I'm Lance Somoza, a professional IT Consultant with over 15 years of industry experience and an obsession for technology. This is my tech soapbox.

iOS 11 Review: Most Meaningful Features

Introduction

iOS 11 is out today, beginning at 10AM Pacific. I’ve been using it exclusively on my iPhone 7 Plus and iPad Pro 10.5-inch since the developer beta was released back in June. I have to say, this is probably the most jam-packed iOS release Apple has ever published. There are so many features, but I’m going to give you my thoughts on the ones I believe are most meaningful and important after using them day in and day out.

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Table of Contents

Shared Updates (iPhone & iPad)

To start us off, here’s a collection of updates shared between iPhone and iPad.

Control Center

This one is sure to be a big crowd pleaser, as we can finally customize Control Center.

On iPhone, Control Center now takes up the the entire screen upon engagement. On the iPad, it sits to the far-right of the new App Switcher (more on that later). 1

It may first seem a little jarring, given the different sizes of elements and methods to control them, but the new Control Center is leaps and bounds better than its previous implementations. All the basic controls are here in similar forms. Here’s a rundown:

  • 3D Touch is everywhere. Almost every single widget has additional options accessible by 3D Touch (or a long press on devices without 3D Touch).
  • Toggling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth doesn’t permanently turn these radios off. Instead, it disconnects from your current network or device and only turns the radios off temporarily. Quite a few people don’t like this, but I do. I realized most of the time I turn these off, I don’t want it to be permanent anyway. Apple clearly wants us to keep these radios on nigh-24/7 to allow for frictionless interaction within its ecosystem (e.g. AirPlay, AirDrop).
  • Music: I much prefer this layout, since I can pause/play music without swiping left or right first (old Control Center). There’s also a nice little shortcut to get to your audio outputs in the upper-right corner. This makes switching to AirPods or AirPlay a breeze.
  • Vertical Brightness/ Volume sliders. SO much better than the old horizontal sliders. They follow the exact same design as the Home app’s controls for dimmable lighting, so they should be instantly familiar to some.
  • There are a few new optional widgets you can add, all customizable from the Control Center > Customize menu in the Settings app. Here are my favorites:
    • Apple TV: Now you can control the Apple TVs on your network right from Control Center. It has all the same functions as the Siri remote, and will also prompt you to type something when you enter a text field on the Apple TV. You don’t even need to install Apple TV app proper. I use this little widget so much. It’s really fantastic.
    • Screen Recording: Quite a surprise from Apple. Pretty straightforward little widget that allows you to record your screen (3D Touch for microphone input option). A red status bar lets you know recording is in progress. Once done, the video is saved to your Camera Roll.
    • Notes: Now, you can create a new note with one tap inside of Control Center — even from the lock screen! This makes taking a note on-the-go really fast and simple no matter where you are currently at in the system.

I was hoping for the capability to quickly change Wi-Fi networks from Control Center, but sadly Apple has not deemed it worthy. Maybe iOS 12 will finally bring us this.

Files App

Before iOS 11, we had the iCloud Drive app. It was nice when you needed to get something in iCloud Drive, but that’s about it. In iOS 11, iCloud Drive has essentially morphed into the Files app.

I would describe Files as a barebones Finder. It doesn’t allow you access to system resources, of course, but it borrows a lot of the same functionality. Right from the app, you can browse all your files: local, iCloud Drive, and other cloud services like Box, Dropbox, etc. By default, most 3rd-party apps will appear in Files with the old document selector interface. Developers will need to update their apps to be fully compatible with the new Files API, which allows them to take full advantage of native navigation and all the other features.

You can tag files for easy grouping, as well as favorite them for quick access. It’s simple, but very welcome — especially when working between iPhone and iPad.

Notifications

This is the most disappointing part of iOS 11, in my opinion. Apple introduced so many nice tweaks in this release, but for some reason, they really struggle with notifications.

Swiping down from the status bar still reveals the ‘Notification Center’, but it now highly resembles your Lock screen (it shares its wallpaper and big, bold time). Initially confusing, Apple has made a few refinements which mostly leave us right where we left off with iOS 10. You can still swipe left to view actionable items on each notification or swipe right to open the corresponding app.

