The day has finally arrived. iOS 11 is here. But should you install it now, or would it be better to wait for the next update? To help you decide, I've tested some of the main new features and changes in this release.
A Note to Braille Users
One of the main new accessibility features in iOS 11 is easier editing in braille. As I do not own a braille display, I have not been able to test this. If you are a braille user, please read this post on accessibility bugs before upgrading as there is a serious braille-related bug in this release.
Hey Siri, What's New With You?
Apple's addition of the type to Siri feature is a very positive step forward for accessibility. Now people with speech impediments, or deaf people who don't normally communicate by speaking, finally have a way of interacting with Siri. But even if this doesn't apply to you, type to Siri is a useful feature. It's another example of how making technology accessible benefits everyone, not just people with the disability it's trying to address.
I've often wanted to type to Siri. Sometimes, Siri doesn't quite catch all the details of that quick message or reminder. Typing to Siri would be a good way of making sure all the details of your request are accurate, while still being quicker than launching the right app and tapping through menus. Sometimes it's easier to talk to Siri, and sometimes I'd prefer to type. I want to have the best of both worlds; I want to be able to choose, on each occasion, whether to speak or to type, without going into the settings to change it. And if you want that too, there's a way to set it up on newer devices. Enable type to Siri by going to settings > general > accessibility > Siri > and turning on type to Siri. Also turn on Hey Siri by going to settings > Siri and search > listen for Hey Siri. Then when you want to type, press and hold the home button, and when you want to talk, say hey Siri.
Siri now has the ability to translate from English into other languages. I wanted to test this, but I'm in the UK and, in Siri's words, "I can't translate from British English yet. Sorry about that." After I changed Siri's language to English US, translation worked as expected. More evidence that the Americans and the British are divided by a common language.
Apple also promised improved Siri voices, and the female US English voice does sound noticeably more natural. Like the other Siri voices, it can be used with Voiceover.
What's in that Picture?
AppleVis users will be eagerly anticipating VoiceOver's added ability to describe pictures with a 3-finger tap on the image. This is another important step in the right direction, and it could be a great feature one day, but it doesn't work well enough to be useful yet. In my testing, I tried it with photos, screenshots and various images from web pages, but it didn't tell me anything other than whether the images I tried were sharp or blurry. See Serina Gilbert's post for a more detailed review of this feature.
Dragging Around the Home Screen
I regularly have the urge to rearrange my home screen. Sometimes it's because I've just downloaded a new app, I can't find a good place for it in my existing folder structure, and so I end up rearranging everything else to find a sensible place for it. Sometimes it's because I've become dissatisfied with the categories I've been using. So I was glad of the new way of moving apps, introduced in iOS 10, because it made it even easier for me to confuse myself with a new home screen layout every couple of months.
In iOS 11, that's all changed again. Now, the "arrange apps" rotor action has gone. You will now need to double-tap and hold to go into edit mode. Once there, there will be a rotor action to start dragging the app or folder you are on. If you select that, you can then move to the place on the screen where you want to put the app you are dragging, and select from a very similar menu of options as in iOS 10, although slightly reworded: you can drop the item you are dragging before or after the one you are focusing on, or put it in to a folder. The one addition is the option to add another item to the drag session, which allows you to move multiple apps at once.
The new Files app allows you to see all of your files from cloud services: iCloud, Dropbox, and others. Currently, you can use it to manage files within iCloud, but for other services such as Dropbox, you can only view your files. It doesn't have the ability to move files between services, which is unfortunate as that would've been the main advantage of having multiple storage services in one place. The file management capabilities it does offer are easy to use; you simply use rotor actions to delete, move or copy files.
Finally, an Easier Way to Check Spelling!
VoiceOver users, myself included, have been complaining for years that checking spelling is difficult on iOS. This release goes a long way towards resolving that issue, with the addition of a "misspelled words" setting to the rotor, which appears when editing text. To get a list of suggested corrections, after you've found the word you want to change, turn the rotor to edit, choose select, then choose replace, and you can then flick left or right through the list of suggestions. I've found that the list of suggested replacements works more reliably than in previous iOS versions.
When I started testing iOS 11, I found it underwhelming. As I spent more time with it, I grew to like it. The improvements to Siri, and the rotor option for spelling, are welcome additions. There are smaller changes that I like, such as added verbosity settings that allow you to change whether table headers and row and column numbers are spoken, and the fact that message previews are once again automatically read in Mail. Some of the new features don't work quite as well as I'd like them to, but if you're not a braille user, and you don't rely on any 32-bit apps, I see no reason to avoid this upgrade.