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Tips & Tricks

Muting Activity Sharing Notifications from friends on Apple Watch

Apple expanded the Activity app in watchOS 3 with a new feature that allows you to share the progress of your activity rings with up to 25 of your friends, family, co-workers, and other workout buddies. It’s relatively straightforward to set up — just go to the Activity app on your iPhone, select the Sharing button at the bottom, and follow the instructions — once you’ve added friends and they’ve accepted your sharing requests, you’ll both be able to see each other’s activity and you’ll start getting notifications on your Apple Watch whenever one of them closes their rings or completes an achievement or workout.

However, if you find that being constantly reminded of how far your friends are progressing ahead of you is more of a de-motivator, or simply want to be able to see your friends’ activity without being bothered by notifications during the day, you can mute the notifications from any of the users with whom you’re sharing your activity without having to “unfriend” them. To do this, go to the Sharing tab in the Activity app on your iPhone, select the user whose notifications you’d like to mute, and tap the “Mute Notifications” button. Your friend won’t know that you’ve muted their notifications, and you’ll still be able to see how they’re doing toward their goals if you care to go in and check, but you’ll no longer get notifications as they progress throughout the day.

Showing a Smart Folder in the iOS 10 Mail Widget

The addition of 3D Touch to the iPhone 6s has been a productivity boon for a lot of users, with information now more quickly accessible from the home screen and within key apps, and iOS 10 improved upon this by putting widgets directly behind key icons on the home screen, and expanding the menus. While most of these popup menus remain static, there are some minor things that can be customized in certain apps.

In the iOS 10 Mail app, for example, if you have a Smart Mailbox set up to appear in your mailbox list, this will automatically be displayed below the “Inbox” entry on the popup menu that appears when you 3D Touch on the Mail icon. While only one Smart Mailbox will appear on this menu, any one of them can be set to appear simply by placing it at the top of your mailbox list in the Mail app — iOS simply chooses the first enabled Smart Mailbox on the list and displays it on the popup menu.

Sadly, only the predefined Smart Mailboxes are supported here — even though you can add individual mailbox folders to the main list, they can’t be made to appear on the 3D Touch menu. Still, if you find yourself regularly looking at just flagged messages, messages from your VIP contacts, or messages with attachments in your inbox, it’s a useful shortcut.

Filtering your Message List in the iOS 10 Mail app

If you use the built in Mail app on your iPhone or iPad and deal with sifting through a lot of email messages, you’ll likely appreciate a small feature that Apple added in iOS 10, which gives you the ability to quickly and easily filter your message listing. A button in the bottom-left corner of the Mail app will toggle on a filtered view that provides quick filtering of messages in the current mailbox. By default, the filter will show you only flagged messages. However, if you tap on the “Filtered by” link that appears in the bottom status bar when the filter is enabled, you can refine the filter with other criteria, including unread messages, messages addressed To or CC’ed directly to your email address (as opposed to those from mailing lists), or only messages with attachments or messages from contacts on your VIP list. Multiple criteria can be combined here as well, so you could include both unread and flagged messages, but only those which include attachments.

Selecting the best network connection for your Apple TV

With its support for a wide range of apps, along with its new role as a HomeKit hub, the fourth-generation Apple TV has become a more central device for many users than ever before. Since the device supports both wired (Ethernet) and Wi-Fi networking options, you may be led to believe that you’ll get the best network performance from your Apple TV by going with the wired option — after all, wired connections have traditionally always been faster and more reliable than wireless connections. Oddly, however, this isn’t necessarily the case with the fourth-generation Apple TV.

Apple included 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO in the fourth-generation Apple TV — a networking protocol that is capable of performing at speeds of up to around 400-500 mbps in practical applications. Somewhat ironically, however, the wired networking port on the fourth-generation Apple TV is only 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, limited to maximum throughput of 100 mbps. This makes the Apple TV one of the relatively rare devices that can actually – in theory at least — perform better over a Wi-Fi connection than a wired Ethernet connection.

