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Tips & Tricks

Using Thread Notifications in iOS Mail

If you find yourself regularly participating in ongoing email conversations, you may find it handy to get more proactive notifications when somebody sends a reply in an existing thread. iOS 6 introduced a “VIP List” feature that lets you get notifications when messages come in from specific people, but that’s not always useful if you only want to enable notifications on an ad-hoc basis, so the Mail app in iOS 8 takes this a step further with the ability to enable notifications for a specific thread.

Typically, this is done when sending a message, and is simply a matter of tapping the small bell icon that appears to the right of the subject line once you’ve placed the cursor in there. You’ll see a pop-up confirming that this is what you want to do, and then once you’ve sent the message, any replies to that message will automatically trigger the “Thread Notification” — a separate set of notifications, much like the VIP list, that can be configured in your Notification Center settings — this means that thread replies can trigger a different alert sound and bring up lock screen and banner notifications.

If you’ve forgotten to enable a Thread Notification for a message you’ve already sent, or want to add one to a message you’ve received (in case somebody else replies to a group discussion, for instance), you can do this by tapping on the flag button in the lower-left corner of the message window, and then choose the “Notify Me…” option.

Messages that have Thread Notifications enabled will show the small bell icon by the sender’s name in the message list, by the subject line in the message, and in the gray heading bar of a threaded conversation view. Should you decide you no longer want to receive these notifications, you can toggle them off in much the same way as turning them on: tap the flag button when viewing an individual message in the thread, and tap “Stop Notifying.”

Displaying Emergency Contact Info in iOS 8

While the trick of using a custom lock screen image to display emergency contact info has been around since even before the iPhone existed, not everybody necessarily wants to clutter their lock screen with this information. The good news is that Apple now provides support for doing this in a slightly more usable way as part of the new Health app in iOS 8. Opening up the Health app will show a “Medical ID” button in the bottom right corner, in which you can fill in vital statistics such as name, photo, birthdate, medical conditions, notes, allergies and reactions, medications, blood type, weight, height, and several emergency contact names and phone numbers.

A “Show When Locked” option at the top of the screen allows you to ensure that this information is accessible when your iPhone is locked. Swiping to the passcode entry screen and tapping “Emergency” will show a “Medical ID” button in the bottom left corner below the keypad that can be used to bring up this information even when your iPhone is locked, and calls can also be placed directly to the emergency contacts by tapping on them, even when the iPhone is otherwise locked. Note that the “Medical ID” button isn’t the most discoverable, so if you have any serious medical conditions or are concerned about this information being accessible, it might still be a good idea to customize a wallpaper to at least tell users how to find the “Medical ID” section in the event of an emergency.

Manually adjusting camera exposure in iOS 8

While being able to make exposure adjustments on your iPhone camera has been around since iOS 5, this option was limited to relying on the iPhone’s automated sensors for judging the optimal exposure; you could tap on a location to make the iPhone meter exposure based on that spot, but that was about as far as your adjustments went. Even third-party apps that provided exposure control had to use workarounds to accomplish this, instead of being able to adjust the exposure directly at the camera sensor level.

The good news is that iOS 8 introduced the ability for a whole bunch of camera settings to be manually controlled, although most of these are only available through developer APIs, allowing third-party apps to let you take over and do things in an almost “full-manual” mode. While the built-in Camera app doesn’t provide all of this functionality, Apple has hidden away a manual exposure control option, allowing you to adjust the exposure to your preferences.

To do this, tap on the camera window in much the same way as you would to set the exposure metering point, and then release your finger and tap again in the exposure metering frame that appears. You can then slide your finger up and down to set the exposure value manually — you should see a small starburst to the left of the exposure frame that will slide up and down a vertical line illustrating your exposure settings as you slide. In this case, much like the normal exposure metering feature, the setting will only be maintained for as long as lighting doesn’t dramatically shift, so if you move the iPhone to another scene, the camera will return to the default automatic weighted exposure mode. If you want to lock in your manual exposure settings, however, you can also do this in much the same way as before: tap-and-hold on the camera window until you see “AE/AF Lock” appear at the top of the screen, then release your finger and tap-hold-and-slide to adjust the locked exposure setting.

