Tips & Tricks
We all strive to get as much battery life as we can out of our mobile devices, and while many users have mixed experiences with the iPhone’s battery life, there’s little doubt that it can sometimes be confusing trying to figure out exactly why some days are better than others. While this has been shrouded in mystery for years in the world of iOS devices, the good news is that iOS 8 can finally give you some insight in this area.
While it’s a bit hidden away – you’ll need to take a trip into the Settings app and then look under General, Usage, Battery Usage – once you get there you’ll find some useful tracking on which of your apps are the biggest power hogs, and you can choose to see stats over either the past 24 hours or the past 7 days, expressed as a percentage of the power used by each app when your device is not plugged in. Apps that have been using power in the background will also be annotated with notes like “Background Location” to help you clarify where your juice is going. If there are any obvious tips that can help to improve your battery life, you’ll also see a section for “Battery Life Suggestions” covering things like enabling automatic screen locking.
If you deal with a lot of e-mail, you’ll probably appreciate the more advanced swipe gestures that iOS 8 adds to the Mail app. No longer limited to merely deleting or archiving messages, iOS 8 allows you to perform up to four different actions simply by swiping either left or right on an item in your inbox. By default, swiping right-to-left now displays a “Flag” option in addition to the Trash/Archive and More options, and you can also now swipe left to right to get an option to mark a message as read or unread. A long swipe in either direction will also automatically execute the appropriate actions, while a short swipe simply presents buttons that you can tap on to complete the action.
While the default options are somewhat useful, they may not match your normal way of working through your inbox, so the good news is that you can customize these settings even further. Simply take a trip into the iOS Settings app, and in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section you’ll find a setting for “Swipe Options”; from here you can choose to have the swipe-left gesture show a Mark as Read/Unread or Flag button, and the swipe-right gesture can be customized to Mark Read/Unread, Flag, or Archive the message.
Traditionally, iOS has retained your entire conversation history in the Messages database,so if you send a lot of pictures and videos via iMessage, this can eat up quite a bit of space on your iPhone over time. Prior to iOS 8, the only real way to deal with this was to remove an entire conversation, basically starting over, or to manually scroll back through your Messages history and remove individual items one-by-one. Fortunately, in iOS 8 there’s a slightly easier way.
If you go into the Messages section in your Settings app, you’ll see a new option, “Keep Messages.” This setting allows you to tell to iOS to automatically purge anything in your Messages conversations older than the specified time frame. Unfortunately, the options are limited to either “Forever” (the behavior in past iOS versions), 30 days, or 1 year, but even 30 days is still far better than having to go through and delete an entire conversation if you’re running low on space. Keep in mind that enabling this option will immediately purge everything older than the specified time frame, and continue to do so as a rolling thirty-day or one-year window, so if you want to keep your old conversations backed up somewhere you’ll want to look at archiving them using a third-party Mac or PC app before you take the plunge.
Although Apple’s new iCloud Photo Library feature remains in beta at this point, iOS 8 still packs in a few nice little photo management features. One of the lesser-known of these is that you can now actually hide photos from showing up in your main timeline in the Photos app. To do this, simply tap-and-hold on a photo — either in the thumbnail or full-screen views — and a context menu will appear with a “Hide” option. Tapping “Hide” brings up a confirmation, explaining that the photo will be hidden from the “Moments, Collections, and Years” views, but still be shown in any albums that it’s been explicitly placed into, as well as the Camera Roll. If you’re using iCloud Photo Library, the hidden status will also sync across all of your iOS devices, removing the photo from your timeline on all of them.
Once you’ve hidden at least one photo, a new “Hidden” smart album will also appear in the Albums list, giving you quick access to any photos you’ve hidden. Unhiding a photo is done in the same manner as hiding a photo — tap and hold on the photo you want to unhide, and the context menu will show the “Unhide” option. This is a handy way to keep photos on your iPhone without having them clutter up your timeline, and it’s especially useful if you’re using iCloud Photo Library to store your entire photo collection in the cloud.
