With its 11th mobile operating system, Apple continues to add desktop functionality to the tablet version of iOS. But instead of actually merging it with macOS, iOS 11 (now at version 11.3) builds on an already-mature foundation, with an emphasis on adding new ways to get work done on a tablet. The phone version doesn't get quite as many new, shiny features a previous major updates, but it does get new augmented reality capabilities, a redesigned Control Center, Camera and Photos app improvements, a revamped App Store, Apple Pay in Messenger, an enhanced Siri, and the new Files app, to name a few. iOS 11 has been honed to a fine edge, and it's never been sharper for the iPhone. On the iPad, it feels almost experimental in the best way, with intriguing possibilities for the future.
The Seeds of Apple
Apple has been using the phrase "it just works" since the days of Steve Jobs, and that's a generally accurate description of the company's sleekly designed products. The phrase "this is how it works" may be more accurate, though. Instead of iOS magically meeting your needs before you have them ("it just works"), iOS presents a few basic principles that dictate the entire iPhone and iPad experience ("this is how it works"). Swipe from the middle to search, swipe from the top for notifications. Tap to on the app to open it. Change your Wi-Fi network from the Settings app. Some of these fundamentals date back to the release of the first iPhone, having been iterated and added to in the intervening decade.You Can Trust Our ReviewsSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (Read our editorial mission.)
Apple has always been methodical with its software releases, introducing gradual changes and no doubt following some hidden map of the future. This is particularly true of iOS, whose last major visual upgrade happened all the way back in 2013, when Apple ditched skeuomorphism in favor of a flattened, bolder look for the operating system. iOS 11 is very much in line with that tradition, adding a few visual tweaks and a handful of new features. It's familiar, and most people will know where everything is.4.5OutstandingRead Our Google Android 8.0 Oreo Review 4.5Outstanding$139.00See It at Microsoft StoreRead Our Microsoft Windows 10 Review 4.5OutstandingRead Our Apple macOS High Sierra Review 4.0ExcellentRead Our Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile Review
One of those gradual changes has been the slow evolution of iOS for iPad as a separate but related species to iOS for iPhone (and the iPod Touch, sort of). Previous versions of iOS began including a few additional features that took advantage of the iPad's increased screen real estate, like picture-in-picture and split-screen dual apps. Although many of the new features in iOS 11 are coming to Apple screens of all sizes, many seem intended to bring the iPad and, specifically, the iPad Pro ($799.00 at Apple.com) , closer to the level of a full-fledged laptop replacement. But after spending time using iOS 11 on the largest, most powerful iPad currently available, our verdict is that it delivers an experience unlike either a laptop or mobile device.
And maybe that's okay. Apple certainly likes game-changing, courageous moments, like doing away with physical media or the headphone jack. What's happening on iPad seems more experimental, and we're curious to see how it shakes out as more people try out this new experience.
Can Your Device Run iOS 11?
An over-the-air update to iOS 11 (and its updates) is available for most current iOS devices, and many older ones, too. If you're looking to get iOS 11, you'll need a 6th generation iPod Touch, an iPhone 5s or newer, or an iPhone SE if you're not into big phones. As of this writing, all sizes and versions of the iPad Pro can run iOS 11, along with the iPad Air and Air 2. iPad Minis as far back as the Mini 2 and fifth-generation iPads are also getting the new OS. We tested iOS 11 on both a 12.9-inch iPad Pro and an iPhone 7 Plus. Apple has always done a great job with quickly getting its latest mobile operating systems to the masses—far better than Android, with its fragmentation woes.
While this accommodation of past hardware is commendable, there's a hitch when it comes to compatibility for older iPhone apps and iPad apps. With the move to 64-bit only support, iOS 11 rings the death knell for many older apps. If you're concerned that you'll lose functionality of an app, you can go to Settings>General>Applications before performing the upgrade to see which won't work. If you check there after upgrading, you'll see the list of defunct, useless apps; those with new versions on the App Store appear first. As for the rest, you're encouraged to contact the developers to convince them into updating their apps.
