iPhone tips & tricks

Within the iPhone lies a myriad of hidden features that you may not have realised existed - until now. Here, we've picked our favourite iPhone tips and tricks that can help you achieve things quickly and easily

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  • alphanumeric passcode Alphanumeric passcode
  • iphone tips custom text replies 1000 Custom iMessage replies
  • iphone tips custom remind me 1000 Remind Me Later
  • iphone tips 3 ringtone 1000 Custom ringtones
  • iphone tips 7 custom vibration 1000 Custom vibrations
  • iphone tips customise control centre 1000 Customise Control Centre
  • iphone tips 8 photo video 1000 Take photos mid-video
  • iphone tips portrait lighting 1000 Portrait Lighting
  • iphone tips 9 low power mode 1000 Low Power Mode
  • iphone tips pdf ibooks 1000 PDF to iBooks
  • iphone tips do not disturb 1000 Do Not Disturb
  • iphone tips do not disturb while driving 1000 Do Not Disturb While Driving
  • iphone tips characters 1000 Quickly add symbols
  • iphone tips one handed keyboard 1000 One-handed keyboard
  • iphone tips text replacement 1000new Customise auto-correct
  • iphone tips text formatting 1000 Rich formatting
  • iphone tips undo typing 1000 Shake to undo
  • iphone tips tap to top 1000 Tap to top
  • iphone tips calculator delete 1000new Calculator quick-delete
  • iphone tips stop playing 1000 'Stop Playing' timer
  • iphone tips led flash alert 1000 Flash alerts
  • iphone tips accessibility shortcuts 1000 Accessibility shortcuts
  • Find Safari iOS In-page search
  • Panorama direction Panorama direction
  • iphone tips selfie 750 Better selfies
  • best iphone tricks maths Maths with Siri
  • best iphone tricks compass Compass as a level
  • best iphone tricks night shift settings Night Shift
  • best iphone tricks speech Speak Selection
  • best iphone tricks time Message send time
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Use a more secure alphanumeric passcode

While iOS these days prompts users to use a six-digit passcode instead of the standard four-digit passcode (here's how to turn a six-digit passcode back to a four-digit passcode), there is a more sophisticated way to make your iOS device more secure: using an alphanumeric passcode.

This means that you can use both letters and numbers in your password as you would when logging on to a website, giving you an almost unlimited number of possible passwords, as opposed to the roughly 1,000,000 possible six-digit passcodes.

It's fairly easy to do, too. Just head to the Settings app > Touch ID and Passcode > Change Passcode and when prompted to enter a new passcode, tap 'Passcode Options'.

This offers you advanced options like opting for the shorter four-digit passcode, or, in this case, a custom alphanumeric code - simply tap that and enter your new password.

Next »

Next Prev alphanumeric passcode

While iOS these days prompts users to use a six-digit passcode instead of the standard four-digit passcode (here's how to turn a six-digit passcode back to a four-digit passcode), there is a more sophisticated way to make your iOS device more secure: using an alphanumeric passcode.

This means that you can use both letters and numbers in your password as you would when logging on to a website, giving you an almost unlimited number of possible passwords, as opposed to the roughly 1,000,000 possible six-digit passcodes.

It's fairly easy to do, too. Just head to the Settings app > Touch ID and Passcode > Change Passcode and when prompted to enter a new passcode, tap 'Passcode Options'.

This offers you advanced options like opting for the shorter four-digit passcode, or, in this case, a custom alphanumeric code - simply tap that and enter your new password.

 

Create custom iMessage replies for calls you can't answer

Sometimes it's not the right time for a phone call; and while you could just let calls you don't want to take go to voicemail, sometimes you want to explain why you're not picking up. iOS let you quickly respond to a call with a text message.

Depending on which version of iOS you're running, you either swipe upward on the phone icon that appears next to the unlock slider and choose Respond With Text, or tap the button labelled Message above the Slide To Answer slider.

