iPhone Tips and Tricks

It is that time of the year again. New iPhone was just released, and just like every year this means an influx of new users. This year the number is bolstered by the epic failure of RIM that took millions of Blackberry users offline for a bout a week. So I noticed I have been teaching more and more people various little tricks that are not always immediately apparent or intuitive, but which are nevertheless integral to the iOS experience.

Here is a short list of non-intuitive iPhone tricks:

Show Battery Percentage

This one is actually right there in the menus, but I think it should be mentioned, considering how many people do not have it on. In fact, I have no clue why this feature is not on by default. If you want your phone to display the percentage of battery juice left instead of the difficult to read battery picture simply go to:

Settings –> General –> Usage –> Turn on Battery Percentage

Take a Screenshot

This is possibly the most commonly asked question I get. Most iPhone users learn this in the first few days of messing around with their device, but it is not obvious since there is no button or UI cues that would show you how to do it. So in case you don’t know it yet, here is how to take a screenshot:

Hold the Home Button and then click the On/Off switch on the top of your phone. This works in every app, as well as on the lock screen. The screenshot goes directly to your Camera Roll.

Take Pictures in Locked Mode

This is a new feature in iOS 5, and a very nifty one at that. You can now quickly access your camera from the lock screen without unlocking your phone by double clicking on the Home Button. It will bring up the alternate lock screen menu, with a little camera button in the corner. Tap that, and you can snap a picture. You can also use Volume Up as a shutter release button which is also nice.

The best thing about this trick is that it locks your Camera Roll. You can only access the pictures you took in this session. This is great when you want to give your phone to someone to take a picture of you, but you don’t want them to “accidentally” look through your entire picture collection.

Select Entire Paragraph

This is a trick known only by small percentage of iOS power users. When editing text in any application (email, text message box, Safari text box, etc..) two finger swipe to the left will select the entire current paragraph. This will prevent you from messing around with the selection handles and let you quickly copy and paste big chunks of text.

Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the rarely used features of iOS are the “keyboard shortcuts” – probably because of the confusing name. I call them text filters, or text expander because that’s what they really are. By default, iOS comes with a single “shortcut”. When you type the string omw and press space, it will auto expand to “On my way!”

You can add more shortcuts like these by going to:

Settings –> General –> Keyboard

The shortcut section is near the bottom. So far I have added only one replacement code – but a very, very useful one. On my phone, typing “lod” will expand into ಠ_ಠ. I find myself using the look of disapproval emoticon at least once a week, and before I discovered this feature I used to copy and paste it from the web.

Scroll to Top

To quickly scroll all the way to the top of the web page in Safari or to the top of the list in most apps simply tap the status bar (you know, where your clock is). In the Twitter app for example, this lets you skip to the top of your feed without automatically updating it.

Quick Period at the end of the Sentence

This is a quick tip that will save you a lot of finger pecking. To quickly add a period at the end of the sentence you just typed, simply double tap the space bar. It will convert the first space into a period automatically and let you continue typing.

Quick Caps

To quickly capitalize characters, press and hold on the shift key, and then swipe to the chosen letter.

Alternatively, you can enable the “CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL” feature by double tapping shift. To disable the caps lock mode, just tap shift one more time.

Extra Characters

To see extra accented characters and non-standard punctuation marks you can tap and hold any of the keys. It will unroll extra options and you can swipe to choose the one you like.

If you are like me, and you sometimes need to type in a foreign language that has non-standard accented letters not included in the default English keyboard layout, you can add another layout by going to:

Settings –> General –> Keyboard –> International Keyboards –> Add New Keyboard

This will add a tiny globe key next to the space bar. You can tap on it to quickly cycle between your layouts.

Swipe-less Page Switching

Normally when you are on your home screen, you swipe left or right to move between the pages. On the bottom, just above the dock there is a row of dots that marks your position. If you tap to the left or to the right of the dots you will skip to the previous/next page on the list.

Additionally, clicking the Home Button will automatically take you to the first page, regardless of where you are.

