iOS 17 has arrived along with many reasons to update your iPhone

Apple iOS 17 launch

Even for those not upgrading to the new iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro devices, a new Apple phone launch means fancy software updates across the board. After its reveal at WWDC earlier in the year, and a beta-testing period, iOS 17 is here, along with many improvements both big and small.

From helpful safety features to time-saving functional tweaks, iOS 17 is arguably one of Apple’s most useful software upgrades in years. Even better, anyone with a phone as far back as the 2018 iPhone XS model can download and take advantage of the update.

Here’s an overview of the most notable enhancements ushered in by iOS 17. Plenty of these are available now, while some other features will come later in subsequent minor updates.

Major iOS 17 updates and improvements

Transcribed voicemails and phone call aesthetic overhaul

Live Voicemail is a handy way of screening calls in real-time and sorting out the urgent versus non-urgent. As a caller leaves a message, your phone generates a transcription as they speak. If you realise it is, in fact, urgent, you can pick up mid-message and start talking. It’s all handled in-device, too, eliminating the risk of cloud breaches leaking any sensitive information.

As for dealing with spam callers and unknown numbers, iOS 17 has you covered. You can set it so that unknown callers go straight to Live Voicemail without interrupting you with a call. Spam callers as flagged by telcos don’t even get a look in. Instead, they’re automatically declined and don’t go to voicemail.

Live Voicemail is only available in the US and Canada for now, so fingers crossed the helpful feature makes its way to Australia soon.

iOS 17 Contact Poster

From a visual perspective, you can now have more fun with how you appear on other people’s devices when you call them. This comes in the form of Contact Posters, offering vibrant customisation options to add a personal touch when contacting friends and family.

To make your own Contact Poster, tap the edit button located in the top-left corner of the FaceTime or Messages apps, or via Recents in the Phone app. Here, you can add Memoji, photos and text along with various colour options for a bit of fun personalisation.

FaceTime also gets some love from iOS 17, letting you leave audio or video messages when the recipient doesn’t pick up. Plus, iPhones now have more video effects that work in FaceTime and other video apps like Zoom and Teams. These effects range from various celebratory reactions to more customisation of portrait background blur. There’s also Studio Light, an effect that brightens your face while darkening the background.

Check In an easy way to let family know you’re safe

It was one of the biggest features back when Apple revealed iOS 17 at WWDC a few months ago, and for good reason. Perfect for families, Check In lets you notify trusted contacts when you arrive safely at a designated location. I often forget to message family members when I get back safely from travelling, so I’ll definitely be using this one.

Check In also lets you designate either a specific location or a period of time, after which you’ll receive automatic prompts to make sure you’re okay. If the feature detects that you’ve been delayed, you can add more time to keep loved ones informed. In the event that something happens and you’re unable to respond to a Check In prompt, it’ll send information you authorise to contacts you’ve assigned. For example, Check In can send your recent location and phone status in case family members want to follow up.

iOS 17 check in feature screen

When travelling with family, you can also now share Find My device location information like AirTags with other people. Many hands make for light work after all, so it seems like a nifty way of helping find a lost item quicker.

If your travel involves locations with patchy internet access, you can now download maps for offline use via the Apple Maps app. Hikers, cyclists, and rural adventurers will no doubt appreciate this addition.

Major AirPods improvements come with iOS 17

Aside from new iPhones that use USB-C connectors, Apple also launched an updated version of the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro. On the outside, it may not look like much has changed. From a software perspective, thanks to iOS 17, the premium AirPods are better than ever.

Arguably the standout feature is Conversation Awareness. With it enabled, you can chat with others without needing to stop your media or take the earbuds out, because the software automatically reduces the volume. It’s not the only improvement either: you can read up on the full experience and how it’s much more than meets the eye.

Messages are now easier to filter and respond to

Among the many smaller improvements introduced by iOS 17, the Messages app benefits greatly. It’s now easier to search your messages for specific phrases and types of content, with filters making it easier to find what you’re looking for in a long message chain. Speaking of which, you can quickly jump to the earliest unread message in a group chat and get caught up if you’ve missed a flurry of activity.

