Hands-On with the iOS 11 Beta

Posted on June 7, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 33 Comments

Hands On with the iOS 11 Beta

Apple announced iOS 11 this week at its annual developer show, and later this month, you’ll be able to install a beta version of the new system on your own devices. Here’s what you can expect.

I’ve installed an early developer version of the Beta on my iPhone 7 Plus and iPad mini 4. Generally speaking, I’ve had good luck with iOS beta releases in the past. But this one has significant performance issues on both devices, which is a first. It’s a lot worse on the iPad, actually, and that device is suddenly quite buggy, and has even rebooted on it own a few times.

But the effort is still worth the trouble, I think. Especially on the iPad, given that this release of iOS, for the first time, offers significant new productivity features that are unique to Apple’s tablets. As I noted in my Apple iPad Pro (2017) Preview, that device will only get truly interesting once iOS 11 is available.

On iPad, iOS 11 offers a new Dock that looks like the version on macOS but actually has little in common with it. You can pin more apps to this new Dock than before, which I like. But it also displays your three most-recently-accessed apps in a new area on the right. I don’t like that, I don’t see any way to turn it off.

It also supports drag and drop, which I’ve not used in any apps yet. But the system for moving app icons around the screen now uses this new method, so it’s now more seamless than the app “wiggling” mode we dealt with previously.

The Files app is present and accounted for on both devices—it’s not iPad-only as Apple implied during its WWDC keynote—but is currently a barren place. I’m looking forward to hooking up the cloud services I really use, but right now that is not possible.

The enhanced multitasking features in iOS 11 are, of course, among the most interesting enhancements that Apple is adding in this release. But these features are not available on iPhone for the most part, and I actually turn off multitasking features on the iPad mini because I just use this device for content consumption (reading, videos, and so on). I will look at that stuff when I get the iPad Pro.

As you may know, Apple is making a big deal out of its redesigned Store app, and for good reason: This app is now quite attractive and welcoming, especially on the iPad, where the bigger screen allows for more interesting layouts.

This app represents a step forward in what is now clearly a new direction for Apple’s apps. By which I mean, it shares its UI with previous apps like Apple News and Apple Music, and some other apps. And I expect the firm to continue updating its other apps over time to match. In some ways, this is like the creeping updates to Fluent that we see in Windows 10.

The new Control Center will take some getting used to. On iPhone, it works as before, in the sense that you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access this interface. On iPad, you sometimes have to swipe up at least twice, however. The first swipe will display the new Dock if you’re viewing an app. And the second swipe will display Control Center. (Or the third or fourth. It’s actually pretty hard to trigger for some reason.)

On iPhone, the Control Center offers a vaguely Windows phone-like UI of tile-like controls, some of which—screen brightness and volume, for example—work like sliders. Because it’s a sea of mostly icons sans text, however, you really have to know your way around this thing to use it effectively.

On iPad, the new Control Center is laid out differently for no good reason. And it also offers on-screen access to your most-recently-used apps in thumbnail form. This will later factor into the new iOS 11 multitasking functionality, but I’m pretty much ignoring it for now. (And I use Control Center on my phone a lot more than I do on the iPad anyway.)

On both device types, the new Control Center is now customizable: You can add and remove shortcuts through an interface in Settings.

As you may know, I currently use Google Chrome across all the devices and PCs I use, but there are some new Safari features that might put a stop to this on iOS. For example, like all browsers not named Chrome, Safari has long supported a nice Reader View that strips away the ads and other nonsense in web articles. But in iOS 11, you can now enable a new feature called Automatic Reader View that always opens articles in Reader View. This can be universal—for all web articles—or by site.

Finally, I’ll just point out that Swift Playgrounds, which is only on the iPad, is even more amazing now, and it is packed with learning content. This is a great way to learn about coding, for the young and old alike. Just top-notch.

Obviously, there are many other new features in iOS 11, and possibly hundreds of tiny little additions to discover and experience. But that’s the big stuff I’ve seen so far. Hopefully (and presumably) the performance and reliability will improve before the public beta.


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