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

Tips & Tricks

Redeeming Gift Cards using your camera

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.

Zooming in Google Maps with one finger

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 finger 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: Blocking inbound calls and messages

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.

 

Organizing Home Videos in iTunes

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.

Storing Google Maps for offline use

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.

iOS 7: Changing the Mail Flag icon

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.

iOS 7: Displaying Shortened Names

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.

 

Browsing Photos and Videos in Messages

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: Enabling or Disabling Automatic App Updates

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.

Turning off Parallax in iOS 7

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.

Sending more than five photos via e-mail

If you’ve ever tried to e-mail out some of your pictures from the iOS Photos app you’ve probably noticed that the e-mail option disappears if you select more than five photos. While this still hasn’t been addressed in iOS 7, the good news is there’s a quick and fairly easy way to work around this limitation: Simply use the iOS clipboard. Go into the Photos app, select as many photos as you would like to share, and then choose “Copy” from the sharing menu. You can then switch over to the iOS Mail app, start composing a new message, and paste your photos in by tapping and holding in an empty area of the message and selecting “Paste” from the pop-up menu that appears.

There doesn’t seem to be any practical limit to how many photos you can share via the clipboard, but keep in mind that just because you can select dozens of photos doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to send them out in a single e-mail message at full size—many mail servers will reject e-mails with excessively large attachments. The good news is that iOS Mail app will offer you to reduce the size of your attached photos for you before sending your message, so sending a large number of photos via e-mail is definitely an option if you’re willing to scale them down.

Shuffling music by Genre in iOS 7

With the redesign of the music app in iOS 7, Apple also removed the ability to directly playback an entire track list from a specific genre. While Smart Playlists would still be one obvious workaround for this, this may not be practical if you have a lot of genres and are used to being able to easily select them.

The good news, however, is that you can still workaround this. Swipe downward to reveal the search field and type in your Genre name there. When it appears in the search results you can tap on it to view all of the tracks assigned to that particular genre, grouped by album. Tap on an individual track and your device will begin playback using the displayed list of tracks as your playlist.

Remove your old backups after upgrading your iPhone

If you’ve just upgraded from an older iPhone to a new iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s, chances are that you transferred your data over from your old device using a backup made by iCloud or iTunes. While this is a really easy way to get your new device up and running quickly, it’s important to remember that both iTunes and iCloud store your backup based on your specific hardware device, not simply your device’s name. This means that your old backup is left lying around taking up space after you switch to a new device, while your new device creates an entirely new backup.

Once you’re sure that you’ve restored everything properly to your new device, it’s really quite easy to get rid of these old backups. For iCloud backups, go into Settings, iCloud, Storage & Backup and tap the Manage Storage option on your new device. This will show a list of all of the backups shown in your iCloud account, with the one for the current device indicated. Tap on the other backup with the same name, and choose “Delete Backup” from the subsequent screen that appears.

Transferring your passwords to your new iPhone

If you’re an iPhone user already and have just upgraded to a new iPhone 5c or 5s, chances are that you want to move all of your data over from your previous device. iOS actually makes this process really easy simply by allowing you to restoring a current backup from either iTunes or iCloud. There is one small catch, however: For security purposes, passwords for services such as your Wi-Fi networks and e-mail accounts are stored in your backups in a way unique to your original device. This protects them should your backup fall into the wrong hands, but it also means that they can’t be transferred to a different iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch for the same reason. The good news, however, is that you can use an encrypted backup in iTunes in order to store your passwords for transfer to another device; since the backup is already encrypted, iTunes and iOS don’t need to encrypt the passwords inside any further.

To set this up, simply connect your original iPhone to your computer, open iTunes, and check the “Encrypt iPhone Backup” option. You’ll need to set a password that can be used to decrypt the backup, after which iTunes will immediately make an encrypted backup of your iPhone to your computer. You’ll simply need to supply this password when restoring your backup to your new iPhone, and not only will all of your applications, settings, and media content be restored, but your passwords will to, avoiding the nuisance of having to type them in all over again. Be sure to check out our Complete Guide to Transferring your Content to a new iPhone, iPad or iPod touch for a more detailed look at the entire process of moving your data over to your new device.

iOS 7: Securing the Lock Screen

iOS 7 introduces to new convenient features that can now be accessed from the lock screen by default: The improved Notification Centre and the new Control Centre. These features give you quick and easy access to your pending notifications along with weather, calendar appointments, reminders, traffic information, as well as a new flashlight feature alongside the clock, calculator and camera apps. If you normally use a passcode to lock your iOS device, you may be concerned at the amount of information and number of features that can be accessed from here, but the good news is that you can turn almost all of it off entirely.

The Notification Center and Control Center sections in your iOS Settings app provide toggles to disable access to these features when your device is locked. Control Center provides a simple on/off toggle for disabling the feature entirely from the lock screen, while Notification Center allows you to individually restrict access to the Today View, Notifications View, or both. You can also simply disable individual sections in the Notification Center, such as the Calendar Day View, although this option will hide these sections entirely, not only when your device is locked. Note that you can’t disable the camera button in the bottom right corner, however the camera app in this mode only lets you to take new pictures, it doesn’t allow access to what’s already in your photo library.

