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Notifications & Control Centre

Grouped notifications (that are easier to fine-tune)

iOS 12 and later

A feature that's been requested for years finally made its debut in the iOS 12 update: grouped notifications. Notifications are grouped by app, topic and thread, and if you tap into a notification it's easy to clear them all at once.

You'll notice at this point that it's also easier, in iOS 12, to fine-tune the way notifications behave. From the notification itself you can adjust the circumstances under which you get notified or block it entirely.

How to install Widgets in Notification Centre

iOS 8 and later

One of our favourite features added in iOS 8 is the ability to customise the Notification Centre, which is the screen you see if you pull down from the top of your iPhone's screen.

First, you'll want to make sure all of your apps are up to date. Go to App Store, Updates and then tap Update All.

Not all of your apps will have implemented Widgets yet, but for those that have you'll be able to tap Edit at the bottom of the Notification Centre and then tap the plus icon to add them.

Now, when you go to the Notification Centre, you'll see those handy widgets.

Customise your widgets

The Widgets window displays app information on your Home screen without having to unlock your phone. By default it displays weather, time and information from Calendar, News, Music, Batteries and Reminders as well as Siri App Suggestions.

Tap any option to open the associated app. You may be asked to use Touch ID or Enter Passcode.

You can manage the widgets by tapping the Edit button. Here you can add or remove items, and on iPad you can move Widgets between the left and right columns. (The iPhone displays only one column of widgets.)

How to use interactive notifications

iOS 8 and later

We love interactive notifications in iOS 8. If you see a notification while you're using an app (it could be an incoming email or a text message, for example), you can respond by dragging your finger down over it. You'll then get options depending on the type of notification - this could be a text field to allow you to enter a reply to a text message, or Decline/Accept buttons for Calendar meetings, perhaps.

Control Centre

iOS 7 and later

Control Centre is a handy collection of frequently used settings and toggles. You can access it at any time by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen. (Occasionally you'll have to swipe upwards once to make a small icon appear, and then again to activate Control Centre.)

As of iOS 10, the Control Centre has been split into two windows, making it less baffling to the eyes. Slide up from the bottom of the screen and you'll see options, screen brightness, AirPlay and Airdrop (as well as shortcuts to Camera and Clock). Swipe to the left and you'll move over to media controls, volume controls, and an AirPlay list. We like this new look; it keeps things neatly organised.

Customise Control Centre

iOS 11 and later

While we're on the subject of Control Centre, how would you like to customise what appears in it? In iOS 11, you can.

Open the Settings app and tap Control Centre > Customise Controls.

The controls at the top are the ones that are currently included: tap the red symbol to remove them, or use the triple-line icon on the right to drag them around and change the order in which they appear. The ones below are not currently shown: tap the green symbol to add them.

iOS 11 tips: Customise Control Centre

Keyboard & typing

How to use QuickType predictive typing

iOS 8

Our next few tips relate to the new iOS system keyboard, QuickType, which sees Apple catch up on many of the keyboard innovations we've seen recently in the Android sphere. (To take things still further, you can download third-party system keyboards for iOS, such as Swype or SwiftKey.)

QuickType is the default keyboard setup, so you don't need to switch it on. Whenever you're typing - in any app that uses the standard system keyboard, from Mail, Messages and Pages to Twitter, Microsoft Word and other third-party apps, although not, interestingly, the typing-based game Blackbar - you'll see three words sitting in dark-grey boxes above the rest of the keys. These are QuickType's top three suggestions for what you're currently typing, or about to type, based on the context and your own personal style.

Simply tap on one of the options to insert that word or complete the one you're typing. You can write entire messages using suggested words only, if you're lucky and/or willing to sound like a fortune cookie.

How to minimise (hide) QuickType's predictive suggestions

iOS 8

If you find QuickType's three grey boxes annoying, or aren't finding its suggestions helpful, you can minimise (or hide) them.

Swipe downwards on the dark grey boxes and they will collapse into a slender grey bar with a white pull-up handle in the middle.

Swipe upwards again to see what QuickType has to offer, and whether it's got any cleverer.

Find out how to make space on an iPhone when you need it

How to turn off QuickType predictive typing completely

iOS 8 and later

If QuickType really isn't your cup of tea, you can switch the predictive feature off entirely. Go to Settings > General and then swipe down to the Keyboard option.

Swipe the green toggle next to 'Predictive' so that it turns white. From now on iOS will limit its predictive activities to the pop-up suggestions you'll remember from iOS 7.

Here are some alternatives to Apple's iOS 8 keyboard

One-handed QuickType keyboard

iOS 11 and later

iOS 11 brings a new optional keyboard layout that pushes the keys over to one side so they're closer to your thumb: ideal for one-handed typing.

