iOS 11 Review
Well it’s that time of the year again where Apple has released a brand new version of iOS, and what can I say… It’s simply amazing! Since I am apart of Apple’s Developer Program, I have been using iOS 11 for the past 3 months and due to the NDA I signed with Apple, I was not able to publicly talk about the pre-release software until now. I can truly say that iOS 11 (specifically for iPad) has completely changed the way I use my devices. Don’t get me wrong, iOS 11 is a great update for iPhone/iPod touch… but iOS 11 for iPad is a complete game changer.
Let’s start off by talking about some of the new features that will be noticeable on the iPhone/iPod touch. If you have a 4.7” iPhone you will now see a landscape home screen as well as a landscape lock screen. This joins the landscape home/lock screen that is found on the 5.5” iPhone Plus. If you have been using the larger iPhone models than you know that one-handed typing is a total nightmare! I can honestly say that when I am carrying something in my left hand and I need to respond to a message, I will set down the item and use both hands to compose the message. Of course it’s worth mentioning that I am using the iPhone Plus sized device and it is not as bad for the 4.7” iPhone models. It’s crazy to think that there has been three revisions of iOS before Apple included the new one-handed keyboard. Finally I can compose a message on my iPhone with one hand. It sounds like such a simple thing but it’s changed the way I use my iPhone. Of course I could’ve installed a 3rd party keyboard from the App Store, and I’ve tried them but you don’t get the 3D Touch trackpad, access to Siri Dictation or the emojis button (or international keyboard button). Lastly exclusive to iPhone is Do Not Disturb While Driving. If you do not have a CarPlay compatible car (or car stereo) than your iPhone (with initial permission) will automatically turn on Do Not Disturb and those text you will receive a message stating that you are driving and will reply back later. If it is an emergency than you can override Do Not Disturb While Driving. Any saved emergency contacts will also be able to override Do Not Disturb While Driving.
Some of the other features I have been really enjoying has to start with Maps. Now in Maps when you are using Navigation, Apple Maps will now display the current speed limit and will use lane guidance for when you need to change lanes. Honestly the first time when I used Apple Maps Navigation and saw the speed limit was a truly magical experience. The speed limit even changed the moment I drove by a new speed limit sign. I don’t know where Apple is getting the data, and I know Apple isn’t first to this, but this is the best speed limit integration I’ve ever seen in a GPS. I also was driving in the city and was able to use lain guidance for the first time. For context, I live in a small farm town in Illinois and don’t have a lot of experience driving in the city. Seriously what’s with those far right roads out of nowhere just ending and taking you into the ghetto! Okay I am off track, I never know what lane to get in to get to the right exit and Apple Maps has changed the way I drive in the city for the better. It’s also neat how there are indoor maps for some airports and malls. There’s a select number of compatible locations at launch but Apple says more are coming in the future.
Let’s talk about the new Notes app. For starters if you have an Apple Pencil and you tap the iPad Pro’s lock screen it’ll automatically open a new note. Notes also supports tables, fonts, rich text formatting, and instant Apple Pencil markup. Instant markup also works in apps that use Apple’s QuickLook API. There’s also a new document scanner in Notes which works like magic, no joke.
Video and Graphics
The new graphics abilities in iOS 11 are really impressive. For starters Apple introduced Metal 2 which brings ten times the graphics performance to your devices as well as using less power. That means games can look better and use less battery. This of course relies on developers to implement Metal 2 and from what I can hear, developers are very excited. In iOS 11 there’s a new video format HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding). Now that’s a strange word for something that is truly exciting. You know how when you take HD video on your devices and it instantly eats up your disk space? Yeah me too. Let’s just put it this way, shooting video on your devices will look better and consume half the disk space. Now you can shoot higher quality video and it won’t fill up your internal disk.
