We’ve been testing out iOS 17 in the public beta on our own devices for a couple of months. We think there are some solid changes to look forward to and a few you’ll forget about after the novelty wears off. Not all of the announced features are included in the first update, like the new Journal app, which is arriving later this year.
Should I upgrade to iOS 17?
A few glitches and bugs are common with the first official version of software. Apple already released a public beta of iOS 17, so many of the big issues are probably hammered out. It’s relatively safe for regular people to upgrade right away. Even if you do wait to switch to iOS 17, every iPhone user should install the recent security update released by Apple. Here’s how.
How do I update my iPhone to iOS 17?
As a general rule, don’t install a new operation system unless you have fully backed up your phone. You can do an iCloud backup or connect your phone to a computer and backup using the Finder app. At the very least, make sure your most valuable files, like your photos, are saved to a second location.
To install iOS 17, go to Settings → General → Software Update. For best results, make sure it’s on a WiFi network, charged and plugged in. Once the update is downloaded, you’ll have to wait a bit for the device to restart, so pick a time when you will be okay without access to your iPhone.
Once it restarts, you are ready to test out the new features. Here are five to get you started.
FaceTime messages and voice mail transcription
The future of voice mail is complicated. That’s because the iPhone is trying to please a lot of different people. Gen X and boomers are still into leaving voice mails, and Gen Z and millennials would rather die than listen to one but are okay with texting minute-long voice messages about their day.
In iOS 17, the voice mail screen will now show a transcription of what the person is saying in near real-time, so you can decide if you want to pick up. This feature is a nod to the early days of voice messages, when you didn’t have caller ID and would listen to your answering machine live to “screen” calls.
For the other side of the spectrum, the same technology will be applied to voice messages — audio recordings you can send in text messages — so you can see a transcription if you’re not able to listen.
But the real dark horse is video messages for missed FaceTime video chats. The ability to leave a chaotic short video could appeal to people already accustomed to TikTok or alienate people who don’t want yet another thing to reply to.
The new communication features in iOS 17 are already eliciting strong reactions, including from our own Tech Friend, Shira Ovide, who has zero tolerance for voice mail of any kind. “Tell all my friends and enemies that I don’t want your audio voice mail and I DEFINITELY don’t want your video voice mail.”
StandBy Mode, so your old phones can live on
With StandBy Mode, Apple has made an interesting way to give old devices (iPhone XR and later) new purpose instead of collecting dust in a drawer or selling for a paltry sum.
When your iPhone is charging and placed on its side, it will go into the new mode and turn into a smart display of sorts. It will show the time, and you can add additional features, such as headlines or photos or other widgets. The feature is meant to give your current phone more use when it’s not in your hand (whenever that is), but what makes it more interesting is how it jumps on what many people already do with old devices — turning them into sound machines, clocks and music players. The screen will automatically turn off unless you have an iPhone 14 Pro or later and set it to always on. And, yes, there are already companies selling special sideways charging stands.
Even if your two-year-old iPhone will make a handsome dedicated alarm clock, that’s not a great reason to upgrade to an iPhone 15. Take our quiz to see if it’s actually time for a new phone.
Screening inappropriate images
Unsolicited sexual images are an old problem. Apple is trying to address it with a new opt-in feature called Sensitive Content Warning. When turned on, the feature will automatically detect nude images and videos and blur them out, showing you a warning and the option to see or decline. The blurs aren’t very specific, so you won’t be able to base your decision on a vague outline. It will apply to images received in Messages, FaceTime messages and over AirDrop.
NameDrop, a way to share your contact information
This feature is just delightfully late. There used to be an app called Bump that let you tap your smartphones to transfer contact information. Google bought it in 2013, and we’ve been manually entering our numbers into people’s phones ever since. NameDrop (ha) uses the iPhone’s near-field communication, or NFC, capabilities so you can transfer your contact information just like you would pay for a latte. Hover the top of your phone over another device, and they’ll have your information. It also works with Apple Watches.
This is actually just one of the changes in a new AirDrop upgrade. The same physical action can start a file or photo transfer, or start a SharePlay session for playing music together.
The little bits, from private browsing to Contact Posters
There are other features you’ll have to get used to or explain to a confused family member. There’s now an extra tap to find photos when texting, and if you actually know someone who uses Stickers, they’ll have a ton to work with. Contact Posters is a new feature to choose what image and name people see on their screen when you call them. Check-in lets you share your progress if you’re commuting home from a night out or in any other situation where you’d like someone to keep tabs on you. And it’s easier to search through old messages with filters.
If you test it out, let us know what you’re loving or hating, and tell us how you really feel about voice mail. Email us at email@example.com