Controlling web access on iOS devices has traditionally been somewhat tricky, requiring that you not only disable Safari entirely but also avoid installing apps with their own web browsing capability—a loophole that had Apple requiring even the most innocuous apps to carry a “17+” rating anytime a web browser was included within.
The good news is that iOS 7 significantly improves this, allowing you to permit the use of Safari while still controlling access to specific web sites; you can choose to limit access to common adult sites, block specific sites by address, or block everything that’s not on a specific list of permitted sites.
To enable this feature, go into your iOS Settings app and choose General, Restrictions and look for the Websites section. From here, you can choose one of three restriction levels; choosing “Specific Websites Only” also helpfully provides a predefined list of kid-friendly sites that you can customize further. This list will also automatically be included in Safari’s bookmarks for faster access.
It’s especially worth noting that this works not only with the built-in Safari browser, but any other iOS Browser or app that includes a built-in browser, so you also no longer need to worry about whether something seemingly harmless like a reference app may suddenly provide a backdoor to unfettered Internet access.
While you’re probably already familiar with the Spotlight search feature in iOS 7—simply swipe down from anywhere on the home screen to find it—if you’re often trying to track down specific Mail items, you there are some advanced features you may find useful.
Firstly, keep in mind that if you’re searching from the home screen, iOS will only search the from, to, and subject fields of emails that are already on your device. To perform a more advanced search you’ll need to go into the Mail app and then swipe down to reveal the Search field. Entering a search from here will not only perform a full search on your message content, but also extend the search to messages stored on the mail server that have not yet been downloaded to your device. From here, you can also use keywords similar to those found in the Mac Mail app: for example, a search for “Flagged December 2013” will reveal all messages received in December that you have marked with a flag. Other keywords you can use include VIP, FROM, TO, and various “smart” date formats such as yesterday or last week.
One caveat, however: While iOS Spotlight itself understands these keywords, your mail server may not; once the search continues on the server side, chances are that you’ll simply get literal results for these keywords. Still, this can be a pretty handy way to quickly filter through the mail that is already stored on your device.
If you spend a lot of time working with e-mail on your iOS device, especially across multiple accounts, you may find it handy to know that you can actually now customize your main mailbox listing. With iOS 7, you can change the order of the default smart mailboxes such as the universal inbox, and VIP list, as well as enabling additional types of smart mailboxes. Simply tap the “Edit” button in the top-right corner of the Mailboxes screen to make changes.
Pre-defined smart mailboxes are included to group unread messages, flagged messages, VIP list items, messages with the user’s e-mail address in the To or CC line and messages with attachments. If you have more than one mail account configured, you’ll also see folders for aggregating all drafts, sent items, and/or trash across all of your mail accounts. You can also add individual mailbox folders to the main screen to saving you from having to dig into the account-specific folder hierarchy for folders you frequently access.
While the voice of Siri has almost achieved celebrity status, if you’re not a fan you may be happy to know that you can now change up Siri’s voice by going into the General, Siri section in your iOS Settings app. iOS 7 adds a male voice for the North American English language settings that you can choose as an alternate. If you really want to change things up, the UK and Australia language settings also provide different voices, but keep in mind that this may also affect Siri’s ability to recognize your requests as well as the results returned by Siri in some cases.
If you’re not really fond of any of Siri’s voices, you can minimize how much your iPhone talks back to you using the Voice Feedback in the same settings screen; setting it to “Handsfree Only” will keep Siri quiet except when you’re using something like a headset or car kit.
Find yourself searching the web a lot from your iPhone and prefer to type your requests in rather than dictating them to Siri? In addition to searching through the stuff in your built-in iOS apps like Mail and Contacts, you can also use the built-in Spotlight search feature to search the web or Wikipedia directly. Simply swipe down from the home screen to display the Spotlight search field and key in what you want to search for.
