Along with macOS Sonoma, iPadOS 17, and watchOS 10, Apple previewed iOS 17 during WWDC23. Since then, we've thoroughly tested every beta build of this release and observed it as it matured. And now that the stable version is available on the latest iPhones, it's time to share our experience.
Overall, iOS 17 isn't a huge update, but it brings a lot of improvements and new features to communication apps and settings. So, if you're the kind of person who relies on Apple messaging services, you're going to see a lot of great changes. Even if you don't, there is still plenty to like.
New features, additions, and changes
iOS 17 focuses primarily on communication upgrades, and it's safe to call it the operating system's central theme. Starting with FaceTime, you can now leave a video message when someone doesn't answer your call. This makes it easier for you to share your latest updates with the other party when they're too busy to pick up. Furthermore, you can now react with various animated effects, including hearts, thumbs up, fireworks, and more. The feature is particularly helpful in FaceTime group calls when you'd rather react silently to another person's remark. It's fun, effective, and intuitive to use.
I know that many users who rely on the service to contact their loved ones will appreciate these new reactions. That's because whenever I demoed them in a video call with someone on iOS 16, they'd gasp and inquire about their availability. They just make calls more fun and give us more ways to communicate.
Communication upgrades aren't limited to just FaceTime, though. Through iOS 17, users can now create a Contact Poster, which allows them to personalize their contacts' call screen. You can customize the main photo or emoji, the name's font size, color, and style, and more. Once you set it up, you can optionally share it with all of your contacts automatically or a select few. This way, whenever you call them, your chosen Poster appears on their side.
Apart from Contact Posters, there's a new great Live Voicemail feature that allows you to read the script of a voicemail at the same time the caller is speaking. This way, if the topic is urgent or sensitive, you can choose to pick up on the spot. It's worth mentioning that this feature works offline through on-device smarts and doesn't share any sensitive data with Apple.
As someone who receives plenty of calls from unknown numbers, Live Voicemail provides me with all the context without needing to pick up.
I've been actively using both features, and I have to say that Live Voicemail is surprisingly fast and accurate. As someone who receives plenty of calls from unknown numbers, it provides me with all the context without needing to pick up. As for Contact Posters, the feature truly makes phone calls more personal, especially since the photo updates automatically whenever a contact changes it. So whenever someone calls, I see their chosen photo, along with the font and style they've picked. It makes the call screen uniquely theirs instead of having a dull, generic appearance.
This also reveals how if you and the people you interact with don't actively rely on Apple services to communicate, then iOS 17 may feel lackluster, to some extent at least. And with Apple improving group chats for iPhone users when an Android member is around, it's clear that the company is embracing its users and services, while further alienating and shutting out other platforms.
You've guessed it: iOS 17 includes even more communication-related updates. Now, we're moving on to the Messages app. We got some very welcome additions this year that make it much easier and more fun to use. For starters, the App Library has been redesigned, along with the built-in iMessage app icons. Users also get two new apps: Check In and Stickers. The former allows you to share your locations and movements on the map with somebody, while the latter enables you to create fun (and even animated) stickers that can liven up your conversations.
There are also smaller quality-of-life additions, such as a swipe-to-reply shortcut, a smarter keyboard with a more precise autocorrect, high-quality media sharing with other iPhone users when a Green Bubble is present in a group chat, and more. Furthermore, when someone sends you a voice note, the Messages app will automatically display a transcription, allowing you to read what the person has audibly said.
I have to say that after three months of use, I'm in love with the new sticker maker. It takes a couple of taps to create an animated sticker from an existing Live Photo I've taken and add some special effects. I've also been using the voice note transcriptions quite a bit since they spare me the need to pause my precious music to find out what a person is talking about. Overall, the entire messaging experience has improved, with the keyboard now guessing whole words in advance and me being able to quickly swipe on specific texts to reply to them individually. I recently started using this service as my main instant messaging app again, and I can say it has matured quite a bit when compared to its state from just a couple of years ago.
iOS 17 also supercharged AirDrop by building upon existing features and introducing completely new ones. Now, when you move away from another iPhone user during an AirDrop transfer, iOS will upload the rest of the files to the cloud temporarily instead of interrupting it. The other user's iPhone will then download it, ensuring that no data is lost. That's not to mention that an AirDrop transfer can now be initiated by simply placing two iPhones side by side.
Apart from that, iOS 17 also introduces a new feature called NameDrop, which lets two iPhone users exchange their contact cards by bringing their devices together. It's ideal for those socializing or networking at an event, and it makes connecting with new people simpler.
I haven't tried these features yet, as no one in my physical social circle is running the iOS 17 beta. But I'm excited about NameDrop since it'll make it super convenient to exchange numbers with people once the OS goes live.
