iOS 17 preview: FaceTime and your face, everywhere

Ahead of its full launch later this year, there's plenty to test out in the latest iOS beta. The new StandBy feature might not be a smart display killer, but it’s possibly a free alternative. Other highlights include a revitalized FaceTime experience, a streamlined Messages app and a long-overdue solution for sharing contact details.

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Video Transcript


MAT SMITH: iOS 17 is here. Well, at least the public beta is. Yes, this means you can test out the latest iPhone software if you're willing to live with a bug or two. I've been using an iPhone 14 Pro with the developer beta for a few weeks now, and there are plenty of features and upgrades to dig into.

However, some of the more exciting features aren't here just yet, including that journaling app, and a few features to do with music, and even AirPods Pro. So if those are the features you're waiting on, you might have to wait a little bit longer until the fully-fledged iOS 17 launches, probably later this summer, if not early fall.

But if you want your iPhone to transcribe your friend's lengthy voice notes, if you want to turn your iPhone into a smart display, and if you're just sick of iOS 16, maybe it's time to test out the public beta. If you don't know how, you can access it pretty easily on Apple's own website. Just Google iOS 17 beta.

And once you jump through a few hoops, that will nudge your iPhone into opening up a new update option in the settings, where you can choose to install the public beta. As always, remember to back up your iPhone first. I have suffered from this in the past. And make sure to check that your iPhone is compatible.

IOS 17 is compatible with iPhones from the iPhone XS upwards, as well as the iPhone SE second generation. Right, let's get into it.



A quick note before we start though, this time around, Apple has decided to unleash the developer beta on anyone willing to open up a free developer account. Yes, so you have, like, the main release of the iOS, which is coming in the future. At this point, this week, you have the public beta open to anyone willing to test it out.

And normally before that, you have the developer beta. Until this year, that meant paying for a developer license to get your mitts on it early. This time around though, it is free. Now, early releases of iOS, including the public beta, are often pretty rough around the edges. Apps are often prone to restarting or just not working like they should on Apple's iOS.

The developer version is that times five. So there's your warning. Let's start with Messages and FaceTime, where there's been a lot of upgrades added. Apple continues to tug me towards Messages, yet I'm stuck with WhatsApp because all of my friends and family are on WhatsApp, even those with iPhones.

With iOS 17, however, it makes it a trickier thing to do. It's harder to be a WhatsApp user when messages is getting so good and has so many cool tricks up its sleeve. I'm already in love with audio message transcription. The next time your friend sends a lengthy, 12-minute monologue, the iPhone's machine learning tricks will auto transcribe the contents of that voice note, as long as the audio quality and the accent is compatible.

In my experience though, it was plenty accurate with my British accent and even my colleague Charlene's grating American accent. Hi, Charlene. Most of Messages' biggest upgrades are siloed away behind the plus button, which helps keep the interface a little bit tidier than in iOS 16. Check In is Apple's take on automating the text me when you get home thing that we all do to all of our friends when we go out.

This will notify your friends once your iPhone detects that you're home. Also, if your iPhone detects you're not going the right way towards home or you're being delayed, Check In will notify your friends and yourself, all by itself. Even at this early stage, Apple has integrated a lot of settings and tweaks you can make to check in. You can make it work for you.

Even if your destination isn't your home, you can set it up like that to still notify someone when you get in at, say, a hotel or an airport. You can even set it up for a timed period, where perhaps you're home alone but waiting for a stranger or expecting visitors. More information from your phone can even be shared when you're delayed, including battery levels and signal levels, maybe indicating why they haven't heard from you yet.

Now, let's get on to stickers because stickers was probably the funnest part of iOS 16. Apple has yet again upgraded them. It's consolidated them all into a single location, encompassing the stickers themselves, Memoji, emoji, and third party sticker sets. Live stickers can be made by tapping on the image to lift subjects out of photos.

It can still be a person, a pet, or an object, as long as it's visually distinct enough. And the iPhone is getting much better at detecting images, detecting hairlines, and the rest of it. With iOS 17, as well, you can now apply sticker effects, like shiny and puffy, that undulate as you move your phone around. In short, it makes stickers that look like the kind of ones you used to stick on your '90s pencil case, or so I've heard.

These stickers can also now be applied to other things beyond messaging apps, whether it's WhatsApp or Messages. You can even apply them to documents and photos themselves. You can just find them in your keyboard, along with emoji, in that aforementioned sticker drawer.

Now, FaceTime has received a few updates this time around, but the most notable one is probably video voicemail. While you could always send videos through Messages, in FaceTime, you can now leave more spontaneous video or voice messages when someone doesn't pick up your FaceTime call.

With iOS 17 as well, thanks to further refinement of Apple's continuity camera across Apple devices, you can now even display your FaceTime call on Apple TV, just tapping into the cameras on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. With both these FaceTime messages and the calls themselves, you can make them through both the rear and the front-facing cameras, and even spice them up with some visual pizzazz, whether that's portrait mode or studio lighting that we've seen in iPhones in the last couple of years.

Apple has also gone a bit further with these visual, special effects. We now have some gesture-based, augmented reality, special effects that you can add to not only your FaceTime calls, but as well as calls on Zoom, or Google Hangouts, or other major, compatible, video platforms.

Those effects include double thumbs up for fireworks, double peace signs for a confetti cannon, and devil horns for lasers. I don't get it either. I soon learned, as well, you kind of have to hold the pose a little bit too long, a little bit uncomfortably long for the iPhone to register the effect. But again, this is beta. So I am pretty sure it's going to get faster by the eventual public release.