By default, you'll get three pre-written options ("Sorry, I can't talk right now", "I'm on my way" and "Can I call you later?"), along with a button that lets you enter text there and then.

However, you can customise the prepared messages under Settings > Phone > Respond With Text. You can't have more than three, however: if you want to add a new one, you'll have to sacrifice one of the current options. Tap the one you're willing to lose and type in the new response.

 

Skip calls with Remind Me Later

Alternatively, you can get iOS to remind you to call back later. As with the auto-replies, the way you do this depends on your version of iOS: in iOS 9 and iOS 10 you tap the Remind Me button above the slide, but in earlier versions you swiped upwards and selected Remind Me Later.

You can choose to be reminded in an hour, 'When I Leave' or (where applicable) 'When I Get Home'. Make sure your address details are up to date in Contacts, so your iPhone knows where home is. The timings will be based on your GPS movements.

 

Create custom ringtones and alert tones in iTunes or GarageBand

You can create ringtones for your iPhone based on any music track in your iTunes library. We looked at this in depth here (the tutorial includes a video to walk you through the process), but to sum up: create a short, sub-30-second duplicate version of the track; convert the file type of this track from .m4a to .m4r; re-import the track to iTunes as a ringtone; sync the ringtone with your iPhone.

Better still, you can create unique custom iPhone ringtones from your own audio creations, and this is especially user-friendly if you do the creative work on the iPhone itself. Create a 30-second track in GarageBand; go to the Share options and choose Ringtone; then assign it to a contact or notification.

 

How to set custom vibrations on your iPhone

Want to know who's calling you without taking your phone out of your pocket? That's easy - assign a ringtone to a contact. But what about doing it all silently? Not only can you assign a custom ringtone or text tone to a contact, you can even give them a custom vibration pattern.

Open Phone or Contacts; select a contact, then tap the Edit button in the top-right corner. Scroll down to find the ringtone field; below it is a vibration field. Tap that, and you'll see an assortment of built-in vibration patterns you can choose from.

Further down, though, is the ability to add a custom pattern: tap Create New Vibration, and you can tap on the screen to create your own rhythm. When you're satisfied (tap the Play button to see what it will feel like), tap Save to set the pattern.

If that's not enough, go back to the contact and also assign a custom vibration pattern for text messages.

 

Customise the Control Centre

It was a long time coming, but in iOS 11 Apple finally allowed us to customise the toggles and options that appear in the Control Centre.

Go to Settings > Control Centre > Customise Controls. The controls that will appear are listed at the top, under the heading Include; tap the red minus sign to remove one, or tap and hold to drag them around and change the order.

Available controls that are not currently included are listed below, under the heading More Controls. Tap the green plus sign to add one.

 

How to take photos while shooting videos

You're using your iPhone to film a magical moment, and you wish you could snap a photo at the same time. Don't stop recording! Just tap the camera button, which appears on-screen in addition to the shutter button as you film. 

You aren't using the iPhone's true photo sensor; you're getting the slightly less impressive video sensors instead, but the photos should still turn out pretty nicely.

For more related advice, take a look at our iPhone camera tips.

 

Portrait Lighting

If you've got an iPhone 8 Plus or an iPhone X, you can access a photographic feature called Portrait Lighting. (Other models of iPhone are not so lucky.) This is still officially in beta, and we find it inconsistent, but it can sometimes produce some attractive effects with very little effort.

Open the Camera app, and swipe across the bottom rotating menu so you're in Portrait Mode. Just above this label you'll see a hexagonal icon and the label Natural Light, which indicates that you're about to take a standard Portrait Mode shot, with the arty bokeh background blur. Very nice.

If you tap the Natural Light icon, however, it'll pop up slightly and you'll see it's on a circular menu. Swipe across and you can scroll through the four other options: Studio Light, which brightens up the subject's face and other 'high points' and is generally the most reliable mode; Contour Light, which darkens the shadows and sometimes produces a good effect, but often makes people look scruffy or unshaven; and two versions of Stage Light (colour and mono), which cut out the subject and place him or her against a dark background. These are currently very unreliable.