After upgrading to iOS, Michael found a dozen defunct apps on his iPhone, to which he had to sadly bid adieu. Among those is the once-sensational Flappy Bird, which will reportedly not be upgraded to iOS. Fly away, sweet friend.
In general, we found that iOS 11 felt smoother than previous versions. Apps spring open. Objects slide naturally across the screen with a flick. But it's not all buttery smoothness. There are many anecdotal reports of phones and apps crashing more often after upgrading to iOS 11. That said, we didn't have those experiences in our testing.
The Latest Upgrades
Apple has a well-deserved reputation for fast adoption and frequent operating system updates. The first major release for this version, iOS 11.1, for example, included a fix for the much-discussed KRACK problem. This is a series of vulnerabilities that could have allowed an attacker to breach the encryption on Wi-Fi networks.
The security component of iOS 11.1 was important, but more people probably noticed the 70-plus new emoji. These include a genie, a giraffe, and a vomiting face. But none of that matters because two dinosaurs have joined the veritable Noah's Ark of animal emoji. Truly, a great day for iPhone users.
Meanwhile, 11.2 saw the introduction of a new system for sending money between individuals. Called Apple Pay Cash, it's built directly into in Apple's excellent Messages app. We cover this, and other updates, in greater depth later.
The most recent major release is iOS 11.3, which brings a series of across-the-board tweaks to Apple's mobile operating system. More Animoji are great, and the improvements to ARKit demonstrate how fast Apple is working to improve this technology, but the biggest change to 11.3 is all about batteries. With this release, owners of iPhone 6 and later devices get more information about battery performance and alerts when it's time for their battery to be serviced. Users can also toggle off a feature Apple introduced in iOS 10.2.1 that, in the company's words, "dynamically manages maximum performance to prevent unexpected shutdowns." In practical experience, this feature has been blamed for making it seem as if older phones ran down their batteries much faster than newer ones.
We had no trouble finding the new information about our battery's health, but struggled to find the settings that would disable Apple's performance controls. Your mileage while fiddling with this specific setting may vary.
Apple has continued to push out system updates at a steady tempo. If you're keen to get in on the leading edge of Apple's releases, signing up for the iOS Beta program is a snap. Best of all, your Beta updates are delivered over-the-air, without any confusing fiddling with settings.
Perhaps the biggest visual change iOS 11 brings to the iPad is the improved Dock, which is also key to the tablet's new productivity powers. A Dock-like thing has always existed in iOS, and it harkens back to the very early days of OS X and even earlier with the Apple Launcher in OS 7, and the venerable Control Strip. In the iPad version of iOS 11, the Dock not only stores your favorite apps, but it also shortcuts to apps that are currently in use. This is similar to the Taskbar in Windows 10. Most importantly, you can swipe up from anywhere in the OS to summon the Dock. As in macOS, the iPad's Dock resizes as you add or remove apps from it. It also displays opportunities to interact with apps on other Apple devices, via Continuity.
The company recently introduced split-screen multitasking to the iPad, which lets you run two apps side by side. With iOS 11, you can still run apps side-by-side, but a new feature called Slide Over lets you drag an app out of the Dock to place it over another app in a sidebar, which you can then snap to a resizable side-by-side window.
Unlike split screen apps, Slide Over apps share the focus. Both are still in use and accessible, making it a breeze to move back and forth. Tap the top to slide the app to the left or right side of the screen, and flick it up to move it out of the way. You can also tap and drag the Slide Over app to the edge and move it into a split-screen view, similar to Windows 10's Snap Assist feature.
Slide Over takes some getting used to, but it makes some remarkable workflows possible using this combination of Slide Over and split-screen. It felt similar to working on a laptop in our testing, but with the focused feeling that comes with using mobile apps. And iOS 11 keeps Slide Over apps always within easy reach, thanks to the Dock.
You can easily move text and files from one app to another with the new drag-and-drop functionality in iOS 11. This might not sound like a stop-the-presses type of feature since Apple popularized the concept in its early desktop GUIs, but it's a rarity on mobile devices. Even on Android, Google has only implemented a kind of drag-and-drop to select multiple items in its Google Photos app and nowhere else.
