iOS 17 preview: FaceTime, everywhere

Plus a better messaging experience.

Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Apple just launched its iOS 17 public beta, meaning you can test out the latest iPhone software if you’re willing to live with a bug or two. I’ve been using iPhone 14 Pro with the developer beta for the last few weeks and there are plenty of features and upgrades to dig into. While some of the more exciting features weren’t available until mere days ago, some nice quality-of-life improvements are here from the get-go. If you’re intrigued by Apple’s new Journal app, though, I’m afraid that won’t arrive until later in the year.

But if you want machine learning to transcribe your friends' voice notes, or turn your iPhone into a smart display, then you might be willing to dip your toe into the public beta. You can access the iOS preview by enrolling on Apple’s website, which will nudge the beta to your iPhone’s Software Update section. As always, remember to back up your iPhone first and ensure it’s compatible. (iOS 17 will work on 2018’s iPhone XS and newer devices.)

A note on Developer betas

This year, instead of releasing the iOS 17 public beta in July, Apple released its developer beta for iOS, iPadOS and macOS Sonoma for anyone with free developer accounts. Normally, to access betas right after the WWDC keynote you’d have to pay $100 a year for a paid developer account. This means anyone (yes, even you) could have dabbled with this early build starting in early June. Not that we’d advise doing that. Early releases of iOS, including its public beta that’s out now, are often rough around the edges, while apps are prone to restarting or not working as they should on Apple’s very latest mobile OS. The developer version is that, times five.

Messages and FaceTime

iOS 17 preview
Photo taken by Mat Smith / Engadget

Apple continues tugging me toward Messages, yet I’m stuck with WhatsApp because all of my friends and family are on it — even those with iPhones. iOS continues to make being a WhatsApp user a challenging decision to stick with.

I’m already in love with audio message transcription. The next time that certain friend leaves a lengthy 12-minute monologue, the iPhone’s machine learning tricks will auto-transcribe the contents of that voice note, audio quality (and accent) permitting. In my experience, it was accurate with both my British voice and my colleague Cherlynn’s American accent.

iOS 17 preview
Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Most of Messages’ biggest upgrades are siloed away behind the plus button, which helps keep the interface tidy. Check-In is Apple’s take on automating the “text me when you get home,” doing half the work once your iPhone detects you’ve returned. If your phone detects that you’re not headed in the right direction, Check In will even notify you that you might have made a mistake.

Apple has integrated a lot of settings to make Check In work how you want it to. You can use it when your destination isn’t your home, or even set it up for a timed period when perhaps you’re home alone, but are expecting visitors. More information from your phone can be shared when you're delayed, including battery levels and signal levels.

Apple has now consolidated its stickers into one drawer, encompassing live stickers, memoji, emoji and third-party stickers. Live Stickers, which you can make by tapping 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), get archived in their own sticker drawer. With iOS 17, you can also apply some sticker effects, like “shiny” and “puffy” that undulate when you move your phone, taking us back to pencil cases of the ‘90s. Or maybe that’s just me. Beyond Messages, stickers can be applied directly from the sticker drawer to your photos and documents.

FaceTime has received a few updates this year, but the most notable one is video voicemail. While you could send videos on Messages, you can now leave spontaneous video (or voice) messages in FaceTime when someone doesn’t pick up your call. In iOS 17, thanks to further refinement of Apple’s Continuity Camera, across Apple devices. You can now display your FaceTime video calls on Apple TV, tapping into the cameras already in your iPhones, iPads or MacBooks. Any recorded messages you receive will be stored in FaceTime’s Recent tab, along with your missed calls. You can even take FaceTime calls — audio-only — on your Apple Watch.

You can record FaceTime video messages through both the front and rear cameras and amp up the visual pizazz with Portrait mode and Studio Light. Apple has opened up these video effects to Zoom, Microsoft Teams and more. Gesture-based AR effects are along for the ride too, including fireworks (two thumbs up), confetti cannons (double peace signs) and when you make a devil horn sign? Laser beams. Of… course. I soon learned you’ll have to hold these poses for a little too long in order for your iPhone to recognize and trigger the AR effect. It’s a delight when they happen, though.


iOS 17 preview
Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Apple hasn’t launched a smart display (yet), so it’s making your iPhone into one. With StandBy, you'll get a different view when your phone is horizontal and charging. This consists of widgets, calendar info, music, your photos, news, sports scores and more. If you have an iPhone 14 Pro, it’ll always be visible due to the always-on display. You’ll have to tap to wake it on other devices.

