Today, Apple releases the public beta of iOS 11, the latest version of the operating system driving the world’s iPhones and iPads. These early releases are SOP and help Cupertino ensure its software is fully baked before launch. Anyone with a taste for risk and patience for bugginess can install iOS 11 now, ahead of its actual release this fall.
I’ve been using iOS 11 on a new 10.5-inch iPad for the better part of a week. Don’t expect shocking redesigns or massive overhauls; even the completely remodeled App Store looks like Apple News and Apple Music, and feels instantly familiar. For better or worse, iOS still looks like iOS.
The biggest difference is now you can drag and drop. Pick up two images in Photos, drag them over the Mail icon, then drop ’em as email attachments. You can drag a URL or a string of text from Safari into Notes. You can add 10 apps to a folder at once. I’ve wasted countless hours painstakingly moving that weird blue cursor to just the right boundaries, then going through the share sheet just to get a sentence of text into Evernote. With iOS 11, I just open the app over top of my browser, drag the paragraph over, and drop it. Boom. Done.
Drag and drop makes iOS feel like more than a collection of apps. Developers can make anything draggable, from Photoshop layers to in-game items. I’m looking forward to saving things to Pinterest by grabbing them out of a browser, and dragging emails into Todoist so I remember to actually respond.
Most of the best things about iOS 11 are iPad-only, or at least iPad-first. Swipe up a little from the bottom of the screen and it brings up the dock, making it easy to switch apps or drop things in new places. I have 13 apps in there, alongside the ever-changing list of my three most recent apps. Swipe up further and you reach the new multitasking menu, with its huge app previews and redesigned (and customizable!) Control Center. The Files app gives you a place to store and retrieve all your spreadsheets and pirated movies. You know, work stuff.
You can now run four apps on screen simultaneously: two side by side, with a third floating over top and a fourth running picture-in-picture video. OK, sure, it’s an illegible kaleidoscope of pixels at that point, but so what? Four apps at once! The iPad feels so much more powerful.
Big Little Things
Apple’s been doing this iOS thing for a while now. There aren’t many huge things left to do without fundamentally changing the operating system. I’d like some new ways to organize homescreens, smarter notification management, more useful widgets, and the ability to set default apps other than Apple’s. But I can’t have everything I want. So beyond the iPad stuff, iOS 11 offers small but mostly delightful changes. Here are my favorites so far:
A few of the features take some getting used to, like the notification window shade, which is now the same thing as the lockscreen except your phone’s not locked. (I don’t get it either.) And a lot of the potential won’t be realized until developers can really dig in. Apple’s ARKit could be the biggest thing to ever happen to augmented reality, and Siri continues to slowly but surely gain functionality. Both need devs to figure out how they really work.
I don’t recommend installing the beta, certainly not on your primary device. It is buggy and crashy and seems to wreak havoc on battery life. But it’s a beta, and betas are always like that. By the time iOS 11 arrives this fall, most of the kinks will be ironed out and it will run as smoothly as iOS always has. Except now you can shake people down for money via text message. So I guess it’s better.