*A version of this story ran/aired on USA Today *
I don’t usually get that excited about operating system updates. In fact, I often tell people to hold off for a few days when a new OS launches to let the early adopters iron out the glitches. This year is different.
When Apple’s latest iOS 17 becomes available to the public on Monday, September 18th, it brings the most significant new “wow” factor to iPhones to date. Several upgrades to messages, FaceTime, AirDrop, and other features are about to make Apple smartphones more personalized, intuitive, and a whole lot more fun all the way around.
I’ve been using the iOS 17 Beta version for the past two weeks; here’s everything you need to know and what stands out so far.
WHAT PHONE DO YOU NEED FOR THE iOS 17?
Any phone that’s an iPhone XS or newer will work with iOS 17. Those are the models that came out in September of 2018. So basically, any iPhone that’s six years old or older will not run the newest Apple operating system.
If you aren’t sure which iPhone you have, here’s how to find out: Open your Settings app and tap General > About. You’ll see which iPhone you have right there next to the model name.
You’re out of luck if you have an iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, or iPhone X.
LIVE VOICEMAIL: CALL SCREENING FOR THE SMARTPHONE SET.
If you’re old enough to remember screening phone calls on an answering machine, this new feature is a welcome blast from the past. When someone calls and leaves a message, you see a transcription of what they’re saying in real time and can pick up the call at any point before they hang up.
This is genius for all those spoofing and spam calls about your car’s extended warranty or a timeshare in Boca versus when your doctor’s office calls from an “unknown number,” and you really need to answer it.
It also gives you more time to answer, because don’t you hate it when you run to your phone only to miss the call by a fraction of a second?
Also, if you’re like me and still like to call people on the phone, you can leave a message and say things like, “I know you’re there; pick up; this is super important,” even when it’s not really all that urgent. (Sorry, not sorry, daughter…)
This also tells us that people still call each other, not just text or DM — I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.
NAMEDROP: BUMP TWO iPHONES TOGETHER.
NameDrop’s another retro feature reimagined for today’s times. Want to share contact info with someone? Just bring your iPhone closer to their iPhone or Apple Watch without touching – just like Apple Pay.
We used to do this through the Bump app, a good ten years ago or so. Then Apple execs made fun of it at WWDC in 2013, when they introduced AirDrop, and it went away for a decade. Now? What’s old is indeed new and improved again.
You can control exactly what you share, including your name, photo, email, and phone number. It’s all up to you, and it’s a fabulous way to save time from tapping away or calling someone to add their contact information.
For real, back in 2013, when Apple’s Craig Federighi introduced AirDrop to the audience at WWDC, he took a dig at Androids and the whole tapping craze by saying there’s “no need to wander around the room bumping your phone with others,” and we all chuckled.
Oh, how times have changed. Bumping is cool again, and we all love a full-circle moment, don’t we?
CONTACT POSTERS: LET YOUR CREATIVITY SHINE.
Finally, a feature to put your best face forward. iOS 17 gives you some fun new ways to customize how you show up on other people’s Apple devices when you call them. It also lets you personalize how that person’s “poster” appears on your screen when they reach out to you.
You can create Contact Posters using photos with various effects, Memoji, monograms, and also customize fonts and backgrounds. You can choose to automatically share your Contact Poster with people in your contacts, so they’ll get your new, cool, modern selfie, too!
WHAT THE DUCK?! AUTOCORRECT GETS MORE ACCURATE.
Apple calls this upgrade a “more intelligent text feature,” but let’s be honest, this is all about that one word that gets changed to “duck” every time you attempt to type it.
Apple has a bunch of fancy names for all the upgrades coming to your keyboard, including this official description, “a comprehensive update with a transformer language model, a state-of-the-art on-device machine learning language model for word prediction — improving the experience and accuracy for users every time they type.”
Translating all the geek-speak here, what this means is that autocorrect and predictive text features are better now. The keyboard’s new “transformer model” is like OpenAI, so it’s much better at figuring out what you’re about to type. You can add entire sentences by tapping the space bar, and Apple promises that dictation will get much better now, too.
STANDBY: CREATES A SMART HOME DISPLAY.
The new StandBy mode transforms your iPhone into a smart home display, and again, it’s incredibly handy.
If you’re one of the millions of people who use a smart home display from Amazon or Google, you can now just use your iPhone instead. For this to work, you’ll need an iPhone that supports iOS 17. Just turn it on its side when it’s charging — either with a cable or on a charging stand. (I already own one for my nightstand and am using a borrowed Belkin two-in-one to test this feature, too).
You can customize what you see in StandBy mode to a certain extent. I have a clock and calendar on mine, but you can add photos, widgets, and notifications or select different styles or layouts.
CHECK IN: KEEP AN EYE ON FRIENDS AND FAMILY.
Apple doubled down on several personal safety features again this year, and a handful of new Check In options are all about letting people know ‘where you’re at’ during a trip or event. You can start a Check In with a friend or family member to automatically let them know when you’ve arrived at your destination.
It’s also easier to share your location or request someone else’s location now. Just tap the plus button in Messages with the new Location app. Location continues to show inline as a bubble in the transcript until the location-sharing session is over. You can also view the location of your Find My friends right at the top of the conversation under their name.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: THE LITTLE THINGS.
There are a whole bunch more new features worth a quick mention:
FaceTime: You can now leave a video message if someone doesn’t answer your FaceTime call. You can use the front or back camera and take advantage of all the video effects inside the app. This is great if you’re trying to show someone something, like the fantastic sunset, that might not still be around when they get back to you.
Pets are people too, you know: You can now search through your photos app for your pets, like you do for friends or family members.
Siri knows her name: You can say “Siri” instead of “Hey Siri” now and make back-to-back requests without saying “Siri” every time.
Stickers: For people who want more than just a “thumbs up” or “heart” emoji to express themselves, iOS 17 adds an array of new Sticker uses in Messages. You can create a Live Sticker from your photos now, too. Tap and hold on any person, animal, or object in photos to lift it away from the background and create a Live Sticker. I’m not sure how much I’ll use this, but I’m sure a whole lot of people younger than me will love it.
WILL iOS 17 DRAIN MY BATTERY?
Apple says none of these new iOS 17 features should impact your overall battery life, but many Beta testers have seen dramatic battery drain throughout the test phase. That’s normal as the bugs get worked out and apps update. I haven’t noticed a significant battery drain since I started using iOS 17, though, and will keep a watchful eye on it overall!