Apple iPhones arrived in 2007 running an unnamed operating system. A year later, it got the boring sobriquet of “iPhone OS 1.” By 2010, the marketing people got their acts together and came up with “iOS,” just in time for version 4 to debut.
We are now up to iOS 14, and the previous decade-plus has included a lot of changes—from embracing dedicated apps (in version 2) and dropping skeuomorphism for flat images (in iOS 7) to finally embracing widgets last year.
Apple iOS is so full of features that no review or story can cover it all. But we compiled our favorite tips, tricks, and secrets about iOS and the iPhone. Things that will make your day—and your life—more productive, and put you on the path to being an iPhone expert.
Shift Your Keyboard Left or Right
Trying to type with one thumb? The default iOS keyboard offers a left- or right-leaning option. Hold your finger on the globe or emoji icon at the bottom of the keyboard (if you have three or more keyboards installed, it’ll display the globe), and in the pop-up, you’ll see an option for a left and right keyboard. Tap your preference. Tap the arrow pointing opposite of your preference to go back to full screen. (This only works in Portrait Mode).
Hold the Space Bar to Make a Trackpad
You’re typing along and want to move the cursor up and change something you wrote. You could tap the screen, but your thumbs are already flying. Keep them on the virtual keyboard by holding down on the spacebar. You’ll see the keyboard go blank and allow you to move the cursor whenever you want as you drag your thumb tip around. Drop the cursor as desired and delete or type as needed.
Create Text Replacements
Got things you type over and over and over like “I’m on the way home!” or “I love you more than the sun and moon and stars!”? Go into Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement. Click the plus (+) icon at the top to enter a phrase and then a shortcut. Any time you type the shortcut in the future (such as “otw”), the full phrase (like “I’m on the way home, leave me alone!”) will spring to life on the keyboard’s text preview to tap on. You can even use it to type a letter combo to bring up a frequently used combo of emoji.
Swipe Type to QuickPath
Many third-party iOS keyboards have had the ability to swipe-type—that is, moving your finger or thumb around the keys without lifting it to type words. As of iOS 13, it’s also part of the Apple default keyboard in iOS. Apple calls it QuickPath.
Screenshot an Entire, Lengthy Web Page
If you’re taking a screenshot on your iPhone, a thumbnail will appear on the bottom left for annotation. Tap it to bring it full screen. If you took the shot while using the Safari browser, and the web page you’re on extends past the size of the screen, look at the top—you should see a tab that says “Full page.” Tap it and a slider appears on the right displaying the full page, even if you didn’t scroll through it all originally.
We don’t all have scanners and printers in our homes these days, but don’t fret. Apple offers an easy way to digitally sign a document. Take a screenshot of it and tap the thumbnail. On the lower right, click the Plus sign. One of the options is Signature. Sign it right on the screen (or use a stored one). Once you have a sig, hit Done, and then drag it up on to the document in the screenshot. Place it, resize it, and save it to send.
Customize Settings Per Web Page
Some web pages look great with default settings, others don’t. Create settings that are per-web site, so for example, one site comes in at a larger font, while the rest are smaller. Simply click on the AA font icon in the address bar when visiting a site. You can set the font size, but also click on Website Settings to specify if you want to always see the desktop version; jump right into the Safari Reader (which makes pages easier to read by stripping out extraneous stuff); or turn off all your content and advertising blockers.
Turn Off Your Microphone on Screen Recordings
To screen record your iPhone and iPad, navigate to Settings > Control Center and make sure Screen Recording is listed under Included Controls (if not, tap the green plus button down below). A screen-record button will then appear in your Control Center. When recording, you may notice that it’s also recording audio around you. That’s so you can make a voice over. If you’ll be adding voice later, or don’t need the voice over, long-press on the button in Control Center. Down below, you’ll see either Microphone Off or Microphone On—set your preference.
Broadcast Your Screen
Holding down the Screen Recording button in Control Center also produces another option. You can pick an app into which your recording can be saved (like Photos) or do a direct broadcast. The apps that support broadcast include chats like Facebook Messenger, video meeting tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype, or even social sharing networks like TikTok.
