The best new features coming in iOS 11 and Android O
Every year we get fresh new versions of the two major mobile operating systems, and it's almost time for Apple's iOS 11 and Google's (still not fully named) Android O to be released. Here's a rundown of the best new features you can look forward to seeing on your smartphones and tablets.
We'll start with Apple, and iOS 11 is expected to drop alongside the new iPhones at some point near the start of September. A public beta version of the operating system is already out in the wild, which includes many of the new features expected in the final release.
Apple updates all of its native apps at the same time as iOS, and so there are dozens of new improvements and tweaks to talk about, but here are six new features we're particularly excited about.
1. Augmented reality superpowers
We're looking forward to the arrival of ARKit in iOS 11, the augmented reality framework for developers. You won't see any surface changes to the operating system, but you will see apps that use your iPhone's camera to show virtual objects interacting with the real world, whether that's virtual building blocks piling up on your coffee table, space rockets landing in your back garden, or furniture layouts being shown off in your living room.
2. A smarter Siri
Siri always gets updated when a new iOS rolls around, and this year you can look forward to a more natural-sounding voice for the digital assistant, as well as a slightly tweaked interface. Siri is going to be better able to understand follow-up questions and questions asked in the context of other questions, while all of your Siri-related data will be synced across devices too. Siri is also going to start suggesting articles pulled out of Apple News.
3. Files and improved storage management
Phone storage may not be the most thrilling of topics but we could all use a little extra room on our devices, and iOS 11 is going to be better at cleaning out songs, photos, videos, and other clutter you don't need via a new iPhone Storage option in Settings. What's more, iOS is getting its own dedicated Files app for the first time, so you'll be better able to browse through the files on your device and in your iCloud account folder by folder.
4. An iPad dock and app switcher
Some of the biggest changes in iOS 11 are coming as exclusives to the iPad. The slate will sport a Mac-style dock at the bottom of the screen, as well as enabling you to drag and drop apps from the dock up to the side of the display or on top of the existing app. This is all designed to make it easier to use your iPad more like a MacBook, of course, as Apple continues to push its tablets as serious productivity devices for getting work done.
5. A revamped App Store
The App Store is going to look a lot different after you've installed iOS 11 – the cleaner, fresher look is intended to make it easier to find the apps you're after and discover new apps that you didn't realize you needed. The new Today tab, for example, highlights new and popular apps that you might like, and you've got separate tabs for games, general apps and updates too. The same new-look interface will be rolled out in iTunes as well.
6. A revamped Control Center
Control Center, which appears when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen in iOS, gets a new lick of paint and a lot more in the way of customization options. You can change the layout, show and hide toggle switches, and access two other new iOS 11 features – a dedicated Do Not Disturb mode for driving, so you don't get distracted on the road, and a Screen Recording feature that lets you record on-screen activity in a video clip.
Google's Pixel phones usually launch a little later in the year than the iPhones, so Android O may well not arrive in a finished version until October or November time – and we still don't know which dessert Google has decided on as the name of the mobile OS.
There's not as much to talk about with Android O, with Google focusing more on improvements under the hood, but users of stock Android have still got plenty to look forward to, including these six features.
1. Notification categories and snoozing
We could all use a little help with the flood of notifications arriving on our phones on a daily basis, and Android O is introducing the idea of notification channels. Basically, it lets you categorize alerts (into important and unimportant, for example), so they can be more easily managed, but you are also relying on developers to play along. Notifications can also be snoozed in Android O, so they'll automatically reappear after a set delay.
2. Faster camera shortcuts
As a general rule Google tends to update its apps and Android independently, but the Camera app is one exception. In the new version bundled with Android O, you can double-tap on the screen to quickly zoom in 50 percent, and switch between photo and video modes with a tap on an icon, which is easier than swiping (the old method). Look out for more camera improvements to arrive at the same time as the second-gen Pixel phones.
3. Picture-in-picture mode
The picture-in-picture functionality that we've already seen inside the YouTube app is rolling out to the operating system as a whole with Android O, as long as developers decide to support it – that means you can surf the web or check in on Twitter while watching Netflix, and so on. With phone screens getting bigger and bigger, it's a move that makes sense, and it's a useful complementary feature to the split-screen mode Android introduced last year.
4. Smarter text selections
Perhaps not the most exciting of features until you remember just how much time you've lost selecting text on your mobile phone. Android O will do this in a much smarter way, so if you're trying to highlight an address (for example) then the whole block gets selected straight away. What's more, Android O can then launch the relevant app to deal with the data, so you might see Google Maps for an address or the dialler for a phone number.
5. All your data across all your devices
Android already pulls in some information from passwords and login details you've saved in Chrome under the same Google account, but that feature is going to be expanded in Android O, so you'll be able to take more of your details (like addresses and credit card numbers) across all your devices and apps without having to tap them out each time. You'll need a third-party password manager app to keep all of this data organized though.
6. Better battery life
Google says its engineers have further refined the Doze feature that arrived with Android Nougat, adding more limitations on what apps can do in the background when they aren't actively being used. That means fewer checks for messages and emails, fewer checks for your current location, and so on. The good news is that most of these improvements should be handled behind the scenes, so you don't have to do anything to get the benefits.