Six hours with iOS 11

Today is release day for iOS 11, Apple’s newest version of the operating system for iPhones and iPads. This is not news. As of about 1pm Eastern time, the update is available for download and installation on supported devices. Monochromatic Outlook sacrificed an iPhone1 for the glory of being your guinea pig.2

The update was performed on an iPhone 6, a model which is almost three years old. Some features will not be available for this device even after the update. This ought to provide a guess at how the OS upgrade affects performance on older devices.3 It took almost an hour to download, which isn’t surprising. A zillion other people tried to install it at the same time. After that, the install ran for about 15 minutes.

Mostly looks the same in regular use

There are no major interface changes for the ways we’ve been doing things for ten years. The icons for built-in apps have gotten a little bolder, with thicker lines and simpler iconography. The type of app names now scales with the length of the app’s name, which means the whole name is visible, but also means that for some apps the title isn’t legible.

No new pay feature (for anyone)

Did you hear about how Apple was going to make it possible to send money by text message or use Siri to send payments? Well, they pulled that out of the beta. I’m OK with that. I wouldn’t have been excited to try using it, but I don’t want to knock it either.

Of all the features Apple should avoid launching if not ready, the one where the phone automatically drains your bank account should be at the top of the list.4

More NFC features. Someday.

The iPhone has had near-field communication support for a couple of years now but without the capability for any third-party products to take advantage of it. With iOS 11 this has changed. However, the iPhone still won’t talk to a Yubikey so I’m unclear what the point is.5

Failing to find MAC address

Um, because security. Or something.

Starting with iOS 11, apps can no longer read MAC addresses of other machines on the network. This is an obstacle for network utilities like IP Network Scanner and Fing. It must be the result of some security concern. Perhaps people were writing apps that reported everyone’s MAC addresses back to the app authors. Shame on them, but these utilities are so handy for troubleshooting network problems (or problems with machines on the network) that I’d really hope that the authors find a way to work something out with Apple.

Unless of course they were the ones collecting people’s network data.

Goodbye 32-bit apps

There’s been a series of app updates in recent weeks promising iOS 11 compatibility and seemingly no other features. This is because iOS 11 removes support for 32-bit apps. If an app isn’t 64-bit, it won’t run any more.

Going through the apps that were already on the phone showed that most apps on my own phone continue to work. However, there were some exceptions. When those apps are run, a message pops up informing us that «the developer of this app needs to update it to work with iOS 11». Among the apps which no longer work:

  • Helvetica vs Arial a fun game for typography geeks. How fast can you discern Helvetica from Arial?
  • Social Monkeys client for the microblogging platform.
  • BrainHack plays binaural tones at a low volume, purportedly to change mood and state of mind.
  • Chambers 200 Words You Shouldn’t Trust The folks at Chambers Dictionary made a list of words that are used in misleading ways.
  • Alameda Free Library I don’t live in Alameda any more, but it’s too bad to see that the Alameda Free Library’s app will stop working.
  • QuickElem interactive periodic table of elements.
  • PhotoForge2 PhotoForge is a really good photo editor that has been unsupported since Yahoo hired its dev team and killed the app but still worked until today.
  • OpenVBX app interfaced with the OpenVBX web application to make phone calls and send text messages using one’s own webserver (and Twilio).
  • Mho A darn shame to see this go. Mho is a game made by Adafruit to get practice identifying resistor color codes.
  • iSSH This is probably the biggest disappointment. I’ll have to decide on another ssh client to use. iSSH saved the day once when a server crashed while I was on vacation in Tennessee. Is typing shell commands on a phone fun? No. Did it do the job? Yes.

QR Code being detected by iOS camera

QR code reading built in to the camera app

Now this reminds me of the Apple that just gets things right — an Apple we don’t see enough of any more — and it’s a feature they aren’t even hyping. There are a ton of QR code reader apps out there, some with a lot of features. Apple built the QR code reader right into the phone app.

Point the camera at a QR code, and a popup notifies you of the contents of the code. If it’s a link, it offers to open the web page. Otherwise, the contents of the code can be copied to the clipboard. There’s no separate app to open, no special configuration to enable it, it’s just there being handy.

Control Center Music widget

What else?

A lot has already been written about the revamp of the Control Center. The new arrangement is elegant, but it’s still an incremental improvement. There are more functions available taking up the whole screen instead of being divided into multiple «pages» to swipe between. The biggest difference is quite welcome, though: a long tap of one of the widgets will make the widget grow and (usually) provide more information. The music player widget, for example, will expand to provide a more complete controller for the music player. The flashlight, which used to just turn on or off, can be adjusted in brightness.

The performance of this one device doesn’t seem to have degraded, and it’s too soon to tell whether the battery life has been effected. I don’t have anything to offer along those lines at this point. I haven’t experienced any crashes or other problems, but that doesn’t mean much.

This is not meant to be a complete review; I’ll leave that to the people who have been using the beta and release candidate for more than the few hours I’ve been looking at the phone. Those reviewers will also have the benefit of access to iPads, where I understand a lot of changes have been made in the split-screen modes and the ways in which iOS multitasks.

  1. My iPad is stuck at iOS 9. ↩︎

  2. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. ↩︎

  3. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that three years is too soon for obsolescence. ↩︎

  4. Especially if your friends know about the DolphinAttack ↩︎

  5. I’m sure there are lots of great things that can be done with NFC on iPhone. But password security is the thing I’m interested in. ↩︎