It's activated in the same way as other alternative keyboards: open Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard, and look and tap the new layout. Now whenever you're using the system keyboard, tap the globe icon to bring up your keyboards palette and select the alternative layout.

iOS 11 tips: One-handed keyboard

Keyboard cursor

iOS 9 and later; iPad only

Apple has given iOS's system keyboard the ability to move around a document with a virtual cursor - on iPads, anyway. Simply tap and hold anywhere on the screen with two fingers at once, and the keys will all grey out. From now on, moving the two fingers will move the virtual cursor, automatically selecting any text between the original point where you started and the new place you've moved the cursor to.

This feature is exclusive to iPads. Phone users can console themselves with our guide to the Best iPhone keyboard apps.

The unambiguous Shift key

iOS 9 and later

Before iOS 9, the Shift key in iOS was ambiguous, switching colour between the white of the normal keys (off) and the dull grey of the special keys (on) without most people being able to remember which was which.

Rather than adding colour to the On state, as some expected Apple to do, they made the symbols depicted on all the keys change from upper to lower case so that you know exactly what's going on.

However, it seems that Apple can't win with some users now complaining about the use of a lower-case keyboard, stating that it looks 'ugly' and the capitalised keyboard was just fine. Instead of having to wait another year for Apple to address the issue, the company has instead included a toggle for those that want to disable the lower case keyboard.

To re-enable the upper case keyboard, simply head to Settings > General > Accessibility > Keyboard and switch off 'Show Lowercase Keys'.

Shortcut bar

iOS 9 and later

The last stop on our tour of the iOS 9 keyboard concerns those awesome new icons that sit either side of the QuickType suggestion bar. These are shortcuts for common commands.

Depending on the app you're in, the shortcuts will vary, but you'll always get Cut (scissors), Copy (a square and dotted square) and Paste (a solid square and clipboard). If space is tight, however (such as in Notes), these three may be hidden together under a single icon: the scissors. Tap it to reveal the full palette of options.

Notes adds shortcuts for formatting options (a capital A and a lower-case a), to-do lists (a tick in a circle) and sketches (a squiggle), both of which we'll discuss in later slides.

Other apps may offer a camera icon for adding pictures and videos; a paperclip for adding attachments; bold/italic/underlined letters for more formatting options; and so on. As you can see, most are pretty self-explanatory. Experiment if you see one you don't recognise: there's no 'delete document with no confirmation' icon, as far as we're aware.

Change keyboards

iOS 8

A new feature added in iOS 8 is the ability to change your default keyboard and use third-party keyboards instead.

First, you'll need to download a new keyboard. You'll find then in Apple's iOS App Store (we've got a selection of the best keyboards here).

Once you've downloaded it, go to Settings > Keyboards > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard. You'll now see a section that says Third-Party Keyboards. Tap the keyboard you want to use (we've downloaded Swype, for example).

You'll now be able to access that keyboard by tapping the globe icon on the keyboard, but if you want it to be the default keyboard go to Settings > Keyboards > Keyboards > Edit and then move your preferred keyboard up to the top.

Privacy & security

Password-protect your Notes

iOS 9.3 and later

Let's admit it: we all use the Notes app to store information that we sometimes wouldn't appreciate anybody else getting their hands on. This usually includes Wi-Fi passwords, website logins and even financial information - sensitive information that up until now anybody that can unlock your iPhone/iPad can have access to.

iOS 9.3 looks to combat this issue by offering users the ability to protect notes with sensitive information either by using a password or Touch ID. Simply tap the share icon within the note you want to protect, tap 'Lock Note' and input your desired password. Note that this only has to be done once and all future notes will be protected using the same password. To lock the note, simply tap the padlock icon. It's as simple as that.

6-digit passcode

iOS 9 and later

As of iOS 9, instead of the 4-digit passcodes we've been used to in the past, you'll be asked during setup to create a 6-digit passcode to increase your security.

You can still opt for the classic passcode (we explain how to go back to 4 digits here: How to change an iPhone or iPad passcode from six digits back to four digits) but Apple recommends you use the new format: it opens up one million possible combinations instead of 10,000.

How to set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine

iOS 8 and later

Privacy could be the next big issue that divided Apple and Google - and one of the ways Apple has set itself on the 'privacy-respecting' side of things is this small concession to iOS users: you can now set DuckDuckGo (a search engine that doesn't track your searches, doesn't profile its users, and shows the same search results to everyone) as the default search engine on your iPhone or iPad.

To enable DuckDuckGo, go to the Settings app and scroll down to Safari. Tap the top option (Search Engine) and put a tick next to the search engine you want to use as the default. As well as Google and the privacy-optimised DuckDuckGo you can go for Yahoo or Bing, which we can only assume were put in there to annoy Google.

(There are more privacy options in the dedicated Privacy section of Settings, by the way.)

Unlock iOS without pressing Home button

iOS 10 and later

Here's a quick tip. If you're sick of having to press the Home button to unlock your iOS 10 device (the sheer physical labour of it!) and prefer to just lightly rest your fingertip there like you used to do in iOS 9, open the Settings app and go to General > Accessibility > Home Button and tap Rest Finger to Open.

Read more: How to unlock iPhone or iPad in iOS 10 without pressing Home button

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