Drag-and-drop works as you'd expect in iOS 11. Tap and hold a file or text, and it will stick to your finger. You can then drag the item elsewhere: to another app, a text field, or an app icon in the Dock. Lift your finger to release it and open it in the app or see it pasted in the text field.
There are some unique twists to drag and drop in iOS 11. For one thing, you can add multiple items by tapping them with another finger without lifting your first finger. It's a subtle but very smart and unique-feeling way of using multi-touch that works with either one or two hands.
You might expect drag-and-drop to work with text and photos, but you can also tap an iMessage balloon and move it onto the Maps app to start a search, for instance. Another example: Layers of a mobile Photoshop project can be grouped and moved in the Photoshop Mix iOS app.
Though drag-and-drop is implemented throughout iOS, not everything can be dragged and not every place accepts a drop. The onus seems to be on the developers to make their apps accept dropped images, text, and so on. The challenge to the user is going to be recognizing the new places to try this feature and finding out where it works. Windows 10 tablets, such as the Surface Pro, offer a full desktop or laptop experience and have had this functionality for a while, for any file type.
The New Files App
One of the most critical productivity improvements in iOS 11 is the new Files app. As the name implies, it's a file-picker app for iOS, and it graces both iPhone and iPad. This is the first time that iOS has given users access to files on their devices in this manner, and it's a watershed moment for that reason alone. You can move files, create folders, and even create nested folder structures. Alternatively, you can use color-coded tags and rely on the integrated search function to find your files.
Files has sections down the side for Favorite folders, Tags (like those in macOS), and Locations, including local device storage and iCloud Drive. Keep in mind that, by default, macOS includes iCloud Drive as a top-level folder location. This effectively bridges your iOS and macOS devices through Apple's syncing services. If you're not down with iCloud Drive, the Files app also supports third-party cloud storage services, including Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Adobe Creative Cloud, among others.
Note that Files doesn't let you see every file on your device—the app or cloud service needs to enable viewing of appropriate files. So forget about looking at system or program code, for example.
With Slide Over, drag-and-drop, an enhanced Dock, and the Files app, the iPad iOS 11 work experience is dramatically improved. Finding and accessing assets for, say, an illustration, is easy, and moving them into an editing app is a breeze. The iPad Pro was already a remarkable creativity device with the Apple Pencil, and iOS 11 brings a familiar, yet novel, experience that meshes the experience of a drawing tablet, a laptop, and a mobile tablet.
Whether that experience justifies the comparably high price of Apple's Pro tablets is another issue, especially with the burgeoning market for convertible and 2-in-1 devices.
Worth a Thousand Words
In the Photos app, Live Photos (which are really just 3-second videos) get some nifty new effect possibilities—Loop, Bounce, and Long Exposure. The first repeats the short, 90-frame video endlessly in a Vine-like fashion. Bounce may be the most fun effect, repeatedly reversing and forwarding the motion. And Long Exposure is great for things like fireworks, waterfalls, or moving traffic. You can now scrub through the mini-video to choose which frame appears as the still version of a Live Photo, and you can trim the beginning and end off the short videos.
The Camera app also sees some subtle improvements to picture taking, but the surprise addition of automatic QR code identification is most welcome. Behind the scenes is iOS 11's adoption of the more efficient HEIF and HEVC formats for photos and videos. These can save you storage space to the tune of 50 percent, but note that only the iPhone 7 and later or 2017 iPad Pros can record in these formats. There isn't yet much of a software and service ecosystem to support HEIF, but we expect the clout of Apple will push it forward.
The new Portrait Lighting options in iOS 11 only work with the iPhone 8 Plus ($799.00 at Apple.com) and the iPhone X models, and at launch, they're still designated as "beta." They join an improved standard Portrait Mode, which uses those phones' "telephoto" lens and software magic to create a bokeh effect. There are two of these examples of computational photography wizardry in addition to the basic Natural Lighting setting: Stage Lighting and Contour Lighting. The first is most impressive, removing the background and replacing it with black. The other two identify facial features and switch up lighting for more evenness in the case of Natural, and more vignette around the face in the case of Contour.