Enhance Your Voice
In Voice Memos you can use Enhanced Recording to reduce background noise. Make a recording, click the three-dot (…) menu, select Edit Recording, click the magic wand icon at the upper right and then Done.
Force App Updates
Do you worry that the app you’re using may not be the most up-to-date version? Make sure the App Store is set to auto-update apps. Go to Settings > App Store and turn on Automatic Downloads. (If you’re worried about using up data, set it to “Always Ask” or “Ask if Over 200 MB”). If you don’t want to wait, open the App Store app, tap your picture, swipe down to update, and tap Update All, if it appears. (Bonus: if you see an app in that list that you don’t use anymore, swipe it left to delete it without having to go find the app on your home screen.)
Silence Unknown Callers
Inundated by robocalls? Go to Settings > Phone > Silence Unknown Callers. When that’s turned on, any number that’s not in your contacts, Siri suggestions, or recently called list will go directly to voicemail. A silent notification will tell you that a call has been silenced; you can view the number in your Recents list. If you’ve got to keep your line open to unknown callers, you should really be using a secondary number via a second SIM card or VoIP burner account.
Make Calls Over Wi-Fi
If cellular service in your area is iffy, Wi-Fi Calling can tap into your home’s Wi-Fi network to place calls. You’ll need a wireless carrier that supports it, but if it does, go to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling to turn it on. Be sure to set up an Emergency Address for you phone; 911 centers can’t pinpoint location for VoIP calls. You’ll know it’s on when you swipe to see the Control Center and the word “Wi-Fi” appears next to your carrier’s name.
Hang Up Via Airplane
Hanging up on people, even when you really want to, is impolite. But if you are in a call and switch on Airplane mode, the call is cut off as if the call failed. Then you don’t look responsible. (Thanks to @kaansanity on TikTok for this idea.)
Move Multiple Apps at Once
You can group apps together on the home screen by dragging one app atop another to make a folder. But what if you want to move a bunch of apps to another page on the home screen? Don’t do it one at a time. Instead, hold down on one app until it goes all wiggly, then use another finger to tap a bunch of apps. They’ll be grouped; you’ll see a number increment go up as they’re added. Without removing your finger, drag that stack to a new page and drop them all at once. It takes practice.
Change the Default Apps
Apple has long favored its own apps, which means links and emails default to opening in the Mail app or Safari. With iOS 14, however, you can now change your default mail or browser app to something like Gmail or Chrome. Here’s our full explainer our how to set it up.
Hide a Page of Apps
Got some apps on your phone you want to hide but not delete? Put them all on a single screen. Then, hold your finger on the screen to go into the wiggle mode, and tap the home screen scroll dots at the bottom. You’ll get an Edit Pages interface that lets you turn off the view of an entire page of apps. This doesn’t delete apps, and you can still swipe down to access Spotlight search and find the apps easily. But it’s a quick way to keep some apps from prying eyes.
Drag the Volume
Previously, you could only increase or decrease the volume on your phone by using the physical up and down volume buttons on the left side of the iPhone—which added a volume overlay on the screen. With iOS 13, Apple banished that large volume box for an unobtrusive slider. Plus, when you click the volume button, you can also tap the slider to pump up the jams or take it down a notch. That slider also features an icon if it’s playing on a speaker or via Bluetooth.
Want to quickly undo a mistake in iOS? With iOS 13 and above, you have a few options.
- Swipe three fingers to the left
- Single-tap three fingers on the screen
- Shake to undo
Swiping left will automatically undo, while a single tap will produce a quick toolbar at the top that shows an undo curly arrow (plus cut/copy/paste and a redo button). Shake to undo, meanwhile, could be annoying in other circumstances, so you might want to disable that one in Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Shake to Undo and toggle it off.
