The public beta version of Apple’s new mobile operating system, iOS 11, went live Monday, giving users an early taste of what’s coming when it officially launches this fall.
I had a chance to test it out for a few days beforehand, and while Apple has retained the overall look and feel of the system, it has redesigned a few things that may throw longtime users for a loop. But in most cases, the new operating system made both the iPad and iPhone simpler to use and more productive.
What’s likely to be most jarring to Apple fans is the new look of the Control Center – the panel that lets you control the volume, brightness and music. Apple has taken effort to consolidate everything onto one panel. The result is a jumble of settings that may confuse those who’ve gotten used to the existing format.
But it has its upsides. The new panel can be customized with shortcuts to a number of apps, rather than just the flashlight, calculator, timer and camera.
There are a lot of little additions hidden throughout the system, as well. A new keyboard gives you easier access to some symbols that you had to switch keyboards for. On the iPhone, there’s also a new, slimmer keyboard that’s designed to be used with one hand more easily.
There’s also a handy screen recording tool, which makes it easier to make your own GIFs, for example.
But the best features for iOS 11 show up on the iPad, which has become far more Mac-like in iOS 11, thanks to several useful multitasking features.
I spent several days using just the iPad Pro with iOS 11, instead of my laptop. And I found that the changes – particularly being able to switch easily between screens of two apps – made the tablet far more capable as a laptop replacement.
The file system has also been revamped, making it look much more like the Mac’s, with the folder layout that users are likely accustomed to on their desktops. Users will eventually be able to add file management services such as Dropbox and Box to their Files app on the iPad, but that feature has not yet gone live.
Overall, while there are still some things I would need a computer for – certain games, for example, or more robust video editing – I was just as productive as I would have been on my laptop. Several additions to iOS 11, such as the ability to drag and drop, make it possible to, for example, draft an email in Notes and drag it over to Mail. (Dragging text into a web-based writing app will search for that phrase online instead, which is annoying or useful, depending on what you want to do.) A little convenience like that goes a long way for productivity.
The new features all work best for Apple’s own apps, which make a certain amount of sense at this time but will have to change if iOS 11 is going to be most useful. Outside of Apple, implementation is mixed. I was able to use the messaging service Slack in split screen, for example. But Google Hangouts wasn’t available except as a full-screen app. Of course, once Apple’s system goes officially live in the fall, more developers should be able to incorporate these features.
There were many things that I couldn’t test in iOS 11 because they depend on companies outside of Apple to implement. Those include two of Apple’s biggest announcements: tools to support apps that use augmented reality and machine learning. Those tools have to get into the hands of developers before they make their way to consumers.
I also didn’t get to try the new “do not disturb while driving” mode that Apple announced for the iPhone, which automatically senses when you may be driving after you enable it. The feature turns off most notifications so that you can keep your eyes on the road. Based on what Apple has told me about the optional feature, however, users will still be able to use Maps to navigate.
Those who use the driving mode will be able to customize it to fit their needs. Your phone will be able to send an auto-reply saying that you’re in the car to people of your choosing. People trying to reach you will also be able to alert you to an emergency.