HEVC is not exclusive to Apple as it was an open source project and Apple adopted it. Just like with macOS 10.4 “Tiger”, Apple adopted the H.264 standard and now with iOS 11, macOS 10.13 and tvOS 11 Apple is integrating H.265. Now since this is a new video format, older devices and Android devices will not be able to read HEVC video so Apple thought about this, and when you share any HEVC video, your device will automatically convert it to H.264 so the recipient will be able to read it without any problems. There’s also a new stock video player on iOS. You know when you play a video in Safari (or any of Apple’s stock apps) and you see that universal video player? That’s a video player Apple supplies to developers to integrate into their apps. In iOS 11 there is a completely new video player that has a fresh new design, keyboard shortcuts, and a new volume indicator that does not consume the display. It’s worth mentioning that by default any app that uses the stock video player gets background playing and PiP support. I really wish YouTube would adopt this video player. That being said if you load the desktop version of YouTube in Safari you can get the full iOS video player experience. I really hope YouTube never patches this… I will mention this briefly because it’s something you really need to check out in person, ARKit. Augmented reality is not new nor did Apple do it first but Apple is the first to mass adopt augmented reality on devices that do not have any sort of depth tracking. That means ANY iOS device with an A9 cpu can get augmented reality. Go check it out, trust me. It’s going to be a total game changer.
Photos and Camera
Along with the new HEVC video format, Apple introduced a new photos format HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format). Like HEVC, HEIF can take higher quality photos at less disk space and like HEVC, iOS will auto convert photos to JPEG when being shared. HEIF is another one of those powerful open source projects Apple has adopted so anyone can use it, even Android and Windows. HEIF can also support animated graphics (like gifs) and transparency (like pngs). It’s truly the one image format to rule them all. I sure hope Pixelmator (and photoshop) supports this in future updates. Photos in iOS 11 is also getting the ability to sync People (formally Faces) across iOS and macOS devices. This is something I honestly have wanted since the introduction of iCloud Photo Library in iOS 8. If you can remember, pre-iOS 8 you could sync your Events, Faces, and Places from iPhoto on Macintosh to your iOS devices; but, this would mean you would have to store all those images on your devices and that was not disk space friendly. I would always have special albums I would sync over that would inertially sync those accompanied Faces and Places. It’s fun to remember but I’ve been doing that since iOS 3 (formally iPhone OS) and iCloud Photo Library has made my life so much easier. People syncing is a big deal and you can even tag People on your devices! iOS 11/macOS 10.13 also uses Core ML (machine learning) to scour your photos library to find People and can automatically tag more people without you having to do a single thing! There’s also new Live Photo effects and new photo Memories.
New in iOS 11 you can now share files on iCloud Drive which is something that’s on just about every cloud platform but neverthel”less, I am happy it is on iCloud Drive. I’ve been using this a lot and it’s great! Coming later this year iMessage will also integrate with iCloud so if you delete a message on one device, it’ll delete it on another. If you also setup a new device, iCloud will download all your messages to it so you are ready to text where you left off. Messages will also be stored on iCloud so they take up less disk space.
Safari is arguably the best web browser around. Now I know those are fighting words for those that love Internet Explorer. Okay I kid but Safari is really fast. So fast that it’s now faster than Google’s Chrome. There’s now new auto playback blocking so when you visit a site with auto playing content, it’ll no longer auto play. What a great feature! Safari also now has tracking prevention. What that means is that you know when you purchase something embarrassing on Amazon and then you go to a site with a Google ad banner and the ad banner shows what you purchased? Really creepy isn’t it? Now in Safari, websites will no longer be able to detect what other things you look at online. This is one of many reasons I no longer support Google ad banners in my App Store applications. It’s also really fun that if you tap a link with two fingers in Safari, it’ll automatically open in a new tab.