Managing iMessage Apps in iOS 10

The ability to use iMessage Apps was one of the cooler new features added to iOS 10, but with so many developers adding their own little iMessage apps to their main apps, you may find your Messages app drawer quickly becoming inundated with new icons. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to remove or reorganize your iMessage Apps, or prevent new ones from automatically showing up when one of your existing iOS apps gains iMessage App support in an update.

Removing and reorganizing iMessage Apps is done in much the same way as normal apps on your home screen — just bring up the app drawer in iMessage by tapping on the app symbol to the left of the text entry field, and then tap-and-hold on any one of the apps until they all start jiggling. From there, you can drag them around to reorganize them, even between pages, or tap the “X” in the top right corner to remove the app entirely. Removing a dedicated iMessage App like a sticker pack from here will remove it entirely from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch; removing the iMessage App version of a standalone app, on the other hand, will only hide the iMessage App extension, leaving the main app untouched.

Customizing the Library View in the iOS 10 Music app

Apple made some arguably nice changes to its core Music app in iOS 10, departing from the Apple Music centric version that debuted with iOS 8.4 and putting the user’s own music library back front and center, where it belongs. One of the features that came back along with this, albeit in a slightly different form, was the ability to customize the main Library view to choose which organizational categories you want to see there.

Checking Activation Lock Status before purchasing an iOS Device

Apple’s Activation Lock feature, introduced three years ago with iOS 7, is a great security feature that’s been credited with a decline in theft rates. Like any good security system, however, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword; Apple has made Activation Lock so secure that it can be a problem for users who are trying to purchase a used iPhone (or other iOS device) legitimately — if the original owner of the device forgets to turn off the Activation Lock, or doesn’t realize that they need to, the buyer can basically end up with a brick.

Fortunately, Apple has addressed this by creating a Check Activation Lock Status web portal that anybody can use to determine if Activation Lock is enabled on a specific iPhone, iPad, or iPod. To use the service, you simply need to enter the serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number of the device in question, which any legitimate seller should have no problem providing you with. After entering the serial number or IMEI (and the captcha code to prove you’re a human), the site will return a simple response showing whether Activation Lock is on or off, followed by an explanation of what this means, and what actions should be taken to deactivate Activation Lock if necessary.

Sorting Playlists, Songs, and Albums in the Music app

The Music app got another somewhat quiet update in iOS 10.2, allowing you to now choose a sorted order for the playlist, song, album, and video listings in your own music library. A new “Sort” button appears in the top right corner when viewing these three categories. Playlists can be sorted by Playlist Type, Title, or Recently Added, while Song, Album, and Video views offer sorting by Title or Artist.

Note that sorting by Playlist Type is the standard order that was used in prior iOS versions, placing Genius playlists at the top of the listing, with all other playlists still mixed below alphabetically — despite the name, it still doesn’t distinguish between Apple Music and user-created playlists, for whatever reason. The sort button is understandably not available in other views such as Artists, Compilations, Composers, and Genres.

Enabling Star Ratings in the iOS 10.2 Music app

One of the more controversial changes in Apple’s iOS 10 Music app was the elimination of the longstanding star-based rating system for music tracks. It’s unclear whether this was just inadvertently left out in the redesign or whether Apple felt that the new love/dislike system was enough — but clearly somebody at Apple got the message, as the ability to use star ratings has quietly returned in iOS 10.2.

It’s still hidden by default, but if you’re an iTunes power user who has gotten used to being able to rate your tracks on a sliding scale — a feature that’s been available in iTunes and on the iPod since its very inception — you’ll be happy to know that a quick trip into the Music section of your Settings app provides an option to toggle the feature back on.

While Apple has brought the star rating feature back, it’s moved it into the track menu, rather than hiding it behind the artwork as it was in iOS 9. Tapping and holding on a track, or tapping the ellipsis button in the bottom right corner of the “Now Playing” screen will bring up the menu, and if you’ve enabled star ratings in your settings, a “Rate Song…” option should now appear there. Ratings should also once again sync back to your iTunes library via direct sync, Apple Music, or iTunes Match, however this doesn’t replace the love/dislike system — if you’re an Apple Music user, star ratings won’t affect the recommendations you see in the “For You” section.

