Tips & Tricks
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.
- November 21, 2013
If you find that you frequently type the same text on a regular basis, there’s a handy feature hidden away in the iOS Settings app that can save you a lot of time. If you take a trip into Settings, General, Keyboard you’ll find a section labelled “Shortcuts” where you can add your own abbreviations that will automatically expand into any larger phrase that you would like. While it’s not without a few limitations—multi-line text isn’t supported, for example—it’s definitely a really useful feature, especially on the iPhone and iPod touch keyboard.
Once you’ve created your shortcuts, simply type in the abbreviation and it will be automatically expanded, auto-correct style, to the full phrase. Not only can this be used for common phrases like “On my way” but is also great for things like you’re email address or longer logon names used for online services, since this replacement feature works in just about any text field throughout iOS. It can also be used to override phrases and spellings that auto-correct frequently gets wrong—simply enter the exact same text in the “Phrase” and “Shortcut” fields and this will override the normal auto-correct lookup when typing that word in.
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 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.
iOS 7 introduces a great new feature for users on limited data plans: You can now track how much cellular data is being used by each app on your iPhone or iPad and even disable access to cellular data for specific third-party apps. This is a big improvement over prior versions, where only an aggregate cellular data counter was provided and little to no control over which apps could cellular data.
You can access this feature form the Cellular section in the iOS Settings app; scrolling down will reveal a list of the third-party apps installed on your device. The amount of data used by each app is listed under the app’s name, and a switch to the right of the name allows you to disable cellular data for the app on an individual basis. A section at the bottom of the list provides information on any data used by apps that have been removed from your device as well as a detailed list of data usage by each built-in system service.
Note that this information only affects cellular data use; data used over Wi-Fi is not counted in any of these figures, and switching an app off from this screen will not prevent it from using data while on a Wi-FI connection. These counters will accumulate until manually reset; the “Reset Statistics” button at the very bottom of this screen can be used to reset all data counters—a good idea to do at the start of your monthly billing cycle if you’re trying to track data usage against your monthly allotment.
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.
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.
- October 29, 2013
- Apple TV,
One of the more subtle new features in the Apple TV 6.0 Software Update is the ability to have future updates downloaded and applied automatically—a great feature if you don’t feel like waiting for an update to apply when you’re getting ready to watch your favourite show. You can find this option and switch it on or off under Settings, General, Software Updates from the Apple TV menu.
Note that this feature is enabled by default on new Apple TV units and disabled by default if you’re updating from an older version. If you leave it disabled you will still be prompted to apply updates manually whenever new Apple TV software is available, as in prior versions.
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