Siri is now a heck of a lot better in iOS 11! For starters, Siri has an all new voice and she sounds more natural than ever! Siri’s voice really has been lagging behind the competition in terms of naturalness but I can honestly say that Siri’s new voice is the best I’ve ever heard. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty great. Siri can also do translations now, but don’t uninstall Google Translate just yet, because Siri translate only can support a few languages and cannot translate things into English. Big oversight on my part but if you have something to translate in the specific language Siri understands than it works pretty well. Siri is also more than the voice activated assistant as Siri intelligence also has greatly improved. For instance, if you search for something in Safari then autocorrect will know what you searched and will learn new words because of it. Apple News will also know what kinds of things you like to lookup in Safari and will tailor news content for you. Of course this information all stays on device and is encrypted so no one else will ever know what you search. Siri intelligence does not track you when you look up something in Private Browsing mode. Apple also states they will never sell your usage data, and I believe them when they say that.
Okay this is a big one for me. When this was leaked the morning of WWDC 17 I actually screamed like a little girl and did a cartwheel. The new Files app is a complete game changer for me. That being said it is highly limited in what it can do but it’s a HUGE step in the right direction. For your convenience I will be splitting my thoughts on Files up into separate sections.
Just like Finder in macOS, Files now has a sidebar where you can pin favorite files and folders, tags, and 3rd party document providers too. I’ve always said that on iPad Pro with the 12.9” display the iCloud Drive app didn’t take advantage of the entire display. It was kind of a waste but I was happy to have it. Now Files replaces the iCloud Drive app and it looks fantastic.
3rd Party Document Providers
Since iOS 9, developers could create document provider applications that appeared as a document provider in any application that called the “Open In…” function. What that means is that you know when an app allows you to open a file from iCloud Drive and you can tap on “Locations” and it’ll let you import a file from apps like OneDrive, Documents (by Readdle), Google Drive (now discontinued)? Those apps are using the iOS’ built in document provider feature. In Files those 3rd party document providers will now appear in the new Files sidebar. When I first saw this I was really excited but after I used it I was kind of disappointed. All this does is open up a little window where you can view files from those apps. You can import files from those apps but you must save them to iCloud Drive in order to fully view them or edit them. You also cannot save to those 3rd party apps without importing those files into those application which takes you out of Files. It seems like a half baked integration to me. Hopefully this gets better with time.
Just like I explained above, those apps that mention “Export to iCloud Drive..” calls up a developer framework that allows apps to write to iCloud Drive. When this was introduced in iOS 9 you were presented with an array of folders with a button that said “Export to iCloud Drive” when you were in the destination you wished to save the file. In iOS 10 Apple made the absurd decision to display this as a list of ALL of your folders. That’s right, a list. Not even an organized list. Not even in alphabetical order. Those folders were also expanded so they showed ALL of your folders nested inside of all of your other folders. It was/is a TOTAL nightmare! I do not understand the reasoning behind it and you bet I started emailing my contacts at Apple and told them to get their act together. Okay I kid but I did send some strong emails. When I saw the new Files app I hope there was a new save panel in iOS and while that is true, it’s not as good as iOS 9’s. It still displays a list of your folders but they are collapsed so you are not just presented with this HUGE list of all your stuff. The folders in the root directory are also sorted alphabetically (finally). When you open a file in an app that displays the iOS open file framework, iOS will present this beautiful window that includes the sidebar with your favourites, tags, and 3rd party applications. It will also display all your files in icon view. It’s really similar to how it’s handled on macOS and I couldn’t speak more highly of it. I think it would be really nice if when apps called the save framework, iOS would display the same window interface so you could easily access your favorite locations and view your folders in icon view. At least there should be an option to view it either in list or icon view.
On iPad Pro if you have a hardware keyboard attached you can use keyboard shortcuts in files. You can Cut, Copy, Paste, Move, Change Views, Create Folders, and much much more. It’s a very pleasant experience. There is a few things I would add. In macOS you can strike the first letter of a file name and Finder will select the file. I wish that was present in Files. It would also be nice to be able to press space bar on a selected file to open QuickLook. Just like on macOS. It would’ve also been nice to be able to drag a file on top of another to create a folder just like in iWork or on the home screen. It’s not a deal breaker but it would be nice.