Using the Digital Crown to peek at your Apple Watch screen

Along with major enhancements like built-in GPS and swim workouts, the Apple Watch Series 2 includes another unique new feature which allows you to gradually wake the screen using the Digital Crown — essentially letting you sort of “peek” at it. The setting to enable this can be found under General, Wake Screen in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, although oddly it’s not present in the corresponding section in the watchOS Settings app — you have to enable it from your iPhone.

Controlling your Home from the Apple TV

When the fourth-generation Apple TV launched in the fall of 2015, we found the absence of direct support for controlling Apple HomeKit devices to be a conspicuous omission — especially considering the Apple TV was already designed to act as the hub for remote access to HomeKit accessories. In other words, HomeKit accessory commands were being processed through the set-top box, but there was no way to allow the user to participate using the Apple TV itself. It took another year to come to fruition, but tvOS 10 brought interactive HomeKit support to the set-top box last fall, opening up not only the ability to control HomeKit accessories via Siri commands, but also support for third-party tvOS apps to access the HomeKit framework.

Siri HomeKit commands can be used to adjust most accessories (e.g. “Turn off the living room lights”) and activate scenes (e.g. “Set the movie night scene” or even simply “It’s movie night”), and we’ve found they often work more quickly than issuing the same commands on the iPhone or Apple Watch. You can also set your thermostat (e.g. “Set the temperature to 24 degrees”) and inquire as to the status of various HomeKit sensors to check temperature and other information (e.g. “What is the temperature in the living room?” or even “Is there carbon monoxide in the basement?”).

Disabling App Notifications in CarPlay

If you’re using a CarPlay system with your iPhone, you may have noticed that a small number of the built-in apps will automatically display their notifications on your CarPlay screen. While this is a useful feature for some, if you don’t want to see certain types of alerts and notifications in your CarPlay system while driving, the good news is that you can disable them on a per-app basis from the standard iOS Notification Settings.

To do this, go into the Settings app on your iPhone, select Notifications, and then select the specific app for which you want to turn off CarPlay notifications — Calendar, FaceTime, Messages, Phone, or Reminders — and you should see a Show in CarPlay setting below the lock screen setting. Toggle this off, and you’ll no longer be bothered by notifications from that app when your iPhone is plugged into your CarPlay system (although the notifications will still be shown on the lock screen of your iPhone itself). In the case of the Calendar app, you can even customize this based on the type of notification, so you can choose to still be alerted of upcoming events while not getting notifications for shared calendar changes. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to add extra notifications to your CarPlay screen, you’re out of luck for now — as of this writing, only the five built-in apps noted above support displaying notifications via CarPlay.

Using AirPods with your Apple TV

Apple’s new AirPods will automatically pair with any iPhone or iPad running iOS 10.2 or later, and sync via iCloud to your other compatible iOS devices, Apple Watch, and macOS Sierra. However, for whatever reason — perhaps because of its role as a common “family” device — Apple hasn’t included the Apple TV’s tvOS into the mix; even if your Apple TV is signed into the same iCloud account you’re using on your iPhone, it’s left out of the automatically synced pairing party.

Fortunately, AirPods can be still be paired manually like just about any other Bluetooth device, and they actually work quite well with the fourth-generation Apple TV. To pair your AirPods with the Apple TV, go to Settings, Remotes and Devices, Bluetooth, and then put your AirPods into their charging case, leave the lid open, and press and hold the setup button on the back of the case until the LED starts flashing. Your Apple TV should detect your AirPods and show them under “Other Devices,” and you can then select them and they’ll pair right away. Once paired, you can listen to audio from your Apple TV through your AirPods whenever they’re out of the case and in your ears, and the automatic ear detection feature will even work to pause your audio or video when you remove and reinsert the AirPods. Note that you won’t be able to trigger Siri on the Apple TV with a double-tap, however — regardless of the double-tap setting you’ve chosen, double-tap defaults to play/pause control when paired with other Bluetooth devices that don’t specifically support AirPods.

