Tips & Tricks
- February 17, 2015
For users who rely on the Apple Maps app for in-car navigation, Apple snuck a handy feature into iOS 7.1. While getting voice navigation prompts has never been a problem if you’re already listening to music from your iPhone, users who prefer to listen to the radio or some other audio source normally had a problem hearing audio prompts through their in-car system.
If you’re running iOS 7.1 or later, however, and have a supported in-car audio system, the Apple Maps app can now send voice navigation instructions through the Hands Free Profile, basically sending audio through the same channel that would be used for an incoming phone call, rather than Bluetooth stereo. To enable this, simply tap the audio icon in the bottom left corner of the Maps app while navigation is active, and toggle on “Allow HFP Prompts.” Once enabled — and provided your vehicle supports it — you should hear voice navigation instructions regardless of what audio source you’re listening to, and in some cases even if your stereo is turned completely off.
While the iPhone and other mobile devices have resulted in (mostly) great strides in the creation of mobile-friendly web sites, sometimes the mobile version of a site just doesn’t cut it for whatever reason — maybe it’s hard to read or it’s missing functionality that the full version of the site offers. The good news is that if you find yourself stranded on a second-rate mobile-optimized version of a site, you actually can ask Safari to try and go out and fetch the “desktop” version for you.
Simply tap on the Safari address bar, and when the list of bookmarks comes up, swipe downward to reveal a hidden options menu lurking above the fold. Tap “Request Desktop Site” and Safari will go out and reload the page, pretending to be a desktop browser. While it doesn’t always work due to the variety of mobile web site code out there, it’s a great way to get the full-sized version, which can actually be even more handy if you’re working with a larger screen anyway, such as on an iPhone 6 Plus.
If you’ve ever participated in group message conversations on your iOS device, you may find that sometimes repeated notifications can begin to get annoying, particularly if there are a lot of people in the group and you’re not actively involved in the conversation. While leaving is always an option, perhaps you still want to be able to check back later as to what’s going on, but don’t need notifications coming up every few seconds as people are chatting away.
The good news is that in iOS 8, you can now enable a “Do Not Disturb” feature or any conversation in Messages. Simply tap on the Details button at the top of the screen, and you’ll see a toggle below the list of people in the conversation allowing you to mute the conversation. This works for one-on-one messaging conversations as well, making it useful for muting things like automated SMS notifications.
The ability to sync and carry on text message conversations regardless of whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad, or Mac has always been one of the slicker features of iMessage, but until recently, there always seemed to be a disconnect between doing this with actual iMessages as opposed to traditional SMS text messages. Since not all of us have friends who exclusively use Apple devices, it was always a bit of a juggling act to figure out which ones you could message from your Mac or iPad and which friends made you have to reach for your iPhone to communicate. Fortunately, iOS 8.1 introduced the welcome feature of bridging this gap with “SMS Continuity,” which allows SMS and MMS messages to be sent and received using any device registered to your Apple ID. The options to control this can be found by going into your the Settings app on your iPhone, and selecting Messages, Text Message Forwarding. Here you’ll see a list of all of the non-iPhone devices associated with your Apple ID, and you can simply toggle the option on or off for the devices you wish to have participate in your SMS conversations.
As a security precaution, toggling a device ON will display a numeric code on the remote device that you’ll need to enter into your iPhone to confirm the pairing.
Once you’ve done that, the feature should just start working in much the same way as it always has for iMessage. Unlike iMessage, you’ll still need your iPhone to act as the gateway for SMS/MMS messages, as it’s responsible for transferring the messages between your other devices and your cellular carrier’s network. This is done wirelessly over the Internet via iCloud, however, so as long as your iPhone is on and has an Internet connection, the feature will work regardless of whether your iPhone is in actual proximity to your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch.
If you’ve ever inadvertently deleted a photo from your Camera Roll, you’ll appreciate that iOS 8 now has your back. Among the list of enhancements added to the Photos app is a new “trash bin” in the form of a “Recently Deleted” album. In here, you can find any photo or video that you’ve removed from your iOS device in the last 30 days, sorted chronologically by the date the photo was removed.
A helpful indicator over each thumbnail tells you how many days each item has left to live before being permanently removed from your device. From here, you can view individual photos or select groups in the same way as in any other album, which you can then choose to either permanently delete or recover back into your normal photo library. If you have iCloud Photo Library enabled, your “Recently Deleted” album and photos also sync across all of your devices, so a deleted photo can be recovered (or removed) using any of your connected devices. Keep in mind that photos in the “Recently Deleted” album do still take up space, on your iPhone, so if you’ve just removed a batch of photos to try and free up space on your device, you’ll need to take a trip over here to permanently delete them before you get that space back.
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.
- December 10, 2013
- Apple TV,
Expecting a new Apple TV under the tree this Christmas? With the latest Apple TV software you can now set it up in a flash right form your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. All you need is to have a recent device running iOS 7 in close proximity. Plug in the new Apple TV and once the initial setup screen appears, simply unlock your device, enable Bluetooth, and place the iPhone within about a foot or so of your Apple TV.
You’ll see a prompt on the iOS side asking you to enter your Apple ID and password, at which point your iCloud and iTunes login information and Wi-Fi and Home Sharing passwords will be transferred from your iOS device to the Apple TV, saving you the trouble of entering information using the cumbersome on-screen keyboard and Apple Remote.
- December 5, 2013
Location-based alerts in the iOS Reminders app are great for letting you know to do something when you get to or leave a specific place, and now iOS 7 makes them even more useful by letting you manually set the distance at which you want to be alerted.
When setting a location-based reminder, a map will appear with your selected location, along with a circle representing how far away from the selected location that the reminder will be triggered—often referred to as a “geofence.” You can hold a finger on the dot at the edge of the circle to adjust this radius from as little as 100m up to around 2,400 km. The shading of the circle also illustrates whether your reminder is for arrival or departure, with the blue shading effectively representing the zone in which the alert will be triggered.
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.
- November 28, 2013
- Apple TV,
If you’re setting up your Apple TV for AirPlay use in a business or school environment, or simply have a lot of different friends over connecting up to it with their iOS devices, there’s a useful new feature in Apple TV 6.0 that allows you to display AirPlay connection instructions overlaid on the screen saver.
The feature is called Conference Room Display, and can be found under Settings, AirPlay. By default it simply displays the Wi-Fi network name and Apple TV name, although you can also choose to add a custom message at the bottom of the AirPlay instruction window or choose your own a background photo to show up instead of the standard screen saver.
- November 26, 2013
iTunes 11 allows you to integrate your cloud-based music, movie, and TV show purchases directly into your iTunes library, where you can easily download or stream anything in your purchase history. While you can disable this feature entirely if you don’t want to see any of your cloud-based purchases at all, you can also easily hide items individually.
Simply select the item from your iTunes in the Cloud library that you would like to hide, and delete it as if you were removing it from your local iTunes library. You’ll see a dialog box asking you to confirm whether or not you want to hide the item in iCloud. Select the Hide option, and the item will vanish from your library as if you had actually deleted it. Keep in mind, however, that this will also hide the purchased item from all of your devices that share the same iTunes Store account; you can un-hide any hidden purchases by logging into the iTunes Store and selecting your “Account Information” and looking for the “Hidden Purchases” section.
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