Options to “Search Web” and “Search Wikipedia” will appear at the bottom of any other results found on your device, and tapping on these will open Safari to either search directly on Wikipedia or initiate a web search using your default search engine, as specified in the Safari section of your iOS Settings app.
While iOS and the App Store generally do a pretty good of keeping your apps up to date, even going so far as to transparently update them in the background with iOS 7, we’ve noticed that in some cases an update may not install properly, resulting in unpredictable behavior. In its most innocuous form, an app may appear to have updated according to the App Store, but still look like the old version; in more serious cases, you may be faced with an incomplete update that causes the app to crash or exhibit other odd behavior. Even worse, when this happens with apps that are allowed to run in the background—like Facebook—it can actually bring your entire iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to its knees.
If you’re experiencing something odd with a specific app that has been recently updated, the obvious solution is usually just to delete it and reinstall it from scratch. Further, if your iPhone or other iOS device has started behaving oddly in general—poor battery life, lags, or even freezes—look for apps with background privileges. VoIP apps such as Skype are common apps that get special privileges to run in the background, and it’s worth noting that Facebook officially became a VoIP app earlier this year and was granted the same privileges to potentially run amuck even when it hasn’t been opened.
Keep in mind, however, that unless an app stores its data in iCloud or its own cloud service, you will lose any data in the app by removing and reinstalling it. If your data is crucial, you may need to revert to an older iTunes or iCloud backup instead, although this will mean restoring your entire device from scratch.
With the holiday season fast approaching, iTunes Gift Cards are likely going to be common gifts for many. One really nice feature introduced in iOS 7 is the ability to redeem iTunes Store Gift Cards simply by scanning them in with the camera on your iOS device. Although it’s been possible to do this on your Mac since last year’s release of iTunes 11, the ability to do it right from your iPhone means you can get to buying stuff with your Gift Cards much more quickly.
Tapping the “Redeem” button found at the bottom of the main iTunes Store or App Store screen will take you to a screen giving you the option to use your camera or enter your code manually. Only the newer gift cards with a box around the code are supported for redeeming via camera, so if you have an unsupported gift card or a promotional coupon, you’ll still have to enter your code in the old-fashioned way.
Not only does Google’s Maps app for iOS generally provide better mapping data, but it also includes some nifty UI features, including the ability to zoom in and out on a map with a single finger. This is a particularly great feature for one-handed operation on an iPhone or iPod touch, although it works in the iPad version too. Simply double-tap and hold your finger down anywhere on the map and then slide your up to zoom out or down to zoom back in. A single tap-and-hold gesture after releasing your finger returns you to normal panning mode. It can be a really cool way to navigate around your maps once you get the hang of it.
iOS 7 now allows you to set up a list of numbers that you do not wish to receive calls or messages from. Numbers can easily be added to this list simply by selecting a contact card from your recent calls, messages, or contacts and tapping the Block this Caller option at the bottom. A single block list is shared by the Messages, Phone, and FaceTime features, and adding a number to the list will block you from being contacted from that number by any of these methods.
You can view the list of blocked numbers from within the iOS Settings app by selecting Blocked from the Phone, Messages, or FaceTime sections; as noted above, however, the list is shared across all three of these services, so these are just three different ways of accessing the same list.
Messages and FaceTime calls from blocked numbers will be ignored entirely; Phone calls will be sent directly to voicemail, but any resulting voicemail messages will be stored in a separate “Blocked Messages” section that can be found at the bottom of your visual voicemail message list.
Last year, iTunes 11 introduced a new “Home Videos” category, providing a great way—in principle—to use iTunes for storing personal videos and syncing them with other Apple devices without cluttering up the main “Movies” category. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the release of Apple TV 6.0 and iOS 7 that the category become fully supported across all of Apple’s current hardware devices.
The “Home Videos’ category will remain hidden in iTunes and on other devices until you actually place something in it; to categorize a video as a “Home Video” simply import it into the main “Movies” section and then open the properties by selecting it and choosing File, Get Info, selecting the Options tab and setting the Media Kind field to “Home Video.”
