The new iPhone models are just around the corner – but before they arrive, current iPhones and iPads have received an upgrade of their own in the form of iOS 11. It’s the biggest shakeup of Apple’s operating system in years, and we’ve been going hands-on to bring you the lowdown.
So whether you’re planning on picking up a new iPhone yourself, or simply looking forward to a new version of iOS for your current kit, here’s exactly what you can expect from iOS 11.
The redesigned Control Centre is much more flexible
Let’s start with one of the biggest, and most necessary, changes: a completely overhauled Control Centre. In case you were wondering, that’s the little control panel you access by swiping up from the bottom of the screen!
When this feature was introduced in iOS 7, it provided quick and convenient access to some of the most commonly used settings, and it’s remained largely unchanged since then.
But it always seemed a little strange to have the controls spread across two ‘pages’ of settings, swiping left and right between them – and so, in iOS 11, everything has been consolidated into one page of controls.
The improvement is so clear, it’s a wonder it’s taken this long. We often found the volume slider in the Control Centre more convenient than the iPhone’s physical buttons – so burying it on ‘page two’ was a bit of a head-scratcher. The new arrangement is a lot easier and makes much more sense.
In fact, the new Control Centre is fully customisable: a new page in the Settings app lets you choose exactly which functions appear. What’s more, a long press (or Force Touch) on the icons often brings up more detailed controls – like adjustable brightness for the torch, or specific modes for the camera.
While the visual changes in iOS 11 are subtle, there are actually quite a few of them – so the OS feels quite different, and significantly refreshed overall.
The fonts used throughout the system have changed: generally speaking, letters are now bolder and ‘heavier’, with increased thickness and wider spacing. You’ll notice this straight away in the text below icons on the Home screen, as well as the notification bar at the top of the screen – but there are subtle changes to text throughout the OS. Speaking of the Home screen, the app or folder icons ‘docked’ at the bottom also no longer display their names beneath them.
Beyond the fonts, a number of familiar icons have also changed: among the more noticeable changes, the Clock icon now has bolder numbers and the App Store icon has been simplified.
Eagle-eyed users will also notice some new lock screen animations: the keypad numbers now pop in one by one when you wake the phone, and the lock screen swipes up and away when you actually unlock your device. A subtle change – but quite an attractive one!
Most native apps have only had a visual overhaul, or a few new features – but the App Store has received a little more love.
Its new look matches the wider iOS 11 redesign, but the real focus here is on curation and discovery. The App Store now features a ‘Today’ section, highlighting interesting apps and games, with introductions written by Apple’s staff. There are also themed lists, interviews with developers and more – all designed to highlight new apps you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
It’s a major change to the App Store, which is now a place where you can lose yourself for a little while, browsing new apps and exploring what’s on offer. It’s good news for users, good news for developers – in fact, it’s good news all round!
While the camera app remains largely unchanged in iOS 11, there are a few new filters to play with, promising more expressive portraints and natural skintones. And beyond that, the Photos gallery has a handful of fun new features.
Most of these concern Live Photos: introduced with iOS 9, these photos also capture a few moments of video either side of a still image. It was a nice idea, but limited in practice.
In iOS 11, though, Live Photos have had an upgrade. Now, you can adjust the ‘Key Photo’ to choose the perfect still image from the entire video – and by swiping up on the Live Photo from your gallery, you can choose from a few new Instagram-inspired playback modes, including ‘Loop’, ‘Bounce’ and ‘Long Exposure’.
As well as improved Live Photos, iOS 11 now makes more use of the ‘Memories’ feature introduced in iOS 10. You now receive notifications to let you know about interesting anniversaries from your photo gallery – a nice way to highlight a previously overlooked feature.
While we've focused on the changes coming to all iOS devices, there are a number of new features specifically for iPads which are worth a closer look.
The biggest change is to the Dock – the row of icons for apps and folders, found along the bottom of the Home screen. In iOS 11, the Dock can be opened from any screen with just a quick swipe from the bottom of the screen, making it much quicker to find and open your favourite apps, no matter what you're doing. What's more, the Dock now shows relevant app suggestions on the right-hand side. These might simply be apps you've used recently, but it can also show you the last apps you were using on your iPhone or Mac.
Multitasking has also seen a few improvements. Now, apps you open with 'Slide Over' can be dragged over to the left-hand side of the screen, as well as the default right-hand location. And the App Switcher has been completely redesigned, keeping 'groups' of your multi-tasked apps together for easier switching.
Finally, you can now drag and drop different types of data, like images and text, between multi-tasking apps – so you can now drag an image from your Photos gallery straight into an email, for example.
Finally, there’s a whole host of minor tweaks and improvements worth writing about:
Siri’s had a bit of a makeover, with new voices and animations. You can now also edit questions you’ve asked using the keyboard, just in case the voice recognition didn’t get it right first time.
A new ‘Do Not Disturb while Driving’ mode automatically shuts off distracting notifications when the device detects driving-like motions – although a long train journey also caused it to pop up for us!
Under the hood, there’s a new file format, known as ‘HEIF’, for images and videos. This should mean much more efficient use of your device’s storage space, reducing file sizes by up to half. And finally, a new ‘Files’ app gives you direct access to files stored locally and in popular cloud services like iCloud and Google Drive.
Changes to iOS are never going to make the headlines like an all-new iPhone – but as the iconic handset approaches its 10th anniversary, Apple have clearly pulled out all the stops to make the latest version of iOS the most refined and useful yet.
While the reimagined control centre makes day-to-day use simpler, and the general redesign modernises the look and feel, for us the greatest new feature is the revamped App Store.
Apps have always been at the heart of the iPhone (or iPad) experience – and for the first time, the App Store makes it a pleasure to explore and discover new ones.
iOS 11 is available now for supported devices. If you haven't already received a notification about your upgrade, you can download it now by opening the Settings app on your iPhone, then going to General > Software Update.