iOS 11 is Apple's latest software update for iPhone and iPad users, and this year - particularly for the latter - it brings many important changes. There's an all-new Control Centre, better multitasking for iPads, a new one-handed keyboard, better Siri and indoor Maps, among many other improvements.
We've been using iOS 11 all the way through its public beta testing phase, and - while some things have changed - it's been a pretty consistent experience.
iOS 11 review: Control Centre
- Full screen Control Centre
- Can now add/remove controls
- Force press for pop-ups
Since its inception in iOS 7 way back in 2013, Control Centre has been a small slide-up window that lives in the bottom half of your iPhone screen. It’s long been a quick and convenient way to get to often-used features and settings like Airplane mode, screen brightness, flashlight and timers among others.
If there was one criticism however, it’s that it’s always been very rigid. You get what’s in Control Centre, and that’s it. No changing, customising or adding. With iOS 11, that has changed. Dramatically. As has the entire user interface.
The new Control Centre still slides up from the bottom of the screen (unless you're getting an iPhone X), except now it’s a dark interface that takes over the entire display.
It has all the usual functions, albeit in a new design. Where the screen brightness control used to be a horizontal slider across the screen, it’s now a small, chunky rounded rectangle element just to the right of the middle. It lives next to the new volume control, beneath the music playback control (which used to have its own screen).
Perhaps more important is that you can now edit what appears in Control Centre by heading to Settings > Control Centre > Customise. Here you can add or remove any of 17 controls which include new additions like the shortcut to Notes, Apple TV Remote, Home, Alarm, Wallet and Screen Recording, among others.
Most of the control windows in the new Control Centre respond to force pressing as well. In the case of the connectivity controls, flashlight, screen brightness and volume, this brings up an expanded view of the controls. In most others, it launches a pop-up window with shortcut actions that we’re used to seeing when force-pressing app icons on the home screen.
While we think the design of the Control Centre is so radically different to previous versions and will surely divide opinion, no one can argue against the added functionality. We love the ability to add and reorganise controls, it's something it's needed for many years, and is a very welcome relief.
iOS 11 review: Messages
- Apple Pay is coming (soon)
- New one-handed QuickType keyboard
- Two new full-screen effects
Last year’s update to Messages saw the built-in stock iMessage deliverer turn into something of a Messenger competitor. With send effects and iMessage apps, it became a whole lot more fun to chat with your iPhone-toting friends. With iOS 11, Apple is adding to its usefulness, and adding a few more features.
Apple Pay integration is undoubtedly the standout new feature, which sadly hasn’t been available to test in the public beta, at least not the most recent update and isn't immediately available upon launch. When it is officially available, it’ll allow you to send money to your friends, and vice versa, without leaving the messaging app.
iMessage Apps were a little fiddly to get to in the previous software, so in iOS 11, Apple stuck them all in a scroll-bar on the bottom of the display. Now you just swipe through them, choose which iMessage app you want to use, and you’re away. This way you don't need to have a keyboard on screen to get access. They're right there, just waiting for you to find that one funny cat GIF to send to your friend.
It takes a little time to get used to it, but it's more convenient, without question.
Keeping on the keyboard subject - and with the 7 Plus being one of the biggest 5.5-inch phones on the market - it's great to finally have a keyboard you can use with one hand. The new QuickType keyboard on iPhone shrinks the keys and pulls them towards the right, or left, side of the screen, making it actually possible to use just one hand to reply to your messages.
One other little nugget of usefulness: You can now mute conversations. Let's say for instance you're in an iMessage group with a couple of people who just love to keep nattering on and your iPhone is buzzing every 30 seconds. You can head into the inbox, slide left on a conversation and tap "hide alerts" and you'll not receive any notifications until you activate them again.
iOS 11 review: Live Photos and camera
- Three new Live Photo effects
- Photos take up less space
In the past, Live Photos was a one-trick pony. You’d shoot a photo, and then the iPhone captures a short animation, choosing the best shot from that animation as the main still image. Of course, you can then view that as an animation, and use it to add a little life to your lock screen. It’s as useful as it is storage-consuming.
In iOS 11, Apple has used some popular motion effects to breathe a little life into Live Photos. Now when you shoot a Live Photo it captures the animation just the same, but you can then head into the Photos app, swipe up on the photo and choose which style animation you want.
Loop shows the animation over and over again, in a loop. Bounce is basically Apple’s version of Boomerang, the animation you’re likely to see on 90% of your Instagram friends’ stories. It plays the short clip, then immediately reverses it.
Long exposure effect turns the animation into one, blurry still. If you have a tripod, you can use this to make cool light trail photos, or blurry water shots. If you don’t, it’ll likely end up looking like some kind of unusual modern art. Still, we like the change, it allows you to create effects without having to use a third party photo-sharing app.
One thing that is worth noting however, is that it does save as a video file if you use these new animations. That means you'll need to create a duplicate photo if you still want to use it and share the picture on your social network accounts.
Another less obvious change to the way Photos and the camera app work is in image compression. Apple has developed a way to make images take up less space, without losing any quality. Or at least, those are the claims.