Now that we're done with communication features, for the most part, we're finally moving on. StandBy mode is a new offering that utilizes MagSafe stands to display timely information elegantly. Users get to customize the large widgets that appear on the lock screen when it's mounted, and there's even a night mode for when the room is dimly lit. While StandBy mode works automatically when your device is attached horizontally to a MagSafe charger, I haven't been actively using this feature. I just prefer the always-on display mode in portrait orientation. But using it will turn your iPhone into a smart clock of sorts, which might appeal to you.
With every annual iOS update, Apple typically includes Safari upgrades, and version 17.0 is no different. This time around, users can utilize a biometric lock for private tabs. There's also the new Safari Profiles feature, which allows users to create different browser playgrounds where stored cookies, passwords, and other data remain sandboxed in their respective profiles. This way, users get to easily separate between work and play.
With iOS 17, users can also create shared password groups where several people can view passwords, 2FA codes, and more. This makes Keychain an ideal password management tool for small teams sharing multiple accounts.
And speaking of 2FA codes, when you receive one through the Mail app, the keyboard can now automatically insert it in its respective field — a feature that has been available in Messages for years. That's not to mention that iOS can now automatically delete these texts or emails after you insert the 2FA code to clear your inboxes.
Apple Music also gets some love with iOS 17. For starters, iPhone users finally have access to a crossfade feature where they can merge the ends and beginnings of songs in a queue. Apart from that, animated cover art now bleeds into the controls on the Now Playing screen. Apple has also promised to deliver collaborative playlist support in a future update.
iOS 17 includes plenty of smaller tidbits across the system, and we have prepared a comprehensive list of the lesser-known features. Here are some of the interesting highlights:
- Interactive widgets allow you to execute a certain action or task by tapping on the widget without needing to launch the dedicated app.
- The Health app on iOS 17 has gained support for some new data types, including mood and vision. You can also now rely on the TrueDepth camera to receive alerts when you're too close to the display.
- iOS 17 finally brings offline support to Apple Maps, allowing users to download maps of certain areas and navigate through them without a connection.
- AirTags and other Find My-enabled accessories can now be shared with other people, allowing you to keep track of items with other people at the same time.
- AirPlay now uses on-device intelligence to learn from your habits, and it works more seamlessly at eligible hotels.
- AirPods receive some major upgrades with iOS 17, such as a conversation detection feature, adaptive audio, and improved automatic switching between devices.
- Apple Home on iOS 17 adds a 30-day activity history of your door locks, garage locks, and more.
- The Reminders app on iOS 17 gains a grocery shopping feature, allowing you to group similar items together automatically.
- Siri can now be triggered by just saying "Siri," rather than "Hey Siri." You can also utter consecutive commands in a row without needing to trigger it over and over again.
- The Photos app can now detect pet faces, not just human ones, in addition to detecting single subjects in frozen video frames.
- Visual Lookup can now suggest relevant recipes after scanning a photo of a certain dish.
- Apple's Communication Safety feature expands beyond the Messages app to protect children from certain content shared through AirDrop and other means of communication.
- Similarly, you could have iOS 17 blur incoming sensitive photos in apps like Messages and other services, such as AirDrop.
- iOS 17 also introduces plenty of accessibility features, such as Personal Voice, which replicates your voice after a 15-minute training session.
- Those on iOS 17 also get to use three new Memoji stickers.
- The Fitness app on iOS 17 gets some love as well, with a redesigned Sharing tab and new, personalized workout plans for Plus subscribers.
- Those paying for Apple News+ on iOS 17 also get daily crossword puzzles, in addition to the ability to listen to News+ Audio in the Podcasts app.
Final thoughts on the iOS 17 experience
It's worth noting that I haven't been able to test many of these features properly, as most of my social circle doesn't opt into iOS betas. So, I still don't see many Contact Posters on my side, and I haven't tested NameDrop yet. This also reveals how if you and your social circle don't actively rely on Apple services to communicate, then iOS 17 may feel lackluster. However, with Apple improving group chats for iPhone users when an Android member is around, it's clear that the company is working on embracing its users and services while further alienating and shutting out other platforms.
Regardless, iOS 17 is a pretty stable release, and the battery life on the latest build has been excellent. So, by installing this update, you're almost guaranteed a positive experience. Even if you don't rely on iMessage and FaceTime, you will notice the other smaller changes across the system that can simplify your life.
iOS 17 release date and compatibility
Apple has been beta-testing iOS 17 since June 2023. The final, stable release is available now and was released on September 18. To install this version, you will need one of the iPhones listed below.
Beyond iOS 17.0
The iOS 17 hype isn't over just yet, however. There are still some anticipated changes that will launch through future minor updates, including the Apple Journal app for introspection and collaborative playlists in Apple Music. So, while we bid the main beta season farewell, a new one, albeit smaller, approaches. iOS 17.1 will likely include both of the aforementioned features, and we can't wait to get our hands on them.