iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iOS and iTunes Tips & Tricks | iLounge

Creating or Importing your own Ringtones into iTunes

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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.

Identifying and Removing Device Backups in iTunes

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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.

Using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth while in Airplane Mode

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.

Changing your font in the Notes app

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.

Setting Default Alert Times in iOS

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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.

Purchasing Videos on iOS for later download in iTunes

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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.

Taking Photos while Recording Video

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If you’re an iPhone 5 user, you get an additional small feature in the Camera app that you may not have noticed before—the ability to snap still photos while you’re also recording video. To use this feature, simply start recording video as you normally would and you’ll see a camera button appear near the video recording button. While recording, simply tap on this button to capture a still photo, and repeat as necessary; there is no specific limit to the number of photos you can capture while recording, but keep in mind that they will be taken at the same resolution and aspect ratio as your video—1080p for the rear camera or 720p when using the front camera. That’s basically 2 MP (1920 x 1080) or 0.9 MP (1280 x 720), depending on which camera you’re using; not all that big of a difference for the front camera, but considerably less than the full 8 MP quality that the iPhone 5’s rear camera is normally capable of. Still, it’s a great way to capture that cute moment that comes up while you’re recording video of your kids.

Configuring Widgets in Notification Center

While the iPhone doesn’t offer the sophisticated widget system of the Android platform, there are three pre-defined widgets available in the Notification Center for weather, stocks, and Facebook/Twitter posting. The Weather and Stocks widgets will display information from the corresponding built-in apps, which you can open with a tap. The “Share Widget” includes options for posting directly to Twitter and Facebook and will only appear if you are signed into either or both of these accounts from the options in your Settings app—note that these have no connection to the individual Facebook and Twitter apps, but are instead tied into the integration built directly into iOS.

You can disable these widgets or change the order of them with a quick trip into the Notifications section in the Settings app. If you’re sorting apps “By Time” the widgets will always appear at the top, but you can re-order them in relation to each other; if you’re sorting manually, you can place them anywhere, even below any active notifications.

Improving security on App Store purchasing

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.

Adjusting Turn-by-Turn volume in iOS Maps

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.

Waking up to Music on your iOS device

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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.

Enabling Late Night audio mode

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.

Choosing where to place new Contacts

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.

Setting up Mail Notifications for individual accounts

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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.

Setting up a VIP list in Mail

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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.

Disabling SMS fallback for iMessages

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Apple’s iMessage service can be very useful if you’re on a limited text messaging plan, since iMessages travel over the Internet, using your cellular data plan, rather than being charged at exorbitant per-message rates. When composing a text message, the iPhone Messages app looks up the recipient address to determine whether an iMessage or standard SMS message will be sent, and indicates this by the color of the Send button—blue for iMessage, green for SMS. Your iPhone will send messages via iMessage whenever possible, but will automatically “fall back” to sending a standard SMS message whenever the recipient can’t be reached via iMessage, such if they are out of data coverage. Fortunately there is a way to disable this feature, since it can otherwise result in unexpected SMS charges: Simply go into your iPhone Settings app, selecting Messages and toggle the option to “Send as SMS” to OFF. This will not prevent you from specifically sending SMS messages to folks who aren’t using iMessage at all, such as non-iPhone users, but will at least prevent your iPhone from unexpectedly racking up SMS charges when an iMessage can’t be used; instead the iMessage will just remain queued up until it can be delivered via the iMessage network.

Display Owner Contact Info on Lock Screen

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.

Managing Bluetooth Contact Sync

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iOS supports a handy feature known as the Bluetooth Phone Book Access Profile for transferring your contacts from your iPhone to a compatible Bluetooth device such as an in-car system, allowing for direct access to your contacts from you car’s dashboard. If you don’t want to transfer your entire contact list to your car, however, you can set which contact categories and groups are available in your Bluetooth device settings. Once you’ve paired your car kit or other Bluetooth device with your iPhone, simply tap on the arrow icon to the right of the device name in the Bluetooth devices listing to bring up additional settings for that device. If the device supports the Phone Book Access Profile, you will see an option here allowing you to enable or disable contact sync entirely; when enabled, additional options appear allowing you to control what groups of contact information are available to the remote Bluetooth device, including your phone favorites and recent calls lists, all contacts, or any specific contact groups you may have created.

Forward all incoming phone calls to voicemail

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The Do Not Disturb feature introduced in iOS 6 is a very handy way of essentially silencing your iOS device entirely. However, it doesn’t really provide an option for only preventing incoming calls while still receiving notifications for things like text messages and e-mail. If you’re in a situation where you don’t want to be disturbed by incoming phone calls but want to keep the rest of your notifications enabled and you’re on a GSM network, you can actually use call forwarding to simply send all of your calls straight to your carrier’s voicemail access number.

To enable this feature, you first need to find out which number is being used for your voicemail forwarding by going into the Phone app and dialing *#67# and pressing the “Call” button. Write the number down that appears here and then simply go into Settings, Phone, Call Forwarding and enable it using this number.  All of your incoming calls will be sent directly to your voicemail as long as Call Forwarding is enabled, and when you want to go back to receiving incoming calls normally,simply go back into your Settings app and toggle Call Forwarding back OFF. As an added bonus, the iPhone will retain the last number used for Call Forwarding, so when you want to send all of your calls to voicemail again, you can simply go back in and toggle the Call Forwarding setting back ON without needing to re-enter the number again.

For more details, check out this week’s Ask iLounge article on Sending all iPhone calls to voicemail.

Disabling Notifications for Individual Passbook Passes

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.

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