Hey, it’s that time of year again. Apple has announced its new iPhones and will release them in the next few days (besides the iPhone X, unfortunately), and that means new software for the rest of us. Specifically, iOS 11 is on its way, but you may not have heard much about it (well, unless you follow every tech blog on the internet). That’s likely due to its insignificant laundry-list of new features, improvements, and changes. None of these alterations are clearly visible to the end user, but once you know they’re there, you’ll probably want to upgrade.
Probably the most visible change in iOS 11 is the new notification and control centers. These two key areas are basically what define the new OS update in terms of design. Starting with the former, the notification center is basically the lock screen in which all of your notifications alongside your lock screen wallpaper show up with a swipe down, while swiping left or right will get you to your list of widgets and camera interface, respectively. By swiping up on your notifications in this center, you’ll see all of your older notifications from a few minutes to a few days ago. It’s built to allow users to not get too overwhelmed with a long list of notifications, but it also hides some that you may find important and may want to revisit later. Maybe if Apple built in a notification manager that lets you silence notifications for a period of time until you think you’ll be able to take action on them would be better than this implementation as I’ve found myself missing critical emails, texts, and phone call alerts due to it.
The latter, on the other hand, is actually greatly improved over iOS 10. With iOS 11’s new Control Center, you get a single page full of custom controls you can assign. There’s a ton of controls you can add and you can even add them all. I wouldn’t though because the center’s toggle list gets really long really fast.
It’s also not paginated anymore so you can access all of your controls through one interface. New 3D Touch controls even let you dive deeper into the quick toggles to more precisely access shortcuts. There’s a full-on music widget, quick toggles for system functions (e.g. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular data, etc), various flashlight levels, a full-on Apple TV remote – you name it and it’s probably there. A new toggle in the center is called Screen Recording, and it literally lets you record your device’s screen without having to hook up to a Mac first. The recording saves with or without audio to your phone or iPad’s gallery and is then shareable across social media and other ways of communication. It’s just a stupid convenient feature to have if you wanna record, say, a software bug or part of an app and then share it with the world.
Another noticeable improvement over iOS 10 is Siri. At first, you may not realize it, but the virtual assistant has a new voice in which it sounds more human. She definitely sounds a lot more human-y than in year’s past, but it’s still creepy, to say the least.
Not only did Siri get a new voice, but it can also translate whatever you say into different languages. Right now, it supports translating to Chinese, Spanish, French, German, or Italian, but this list will likely increase.
Also new for Siri is typing. Found within your iOS 11 device’s Accessibility settings pane, you can opt to essentially text Siri rather talking to it. you can’t have both enabled, though, and I’m not sure why. But hey, if you think you look like a weirdo talking to your phone out in public but still wanna use Apple’s voice assistant, you’ll probably wanna flick this feature on.
Overall, the new stuff with Siri in iOS 11 is nothing major. But if you’ve been using a third-party translating app up until now or prefer the Google Assistant since you can essentially text it rather be forced to use your voice, these new additions might convince you to use Apple’s voice assistant a bit more. Not that Siri has gotten smarter or anything, however, since she’s basically the same as she was in iOS 10 but with a new voice and a few languages under her belt. But again, these are small changes and you probably won’t notice them until you actually need them one day.
Apple’s also making some changes to how photos work in the camera. With iOS 11, when you take a Live Photo, you now have a few editing options which I’ve found to be both fun and useful at the same time. View a Live Photo in the Photos app, swipe up, and you’ll find three different playback options: Loop, Bounce, and Long Exposure. Loop is pretty self-explanatory as it continuously plays your Live Photo while you view it, Bounce is like an Instagram Boomerang as it plays your Live Photo and then rewinds it in a bouncing manner, and Long Exposure gives users a long exposure setting which looks especially brilliant for Live Photos of bodies of water. I thoroughly enjoy Long Exposure since Apple doesn’t include a manual mode for its camera app and I can’t opt for a long exposure setting. You can now also choose a different period of time within a Live Photo as your main photo that will be shared out to the world if you post it online. Finally, new camera filters are also onboard, if that’s your thing.