Quickly Bookmark and Add to Reading List in Safari

If you’re a heavy Safari user on iOS, you may find yourself bookmarking pages or adding them to your Reading List — or even your Shared Links — on a fairly regular basis. iOS 8 offers a slightly streamlined way of doing this without having to go through the Share Sheet. Simply tap-and-hold on the Bookmark button while viewing a page, and a menu will pop up, offering options to Add Bookmark, Add to Reading List, and — if available — Add to Shared Links.

While this may not seem all that much more difficult than simply opening the Share Sheet and tapping the option you want, one of the big advantages is that with all of the new iOS 8 Action Extensions available, you can more easily prioritize other app extensions by putting them at the left side of your Share Sheet while still retaining quick and easy access to the built-in “Add” actions. While you can’t switch these actions off in your Share Sheet entirely, you can pull up the settings by tapping “More” at the right hand side of the action extensions. From there, simply drag the actions down to the bottom to keep them at the end and out of the way.

Adding RSS Feeds to Safari in iOS 8

When iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks debuted about two years ago, one of the smaller features that made its way into Safari was support for “Shared Links” — an aggregate of all of the links in the user’s Twitter feed that could be accessed from a third panel over from the Bookmarks and Reading List sections. While the feature received little fanfare even then compared to the overall UI design and other sweeping changes, when iOS 8 came along, Apple even more quietly snuck in support for adding RSS feeds into the Shared Links section. Although RSS — short for Really Simple Syndication — has gradually started to fall by the wayside with the advent of social media services such as Twitter, many people still find it to be an indispensable way to keep up with headlines from their favorite news sites, and iOS 8’s integration of RSS into Safari can provide a nice lightweight alternative for those who might not really need all of the features in a dedicated third-party newsreader app.

Adding an RSS feed into Safari’s Shared Links section is actually really simple, although it’s somewhat hidden as the button for this feature only appears when visiting sites where an RSS feed is actually available. When you’re on such a site, an “Add to Shared Links” button will appear as an action in the lower row of the iOS 8 Sharing Sheet; tapping this will add the RSS feed published by whatever site you’re on right into your Shared Links section, where articles will appear in stream with your Twitter feed, if enabled.

When viewing the Shared Links section, a “Subscribe” button in the bottom right corner will allow you to view the feeds that have been added along with your Twitter accounts, and from here you can either remove feeds or toggle on or off any Twitter accounts that you want included or excluded from your Shared Links.

One final note to keep in mind, though: Since the “Add to Shared Links” button needs to detect an RSS feed in order to appear, sometimes you’ll need to wait until the site completely finishes loading before it shows up. So if it’s not appearing, wait a few seconds and try again. Also keep in mind that many sites don’t publish their RSS feeds via the mobile versions of the site — in this case you may need to ask Safari to request the desktop version before the option will appear to add it to your Shared Links.

Finding your iPhone’s Serial Number, IMEI, and other numbers

If you’ve ever had to contact Apple for iPhone service, or had to call your cellular carrier to make changes to your account, you’ve probably been asked to provide a cryptic number to uniquely identify your iPhone. In Apple’s case, your serial number is used to track warranty service, and with your cellular carrier, your IMEI, or International Mobile Station Equipment Identity, is a number that uniquely identifies your mobile phone number on the cellular network. You can easily find these by going into your iPhone Settings app and choosing General, About, and then copying them to your iOS clipboard by tapping and holding on them, but this doesn’t really help if you need to access these numbers from a desktop computer, such as when you need to paste into an online form in a web browser.

The good news is that if you need to get at these numbers from your Mac or PC, there’s an easier way than emailing the number to yourself — as long as you’ve associated your iPhone to iTunes on your computer, you can find these numbers hidden away on your device’s “Summary” screen. The Serial Number is readily shown right beneath your iPhone’s phone number, but if you click on the phone number field, it will toggle between your phone number and your IMEI as well as your Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID), and SIM card’s Integrated Circuit Card Identifier (ICCID) with each click. Similarly, the Serial Number field can also show your Unique Device Identifier (UDID), Exclusive Chip Identification (ECID), and Product Type. You can right-click on any of these numbers to copy them to your clipboard, making it easy to grab them and paste them into any form where they may be needed, or easily read them off and recite them back to your carrier’s customer service provider without having to take your iPhone away from ear.

