Tips & Tricks
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes you may find that you’ve over-customized your Home Screen layout on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and want to get a fresh start, or perhaps you’ve let your kids play with your device, and are having a hard time finding your apps any more. The good news is that iOS offers a very simple way to return to a default, flat Home Screen layout so you can start from a known position and then re-organize again from there. Simply go into your iOS Settings app and choose General, Reset and select the option to “Reset Home Screen Layout.” You’ll be asked to confirm, after which all of the built-in apps will return to their default positions on the first page with all of your third-party apps organized alphabetically on subsequent pages. You’ll lose all of your folders in this process, but if things are messed up to the point where you want to reorganize from scratch, this can often be a far easier way to go than digging around inside folders to figure out where specific apps have actually gone.
iOS device users have been able to share photos and videos from the Camera Roll since the very first iPhone was released in 2007, however this feature has traditionally required the user to start in the Photos app to select the items they want to share and then create an entirely new e-mail message from there with the photos attached. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work particularly well if you’ve already started writing an e-mail message and then later decide that you want to add one or more photos to it. While the iOS clipboard would allow you to copy and paste photos, switching back and forth between the Photos and Mail apps can still be a bit cumbersome.
Fortunately, iOS 6 adds the ability to attach photos and videos directly into an e-mail without having to actually leave the Mail app at all. Simply tap and hold on an empty spot in the message to bring up the context menu and then tap on the right arrow to reveal an “Insert Photo or Video” option. This will bring up the in-app photo browser from which you can choose a photo to insert directly into your e-mail right at the current cursor position. Not only does this save you a trip over to the Photos app, but you can also attach as many images as you like and place them wherever you want in your message simply by repeating the process to add more images.
Although Apple’s Find My Friends is a handy way for you to share your location with a group of friends on an ongoing basis, the built-in Maps app actually provides an easy way to quickly share your current location with anybody via Messages, Twitter, or Facebook. Simply tap on the blue dot for your current location in the Maps app, and then tap the blue arrow on the right to get more information on your current location, from where you can access the “Share Location” option to send out your current location via Messages or post it on Twitter or Facebook. This can be a handy way to let your friends know where you when planning a meetup.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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