Apple has made the quality of its camera a key selling point, going so far as to make posters and billboards out of pictures "shot on iPhone." Google countered strongly with its Pixel phones in 2016, which used some machine-learning wizardry to produce incredible images. The Google Photos app brought additional force to bear with excellent search and effectively bottomless storage. Apple is striking back hard, and the special Portrait Lighting options debuting in the iPhone 8 ($799.00 at Apple.com) and 8 Plus are sure to turn the heads of many shutterbugs.
Apple's success has come from its consistency and elegance, but we were left scratching our heads over the new notification/lock screen combo and Control Center in iOS 11. Apple has seemed to struggle with access to shortcuts for fast actions, such as toggling radios and flashlights on and off, and that's still true in iOS 11.
Swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen, and you'll see an all-new Control Center interface that consolidates controls from previous versions into a single mosaic of control tiles. It reminds us of the original Windows Phone's tiled interface, and we like the look. The tiles can be 3D Touch-ed for more options, and you can customize what appears in the Control Center from the Settings App. That level of customization is great.
Some have criticized the new Control Center for being too busy. True, it's a new spin on the familiar iOS design, but we're optimistic. We particularly like the volume and brightness sliders, which seem like a smart new way to present these controls. If anything, we'd like these options to be even more powerful. Android, for example, lets you select a wireless speaker or a different Wi-Fi network from its Control Center equivalent in the notification tray. We hope Apple moves in this direction, but the new Control Center isn't there yet.
Since it launched, there has been mounting concern that the Control Center settings for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth aren't as functional as they might appear. At the time, it was widely reported that switching off Wi-Fi with these controls didn't actually switch off the radio. A recent update now alerts users that Wi-Fi will be automatically reactivated a day after it is switched off. That's great. However we'd love to see Apple adopt Android's notification tray control for Wi-Fi, from which you can not only toggle the radio on and off but also select a Wi-Fi network without having to open the Settings pane.
The most noticeable feature in Android 8.0 Oreo is fine-grained control of notifications. Apple also tweaked how notifications worked, but in a confusingly un-Apple like way. Swiping down from the top of the screen now reveals your notifications on the lock screen, without actually locking the device. Swipe up and you'll see older notifications. Swiping right from here, or from the home screen, still, thankfully, reveals the widgets screen, but the search bar is gone from the top.
It's a bit disorienting, even to long-time iOS users. We much preferred the paradigm of a separate notification center. While we're sure we'll get used to the new gestures, the notification area's similarity to the lock screen just feels unnatural.
Improvements to Messages
Messages between iOS devices are still end-to-end encrypted, but as of iOS 11 they're now backed up to the cloud. Normally, this would set off our privacy paranoia senses, but Apple insists that its security model prevents anyone other than the people sending or receiving devices from reading these messages. Even Apple, the company says, can't read them. That's excellent, and Apple's continued commitment to privacy and security in this age of mass surveillance, cloud storage, big data, machine learning, and voice assistants is heartening.
The Messages app is also getting new visual effects, as well as a redesigned app drawer that will, hopefully, make the experience less messy. One neat trick: the app drawer expands and contracts at a swipe, similar to the magnification effect with the macOS Dock.
As of iOS 11.3, users within the US will have the additional option of Business Chat. When you search for a business in Maps, Safari, Siri, or the built-in search bar, you'll have the option to chat with a business directly. Apple says this will be handy for questions about products or services, but, intriguingly, mentions that purchases could be made through Apple Pay (more on this type of integration in a moment).
We tried out this feature on an iPhone 8 by searching for Home Depot from the built-in search box. A call and chat bubble appeared next to the result, which could easily be overlooked. With a tap, we were talking with Jonathan about how late the nearest store would be open. We are pleased that the system required us to actually send our ZIP code, rather than simply handing our location data over to the customer support rep with whom we were chatting. We also appreciate that the asymmetric nature of texting was acknowledged, as we were advised that we could respond at our leisure.