Sharing Passbook Passes

While Passbook passes are usually pretty straightforward to install and use on your own device, sometimes it’s helpful to be able to easily share certain passes with friends and family members. You might want to share a loyalty card or Starbucks card with your spouse, for example. The good news is that a new feature in iOS 8.1 makes this even easier by adding AirDrop support, so you can basically now “beam” passes between multiple iPhones in proximity to each other.

To do this, simply open up Passbook, select the pass you want to share, and tap the Share button that appears in the bottom-left corner. A standard iOS sharing sheet will appear, with options for sending the pass out via Messages or Mail, and any AirDrop compatible devices listening nearby should also appear at the top. Notably, this not only includes iPhones, but also newer Macs.

Sharing a Passbook pass to a Mac will deposit it right into the OS X Downloads folder as a .pkpass file. Double-clicking on that file brings up a quick view of the pass, with options to add it to your Passbook if it’s not already there.

While you can’t do much else with passes directly on your Mac, the “Add to Passbook” option will transfer the pass to any iPhones that are synced with the same iCloud account. This works if you receive passes via email, or download them from web sites.

Browse your mailbox while composing a message

Although the iOS Mail app is great for its general simplicity in letting you view, manage, and send emails, the “single-window” design of iOS itself has traditionally created a workflow limitation that desktop mail users don’t normally encounter — the ability to flip back over to your mailbox to look things up while you’re in the middle of composing an email. Until recently, the only way to deal with this would be to save the current email in progress as a draft, go find what you want to in your mailbox, then bring up your drafts again and pick up where you left off. While there is a pretty fast way to access your drafts, this is more of a hassle than it needs to be.

The good news is that iOS 8 has added a nifty little feature to address this very issue. The New Message screen now opens up in what is basically a separate panel that you can move down and out of the way. To do this, simply tap and hold on the title of the new message panel and drag it down toward the bottom of the screen. You can either drag it part way down to “peek” at whatever was behind it — perhaps the e-mail you’re replying to or referencing — or drag it all the way to the bottom of the screen to park it down there, at which point you can browse your mailbox as you normally would, even changing folders or composing more new email messages. When you want to get the original message back, just tap on the title bar of the New Message panel where it’s resting at the bottom of the screen, and it pops back up, ready for you to continue right where you left off.

In fact, you can even open multiple New Message panels, and drag each one down to the bottom of the screen. If more than one has been hidden down there, tapping on them will bring up a Safari-like multi-panel view, allowing you to browse through each of your messages in progress, either bringing them to the forefront by tapping on them, or tapping the “X” to get rid of them in the same way as you’d dismiss a Safari window. There appears to be no practical upper limit to how many of these you can have open, either — we were able to open about 35 in our own testing before we got bored and simply gave up, idly wondering about the sort of person who might need to have so many messages in progress on an iOS device.

Sending quick Audio iMessages

While the button for sending audio messages in the iOS 8 Messages app is readily apparent, one feature that may not be so obvious is that you can actually record and send audio messages even more quickly by simply raising your iPhone to your ear. For this to work, you need to ensure that the “Raise to Listen” option is enabled under Settings, Messages and your iPhone screen must be on and showing an active iMessage conversation.

As the name of the setting suggests, this feature will also allow you to listen to incoming audio messages in the same manner, allowing you to effectively keep up a back-and-forth conversation without needing to worry about tapping on buttons. Note that Audio Messages are only available in iMessage conversations. In the same way that the audio button won’t appear in a standard SMS conversation, the raise-to-record feature won’t do anything either if you don’t have an actual iMessage conversation open on your screen. Your audio message should be sent out automatically once you take your iPhone away from your ear, unless it’s a really short message, in which case you’ll need to tap the “Send” button to confirm it, or the “X” to erase it — this is presumably to prevent sending of merely accidental recordings.

