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

Tips & Tricks

Quickly dealing with Game Center Friend Requests

If you’ve set up Game Center on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you may find that you get inundated with random friend requests from time to time, especially if you’ve chosen a particularly common nickname. The good news is that iOS 6 introduced the ability to deal with a large number of Friend Requests all at once; simply scroll down to the bottom of your list of requests, and choose either “Accept All” or “Ignore All” to quickly clear the list. This can be handy when you haven’t checked Game Center in a while, and of course you can still accept friend requests on an individual basis and then use the global option at the bottom to simply clear out the rest. Further, if you don’t want to receive Game Center friend requests at all, you can go into General, Restrictions in the iOS Settings app and turn off “Adding Friends” entirely.

Setting the order of items in the iOS Notification Center

If you have a lot of iOS apps that regularly generate notifications, you may find it helpful to choose the order in which these notifications appear in your iOS Notification Centre. To do this, simply go into the Notifications section in the iOS Settings app, ensure the “Sort Apps” option is set to “Manually” and then tap the “Edit” button in the top right corner; you can then use the icons to the right of each app to drag and drop them further up or further down in the list. The order in which notifications appear in the actual Notification Center will mirror whatever arrangement you specify here, allowing you to ensure that more important notifications such as missed phone calls, e-mails, and messages get priority placement over less critical items such as game updates.

Note that this method also allows you to move your Weather and Stocks widgets below actual notifications if you prefer. Alternatively, you can choose “By Time” from the “Sort Apps” button to override your specified ordering and simply have the most recent notifications always displayed at the top; in this case the Weather and Stocks widgets will always appear at the top of the notification center, in that order.

Freeing up storage in iCloud

Apple provides each iCloud user with 5GB of free storage for iOS device backups, application documents and data, and iCloud e-mail, but if you have multiple iOS devices, or keep a lot of photos and videos in your camera roll, this can quickly fill up. Further, if you’ve recently upgraded to a new iOS device, the backup from your old device may still be laying around in your iCloud account, taking up additional space. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to see what’s taking up space in there and clear it out. Simply go into your iOS Settings app, select iCloud and then Storage & Backup, and then Manage Storage. This will show you first a list of all of the backups stored in your iCloud account for each of your devices, along with the device name, followed by a list of apps storing data in iCloud. You can tap on any of these items to see more information; backups provide a button to delete the entire backup, while application data will provide a list of items that can be deleted individually by using a swipe gesture or tapping the “Edit” button in the top-right corner.

Showing only on-device iTunes Match tracks

While iTunes Match is a great way to have access to your entire music library from anywhere with an Internet connection, some users with large libraries may be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of content displayed in the iOS Music app. If you find that even with iTunes Match you still confine your listening to a specific set of playlists, you can easily download that content onto your device for offline listening and then go into your iOS Settings app and switch OFF the option to “Show All Music” found under iTunes & App Stores or Music. This will limit the content displayed in the Music app to only those tracks that have actually been downloaded onto your device, providing you with a much more manageable library to navigate through. Should you want to download additional tracks or browse your entire cloud-based library in the future, you can bring your full iTunes Match library back simply by going back into the Settings to toggle this option ON again.

Checking FaceTime data usage

If you’ve been thinking of using FaceTime over a cellular data connection, you may find it useful to keep an eye on how much data a given FaceTime call actually consumes. When Apple added the ability to use FaceTime over Cellular in iOS 6, it also quietly introduced data usage indicators to the Recent Calls list in the Phone and FaceTime apps. To see how much data a FaceTime call has used, simply go into the Phone app on your iPhone or the FaceTime app on your iPad or iPod touch and tap the blue arrow beside the recent call entry to open the detail view; the amount of data used by the FaceTime call will be shown in parentheses beside the call duration.

Dealing with troublesome autocorrect entries in iOS

If you’ve been using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch for a while, you’ve probably had an “autocorrect moment” where your device repeatedly insists on mistakenly “correcting” something you’re trying to type into some other obscure word. Most often this is the result of the device learning a word from past usage, and while iOS doesn’t offer any way to directly edit the autocorrect dictionary, there are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. If you’re dealing with only one or two words that iOS is always getting wrong, you can override the autocorrect feature by defining keyboard shortcuts set to the correct word. To do this, simply go into your Settings app, select General, Keyboard and then scroll down to the “Shorcuts” section and use the “Add New Shortcut” button to create a new entry with the word that you do not want autocorrected. This also works to override the built-in autocorrect dictionary for less common words that you may find yourself using often but that your iPhone hasn’t yet learned properly.

On the other hand, if your autocorrect situation is a complete mess, you can simply reset the entire keyboard dictionary by choosing the “Reset Keyboard Dictionary” option found under General, Reset in the iOS Settings app. This will erase all of the learned autocorrect entries from your device, effectively allowing you to start from scratch.

Creating or Importing your own Ringtones into iTunes

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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