Just a few months ahead of the launch of Apple’s eagerly anticipated Apple Vision Pro, complete with a cutting-edge operating system, the tech giant is rolling out iOS 17 for iPhone users. The number 17 certainly carries significant weight, and it’s indicative of iOS reaching a level of stability and maturity that users have been eagerly anticipating. Transitioning from iOS 16 to iOS 17 is a smooth process. While iOS 17 brings a host of both minor and major changes, it won’t be a source of frustration for users. In fact, it’s a welcome update. Under the hood, there are notable alterations. The most prominent among them are the introduction of StandBy mode and enhanced interactive widgets.
StandBy mode empowers users to make the most of their phones even when they’re not actively engaged with them. If you happen to own a MagSafe dock, simply placing your phone in landscape mode triggers a display of quick, at-a-glance information. StandBy mode offers three different usage options. You can have two interactive widgets side by side, making use of the same widgets found on your home screen. For example, you can have the weather forecast on the left widget and a list of upcoming calendar events on the right.
Similar to your home screen, you can organize widgets into stacks and cycles to suit your information needs. It’s a feature that instantly clicked with me during the testing of the iOS 17 beta version. Notifications can be accessed and interacted with in StandBy mode. Additionally, you can engage with Siri without having to switch your phone back to portrait mode.
The other two modes are a full-screen clock and a photo mode that cycle through your photo library or a specific album. This photo mode would be especially appealing if you have a HomePod with a built-in display. Perhaps that’s something to look forward to in the future. Regarding the clock, there are five distinct styles to choose from. The idea is that your iPhone could potentially replace your old, traditional FM radio alarm clock, and the screen adjusts to low light conditions. On the home screen, the major addition is interactive widgets. Widgets have been immensely popular among iPhone users in recent years, and Apple is building upon this success by introducing new features that developers can leverage to create widgets with basic interactive capabilities.
Apple has already updated some of its widgets. For instance, the new Home widget allows you to control home accessories with a simple tap, eliminating the need to open the Home app or use Siri. This is particularly useful for managing blinds and door locks. Apple’s content apps, including Music, Books, and Podcasts, have also received updates to incorporate interactivity.
Other subtle but impactful changes include a complete overhaul of the keyboard, which now features improved autocorrect capabilities utilizing transformer language models in English, Spanish, and French. Autocorrected words are now underlined, making it easy to spot any corrections made behind the scenes.
Dictation has also received its annual upgrade. While I was already using dictation for many text messages, it’s now even more seamless, allowing you to dictate a few words, type a few words, and then continue dictating without the need to switch back and forth between input methods.
Significant Enhancements at a High Level
Whenever a new iteration of iOS emerges, it’s customary for the majority of Apple’s built-in apps to undergo updates as well. The overarching theme in these updates often revolves around enhancing the user experience.
In the realm of communication, FaceTime has undergone two substantial changes. Firstly, you can now leave video messages when the recipient doesn’t answer your call. Secondly, FaceTime can now be utilized on an Apple TV, with your phone serving as the webcam and microphone.
Take the Messages app, for instance, which has undergone substantial improvements. This arena is in a constant state of evolution, with WhatsApp, Telegram, and Apple continually introducing new features. Moreover, they occasionally draw inspiration from one another. For example, within a conversation thread, it’s now possible to swipe on an individual message to respond directly.
Audio messages have also received a much-needed upgrade. You can now pause a recording and resume it at your convenience. Additionally, you’re no longer required to remain within the app to listen to incoming audio messages. Even more impressively, audio messages are now automatically transcribed directly on your device, which is an exceptionally welcome feature.
Another intriguing addition is the “Check In” feature—a miniature app within Messages designed to help you send a message to your loved ones once you’ve safely returned home. Many individuals often forget to send such a message, but with “Check In,” you can set it up before leaving someone’s home, and your iPhone will automatically dispatch a message once you reach your destination.
But there are more noteworthy changes in store. The search function has undergone a complete transformation, making it considerably easier to search for specific conversations by typing someone’s name and then selecting their name to search for specific keywords within that conversation.
For those who still use their phones for making calls, Apple has dedicated time to improve the Phone app. You can now create a contact poster—a full-screen representation of yourself that will appear when you call someone. Similar to your profile photo, this contact poster will be shared with your contacts as you begin an iMessage conversation. The editing process resembles the wallpaper editing feature introduced in iOS 16, making it effortless to craft an appealing poster.
If you’re someone who seldom answers incoming calls, you now have the option to send them directly to voicemail while simultaneously accessing a live transcription of the voicemail message. This feature proves particularly handy, allowing you to reconsider and answer the call if it happens to be a delivery person or an important call.
For avid users of Apple Maps, there’s excellent news. Apple has, at long last, introduced support for offline maps. This addition addresses a long-standing gripe among Google Maps users, finally eliminating this frustration. Overall, iOS 17 is a very polished update. It feels like a refined version of iOS 16 without some the major issues which were prevalent in earlier versions.