Seeing your Photos on a Map

You probably already know that the photos you take with your iPhone are automatically tagged with the location where you took them, and this information is pretty clearly displayed in the “Moments” section of the new iOS Photos app above each grouping of photos. What you may not have realized, however, is that you can easily view this information on a map simply by tapping any of these headings with a location name.

This will take you to a map view that will show you thumbnails of your photos based on the location information stored in each. You can even zoom in and out from here, allowing you to view groupings of photos in more specific locations, and tapping on a thumbnail will bring you to a view of only the grouping of photos taken at that specific location.

Improving password security in iOS

While some may argue about the importance of locking your iPhone or other iOS device with a passcode, in this day of identity thieves and other ne’er-do-wells, it’s generally something we here at iLounge strongly recommend users do. In fact, if you’ve got a device with Touch ID, there’s really little good reason to not have a passcode, which was Apple’s primary motivation for introducing the feature.

While you probably already know how to set a standard four-digit passcode, you may not realize that it’s possible to use more complex alphanumeric passwords as well — a good security feature considering the number of brute-force attacks that can defeat relatively simple four-digit PINs. While having to enter a complex password each time you unlock your device would have been more cumbersome in the days before Touch ID, it’s much more practical now, as this is a password that you’ll need to enter far less often — usually only when you restart your device.

To enable a complex passcode, simply go into your iOS Settings app, choose Touch ID & Passcode, enter your existing passcode (if you’ve set one), and then scroll down and toggle OFF “Simple Passcode.” You’ll be prompted to change your old passcode as soon as you toggle this option off so that you can pick a more secure alphanumeric password.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll see that the iPhone unlock screen now presents a standard keyboard when you swipe to unlock your device. However, using a complex password doesn’t change the way Touch ID works — you can still unlock simply by holding your finger on your home button, so you’ll rarely even see the full-keyboard unlock screen. A more secure password, however, will make your iPhone harder to get into for anybody who doesn’t have their fingerprint registered on your device.

Setting Different Calendar Alert Types in iOS 8

If you’re an active calendar user on iOS who relies on invitations and shared calendars, you may find it useful that iOS 8 now gives you more control over the notifications and alerts you see for different types of calendar activities. This means that you don’t need to have all of your normal event alerts, invitation alerts, and shared calendar changes notify you in the same way. While prior iOS versions gave you the ability to simply switch things like shared calendar alerts completely off, with iOS 8 you can now fully customize each of the different categories of calendar alerts.

Simply go into your Settings app and select Notifications and then Calendar. While the number of entries shown in the Notification Center is still set overall, you’ll see four subcategories for Upcoming Events, Invitations, Invitation Responses, and Shared Calendar Changes. Each of these allows you to customize whether they’re shown in the Notification Center or on the lock screen, as well as choose different notification sounds and alert styles — and whether that type of alert is represented by a badge count on the app icon. Keep in mind that the settings here will affect all of your calendars; if you’re looking for a way to turn off upcoming event alerts or shared calendar changes for only specific calendars, check out our other tip on Turning off alerts for individual Calendars in iOS 8.

Managing iTunes Wish Lists

While the rise of subscription music services has replaced traditional purchased music downloads for many users, there are still those who may prefer to build a collection of music that they can keep without any monthly expenses, and with every new iTunes Store and iOS iteration, Apple adds new features to make it even easier to discover and buy music (and other media content) from the iTunes Store. While you probably know about iTunes’ Wish List feature, which lets you save items that you may want to purchase later, you may not realize that iTunes and iOS 8 will automatically keep track of music you’ve listened to through other means — including songs you’ve previewed in the iTunes Store, songs you’ve listened to on iTunes Radio, and now with iOS 8, songs you’ve asked Siri to identify via Shazam.

All of this information is nicely collected in your iTunes Store account and can be viewed from iTunes on your Mac or PC, or the iTunes Store app on your iOS devices. On iOS, simply open the iTunes Store app and tap the lists button in the top right corner. Tabs across the top will allow you to choose between your Wish List, Siri, Previews, or iTunes Radio. From here you can preview or purchase any of the displayed tracks, or even play a track if you’ve already purchased it. If you want to clean the lists up, simply tapping the button in the top left corner will let you select and remove items from your Wish List, or
clear out your Siri, Preview, or iTunes Radio lists entirely.

