Tips & Tricks
While the rise of subscription music services has replaced traditional purchased music downloads for many users, there are still those who may prefer to build a collection of music that they can keep without any monthly expenses, and with every new iTunes Store and iOS iteration, Apple adds new features to make it even easier to discover and buy music (and other media content) from the iTunes Store. While you probably know about iTunes’ Wish List feature, which lets you save items that you may want to purchase later, you may not realize that iTunes and iOS 8 will automatically keep track of music you’ve listened to through other means — including songs you’ve previewed in the iTunes Store, songs you’ve listened to on iTunes Radio, and now with iOS 8, songs you’ve asked Siri to identify via Shazam.
All of this information is nicely collected in your iTunes Store account and can be viewed from iTunes on your Mac or PC, or the iTunes Store app on your iOS devices. On iOS, simply open the iTunes Store app and tap the lists button in the top right corner. Tabs across the top will allow you to choose between your Wish List, Siri, Previews, or iTunes Radio. From here you can preview or purchase any of the displayed tracks, or even play a track if you’ve already purchased it. If you want to clean the lists up, simply tapping the button in the top left corner will let you select and remove items from your Wish List, or
clear out your Siri, Preview, or iTunes Radio lists entirely.
If you’re on a Mac or PC, simply select your name near the top right corner of your iTunes window and choose “Wish List” from the drop down menu that appears. The main wish list is displayed across the majority of the window, as before, but new categories appear to show you items listened to or discovered via the other sources.
If you share calendars among friends, family members, and co-workers, you may have sometimes found yourself in the annoying situation of having their reminders go off on your iPhone. Fortunately, the iOS 8 Calendar app now allows you to turn off notifications on a per-calendar basis. To do this, simply go into the Calendar app, tap the “Calendars” button in the bottom center to bring up your list of Calendars, and then tap the red “i” to the left of the calendar you’d like to change. Scrolling all the way to the bottom will reveal an “Event Alerts” option — simply toggle this OFF to prevent alarms in that calendar from showing up on the current device.
Note that this works not only for shared calendars, but even your own personal calendars, which can be useful if you have a calendar for which you might like to receive alerts on only specific devices; you can turn off alerts on your iPhone while still having them go off on your Mac or iPad, for instance. Keep in mind that this will only silence actual calendar alarms; notifications you receive when somebody changes a shared calendar are controlled by the “Show Changes” setting which appears further up above the color settings. Controlling both options separately means that you can still see when somebody changes an appointment in their calendar while not having their alarms go off on your device.
While Touch ID is a really great way to unlock your iPhone, sometimes it’s a little too fast, as anybody can attest to who has ever watched an important notification disappear from the Lock Screen before you could even identify what it was. The good news is that you can easily find these notifications by pulling down the Notification Center, but they may not always be easily seen if you’re not sorting them properly.
The good news is that you can control the sort order for your Notification Center by going into the iOS Settings app and choosing Notifications. While sorting manually can be handy for putting the important notifications at the top all the time, the “Sort By Time” option is a great way to ensure that the most recent notifications are always at the top, so that when you miss one while unlocking your iPhone, you can simply pull down Notification Center and see it right at the top of your screen.
Although it’s been possible to create photo albums in the iOS Photos app for a while now, the feature becomes even more useful with iCloud Photo Library and the impending final release of Apple’s Photos for Mac app. Now all of your photo albums from iPhoto or Aperture can be synced via iCloud Photo Library onto your iPhone, eliminating the need for managing this data in two places. One thing you may notice, however, is that new photos added to your iOS Photo Albums are not sorted in any particular order — they’re simply added to the end of what’s already there.
The good news, however, is that you can actually reorder these photos manually. Apple doesn’t make this obvious at all, but if you tap on the “Select” button in the top right corner, you can then simply tap-and-hold on any one of your image thumbnails and then drag that image and release your finger to drop it anywhere else in the current album. Unfortunately, this only works in user-created Photo Albums; you won’t be able to reorder photos in any of the built-in albums such as “Favorites” nor can you reorder photos in iCloud Photo Sharing albums.
If you’ve ever participated in group message conversations on your iOS device, you may find that sometimes repeated notifications can begin to get annoying, particularly if there are a lot of people in the group and you’re not actively involved in the conversation. While leaving is always an option, perhaps you still want to be able to check back later as to what’s going on, but don’t need notifications coming up every few seconds as people are chatting away.
The good news is that in iOS 8, you can now enable a “Do Not Disturb” feature or any conversation in Messages. Simply tap on the Details button at the top of the screen, and you’ll see a toggle below the list of people in the conversation allowing you to mute the conversation. This works for one-on-one messaging conversations as well, making it useful for muting things like automated SMS notifications.