Take the Night Shift
You shouldn’t look at your iPhone before you go to bed—that blue light doesn’t help you sleep. But we all do it, so activate Night Shift via Settings > Display & Brightness, which reduces the blue wavelength of light on the screen. It will add a yellowish tint to the screen (which you can control in Settings), so it may make video look a little off, but it’s fine for reading. Set it to activate at pre-scheduled times and shut off in the morning, or you can manually turn it on until the next day.
Set an Animated Lock Screen
If you’ve got some fun Live Photos on your phone—which include a few seconds of video—you can put one on your iPhone Lock Screen to view whenever you whip out the handset. Go to Settings > Wallpaper > Choose a Wallpaper. Scroll down to the Live Photos option to see all the Live Photos you have stored. Pick one and drag it around with one finger to place it, or zoom in and out with two fingers to get it just right. Push down on the screen with one finger to see what the animation will look like. Tap Set > Set Lock Screen. (If you select Home Screen, or Both, it’ll also appear on your iPhone home screen behind all the app icons.) To enjoy it, push on the screen to watch the photo in motion before you unlock your phone.
Customize Icons, Widgets, and More
iOS is now (almost) as customizable as Android. For full details read How to Add Custom Icons, Widgets to Your iPhone Home Screen in iOS 14.
Share Your Wi-Fi Password Automatically
Want to share your Wi-Fi password without writing down a complicated string of numbers and letters? Make sure you and your guest both have Bluetooth turned on. Then, have them navigate to their Wi-Fi settings. If they have an iOS (12 or higher), iPadOS, or macOS (High Sierra or later) device, and they’re in your contacts list, a pop-up will appear on your screen saying Do you want to share the Wi-Fi password for [network name] with [contact name]? Tap Share Password and that person will be logged in.
Quick Switch a Network or Bluetooth Connection
Stop going into Settings every time you want to manually switch a Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth connection. Instead, swipe to get the Control Center. The top-left section has the connection buttons for Airplane mode, Cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth grouped together. Long-press on the group and a menu pops out showing them, as well as AirDrop and Personal Hotspot buttons. Hold down on Wi-Fi for a quick menu of all available networks; do the same to Bluetooth for a list of possible connections.
Change Siri’s Voice
Voice assistants have long defaulted to female voices. Siri has offerred the option to switch to a male voice since 2013, and the female voice will soon reportedly no longer be the default. But if you want to change up Siri’s voice after the fact, go into Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice. In addition to a generic American female voice, you can select an Australian, British, Indian, Irish, or South African accent with a male or female voice. Or set the language, so even if they sound Irish, they’d use US phrases.
Teach Siri Names
Sometimes Siri gets names tragically wrong, especially the people in your contacts. Sometimes she recognizes that and will ask if she should learn how to pronounce it, but other times you have to correct her. Say “Hey, Siri, learn how to pronounce [name].” Once she confirms the name in your contact that you want, she’ll have you pronounce it, and give you choices on screen. Pick the one she got right.
Find Your Other iOS Devices
If all your iOS devices are on the same Apple/iCloud account, it won’t be hard to find them. Say “Hey, Siri, find my iPad” (for example) to the device you actually have in your possession. The iPad will start playing a chime, which should continue until you find the device and turn it off. You can also use the Find My app.
For more, read 10 Tips for Using and Tweaking Siri on Your iPhone or iPad.
Swipe to Delete Calculator Entry Mistakes
The calculator built into iOS is pretty basic, though it becomes pretty powerful when you turn your phone to landscape mode, which transforms it into a scientific calculator full of exponential, logarithmic, and trigonometric options. You can tap the Clear (C) to clear your last entry, or All Clear (AC) to clear all your entries. But if you put in one wrong digit, and catch yourself, simply swipe. Any swipe on the calculator’s display up top in either direction deletes the last number you typed. Keep swiping to trash a few in a row.
