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iOS 11 review: Apple’s most ambitious and impressive upgrade in years

Jason Snell | Sept. 22, 2017
It seems like almost every year Apple crows that the latest iOS update is the greatest one yet.

This is a great feature that’s bound to save lives and prevent traffic accidents. It’s so easy to be distracted while driving, especially by the avalanche of push notifications that our apps send to us regularly. The allowances for call and text overrides are helpful, so I can know that my family can reach me when I’m driving even if I’d prefer not to be bothered by anyone else. While Apple could’ve added many more settings for this feature, I’m glad that it kept things simple. You can’t set apps to break through, for example, and I think that’s Apple’s message that no app notification is worth creating a distracted driver.

 

iOS 11: Subtle changes

Some iOS 11 changes are a little more subtle. The Apple News app is more personalized in iOS 11, with support for a “spotlight topic.” If you frequently hold your iPhone in one hand, there’s a new one-handed keyboard layout that pushes all the keys to the left or right side of the screen, so your fingers can reach every key—even on the emoji keyboard. (You bring it up by tapping and holding on the emoji/keyboard button; to return to a normal keyboard, just tap the arrow at the large empty area.) This is an especially nice feature on the larger iPhone Plus models.

ios11 keyboard
Jason Snell

You can activate the one-handed keyboard (right) via a new element at the bottom of the keyboard picker (left).

Apple has added a bunch of features to iOS 11 that aren’t particularly new, even on iOS—but now that they’re integrated into the core apps that come with iOS, they’ll probably find a wider audience than did before. Notes now has a document-scanner mode that will automatically detect the edges of a piece of paper held in front of your device’s camera and use those edges to intelligently crop and adjust the image so that it looks more or less like you scanned it on a flatbed scanner. Notes also now includes OCR (optical character recognition) technology, so when you scan or hand-write text (rather than typing it on a keyboard), your device will figure out that text and make it searchable. The Maps app is adding lane guidance, which is a welcome addition—but also one that Google has offered in Google Maps for some time.

Most iOS features arrive fully formed, but there’s a whole category of features that won’t reach their potential for a little while, because they rely on outside app or hardware developers to support them.

ARKit, Apple’s framework for augmented reality apps—apps that can take a live image captured by your device’s camera and then place virtual objects into that space and display the mixed result on the screen—has the potential to be huge. This fall we’ll be inundated with AR apps, most bad, some mind-blowingly good. There’s huge potential here, but we’ll need to see how app developers respond to this new technology over the next few months.

 

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