Although iOS 11 doesn’t promise as significant of a redesign as the last update, it has undergone a major revamp in one key area: the Control Center. Last year iOS 10 expanded the Control Center into a three-pane card-style view, placing Music controls onto their own second panel and adding a third panel for HomeKit users. In iOS 11, Apple actually discards this design entirely, moving instead to a full-screen Control Center that places all controls on a single screen, with expanded controls accessed via 3D Touch or tap-and-hold gestures.
It’s the most significant change to the iOS Control Center since it debuted back in iOS 7, so it takes a bit of getting used to, however with this change Apple has also expanded the Control Center to offer an unprecedented level of customizability. While it’s not clear if third-party apps will be able to plug into the Control Center just yet, Apple has made the traditional utility buttons — Flashlight, Clock, Calculator, and Camera — completely optional and replaceable, as well as adding 13 additional Control Center utilities.
The basic Control Center layout is now organized into individual floating controls or control “platters.” At the very top two large square panes provide a set of controls for Wi-Fi and cellular communication features and music controls, below which are buttons for orientation lock, do not disturb, and AirPlay mirroring, along with two sliders for screen brightness and volume. Additional controls, where available, can be accessed by a 3D Touch gesture. For example, the wireless controls platter provides direct access to buttons for airplane mode, cellular data, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, however a 3D Touch gesture will expand it to show controls for turning AirDrop on or off and making your Personal Hotspot discoverable.
One thing that’s particularly interesting here about the wireless controls is that Apple has also chosen to change the function of the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth buttons — these controls no longer turn OFF the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios, but now merely disconnect and reconnect your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, leaving the actual services enabled. So, for instance, tapping the Wi-Fi button in Control Centre will disconnect you from your current Wi-Fi network, disabling the auto-join feature in the process, but will not actually turn Wi-Fi off — you’ll now have to visit the iOS Settings app if you want to turn the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios off completely.
Similarly, basic playback controls can be accessed directly from the music platter, but a 3D Touch gesture will expand it to provide a view with controls similar to the Music pane in the iOS 10 Control Center, with sliders for volume and scrubbing and a button for selecting other audio destinations. The Night Shift toggle is similarly hidden behind a 3D Touch gesture on the now-vertical brightness slider. The addition of a volume slider on the main Control Center screen is also a nice touch here, providing more direct access to volume adjustment without having to swipe over to the music pane. We imagine this will be particularly handy for those who have chosen to set their hardware volume buttons to control ringers and alerts rather than system audio volume.
While the new basic layout is a nice touch, the real interesting part about the new Control Center is the ability to add and rearrange additional buttons in the lower section. While the top part is immutable, everything below the AirPlay mirroring button can now be customized, allowing you to not only choose whether the standard controls for Flashlight, Clock, Calculator, and Camera are shown, but what order they’re shown in, as well as adding up to 14 additional buttons, ranging from basic built-in features such as Alarm, Stopwatch, and Timer, to actual tie-ins to other iOS apps such as Notes, Home, and Voice Memos.
Thirteen of these buttons mostly represent new Control Center features, while the fourteenth button, Home, basically replaces the third iOS 10 Control Center pane for HomeKit users. A single tap on Home button simply opens the Home app, while a 3D Touch gesture brings up a platter of favorite accessories and/or scenes, much like what could be seen in the third pane in iOS 10. Apple has also applied some color-coding to the icons for these buttons in the Control Center Customization screen — blue for accessibility features, orange for basic utilities like clock, calculator, and home, and red for recording features — although not all color groupings entirely make sense at this point; for example, Wallet and Low Power Mode both use green icons, and Notes and Flashlight both use yellow icons. Regardless, the icons in the actual Control Center screen are monochromatic.
Most of the new Control Center buttons are pretty self-explanatory, but there are a couple of ones that we found a bit more noteworthy:
Flashlight: This does the same thing as the Flashlight button in iOS 10, and as before a 3D Touch gesture can be used to adjust intensity, however the intensity now appears as a slider, and there are four levels of intensity, as opposed to the previous three.
Alarm, Stopwatch, Timer: These three buttons replace the “Clock” button in the prior version of Control Center, and the Alarm and Stopwatch buttons are really just shortcuts to the Clock app and don’t provide any 3D Touch functionality (yet). On the other hand, you can use a 3D Touch on the Timer button to bring up a slider to set the length of the timer to a intervals of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, or 45 minutes, or 1 or 2 hours.
Do Not Disturb While Driving: This activates the new iOS 11 feature, which can now be configured from the Do Not Disturb section in the iOS 11 Settings app. The button itself acts simply as a toggle right now — there’s nothing hidden behind it.
Apple TV Remote: This provides quick access to a built-in version of the Apple TV Remote app. It requires a 3D Touch gesture to activate, and expands to a pop-up Apple TV Remote app right in the Control Center view. What’s particularly interesting about this one, however, is that it doesn’t actually require that you have the actual Apple TV Remote app installed — this version of the remote appears to be baked right into iOS 11.
Screen Recording: Hidden away as a Control Center button, this actually represents a pretty significant new feature in iOS 11, allowing you to actually make a recording of whatever is happening on your device’s screen. The screen recording begins the moment you tap the button, at which point the iOS status bar will turn blue and note that a recording is in progress. You can stop the recording either by returning to the Control Center and tapping the Screen Recording button again, or by tapping on the blue status bar and responding to a confirmation dialog asking if you want to stop recording. Once you stop, the recording is automatically saved to your Photos app. You can also choose whether you want the microphone to be active during Screen Recording by 3D Touching on the Screen Recording button in Control Center and tapping the “Microphone Audio” button at the bottom to toggle it on.
Although it’s going to take some getting used to, we think that the new Control Center is mostly a positive step forward in the iOS UI design, although we personally found the HomeKit aspect to be a bit of a step backward — the persistence of the panes in iOS 10 allowed us to leave HomeKit controls easily accessible with a simple swipe upward; with iOS 11 they’re now hidden behind a 3D Touch gesture, and positioned up in the center of the screen, less easily reachable. Of course, we’re only on the second beta, and it’s not uncommon for Apple to make UI tweaks throughout the beta cycles, so we’re hopeful that there may be things Apple can do to improve this, particularly with the company’s increasing focus on HomeKit.
Other than this one issue however — which of course will only be of concern to a segment of serious HomeKit users — the new Control Center design is an improvement in every other way, adding more controls and the ability for users to at least partially customize their Control Center experience. We’re hoping that Apple also adds the ability for third parties to plug their own Control Center buttons into here sooner rather than later.