If you’re only worried about specific notifications showing up, iOS can also hide notifications from specific apps in the lock screen Notification Centre. This is done in much the same way as it was in iOS 6: simply go into Notification Center, select an app for which you don’t want notifications appearing on your lock screen, and then scroll down and switch the Show on Lock Screen option OFF. This will hide any notifications from that app on both the main lock screen and the Notification Centre when it’s accessed from the Lock Screen; these notifications will only appear when you pull down Notification Centre after unlocking your device. Certain apps such as Messages and Mail take this one step further: the Show Preview option can be toggled off to hide the detailed text of a received message.

Preparing for iOS 7

Early this week, Apple officially announced that iOS 7 is coming next Wednesday, September 18th. If you’ve got an existing iPhone and you’re concerned about what you need to do to prepare for the next iOS version, the good news is that despite the major user interface changes, the actual updating process is pretty straightforward, and won’t be any different from other recent iOS updates. Apple will likely make it available as an “over-the-air” (OTA) update, meaning you should be able to download it over your Wi-Fi connection and update without even connecting to your computer.

That said, it’s always a really good idea to ensure that you have a current backup to either iTunes or iCloud, and in fact it really doesn’t hurt to do both before attempting an update. While most iOS updates install “in-place” without any problems, making a backup is always a sensible precaution just in case. Even if you’re normally backing up to iCloud, you can easily make a manual backup in iTunes any time you like; simply select your device in iTunes 11 and click the “Back Up Now” button that appears on the summary screen and iTunes will immediately make an on-demand backup of your device. You can also check the date and time of the last backup to each service from the same page.

Be sure to check back next week for our comprehensive guides to what’s new in iOS 7 along with what to look for in the updating process and how to smoothly transition to the new iOS 7 user interface.

Reporting iMessage Spam

Although in many ways Apple’s iMessage service is a great alternative to traditional carrier SMS/MMS text messaging, it’s sadly no more immune from unsolicited or unwanted communications—“spam”—than any other messaging network. Fortunately, Apple recognizes this and has provided a method to allow users to report spam that they receive through the iMessage network back to Apple, so the offending user(s) can presumably be dealt with. If you’ve received unwanted iMessages, you can simply take a screenshot of the iMessage screen by pressing the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons simultaneously, and then send it to [email protected] with the date and time that you received the message and with the full e-mail address or phone number that you received the message from.

Note that Apple can only deal with spam received through the iMessage network, which will be labelled “iMessage” on the conversation screen. Conversations labelled “Text Messages” are still sent through your carrier’s network, so you should contact your cellular provider if you’re receiving unwanted text messages. See Reporting unwanted messages sent from iMessage on Apple’s Support Site for more information.

Displaying traffic info in Apple Maps

One of the more subtle new features that Apple bundled into its Maps app in iOS 6 was the ability to display detailed traffic information, not only with indicators of traffic volume, but actual on-screen icons showing major traffic-related events such as road work. You can enable the traffic view simply by tapping on the curled page in the bottom-right corner of the Maps app and choosing “Show Traffic” at which point new icons will appear on the screen to indicate road closures, road work, and other pertinent details. You can even tap on these to see a description and then tap on the arrow to view a more detailed information screen. Note that you must have “Traffic” turned on under Privacy, Location Services, System Services in the iOS Settings app and be in a supported country to use the Traffic feature in Apple Maps.

Saving battery by closing background apps

Although iOS does a reasonably good job of limiting which applications are allowed to continue running in the background and what they can do, sometimes even a legitimate background app can run away on you causing problems like excessive battery drain and possibly even unnecessary data usage. iOS only permits four types of third-party applications to run in the background at all: Voice-over-IP (VoIP) apps such as Skype, apps that play audio in the background, navigation apps, and Newsstand apps. Some other apps may also take advantage of the ability to continue running in the background to complete a task, but iOS itself limits these to a maximum of 10 minutes, after which the app will be summarily terminated by the operating system.

The most insidious of these are background apps that use the VoIP feature, since unlike audio and navigation apps, these don’t provide any obvious clues that they’re still running. Further, not all VoIP apps may be patently obvious; for example you may be surprised to know that Facebook qualifies as a VoIP app due to its new voice messaging features, and is therefore allowed to continue running in the background long after you’ve left the app. Facebook may in fact be the smoking gun in numerous recent reports of battery issues from iPhone users.

The good news is that you can easily terminate these background apps from the recently used apps list: Simply double-tap the Home button to bring the list up, and then tap and hold on any app shown in the list. The apps will start jiggling in the same way as reorganizing your home screen, and a red negative symbol will appear at the top-left corner of each icon. Simply tap on the red symbol to close the app, and it will stop running in the background. Be aware, however, that many VoIP apps will start to run in the background automatically if you restart your device, even though they are not shown in the recently used apps list, so if you think an app is causing problems, be sure to terminate it again after restarting your iPhone by running it at least once and then removing it from the recently used apps tray. Also keep in mind that the recently used apps tray is just that—a list of recently used apps; most of the apps shown here will not be running in the background at all unless they fit into one of the specific categories above.

Copying results from the iOS Calculator

The built-in Calculator app on the iPhone and iPod touch can be a handy way to quickly work out quick calculations, and the good news is that if you’re trying to calculate something that needs to go into an e-mail, text message, or elsewhere on your iPhone, the iOS clipboard is fully supported, although it may not be obvious. Simply tap and hold on the number and the usual context menu will pop up with a Copy option displayed. There’s also a paste option here too, so if you’ve got a number from an e-mail or message that needs to be entered into your calculation, you can simply paste it here rather than having to memorize it and key it in manually.

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