With the rise of chatbots and voice assistant integrations, this could easily begin to play a larger role in the lives of iPhone and iPad users in the coming months. It could also just as easily be completely ignored. We're curious to see how this will play out in the coming months.
Health Records (to Go)
The biggest overlap between health and Apple has certainly been the Apple Watch, with all of its fitness tracking capabilities. There are also remarkable medical studies being carried out using the iPhone as both a testing device and a means of distribution. But Apple goes even further with iOS 11.3, giving access to medical records via iOS device to patients from more than 40 health systems.
The feature is currently rolling out in Beta and only for US customers. According to Apple, those who fit all the criteria for access will be able to view lab results, prescription medications, and existing conditions, among others.
Having all that information on hand could be useful the next time you go to the doctor, and it goes a long way toward putting individuals in control of their own health data. But any time personal health information is moved around is an opportunity for something to go wrong. Apple says that the information is encrypted, and protected with a passcode. We're glad to hear that, particularly with rising concerns about law enforcement's ability to force individuals to open devices locked with biometrics like fingerprints.
Apple Pay Cash
Apple Messages continues its assault on Facebook Messenger, which was abundantly evident in the last iOS update with all its stickers and apps. This time, person-to-person payments, such as those long available in Messenger, make their way into Apple's Messages app. This feature was rolled out with the iOS 11.2 update, so get that if you haven't seen this feature already.
Called Apple Pay Cash, sending money is now a simple matter of tapping an Apple Pay icon in Messages' app drawer during a chat session, entering an amount, and tapping Pay. You can either request cash from the recipient or simply send money. Each transaction is authenticated with Touch ID.
While you interact with this feature through Messages, the transactions are handled immediately on the back end. That greatly reduces opportunities for a replay attack, and transactions use the tokenized security that debuted on iOS 8 with Apple Pay.
Along with this new payment option comes a virtual prepaid Apple debit card which lives in your iPhone's Apple Pay wallet. You'll know which one it is because the card shimmers with a subtle but elegant animation. The money you receive is deposited into this card, which is accessible from the Wallet app. This is a real, honest-to-goodness debit card, backed by a real, honest-to-goodness bank. Green Dot Bank, in fact. You can apply your balance on this card to any purchase you make with your iOS device or cash it out to a bank account. This service is limited to the US at launch and will require you to provide some identification to sign up. It also only works between Apple devices, so don't deactivate out your Venmo account just yet.
X Marks the Spot
This year is not like other years, as Apple decided to not only release the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, but an ultra-lux iPhone X ($799.00 at Apple.com) . This distinctive (and expensive!) iPhone sports a full-face screen, but also has a few unique tricks up its sleeve.
iPhone X owners, for example, unlock their devices with just their faces with the face-scanning Face ID. This takes the place of Touch ID on the iPhone X, as the device does not have a fingerprint scanner. Face ID can also be used to authenticate purchases. This is an interesting idea and one that's been tried before on various Android devices. That said, we have some privacy concerns about using Face ID instead of a fingerprint.
Along with its face-scanning abilities, the iPhone X takes emoji to the next level with Animoji. These are supersized, 3D emoji that replicate the movements and expressions of your scanned faced, to the point where you can make them talk and sing. There are third-party apps that provide similar functionality, but Animoji are baked right into the iPhone X experience.
At launch, we considered Animoji to be cute at best, but they've since become a bit of a cultural touchstone—particularly Animoji Karaoke, which yields unicorns and animate poos singing along to pop songs. We admit, we missed the mark on this one. iOS 11.3 expands on the existing slate of Animoji characters by adding a bear, dragon, lion, and skull options. Hopefully future releases will expand this feature to more devices, but it's still locked for iPhone X for now.
Tweaked and Refined
Along with these marquee additions are tweaks and updates to existing iOS features and included apps. There's a lot to go through, so we'll skim through the most interesting stuff.
With the release of iOS 11.3, a new icon will appear any time Apple asks for personal information. This is a small thing, but it's interesting to see Apple to continue positioning itself as the company that respects your personal information. We wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a larger theme in the future.