Note that you don't have to apply these effects while or before taking the shot. Open any photo which has the label Portrait at the top left, and you'll be able to apply them retrospectively. Tap Edit, then tap the hexagon icon and you'll be able to scroll through the options as above.

 

Save battery with Low Power Mode

If you know you're going to be using an iPhone for a long time, then switch to Low Power Mode by tapping Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode.

Low Power Mode reduces consumption by turning off a number of iPhone features. Mail fetches less frequently (push is turned off), Hey Siri is turned off, background app refresh is turned off and some visual effects are reduced. The screen goes dark after a shorter period of inactivity.

You may not notice the difference (although you may not get a vital Mail or Social Media message unless you check for it). On the whole, though, the iPhone works as normal and the battery will last for much longer.

If you found this tip useful, you might also like our advice on How to improve iPhone battery life.

 

Save PDF to iBooks

You can turn web pages into PDFs and add them directly to your iBooks app. This is handy if you're reading a long web document, or especially if you've found a HTML book online and want to keep a copy of it.

When you tap Share, scroll across the apps to find Save PDF to iBooks. Tap it and the web page will be converted and added to your book collection.

(Note that this option appears only if you've got iBooks on your iPhone!)

 

Set up Do Not Disturb mode

Are you using the Do Not Disturb feature? It's perfect for insulating you from distractions where you're trying to work, or get some sleep.

Do Not Disturb can be activated from the Control Centre; swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen and tap the crescent moon icon.

A matching moon icon will then appear in the top bar of your iPhone screen. With Do Not Disturb activated, incoming calls and alerts will be silenced.

For a more advanced range of options, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb; this includes the ability (under the label Scheduled) to set 'quiet hours' each day or night. You can also allow exceptions: people who will be allowed to contact you even with this mode activated.

On a related note, you may be interested to know How to tell if someone is using Do Not Disturb mode.

 

Do Not Disturb While Driving

In iOS 11 Apple added a new version of Do Not Disturb designed specifically to reduce distractions when driving. It blocks incoming notifications (but you can set an automated reply for selected contacts only along the lines of "I'm driving right now, will get back to you in a bit") and blocks phone calls too, unless you've got a hands-free kit.

Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb and then, under Do Not Disturb While Driving, tap Activate. You'll see there are three settings: Automatically (which attempts to work out when you're driving by your motion, and which we wouldn't recommend, given how many times we've seen this activate on trains), When Connected to Car Bluetooth, and Manually. Choose whichever option suits you.

Go back to the Do Not Disturb page of Settings and you'll see the automated replies at the bottom of the screen. Select who you want to get this reply, and edit the reply by tapping Auto-Reply and then tapping the message.

 

Quickly add symbols

You've probably been using your iPhone's keyboard for ages without realising that it's actually easier than you thought to add symbols to your messages.

Instead of tapping once on the 123 button, once on your chosen symbol and then once again on the ABC button to go back to the conventional keyboard layout, you can do the whole thing in one gesture.

Tap and hold the 123 button, slide your finger to select the symbol you want to insert, then release. Once it's been added, your keyboard will automatically revert back to the letters keyboard. One tap instead of three: that's some serious time savings right there.

Oh, and while we're talking symbols: hold your finger on the symbol for a second or two and you'll see any alternative (usually related) symbols that the button can offer instead. The dollar key also offers pound, euro and yen symbols, for example.

There are many additional symbols hidden within your keyboard that you may never have discovered. Experiment!

 

One-handed keyboard

If you're on iOS 11 or later you can use a system keyboard that's designed for use with one hand (and only one thumb on that hand, realistically). Go to Settings > General > Keyboards, and tap One-Handed Keyboard. Select Left or Right.

