Here’s what to expect in iOS 17 when Apple releases its first public beta

Image credits: Apple

Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 17. Unlike developer betas, this is the beta version which should be stable enough for regular people to use.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS 17 this fall. But Apple will release betas every few weeks during the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and collect data from a large group of users.

If you’re feeling adventurous, back up your device to iCloud or your computer before installing iOS 17. Next, go to the Settings app, then General & Software Update. From there, you should see a menu called Beta Updates. You can select iOS 17 Public Beta, go back to the previous menu and check for updates.

But what’s new in iOS 17 after all? I’ve been testing iOS 17 for a few weeks. It’s not a big departure from iOS 16. You’ll feel right at home after the update. But there are some new features and general improvements.

In many ways, iOS looks like a mature platform. And that’s a good thing. Apple is still actively working on iOS and adding new stuff. But the company no longer demolishes the house and rebuilds it every year.

Some of the features I particularly liked are the improvements to Messages, the new StandBy mode, improvements to Maps, widgets and dictation.

Image credits: Apple

Let’s start with Messages. It’s one of my most used apps, and I’m pretty sure many iPhone users spend several hours a week using Messages. One of the things that didn’t work so well in iOS 16 was search. It was just hard to find a message.

With iOS 17, search has been completely reworked. As in Mail, you can filter your search using different criteria. For example, if you want to find a hookup that your friend Sarah sent you, you can type Sarah’s name first and Messages will suggest you narrow your search to messages with Sarah. After tapping it, you can enter any keyword or tap Links to see a list of links that have appeared in your private conversation.

Apple has also spent some time improving the audio messaging experience. Whether you use it or not, audio messages are becoming more and more popular. But the experience with long audio messages wasn’t great in the older version of iOS. With iOS 17, you can now exit the app and continue listening to an audio message, or view a transcript of the message in case you’ve received a series of audio messages and want to listen to a specific part of them again.

In other small but nice improvements, Apple is borrowing some ideas from WhatsApp as you can now swipe up on a bubble to reply to a specific message in a conversation. There’s a new arrow that lets you easily jump to the oldest unread message. This feature is very useful in group conversations.

One of the major big features of iOS 17 is something called Standby. I think StandBy will replace many old bedside clock radios around the world.

After updating to iOS 17, your iPhone will display widgets in full screen when you turn it on its side while charging. While it works with a cable as long as your iPhone is propped up against something, it works especially well with a MagSafe-enabled dock.

There are three different StandBy screens. On the first one, you get two square widgets next to each other. These widgets build on the home screen widgets you may already use on your iPhone. For example, you can view the weather forecast on the left and a list of reminders on the right. You can show a list of home accessories on the left and open a note you use constantly on the right. You are not limited to two widgets as you can create two stacks and scroll up and down through these stacks depending on what you are looking for.

If you swipe left, you enter the second Standby screen, which is a photo album. You can choose a specific album or get random photos of cities, people or nature based on the device’s smart categorization capabilities.

Finally, if you swipe left once more, you get a full-screen customizable alarm clock. The screen automatically adjusts to low light so it’s not too bright at night. And if you have multiple MagSafe docks, your iPhone remembers your preferred StandBy configuration based on your location.

And even if you don’t plan to use StandBy, the good news is that widgets they are getting an update on their home screen as well. Now there are more interactive. For example, you can complete to-dos, play or pause songs and podcasts, and control home accessories.

Image credits: Apple

Like an intense Apple Maps user, I should also mention that Maps is finally able to download offline maps so that you can still use the app when you don’t have any cellular signal. In the app settings, you can search for a city, select the exact area you want to cache on your device and then hit the download button. Yes, Google Maps added offline maps years ago. But it’s also nice to see it on Apple Maps.

These are just some of the new features in iOS 17. But there’s so much more:

  • You can create a contact poster and share it with your contacts. They look great, so let’s see if people start using them.
  • When was the last time you listened to a voicemail? iOS 17 transcribes voicemails as people talk and leaves you a message.
  • You can now leave voice messages in FaceTime. They appear directly in the call history list.
  • Location sharing finally works as expected in Messages, meaning it shows up directly in the conversation as a bubble.
  • Speaking of location sharing, there’s a new check-in feature that can automatically notify your friends and family when you arrive home safely (or at your destination).
  • You can initiate an AirDrop by selecting content and placing the top of your phone on top of someone else’s phone. If you don’t select anything, you can use this gesture to share your contact information. Goodbye, business cards.
  • You can share passwords (and passkeys) with other people. If you’ve managed to get your family to use a password manager like 1Password, now you can all switch to iCloud Passwords.
  • Autocorrect and dictation have been improved. The new text hint system takes some getting used to, but it feels a little more intuitive.
  • When you start playing a song or video, iOS now automatically suggests nearby AirPlay-enabled devices. It can be helpful or annoying, depending on what you actually want to do.
  • Hey, Siri is just Siri now.

Overall, iOS 17 feels like a better iOS 16, and that’s not always the case with software updates. And if you’re wondering what happened to Journal, one of iOS 17’s big new features won’t be arriving until later this year. This new app will let you create diary entries with the places you’ve visited and photos of the day. And it will be included as one of the default apps.

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