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Tips & Tricks

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.

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.

Showing Holiday Memories in iOS 10 Photos

If you’ve got a few years of photos available on your iPhone, the new Memories feature in the iOS 10 Photos app can be a great way to go back and relive significant events from past years. Photos will go back and automatically scan through your photo collection for groupings of photos by people and places and put them in collections, and Apple has even put the intelligence in place to figure out holidays — based on your home country — and organize your Memories accordingly by paying closer attention to photos around those times of year, and putting appropriate titles on them.

If you’re not seeing holiday memories and you think you should, check the setting for Holiday Events under Photos & Camera in the iOS Settings app. Also be sure that your regional setting, found under Settings, General, Language & Region is set to the correct country — which holidays are selected are based on this setting.

Working with Threads in iOS 10 Mail

Apple has made some nice changes to the way that message threads are handled in the iOS 10 Mail app, replacing the prior message sub-list with an inline conversation view that users of alternative mail apps and platforms like Gmail will find far more familiar. In addition to presenting all of the messages in a single threaded view, in the Mail app now includes all of the messages in your entire mail account by default, rather than only those in the current mailbox or folder.

Of course, if you don’t like this fully threaded view there are still options to turn it off. The Mail section in the main iOS Settings app now includes a Threading section which, in addition to the global “Organize by Thread” option found in prior iOS versions, now also includes settings to sort threads in reverse chronological order, as well as turn off “Complete Threads” if you want to revert the pre-iOS 10 behavior of only showing messages from the current mailbox/folder in each thread. In the latter case you’ll still get the newer threaded view — there’s no way to go back to the old hierarchical message list design — but any messages that are not contained in the same mailbox/folder as the current message won’t be displayed.

Optimizing Music Storage in iOS 10

Prior to iOS 10, your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch would try to automatically maintain a minimum amount of free space by removing unnecessary files from local storage under certain conditions. Included in this list of “unnecessary” files were things that Apple reasonably deemed could be re-obtained from the cloud — including items in your iCloud Music Library. Naturally, many users found this inconvenient, and Apple has obviously heard their cries — in iOS 10 you can now either turn this feature off entirely or choose to ensure that a minimum amount of music remains on your device.

You can find all of this under a new Optimize Storage setting in the Music section of the iOS Settings app. There, you’ll find a switch that can be used to toggle the feature on; when it’s enabled, a list of minimum capacity settings will also appear. The settings will allow you to set the minimum amount of music that will be kept on your device when space runs low. Selecting None here is the equivalent of the standard behavior from prior iOS versions.

Turning off Read Receipts for individual conversations in iOS 10

There’s one other small but useful new feature in the iOS 10 Messages app that most people may have missed amidst of all the glitz and glamour of the shiny bubbles, stickers, and fireworks effects: you can now turn off Read Receipts for individual conversations. This is a huge boon if you like sharing read status with close friends and family but don’t necessarily want everybody to see when their messages to you have been read.

Duplicating a Photo in the iOS Photos app

One of the smaller features that Apple quietly snuck into iOS 9.3 is the ability to create a duplicate of any given photo or set of photos in the iOS Photos app. This can be done by selecting the photo(s) you want to duplicate, bringing up the iOS Share Sheet to see the sharing options, and looking for the “Duplicate” option in the lower actions row.

This creates an exact copy of the image, which can be useful if you want to apply edits while still keeping the original handy. As an added bonus, however, using the “Duplicate” option on a Live Photo will provide a choice between duplicating the Live Photo in its original form, or duplicating it as a still photo.

Choosing preferred Driving + Transit options in iOS 10 Maps

In addition to a whole new design, the Maps app in iOS 10 also adds more control over route options for driving or transit directions. If you scroll down to the bottom of the list of available routes when getting directions in Maps, you’ll see a link for Driving Options or Transit Options, depending on which mode you’re in.

Tapping on Driving Options will bring up switches that allow you to avoid toll roads or highways along your route, while tapping Transit Options allows you to select which types of transit vehicles you would like to include in your route, with options available for Bus, Subway/LRT, Commuter Rail, and Ferry. These options can also be found in the Maps section of the iOS Settings app, under Driving & Navigation and Transit.

Enabling animations in iOS 10 Messages

The new iMessage animations in iOS 10 are a lot of fun, but if you find that they’re not actually working, you’ll want to check your iOS Accessibility settings. After iOS 7 debuted its “parallax effect,” many iPhone users found it distracting or nauseating and decided to disable it by turning on Reduce Motion under Accessibility settings.

If you had this setting enabled before, it stays enabled after you update to iOS 10 — and as part of reducing motion, it also logically turns off any motion-related effects in the iOS 10 Messages app, such as animated bubbles and background animations. With Reduce Motion enabled, in fact, you not only won’t be able to receive or see these effects, but you can’t send iMessages using the effects either — pressing and holding on the Send button will have no effect at all, and Apple doesn’t make it particularly obvious that these features are dependent on the Reduce Motion setting.

Taking pictures and saving to photo library in iOS 10 Messages

Apple’s done some cool new things with the Messages app in iOS 10, including adding a live preview for taking photos right within a conversation. If you’ve used this feature, however, you may have noticed that the photo you capture doesn’t actually save to the iPhone’s Photo Library — it’s only inserted into the current conversation. While this can be desirable in some cases, if you’re taking a photo that you might want to keep around for later, you can actually bring up the full iPhone Camera by swiping from left to right and tapping on the Camera button that will appear.

This also has the advantage of giving you a full-screen camera view, which users of smaller-screened iPhones will certainly appreciate, compared to the much smaller live preview window.

Syncing iTunes Store videos with older iPods

Although many users are likely focused mostly on HD videos these days, Apple has still been taking steps recently to increase the quality of the SD video content in the iTunes Store, pushing the envelope beyond what older traditional iPods can handle. If you’re still using an iPod classic or iPod nano for storing and watching videos, you may start running into an error message that “high-quality SD video is not compatible with this iPod” when you try to sync or transfer your videos.

Managing iOS device backups in iTunes

While iCloud backups provide a certain degree of convenience, many users will quickly go beyond the free 5GB of storage that Apple provides. Unless you’re already paying for more iCloud storage, or willing to shell out for a larger plan just for backups, you’ll be happy to know that iTunes still provides a handy alternative to keep your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch backed up to your Mac or PC, and in fact even has a key advantage over iCloud for transferring data to a new device.

Sorting iOS Notifications Chronologically

Although you’ve been able to set your notifications to sort by date since the Notification Center first debuted back in iOS 5, all this option actually did was sort your apps by the date the last notification was received, grouping each notification under app-specific headings. Unfortunately, this didn’t provide an entirely chronological view of your notifications, since apps that had received several notifications over the course of a day would still have those older notifications grouped with it, above whichever app had displayed the second-most recent notification, and so forth.

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