Apple’s iOS 11 operating system overhauls the use of iPads and ­delivers many value-adds for ­iPhones as well.

I’ve been trialling iOS 11 Beta and, while it’s rough in places for now, there are big changes.

The iPad finds itself at a kind of crossroads. It’s great as a media consumption device, for watching movies, listening to music, reading, and browsing, and for ­creating on the go: drawing, doodling, writing, as well as photo and basic movie editing.

But it’s not the powerhouse that laptops are and, with iOS, doesn’t offer the versatility and flexibility of Mac OS or Microsoft Windows.

But with iOS 11, Apple has sought to vastly improve the iPad user experience. This starts with the extended dock. Having just four apps along the bottom of the screen is gone. Now up to 13 apps can be added, and Apple has included three more frequently used ones.

The dock is easy to access: it slides up from the bottom. I can quickly access and switch between the apps I use regularly.

With the new dock comes new gestures and accessibility. Continuing to slide up from the bottom uncovers a redesigned control centre.

iOS 11 Beta on iPad.
iOS 11 Beta on iPad.

There’s no need to double-press the home button on iPad. In one sliding action the current app can be minimised and it’s possible to switch to another. Music controls are accessible along with a range of settings, and HomeKit devices. Extra functions can be added in control centre settings.

iOS9 offered “split view” with two apps opened side-by-side. There’s now an additional variation called slide-over, where a column view of an app floats above another app.

While viewing one app, it’s possible to flick up from the bottom and select another from the dock. Drag it upwards and to the left or right edges for split view, or release it just short of the edges to float it.

I could change between slide-over and split view by dragging down on the app.

In control centre, apps are no longer dragged to close. Instead, press down on one of the apps (the RHS bottom of an app worked best), wait for the little “x” to appear on each, and then touch to close. These gestures take practice to get right and persistence is important. But there are keyboard shortcuts, too. Hold down the Cmd key for a list. They include Cmd/Option/D for the dock and Cmd/Tab to switch apps.

iOS 11 also features drag-and-drop within and between apps, but its implementation is limited for now. With Photos open on the left side, and a Note on the right, I could drag images into that Note. But this didn’t work for Pages. There’s work to be done to make these features more universal.

Sketching with iOS 11.
Sketching with iOS 11.

The new Files app debuts on both iPad and iPhone. It offers what many people have missed with iOS — a file system with folders. You can access files and folders on the iPad, on iCloud Drive and a series of other cloud services such as Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive. Dropbox support is on the way.

Don’t expect anything like the experience of macOS Finder or Windows Explorer, at least for now. While I could see files and folders, I couldn’t necessarily open them in the Files app. For example, if I chose a Google Drive Docs file, it wouldn’t open in the iOS Google Docs app although I could edit these files directly in the iOS Google Docs app.

It’s best to fire up the apps that create and write these files, rather than access them this new way. There are exceptions. I could easily access and open PDF files on different cloud services through the Files apps.

Don’t expect to store Apple proprietary files in preferred ­places. For example, Pages documents can’t be dropped into OneDrive through the Files app, nor Notes into Google Drive. It’s a controlled implementation of a file access system.

There’s a major change to the photo and video format on iPhone 7 and newer iPads. They are HEIF and HEVC rather than JPEG and H.264. Apple says the change saves up to 50 per cent of space. Images and video are converted back to regular formats when transferring them to a Mac or PC.

iOS 11 on iPad.
iOS 11 on iPad.

But this creates an incompatibility issue with third-party apps if and until they adapt to the new format. In Google Photos in iOS, I got the message “too big or unknown type” when I tried to backup an HEIF image. So in Google Photos (which many iOS users have), photos taken on one Apple device don’t appear on another, although it works fine with iOS Photos of course.

In Settings/General/iPhone, there’s a selectable new feature called “Offload Unused Apps”, which purges a phone of unused apps, although data and documents generated by those apps remain. On my iPhone 6 Plus, that amounted to almost 2GB. Apps can be offloaded manually, too.

If you have a friend over and both have iOS devices, you can share your Wi-Fi with them without giving them a password. You respond to a prompt to allow them on to your network.

Other iOS 11 changes include searching handwritten notes, iCloud syncing of iMessages across devices (which should have happened years ago), marking up PDFs and screenshots, and the start of translations with Siri.

A scrolling app drawer at the bottom of iMessages allows the edition of maps, files and other media to messages. That will include person-to-person payments when Apple Pay works here.

The release of SiriKit to developers means Siri will perform tasks within third-party apps as it is implemented. And augmented reality apps with iOS 11 will allow users to superimpose imaginary objects in the real world, as they did with Pokemon Go.

The update rolls out later this year.