editing page, with simple red minus icons to remove elements and green plus icons to add them.

iOS 11 review: Control Centre settings

So much for Control Centre on the iPhone. On the iPad, interface changes are more pronounced, and when you swipe upwards you'll bring up not just the Control Centre but the (redesigned) app switcher and (greatly enhanced) app dock. (In fact, you need to do a longer swipe upwards to bring up all of these things. A short swipe upwards just brings up the dock.)

iOS 11 review: Control Centre, dock and app switcher on iPad

We'll say more about the app switcher and dock in a moment.

Dock (iPad only)

This is the first of the changes we'll be talking about that affects iPad only, so apologies to iPhone owners for the present. We'll have more for you shortly.

The app dock has been part of iOS since the launch of the first iPhone, but this is the first time it's changed significantly. The dock is now accessible from more places, can contain more icons (including some smart elements), and supports drag-and-dropping for quick multitasking.

The old dock was just a row of app icons at the bottom of the Home screen: the only thing that distinguished it from the rest of the interface was that it was more flexible in number of icons (anywhere from zero to six), and it stayed there when you swiped to later Home screens.

iOS 11 review: Dock

Now it's accessible from pretty much anywhere; do a short swipe up from the bottom of the screen within an app, just as you used to do to bring up Control Centre, and the dock appears instead. (On iPhone this still brings up Control Centre; and on iPad, continuing the swipe upwards will bring up Control Centre and the app switcher as well as the dock, as described above.) You can then jump to another app, or drag-and-drop an app directly on to the screen to open it in splitscreen with whatever you're currently doing.

iOS 11 review: Dock

iOS 11 review: Dock

You'll also notice that there's a vertical line partway along the dock, just as there is on the macOS dock. Apps to the left of the line are the ones you choose to put there, but ones to the right are dynamic - either recently used, or currently being used on other devices you use, thanks to Handoff.

iOS 11 review: iPad features

App switcher (iPad only)

This is less exciting, but the Control Centre screen we've mentioned in the two sections above also contains the app switcher, which shows screenshots of the currently open apps you've used most recently. In iOS 10 this is accessed by double-pressing the Home button, and displays the screens in a swipable stack; here, they're laid out more simply in two flat rows. Swipe to the right to see earlier apps.

In most respects this is functionally the same as the old app switcher, but we think it's handy having it all gathered on the same screen as the Control Centre and dock.

There is, however, one change here which strikes us as mildly inconvenient: instead of just swiping upwards on one of the screens to close that app, as you do in iOS 10, you now have to press and hold a screen until little X icons appear, and then tap that icon.

iOS 11 review: App switcher

Note that if you swipe up on an unlocked iPad, the Control Centre will be in its usual position on the right, but the dock and app switcher elements will be absent.

Redesigned App Store

Apple has redesigned the App Store quite extensively.

Launching the app now takes you to a Today tab, which is designed to help with app discovery (one of the App Store's historically greatest problems). You'll see new Collections, a Daily List centred around a particular theme, and tutorials that show you how to do particular things in new apps.

iOS 11 review: New App Store

There are now dedicated tabs for Games and (non-game) Apps, places for you to discover both new and popular offerings, as well as in-app purchases for apps you may already own which are available to view and download right there within the App Store. You'll see previews, tips and gameplay videos too.

The Search tab remains; Apple didn't say what work if any has been done to improve the quality and spam-proofness of App Store search, which is mildly worrying. App Store search in iOS 10 and earlier is rife with problems, and feels at least five years behind the standards of web search engines.

Here's how to use the App Store in iOS 11

New features

A huge number of new features have been unveiled for iOS 11; here are the highlights.

New Messages features

iOS 11's Messages app has been updated with several new features including a new 'app drawer', which contains stickers, and a new peer-to-peer version of Apple Pay which lets you pay contacts via iMessage. That could be a game-changer; Apple Pay has already made big strides in corporate adoption but this can take it into the realm of everyday life (and may make settling up restaurant debts a doddle).

Apple Pay's new feature still uses the TouchID fingerprint sensor, and money received will go into your Apple Pay Cash Card, which you can use for further Apple Pay payments or to transfer money back into your bank account.

There's also new Messages in iCloud: a feature that will automatically synchronise your conversations across all of your iOS and macOS devices.

Finally, Apple has added a new QuickType keyboard which on iPhone will mean you can use the device easier one-handedly. It will move the keys closer to your thumb for one-handed typing. Read more: How to use Messages on iPhone

iOS 11 review: One-handed typing

Siri improvements

Siri has a new, supposedly more natural-sounding male and female voice, as well as a new visual interface.