Throughout the betas of iOS 11, Apple played with Notification Center’s UX quite a bit. Initially, it was renamed ‘Cover Sheet’, but the final version of iOS 11 removes reference to this name entirely. Confusingly, I guess we’ll still continue to call it Notification Center.

One new change that has stuck is that older notifications are segregated by a swipe. To see notifications from earlier in the day (or previous days), you have to decidedly swipe up (versus simply scrolling a list). I fail to see how this is helpful since you’re still left with the same endless stream of notifications. Apple clearly has conflicting ideas of how this should be handled, but I hope they get it together for iOS 12. I keep wondering how Apple execs can live with notifications in this sad state of affairs.

App Store Redesign

The App Store has been updated with more of a focus on storytelling and discovery. The ‘Today’ view includes featured apps, along with developer interviews describing how the app was made, the story behind it, etc. This is really great, and it fosters a real sense of careful curation.

Another big change is in the form of separated tabs for Apps and Games. The thinking here is that all games are apps, but not all apps are games. I think this is a very logical change that will make it easier to filter through these categories separately.

One other thing I noticed is in relation to app updates. Apple no longer tells you how large the file size is for app updates, even though the max download size remains 100MB on cellular. With all the optimization Apple has done to help us use as little space as possible on our devices, this seems to be an area they want us to concern ourselves with less and less.

Siri

There are a few nice little additions to Siri, like word suggestions while you’re typing based off things you’ve recently looked at. There’s also voice translation built in, so you can ask her things like “How do you say ‘hello’ in Spanish?”.

The most obvious change is Siri’s voice. It sounds so much better and more lifelike. Apple has discussed the techniques behind this transformation in a recent entry in their Machine Learning Journal.

Siri can also work with more kinds of apps such as notes, to-do lists, and visual codes (think QR). I haven’t had a chance to test this out yet, but I’m looking forward to trying out Todoist, which has already been updated to take advantage of the new Siri integration.

Still glaringly noticeable is Siri’s inability to work with third-party music streaming apps like Spotify. This is a feature still reserved for Apple Music, and may possibly remain that way for the foreseeable future, as it is a nice selling point for the service. One of the big reasons I switched to Apple Music from Spotify was because of Siri (especially when engaged via the Watch).

Apple clearly has huge plans for Siri, as it is becoming increasingly pushed to the forefront of iOS. Coupled with their strong commitment to machine learning, I’m hoping Siri will run on-device in the near future instead of sending all requests to Apple’s servers for processing. You have to think that’s one of the main goals, as it would resolve the odd lag times that can be experienced during a Siri request.

Apple Music

Apple is making yet another attempt at social networking-esque features for their music service. 2 This time, it’s a little more simplistic. You can follow your friends on Apple Music and see their shared playlists, albums, stations, etc.

That said, the service is still behind Spotify in this area. For instance, there are still no collaborative playlists, whereby you and others can curate playlists together. There’s still no band equalizer, a feature I’ve ranted about before. Apple Music has come a long way since it’s debut, though. These missing features are low-hanging fruit, and I would think Apple will address some of them in iOS 12.

AirPlay 2

AirPlay, Apple’s proprietary audio syncing and playback protocol, advances to version two. The most notable new feature: simultaneous, multi-room playback across AirPlay 2 speakers on your network.

AirPlay 2 is clearly a necessity of Apple’s first connected speaker, HomePod, due out in December. With its sights clearly set on Sonos, I’m looking forward to seeing HomePod and AirPlay 2 in action.

Another feature of AirPlay 2 ties in to HomeKit. Now, you can add AirPlay 2-compatible speakers to your HomeKit environment. This will open the door to native automation involving audio. 3

Home App/HomeKit

As for the Home app itself, you can now set multi-location-based triggers for anyone in your Family Sharing account who has access to your home. This is huge, and will allow for much easier creation of these types of automations. Here’s a real-life example:

Turning on certain lights only when the first family member arrives home.