On My iPad
This is the feature that truly upsets and angers me. In Files there is an “On My iPad” section. This leads me to believe that you can save files directly on your device’s storage without having to upload the file to iCloud Drive. If you thought this too than you are wrong! Honestly I am not sure what this is for. You can’t make folders in there. You can’t move files in there. You can’t do anything in there. From what I can tell applications can write to special app folders.
One of my most used features in macOS is the ability to mount a network share right from Finder. This would be such a great feature in Files! I’d love to be able to mount SMB, AFP, FTP, SFTP, etc shares as 3rd party document providers but sadly you have to rely on 3rd party apps to do so. I also would love to see Bonjour (formally Rendezvous). This would allow machines with file sharing enabled on your local network to automatically appear in the Files sidebar. This would also allow you to connect to your Macs with “Back to my Mac” right from your iOS devices. It is true you can mount a macOS Server file share point in Settings and it’ll appear as a document provider in Files but, I honestly cannot get it to work properly. I also would love to be able to connect to a VNC server from files. This is the ability to control another computers screen. There are some great VNC apps on the App Store but since it’s baked into Finder on macOS, I’d love to be able to do it in Files.
Misc iOS 11 Features
Some other miscellaneous features now in iOS 11 include the ability to take Live Photos during a FaceTime call. This requires Live Photos to be enabled on both devices and will display a notification on both devices to say a Live Photo has been taken. There’s now a new Control Center with customizable controls as well as a screen recorder. There’s a new App Store and theres new bolder fonts system wide. There’s also a new Notification Shade (formally Notification Center) and a new Podcasts app. The new podcasts app is even on CarPlay. You can now send money using Apple Pay in iMessage. Apple is calling this Apple Pay Cash. It‘ll save the received money into an Apple Pay Cash card in Wallet and you can use that money at any Apple Pay location or you can transfer it to your bank. There’s also the ability to become social in Apple Music so you can view what your friends are listening to and even see their playlists. Of course you have the ability to set how much your friends can or cannot see. There’s also new HomeKit device support such as sprinklers and faucets. “Hey Siri draw me a bath”.
There also is new AirPlay 2 support in HomeKit so you can have speakers in the Home app. Existing AirPlay devices will not inherit-ably be supported as they require 802.11ac to stream. This will heavily increase streaming bandwidth and will allow you to stream to multiple AirPlay 2 destinations at once. There’s even a global up next playlist to those devices connected to the same AirPlay 2 devices. So let’s say you and your buddy are listening to music, both of you can contribute to the up next playlist. There are a handful of AirPlay 2 devices announced and with tvOS 11 speakers connected to your Apple TV 4th Generation will be compatible with AirPlay 2. It is unknown if the AirPort Express will receive a firmware update to support AirPlay 2 but my guess is that since it only supports 802.11n it will not be compatible but I am hopeful.
Drag and Drop
Now let’s get to the really exciting stuff. Let’s dig into the iPad side of iOS 11. To kick us off let’s talk about drag and drop. Now apps can support system wide drag and drop meaning that you can pick up something in one app and drop it in another. Let’s say you found a photo online you want to share, you can pick it up in Safari then drop it in Messages. See a file you would like to save in an email, pick it up and drag it to Files. Is there a photo you wish to doctor in Photos, pick it up and drop it in your image editing app. I hope you are getting this because it makes iPad feel just like a Macintosh. It’s magical, no joke. You can also pick up multiple items, so just pick up one item and then with another finger you can pick up other items. This will create a little item stack under your initial finger. You can even add items to that stack from other apps. So let’s say you pick up a few photos from Photos you can than go into Files and pick up a few documents than head into Safari and grab a few downloaded files. Then you can drop everything into one destination like an email. You have to see it to believe it.
Spring Loaded Icons
Just like on macOS, you can pick up a file and hold it on an app icon to open the file in that app. As an example, let’s say you pick up a photo in Photos and you want to open it in your image editor. Just hold the photo on the app icon from the home screen and you’ll see the icon flash 3 times and it’ll open the app.
