Tips & Tricks
While Apple still allows you to purchase alert tones directly from the iTunes Store, many users may already have their own sound effects or songs that they already own that they’d like to use as ringtones or alert tones. Unfortunately, while iTunes doesn’t provide any way to do this directly, if you already have a short sound file in the AAC format you can actually import it straight into the “Tones” section in iTunes simply by renaming the file, changing the extension from M4A to M4R before importing it.
If your file is longer than about 30 seconds and/or in a format other than AAC, however, you’ll need to take some additional steps. See this week’s Ask iLounge article Setting up a ringtone in iTunes for more information.
If you backup your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using iTunes, you may find it useful to be able to check the status of these backups and when the last one was made for each of your devices. You can easily find this out by going into your iTunes Preferences and selecting the Devices section. A list of all of your device backups will be shown here by device name, with the date and time of the last backup for each. If you have multiple backups under the same name, which can often happen if you’ve upgraded to a new device, you can easily tell which is which simply by hovering over them with your mouse pointer; a popup will appear displaying the serial number of the device from which that backup was made, along with the phone number and IMEI number in the case of an iPhone or cellular-capable iPad.
If you want to remove any old backups, simply select the one you want to remove and click the “Delete Backup” button. Although deleting a backup is ultimately irreversible, the good news is that it isn’t actually removed until you click “OK” to close the iTunes preferences dialog, so if you make a mistake, simply click “Cancel” instead, and the backup will be left alone.
As you probably already know, turning on “Airplane Mode” on your iPhone or iPad automatically disables all wireless communications features in a single step—cellular voice and data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. This is a handy—and almost necessary—feature when you’re in a situation where you’re required to turn off all transmitting devices, such as aboard an aircraft. However, you may not know that you can turn Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth back on after entering Airplane Mode, allowing you to access an Internet connection or connect with a Bluetooth keyboard or audio device. This can be useful when aboard a flight that includes in-flight Wi-Fi, but can also be used in those situations where you may want to turn off cellular voice and data while still accessing the Internet via Wi-Fi, such as to avoid potential roaming charges when travelling abroad. Keep in mind as well that unlike traditional SMS, services like iMessage and FaceTime will work fine over a Wi-Fi Internet connection and don’t require the cellular radios to be on.
If you’re not a fan of the default “Marker Felt” font in the Notes app on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you’ll be happy to know that you can easily choose from two alternate fonts. While Marker Felt was the only font available for the first four years of the iPhone’s life, Apple quietly snuck in the ability to change it in iOS 4.2. Simply go into the iOS Settings app and select Notes and you’ll see an option to choose Noteworthy of Helvetica as your default font instead. This will change the displayed font for all of your notes—both existing ones and any future notes you create.
If you want to setup calendar alarms to be notified of upcoming birthdays on your iPhone or iPad, or you’re simply tired of entering alarms individually when creating events, you’ll be happy to know that you can actually set default reminders for all new events in the iOS Settings app. Simply go into Mail, Contacts, Calendars and scroll down to the “Calendars” section and tap Default Alert Times. You’ll see options here to set default alerts separately for birthdays, normal events, and all-day events. Your Birthdays calendar is populated from your Contacts app, so whatever setting is chosen here will apply to ALL of your Contacts’ birthdays; settings for events will simply provide a default that you can still customize when creating a new event or editing an existing one.
If you’ve ever held off on purchasing a movie or TV show directly on your iOS device because you’d rather download it directly in iTunes, then you’ll be happy to know that Apple has recently added a “Download Later” feature for iOS 6 users. Now, when purchasing a movies, TV shows, or music box sets, you’ll be prompted as to whether you want to download your items immediately, or complete the purchase and save them for later downloading from iTunes in the Cloud. Simply tap the “Later” button and your purchase transaction will be completed, and as an added bonus, if you’ve enabled the options in iTunes to “Always check for new downloads” and “Download pre-orders when available” the purchased content will be automatically downloaded to your iTunes library. Whether you’re out and about or sitting on your couch, this can be a great way to browse for and purchase new movies and TV shows from the comfort of your iPhone or iPad without having to worry about bandwidth or storage space.
Note that Apple does indicate that this feature requires iTunes in the Cloud support and may not yet be available in all countries. If it’s not available in your particular iTunes Store, the purchased item will simply download as it normally would.
If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch used by kids in your household, you may find Apple’s default password policy for in-app purchases to be less than ideal. By default, iOS only prompts for a passcode for App Store purchases after 15 minutes have elapsed since the last purchase, and no longer prompts for a passcode at all when installing previously purchased apps or updating apps that are already on your device. Fortunately, this can easily be changed by a quick trip into your device Restrictions, found under the General section in the main iOS Settings app. If you haven’t setup any parental restrictions on this device already, you’ll need to tap the “Enable Restrictions” button at the top and set a four-digit passcode that will be required to access the Restrictions settings in the future. Once you’ve done this, scroll down to the “Require Password” option and tap on it to change the setting from “15 minutes” to “immediately.”
This will not only require a passcode to be entered for every purchase, regardless of how much time has expired since the last one, but will also require a passcode for installing previously purchased apps and updating existing ones—basically for purchasing or downloading any content from the App Store.