To achieve this currently, I’m using this setup: Life360 app on my phone and my wife’s, IFTTT, and the Lurton Caséta app. Life360 continuously tracks our location, IFTTT reads this location data and triggers a scene in the Lurton Caséta app to turn on certain lights only if one of us isn’t home already. Get it? This makes sure the lights don’t change if my wife is already home or vice versa. This is a fairly easy thing to setup, but knowing how to do it is the problem. It’s terribly complicated for the average person to figure out, so I’m really excited we’ll be able to do it natively in the Home app with iOS 11. You can also ensure automations only happen on specific dates and/or times, if you wish. There is one caveat, though: you need at least a 4th-generation Apple TV or iPad to act as a home hub.

In addition, Apple is making it easier for hardware manufacturers to make their products HomeKit-certified with software encryption. Up until iOS 11, manufacturers had to meet Apple’s stringent encryption standards by means of hardware. This is a large reason why the vast majority of smart home products don’t support HomeKit — it was an additional expense, additional engineering, all of the above. Now, manufacturers will be able to easier implement the same high-level of security demanded by Apple within software. We could even see software updates for existing devices that introduce HomeKit compatibility. I’m hopeful for a HomeKit boom in the coming year because of this.

ARKit and Core ML

Apple has included powerful augmented reality and machine learning APIs for developers to use in iOS 11.

Since Beta 1, developers have begun to build impressive apps with ARKit. Not to mention iPhone 8 and iPhone X will offer even more power in this arena, given their upgraded cameras are specifically tuned for AR in the factory.

Machine learning is less of a show-off, but expect developers to take advantage of both of these APIs with haste. AR and ML are huge focus areas for Apple. They are not just the next random trends in the industry, but technologies that will change the way we use computers of all shapes and sizes.

Small, but mighty features

Here’s a list of additional little features that kick ass.

New Screenshot workflow with Markup

After taking a screenshot, a small rendition of it appears in the bottom-left portion of your screen. From here, you can:

  • Tap it to enter into the Markup view, where you can quickly annotate and send it, with an option to save or delete the screenshot.
  • Swipe it away to save it to your camera roll. This happens automatically if you do nothing with it after about a minute.
  • Tap & hold it to bring up the share sheet.

This is really awesome and elegant. It also helps to de-clutter your Camera Roll, since you can easily delete one-off screenshots.

Wi-Fi Credential Sharing

When connecting a friend’s iPhone or iPad to your network, you can now wirelessly and securely send the password to their device with a press of a button (provided they are in your phone’s contacts). Simply be in range of their device with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi one. Once they select the password field for your network, you will be prompted to send it over to their device, and your friend is instantly joined to your network. So easy, fun, and more secure than typing/sharing your password.

Notes Improvements

You can now show ruled lines in Notes (via Settings > Notes). This is helpful on iPad if you use Apple Pencil or other stylus to take handwritten notes. Furthermore, writing with a stylus no longer requires a standalone image aside from your text. Simply write as you normally would on paper, and your markings appear amongst your text. There’s also a built-in document scanner (powered by ARKit) that works incredibly well. You can scan documents at odd angles and iOS captures them almost perfectly.

Space-Saving

Apple has introduced a few new methods to help us to save space on our devices. For example, we can offload apps from the Settings > General > iPhone Storage screen, review messages with large attachments, or auto delete old conversations. Offloading an app will delete the app’s system files, but keep its documents and data around, should you reinstall it in the future.

Photos Face Sync

Labeling people’s faces in the Photos app now syncs across your devices with iCloud (privately and securely, of course). This will make for a much better experience since you no longer have to set this up per device.

Password Autofill

This is so damn handy. If you use iCloud Keychain to store your passwords for websites, it can now automatically suggest stored credentials within apps. Imagine loading the Amazon app for the first time and the iOS keyboard recommending your Amazon credentials from iCloud Keychain. This makes signing in lightning fast. Some might say Apple is sherlocking 1Password, LastPass, and the like, but those services offer additional features if you’re into that kind of thing. For me, the iOS 11 implementation takes the cake because it’s built in and I don’t even have to do anything.

Apple Maps: Lane Guidance and One-Finger Zoom

YES. Lane guidance is the only reason I still have longed to use Google Maps, but not anymore. This is super helpful, especially when combined with CarPlay. One-finger zoom is also nice — just double-tap and drag up or down. Apple Maps sure has come a long way. I have used it as my sole maps app since the original Apple Watch launched.