 

Customise auto-correct text replacement

iOS's QuickType system-wide keyboard is clever at guessing what you're trying to write, and in many situations will auto-correct your clumsily typed screed into something far more accurate.

It gets better still, however, when you start customising it so that it knows your own personal favourite shortcuts and abbreviations and the full phrases you'd like it to expand those abbreviations into.

You might decide that "omg" should be turned into "Oh my God", for example. "omw" should become "On my way". And so on.

It's easy to set up personalised shortcuts. Go to Settings > General, scroll down and tap Keyboard, then select Text Replacement. You'll see what text replacements you currently have set up.

To add a new one, tap the plus sign. Enter the desired full phrase ("MacBook Pro 2016 with Touch Bar" might be a good one for a tech journalist), the shortened version that you want to expand into the longer phrase ("MBP", say), and tap Save.

 

Rich formatting

While it's not universally supported, you can use rich formatting in a number of iOS apps including Mail, Notes and third-party apps like WhatsApp to make certain sections of text stand out. But while it's easy to use, it's also extremely easy to miss.

Just open an app that supports rich formatting, highlight the text you'd like to edit by double-tapping it and select the formatting menu, labelled BIU. From there, simply select your preferred effect and it'll be applied to the selected text. Tap the arrow on the right to see additional effects such as struck-through text.

 

Shake to undo

This one can be a little awkward at times but it can be a bit of a life saver. If you've just typed a long sentence and accidentally deleted it, or made some other catastrophic error, you can give your iPhone a shake to bring up the undo/redo dialogue box. Just make sure you're holding on to your iPhone tightly before you shake it!

Since implementing this feature Apple has added an undo button to the system keyboard, thankfully, but this only appears when the iPhone is in landscape mode. If you can't be bothered to type like that, get shaking.

 

Tap to top

Just scrolled down a really long list in Notes, or worked your weary way through a ton of emails? Instead of laboriously scrolling back to the top, you can jump there immediately by tapping at the very top of the iPhone's screen.

We'd rank this tip with the double-space full stop: it's reasonably widely known, but for everyone else it's a game-changer.

And it's not just Notes and Mail; tap to top works in most iPhone apps. Some apps, cleverly, offer an undo on this function, just in case you tap it by accident and lose your place in a long article. The excellent Instapaper pops up a Return to Position command, for instance - and if the menu bars have disappeared you have to tap the top of the screen twice to activate the feature in the first place.

Experiment to see if the app you're using offers some other variation on or evolution of this handy feature.

 

Quick-delete in the Calculator app

If you use the calculator app a lot, you might like this handy and little-known time-saving trick.

The Calculator app, like real-world calculators, doesn't have a delete button, which can be annoying if you've just typed out a long number and made a mistake right at the end.

Fortunately you can swipe across the number in the black area at the top - left or right, it doesn't matter - and for each swipe, a single digit will be removed from the end of the figure.

 

Stop music with a timer

This is a cool trick for those of you who enjoy falling asleep to music. The problem with that is it'll still be playing when you wake up in the morning, and you've probably just drained most of your battery in the process. Using the hidden 'Stop Playing' timer, you can choose how long you want the music to play for as you drift off to sleep.

Open the Clock app's Timer tab. (You can just straight to this from Control Centre: tap the stylised clock face.) Choose how long you want your timer to last for and then tap 'When Timer Ends'. Scroll down to the bottom of the menu and select 'Stop Playing'.

Press start on the timer and then begin playing your music from the Music app. When the timer ends, the music will fade to a stop. This trick will also work for audiobooks and other media.

 

Get your iPhone's flash to blink when you get a message

If you find that the vibration or sound that your phone makes when you get a message is not always enough to attract your attention, there's another element that you can add to the alert: light. By going to Settings > General > Accessibility and scrolling down to the 'Hearing' section, you can turn on 'LED Flash for Alerts'.

Now every time you get a notification, the flash next to your iPhone's rear-facing camera will blink.