The introduction of turn-by-turn voice guidance to the Apple Maps app in iOS 6 was a welcome addition, but if you regularly listen to music or other audio from your iPhone while driving you may find the volume of the spoken directions doesn’t always match up well. Fortunately, Apple provided a way to adjust this separately from your main device volume—simply go into your Settings app and select Maps and you’ll find four options under “Navigation Voice Volume” to adjust between three different presets, or turn the voice off entirely if you’d rather just rely on the visual directions.
The iPhone has included a Clock app with an alarm feature since it first debuted in 2007, however until recently the ability to wake up to a song from your music library has been conspicuously missing—a particularly odd omission considering that the older, traditional iPod models have supported this capability for close to a decade. The good news is that iOS 6 finally delivers this capability, if only partially; in the iOS 6 Clock app, you can now choose a specific song from your music library to play when a given alarm sounds, however support for starting an actual playlist remains absent.
To set this up, simply go into the Clock app and create a new alarm or edit an existing one and choose the “Pick a song” option for your alarm sound. This will open the music browser where you can either search for a specific song or browse through your library by artist, album, genre, or playlist. As an added bonus, the Clock app will display a list of the most recent five songs that you have selected, allowing you to easily re-use them for additional alarms in the future.
If you often listen to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch in very noisy or very quiet environments, you may be happy to know that iOS 6 now includes a new “Late Night” audio mode that can improve your listening experience. Somewhat oddly hidden with the equalizer settings under Music in the iOS Settings app, the Late Night setting compresses the dynamic range of audio output, basically reducing the volume of loud sections and increasing the volume of quieter ones. Further, unlike the other EQ settings, which apply only to music listening, “Late Night” actually applies to all of the sounds from your device, including videos and system sounds. Note that Late Night mode is not available on older device models such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and fourth-generation iPod touch.
If you’re using more than one cloud service for contacts on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch—such as accounts for work and personal contacts—then you probably want to make sure that you’re creating any new contacts in the proper address book. In your Settings app, under Mail, Contacts, Calendars an option should appear in the “Contacts” section whenever you have more than one account configured for contact sync, allowing you to choose the default account where any new contacts you create should be placed. This will work for any contacts that you create from other iOS applications as well as contacts created in the Contacts app when more than one address book is selected. See Setting default account for new Contacts for more information.
If you use both work and personal e-mail accounts on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, iOS 6 has introduced a useful feature allowing you to now configure your notifications separately for each of your accounts, along with separate notification settings for your VIP list. To set this up, simply go into the Notification section of your iOS Settings app, and choose the “Mail” option, where you should see an entry for each of your configured e-mail accounts as well as for your VIP list; selecting an entry will take you to the standard iOS notification settings, allowing you to customize whether notifications appear in the Notification Center and/or the lock screen, choose to show badges, banners or alerts, and set a new mail notification sound for that particular account. This feature is particularly useful when combined with the VIP list as you can limit high priority alert sounds and lock screen notifications to only e-mails from your important contacts.
If you receive a lot of e-mail, it’s important to be able to quickly filter out the important messages from the chaff. iOS 6 introduced a new VIP list feature that allows you to create a list of your important contacts that can then be used to prioritize notifications and filter your inbox to only see mail from those Very Important People. You can easily add a contact to your VIP list by tapping on the From address in an e-mail message and selecting the “Add to VIP” button at the bottom of the contact card. Once you have one or more entries in your VIP list, a new “VIP” virtual folder will appear in the Mail app right below the Inbox which you can access to display only the messages received from those who are on the list. VIP contacts are also indicated by a star beside each message, in place of the blue dot for unread messages, or as a hollowed-out star for read items. As an added bonus, if you’re syncing your Contacts using iCloud, your VIP list will also sync with your other iOS 6 devices and Macs running OS X Mountain Lion.
Although iOS doesn’t specifically provide an “Owner Information” feature, if you’re concerned about losing your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch you can easily create your own version simply by using a custom lock screen wallpaper. Simply take your favourite wallpaper image and load it up in Photoshop or a similar image editing tool, and add whatever text you want, such as a name or contact number. Be sure to place the text within the general center area of the image so that it doesn’t get obscured by the lock screen banners and controls, and then save the file, transfer it into your iOS Photo library via either iTunes or simply e-mailing it to yourself, and set it as your lock screen wallpaper. An elegant but simple solution that allows you to get as creative as you want and displays your contact information front-and-center.
- February 12, 2013
The physical hardware switch located in the top-right corner of the iPad and iPad mini has had a somewhat checkered past; while it now defaults to being a mute button, when the original iPad was first released with iOS 3.2 the button was actually used only as an orientation lock, a behaviour that remained in place until iOS 4.2 permanently changed it back to a mute function and then iOS 4.3 gave users a choice. Out of the box, the button works in the same way as on the iPhone and iPod touch—muting all alert sounds such as mail and calendar notifications. Unlike the iPhone and iPod touch, however, you can actually reassign the function of this button to an orientation lock, useful for using your iPad to read or watch videos when lying on your side in bed, for example. To do this, simply go into the Settings app on your iPad, choose General and look for the section labelled “Use Side Switch to” and choose your preferred function. A button can also be found on the multitasking/widget bar that will automatically be set to the other option, so if you choose to reassign the Lock Rotation function to the switch, the widget bar will contain a Mute button.