Using Double Tap to Control Play/Pause on AirPods

Apple’s wireless AirPods automatically pause music playback when one or both of the buds are removed from your ears during use. But if you’d prefer to control play/pause with touch controls without having to remove AirPods from your ears, Apple has given users a way to do so. While your AirPods are connected, go to Settings > Bluetooth on your iOS device and touch the “i” to access the information screen for your AirPods. On that screen, you’ll be able to change a number of settings, including the Double-Tap controls. AirPods are set by default to control Siri with a firm double tap — here, you can switch the setting to Play/Pause instead.

In switching this setting, users are giving up immediate double tap access to Siri. However, that tradeoff is somewhat mitigated if you’re using an iPhone 6s or later, or a 9.7” iPad Pro. Those devices allow anytime use of “Hey Siri,” which means it can still be easy and convenient to access Siri hands-free, as long as you’ve allowed use of “Hey Siri” in Settings — and as long as you’re close enough to your iPhone. Some users of the newest Apple devices may find this option makes more sense.

Optimizing iTunes Media Storage in macOS Sierra

If you’re a Mac user with a large iTunes video library and limited storage space, you might appreciate a new feature in macOS Sierra that lets iTunes automatically take care of leaving those videos you’ve watched up in the cloud to free up space on your Mac’s hard drive. A new option, Automatically delete watched movies and TV shows, can be found in the Advanced section of your iTunes preferences, and it’s pretty self-explanatory; when enabled, you basically give iTunes permission to automatically clean up any movies or TV shows you’ve downloaded from the iTunes Store once you’ve watched them.

Keeping the Christmas Tree Lights On with HomeKit

If you’ve got more than a couple of lights tied into your HomeKit system, you’ve probably gotten accustomed to using Siri commands like “Turn off the lights” when you’re leaving home, going to bed, or just otherwise want to de-illuminate your home. Of course, in that case, this time of year you’re probably going to be tempted to plug your Christmas tree or other holiday lights into a HomeKit-compatible plug so that you can control them using Siri and HomeKit automation. It’s a great idea, but suddenly you might find yourself avoiding Siri commands to turn all of your lights off at home, or in a given room if you still want to leave the Christmas lights on.

Preserving Camera settings in iOS 10.2

Released earlier this week, iOS 10.2 adds a small enhancement providing users with more control over how the Camera app behaves between launches. Up until now, the Camera would always revert to defaults whenever you returned to it, but a new group of settings in iOS 10.2 now allows you to preserve the last state of certain Camera settings.


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Preserve Settings under Photos & Camera in the iOS 10.2 Settings app includes three new toggles that let you choose: whether the camera saves the last capture mode (e.g. Video or Square) rather than returning to Photo, whether the last used Photo Filter is retained across launches, and whether Live Photo is automatically reset back to ON when you return to the app.

Choosing iPhone Flashlight Brightness

If you’re using a 3D Touch-capable iPhone, with iOS 10 you can now choose from three different intensity levels for the LED flashlight by using a 3D Touch gesture on the Control Center button.

To do this, swipe from the bottom of the screen to bring up Control Center, and use a 3D Touch press on the flashlight button and you’ll get a menu with options for Bright, Medium, or Low light. You can access this menu to change the setting regardless of whether the flashlight is already on or not, and your iPhone will remember the last setting you used when you next toggle the flashlight on again.

Tracking Your Sleep in iOS 10

Although the iPhone’s Clock app doesn’t often see many changes, Apple snuck an interesting new feature into iOS 10 that allows your iPhone to perform basic sleep tracking without any additional accessories. In the app, you’ll find a new Bedtime section that lets you set up bedtime reminders and wakeup alarms that work separately from the normal clock alarms.

Showing Holiday Memories in iOS 10 Photos

If you’ve got a few years of photos available on your iPhone, the new Memories feature in the iOS 10 Photos app can be a great way to go back and relive significant events from past years. Photos will go back and automatically scan through your photo collection for groupings of photos by people and places and put them in collections, and Apple has even put the intelligence in place to figure out holidays — based on your home country — and organize your Memories accordingly by paying closer attention to photos around those times of year, and putting appropriate titles on them.

If you’re not seeing holiday memories and you think you should, check the setting for Holiday Events under Photos & Camera in the iOS Settings app. Also be sure that your regional setting, found under Settings, General, Language & Region is set to the correct country — which holidays are selected are based on this setting.

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