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The new iOS 17 features give your iPhone a bit more magic

We tried the new iOS 17 features and, early beta bugs aside, it feels like the most exciting update to the iPhone’s OS in a very long time.

iOS 17 features header showing various iPhones around the number 17 in a red box.

Apple is launching iOS 17 in a few months, following the assumed announcement of an iPhone 15 release date, and we’ve given the public beta a test across all the Apple devices. The iOS 17 features are probably the most exciting, but iPadOS gets a big upgrade too – and any Mac users might find some stuff to love as well.

Still, iPhone updates are most important, and there are some really unique features coming in iOS 17. Whether it’s new contact posters so you don’t have to find a photo for all your contacts yourself, or the live voicemail feature that sorta brings back answering machines, there’s some real fun stuff.

Then, on the iPad side of things, the tablet is finally getting customizable backgrounds as introduced in iOS 16, as well as interactable widgets on the home and lock screens – something that should’ve been introduced when widgets first turned up, to be honest, but at least they’re there.

Apple Watch has some tweaks that I’ve personally found a bit clunky – how do I see my battery anymore? – but maybe that’s just some pre-release jank. And, while less pertinent to us at PT, Mac OS Sonoma is excellent, bringing all the different Apple devices into a similar aesthetic congruity, with the clock on the lock screen, new screen savers, and, of course, desktop widgets.

Here’s what’s excited us most, however, from a few weeks testing everything out.

iOS 17 features header showing various iPhones in landscape mode with different background widgets and photos.


StandBy is a new feature in iOS 17 that turns your iPhone into a permanent display when it’s locked and charging in landscape mode. It works best with MagSafe charges, given they can mount your phone and turn it into a sort of smart display – but you don’t have to use MagSafe if you don’t want to.

This lets you look at different widgets with an always-on display of information, whether it’s your calendar, a fancy-looking clock, or what music you’re playing. Now, I say always-on, but in my time testing, it worked more like the Apple Watch when it’s charging. The screen would often dim for me, then come back to life when the accelerometer felt any movement. I can’t find a way to edit this in settings – it’s either a pre-release bug or a screen-saving measure for my somewhat long-in-the-tooth iPhone 13.

Still, when it works, it’s all quite exciting. Always-on displays always confused me a bit – the only time I’d need it is when I’m at my desk, and when I’m at my desk, my phone is on a MagSafe stand. So it’s nice that this feature fits my needs nicely.

iOS 17 features header showing various iPhones in portrait mode with different people on the background of each, signifying their contact details in style.


I have a bit of a diligent management of my own contact book on my iPhone. Everyone has to have a first and a last name in there, and anyone who’s a good friend (or in my favorites list) has to have a photo attached. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I am. Thankfully, anyone with an iPhone can now do the work for me.

The new Posters feature works the same as the way you edit your wallpaper. You can change the font, photo, and color of everything to suit your style, and then when you call someone, your poster shows up. You can also save people’s updated profiles into your contacts, so their contact information is all neat and pretty.

Of course, I have a lot of friends who either use Android phones or just ignore these features altogether, sadly, so it’s not a complete home run. Perhaps if Apple made it mandatory for iPhone users, my contact book could take a little less effort from me…

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This is two features bundled together as they’re pretty similar: Live Voicemail and audio message transcription. Live Voicemail lets you send a caller to voicemail, and if they leave a message, you can see a transcription for it on your screen. This is pretty cool, especially if you’re getting a call from an unknown number. The only issue is, none of my friends would ever leave a voicemail. They’d either wait for me to call back or text me. Still, it’s a neat little feature.

And then there’s audio message transcription, something which is going to change my life for the better. For some reason, any of my friends from Spain or Italy think that the best way to communicate with me is with a three-minute long voice note sent to me in Messages. I hate this – just call me! But, I’m far too nice to tell someone off for it, so it’s not going to change anytime soon.

Luckily, with iOS 17, I no longer have to sit and listen to three minutes of whatever, I can just read a transcription of it. Nice one. However, in this beta version I tested, some of the transcriptions were a little ropey, in both the voicemail and audio message features – that’s bound to improve over time, of course.

iOS 17 features header showing three iPhones next to each other each with a picture of an animal on it and search results below for what breed it might be.

Visual Lookup

Apple is furthering its efforts to improve the Photos app with some really neat features. You can press and hold on any photo in iOS 16 to copy and cut an object out of the shot, but now, in iOS 17, you can also turn them into stickers to send in Messages and look up different information about them. Now, no matter which pet friend you’ve snapped, you should be able to work out what breed it is, which is cool.

You can see some examples in the photo above, and while it’s not groundbreaking, it’s just nice that it’s all integrated into one app. And it now works on videos too, which is useful. One thing my testing did bring to mind, however, is an old Apple innovation that I wish they’d bring back.

Remember 3D touch? This was when the screen on the old iPhone 6S and up to the XS knew how hard you were pressing it. Well, it was replaced by Haptic Touch a while back, and it’s nowhere near as good. Now, when you press on a photo, it just plays its loop (assuming you have live photos on) – you have to press in a really unique way to get the app to pick out visual objects like dogs and let you do something with them. 3D touch would be the perfect solution to this nitpick. Bring it back!

Anyway, that’s our favorite iOS 17 features, but there are, of course, tons more to discover. There’s also the new Journal app which isn’t available in the beta, and we can’t wait to try it out. For more, check out our guide to iPhone vs. Android, the best gaming iPhone, or the best iPads to keep riding the Apple train.