Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

iOS 11 First Impressions

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Screenshot of the app store in iOS 11 As you will be aware, iOS 11 was released by Apple on Tuesday (although it had been leaked over a week before, taking the shine off last week’s product launches).

I’m not brave enough to install beta versions of iOS – I don’t have the luxury of spare devices to test software on – but usually upgrade to the latest released versions of iOS pretty quickly. So I downloaded iOS 11 onto my iPhone on Tuesday evening, and my iPad yesterday morning. And, here are my first impressions.

1. iOS 11 works okay even on older hardware

I have an iPhone 5S and an iPad Mini 2, which are amongst the oldest devices that iOS 11 can be installed on. Considering that the oldest of these devices will be around 4 years old, I’m pleased that they’re still supported with updates from Apple. It’s certainly better than some Android handsets; the Samsung Galaxy S4, released earlier in 2013, can only run Android 5.0 “Lollipop” and not the latest 8.0 “Oreo” release.

In the past, older iOS devices have struggled with the latest iOS releases, but both of my devices work at least as well as before, and perhaps slightly better. However, this is only really based on 36 hours’ usage.

You won’t get some of the fancy features like Apple’s new Augmented Reality ARKit framework, but your device should still be able to do more than before.

2. You’ll gain extra storage space on your devices

I’ve noticed that, on both my iPhone and iPad, I’ve had more storage space available after upgrading. I assume that this is because of the removal of code for 32-bit apps.

iOS 11 is exclusively a 64-bit operating system; this is why it won’t work on older devices like the iPhone 5 and 5C, which have 32-bit processors.

The extra space is especially welcome on my iPad, which is a 16 GB model; recently, I have been almost constantly running out of storage space. It’s nice to not see those warnings as frequently.

3. Some 32-bit apps won’t work any more

Do you enjoy playing Flappy Bird? Well, I have bad news – it won’t work after you install iOS 11. Because it has been abandoned by its developer, it hasn’t been updated with 64-bit code, and so it’s not compatible with iOS 11. It affects a lot of other apps as well, especially games for kids.

Before you upgrade, open Settings, and go to General, then About, and then Applications. You’ll get a list of the apps (if any) that won’t work after the upgrade. Bear in mind that this only applies to apps that haven’t been updated since before June 2015, when Apple began mandating that all apps had to be 64-bit compatible.

Still, if your kids have an iPad, it may be worth checking that their favourite games will work before the upgrade.

4. You may have temporary problems with your email

There’s a known issue with the Mail and Calendar apps that affects users of Microsoft’s Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), Office 365 and Exchange email systems. Right now, after upgrading, you’ll probably get an error when you try to send an email through the built-in Mail app, or reply to a meeting invitation.

Thankfully, I’m not directly affected by this; I use Inbox by Gmail for my personal email, and the Outlook app for work. But if this will impact you, then I’d suggest waiting a few days for the inevitable iOS 11.0.1 update that will hopefully fix the issue.

5. The new design is… interesting

If you liked how Apple re-designed Apple Music in iOS 10, then you’ll love iOS 11 as similar concepts have been used on other apps, such as the new App Store, iTunes Store and Settings apps. I’m not such a fan, personally, and I found the blockiness in the App Store rather unpolished. The Updates tab in the App Store now has pull-to-refresh, which is nice, although I’m guessing most people just have automatic app updates enabled nowadays. I think I’m one of the few who actually reads the release notes when apps are updated.

There are also new icons, with Calculator changing from orange to grey. Which is a bit annoying as I’d sort-of arranged my icons by colour.

Control Centre has been re-designed, with everything on one screen now – no more need to swipe left and right. Unfortunately this also makes for a very cluttered control centre, and I’m not personally a fan of the new vertical sliders for volume and display brightness. The ‘now playing’ widget has also shrunk, and no longer shows album art. That being said, you can now customise the widgets that display, giving easier access to things like Alarms, Low Power Mode and the Apple TV Remote.