The ability to sync and carry on text message conversations regardless of whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad, or Mac has always been one of the slicker features of iMessage, but until recently, there always seemed to be a disconnect between doing this with actual iMessages as opposed to traditional SMS text messages. Since not all of us have friends who exclusively use Apple devices, it was always a bit of a juggling act to figure out which ones you could message from your Mac or iPad and which friends made you have to reach for your iPhone to communicate. Fortunately, iOS 8.1 introduced the welcome feature of bridging this gap with “SMS Continuity,” which allows SMS and MMS messages to be sent and received using any device registered to your Apple ID. The options to control this can be found by going into your the Settings app on your iPhone, and selecting Messages, Text Message Forwarding. Here you’ll see a list of all of the non-iPhone devices associated with your Apple ID, and you can simply toggle the option on or off for the devices you wish to have participate in your SMS conversations.
As a security precaution, toggling a device ON will display a numeric code on the remote device that you’ll need to enter into your iPhone to confirm the pairing.
Once you’ve done that, the feature should just start working in much the same way as it always has for iMessage. Unlike iMessage, you’ll still need your iPhone to act as the gateway for SMS/MMS messages, as it’s responsible for transferring the messages between your other devices and your cellular carrier’s network. This is done wirelessly over the Internet via iCloud, however, so as long as your iPhone is on and has an Internet connection, the feature will work regardless of whether your iPhone is in actual proximity to your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch.
If you’ve ever inadvertently deleted a photo from your Camera Roll, you’ll appreciate that iOS 8 now has your back. Among the list of enhancements added to the Photos app is a new “trash bin” in the form of a “Recently Deleted” album. In here, you can find any photo or video that you’ve removed from your iOS device in the last 30 days, sorted chronologically by the date the photo was removed.
A helpful indicator over each thumbnail tells you how many days each item has left to live before being permanently removed from your device. From here, you can view individual photos or select groups in the same way as in any other album, which you can then choose to either permanently delete or recover back into your normal photo library. If you have iCloud Photo Library enabled, your “Recently Deleted” album and photos also sync across all of your devices, so a deleted photo can be recovered (or removed) using any of your connected devices. Keep in mind that photos in the “Recently Deleted” album do still take up space, on your iPhone, so if you’ve just removed a batch of photos to try and free up space on your device, you’ll need to take a trip over here to permanently delete them before you get that space back.
We all strive to get as much battery life as we can out of our mobile devices, and while many users have mixed experiences with the iPhone’s battery life, there’s little doubt that it can sometimes be confusing trying to figure out exactly why some days are better than others. While this has been shrouded in mystery for years in the world of iOS devices, the good news is that iOS 8 can finally give you some insight in this area.
While it’s a bit hidden away – you’ll need to take a trip into the Settings app and then look under General, Usage, Battery Usage – once you get there you’ll find some useful tracking on which of your apps are the biggest power hogs, and you can choose to see stats over either the past 24 hours or the past 7 days, expressed as a percentage of the power used by each app when your device is not plugged in. Apps that have been using power in the background will also be annotated with notes like “Background Location” to help you clarify where your juice is going. If there are any obvious tips that can help to improve your battery life, you’ll also see a section for “Battery Life Suggestions” covering things like enabling automatic screen locking.
If you deal with a lot of e-mail, you’ll probably appreciate the more advanced swipe gestures that iOS 8 adds to the Mail app. No longer limited to merely deleting or archiving messages, iOS 8 allows you to perform up to four different actions simply by swiping either left or right on an item in your inbox. By default, swiping right-to-left now displays a “Flag” option in addition to the Trash/Archive and More options, and you can also now swipe left to right to get an option to mark a message as read or unread. A long swipe in either direction will also automatically execute the appropriate actions, while a short swipe simply presents buttons that you can tap on to complete the action.
While the default options are somewhat useful, they may not match your normal way of working through your inbox, so the good news is that you can customize these settings even further. Simply take a trip into the iOS Settings app, and in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section you’ll find a setting for “Swipe Options”; from here you can choose to have the swipe-left gesture show a Mark as Read/Unread or Flag button, and the swipe-right gesture can be customized to Mark Read/Unread, Flag, or Archive the message.
Traditionally, iOS has retained your entire conversation history in the Messages database,so if you send a lot of pictures and videos via iMessage, this can eat up quite a bit of space on your iPhone over time. Prior to iOS 8, the only real way to deal with this was to remove an entire conversation, basically starting over, or to manually scroll back through your Messages history and remove individual items one-by-one. Fortunately, in iOS 8 there’s a slightly easier way.