You’ll need to sync the video to any iOS devices the old-fashioned way, since iCloud doesn’t support non-purchased video content, at which point a new “Home Videos’ button should appear in the iOS “Videos” app.
Sometimes it’s useful to have access to certain maps while away from an Internet connection, especially if you’re an iPod touch or Wi-Fi-only iPad user. If you’re using Google Maps—and with the sub-par performance of Apple’s own built-in Maps app you probably are—recently viewed information is cached automatically to some degree, but you can also actually tell Google Maps to pre-load a full detailed version of whatever map view is on your screen.
Simply focus on what you’d like to save, and then type the phrase “ok maps” in the search box. You’ll see a brief dialog indicating that Google Maps is pre-loading the map followed by a confirmation that the on-screen map area has been cached on your device. This is particularly useful for working with larger areas like whole cities, as the full detail will be stored on your device, allowing you to zoom in and see everything even while offline. Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t work beyond a certain maximum area—about the size of an average city—so don’t expect to be able to store maps for your whole state or country.
If you regularly flag messages in the iOS 7 Mail app, you may have noticed that the traditional flag icon has been replaced by an orange dot, similar to that used for unread messages, simply presented in a different colour. Fortunately, if you miss the more visually discernible flag icon used in prior iOS versions, there is in fact a way to put it back. Simply go into the iOS Settings, select Mail, Calendar, Contacts and look for the Flag Style option.
You can only change the style, so you’re stuck with orange as the colour; the multi-coloured flags found in Apple Mail on OS X remain absent from its iOS counterpart.
With iOS 7 you can now choose to display abbreviated names in apps like Mail and Messages, allowing you to fit more information on the screen. This is particularly useful for dealing with messages with multiple parties, but can also help when working with longer names as well.
By default, iOS 7 will show the user’s full first name and last initial, or a user’s nickname if you’ve set one. If you prefer to disable this, or use another form of abbreviation, this can be changed with a quick trip into Mail, Contacts, Calendars in the iOS Settings app, under the “Short Name” option.
Did you know that the iOS Messages app allows you to easily browse through the photos and videos in your iMessage or text message conversations? When you tap on a photo to view it in full-screen mode, you can swipe back and forth through all of the photos in the current conversation, much like you would in the Photos app. In addition, tapping on the button in the bottom right corner while viewing an item will bring up a list of all of the media in the current conversation, with the current item highlighted; you can tap on any item to go directly to that entry, and then continue swiping left and right from there.
Keep in mind that Messages only displays the last 50 messages, but all of your older messages remain stored on your device unless you’ve manually erased them; you can access these previous entries by scrolling up to the very top of a conversation and tapping Load Earlier Messages. Once loaded, any older photos and videos in the conversation will also be included in the media listing and browsing views.
iOS 7 introduces the ability to have your apps automatically updated in the background, saving you the trouble of going to the App Store to check for and download updates automatically. Your device tries to handle this intelligently to avoid draining too much power or consuming data needlessly, but if you don’t want to use this feature at all, you can easily turn it off. Simply go into Settings, iTunes & App Stores and look for the “Updates” option below automatic downloads. If you’re on an iPhone or cellular-capable iPad, a “Use Cellular Data” option can also be toggled off from here to force your updates to download only over Wi-Fi.
Keep in mind that even with automatic updates on, you’ll get a message in Notification Centre telling you what’s been updated, and you can open the App Store to check out what’s new in your latest app updates.
The new Parallax feature is one of the more interesting design changes in iOS 7, but many find it to be motion sickness inducing or just downright distracting. If you find yourself in that group of users, the good news is that you can easily turn it off. Simply go into Settings, General, Accessibility and you can the option listed as Reduce Motion; toggling this ON will disable the parallax effect throughout iOS 7. As an added bonus, turning this off may even help you conserve a bit of battery life by reducing the use of the accelerometer and gyroscope.
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