12 top iOS 11 features on iPhone and iPad

Siri will try to read your mind, and you can pay your friends back in a text. Plus, AR is gonna be huge.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
6 min read

'Sup, iOS 11. Welcome to the iPhone party.

Specifically, welcome to the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Apple's just-announced iPhone trio for 2017 will be the first phones to launch with the new operating system, which is available as a public beta now. Good news: If you're not planning to upgrade to a new iPhone this year, you'll get iOS 11 on your current iPhone or iPad on Sept. 19.

The biggest changes come to Siri, Apple's voice assistant; interfaces like the lock screen, App Store and Control Center; and AR software that's going to mesh the virtual world with your own. But iOS 11 beta is also full of little surprises.

On the iPhone X, iOS 11 does double duty, all because it ditches the home button. The iPhone X, which is pronounced "iPhone 10," will be the only device that uses a gesture to multitask, and facial recognition software to unlock the phone (and create goofy animojis, animated emojis that mimic your facial expressions).

The iPhone is Apple's most popular device, and also its biggest moneymaker by far, and iOS 11 is the backbone that props up your current iPhone and iPad, as well as Apple's new iPhones.

Read: Everything you need to know about iOS 11 in one place

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iOS 11 is packed with new features to discover.

James Martin/CNET

What's new in iOS 11

1. AR is coming to your iPhone and iPad

  • When you look at your iPhone or iPad screen, you'll be able to interact with virtual items overlaid in your real world.
  • For instance, you can place items like lamps in your living room, or see Pokemon on the sidewalk at your feet.
  • Apple is just now launching the developer platform (called ARKit), so this isn't something you'll be able to use right away. (My guess is September when we expect Apple to launch its next iPhones.)

Why we care: This kind of deep software supports rumors that Apple is going to add a lot more computing power to the iPhone camera.

2. Siri wants to suggest what you want next

  • Siri's interface gets a refresh. Results look more like Google's "cards."
  • Siri enhances male and female voice tones.
  • It'll suggest follow-up questions you can ask by tapping on them.
  • Multiple results for a search topic will help reduce error.
  • Siri can now translate languages (English to Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish, for starters).
  • It'll suggest topics you'll want to know based on what you're doing, like a news item, respond to a message with your location, or make a calendar appointment based on a reservation you booked using the Safari browser.
  • Siri will learn words from articles you use, and suggest them when you type.
  • Private, for you and your devices only (it won't be web-accessible).
  • Siri will be available for more third-party apps, which means you can ask for a ride, pay a bill and start a workout -- with a voice command.

Why we care: Apple's Siri assistant has lagged behind Google's (and even Amazon's Alexa). Prediction and translation help close the gap a little. 

3. Camera app changes mean more pics for you

  • Video will take up a lot less storage space, thanks to new compression technology.
  • Low-light portraits will take advantage of optical image stabilization and HDR.
  • You can loop a live photo to make a movie (like, of a never-ending bubble blow).
  • Live photos can now be trimmed and edited.
  • You can grab and save a still frame from a Live Photo.
  • New long exposure effect can help you take really great nature shots of moving water and more.
  • Movies captured in "Memories" will now play in Portrait mode, not just landscape.

Why we care: The most important change is that you'll be able to save a lot more photos and videos.

4. Control Center shrinks to a single panel

  • One panel instead of three in iOS 10 .
  • You get sliders and toggles you can tap right away.
  • Or dive into more granular controls with 3D Touch (basically, hard-press the screen).

Why we care: The three-panel layout was a drag. This should be easier to use by putting the controls we care about in one place, not three. 

5. Lock screen and notification center become one

  • The lock screen will be able to show all your notifications (if you want).
  • Scroll up to see notifications from the lock screen.
  • You can still swipe to get to widgets on the left and the camera on the right.

Why we care: This should give you a more convenient glance at alerts.

25 features that will make you want to upgrade to iOS 11

See all photos

6. iMessage will sync convos better

  • When you sync to another new device, say your iPhone or iPad, iCloud will automatically sync all your conversations (which also means if you delete it on the iPhone, it'll delete on your laptop and iPad too).
  • iMessages also has an app drawer, to make it easier to find stickers and the like.

Why we care: Less clutter.

7. Use Apple Pay to throw money at friends

  • Peer-to-peer payments are right in iMessage.
  • You can make purchases and bank transfers this way.
  • Authenticate the payment with your fingerprint.
  • Suggestions that you pay your friend pop up from within the keyboard... within the iMessage.
  • It'll work for all iOS devices and Apple Watch .

Why we care: You can pay your buddy back for dinner without having to sign into a new service. Easy.

8. Apple Maps dives indoors

  • Detailed airport and mall floor plans (you can browse by floor).
  • Watch your speed because speed limits are part of Maps.
  • There's also guidance to tell you which lane you'll need to change into.

Why we care: You might not get as lost finding the pretzel stand on your way to the gate.

9. Apple CarPlay wants to help keep you from crashing

  • When you install iOS 11, you'll get an option to turn on Do Not Disturb While Driving mode.
  • It'll chop out notifications and show you... nothing. Because you're driving. Eyes on the road!
  • If you're not actually the one driving, you can tap to turn the mode off and text your heart out.
  • There's an auto-response to let people know you're driving.
  • Some special people will be able to get your attention if notices are urgent.

Why we care: Distracted driving is bad news for road safety. This is a step in the right direction.

10. Apple Music makes a house party mo' better

  • Want to play music in multiple rooms through different speakers? You can now (through an AirPlay 2 protocol).
  • Multiroom audio will also work with third-party apps.
  • You can make playlists public to your friends.
  • Third-party apps, such as Shazam, can automatically add songs it identifies to your collection.

Why we care: You can set up surround-sound music in your home with speakers you already have.

11. Brand-new App Store is... hmmm

  • Apple totally redesigned it.
  • Separate tabs for Apps, Games and Today's featured apps.
  • In-app purchases will also get a featured spot, like to show off a brand-new level or character you can buy.

Why we care: If it helps makes new apps easier to find, that's fine by us. But the jury's still out on whether this redesign showcases more apps or fewer.

12. iOS 11 takes iPad to the next level

  • The new app dock has space for more apps and can open them by pulling them up from the dock.
  • A new app-switcher supports drag-and-drop (text, images, multiselect -- you name it).
  • You can flick keys to access punctuation and numbers without having to switch views.
  • A new app, Files, houses all files and folders to help you find everything on your iPad (supports Google Drive, Box and more).
  • The Apple Pencil has deep support for the iPad.
  • With the Apple Pencil, you can markup pretty much anything
  • The Notes app supports in-line drawings, search and handwriting recognition with Apple Pencil

Why we care: The larger iPad screen means people use it differently than they do their phones. These changes can make the iPad easier to use and far more productive.

CNET senior reporter Shara Tibken contributed to this story.

Update: First published June 5, this article has ben updated several times, most recently Sept. 12.