This is what to expect in iOS 17 when Apple releases the first public beta

Apple has just published the first public beta of iOS 17. Unlike the developer beta, it is a beta that should be stable enough for the average person to use.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS 17 this fall. But Apple will be releasing betas every few weeks during the summer. This is a great way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

If you’re feeling adventurous, back up your device in iCloud or on your computer before installing iOS 17 and sign up for the Apple beta at Apple’s website. After that, open the Settings app, then “General” and “Software Update”. From there, you will see a menu called “Beta Update”. You can select iOS 17 Public Beta, go back to the previous menu and check for updates.

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

In many ways, iOS feels like a mature platform. And that’s a good thing. Apple is still actively working on iOS and adding new things. But companies aren’t tearing down homes and rebuilding them every year anymore.

Some of the features I really like are improvements to Messages, new Standby mode, and improvements to Maps, widgets, and dictation.

Image Credit: Apple

Let’s start with Messages. This is one of my most used apps and I’m sure many iPhone users spend several hours per week using Messages. One of the things that doesn’t work well on iOS 16 is search. It’s just hard to find messages.

With iOS 17, search has been completely reworked. Like in Mail, you can filter your search using different criteria. For example, if you want to find a link that your friend Sarah sent you, you can first type Sarah’s name and Messages will suggest that you limit your search to messages with Sarah only. Once you tap on it, you can enter any keyword or tap on “Links” to see a list of links that appear in your private conversations.

Apple has also spent some time improving the experience with audio messages. Whether you use them or not, audio messages are becoming more and more prevalent. But the experience with long audio messages wasn’t great in earlier versions of iOS. With iOS 17, you can now leave apps and continue listening to audio messages, or view a message transcription if you receive a batch of audio messages and want to listen to a specific part of it again.

In another small but nifty improvement, Apple borrowed some ideas from WhatsApp as you can now swipe 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 messages. This feature is quite useful in group conversations.

One of the main big features with iOS 17 is something called StandBy. I think StandBy will replace many of the old radio alarm clocks on nightstands around the world.

After updating to iOS 17, your iPhone will show a full-screen widget when you turn it on while charging. While it works with a cable as long as your iPhone is leaning against something, it works great with any MagSafe-enabled dock.

There are three different StandBy screens. In the first one, you get two square widgets side by side. These widgets are based on the home screen widgets you may already be using on your iPhone. For example, you can display the weather forecast on the left and a list of reminders on the right. You can display a list of home accessories on the left and open notes that you always use on the right. You are not limited to two widgets as you can create two stacks and swipe up and down through these stacks depending on what you are looking for.

If you swipe left, you go to the second Standby screen, which is the photo album. You can select a specific album or get random photos of cities, people or nature based on the smart categorization feature on your device.

Finally, if you swipe left one more time, you get a full screen, customizable alarm clock. The screen automatically adapts to low light so it’s not too bright at night. And if you have multiple MagSafe docks, iPhone will remember your favorite Standby setup depending on your location.

And even if you don’t plan on using StandBy, the good news is that widgets are also receiving updates — even on the home screen. Now there are more interactive features. For example, you can complete your to-do list, play or pause songs and podcasts, and control your home accessories.

Image Credit: Apple

As an intense Apple Maps user, I should also mention that Maps is finally able to download offline maps so you can still use the app when there’s no cellular signal. In the app settings, you can search for a city, select the exact area you want to cache on your device, then hit the download button. Yes, Google Maps added offline maps a few years ago. But it’s nice to see it in Apple Maps too.

These are just some of the new features in iOS 17. But there’s a lot more out there:

You can create contact posters and share them 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 while people are talking and leaves messages for you. You can now leave voice messages on FaceTime. They appear directly in the call history list. Location sharing is finally working as expected in Messages, meaning it’s displayed 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 members when you arrive safely home (or at your destination). You can start AirDrop by selecting content and placing the top of your phone over someone else’s phone. If you don’t select anything, you can use this gesture to share your contact info. Goodbye, business card. You can share your password (and passkey) with other people. If you managed to convince your family to use a password manager like 1Password, you can now all switch to iCloud Passwords. Auto-correction and dictation have been improved. It took a little getting used to the new text suggestion system, but it feels a bit more intuitive. When you start playing a song or video, iOS now automatically suggests nearby AirPlay-enabled devices. This can be useful or annoying, depending on what exactly you want to do. “Hey Siri” is now just “Siri.”

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 the big new features in iOS 17, it’s not coming until later this year. This new app allows you to make journal entries with places you visited and photos of the day. And it will be included as one of the default apps.

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