Camera app: Native QR Code Scanning

About damn time. QR codes are great for non-sensitive information, and the Camera app can now detect codes containing website links, contacts, Wi-Fi network connection info, 4 and more.

Automatic Setup

When setting up a new device, you can automatically transfer your base settings from an existing device by bringing it within close proximity`. I tested this a couple times, and it’s fantastic. It greatly cuts down on the lengthy initial iOS setup process.

Features Coming Soon

Apple announced a couple features slated for iOS 11 that have since received delays, and are therefore ‘coming soon’ in a minor update. I’m looking forward to reviewing these once released.

Apple Pay Cash and Card

Person-to-person payments like Venmo or Square Cash. Payments are stored in your Wallet’s Apple Pay Card. From there, you can use the card like a debit card in stores or on websites that support Apple Pay. Alternatively, you can withdraw the amount to your banking account. Fees and miscellaneous details are yet to be determined.

iMessage in the Cloud

Instead of all your Apple devices independently downloading iMessages, your messages will be stored in the cloud by default (if you opt-in). Apple promises better notification syncing between devices because of this and less messages-out-of-order oddities.

iPad-Specific Updates

The iPad is on a huge upswing. For the first time in a long time, Apple reported sales are up (15% Year/Year) for Q3 2017, partially thanks to the new, cheaper ‘iPad’. Factoring in iOS 11 changes and two incredibly-powered iPads Pro, this has been a great year for the tablet leader.

The features iPad receives in iOS 11 is just short of what many would look for in a standalone iPad OS. I’ve been a huge proponent of the device since it was introduced and have purchased at least six different versions over the years. I can confidently say iOS 11 course-corrects from the iPad-as-gigantic-iPhone narrative. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it’s a big leap forward and reassures Apple has not forgotten about meaningful innovation for the device’s software.

Drag And Drop (All the things)

This is a big one. Drag and drop is built into iOS at its core. That is to say, you can drag and drop all the things. For instance: apps for split-view, URLs, blocks of text, images, handwritten notes, and more once developers update their apps to take advantage of the new API. Simply tap and hold (briefly), then drag and drop.

I’m selling it short. The truth is it’s amazing and incredibly well thought out. You can even start to drag something, switch apps by any means possible, then drop in an app of your choosing. More on this below.

Dock and App Switcher

The revamped Dock is a core feature of multitasking and productivity on iPad. Here’s a list of its new features and methods for interacting with the Dock.

  • Fits up to 15 apps, depending on your screen size (e.g. iPad Pro 10.5-inch holds 13 apps, iPad Pro 12.9-inch holds 15.)
  • Since you can create folders inside of it, you can have a ton of apps quickly at your disposal no matter where you are. Not new, but this is super helpful when it comes to multitasking. You’ll see why in the next section.
  • Recent apps. On the right side of the dock, iOS will dynamically show apps you haven’t manually put in your dock, but have recently used. This enables quick access and easy multitasking for these apps. Hand Off and Siri-recommended apps have also been relocated here to the far-right app slot. For instance, if you want to Hand Off a website in Safari from your iPhone to iPad, you’ll see the Safari icon here with an iPhone glyph indicating the Hand Off opportunity.
  • Pervasiveness. The dock can now be accessed throughout the system without returning to the Home screen. Simply perform a short flick up from the bottom edge to reveal the dock. From here, you can quickly switch apps or multitask with them. This really makes the dock highly versatile and more important than ever.

The App Switcher has also received a redesign. Here are the highlights:

  • Consists of the app carousel, Control Center, and the Dock.
  • App previews inside the carousel are now tiled instead of full screen, fitting six on screen at one time for quicker app switching. This is so much better than previously implementations.
  • Control Center is located to the far-right of the carousel.
  • Accessible from double-tapping the Home button or swiping half way up from the bottom edge (past the Dock).

I really love the new Dock and App Switcher. Combined, they make for a powerful new multitasking experience.

Multitasking

Apple has revamped multitasking on iPad. Split View is still around, where you can have two apps side by side and adjust them in 1/3, 1/2, or full screen increments. Popover is still here, too, where you can float an app above your current one and swipe it away to the right of the screen for quick access.

