20 Things You Never Knew Your iPhone Could Do

Even though nearly everyone can use an iPhone or an iPad with very little training, it takes time and research to become an expert on iOS. And since Apple releases a new major version of their mobile operating system every year, chances are that even the most productive iOS users don’t know every trick and feature that the iPhone and iPad have to offer. So let’s have a quick look at 20 noteworthy features that you might have never encountered.


Use the GPS location of another iOS device that you own


A new addition coming with iOS 8, you can choose which of your devices’ location Messages and Find My Friends should use. Pretty sneaky, right? Those apps can think you’re home when in fact you’re in a totally different place! Naturally in order to do this trick you would need to have signed in with your Apple ID on at least two devices running iOS 8 and enabled this feature. To enable it and pick the location you’d like to broadcast, open Settings and navigate to Privacy > Location Services > Share My Location > From. Now just pick a device from the list on the screen.


Change your default search engine in Safari


While Google definitely does a great job serving relevant search results, some people are just not trusting and comfortable with Google. Fortunately, you can use another search provider that’s more to your liking. As of this moment, your choice is between Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo. If you’ve not heard of DuckDuckGo before, this is an engine that prides itself on not tracking its users. To switch to one of the alternative search engines, go to Settings > Safari > Search Engine.


Limit your ad tracking


If you don’t like the idea of advertisers keeping tabs on you, you can do a couple of things to mitigate the issue. First, you can send a Do Not Track message to websites you visit in Safari by going to Settings > Safari and turning on Do Not Track. You can also limit ad tracking by going to Settings > Privacy > Advertising and turning on Limit Ad Tracking. You may also optionally reset you advertising identifier.


Create a Medial ID


As part of the new Health app in iOS 8 you can now create a Medial ID for yourself. The purpose behind Medial ID is to give vital information about your health such as medical conditions, allergies, medications, etc to first aid responders and other people who are not familiar with your medical history should you ever be incapacitated and unable to communicate. In order to set up Medial ID, open the Contacts app, find your card in the list, scroll down and tap on Create Medial ID. In order to view someone else’s Medial ID, wake the phone, go to the passcode screen, tap on the Emergency button and choose Medical ID.

Change your default email address


Many of us use more than one email service on our iPhones and often the email address that we end up using the most isn’t necessarily the first one that was added to the device. In order to start composing new messages from the email address we prefer, we need to change the default email. To do so, open Settings and go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars. There find the Default Account field and choose your preferred account.


Set the phone to automatically wipe itself if someone starts guessing your passcode


Nowadays we keep all manner of sensitive information stored in our phones. Information that we certainly wouldn’t want in the hands of strangers. To that end, it might be worth setting your device to automatically erase itself if someone makes 10 failed attempts to enter your passcode.  To do so, go to Settings > Passcode, enter your passcode, swipe down and enable Erase Data.

A word of warning: make sure you do regular backups of your phone if you decide to turn on this option, especially if there are curious toddlers in your vicinity.


Minimize your draft email and then return back to it


So you’re writing an email and realize that you need a piece of information contained in another email on your phone. Oh, the pain!  You have to save this one as a draft, go find the other email, copy or read the contents, go to the Drafts folder, find the email you were working on and open it once again. Chances are by the time you return to your email you would’ve forgotten what you were looking for in the first place! Well no more – now a simple swipe gesture from the top of the draft window downward will minimize the draft and allow you to reference that other email. Returning to your minimized draft couldn’t be simpler – just tap on the draft’s subject at the bottom of your display.


Make your iPhone read to you

We all love reading on our iOS devices, but sometimes reading can be inconvenient or impossible. In those cases having the phone read to you can be the perfect solution. To enable this feature, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech and enable Speak Selection. Optionally also enable Highlight Content. Now when you want the device to read some text to you, all you need to do is select the text and choose Speak from the popup options.

Tip: Did you know that Siri can read your text messages and emails? All you need to do is ask it.

Use the LED flash as an alert system


In addition to sound and vibration, your iPhone can also attract your attention by using the LED flash for alerts. To enable this option, go to Settings > General > Accessibility and turn on LED Flash for Alerts.

Note: Using the LED flash as a notification light is anything but discrete. You might draw unwanted attention if you have the option enabled in dimly lit environments.


Use head movements to control your phone


Not many people know it, but the iPhone can track your head and take actions depending on your movements. Although it sounds very exciting, keep in mind that this is a very crude implementation which is why Apple hasn’t publicized it at all. You can enable the feature by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Switch Control. Here turn on Switch Control and go to Switches > Add New Switch… > Camera > Left/Right Head Movement. At this point you can see the list of actions you’re able to perform. Choose whichever you like. Since you have only two head movements available, you can have up to two actions controlled by the camera.