If you’re on a Mac or PC, simply select your name near the top right corner of your iTunes window and choose “Wish List” from the drop down menu that appears. The main wish list is displayed across the majority of the window, as before, but new categories appear to show you items listened to or discovered via the other sources.

Turning off alerts for individual Calendars in iOS 8

If you share calendars among friends, family members, and co-workers, you may have sometimes found yourself in the annoying situation of having their reminders go off on your iPhone. Fortunately, the iOS 8 Calendar app now allows you to turn off notifications on a per-calendar basis. To do this, simply go into the Calendar app, tap the “Calendars” button in the bottom center to bring up your list of Calendars, and then tap the red “i” to the left of the calendar you’d like to change. Scrolling all the way to the bottom will reveal an “Event Alerts” option — simply toggle this OFF to prevent alarms in that calendar from showing up on the current device.

Note that this works not only for shared calendars, but even your own personal calendars, which can be useful if you have a calendar for which you might like to receive alerts on only specific devices; you can turn off alerts on your iPhone while still having them go off on your Mac or iPad, for instance. Keep in mind that this will only silence actual calendar alarms; notifications you receive when somebody changes a shared calendar are controlled by the “Show Changes” setting which appears further up above the color settings. Controlling both options separately means that you can still see when somebody changes an appointment in their calendar while not having their alarms go off on your device.

Quickly viewing your most recent Notifications

While Touch ID is a really great way to unlock your iPhone, sometimes it’s a little too fast, as anybody can attest to who has ever watched an important notification disappear from the Lock Screen before you could even identify what it was. The good news is that you can easily find these notifications by pulling down the Notification Center, but they may not always be easily seen if you’re not sorting them properly.

The good news is that you can control the sort order for your Notification Center by going into the iOS Settings app and choosing Notifications. While sorting manually can be handy for putting the important notifications at the top all the time, the “Sort By Time” option is a great way to ensure that the most recent notifications are always at the top, so that when you miss one while unlocking your iPhone, you can simply pull down Notification Center and see it right at the top of your screen.

Enabling 60 fps Video Recording on iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

One of the less publicized features of Apple’s latest pair of iPhone models is the ability to record video at a higher frame rate — 60 frames per second. By default, however, Apple chose to leave this feature disabled, so unless you’ve dug into your iPhone Settings app and found it already, you’ll still be shooting video at the same old 30fps rate used by the iPhone since video recording first debuted with the 3GS. A quick trip to Settings, Photos & Camera will reveal the “Record Videos at 60 FPS” setting. Toggle this on and you’ll be recording buttery smooth HD videos in no time at all.

Of course, with greater frame rates comes greater file sizes — if you’re recording twice as many frames, you’ll end up with videos twice as large. You’ll have to decide whether the increased frame rate is worth the extra storage, although that will likely be less of a concern if you’re sporting a 128GB iPhone, and with the full release of iCloud Photo Library on the horizon, offloading large videos to iCloud becomes an option as well.

Reordering Photos in iOS 8 Photo Albums

Although it’s been possible to create photo albums in the iOS Photos app for a while now, the feature becomes even more useful with iCloud Photo Library and the impending final release of Apple’s Photos for Mac app. Now all of your photo albums from iPhoto or Aperture can be synced via iCloud Photo Library onto your iPhone, eliminating the need for managing this data in two places. One thing you may notice, however, is that new photos added to your iOS Photo Albums are not sorted in any particular order — they’re simply added to the end of what’s already there.

The good news, however, is that you can actually reorder these photos manually. Apple doesn’t make this obvious at all, but if you tap on the “Select” button in the top right corner, you can then simply tap-and-hold on any one of your image thumbnails and then drag that image and release your finger to drop it anywhere else in the current album. Unfortunately, this only works in user-created Photo Albums; you won’t be able to reorder photos in any of the built-in albums such as “Favorites” nor can you reorder photos in iCloud Photo Sharing albums.

Improving In-Car Voice Navigation Prompts in iOS Maps

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.

Requesting the desktop version of a site in Safari on iOS

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.

Muting Conversations in Messages

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.

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