Skip the Calculator to Calculate
If you have some quick and dirty addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division you need to hit quickly, just use the search bar. On the home page or widgets page, swipe down from the middle of the screen for search, type in the operation, and you’ll get the answer up top. It’s flexible enough to realize that an “x” and a “*” can both be used for multiplication. It can even handle operations like 9^2 (which equals 81, as that’s 9 squared) or 9% 100, it shows as 9 (because that’s 9% of 100). Click Go on the keyboard and it will push you to the Calculator app.
Want to zoom in on your face during a FaceTime call? Double tap and your thumbnail expands to full-size. It doesn’t zoom in anything for the person on the other end.
Take a FaceTime Pic
Click the screen as you’re chatting to bring up the menu. You’ll see a round white shutter button right over the video. Click it and you’ve taken a Live Photo (the kind with Harry Potter-esque motion) of the person on the other end.
Stop Making Eye Contact Against Your Will
In a video call, we usually look at the person we are conversing with on the screen. That’s natural to us, but it means that you are not really making eye contact with the person on the other end—because you’re not looking at the camera. In iOS 14, Apple built in a feature by default into FaceTime called Eye Contact that subtly, digitally adjusts your eyes so they appear to be looking at the camera, and thus at the other person. It works well, but if you don’t want it, go into Settings > FaceTime > Eye Contact to deactivate.
Make Custom Ringtones for Each Contact
Want to know who’s calling without looking at the screen? Assign a custom ring tone sound to your most frequent callers. Enter their contact entry, click Edit at top, and scroll down to Ringtone. You’ll get the full list of available ringtones on your iPhone. Click Classic at bottom and you’ll even see the list of original ringtones that came with the first iPhones. Even the Alert Tones you’d usually use for an incoming Message can be used for phone calls. (If you don’t see one you like, tap Tone Store to go into the iTunes store and buy a tone for around $1.29 each.) While you’re in that contact, you can also set a custom Text Tone in exactly the same way.
Make Custom Good Vibrations
If your phone is on vibrate, a custom ringtone won’t help you ID a caller or texter, sight unseen. Assign frequent contacts an individual vibration pattern. On the contact, tap Ringtone again and at the top, tap Vibration. It is likely set to default. You’ll see a few options in there like “Alert” and “Heartbeat” and “Symphony.” But you can create your own by clicking Create New Vibration. On the next screen, tap a pattern. Click Stop, then Save, and give it a name. Click back to Ringtone screen and click Done to finish.
Create an SOS Contact
First, make sure your most important people are in your contacts. Then go to Health, click the icon of your face, then Medical ID > Edit > Emergency Contacts to designate one or more as emergency SOS person(s) if you have an issue. (SOS also contacts emergency services.) A red asterisk icon will no now appear next to them in the Contacts list.
To send an SOS, hold down the power button on the right and one of the volume buttons on the left at same time. You can either use the Emergency SOS slider, or keep holding the buttons—a countdown will start, an alert will sound, and when the call goes through to 911, messages are sent to your emergency contacts.
Use Volume Buttons as Shutter Buttons
If you’re in the camera app, you don’t need to use the button on the screen. Click either of the volume button to take a snapshot. It’ll also start/stop a video capture.If you’ve got wired earbuds connected to your iPhone, you can use the volume buttons on the wire to do the same thing, essentially using it like a remote shutter.
Hidden QR Code Scanner
The Camera app includes a QR scanner, but for quick access, Apple has a hidden, standalone QR code scanner app. As Lifehacker notes, swipe down from the the top of the screen, type CodeScanner, and an app will appear. Tap it to open and snap a photo of a QR code.
Lock Camera Focus
In the Camera app, the iPhone refocuses instantaneously as you move or your subject moves. If you don’t want that, hold a finger on screen on the area you want in focus—you’ll know it worked when it says AF Lock at the top.
Look at yourself in the front camera of your iPhone. You are seeing a mirror image, to keep it natural to humans used to seeing their reflection. When you take a pic or video, the image gets flipped, so it appears as if someone were behind the camera. You usually want that. If you don’t, go into Settings > Camera and turn on Mirror Front Camera.