Speaking of privacy in iOS 11.3, your iPhone will now send out Advanced Mobile Location (or AML) data when you make an emergency call. As long as you're in a country that supports AML, that means your 911 call will also include your location information. Fortunately for the paranoid and unfortunately for everyone else, AML isn't currently used in the US, but has seen increased adoption elsewhere.
The Notes app, which has seen a surprising amount of investment from Apple, is getting handwriting and improved drawing support. You can also now search handwritten notes, as long as those notes are in English or Chinese. A document-scanning feature lets you quickly capture dead-tree files, automatically cropping and correcting the image once it's captured, similar to the Adobe Scan app.
Also pushing into Adobe territory, iOS 11 includes new PDF markup tools for Pencil and iPad users, saving you from downloading the Adobe Reader app. Your digital writing tool can now mark up or sign PDFs. Safari lets you capture websites as PDFs by tapping an action button with the Apple Pencil and then doodle over them, similar to the way the Edge browser's Web Note feature works. Little tweaks like this make the already impressive Apple Pencil an even more powerful tool.
When you take a screenshot in iOS 11, a preview appears in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Swipe it away to store it for later, or tap it to start marking up or sharing the screenshot immediately. You can also drag and drop the screenshot onto the app of your choice. These are great new conveniences for an often-used feature.
Apple Maps gets improved indoor navigation and a new feature for improved safety while driving. Your iPhone can now automatically determine when you are driving using its onboard sensors and suppress distracting notifications. Your phone can send automated responses explaining that you're too busy being a safe, responsible driver to answer that text just now. Siri can even detect when you are driving, and won't ask you to look at content on the screen in response to queries—the voice assistant will read it aloud instead.
Speaking of Siri, Apple's voice assistant sees additional improvements in iOS 11. Just by saying "Hey, Siri" you can translate English into Chinese, Spanish, French, German, or Italian. Siri speaks out the translation and puts the transliteration on the screen in case you want to try it yourself. Translations also have a Replay button, in case the person you're speaking to doesn't catch what Siri says the first time.
A subtle tweak to Siri is in the assistant's voice, which now has different inflection and tone. For example, it now says phrases with a more natural intonation. It's noticeable—perhaps too much so. Siri is right at the edge of an aural uncanny valley. On the more visual end of Siri's abilities are improved cards with more information and options to continue. Last, and possibly least, a new animated 3D icon seems to imbue Siri with an eerie intelligence.
Remember the discarded Windows 10 feature, Wi-Fi Sense? Apple now offers similar functionality, letting you effortlessly share your Wi-Fi password securely to people in your Contacts list. Doing so won't reveal your password in the process, and saves them the trouble of typing it. To use the iOS 11 feature, the visitor selects the friend's Wi-Fi network and moves the phone near any Apple device logged into it. A message pops up on the home user's screen offering to share the password. In our testing, however, it worked sporadically, though our work environment is teaming with competing Wi-Fi networks.
An extremely useful new feature helps you cut down on storage clutter. Go to iPhone Storage section of the Settings app and you'll see an option to Offload Unused Apps and Auto Delete Old Conversations from Messages. The page also shows you which apps are the biggest. If you've ever struggled to update an iOS device because you were running out of space, these tools could be lifesavers.
iOS 11 has several improvements to smart home controls, not the least of which is in AirPlay 2. Now, you can control multi-room audio, setting the mood right from your iOS device. An impressive list of audio equipment companies has signed up for AirPlay 2, including Bang and Olufsen, Bose, Beats (owned by Apple), Polk, Denon, Bowers and Wilkins, and Definitive Technology. AirPlay 2 works with Siri and Apple TV, so you can shout your requests not only to Apple Music but also to third-party apps, though which ones will support it isn't known yet.
Last on this list of tweaks, but certainly not the end of new features in iOS 11, is an overhaul to the App Store. A visual redesign now includes advertisement-like videos that auto-play without sound. Video previews for apps now play automatically, which sounds terrible, though this new approach at least feels respectful. The videos are muted by default, for example. Games now get their own category in the App Store, an acknowledgment of the dichotomy that has always existed. A new editorial feature displays daily stories, including in-depth articles about apps and behind-the-scenes features. It's an interesting idea, but like the Notifications update, this redesign is a bit off-putting, replacing previous versions' more concise layout.