The new aspects of multitasking include greater flexibility in managing apps. For instance, gone is the endless vertical app carousel use to scroll through and find an app to use in Split View or Popover. Instead, you simply drag and drop a second app into place by its icon. Dragging it to the left or right edge of the screen mounts it in Split View. Dragging it anywhere else makes it a Popover. Other means of accomplishing this include:

  • From the Dock: swipe up to reveal the dock, tap & hold, drag an app icon, drop in your current app or switch to another one first in Split View or Popover.
  • From the Home screen: tap, hold, and drag an app icon, rinse and repeat.
    • You can even enter the App Switcher, hover on top of an open app, enter it, and drop inside.
  • From within apps: press CMD+Space on an hardware keyboard to enter Spotlight Search, search for an app, tap and hold, rinse and repeat. This is a really powerful one. I’m curious as to why Apple didn’t enable this same functionality when you use Spotlight Search from the Notification Center’s widgets search box. In other words, you can’t do this with the built-in iOS software keyboard.

It’s also worth specifically noting the leftmost app is no longer the “main app” when in Split View. That is to say, you can drag and drop over the left or right app to replace it with another. In addition, you can make the left or right app full screen by dragging the slider all the way to the edge.

iPads with 4GB of RAM or more can run two apps in Split View and a third app in Popover at the same time (in addition to an optional PIP video). To achieve this, simply hold, drag, and drop the third app’s icon over the vertical multitasking bar dividing your Split View apps. Note: iPads with less than 4GB of RAM won’t be able to take advantage of all these features. iMore has a good breakdown.

The new multitasking UX on iPad is a huge start on what we iPad proponents have been wanting from this powerhouse tablet. That said, there are a few other things Apple can do to move the needle on this feature in iOS 12, such as:

  • Multiple instances of one app. This would be helpful for certain apps, but I realize it’s mostly a fringe use case. One day, though.
  • Ability to save Split View pairings. For instance: being able to launch Notes and Safari in Split View from one tap of an app icon shortcut.
  • Better management of Popover apps. Popover apps remain persistent between app switches. For example: if you launch Safari in Popover, then go to another app and launch Safari from the dock, it will reappear in Popover mode within the app you switched to. There are some cases where you forget this and really mean to switch directly to Safari (full screen). It can be a little annoying to either mount Safari as a Split View app first, then drag the handle to make it full screen, or launch Safari from the Home screen. It’s not the end of the world, but I have to think there’s a better way to manage this.

Conclusion

iOS 11 has my full support. Apple really brought out the big guns this time — and this isn’t even everything. Like I said at the top, this review doesn’t touch on every feature, but hones in on the most meaningful ones after using iOS 11 for months.

Most people think of iOS as feature-complete, and it definitely is in certain aspects. The truth is, Apple is still finding ways to better the mobile experience. They have added so many great features across the board with iOS 11, it may even be a little overwhelming to remember everything you can do.

iPad was such a huge focus of this update, and I hope they iterate on its new features come iOS 12. It really is exciting to think about the opportunities. The new multitasking and dock experience puts us closer to a 1:1 parity with laptops than we’ve ever been. We’re definitely not all the way there yet, but iPad just took its first big step towards realizing Tim Cook’s vision. Putting my money where my mouth is (or hands are), everything I write for Gaddgict is from the Editorial app on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard. Something about doing the same on a Mac feels less compelling than an iPad. I think we’re going to see more of this as iPad progresses. 5

If Apple keeps this up, iPad really might be the future of computing for most people.

Note: there are also special iOS 11 features for iPhone X, of which I’ll talk about when I’ve had it in my hands. 6


  1. I’ve always wondered why Apple didn’t make Control Center a full screen UI to begin with. It’s not like the 3/4 UI we had was helpful at all. So we could see 1/4 of our current screen behind the menu — big deal. ↩︎

  2. Remember Ping? ↩︎

  3. I’m looking forward to hearing Rush’s ‘Working Man’ when I arrive home from work, for instance. ↩︎

  4. This one is really cool. ↩︎

  5. I love my MacBook Pro and wouldn’t trade it for an iPad just yet. ↩︎

  6. Hopefully not too long after November 3rd. ↩︎

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