Apple also added new features to Siri including the ability to translate what you say into German, French, Italian, Chinese or Spanish, with further languages being added soon. It also works better with Apple Music to help suggest songs you might like.

Siri is also becoming more intelligent in iOS 11. It will now use on-device learning to discover more about you, and therefore improve suggestions when you're in particular apps. For example, if you're looking at a particular place or topic in Safari, Siri can suggest related words and items in Mail, Messages and other apps.

For developers, SiriKit will bring its capabilities into more apps.

Additionally, although Apple didn't talk about it during the keynote, you'll be able to type queries into Siri rather than always being forced to speak them out loud.

New Camera features

The camera software has seen a lot of improvements, including improved image quality. Portrait Mode in the iPhone 7 Plus can be taken with Optical Image Stabilisation, True Tone flash and HDR, for example.

A new Depth API is being released for developers, which means they'll be able to use the iPhone 7 Plus's camera to add more depth information to their apps.

Apple has also added a new technology called High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) that reduces the file size of your iPhone 7 or 7 Plus photos.

Finally, the camera is also getting a QR scanner built-in - this is long overdue, albeit bad news for the makers of crappy free QR reader apps.

Live Photo Effects

You can now choose precisely the frame you want from a Live Photo to make your Key Photo, and there are also new 'Effects' available to use with Live Photos.

The new Loops effect will turn your Live Photo into an infinite video loop; Bounce will play and then reverse the clip. And a really cool feature means you can combine Live Photos to create a Long Exposure effect, perfect for waterfalls or city shots, for example.

Indoor Maps and Lane Navigation

Maps of airports and shopping malls are coming soon, and we're also about to get information about your speed, and lane navigation.

iOS 11 sees the launch of a new feature called Do Not Disturb While Driving, too (you can find out how to use it here). When activated, people who are trying to get in touch with when driving will get a note to say you'll see the message when you arrive at your destination. (They can choose to override this, if it's an emergency.)

iOS 11 review: Do Not Disturb While Driving

Music

A new AirPlay protocol brings lots of new features for speakers including multi-room support, and there's an AirPlay 2 audio DPI for developers.

You'll also now be able to see what your friends have been listening to in Apple Music thanks to new public profiles.

Plus, developers will get access to a new Apple Music API to integrate its library into other apps such as Nike+ Run Club and Shazam.

Improved data tracking

While it may not be as glamorous as a redesigned App Store or an overhauled Control Centre, there's a new addition in iOS 11 that'll make it much easier to manage your mobile data. Within the Mobile Data section of the Settings app, you'll find a bunch of new options and menus.

We're not sure if it's compatible with all carriers at this time, but we can confirm that EE customers in iOS 11 will be able to find out how much data they have used and how much they have left in the Settings app.

It doesn't end there, either - you can even change your data plan from within the Settings app. It provides an easier way to keep an eye on your mobile data without the need to download a third-party app from the App Store. 

Files app (iPad only)

As per the rumours, iOS 11 features a new app called Files. Like the multi-tasking features, it's designed to make life easier for power users.

Files will keep all of your documents in one easy-to-use place. You'll be ale to drag and drop attachments from Mail or any other app into a particular folder, or create folders to help stay organised and find what you're looking for faster. It's going to make multitasking so much quicker, and brings the iPad Pro a lot closer to an alternative to a laptop.

iOS 11 review: Files on iPad

Apple Pencil compatibility (iPad only)

For iPad Pro models, the Apple Pencil has become better than ever thanks to new integrated support for inline drawing, and a new Instant Notes feature that lets you open the Notes app directly from the Lock Screen with a simple tap.

Which iPhones and iPads are compatible?

Here's a list of every Apple device that supports iOS 11:

  • iPad Air 1, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro (12.9, 2015), iPad Pro (9.7), iPad 2017, iPad Pro (10.5), iPad Pro (12.9, 2017)
  • iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 4
  • iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X
  • iPod touch (sixth generation)

Read more: Which iPhones & iPads are compatible with iOS 11?

If you are wondering whether you should install iOS 11, read this. Ready to update? Here's how to upgrade your iPhone or iPad to the new version of iOS.

Podcast: All the announcements at WWDC 2017

The UK Tech Weekly Podcast team dissect the latest announcements in episode 64.

OUR VERDICT

We've only seen the public beta of iOS 11, which is by definition unfinished software. So this isn't a final verdict, and nor should it be.

But we're cautiously optimistic about this update, and will be updating all our devices today when the final version is released to the public.

The new features are appealing - the new dock and drag-and-drop interface tweaks seem particularly useful for multitasking, the camera changes will be very popular and AR seems fun if niche - and, well, it'll be free.

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