iOS 11 is expected to be finalised in about September, probably when the 10th anniversary iPhone is released. But Apple has started making a beta version of the new operating system available to the public. After a week of use, it’s clear some things are better but others are going to take some getting used to.
I installed the first public beta of iOS 11 onto an iPad Air 2 equipped with 128GB of storage with WiFi and cellular comms. Although Apple has released an all new iPad Pro with a 10.5-inch display, most iOS users will be installing the OS on to a legacy device, as long as it supported.
I’ve already covered how to access the beta and what devices it will work with so I’ll dive straight into what I’ve learned over the last week or so.
It’s important to note this is a beta, and an early one at that, so the quirks I’ve discovered should be resolved at some point. But I think iOS has some really serious problems.
Apple has chosen to make the Dock more like the macOS Dock or Windows 10 Taskbar. I’d say it’s more like Microsoft’s version in that it holds a few apps permanently at one end while adding currently used apps to the other.
You can drag and drop more apps to the Dock with the icons shrinking as the number of apps on the Dock is increased. This is a change from previous versions of iOS where the size of icons was fixed.
What I found confusing was that that active apps that changed dynamically also included apps from my Mac and iPhone because of Apple’s Handover function that makes it possible to start something on one device and then continue it on another.
But I’d class that as “annoying” rather than “terrible”.
The Dock can be displayed from any screen now, not just the Home screen, by flicking up from the bottom edge of the display. WIth iOS 10, this would bring up the Control Centre. Now, to access the Control Centre, you need to flick up twice – once to show the Dock and again for the Control Centre which is now part of the task switching interface.
Files offers a lot of promise. Using it with iCloud, it works as you’d expect any file management app. But given Apple only offers 5GB of free storage with iCloud, and that is shared between files, iOS device backups and other Apple-centric data it doesn’t go far.
I’m a OneDrive user with an Office 365 subscription so I’ve got 1TB of capacity there. OneDrive does integrate with Files – sort of.
My assumption is once online storage providers build new apps that play nicely with the Files APIs then Files will be a far more useful application.
Other UX elements
Apple has been tweaking the iOS interface for the last few years. We haven’t seen any major changes since the introduction of the “flat” design with iOS 7 in 2013. But the App Store, Movies, Books and others all get some tweaks.
Things are a little simpler with all the controls now placed at the bottom of the screen.
The App Store has been decluttered substantially which makes it easier to find apps although I don’t like first spot in search results being taken by a sponsored slot.
Killing errant apps
Killing apps now requires more effort. In iOS 10 and its predecessor, double-pressing the Home button would display all your apps. You could simply flick an app upwards, off the screen, and that would kill it – a necessary operation if an app was misbehaving.
WIth iOS 11, a double press of the home button displays your open apps as tiles. To kill them, you need to tap-hold an app to display a small cross on the tile’s top-left corner which you then tap to kill the app.
During the WWDC keynote, Apple’s execs made a big deal of iOS 11’s improved multi-tasking capability.
Slide Over lets you have an app appear as a floating window. Split View, divides the screen in two with apps displayed side by side.
The best thing I can say about these features is that they are a work in progress. Others might call it a streaming pile of crap. But this is a beta release so the feature is still in development.
When I was testing an iPad Pro with a 12.9-inch display, I really liked Split View. The screen was large enough to accomodate two apps adjacent to each other. On smaller displays, like my iPad Air 2’s 9.7-inch screen it’s less useful.
Performance, stability and quirks
As an early beta version, it’s not reasonable to expect great performance but iOS 11 on the iPad Air 2 chugs along nicely. I haven’t noticed any major slow downs although with some third-party apps there are occasional hesitations, particularly when I’m using a Bluetooth keyboard.
Copy-paste seems to be a little broken for me. When using a Bluetooth keyboard, I can use the familiar Cmd-C Shortcut for copying but I have to tap-hold to paste in some apps as the Cmd-V Shortcut doesn’t work all the time.
Battery life seems to be suffering a little, compared to when this device was running iOS 10 but, again, this is a beta so code is probably not fully optimised yet. I’d estimate I’ve lost about an hour of battery life at the moment.
Apple’s UX problem
This isn’t a problem with iOS 11 but one that has become a “feature” of iOS over the last few releases. Despite Apple’s obsession with simplifying the user interface, they have actually made iOS 11 harder to use – particularly if you want to access “power user” features such as Split View.
I’m old enough to remember when software was released with a big, fat manual – or at least a decent PDF manual. Many of iOS’ features are “hidden”.
For example, in order to use Slide Over, I needed to flick up from the bottom edge of the display to display the Dock. Then I dragged an icon from the Dock – this is the Dock where a number of the icons dynamically change depending on what you’re doing – off the Dock to open the app as a floating window.
If I drag that icon to the edge of the screen, I get Split Screen mode. Toggling an app between Split Screen and Slide Over involves flicking down from the top of the floating or split window. But if you flick from just above that specific area, you can pull down the Notification screen.
In a bid to remove “clutter” from the screen, Apple has made the user interface into a confusing mess of places to tap, tap-hold, pinch, flick and double-flick with no real way for a user to know what, when and where they are meant to do a specific gesture.
Maybe subsequent betas of iOS 11 will address this. But I suspect the issues are systemic and the only way Apple can make iOS more intuitive is to start over.