Siri & accessibility
As we discovered last time, the General settings panel is a bit of a hodge-podge, so it's worth taking a closer look at some of the options hidden in here. One new feature that was introduced in iOS 8 is 'Hey Siri', which allows you to activate Siri without pressing the Home button and just using your voice.
When this option is turned on and the iPhone or iPad is also connected to a power source, you can just say 'Hey Siri' to activate Siri and ask it questions or issue commands. Leaving Siri turned on all the time so that it can listen for your voice commands can drain your battery faster, which is why Apple thinks that you need to be charging the device to use this option (although there is a workaround that will make 'Hey Siri' work without power, which we'll come back to another time).
There are a few other Siri options here as well, such as changing the language, or switching between male and female voices for Siri.
Turn off Parallax
It's taken us quite a while to cover the long list of options that are crammed together in the General settings panel on iOS devices, but there's one complete group of settings that we won't include here. Like Macs, iOS devices include a number of Accessibility features that are designed to help people who have problems with vision, hearing or motor skills. (We are planning to cover them in a separate article, coming soon!)
However, there are a few features found in the Accessibility settings that it's worth mentioning here as they can be useful for many people regardless of whether or not they have visual or other problems. For instance, the infamous 'parallax' effect on the Home screen that makes a lot of people feel sea-sick can be turned off by selecting the 'Reduce Motion' option within the Accessibility settings panel.
Another useful feature found within the Accessibility settings is the Guided Access option. When you activate Guided Access you can lock down your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch so that it only runs one specific app. This can be useful for teachers who only want their students to have access to a particular app during a lesson.
You can also block specific features within that app, which is useful for parents who might want to be extra sure that they've blocked in-app purchases, or perhaps online features that you might feel are unsuitable for young children.
You start by turning on Guided Access in the Accessibility settings, and then launching the app that you want to run. Quickly press the Home button three times, and you'll see the Accessibility menu, which allows you to activate either the on-screen Zoom function or Guided Access. Select Guided Access and you will be prompted to use your finger to draw around the buttons or other parts of the screen that you want to block.
We'll launch iBooks and then block the features - greyed out at the bottom of the screen - that would allow someone to gain access to the iBookstore and start spending money.
Guided Access provides a number of other useful options too, such as the ability to limit the time a child can spend playing a game. And the only way to turn off Guided Access and leave iBooks so that you can use other apps is by entering your passcode.
So, moving on from General Settings at long last, the next option that we come across is the Display And Brightness option. This is fairly straightforward, as it provides a simple slider control for adjusting the brightness of your screen. However, the Auto-Brightness option can be a bit unpredictable, so there's a couple of things that are worth mentioning here.
As the name implies, Auto-Brightness uses the light sensor in your iPhone or iPad to check the ambient light levels around you, and then automatically attempts to adjust the screen brightness for you. The aim is to maintain visibility, whilst also lowering the brightness wherever possible in order to preserve battery power. It doesn't always work, though, and some people simply prefer to turn off Auto-Brightness altogether.
However, you can modify the way Auto-Brightness works by leaving it turned on and then using the slider control to increase or decrease the brightness. The Auto-Brightness setting will then note that you prefer the brightness to be higher or lower and will use your settings rather than its automatic default setting.
Zooming in on the display
The Display And Brightness Settings also include a number of controls for enhancing screen visibility, which are separate from the more specialised tools found in the Accessibility settings. The Display Zoom allows you to choose Standard and Zoomed views of screen elements such as icons and buttons, while the text controls can be used to increase the standard size of text and to add a bold effect to the text as well.
However, these text controls only work with apps that have been written to specifically support the 'Dynamic Type' feature that is part of iOS itself. As you'd expect, Apple's own apps support Dynamic Type, so you'll see larger text in Mail, Notes and the other apps that are built into iOS. Unfortunately, there are quite a few apps that don't work with Dynamic Type, which is why Apple includes additional Zoom and magnification features within the Accessibility settings.