Although seemingly minor, I like that you can also reply to specific messages in a chain by swiping right on the bubble in question. Previously, you had to tap and hold a message, and then select the reply function, before typing your response. The swipe is much quicker and intuitive – great for replying to friends who send multiple messages at once!

Vastly improved autocorrect and dictation make typing better

Apple claims that its much-maligned autocorrect is not only more accurate but also easier to fix when it makes an incorrect suggestion. Specific to English, French, and Spanish keyboards, the new and improved autocorrect model is said to work faster. If you’re not happy with an autocorrect suggestion, you can tap on the changed word to see the original text and quickly revert to your preferred phrasing or spelling.

There’s also a new speech recognition model under the hood of iOS 17, meaning that Dictation should be more accurate. The ultimate test will be to see how it handles the Australian accent – a lot of dictation software performs strongly with American accents but not as well with an Aussie twang. It sounds good in theory, so I’m keen to put Dictation to work.

It’s worth noting that, although shipping with iOS 17, the enhanced autocorrect and dictation features require an iPhone 12 or newer. This is likely because recent phones have better machine learning capabilities due to more advanced neural processors. It’s a bummer that older, iOS 17-compatible devices miss out, but it’s great news for anyone with a newer device.

More accessibility features to make iPhones easier to use

Apple revealed a wide range of new accessibility features earlier in the year, many of which are now here with iOS 17. Designed for users with various physical and mental barriers, the software options have many different use cases for people with and without disabilities.

Assistive Access simplifies the iPhone layout so it’s not as visually overwhelming trying to find and use various apps. It’s geared towards people with cognitive disabilities and could be just as useful for anyone learning how to operate a smartphone for the first time.

There’s also Live Speech, which lets you type words to be spoken aloud while on the phone or when using FaceTime. It looks like a great way for people who are nonspeaking to be involved in conversations. For people who are at risk of losing speech function, potentially due to illness, Personal Voice lets you generate a synthesised version of your voice designed to sound like you. It pairs with Live Speech to personalise your typed prompts during conversation.

Added to Magnifier, Point and Speak uses camera and LiDAR input to speak aloud text on physical objects, aiding people with vision disabilities to interact safely with their surroundings. For people with reduced motor function, iOS 17 adds more voice control suggestions in addition to the ability to connect any switch input as a game controller for playing on iPhones.

Mental and vision wellness now integrated into Health app

Mental health is just as important as physical health, so it’s encouraging to see Apple add various features to the Health app as part of iOS 17. One is the ability to regularly log your emotions and mood via specific prompts, along with reminders to routinely check in. The app also provides a visual look overview of your mood over time, which can help you identify patterns and discuss them with a doctor or a therapist.

iOS 17 mood tracking

Also included as part of the mental health features is the ability to take clinical diagnostic assessments for depression and anxiety. While you should always check with your doctor before drawing any conclusions, it could provide helpful data for making treatment plans alongside a medical professional.

To aid with our vision health, iOS 17 introduces features to measure time spent in daylight, as well as your viewing distance from your screen. Both are important factors in maintaining good eye health, and the data could help lead to healthy lifestyle changes.

More iOS 17 features and what’s coming next

This only covers the surface of iOS 17’s many revisions. We haven’t even gotten to the ease of sharing contacts with AirDrop (known as NameDrop), the smart display functionality of StandBy, SharePlay making it easier to share tunes in the car, Safari’s clever tweaks, and countless other features. Not to mention how easy it is to make digital stickers of your pets. We’re keen to dive into the changes and come back with what you need to know over a longer period of time.

Although not live yet, Apple’s native Journal app is also due out later in the year. When it arrives, you’ll be able to add your photos, videos, workouts and more to document memories and keep track of life’s significant moments. By tapping into your phone’s machine learning capacity, the Journal app prompts you with recent snaps and activities so you remember to log your life. Combined with the new mental health features, there’s potential for it to become a good mindfulness exercise too.

iOS 17 Journal

Before downloading the update, make sure your device is compatible. Anything as far back as an iPhone XS and more recent should be fine. For now, let us know what you think about iOS 17 and if there’s anything you’d like examined closer.

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