Tip: Although the instructions tell you to tilt your head to the left or right, you can achieve the same effect by slightly tilting the phone in the opposite direction to the head movement.

Note: Apple has not implemented any special hardware to increase the accuracy and battery conservation of this feature. Therefore don’t be surprised if this feature doesn’t work in all lighting conditions and if your battery drains faster than normal.


Talk you Siri without pressing a button


Just like “OK, Google Now”, Apple now has the “Hey Siri” voice command that can activate the virtual assistant. There’s just one caveat – the phone or tablet needs to be connected to a power source. To enable this feature, go to Settings > General > Siri and enable Allow “Hey Siri”. Be prepared for the spontaneous activations when talking to someone or watching a movie, though!


Quickly respond to notifications


In iOS 8 you can now take quick actions on banner notifications. Just swipe down on a banner to reveal its options. Conversely, you can swipe up a notification banner to dismiss it right away.


Quit multiple apps at once


It is well-known that you can quit an iOS app by swiping it up from the multitasking view. But what about multiple apps? You guessed it – it’s the same thing, just place a finger on each app you’d like to quit and swipe up!


Customizing the Contacts row in the multitasking view in iOS 8


iOS 8 comes with a nifty way of quickly calling people right from your multitasking view – just tap on the person you’d like to call and choose the method of communication. By default this list shows you the people you’ve recently been in contact with as well as your favorites. But what if you don’t care for one of the two lists of contacts? Just go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar > Show In App Switcher and choose which types of contacts you want to see in your multitasking view.


Manually manage your onboard and iCloud storage


You can regain onboard and iCloud storage quite easily without removing any of your apps. Just go to Settings > General > Usage. If your device is running low on storage, tap on Manage Storage under Storage and if your iCloud space is disappearing, tap Manage Storage under the iCloud label. From there locate an app that has information you don’t need – for example a movie that you’ve watched or magazines that you’ve read. Tap on the app to reveal its contents and then swipe left on the type of data you’d like to delete.

Note: make sure you know what you’re about to delete since there is no undo option. If you’re in doubt, open the corresponding app and figure out a way to delete the data from within the app rather than Settings. Also keep in mind that some app data cannot be deleted separately – you have to delete the entire app to get rid of it.


Listen and record voice messages right from your lock screen


Did you know you can now send voice messages from the Messages app by holding the microphone button and swiping up? Cool, right? But it gets even cooler – if you receive a voice message while your phone is locked, you can simply hold the phone to your ear and it will play the message. And that’s not all – hold the phone to your ear again and you can record your reply. When you bring down your phone the message will be sent. Sweet!


Add new widgets to Notification Center


If you’re running iOS 8 and have a couple of apps installed, chances are that some of those apps support the brand new Notification Center widget functionality. Bring down Notification Center, switch to the Today view and scroll down – you will see an Edit button and beneath it a label of how many new widgets you have available. Press Edit to see the new additions.


Enter a paragraph by typing a single word


If you find yourself typing the same canned response to a message over and over, you should consider making a text shortcut for it. To do so, go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts and press the + button. First type the whole message and in the Shortcut field type the trigger for the message. Such a time saver!

Pro tip: You can use text shortcuts for much more than “On my way!” canned responses. If you find yourself typing your long email address several times a day, put it as a phrase for a shortcut.

Another pro tip: Use shortcut triggers you wouldn’t ordinarily write in everyday communication. When expanding email addresses, I personally use a phrase like “@@gmail”  for my Gmail account or “;;busy” for an apologetic paragraph saying that I’m not available at the moment.


Show Siri the correct way to pronounce your name

Phonetic Name

If you have an unusual name and you cringe every time Siri gets it wrong, you can teach it to pronounce your name properly. You do that by editing your card in Contacts to include the field “Phonetic First Name”, “Phonetic Middle Name” or “Phonetic Last Name” depending on which part of your name the assistant struggles with. In the new field type your name as it sounds, not as it is spelled. With a few trials and errors, you will eventually teach Siri how to say your name properly.


Add custom action and sharing extensions to Safari and other apps


Since iOS 8, apps can project their interface and functionality into another app via extensions. Those action can be anything from sharing to Pinterest to translating a website written in a foreign language. You add new extensions to apps by pressing the sharing button and tapping on More.

5 years ago