If you go into the Messages section in your Settings app, you’ll see a new option, “Keep Messages.” This setting allows you to tell to iOS to automatically purge anything in your Messages conversations older than the specified time frame. Unfortunately, the options are limited to either “Forever” (the behavior in past iOS versions), 30 days, or 1 year, but even 30 days is still far better than having to go through and delete an entire conversation if you’re running low on space. Keep in mind that enabling this option will immediately purge everything older than the specified time frame, and continue to do so as a rolling thirty-day or one-year window, so if you want to keep your old conversations backed up somewhere you’ll want to look at archiving them using a third-party Mac or PC app before you take the plunge.
Although Apple’s new iCloud Photo Library feature remains in beta at this point, iOS 8 still packs in a few nice little photo management features. One of the lesser-known of these is that you can now actually hide photos from showing up in your main timeline in the Photos app. To do this, simply tap-and-hold on a photo — either in the thumbnail or full-screen views — and a context menu will appear with a “Hide” option. Tapping “Hide” brings up a confirmation, explaining that the photo will be hidden from the “Moments, Collections, and Years” views, but still be shown in any albums that it’s been explicitly placed into, as well as the Camera Roll. If you’re using iCloud Photo Library, the hidden status will also sync across all of your iOS devices, removing the photo from your timeline on all of them.
Once you’ve hidden at least one photo, a new “Hidden” smart album will also appear in the Albums list, giving you quick access to any photos you’ve hidden. Unhiding a photo is done in the same manner as hiding a photo — tap and hold on the photo you want to unhide, and the context menu will show the “Unhide” option. This is a handy way to keep photos on your iPhone without having them clutter up your timeline, and it’s especially useful if you’re using iCloud Photo Library to store your entire photo collection in the cloud.
Controlling web access on iOS devices has traditionally been somewhat tricky, requiring that you not only disable Safari entirely but also avoid installing apps with their own web browsing capability—a loophole that had Apple requiring even the most innocuous apps to carry a “17+” rating anytime a web browser was included within.
The good news is that iOS 7 significantly improves this, allowing you to permit the use of Safari while still controlling access to specific web sites; you can choose to limit access to common adult sites, block specific sites by address, or block everything that’s not on a specific list of permitted sites.
To enable this feature, go into your iOS Settings app and choose General, Restrictions and look for the Websites section. From here, you can choose one of three restriction levels; choosing “Specific Websites Only” also helpfully provides a predefined list of kid-friendly sites that you can customize further. This list will also automatically be included in Safari’s bookmarks for faster access.
It’s especially worth noting that this works not only with the built-in Safari browser, but any other iOS Browser or app that includes a built-in browser, so you also no longer need to worry about whether something seemingly harmless like a reference app may suddenly provide a backdoor to unfettered Internet access.
While you’re probably already familiar with the Spotlight search feature in iOS 7—simply swipe down from anywhere on the home screen to find it—if you’re often trying to track down specific Mail items, you there are some advanced features you may find useful.
Firstly, keep in mind that if you’re searching from the home screen, iOS will only search the from, to, and subject fields of emails that are already on your device. To perform a more advanced search you’ll need to go into the Mail app and then swipe down to reveal the Search field. Entering a search from here will not only perform a full search on your message content, but also extend the search to messages stored on the mail server that have not yet been downloaded to your device. From here, you can also use keywords similar to those found in the Mac Mail app: for example, a search for “Flagged December 2013” will reveal all messages received in December that you have marked with a flag. Other keywords you can use include VIP, FROM, TO, and various “smart” date formats such as yesterday or last week.
One caveat, however: While iOS Spotlight itself understands these keywords, your mail server may not; once the search continues on the server side, chances are that you’ll simply get literal results for these keywords. Still, this can be a pretty handy way to quickly filter through the mail that is already stored on your device.
If you spend a lot of time working with e-mail on your iOS device, especially across multiple accounts, you may find it handy to know that you can actually now customize your main mailbox listing. With iOS 7, you can change the order of the default smart mailboxes such as the universal inbox, and VIP list, as well as enabling additional types of smart mailboxes. Simply tap the “Edit” button in the top-right corner of the Mailboxes screen to make changes.
Pre-defined smart mailboxes are included to group unread messages, flagged messages, VIP list items, messages with the user’s e-mail address in the To or CC line and messages with attachments. If you have more than one mail account configured, you’ll also see folders for aggregating all drafts, sent items, and/or trash across all of your mail accounts. You can also add individual mailbox folders to the main screen to saving you from having to dig into the account-specific folder hierarchy for folders you frequently access.