Keep in mind as well that the “Mute” option—regardless of whether it’s assigned to the switch or the button bar—mutes alert sounds, which are separate from other sounds such as music and video playback. Similarly, turning down the volume using the buttons on the side of the iPad will not silence alerts such as push notifications, calendar alarms and new incoming mail messages.
Apple’s Passbook app is great for letting you store a digital wallet for everything from your Starbucks card to your airline boarding pass, and by default includes location- and time-based notifications, allowing passes to come up automatically when you’re near your favourite store or your event is about to start. While you can easily turn these notifications off globally via Settings, Notifications in the way as for any other iOS app, what happens if you prefer to receive notifications from certain important passes—such as your airline ticket—while preventing notifications from appearing when you happen to walk by a local movie theatre? The good news is that you can do this right on the pass itself—simply open Passbook, select the pass, and tap the small “i” button in the bottom right corner to virtually flip the pass around and display additional details. Among these will be a Show on Lock Screen option which you can toggle off to prevent that particular pass from displaying time- and location-based notifications.
Since the release of iOS 6.0 last fall, Apple has gradually begun changing the rules for in-app advertising and device identification, transitioning developers to a new “Advertising Identifier” in place of the older, permanent Universal Device Identifier (UDID). iOS 6.0 introduced the ability for users to opt out of this new form of tracking entirely via a rather obscure option tucked away at the bottom of the About screen in the Settings app. With iOS 6.1, users now have an additional option that can be found here—Reset Advertising Identifier—that can be used to generate a new, unique Advertising Identifier for your device. This can be useful for those users who may not mind targeted ads or other forms of device tracking but may wish to effectively “start over” with a new unique advertising ID.
Apple includes a “Learn More” link at the bottom to provide more information on this feature, explaining that advertising networks are not yet required to use the new iOS 6 Advertising Identifier feature, and hence the use of the word “Limit” rather than “Disable” or “Opt-out,” suggesting that it will not yet completely eliminate ad tracking, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction if you’re concerned about this. Apple has begun transitioning developers away from using the UDID, and is expected to prevent third-party access to it entirely at some point, requiring developers to use the new user-controlled Advertising Identifier if they still wish to identify specific devices in their apps.
If you’re an iTunes Match user, you may be happy to know that with yesterday’s release of iOS 6.1, Apple has returned the ability to not only download individual tracks from iCloud on-demand, but also to manually remove specific tracks or even entire albums and artists from your local device storage. Although this capability was present in iOS 5.x, it disappeared with the release of iOS 6.0 for unknown reasons. Now in iOS 6.1, however, if you’re low on capacity and want to free up some additional space by removing your downloaded tracks, simply choose a track, album or artist from the appropriate listing and swipe left-to-right to bring up a “Delete” button. The local copy of the track(s) will be removed from your device, but will remain available in your iCloud-based library for future access. Note that the delete button is only available when accessing song listings from outside of a playlist.
Be sure to check out our article, Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 6.1 for all the details.
Siri can be a very useful virtual assistant, but unfortunately its reliance on Apple’s servers to translate your requests means that it doesn’t always work when you’re on the fringes of network coverage or moving between a Wi-Fi and cellular network—such as when you’re leaving the house. Further, Siri will generally only tell you that it’s “having a problem” without being particularly helpful at explaining what it’s problem actually is, but it’s most often related to an error communicating with Apple’s servers—due to either a poor network connection on your end, or a problem on Apple’s. It’s also not uncommon for Siri to get hung up on a bad connection and refuse to handle requests even after your device has returned to a good network connection and everything should otherwise be working fine. If you notice that Siri is repeatedly not responding to requests even though you have a good connection, you can easily give it a nudge simply by toggling Airplane Mode ON on your device, waiting a few seconds, and then toggling it back OFF to reset your network connection, toggling Siri itself off and back on again, or in a worst-case scenario, simply turning your device off and back on. We’ve had more luck flipping either Siri or the phone on and off than using Airplane Mode, as there is clearly a bug that’s specifically hanging the Siri app. While these are not ideal solutions, they can help get Siri up and running again in a minute as opposed to thinking that it simply isn’t working for an hour.
If you’re using a Gmail or iCloud account in the iOS Mail app, you actually have the option of choosing to have the standard Trashcan button either delete messages or archive them. While the default behaviour for the button can be configured in the Mail account settings to archive instead of delete—in which case it will display as an archive bin rather than a trashcan—you can also override the behaviour on a per-use basis simply by tapping and holding your finger on the button for about a second; a pop-up menu will appear with both Delete and Archive options available. This works when viewing an individual message as well as when performing an archive or delete operation on multiple messages. Of course, this won’t work if the messages you’re working with are already in your iCloud Archive or Gmail All Mail folder, and sadly it also isn’t available for other types of Mail accounts—even if you have an Archive folder in your mailbox.
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