Now, Apple makes a lot of things. It makes laptops, phones, headphones, tablets, but it's never quite launched a smart display, at least not yet. So now, it's making your iPhone into one. The feature is called Standby, and this offers a different view when you turn your phone to horizontal and make sure it's charging.

This new view consists of widgets, calendar info, music, your own photos, news, sports scores, and a lot of other things you've probably seen in widgets on iOS in the past. And if you have an iPhone 14 Pro, Thanks to its always-on display, the display will be always on, obviously.

If you have older devices, you might have to tap the screen to wake it up. What's cool is later in the day, it'll even transition to a more low-light smart display, hopefully, to wake you up less. And it just looks, then, like an alarm clock. Given the strides that Apple has made with its widgets on iPhones and Apple Watch, I'm intrigued to see whether this will be a useful, new feature when I'm not actively using my iPhone.

I've loved seeing my own photos scrolling through on my Nest Hub in the background. But let's be honest, I'm looking at and always nearer my iPhone. So this could be pretty cool in the future. The iPhone will automatically separate out your photos into locations and people. And you'll be able to, obviously, tinker with the settings there to make sure it's the photos you want to see on the display.

You'll also get music and podcast controls, and plenty of other widgets are interactive, as well. And you can customize exactly the layout of those smart widgets all within the standby display. It's weird. Contact posters aren't really a big deal, but they are probably the most significant visual upgrade to iOS 17.

It's a new way to see your contacts, incoming calls, contact profiles, FaceTime, and Messages. You can edit your profile from the top-left corner of most of these native apps, mixing together different fonts, photos, and color options. I like the monochrome photo filter, paired with a pop of color. It's like a fictional magazine profile headshot I never had.

There are pretty much infinite options here when it comes to tinkering with your photo and your contact poster. And somehow, it does seem to make calls from-- well, from other people running iOS 17 look somehow more glamorous. Also, you don't need to have taken your photos in portrait mode to make this kind of pop up effect you're seeing on the photos here.

As long as the iPhone detects the object, sort of how it creates the stickers, the iPhone will pretty much do the rest. Another new feature that you will probably be using as soon as it launches is NameDrop. And yes, it's a kind of cousin to AirDrop. It's been a long time coming. Finally, this might be the killer way to share your contact details.

No more typing a number, or calling someone, and hanging up. Hopefully, this should be effortless. NameDrop, using the same AirDrop transferring technology, means you can transfer that gorgeous, new contact poster to anyone who has an iPhone in close proximity. As soon as you bring two devices together, you'll be prompted to share your information.

And you can choose exactly which contact details you share, whether it's just your name and a phone number, or whether it's your business email or personal email. And you can do all that in the settings. You can even choose just to receive only and not give away your contact details if you're feeling aloof, I guess.

What's cool about this feature is you can even send photos and Safari links. And if you break the connection, say the devices kind of drift away from each other, NameDrop will make sure the transfer still happens, just through the internet.

But what about everything else? If you've seen a WWDC showcase, you know that whenever Apple reveals a new iOS update, there are just so many features. So what else is there? Well, Apple has enhanced the keyboard model, which means you should get improved autocorrect. Now, any corrections should also be easier to fix, as well.

Now, any auto corrected words are temporarily underlined so you know what was changed. If you tap on that auto-corrected word, you'll be able to see the original version pop up, and you can tap it back to put it back. Duck, yes. Of course, there are upgrades to voice assistant Siri, as well. Now, it can perform back to back requests.

Say if you want to set a timer, turn off the lights, turn on the smart kettle, whatever you want to do, now Siri can handle a few things in the row, thankfully. Siri can also be summoned even if you're already on a voice call with another human, which I think is pretty cool, as well.

Autocorrect has been improved but also inline predictive text, a la Gmail and the rest, is also built in now. Now, iOS will occasionally nudge your messages along with single and even multi-word additions just to speed up the whole messaging process. Thankfully, it's a very light touch so far. Then again, maybe it's just learning how I type. I'll circle back when the full iOS 17 release gets here.

And if you're not liking it anyway, you can turn it off in settings pretty easily. So yes, there are a few tempting iOS 17 features I'm yet to test at this point in the beta. That includes the third party journaling app killer, Journal. We know that you'll be able to write and diary about your life, and it'll tap into on-device machine learning to personalize what you might want to write about.

It might remind you with photos, locations, music, and even workout data to inspire your diary. I'm waiting to see how it all works in practice, though. And if you're going to be writing about your deepest, darkest secrets-- obviously, I will be-- rest assured, there is security to make sure you can hide it away from prying eyes.

So yes, there still are a few mysteries to iOS 17 and few things we're still waiting to test out before its full release. I'm still getting to grips with standby. And although it might not be a smart display killer, it is at least free. Other highlights include a revitalized FaceTime experience, a streamlined Messages app, and long over-due solution for sharing contact details, at least with other iPhone owners.

Some of the most exciting parts are still yet to come, making this a less essential beta test for most of us. I'd suggest just waiting until the full release arrives in a couple of months time. Thanks for watching our very early preview of iOS 17.

If you're intrigued in updates to your other Apple hardware, whether it's MacBooks, iPads, or even your Apple Watch, make sure to check out our stories on those over at Thanks for watching, and I'll see you soon.