 

Triple-click Accessibility shortcuts

Another accessibility setting that could come in handy is the Accessibility Shortcut, which can be found by going to Settings > General > Accessibility and then scrolling right down to the bottom. Tap 'Accessibility Shortcut', and you'll see a menu of options.

Ticking selected features in this list allows you to activate them easily by triple-clicking the Home button. You can invert the colours of your iPhone for better visibility in low-light, zoom in to tricky-to-see parts of the screen and more.

(If you've selected more than one acessibilty feature to be accessible via triple-click, a dialogue box will pop up and ask which one you want - it doesn't apply them en masse.)

See also: 10 annoying features in iOS (and how to fix them)

 

Find words or phrases on a web page

If you're looking for a particular word or phrase on a web page, you can find it by typing the word or phrase in the URL/search bar at the top of the screen. (As soon as you tap on the top bar the page you were on will be replaced by a screen filled with your Favourites, but don't worry - you're still on the web page. It'll return as soon as you tap off the top bar or run the in-page search.)

You'll see a list of web search results - and search results from the App Store, Wikipedia and so on if applicable, but you need to look at the bottom of that list for a section labelled "On This Page", with the number of matches.

Tap it, and you'll see that the results are highlighted on that particular web page in yellow. Tap the arrows at the bottom of the screen to go to the next instance.

 

Switch direction in Panorama mode

You can change the direction of your Panorama photograph in the Camera app by tapping the arrow that appears in the middle of the screen in the Panorama mode.

 

Use your headphones to take a selfie

Selfies continue to be all the rage, as we're sure you've noticed, but if the quality of your selfies is a concern, try this handy trick.

A decent proportion of iPhone owners know that you can activate the camera shutter by pressing one of the volume buttons (volume up or volume down - doesn't matter which) instead of the onscreen button. This tends to produce less camera shake.

But a still better option for selfies - and one that is far less widely known - is to use the volume button on an attached pair of headphones.

When the camera app is open on your iPhone, you can use the volume button on an attached pair of headphones to take a photo. Not only does this reduce shake even more than using the iPhone's volume button, but it also means you can take a more natural-looking photo from further away or take a photo hands-free.

 

Ask Siri to do maths for you

No matter how good of a mathematician you might be, having Siri on-hand to help with you simple and complex maths questions is always useful.

Simply open Siri and recite your equation to it. If the number is complex, make sure you say it at a slightly slower pace, so that Siri doesn't misunderstand it.

We found Siri to also correctly divide, multiply, subtract and add, with slightly more complicated equations too!

 

Use the Compass app as a level

If you swipe from right to left within the Compass app, you'll be presented with a level, allowing you to make sure that bookshelf you're putting up is perfectly level.

The iPhone uses its Gyroscope to determine the level of the surface the iPhone is placed on. You'll have the opportunity to calibrate it on a flat surface before assessing the situation.

 

Enable Night Shift

With the iOS 9.3 update, Night Shift became an available feature for all compatible iOS devices.

Night Shift is a useful feature which dims the white tones of your display, in order to make it easier on your eyes in low-light conditions.

You might have missed the feature or the details behind the update - so if you've yet to use Night Shift, give it a whirl!

 

Have your iPhone read out your texts

If you require or want your iPhone to read out your texts, then you can enable Speak Selection.

First of all navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility and toggle the option 'Speak Selection'.

If you are to long-press on a speech bubble within your Messages, you'll now find the option to 'Speak' - the option is especially useful if you have a long text message or decide to start driving and want to listen to the text whilst in hands-free mode.

 

See when a message was sent

Within the Messages app, you'll be able to swipe from right to left to reveal the timestamps of each individual message.

Normally you'll be able to see what date and at what time the first message was sent. However, to reveal each individual message after that, you'll need to quickly glance at the timestamps by swiping.

This can be useful to either know what time the last message was received at, or to see if your friend was lying about arriving on time!

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