Itl even transitions into a low-light smart display later at night so you can use it as an alarm clock. Given the strides Apple has made with its widgets on iPhones and Apple Watch, I’m intrigued to see whether this is a useful new feature for when I’m not actively using my iPhone. I’ve loved seeing my photos on my Nest Hub, but let’s be honest – I’m looking at, and nearer to, my phone, pretty much most of the day. The iPhone will automatically separate your photos into places (and its own photography) and people recognized in your own contacts. You’ll also get music and podcast controls for audio playback, which looks a lot like CarPlay.

Apple has folded its Smart Stacks into these StandBy widgets, so you can swipe between smart home controls, calendars, weather and more, customizing what information is a swipe away. Incoming calls will also feature a nice landscape version of iOS 17’s new Contact Posters.

Contact Posters

iOS 17 preview
Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Contact Posters are the most significant visual upgrade to iOS 17. It’s a new way to show your contact’s incoming calls, contact profiles, FaceTime and Messages. You can edit your profile from the top left corner of most of those native apps, mixing together different fonts, photos, and color options – I like the monochrome photo filter paired with a pop of color, like it’s a fictional magazine profile headshot. There are almost infinite options here, and it does help to make calls from your favorite people seem, somehow, more glamorous. You don’t have to have taken photos in portrait mode either to make the cutout outline of your head and name; as long as the iPhone detects the object, like stickers, it’ll do the rest.


This has been a long-time coming, right? NameDrop, using the same AirDrop transferring tech, can share your contact details (and your gorgeous new Contact Poster) just by bringing two devices close together. You can fine-tune what contact details are shared, like your work or personal email, or even choose to receive only. Photos and even links on Safari can also be shared through this method, and AirDrop will even continue transferring content even if you step away, through the internet. This is all done through the usual share button on both native and compatible third-party apps.

Everything else

If you recall from Apple’s WWDC keynote last month, these are just some of the major highlights of what iOS 17 has to offer. Apple says its enhanced keyboard language model ushers in an improved Autocorrect, while any corrections should also be easier to fix. Any autocorrected words are temporarily underlined so you know what was changed. If you tap on an autocorrected word, you’ll see the original version pop up and you can tap it to put it back. Duck yes.

Regarding voice assistant Siri, it can now handle back-to-back commands if you want to both set a timer and turn off a smart light. Siri can also be summoned even while you’re on a call with someone.

The Fitness app now has a trophy case to show off your best workout runs, custom workout plans if you pay for Fitness+ and the ability to adjust the sound mix of workouts, prioritizing either music or trainers’ voices. Meanwhile, News+ subscribers will now be able to tackle crosswords, while News+ audio stories will now also be available in the podcast app.

iOS 17 preview
Photo taken by Mat Smith / Engadget

Inline predictive text, a la Gmail, is also built in, so iOS will occasionally nudge your messages along with predictive single- and multi-word additions before you even type them. Thankfully, it’s a very light touch so far. Then again, maybe it’s just learning how I type – I’ll circle back once the OS officially launches in the fall. And you can turn it off in settings if it’s not working for you.

What’s still to come

The iOS 17 beta gives you a taste of what’s coming to your iPhone later this year. There are a few tempting features not available to test just yet. That includes the third-party journaling app killer, Apple’s own Journal app,. Where you can “write about and reflect on everyday moments and special events in your life.” The company says it’ll tap into on-device machine learning to personalize what you might like to write about, including photos, locations, music and even workout data. I’m waiting to see how it all works in practice. And if you’re going to be writing about your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, you will be able to lock your Journal from prying eyes.

There are other features I’m still waiting to try, including new auto-generated song suggestions for your own existing playlists and Conversation Awareness, which is coming to second-generation AirPods Pro. When you start talking to someone while still wearing your buds, the device will lower playback volume and enhance the voice of people in front of you, while still minimizing background noise.


iOS 17 preview
Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Yes, there are still a few mysteries to iOS 17 ahead of its full launch, but plenty to test out in the beta. I’m still getting to grips with StandBy. It 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. But some of the most exciting parts are still to come, making this a less essential beta than some recent years. Most of us can wait for the fully-formed public release, arriving later this summer.

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