6. Do Not Disturb whilst driving

Buried in the Do Not Disturb settings is an option to automatically enable this mode when driving. I haven’t yet had chance to try this myself, as I haven’t needed to drive anywhere recently. Your car will need to have Bluetooth capabilities for this to work, unless you’re happy to enable it manually. When enabled, it will auto-respond to text messages for you, which you can limit to your favourite contacts or those that have messaged you recently.

Helpfully, this works even if your car doesn’t support CarPlay.

7. Emergency SOS

A new panel has appeared in Settings called ‘Emergency SOS’. This lets you enable an ‘auto-call’ mode, which means that your phone will automatically call 999 (911 in the US) if you press the sleep/wake button on your phone five times. Optionally, this can include a countdown sound (enabled by default). When the call ends, your phone can also call your designated emergency contact – this information is shared with Apple Health. I would urge you all to turn this on as soon as you upgrade to iOS 11, especially if you can foresee yourself being in a potentially vulnerable situation.

8. Making the iPad more like a desktop PC

iOS 11 brings many improvements to the iPad. The dock at the bottom of the screen is no longer limited to just 6 icons; it can handle at least 7, plus 3 recently-used apps. You can access the dock at any time with a quick slide up from the bottom of the screen; a longer slide will show Control Centre and let you switch between apps. You can also drag any app in the dock to the right of your screen to have it open in Slide Over mode.

You can also drag and drop text, photos and files between apps, although I think this requires an iPad that supports Split View. My old iPad Mini 2 does not.

The on-screen keyboard on the iPad has changed to give better access to numbers special characters. Most keys now have a special character listed in a smaller font above them, and a simple slide down on the key lets you type the character. It makes typing a little quicker. On iPhone, holding down the Globe key should let you drag the keyboard to the side of the screen for better one-handed typing, although I think this will only work on the larger iPhones (6, 6S, 7, 8 and X).

Both the iPhone and iPad now have a new ‘Files’ app, allowing access to the file system (sort-of) for the first time. This means that documents don’t necessarily have to sit inside an app, and allows you to move files between apps. Plus, if you have the Dropbox, OneDrive or equivalent cloud storage apps installed, they should appear in Files as well.

9. Photos now has ‘Memories’

The Photos app will now automatically combine photos into ‘Memories’ – albums of events that it thinks are important. Considering that I have thousands of photos going back 17 years in iCloud, I was a bit underwhelmed by the handful of memories that it had put together, but perhaps it’ll take more time to process.

Photos should automatically group faces together as well, in a ‘People’ album. So far it’s only been able to recognise me, Christine and Lizzie, but it did seem quite accurate. I was particularly impressed that it correctly identified a photo of Christine looking away from the camera and wearing sunglasses. There’s also a ‘Places’ album, and search has been beefed up so that you can search for things in the photos. I searched for ‘car’, and it was able to show me several photos of cars that I had taken.

This is all old hat for Google Photos users, who have had similar features for some time. However, all of the processing for this is done on your own devices, and not in the cloud. This is another example of Apple valuing its users privacy.

10. Other new features that I don’t really care about

As you’d expect, Apple News and Maps have been updated in iOS 11, but meh, who cares. I had a play with Maps, but it’s still nowhere near as good as Google Maps in my view. I tried searching for ‘The Piece Hall’ in Halifax, and it gave me two results – one of which was seemingly in someone’s private garden. This is just one example of the inaccurate data that plagues Apple Maps five years after launch.

I’ve never bothered with Apple News.

As with every operating system update, iOS 11 is a mixture of hits and misses. Do Not Disturb whilst Driving is a great addition, and I’m thankful for the extra storage space. Being able to customise Control Centre is nice, but I wish it was a bit less ugly.

One Comment

  1. I kinda like the font, and the new animations. I like that swiping down from the top of the screen mimics the lock screen. I was a little jarred by the new control center but after a couple of days have adjusted I think. I hate the shouty headings in apps though “MESSAGES” – yeah ok, I get it, thanks Apple? And I loved the old app store so much, and this new one is…well, it’s just terrible isn’t it?

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