In our short time with the software, it's been hard to see a huge amount of difference. Our phone's storage still has lots of images and video in it, but perhaps not taking up as much space as they would in older versions of iPhone software.
iOS 11 review: Siri
- Direct translation
- Smart suggestions when typing/browsing
Like Messages, Siri's biggest update wasn't available in the preview, at least not in British English. That feature - translation. When it launches, you'll be able to ask Siri to give you direct translations to phrases in German, Spanish, French, Chinese or Italian.
Say "Hey Siri, how do you say where's the best local restaurant in Spanish" and it'll not only speak the translation, but show you it written in a little popup window on screen.
Other elements of the new Siri aren't as easily noticeable. When messaging, it can suggest the names of films, places and other things you've recently viewed, it can also suggest an approximate arrival time if you're just sending a text to say you're on your way.
Likewise, in Safari, it can suggest searches based on what you've been reading, and automatically add appointments or flights to your calendar once you've confirmed them.
iOS 11 review: iPad
It seemed to take an age before Apple launched side-by-side apps on iPad. Arguably, it was something that should have always been there, but still, it’s here now and in iOS 11, massively improved.
Now, thanks to the super-useful, always accessible dock - which you bring up from the bottom of the screen whenever you like - you can drag any app on to the display. This then appears in a long, narrow floating window that you can move from left to right across the screen, or you can have it form part of a split-screen with whichever app you were in.
There's also the new app switching screen, which joins with the new Control Centre on the iPad and is activated by either double-tapping the home button or swiping up from the bottom of your screen. Here, any split screen apps you're running will remain as they are, and won't be split off into individual windows.
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Another element added to multitasking is the ability to drag and drop files from one app to the other. As an example, if you have Photos open searching for an image to add to an email, you can just drag that photo straight from the Photos app, right into a new email.
All combined, these might not mean that the iPad completely replaces the need for a laptop or PC, but they'll sure as heck ensure you don't miss them as much when you decide to use your iPad to do that one thing you only ever did on a "proper" computer before.
Like the iPhone, iPad has a new QuickType keyboard too. It's not designed for one-handed use, but rather, to make it easier to get to numbers and characters that you use often.
Rather than press the "123" button to get to those, you can now just swipe quickly downwards on the corresponding key. In testing, it certainly made typing on the onscreen keyboard more convenient and - as a result - faster.
It's one of those things, when you use it, you ask "why wasn't it always like this?" For typing to feel more natural, keystrokes need to flow into each other, and that can't happen if some characters you need require you to launch into another keyboard layer. With QuickType now, it's all accessible from the same layer, unless you want some of the less frequently used symbols that feature on the second symbols screen.
Pencil it in
For iPad Pro users, the Apple Pencil will become more capable and more essential than before. With the iPad locked, you'll be able to just whip out your Pencil, tap it on the screen and starting making a note. Similarly, you can instantly mark up a PDF or screenshot just buy grabbing your Pencil and starting to doodle/write on screen.
Using the iPad's camera, and a new feature within the Notes app, users will be able to snap a picture of a document lying on a desk, and Notes automatically corrects the angle, crops it, and will enable you to fill in and sign any empty fields on the page. It's pretty awesome.
It might not be something you use all the time, but those odd occasions when your kid brings home a permission form from school, you'll be able to snap it, sign it, and email it right back to the school's admin.
iOS 11 review: Other bits
Of course, these main features are only part of the updates in iOS 11. With AirPlay 2, and compatible speakers, you'll be able to fill your entire house with music, using the technology's multi-room feature. It's not exactly a new concept, but it is new to Apple's standard wireless beaming technology. It also means that instead of hunting for expensive Sonos systems, you just need to look for any speakers and systems with AirPlay installed.
Do Not Disturb while driving is another new feature for iPhone users that automatically kicks in when it detects that your phone is in a moving vehicle. As soon as it detects the motion, it'll switch on Do Not Disturb, and displays a notification on your lock screen to inform you. If you happen to be the passenger, you can easily deactivate it by selecting the "I'm not driving" option.
Indoor mapping is coming to Maps to help you around the huge confusing retail malls, and lane guidance will help you not miss those turnings off the motorway, by keeping you in the best lanes for where you're travelling.
Navigating your notifications is a little better as well. From your lock screen, you can swipe up from the bottom of the display and see all of your recent notifications as well as any you haven't seen yet.
App Store is getting a refresh too, with a new design that highlights interesting developer stories and great apps in the Today view which refreshes every day. Similarly, the Music app is getting an update, while many other stock apps feature a similar look with the big, bold text at the top.
And who could forget ARKit, arguably one of Apple's most important new developments. Unlike Tango - Google's project - ARKit doesn't require added extra cameras or external sensors, but seemingly does a really good job of merging virtual objects on screen with the real world being captured by the camera.
For iPhone, there are some very cool new features that we love, but it’s arguably for iPad that the software makes the most difference. We’d use the old cliche that updating an iPad to iOS 11 is like having a new device, but it’s more like having a new category of device. iPad is taking on the laptop, and is getting ever closer to being that all-in-one portable product that everyone will want.
Dragging and dropping files between apps, having a floating secondary app window, document scanner and permanent dock, all combine to create that an experience that makes you miss your PC even less than before.
Control Centre ensures that it's even easier than ever to get to those functions you really want to access quickly and efficiently. And you now get to choose which controls are there.
In all, it's a collection of improvements that make iOS more capable, more efficient and more modern.