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Initially, you held your finder down on the white shutter button to get a burst mode of several pictures. In iOS 14, that changed—now holding down your finger on the button starts shooting a video until you release it. (Drag it right to keep it going without your finger). You can still get a Burst—a great way to get still images of things in action. Hold the button and drag it left. Or in Settings > Camera > Use Volume Up for Burst, you can set that to happen.
Strip Data from Photos to Share
When you’re sharing images directly from the Photos app to just about anyone or any service, they take with them all the information collected at the time the image was shot, in particular location data. Now, when you do that, click the Share Button, but before you send/share, click Options at the top. The options include stripping out the GeoIP metadata that spells out the location. If you select All Photo Data, that takes out everything like the edit history, crops, filters, and Live Photo effects you may have applied.
Scan Multiple Pages Into a PDF
Hold down your finger on the Notes app icon and you get an instant menu of things to do, like add a new note, a new checklist, or even Scan Document. That’s a powerful one, giving you a way to take a picture of all the pages in a physical document, and stitch them together into one long PDF. You can then go in and view it page by page in the app, or share it with others.
Draw a Note
Sometimes you just want to write out a note, or even sketch it. You can get fancy apps for that, but the Notes app can handle it. In any note, new or old, click the pen nib icon to get a menu of possible writing implements at the bottom—a marker, highlighter, or pencil, along with an eraser and a lasso to grab entire areas of the drawing. Hold a finger down on the tool and you’ll get different line thickness options. Tap the color wheel to change the color and opacity of your virtual link or lead.
Password Protect a Note
First go to Settings > Notes > Password. Tap either iCloud or On My Phone—it depends on where you store your most important notes—then enter a password, verify it, and give yourself a hint. You can also turn on Touch ID or Face ID (depending on your iPhone) to require it to open notes—but that still requires putting in a password. This doesn’t instantly put a password on your Notes app. Within the app, swipe left and tap the lock to lock down a specific note.
Draw Your Message
Sometimes you want to send a hand-drawn picture to a friend. You don’t need to sketch on paper and take a picture. Just turn your phone. When you’re in a Messages thread, the keyboard will display an icon that looks like a hand-drawn loop. Click it for a blank canvas on which you can draw (only in black “ink”). Pre-written options can be found listed at the bottom, and anything you send will also join the list. Hold a finger down on a pre-written note to delete it.
Name a Group
Group messaging is a hallmark of any good message service. Now in a thread with other iOS or macOS users, you get enough to control to name the conversation. You can even assign an over-arching emoji or Memoji to the group for easy access. Click where it says “X people” under the icon then Info > Change Name and Photo, to provide a Group Name. You’ll also see a section of avatar options. If you don’t like those, pick one anyway, and on the next screen you can replace it with any emoji. (This doesn’t work if you’ve got a non-iOS user, say someone with an Android phone, in the group.)
Thread Messages in Group Chat
Like a Slack channel, sometimes group messages in the Messages app get out of hand with everyone talking. Instead, thread your replies. Hold a finger on a particular message, tap Reply, and everything else gets grayed out while you type a reply to send. Once sent, a mini thread appears at the bottom. (Keep in mind, it’s not private—anyone in the group can see the threaded reply and also chime in.)
Enhance Password Security
iOS 14 features Security Recommendation, which are handy if you store a lot of passwords in iOS, be it for apps or website visits. It’ll tell you if a password appeared in a known data breach/leak, and suggest you make changes if you have repeated passwords (because that’s a big no-no). Visit this at Settings > Passwords > Security Recommendations.
Hide Your Precise Locale
Smartphones track not only what you do, but also where you are. Block some of that. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and you can see the settings for every app; go into each to turn off the Precise Location. Some apps need that—but most don’t need exact coordinates.
Turn Off Ratings Nags
Do you hate when apps constantly ask you to rate them? They need it for a better rank in the App Store, but it can get annoying. Go to Settings > App Store and turn off In-App Ratings & Reviews.
