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

Tips & Tricks

Setting up a VIP list in Mail

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

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

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

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.

Resetting the Advertising Identifier in iOS 6.1

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.

Removing downloaded iTunes Match tracks in iOS 6.1

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.

Making Siri work again when it’s “having a problem”

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.

Archiving or Deleting Messages in Mail

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.

Quickly accessing Drafts in Mail

You’re probably already aware that you can save any partially-composed e-mail messages as drafts in the iOS Mail app—these messages go to a “Drafts” folder on your device and you can find them there simply by accessing it via your folder list.  However, iOS 6 adds a cool new hidden feature that allows you to access any of your draft messages more quickly, right when composing a new message. Simply tap and hold on the Compose button in the bottom right of the Mail app and a quick list of all available drafts in your mailbox will appear, along with a button at the top to create a new message should you choose to do that instead. You can even swipe-to-delete from here to remove any drafts that you no longer need.

Temporary Location Sharing in Find My Friends

Apple’s Find My Friends is a useful app for sharing your location with close friends and family members, but it can also be used for temporarily sharing your location with groups of people that you may not want tracking for on a normal basis, such as when travelling with friends or coordinating a meetup somewhere.

To share your location temporarily, simply download and install the Find My Friends app, sign in with your Apple ID and password and then choose the “Temporary” button from the bottom menu bar. From here you can add the addresses of your temporary sharing group and specify when you want location sharing with this group to end. You can even setup more than one temporary location sharing group, and as an added bonus, Find My Friends provides quick links for sending an iMessage to the entire group. When an event expires, it will simply disappear from the list, along with any users who were added as part of that group.

Turning off Location Data Collection in Google Maps

The long-awaited Google Maps has finally arrived for the iPhone and iPod touch. Like most of Google’s “free” apps, however, it comes with the price of encouraging you to offer up your location data to Google in exchange for access to the company’s excellent mapping service.  While Google Maps should prompt you on first run as to whether or not you want to participate, if you missed that screen in your rush to get right into the app and explore, you may have a hard time figuring out exactly where the option is afterward.  The good news is that the option is still in the app, however Google seems to have buried it in a pretty obscure location that most users may find challenging to locate. 

To turn off Location Data Collection in the new Google Maps app, first go into the application’s settings by selecting your user profile via the small person icon in the top-right corner of the main screen followed by the gear icon that appears in its place on the user profile screen. From here, you need to go into About, terms & privacy and then one more level down from there into Terms & privacy, where the Location data collection option will appear.

Using a stronger passcode on your iOS device

By now most iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users are probably aware that you can configure a four-digit passcode on your device to protect it from unauthorized access. For more security-conscious users, however, iOS also provides the ability to use a longer, alphanumeric passcode. To set this up, simply go into the Settings app, and select General, Passcode Lock and toggle OFF the Simple Passcode option. When entering a new passcode, you will be presented with the standard iOS alphanumeric keyboard instead of the simple numeric PIN pad, both for setting your passcode and for unlocking it when you access your device.

Receiving Message Notifications from only your Contacts

For certain services iOS 6 now allows you to restrict your alerts to only users that are already in your contact list. By default, new Messages, Game Center requests and Shared Photo Stream alerts will appear whenever anybody sends you a request or invitation using any of those services, however if you find yourself getting bombarded with alerts from total strangers you can easily turn these off now with a quick trip over to the Notifications section in your Settings app. Simply choose the appropriate service—Messages, Photos and Game Center all support this feature—and scroll down and choose “My Contacts Only” under the Show ... Alerts from heading. Note that this will not prevent you from receiving messages from any other user—they’ll still be in the appropriate apps waiting for you—but you won’t receive an alert unless the sender is already in your iOS Contacts.