Set the volume level for alert
The Wallpaper settings panel is simple enough, just allowing you to change the wallpaper displayed on the background of your Home screen. You can use Apple's ready-made wallpapers, or import your own photos from your Camera Roll or photo-streams, but there are no hidden surprises in there.
The Sounds settings are largely straightforward too, as they mostly just allow you to choose which sounds play whenever your iPhone or iPad receives calls, emails and other messages that need your attention. But there is one useful option in here that people sometimes miss. It used to annoy me that turning down the volume on my iPhone would sometimes cause me to miss messages because I couldn't hear the alert sound properly. Then I realised that you can set the volume level for alert sounds separately from the volume level for playing music or listening to video in other apps.
The Ringer And Alerts setting provides a simple slider control so that you can set the volume level for alert sounds.
There's also an option called Change With Buttons. This option is turned on by default and it means that the volume level for alert sounds gets turned up and down along with the volume for everything else when you use the volume buttons on the edge of your iPhone or iPad. But if you turn this option off the volume for alerts remains fixed at the level that you set with the slider, regardless of the volume level used by other apps.
When you download a new keyboard it will appear on the Home screen of your iPhone or iPad just like any other app. However, you also need to go into Settings in order to activate each keyboard that you want to use.
Go into Keyboard settings and then tap Keyboards at the top of the screen. You'll see the standard iOS English keyboard listed, along with the Emoji keyboard that displays smiley faces and other symbols. Beneath those is the option to 'Add New Keyboard'. Tap on this and you'll see whatever keyboard apps you have installed. We've downloaded two new keyboards - Fleksy and Swype - that we want to try out.
Tap the name of the keyboard and you'll be asked if you want to give the keyboard 'full access'. Some people worry about this, as it means that the keyboard app could record everything you type and send it off to the developer of the app. But any app that did this wouldn't sell very well, so developers generally don't abuse the access that you grant them.
Shortcuts And Dictation
The next option in Keyboard settings is Text Replacement - previously known as Shortcuts in iOS 8 - which gives you a quick way to type out common words or phrases.
There's one shortcut already built into iOS 8 to help you get started - it lets you type 'omw' and then expands that into 'on my way'. You can add other shortcuts of your own for things like email or web addresses, so we'll add 'mw' as a shortcut that will allow us to automatically type out macworld.co.uk whenever we need to.
The keyboard settings in iOS 8 and 9 also include an option labelled 'Enable Dictation' that allows you to activate speech-to-text dictation on your keyboard (which used to be part of Siri). Turning this on displays a microphone icon on the keyboard, and you can then tap on the microphone to tell your iPhone to start taking dictation. Unfortunately, the microphone control only appears on the standard keyboard built into the iPhone, so you can't use dictation with other third-party keyboards that you may have installed.
The other thing to remember is that dictation requires an Internet connection while you're using it, and that anything you dictate will be send to the servers at Apple that handle the special speech-recognition software. Your location will be sent to Apple too, so just be aware that you're sharing this information whenever you use the Dictation option.
There are a few other options in the Keyboard settings as well, but these are mostly straightforward On/Off controls for things like the automatic spelling-checker and the Caps Lock button.
Lower case keyboard
I remember once complaining to Apple that the iOS keyboard always showed upper-case characters even when you were typing in lower-case, which could easily cause confusion if you were typing in a hurry.
Apple finally fixed this in iOS 9, as the keyboard now automatically switches between upper- and lower-case characters whenever you tap the Shift key or start a new sentence. But guess what? Now that we've got this feature that I asked for, I actually find it a bit distracting seeing characters switching on screen all the time.
Fortunately, you can turn it off by going into Settings/General/Accessibility/Keyboard. Just tap the button marked Show LowerCase Keys to turn this feature on or off.
There's also an option to turn off the preview display that shows a large version of each letter that you type, although this Character Preview option is found in Settings/General/Keyboard instead.
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