These additions are great and all, but personally, my favorite feature regarding photos in iOS 11 is how they’re stored. Rather storing regular old JPEGs on your iOS device, Apple has opted to use the HEIF (pronounced “Heef”) standard and utilize the HEVC (H.265) codec for images and videos. Thanks to these two storage options, photos and videos should take up roughly half the space regular JPEG and video files do on your iOS device. This is especially useful for those who may have limited space like 16 or 32GB. Despite having 128GB of room to work with and the ability to store regular JPEGs and movie files with no issue, I still think this feature is definitely upgrading to iOS 11 over since you won’t have to back everything up all the time for more storage’s sake.
This brings us to the more nerdy features of iOS 11. For one, there’s finally a proper file manager simply called Files which presents all of your various files stored on your device and in multiple cloud storage solutions (e.g. iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox), drag-and-drop lets you select multiple items in various apps and move them to a different location, a new UI when taking screenshots lets you edit them right there on the spot, and the new one-hand mode for the default keyboard makes it easier to type with just your thumb on larger phones like an iPhone Plus. All of these not-immediately-noticed tweaks are welcome changes and have all enhanced my experience throughout the iOS 11 beta process.
Of course, there’s plenty more consumer-friendly changes in iOS 11, namely new looks for some apps and tweaks to others. Let’s start with the most prominent of these changes: the new App Store. Apple this year decided to give the entire App Store a complete redesign with new features and layouts to simplify your experience. When opening the app, you’ll be presented by the Today view which details developers’ apps and the stories behind them. There’s tips, tricks, and how-to’s as well all presented in scrollable cards, and it’s Apple’s way of getting more people to visit the store every day to see what’s new much like the first days of the platform’s availability. Following this tab are dedicated sections for games, apps, updates, and a search field. As a first impression, you’ll immediately notice everything’s a bit easier to navigate.
Overall, I kind of like the new App Store. Sure, you won’t immediately see a bunch of lists of apps and games with a scrolling header like back in the day, but you will see the best new apps and games first and refined ways of viewing them. And the entire interface is much more beautiful and eye appealing, with new app landing pages and layering effects when scrolling. If you upgrade to iOS 11, you’ll probably like the new store, even though you’ll have to get a little used to it first.
There’s also tweaks made to the Settings app, Apple Music, News, the iTunes Store (dang, that icon tho), Maps, and new iconography for others. Some apps bundle new user-facing features like Apple Music’s new way of sharing what tunes you listen to with your contacts and Apple Maps’ new way of navigating you through airports and malls, but you’ll probably not notice these unless you specifically look for them.
This is a trend throughout iOS 11. Sure, Apple highlights a bunch of new features on their website, but when actually using iOS 11, you’ll find just a suite of little tweaks and changes that you’ll either really appreciate or be really annoyed by. Hey, I bet you didn’t know peer-to-peer payments were a thing in iMessages? How about that new scrolling list of apps in iMessages? Oh, and AirPlay 2 with its new audio streaming capabilities? See what I mean? There’s so much packed into iOS 11 that you really have to upgrade to discover and learn about it all.
Probably the biggest example I can give of these under-the-hood improvements is ARKit. With iOS 11, Apple is introducing its augmented reality efforts to create the biggest AR platform in the world. We weren’t able to try out AR with iOS 11 during our review period, but the company details the feature here. Essentially, it utilizes your iPhone or iPad’s camera and array of light sensors to find flat surfaces and objects on those surfaces to figure out where to place things. Apple notes they don’t need to measure the entire room just to put something like a coffee cup or lamp on a desk, and that’s why the functionality is going to be as wide-spread as it will be when people start installing iOS 11. When we have hands-on time with the feature, we’ll let you know.
And now the question arises: should you upgrade to iOS 11? To me, I think it’s a worthy upgrade for anyone running iOS 9 or earlier. If you’re on any OS that was released before September 2016, you should definitely upgrade. For those of you on iOS 10, you may be happy with what you have. The only two real reasons you should install iOS 11 is for the new photo formats and Control Center. If these two reasons don’t grab your interest, skip this one. Of course, anyone who doesn’t upgrade won’t be up to date security wise since each new release of iOS brings new bug fixes and security settings. So if you find security a priority, forget everything I’ve said and upgrade. For everyone else, consider what’s been stated. If you need my straight-up opinion, I like iOS 11. I don’t love it, but I never really love a new OS release anyway of any kind. Therefore, take it from me: at least consider upgrading. Apple did a good job on this one and it’ll only make your iOS device better.