iOS 11 is a big step forward for the iPhone, but many of its biggest new features are reserved for the iPad. In our review of the iPad Pro 10.5-inch, we mentioned that it’s an excellent tablet that was being held back a little bit by iOS 10. Apple had already announced iOS 11 when the iPad Pro 10.5-inch was unveiled, and now the OS is available as a free update. We used it on our iPad Pro 10.5-inch to see if iOS 11 is indeed the major leap forward that Apple promised.
The first and most important change in iOS 11 is the dock. You can now add up to 13 apps to the dock in iOS 11 (15 on the 12.9-inch iPad), with three more Siri-suggested apps appearing on the right. This makes iOS 11’s dock much like that on the Mac. On the Mac we use the dock to pin our favourite apps and to launch them quickly and now on iOS 11 on our iPad, we were able to do the same thing just as well, now that it’s no longer restricted to just six apps.
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There are also some nice keyboard shortcuts to help you access the dock even when you are using another app. Pressing CMD + option + D will show or hide the dock even if you are using other apps and it works with any Bluetooth keyboard and Apple’s Smart Keyboard. This was particularly useful for multitasking, as we’d often fire up the dock and then quickly open a second app alongside the current app. We’d often need to refer something online while writing, so Safari and Ulysses open side by side was our favourite combination. You can choose whether you want one app occupying 75 percent of the screen, or whether you want both at 50 percent. This is as easy as swiping on the screen – just hold the border between the two apps running side by side and slide it across to either side depending on which one needs more screen space.
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At the moment, some apps are a bit buggy and don’t necessarily work quite as well as you’d like them to. This is not Apple’s fault, but to a large extent the iOS 11 experience will depend on how well developers embrace all the new iPad-specific features on the platform. One bug with Slack in particular annoyed us to no end. We have a habit of having Slack open alongside other apps such as Outlook or Messages. People keep sharing links on Slack and we’d click the link to read the piece. Since we usually have Slack taking up only 25 percent of the screen, we’d click the link and then expand Slack to 75 percent of the screen. However, resizing would make the in-app Safari view disappear, and we had to click the link again. It took us quite some time to train ourselves to expand Slack first and then to click links.
Tweetbot + Telegram is another combination of apps we open side by side a lot, and that worked perfectly. Tweetbot on Mac allows you to drag tweets into other apps and we found ourselves wishing for a similar feature on Tweetbot for iOS. It would be a lot easier to drag and drop tweets from one app to another rather than using the share sheet, when the other app is open right next door. Apps such as Messages allow you to do this — drag entire lines of text out, and paste them in other apps — but others such as Tweetbot don’t support this yet.
That brings us to drag and drop, which is another one of the top features of iOS 11. We’re obsessive about our home screen layouts, and have a habit of putting all of our apps in neatly organised folders. This would take a lot of time every time we set up a new iOS device, because we had to manually drop each app into its folder, one by one. That’s not a problem anymore. Setting up the iPad with iOS 11 was a breeze because we could select a bunch of apps and drop them all into one folder. You can also select multiple photos and messages and drop them into other apps. While this feature is great to have, we didn’t use it as much as we thought we would, barring the occasional burst of photos we sent across to friends.
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If you have an iPad Pro, we highly recommend that you purchase a Bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard case, if you don’t already have one. Apple’s Smart Keyboard case became even more useful with iOS 11 thanks to keyboard shortcuts such as CMD + Option + D, which opens the dock inside any app. iOS 11 lets you return to home screen by pressing CMD + H, which made us reach for the home button a lot less — a big plus. If you press and hold CMD inside any app, you can see all the keyboard shortcuts that app supports. We couldn’t find a keyboard shortcut to open Control Centre and new app switcher in iOS 11, so you still need to use the touchscreen for that. Hopefully future versions of iOS will embrace the keyboard even more and allow people to do pretty much everything via keyboard shortcuts.
iOS 11 also has a new Files app, which allows you to access iCloud Drive and a new local storage space called “On My iPad”, apart from cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. This app wasn’t as useful as we thought it would be. We couldn’t add files to the local storage space, but storing to iCloud Drive worked just fine. Copying stuff from Dropbox or Google Drive works, but you can only do this one file at a time.
The “On My iPad” storage space only works if you have installed certain apps such as Pages or Keynote. Then you see folders for these apps inside “On My iPad”. You can only store files inside folders created by these apps. We’d like to be able to create new folders on local storage too but at the moment that is restricted to iCloud Drive. This is an inconvenience for those who don’t use iCloud Drive and perhaps it will be addressed in the future.
Another thing we missed quite a bit is the ability to open two windows of the same app. Some apps, such as Safari, let you do this, but others such as Files do not. On macOS, you can open multiple Finder windows and copy files between them but iOS is still some way off from that. Even with multitasking on iOS, you are limited to one instance of most apps. We’re pleased with the way this works overall, but since we were trying out iOS 11 on iPad as a Mac replacement, this is something that we did miss.