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iOS 17: The most impactful new iPhone features are also the ones you’ll notice the least

iPhone 15 Blue Dynamic Island

June Wan/ZDNET

For Apple users, this month is all about the iPhone, whether you’re buying a new iPhone 15 or upgrading an older model with iOS 17, which officially rolls out today.

Also: One subtle (but important) reason to buy the iPhone 15 Pro instead of the iPhone 14 Pro

iOS 17 represents the next generation of iPhone software, with a slew of features that ZDNET’s covered extensively since it first opened for developer beta in June. The focus of this year’s software version is clear; Apple is giving you a familiar iPhone experience with useful improvements that are just subtle enough to not warrant a dramatic shift in lifestyle.

That was my big takeaway after using an iPhone on iOS 17 all summer long, as I had originally prepared to write about all the dazzling new features with billboard-ready advertising. Instead, I’ve come to the realization that the latest iPhone software is good not because of any sweet animations or color pops but because it makes everything I’m already doing on the iPhone even better.

As you ready your iPhone for iOS 17 today or sometime later, here’s a list of useful (and subtle) features that you should be aware of:

  • Swipe to reply on iMessage: Whether it’s a group chat between family members, roommates, or fantasy sports players, there are moments when conversations run long and you want to respond to a specific message. Now on iMessage, you can swipe sideways on a text bubble to leave a direct reply. Your response will still appear as a new entry in the group chat, but it will also be attached to the corresponding message.
  • Improved adaptive autocorrect: Besides no longer autocorrecting that word to “duck” or “ducking,” iOS 17 leverages a transformer language model to better learn your typing habits and how you spell certain words. As someone who often types with the romanization of words, it’s a breath of fresh air not having to revert an autocorrect because the iPhone thinks I meant to type something else.
  • Auto-removing one-time passcodes: Now when you autofill a confirmation number for two-factor logins, whether it’s pulled from your iMessage or Mail, the iPhone can automatically remove the coded message shortly after.
iMessage on iOS 17

iOS 17 no longer autocorrects your more emotional texts.

June Wan/ZDNET

  • No more “Hi Siri” and longer conversations: There’s nothing more unnatural than calling for Apple’s voice assistant with “Hi Siri” before every prompt. With iOS 17, not only can you simply say “Siri” to activate the feature, but the voice assistant can hold longer conversations and answer multiple prompts per session.
  • Leveler in the Camera app: When I demoed iOS 17 to my parents, no hidden feature got more oohs and aahs than the camera leveler. It’s such a low-key addition to the camera experience that makes framing shots very easy, whether you’re capturing a landscape, a family portrait, or a top-down of a main course.
  • Live activities in StandBy Mode: Arguably the flashiest feature on iOS 17 is StandBy Mode, which transforms your iPhone into an ambient smart display when docked sideways on a MagSafe charger. But did you know that StandBy Mode can also display Live Activities, from sports scores to Uber pickups?

Also: Here’s every iPhone model that will get Apple’s iOS 17

  • Offline maps in Apple Maps: Much like Google Maps, Apple Maps will now let you download sections of areas for offline navigation. This is particularly helpful when you’re traveling in places with little to no cellular or Wi-Fi service.
  • Interactive widgets: Apple first introduced home screen widgets with iOS 14 in 2020. Three years later, on iOS 17, you can finally interact with those components without launching the respective apps, whether it’s hitting play and pause on the Apple Music widget, checking off your Reminders, or toggling smart home lights.

What do you think about iOS 17? Are there any other useful but subtle features that I missed? Let me know in the comments below.


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