While the voice of Siri has almost achieved celebrity status, if you’re not a fan you may be happy to know that you can now change up Siri’s voice by going into the General, Siri section in your iOS Settings app. iOS 7 adds a male voice for the North American English language settings that you can choose as an alternate. If you really want to change things up, the UK and Australia language settings also provide different voices, but keep in mind that this may also affect Siri’s ability to recognize your requests as well as the results returned by Siri in some cases.
If you’re not really fond of any of Siri’s voices, you can minimize how much your iPhone talks back to you using the Voice Feedback in the same settings screen; setting it to “Handsfree Only” will keep Siri quiet except when you’re using something like a headset or car kit.
Find yourself searching the web a lot from your iPhone and prefer to type your requests in rather than dictating them to Siri? In addition to searching through the stuff in your built-in iOS apps like Mail and Contacts, you can also use the built-in Spotlight search feature to search the web or Wikipedia directly. Simply swipe down from the home screen to display the Spotlight search field and key in what you want to search for.
Options to “Search Web” and “Search Wikipedia” will appear at the bottom of any other results found on your device, and tapping on these will open Safari to either search directly on Wikipedia or initiate a web search using your default search engine, as specified in the Safari section of your iOS Settings app.
While iOS and the App Store generally do a pretty good of keeping your apps up to date, even going so far as to transparently update them in the background with iOS 7, we’ve noticed that in some cases an update may not install properly, resulting in unpredictable behavior. In its most innocuous form, an app may appear to have updated according to the App Store, but still look like the old version; in more serious cases, you may be faced with an incomplete update that causes the app to crash or exhibit other odd behavior. Even worse, when this happens with apps that are allowed to run in the background—like Facebook—it can actually bring your entire iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to its knees.
If you’re experiencing something odd with a specific app that has been recently updated, the obvious solution is usually just to delete it and reinstall it from scratch. Further, if your iPhone or other iOS device has started behaving oddly in general—poor battery life, lags, or even freezes—look for apps with background privileges. VoIP apps such as Skype are common apps that get special privileges to run in the background, and it’s worth noting that Facebook officially became a VoIP app earlier this year and was granted the same privileges to potentially run amuck even when it hasn’t been opened.
Keep in mind, however, that unless an app stores its data in iCloud or its own cloud service, you will lose any data in the app by removing and reinstalling it. If your data is crucial, you may need to revert to an older iTunes or iCloud backup instead, although this will mean restoring your entire device from scratch.
With the holiday season fast approaching, iTunes Gift Cards are likely going to be common gifts for many. One really nice feature introduced in iOS 7 is the ability to redeem iTunes Store Gift Cards simply by scanning them in with the camera on your iOS device. Although it’s been possible to do this on your Mac since last year’s release of iTunes 11, the ability to do it right from your iPhone means you can get to buying stuff with your Gift Cards much more quickly.
Tapping the “Redeem” button found at the bottom of the main iTunes Store or App Store screen will take you to a screen giving you the option to use your camera or enter your code manually. Only the newer gift cards with a box around the code are supported for redeeming via camera, so if you have an unsupported gift card or a promotional coupon, you’ll still have to enter your code in the old-fashioned way.
Not only does Google’s Maps app for iOS generally provide better mapping data, but it also includes some nifty UI features, including the ability to zoom in and out on a map with a single finger. This is a particularly great feature for one-handed operation on an iPhone or iPod touch, although it works in the iPad version too. Simply double-tap and hold your finger down anywhere on the map and then slide your finger up to zoom out or down to zoom back in. A single tap-and-hold gesture after releasing your finger returns you to normal panning mode. It can be a really cool way to navigate around your maps once you get the hang of it.
iOS 7 now allows you to set up a list of numbers that you do not wish to receive calls or messages from. Numbers can easily be added to this list simply by selecting a contact card from your recent calls, messages, or contacts and tapping the Block this Caller option at the bottom. A single block list is shared by the Messages, Phone, and FaceTime features, and adding a number to the list will block you from being contacted from that number by any of these methods.
You can view the list of blocked numbers from within the iOS Settings app by selecting Blocked from the Phone, Messages, or FaceTime sections; as noted above, however, the list is shared across all three of these services, so these are just three different ways of accessing the same list.
Messages and FaceTime calls from blocked numbers will be ignored entirely; Phone calls will be sent directly to voicemail, but any resulting voicemail messages will be stored in a separate “Blocked Messages” section that can be found at the bottom of your visual voicemail message list.
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