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. The OS won't officially launch until autumn - probably September - but in the meantime, developers and even members of the public can try out the various beta testing versions and check out the new features and interface tweaks for themselves.

Bear in mind, however, that signing up to the beta programme requires you to sign an NDA and agree not to publish screenshots of the OS. For this reason, our iOS 11 preview is based on the demo and announcements from WWDC, and will turn into a full review when the final version launches. Read more: iOS 11 latest news and iOS 11 vs iOS 10

(Apple also used WWDC 2017 to unveil macOS 10.13 High Sierra, watchOS 4, new MacBook Pro models, new iMac models, a new iMac Pro, new iPad Pro models and an all-new speaker called the HomePod. It was a busy keynote, that's for sure. You can recap the whole thing here.)

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

Control Centre has been redesigned and, as long requested by users, is now customisable.

It now packs all of the features into one page (a big improvement as far as we're concerned - all too often we've tried to swipe the brightness control and accidentally navigated to the second page), and has new sliders. It also uses 3D Touch to allow quick access to more settings and features - hard-press a setting toggle to access further settings options - and this looks like it's going to make life a lot easier.

Redesigned App Store

We said there was no radical system-wide design, but 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.

New features

A huge number of new features have been unveiled for iOS 11; here are the highlights. Many are exclusively for the iPad, but first we'll talk about the features coming to all compatible devices. 

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, it looks like 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. 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.

iPad-only features

We mentioned earlier that there are lots of features coming in iOS 11 that will be exclusive to iPad users. These features are all quite simple and focus on productivity, but they're key to making the iPad a more powerful and useful device.

It feels like Apple is slowly but surely creating a tablet that can take on a laptop, and with this update and the updates and new features in the new iPad models the company seems to be making good progress.

iOS 11 review: iPad features

Better Multitasking

The new Dock in iOS 11 for iPad means you'll be able to access your favourite and most frequently used apps or files quickly and easily from any screen. In addition to the Dock, a new App Switcher design is going to make life easier when you want to quickly change apps or open new ones.

Plus, system-wide Drag and Drop means you can move pretty much anything between any app for much quicker and easier ways of working. An image, for example, can be dragged and dropped directly into an email. This sounds very simple, but was a tedious process before so is a much-welcomed addition.

A new Files app

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

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
  • iPod touch (sixth generation)

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

Release date

The first beta version of iOS 11 is available for developers now; other developer betas will follow as we approach the final launch. Later this summer Apple will start to release public beta versions as well, which you'll be able to try out even if you're not a developer. Both betas will be steadily updated for testing, allowing developers and early adopters to trial the software before it’s made available to the general public.

Here's how to install the iOS 11 beta.

So far, Apple will only say that the full public version of iOS 11.0 will launch in autumn. However, most Apple fans will expect this to happen in September 2017, alongside new iPhones, the iPhone 7s and/or iPhone 8.

Podcast: All the announcements at WWDC 2017

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

OUR VERDICT

We've chosen to base this preview on the demo version shown off at WWDC; even if we talked you through the beta version (which isn't technically allowed) we'd still be looking at unfinished software. So this isn't a final verdict, and nor should it be.

But we're cautiously optimistic about this update. 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.

Stay tuned for our in-depth review once the OS launches in autumn.

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