When the new Dock was announced at WWDC I had to get up out of my chair and my friends and I all had a group hug and cried together. The iOS 7-10 Dock has been my biggest complaint on iPad. I HATED it. It was too large, didn’t really do anything, and it couldn’t hold that many icons. The iOS 3 – 6 iPad Dock looked so much nicer on the display. Now the iPad Dock can hold 15 icons and that does not include the recent apps! In total you can have 18 total apps in the Dock. On the right side of the Dock you will notice a little section that holds three recent apps (that are not already present in the Dock) so you can quickly access your recent apps. The Dock also borrows a feature from macOS Lion (formally OS X) where you can hold an app icon on the Dock and a little window will appear with recent files from that app. It’s really handy! The Dock can also be summoned anywhere system wide so you can drag files in and out of the Dock. The Dock can also be summoned with a keyboard shortcut (Command Option D). The only thing I wish could be added to the Dock is the ability to pin files and folders directly to the Dock like on macOS. I’d love to see Stacks on the Dock.
Okay this was just embarrassing. In iOS 9 you could open applications in a side-by-side or slide over view. This required you to swipe from the right side of the screen while you were in an app and it would slide over your previously used application. If you wished to have the app in a side by side you would pull the app down from the top and it would lock it into place. Then if you wished to have it in a true 50/50 view you could pull the divider over to the middle of the screen. Then if you wished to changed the secondary app you’d pull down from the top of the side-by-side app and it would display a rolodex of rectangle app icons. These were not organised in any way, they took up too much room, and it made me cry every time. Now in iOS 11 Apple made this work the way it’s supposed to be. If you are in an app you can summon the Dock and pick up an app out of the Dock and drop it on the left or right side of the primary app. This way you could enter split screen in one simple move. If you wished to have an app in slide over mode you can just drag it on top of the current app and it’ll display the app in a little floating window. This little floating window can be displayed on either side of the screen and if you wish to have it in split screen you can just simply slide down.
You also can have two apps in split screen and have an app in slide over mode by dragging an app to the divider line (that’s in between the two split screen apps) and iOS will display a little floating window on top of your split screen apps. You also can swipe the floating window off to the right side to get it out of the way. You also can have a PiP window along with the three other open applications to have a total of four applications open at once on the iPad screen. This is a really powerful way to work and it’s been a total game changer for me. You are also not limited to invoking split screen or fly over by just the apps present in the Dock. You can simply return to the home screen, pick up an app, return to another app and drop it to open it in split screen or slide over. You also can pick up an app on the home screen, hold it on top of another app, wait for the application to spring open and then drop it. It’s a really intuitive way to work. In iOS 9 and iOS 10 if you had two apps in split screen and then open another app than the primary app would change and the secondary app (the split screen or slide over app) would stay the same. Introduced in macOS 10.5 Leopard (formally Mac OS X) was a feature called Spaces and it allowed you to have virtual desktops setup where you could have an arrangement of apps set on each space.
macOS 10.7 Lion (formally OS X) introduced the concept of full screen apps and in macOS 10.11 El Capitan (formally OS X) included the ability to have split screen apps. When you set two split screen apps in macOS and you changed to another full screen app, the split screen app arrangement would stay together so you could have any possible combination of split screen apps. Now in iOS 11 app pairings will stay together in Spaces and it’s a total game changer as well. While Apple doesn’t officially call them Spaces, It’s the same concept.
Misc iPad Improvements
There’s a new flick keyboard for the software keyboard so if you have a 7.9” or 9.7” iPad you can now just flick down letters to reveal special symbols or numbers. You have to check it out in person, it makes typing a lot easier. That being said, there was a huge learning curve to it and I’m not completely sure the mass population of users are going to be able to grasp it right away.
Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of the book. There’s just so much in iOS 11 and I wanted to make sure I covered all of the features that have really caught my eye. It is really amazing to me that I’ve been using the new iPad version of iOS 11 for three months now, and going back to an iOS 10 device is just awful and upsetting. iOS 11 is like a completely new operating system and I think you’re really going to love it.