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Tips & Tricks

Filtering Explicit Language in Siri

If you’ve got kids at home with their own iPad or iPod touch, it won’t be long before they figure out that they can have a chat with Siri, and unfortunately while Siri’s voice recognition is pretty good, it can’t always keep up with the developing language skills of a young child. So it’s not surprising that sometimes Siri won’t quite be able to accurately transcribe what they’re trying to say, but sometimes Siri can get it embarrassingly wrong, throwing up words that you might not be ready to explain the meaning of to your kids.

Fortunately, there’s an option tucked away inside the Restrictions settings found on every iOS device (and even the Apple TV) that can tell Siri to filter out any explicit language it hears. You can find it in the iOS Settings app, under General, Restrictions. By default, this option is switched on, meaning Siri allows for explicit language in queries (although she will still scold you for using it sometimes). Turning this option off won’t prevent Siri from responding to explicit language queries, but it will censor any inappropriate words that it transcribes. A second option in this screen also allows you to prevent Siri from going out and searching the web — probably also a good idea if you want to prevent Siri from inadvertently bringing up inappropriate websites when it misunderstands a search request.

Quickly marking your current location in Apple Maps

The new Maps app in iOS 10 will automatically keep track of where you parked your car (provided you have a Bluetooth or CarPlay connection to it), but there are also times when it’s handy to just quickly mark your current location so that you can easily find your way back to it later. If you have a newer iPhone model with 3D Touch capabilities, there’s actually a really quick way to do this hidden right behind the Maps app icon on your home screen.

Just push firmly on the Maps icon, and you’ll get the upcoming destinations widget along with an option to “Mark My Location.” Tap on this and Maps opens right up with a pin dropped onto the map wherever you happen be standing. The marker will stay in place — so you can find it or get directions back to — it until you specifically clear it by using a swipe-to-delete action in the locations list or 3D Touching on it and choosing “Remove Marker” from the pop up menu.

Finding Flagged or Unread Messages in all Mailboxes

While iOS 7’s smart mailboxes and the new message filters in the iOS 10 Mail app are great for finding flagged and unread items in a single folder such as your inbox, they’re less useful for those situations where you’ve archived a flagged message or filed it away in another folder. Fortunately, the iOS Mail app has a pretty robust search feature borrowed from its bigger brother on macOS, including the ability to search for message status in addition to message content.

Scrolling up to the top of your message list in any mailbox reveals the search field, and if you tap on this you’ll immediately see predefined “Suggested Searches” for unread messages, flagged messages, messages from VIPs, and messages with attachments. Tapping on any one of these immediately initiates a search for messages matching that specific criterion, and if “All Mailboxes” is selected at the top of the screen, the search will go through not only the currently selected folder, but every folder in that particular account to ferret out those messages. You can even combine these searches by typing in the other terms you want to use — for example, tap on “Flagged Messages” to start a search for all flagged messages, and then type in “Attachments” and tap on “Messages with Attachments” at the bottom of the “Suggested Searches” list and your results will be filtered to include only those messages that are flagged and have one or more attachments.

Using 3D Touch to view notifications in folders

If you’ve got an iPhone 6s or later model, there are actually a lot of neat little tricks hidden behind 3D Touch gestures. While you probably already know that 3D Touching on a normal app icon will show a menu of actions for many apps, sometimes along with a widget in iOS 10, there’s actually a useful 3D Touch feature for folders as well.

Although in most cases, 3D Touching on a folder will just give you a “Rename” option, if you have one or more apps in a folder that are showing a notification, you’ll also see a list of those apps, providing you with quick shortcuts to go right into them to deal with the notifications. This can be especially useful if you have a folder with a lot of apps, as it’s much faster than swiping across multiple pages to try and figure out which icons are showing notification badges.

Renaming Albums in the iOS 10 Photos app

Creating Photo Albums and Shared Albums in the iOS 10 Photos app is relatively straight forward, but you may not have realized that you can also rename these albums directly on your iPhone or iPad, without having to take a trip over to the macOS Photos app or the iCloud.com web site.

It’s not obvious that you can do this as it’s hidden away behind a tap gesture that’s not entirely intuitive — while you probably already know that you can rearrange and delete albums from the main Albums and iCloud Photo Sharing views by tapping the “Edit” button in the top-right corner, once you’ve engaged editing mode, tapping on any of your album names will bring up the keyboard to allow you to edit the name of that album as well. The cursor will automatically be placed at the end of the name, and you can make any changes and simply tap the “Done” button on the keyboard to save them and return to the standard editing view.

Adjusting 3D Touch Sensitivity

Apple’s 3D Touch gestures which debuted with the iPhone 6s can be pretty useful for quickly cross-referencing information, calling up shortcut menus, and accessing rich notifications. However, since 3D Touch is a distinct gesture from merely touching and holding your finger on the screen, sometimes it can get a bit tricky to differentiate between the two, such as when trying to rearrange icons on the home screen as opposed to triggering shortcut menus.

Fortunately, Apple has provided a way to adjust 3D Touch sensitivity, hidden away the Accessibility section of your iPhone Settings app. Selecting 3D Touch from here provides three sensitivity levels that you can choose from based on how hard you want to press on the screen to trigger a 3D Touch action, and there’s even a helpful test area so you can try out the different settings. Also, if you find that 3D Touch just gets in the way and you’d rather not use it at all, a switch at the top allows you to turn the feature off entirely.

Changing iPhone volume using Siri

Apple designed its new AirPods to be pretty easy to set up and use, but one thing that’s clearly missing is the ability to change the volume using hardware controls without reaching for your iPhone. Fortunately, if you regularly use AirPods without an iPhone or Apple Watch within reach, you might find it handy to know that you can actually change your iPhone’s volume using Siri voice commands.

Simply tap on the AirPods to activate Siri, and then issue an appropriate command like Increase the volume or Turn the sound down and Siri will respond appropriately, although Siri seems to increase and decrease the volume in larger increments than using the hardware buttons on the iPhone. You can also ask Siri what the current volume level is, which will be expressed as a percentage. You can also ask Siri to set the volume to a specific percentage, which might be more useful once you’ve experimented a bit and become familiar with your preferred listening levels.

Using your iPhone as a Game Controller for your Apple TV

While the fourth-generation Apple TV supports a variety of MFi Game Controllers, most games can also still technically be played using the Siri Remote as well. However, in a lot of games you’ll probably find the Siri Remote too small and awkward to use as a game controller — especially in those cases where you’re expected to turn it sideways and use the accelerometer. While you can of course just go out and buy a game controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus, that’s not always an easy expense to justify if you’re just a casual gamer.

Fortunately, there’s another possible option, courtesy of Apple’s Apple TV Remote app. In addition to replacing your Siri Remote for normal Apple TV control and navigation functions, it can also double as a basic game controller. Load up the Remote app on your iPhone, and once you’re in a game, a game controller icon will appear at the top of the screen — tap on this and you’ll be taken into a landscape view with a touchscreen surface on the left and two game controller buttons on the right. While you still won’t get the full button support of a standalone game controller (and it’s not going to cut if for any games that now require game controllers), the larger iPhone still has a much better feel for gaming than the dainty Siri Remote.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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