Using Do Not Disturb in iOS 6

The iPhone has generally taken a very straightforward approach to handling alerts, eschewing complicated schedule and profile setups in favour of a simple hardware Ring/Silent switch, a practice also somewhat followed with the iPad. The idea here is simple: Leave the switch in the “ring” position when you want to hear sounds and move it to the “silent” position when you want alerts to either vibrate or make no sound at all. Unfortunately, while easy this approach has had its limitations: Even in “silent’ mode your iPhone will vibrate in most cases, and the screen will light up when notifications and alerts come in. In iOS 6 Apple has addressed this by creating a true “Do Not Disturb” feature that can be toggled on demand and/or set to a daily schedule. At its most basic, turning on Do Not Disturb is simply a matter of going into your iPhone Settings app and toggling the option found there. When enabled, your device will suppress all alert notifications—sounds, vibrations and screen illumination—whenever the screen is already off; calls will be sent directly and quietly to voicemail and notification messages will stack up on the lock screen without waking up your device’s screen. By taking a quick trip into your Settings app and selecting Notifications, Do Not Disturb, you can also configure your iPhone to automatically enable this mode based on a daily schedule and determine which phone calls will still be permitted to ring through.

Note that alarms set in the Clock app will still sound even when Do Not Disturb is enabled. Also, notifications and phone calls are handled normally when you’re actually using your device (i.e. if the screen is on), regardless of the Do Not Disturb setting.

Enabling Parental Controls in iBooks

With the release of iOS 6, Apple has expanded its parental controls feature to encompass iBooks content, albeit in a more limited fashion than for other types of content. While a mandatory rating system does not exist for books, options can be found under Settings, General, Restrictions to disable access to the iBookstore entirely or simply prevent the downloading of books containing explicit sexual content. The first option allows access to the iBooks app for reading existing content while preventing users from purchasing or downloading any new iBooks directly on their device. Disabling explicit sexual content will disallow purchasing, previewing and sharing any books marked as containing explicitly sexual content—the buy and sample buttons will be disabled, no sharing link will appear, and a generic book image will be displayed in the iBookstore rather than the original book’s cover image. With iBooks 2.2 and higher these controls will also hide any explicit books already stored on the device.

Reordering iOS Calendars

Although iOS 6 still doesn’t allow you to reorder the individual calendars on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch directly, there is a handy workaround if you’re syncing with iCloud. Simply log into your account on the iCloud web site at http://www.icloud.com and select your Calendar from the list of options that appear. In the web-based calendar list you will be able to drag and drop calendars to reorder them and changes made here will propagate to your iOS devices. If you’re using OS X Mountain Lion you can do the same thing from the Calendars app, but OS X Lion users will likely find that changes to the calendar order in iCal don’t always sync to your device properly, so doing this from the iCloud.com web calendar is generally the more reliable option. Further, this is the only option available to Windows users, as the calendar ordering in Microsoft Outlook does not sync to iCloud at all.

Replying to Phone Calls via Messages

One of the handy new features for iPhone users in iOS 6 is the ability to decline an incoming phone call while replying to the caller with a text message or iMessage such as “I’ll call you later.”  When a call is coming in, simply swipe up from the bottom-right corner, tap Reply with Message and then choose from one of three pre-defined messages for a quick reply or tap “Custom” to write a custom message on the spot. You can also pre-define any of the three static messages yourself by going into your Settings app, and selecting Phone, Reply with Message. Three text entry fields are displayed with the defaults in faded text—simply tap on any of the fields to enter your own pre-defined message or tap on the “X” beside an existing entry that you’ve already customized to clear it and return to the default message.

Limiting Cellular Data usage in iOS 6

Perhaps in part to save users from receiving frighteningly large bills for cellular data usage, Apple has traditionally limited many of iOS’ higher-bandwidth features to Wi-Fi connections only. Examples of such restrictions include iCloud Photo Stream, the 50MB download limit for the iTunes and App Stores and until recently, FaceTime. In iOS 6, Apple has started to loosen some of these restrictions, allowing users to choose to allow certain services to use a cellular connection. These include iCloud Documents, iTunes (for iTunes Match and automatic store downloads), FaceTime, Passbook and Safari Reading List, and the controls to toggle cellular data off or on for each can be found both in their respective sections in the Settings app (e.g. iCloud, Safari, FaceTime) as well as in a single list under General, Cellular. Toggling the option OFF for a given service will limit it to transferring data only when a Wi-Fi connection is available. FaceTime can only be used via a cellular data connection on the iPhone 4S/5 and the third-generation or later iPad models. Also, while the main iCloud Photo Stream is still limited to Wi-Fi, Shared Photo Streams will work over a cellular data connection and cellular use can’t be disabled without turning off the Shared Photo Streams feature entirely.

Note that the default setting for most of these services is ON, so you may want to double-check that they’re off if you have a more limited data plan.

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