The biggest changes come to; some redesigns, like to the lock screen, App Store and Control Center; and augmented reality (AR) software that's going to mesh the virtual world onto your own.
All these updates and more will bring a wave of new features to your device, and — even more exciting to tech-watchers — to Apple's next iPhones. For that reason, iOS 11 is especially important. As the operating system set to power the hotly-anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone, changes to iOS drop some major hints about what the iPhone 8 (or whatever Apple calls it) will be able to do.
The iPhone is Apple's most popular device, and also its biggest moneymaker. (iPhones make up more than two-thirds of Apple's total sales, including laptops.) But phone sales have dropped in the past four out of five quarters, despite the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus's popularity. iOS 11 could help lure buyers by reinvigorating the software innards behind the next iPhone's hardware shell.
What's new in iOS 11
AR is coming to your iPhone and iPad
- When you look at your iPhone or iPad screen, you'll be able to interact with virtual items overlaid in your real world. For example, you can place items like a lamp in your living room, or see Pokemon monsters on the sidewalk at your feet
- Apple is just now launching the developer platform (called ARKit), so this isn't something you'll be able to use right away. (My guess is September when we expect Apple to launch its next iPhones.)
Why we care: This kind of deep software supports rumors that Apple is going to add a lot more computing power to the iPhone camera.
Siri wants to suggest what you want next
- Siri can now translate languages (English to Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish for starters)
- Suggest topics you'll want to know based on what you're doing
- Siri will learn words from articles you use, and suggest them when you type
- Make a calendar appointment based on what you searched on the web
- Private, for you and your devices only (it won't be web accessible)
Why we care: Apple's Siri assistant has lagged behind Google's (and even Amazon's Alexa). Prediction and translation help close the gap a little.
Camera app changes mean more pics for you
- Images will take up a lot less storage space thanks to new compression technology
- Low-light photos using optical image stabilization
- The two cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus captures depth info. Now devs can access that and use in apps
- Live photos can now be trimmed
Why we care: The most important change is that you'll be able to save a lot more photos and videos.
Control Center shrinks to a single panel
- One panel instead of three
- 3D Touch is going to let you dive in to more granular controls
Why we care: The three-panel layout was a drag. This should be easier to use by putting the controls we care about in one place, not three.
Lock screen and notification center become one
- Scroll up to see notifications from the lock screen
- Still get widgets on the left and camera on the right
Why we care: This should give you a more convenient glance at alerts.
Photos can get more dynamic
- You can loop a live photo to make a movie (like, of a never-ending bubble blow)
- You can grab and save a still frame from a video
- New long exposure effect can help you take really great nature shots of moving water and more
- Movies captured in "Memories" will now play in Portrait mode, not just landscape
Why we care: Nothing here really stands out yet, but looping a live video seems like an easy way to make a hilarious GIF.
iMessages will sync convos better
- When you sync into another new device, iCloud will sync all your messages (which also means if you delete it on the iPhone, it'll delete on your laptop and iPad, etc.)
Why we care: Less clutter.
Use Apple Pay to pay your friends
- Peer-to-peer payments are right in iMessage
- You can make purchases and bank transfers
- Authenticate with your fingerprint
- iOS devices and Apple Watch 2
- QuickType keyboard will suggest that you pay your friend... within the message
Why we care: You can pay your buddy back for dinner without having to sign into a new service. Easy.
Apple Maps dives indoors
- Detailed airport and mall floorplans (you can browse by floor)
- Watch your speed because speed limits are part of Maps
- There's also guidance to tell you which lane you'll need to change into
Why we care: You might not get as lost finding the pretzel stand on your way to the gate.
Apple Car Play adds "Do Not Disturb" mode
- When you install iOS 11, you'll get a Do Not Disturb While Driving mode
- It'll chop out notifications and show you... nothing. Because you're driving. Eyes on the road!
- If you're actually not driving, you can tap to undo
- There's an auto-response to let people know you're driving
- Some special people will be able to get your attention if notices are urgent
Why we care:is bad news for road safety. This is a step in the right direction.
Apple music gets more shareable
- Want to play music in multiple rooms through different speakers? You can now (through an AirPlay 2 protocol)
- You can make playlists public to your friends
- To make it more social, Apple is opening up Apple Music hook-ins to third-party apps, like Shazam
Why we care: You can set up surround sound music in your home with speakers you already have.
Brand new App Store
- Apple totally redesigned it
- Separate tabs for Apps, Games and Today's featured apps
- In-app purchases will also get a featured spot, like if there's a brand-new level or character they can buy
Why we care: If it helps makes new apps easier to find, that's fine by us.
iOS 11 takes iPad to the next level
- The new app dock includes tricks like opening apps by pulling them up from the dock
- A new app-switcher supports drag and drop (text, images, multi-select, you name it)
- You can flick keys to access punctuation and numbers without having to switch views
- A new app, Files, houses all files and folders to help you find everything on your iPad (supports Google Drive, Box, etc, too)
- Apple Pencil has deep support for iPad
- With Apple Pencil, you can markup pretty much anything
- The Notes app supports in-line drawings, search and handwriting recognition with Apple Pencil
Why we care: The larger iPad screen means people use it differently than they do their phones. These changes can make the iPad easier to use and far more productive.
When do you get iOS 11?
Developers can start working with the iOS 11 beta today. The finished software will arrive to for new and existing devices in the fall.
We expect Apple to reveal next iPhone with iOS 11 this September, assuming the company sticks to its hardware update cycle. Apple's new iPads will ship with iOS 10 at first and then upgrade to iOS 11 in a few months.
CNET senior reporter Shara Tibken contributed to this story.