Set Face ID to Work (Hopefully) With a Mask
We live in the age of COVID and going forward plenty of us will still be masking. Apple has yet to fix Face ID to fully support wearing a mask, though hope is there for an upcoming feature that lets Apple Watch users unlock even while masked. Currently, Face ID is meant to work with eyes, nose, and mouth all visible to the camera. However, there’s a workaround. First, set up a normal Face ID with your face uncovered. Then, set up an Alternative Appearance. Fold a mask in half and scan half your face with it, as it covers just the tip if your nose and half your mouth. You may get errors, so move it around a bit to get it to scan. Then test it to see if it works with your mask fully on. You can read full instructions over at 9to5Mac.
Unlock via Voice
This one only works if you have a 5-digit or fewer passcode on your phone, but it’s a great option when you’re out wearing a mask and have to access your iPhone a lot. Go to Settings > Accessibility> Voice Control. Turn it on, tap Customize Commands > Custom > Create New Command… and type in a phrase you want to say like “Saddlesoap.” Click Action to pick Run Custom Gesture. Tap or swipe a gesture that would hit your passcode. (This requires you knowing at least approximately where the number pad keys will be.) Tap stop and Save at the top a couple times. Next time you’re out, tap the screen, look for the icon of a microphone in a blue circle at top—that means the iPhone is listening—and say “Saddlesoap.” Watch your phone unlock itself for you.
A noise for every alert isn’t always enough. You can get your iPhone’s LED light to flash when certain messages come in. Go to General > Accessibility > Enable LED Flash for Alerts.
Turn Voice Off (or On) via Voice
If you want to stop using Voice Control, say “hey, Siri, turn off Voice Control.” Or use the reverse to turn it on. When it’s on, say “Show me what to say” to get a list of commands for your iPhone, such as “go to sleep,” “wake up,” “lock screen,” or “show grid continuously.” That last one puts an overlay grid on your screen, with numbered boxes. Say the name of the box and it can zoom in or “push” an icon or button for you.
Mouse Around the iPhone
Did you know you can connect a Bluetooth mouse to your iPhone, and use it to mimic your fingers? Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Assistive Touch, and turn it on. Then scroll down to Devices > Bluetooth Devices. Turn on your Bluetooth pointing device, and pair it here. Customize the mouse clicks to reflect how you use your fingers.
Back Tap to Success
You can set up Back Tap so that a double-tap or triple-tap on the back of your phone performs an action you might otherwise have to work at. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap to turn it on. Then pick a system action to perform for each, including muting the phone, taking a screenshot, activating Siri, locking the screen, activating various Accessibility options (like Voice Control or Zoom), and even activating shortcuts. For more read Accessibility for Everyone: How to Use Back Tap on Your iPhone in iOS 14.
I’m Getting Pulled Over
This mashup of Siri, Accessibility, and Shortcuts is perfect for anyone who wants an instant record of a problem interaction, such as getting pulled over. Once installed, “I’m getting pulled over”—created by Robert Petersen—will let you say “Hey Siri, I’m getting pulled over” or tap it in the Shortcuts app, which will:
- Turn on Do Not Disturb
- Dim your screen
- Pause any playing audio
- Text your location to pre-selected contacts
- Start recording video
Set Do Not Disturb by Location
In the Shortcuts app, click Automation > Plus sign (+) > Create Personal Automation > Arrive. Then enter a location address, such as your school or workplace. Click Done, leave it at Any Time or set a Time Range (like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), then Next. Click Add Action > Scripting > Set Do Not Disturb. Where it says “Off” toggle to “On;” where it says “Turned Off” pick “until I leave.” Tap Next. You’ll see the new shortcut listed in Personal, and you don’t have to do anything to activate it other than show up.
Say Cheese Via Siri
This is another Shortcut you can download. If you have it and say, “Hey, Siri, say cheese” the Shortcut will activate to take a hands-free photo for you. You can set it up to default to the front or back camera, and also tell it where to save the image in your Photos app. Click on the entry for it in Shortcuts to make sure you give it access to your camera. Also, the iPhone has to be unlocked for it to work.