Augmented Reality Apps Using ARKit
There are always a lot of behind-the-scenes updates for an operating system that appeal mostly to the developers who use them to build new apps. Apple's latest foray into Machine Learning is one such example, but more compelling for the average person is Augmented Reality or AR.
Apple has avoided virtual reality (VR), while Google and HTC have dived in headfirst with purpose-made head-mounted displays and special cradles that turn smartphones into stereoscopic VR viewers. Even Facebook has skin in the game with its purchase of Oculus Rift. VR is interesting, but as Pokemon Go proved, it's AR's mixing of real and digital that might be the most compelling.
Apple isn't including any AR-powered apps of its own. Instead, iOS 11 boasts ARKit. This provides tools for developers to build their own apps, like a version of the holographic chess game from Star Wars that puts the Millennium Falcon's game board on your coffee table. Or an app from Ikea that lets you place virtual furniture in your real home. We tried the IKEA app and a cute game called Follow Me Dragon, and the experience was delightful, if imperfect at times.
Though some of its biggest rivals have embraced virtual and augmented reality, from Microsoft's Holo
Apple's initial approach to AR doesn't require any additional cameras or sensors. Instead, it uses the single rear-facing camera on your phone to identify flat surfaces and onboard sensors like the gyroscopes to interpret movement. We've seen demonstrations, and it's remarkably well done; hopefully more developers will leap at this new technology. At launch, Apple devices could only do AR trickery on horizontal surfaces. As of iOS 11.3, vertical surfaces are in the mix, along with improved detection for irregular (read: not square) flat surfaces. What's so remarkable about this is that Apple radically altered how its AR features operate using only a software update. If your device supported ARKit before, it gets all the new toys.
Google has invested heavily in cutting-edge AR and VR with Project Tango, as has Microsoft with its Mixed Reality and HoloLens initiatives. To get the full Tango experience, however, you need a phone or tablet with a special sensor stack. The results are astonishing, but adoption has so far been limited.
Countering ARKit is ARCore from Google, which, like Apple's offering, uses just a single camera and existing smartphone sensors. We've only seen demos of these two technologies, but Apple seems to have a leg up for the moment. That's surprising, considering that Project Tango easily blows away the competition, as long as it has those extra sensors. How this will play out in the real, augmented world is yet to be seen, however.
Growing and Evolving
While comparing Apple and Android is a lot like comparing apples and Oreos, doing so does highlight each of their relative strengths and shortcomings. Apple still has an enormous edge with the App Store, which boasts compelling exclusives and first releases. Android is available on handsets that cover a spectrum of sizes and price points. Apple's consistency means that it can be easier to use and understand, while the customization of Android is simpler than ever, meaning users can bend it to their needs without a great deal of knowledge. Which you pick will have a lot to do with the kind of user you are (and want to be), and what you're already familiar with.
This year, Google sank its teeth into Android Oreo, which brings fine-grained notifications and improved performance to the world's most prevalent mobile operating system. It's a great update that makes Android much stronger. Apple went a different direction with iOS 11, including in-your-face changes like the Files app, Slide Over multitasking, and an emphasis on turning the iPad into a serious work machine.
In some ways, Apple is bringing over some of the best ideas from Android—such as access to a file picker. In other ways, it strikes out on its own (as Apple often does), to create new workflows in iOS 11 that are unlike current mobile or desktop experiences. It's a bit disappointing that the best, and most striking features of iOS 11, are found only with Apple's high-end tablets. There's still plenty for iPhone users to enjoy, but it's either bold or curious that Apple has decided to double down on tablets, a category that has only shrunk in recent years.
Apple has always done an excellent job of keeping iOS powerful, but approachable—and beautiful to use. That's still true in iOS 11, but what's remarkable is how well it handles the potentially mess-making inclusions of the Files app and additional multitasking features, as well as smoothly sliding into the new world of augmented reality. It does all this with aplomb and in ways that open new doors for lovers of Apple gear.
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