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iOS 11 Goes Public: But Take a Deep Breath First…

Just days after Apple released the second developer beta of iOS 11, it was time for the public to get involved. It’s part of Apple’s Public Beta program, where brave customers have their chance to try out beta operating systems.

In the past, all the action revolved around macOS and iOS, but this year you’ll also have a crack at tvOS 11, which requires the fourth generation Apple TV. If you have an older Apple TV, you’re out of luck. In addition to these three, developers are also getting a chance to use watchOS 4, but you really don’t want to risk your Apple Watch to such an experience. While there are ways to restore a Mac or an iPhone or an iPad, an Apple Watch that becomes a doorstep would have to be returned to Apple for repair.

While I used to have spare computers on which to try out new things, today I have one iPhone, one iMac and an old MacBook Pro. My wife’s iPhone 5c is not on the list of supported devices for a new iOS version. Since she depends on her iPad for lots of things, I am not going to put her in a position to have to cope with the uncertainties of beta software. That’s my cross to bear; it helps keep the marriage happy.

So I decided to give iOS 11 a try. Maybe I just like to live dangerously, but you can restore the device if all goes badly. It’s all explained in an article from Mac Rumors. You may never have to take that step, but it’s surely worth a try.

Long and short: I did decide that maybe Apple fixed enough of iOS 11’s worst bugs to make it reasonably useful for beta testing, and thus I set up my iPhone 6 to receive the update. The first step is the most important — backup your data. Don’t take chances!

You will then download a device profile from Apple’s beta site on the unit itself. Once that’s done, it restarts, and it’s ready to receive the iOS 11 updates.

From there, the setup process is identical to installing any OS update. You will download future updates on the unit itself, via General > Software Update. It works the same as any iOS update.

Indeed, if I actually didn’t look at my iPhone a bit more carefully than usual, I might not have immediately noticed much had changed, until I began to look around and brought up the Control Center, which received a major overhaul. The installation process was seamless, and reasonably quick, on a par with most OS updates.

I was pleased to see that performance hadn’t suffered noticeably. Sometimes an early beta can cause stuttering and frequent app crashes. Of course, I haven’t used it long enough to really see where the problems might lie. I even opened the Lyft and Uber driver apps to see if they’d go online and do their stuff. I went offline right away, because I’m in no position to receive riders until I have a replacement car. My VW was totaled last week after being struck by a pickup truck. The week went downhill from there.

So I sat back and began to look through the changes.

Some of the key improvements include:

I won’t have a chance to look over the iPad Dock — which is similar to the macOS Dock — until I install iOS 11 on Barbara’s iPad; that awaits a final or near-final version. But I’ve seen the photos. It does appear Apple is making a concerted effort to make these tablets more suited to doing productive work by borrowing a few ideas from the Mac. I’ll leave it there, because I do not wish to bore the reader with my endless complaints about iPads.

That said, I do like the refined interface quite a bit.  In Mail, one visible change is the large bold text for Mailboxes. The rest of the look and feel seems smoothed out, as if Apple’s designers went through all the elements carefully. Of course, things are apt to change from early beta to final release. But it’s all moving in a good direction, and I positively live in Mail, so I’ll give it the full workout in the days ahead.

One thing I did notice right away: Formatted messages appear to load faster.

Moving on to Safari, again the general impression I received was of improved snappiness. While given a distinct iOS look and feel, the Files app displays folders and files in a familiar fashion. Nobody accustomed to a standard graphical user interface, be it macOS, Windows or even one of those Windows-style Linux distributions, will have a lick of trouble with it.

And then there’s Siri. According to Apple, Siri has a more natural voice, and machine learning makes it (I hesitate to say her) smarter.

Now up till now, I’ve used Siri sparingly. Even setting an alarm can be difficult, because any lack of prevision can gum up the works. But I did notice a smoother, more expressive delivery. That is promising, but Siri can still be obtuse. So, for example, I asked a question that Siri previously failed to answer properly. All I wanted to do was to have all inactive alarms, those switched off, deleted. Try as I might, Siri didn’t understand. Siri for iOS 11 fared no better. But I’ll wait until the beta process is further along before reaching any conclusions; I remain optimistic that things will get better.