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Tips & Tricks

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.

Using your iPhone as a Magnifying Glass

There’s a useful new accessibility enhancement in iOS 10 designed to help those who have trouble seeing small print — this new feature turns the iPhone camera into a virtual magnifying glass. Although you’ve been able to use the built-in zoom feature in the normal Camera app in a pinch (no pun intended), the new Magnifier feature not only provides quicker access — only a triple-click of the Home button is needed — but allows for a tighter zoom for even stronger magnification, as well as other controls to toggle the flash on for illumination, and to adjust brightness and contrast. You can even access inverted and color-shifted views, which is useful for those with color blindness and other vision challenges.

Working with Threads in iOS 10 Mail

Apple has made some nice changes to the way that message threads are handled in the iOS 10 Mail app, replacing the prior message sub-list with an inline conversation view that users of alternative mail apps and platforms like Gmail will find far more familiar. In addition to presenting all of the messages in a single threaded view, in the Mail app now includes all of the messages in your entire mail account by default, rather than only those in the current mailbox or folder.

Of course, if you don’t like this fully threaded view there are still options to turn it off. The Mail section in the main iOS Settings app now includes a Threading section which, in addition to the global “Organize by Thread” option found in prior iOS versions, now also includes settings to sort threads in reverse chronological order, as well as turn off “Complete Threads” if you want to revert the pre-iOS 10 behavior of only showing messages from the current mailbox/folder in each thread. In the latter case you’ll still get the newer threaded view — there’s no way to go back to the old hierarchical message list design — but any messages that are not contained in the same mailbox/folder as the current message won’t be displayed.

Allowing calls and texts from specific contacts when Do Not Disturb is enabled

Although Apple has long allowed you to receive calls from specific contact lists when the Do Not Disturb feature is enabled, this applied only to incoming phone calls and required that you designate your exempt contacts as “Favorites” or organize them into specific lists.

With iOS 10, Apple has quietly added a small enhancement allowing you to designate individuals to bypass the Do Not Disturb setting for calls and/or texts on a per-contact basis. The option is somewhat hidden away in each contact screen under the Ringtone and Text Tone settings used to set custom tones and vibrations for calls and messages from each contact. When editing a contact, tap on Ringtone or Text Tone in the contact record; a new Emergency Bypass switch now appears at the very top of each vibration/tone selection screen, which can be toggled on to indicate that sounds and vibrations from calls or messages from that contact should come through even when Do Not Disturb is otherwise enabled.

Optimizing Music Storage in iOS 10

Prior to iOS 10, your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch would try to automatically maintain a minimum amount of free space by removing unnecessary files from local storage under certain conditions. Included in this list of “unnecessary” files were things that Apple reasonably deemed could be re-obtained from the cloud — including items in your iCloud Music Library. Naturally, many users found this inconvenient, and Apple has obviously heard their cries — in iOS 10 you can now either turn this feature off entirely or choose to ensure that a minimum amount of music remains on your device.

You can find all of this under a new Optimize Storage setting in the Music section of the iOS Settings app. There, you’ll find a switch that can be used to toggle the feature on; when it’s enabled, a list of minimum capacity settings will also appear. The settings will allow you to set the minimum amount of music that will be kept on your device when space runs low. Selecting None here is the equivalent of the standard behavior from prior iOS versions.

Disabling Home Control from the Lock Screen

While the new “Home” panel in the iOS 10 Control Center is a pretty handy feature for users with HomeKit accessories, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s accessible by default even when your iPhone is locked. As with issuing Siri commands, HomeKit will still require authentication before controlling things like door locks, but if you want to ensure that other accessories like lights and thermostats can’t be controlled from the lock screen, you’ll be happy to know that you can disable Home control without having to deny lock screen access to the entire Control Center.

Enabling Message Effects with Reduce Motion enabled in iOS 10.1

When iOS 10 debuted with its new Message Effects animations, one slightly obscure requirement that tripped up many users was the need to have the Reduce Motion setting turned OFF for background and bubble animations to play back. Many users were initially confused as to why animations on received messages weren’t playing, nor could animations be sent in outgoing messages. Even those who figured it out were left with the uncomfortable choice of turning all motion effects back on systemwide, or living without the cool new iMessage animation features.

Fortunately, Apple addressed this in iOS 10.1, with a new “Auto-play Message Effects” setting in the Reduce Motion section (under Settings, General, Accessibility). This option only appears when Reduce Motion is enabled, and allows you to choose whether or not Message Effects will play automatically on incoming messages. Even when this option is disabled, however, messages will come in with a button allowing you to choose to manually play the animation; effects will no longer be entirely suppressed as they were in iOS 10.

Announcing Incoming Calls in iOS 10

With iOS 10, iPhone users can now choose to have their devices verbally announce the name or number when an incoming call comes in — an especially handy feature for hands-free situations where you aren’t able to easily glance at your iPhone when it rings.

The new settings can be found in the Phone section in the Settings app, under Announce Calls, and you can choose whether to always have incoming calls announced, or only have your iPhone announce calls when you have headphones plugged in or are connected to a vehicle via Bluetooth.

Turning off Read Receipts for individual conversations in iOS 10

There’s one other small but useful new feature in the iOS 10 Messages app that most people may have missed amidst of all the glitz and glamour of the shiny bubbles, stickers, and fireworks effects: you can now turn off Read Receipts for individual conversations. This is a huge boon if you like sharing read status with close friends and family but don’t necessarily want everybody to see when their messages to you have been read.

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