Force Quit, Reboot and Shutdown

When an app freezes on you you can hold the Home Button for 5 seconds or longer to force quit the current app.

If that does not work, you can hold the Home Button an the On/Off button together for 10 seconds or more to force your phone to reboot.

To shut down your phone completely, hold the On/Off button by itself for 10 seconds.

Recently Used Apps

When you are on the home screen, you can double click the Home Button to see a list of recently used apps. You can move through the list by swiping left and right.

Lock/Unlock Orientation

When you are in the recently used app mode, you can swipe to the left to access iPod controls. The leftmost button on that screen however does not have anything to do with music playback. It locks/unlocks the
phone orientation. When it is toggled, your phone will use the current orientation in most of it’s native apps.

A buddy from work accidentally locked his phone in portrait mode this way, and turning the phone in the Test/iMessage screen would not change to the landscape orientation. Amusingly enough, not all apps respect this setting, so landscape mode would work in some, while not in others causing all kinds of frustration and bewilderment.

Send to Voicemail

Most people know that clicking any of the volume buttons will silence the phone when there is an incoming call. If you want to send the caller directly to your voicemail right away, you can double click the On/Off button instead.

Swipe to Delete

Quite a few apps support this feature, but new users rarely realize it is there. In most built in iOS apps and many 3rd party ones that show you a list of things (for example a list of emails in the mail app) you can quickly delete an item by swiping it. This usually results in the red “delete” button showing up allowing you to delete it.

Clear the Text Box and Start Over
via Gui13 in the comments

Let’s say you typed up a long tweet or a message, and suddenly decided you don’t like the phrasing and would like to start over. You could backspace all your text, or select and cut it but there is an easier way.

To completely clear out all the text from a box simply shake your phone. A little popup will ask you if you want to undo your typing, and let you either clear the box or cancel.

Do you have any tips you would like to add to this? Let me know in the comments.

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12 Responses to iPhone Tips and Tricks

  1. road UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Nice list, thanks. FYI – you don’t have to double-tap to Scroll to Top. A single-tap will do it.

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  2. Gui13 FRANCE Google Chrome Linux says:

    Wrote an SMS but you would like to erase everything and start again?
    Just shake the phone :)

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ road:

    You are correct. I fixed the entry.

    @ Gui13:

    I did not know about this! Thanks. This is definitely a very neat trick!

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:


    Sorry couldn’t resist.

    Reply  |  Quote
  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    Nope. Just a satisfied user. Love their hardware and user experience but I do not have some unconditional fanboy love for Apple.

    For example, I don’t like the App Store bullshit policies that lock out arbitrary sets of useful apps (I’m still fuming that Apple blocked all the Wifi stumblers). I usually tell this to people who consider the iPhone – it is a lovely phone, but a closed system with arbitrary rules that govern which apps are blessed and which are condemned.

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  6. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Oh great, I wonder if android store has wifi stumblers, don’t know why would I need one though. :D

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Liudvikas wrote:

    don’t know why would I need one though

    War driving and stuff. :)

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  8. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Yes but I wouldn’t have any use for it. Whenever I’m on the move I can use 3g and when I need something better, well then I can’t actually go around looking for open wifi’s.

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    No, you wardrive for science. Just keep it on in your car, and then you can see how many open wifi networks you have passed by and laugh. I don’t like to use unknown wifi because I’m always afraid it is a honeypot that will steal my passwords. :P

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  10. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Glados? Is that you?
    For science isn’t enough of an excuse.

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  11. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    @ Gui13:
    That sounds risky. What if you’re writing an SMS (in the passenger seat) on a bumpy road?

    Reply  |  Quote
  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ nitro2k01:

    They thought of that. When the shake is detected, you get a popup asking whether you want to “undo typing” or cancel. So even if it gets triggered accidentally you won’t lose your text.

    Also, that feature never really triggered for me accidentally despite being on bumpy rides, or gesticulating with my hand while the iPhone was in it. When they say shake, they mean shake – not wave with it. You probably need as much force as shaking a ketchup bottle before use (maybe little less) before the thing registers – so it is not something that happens all the time.

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