25 iOS Tips, Tricks and Secrets You Need to Know

Phone, Contacts and Messaging Tips

Using Apple's mobile operating system is generally pretty straightforward, but that doesn't mean it's without its share of tweaks, tricks and secrets. Dig into iOS and you'll find plenty of hidden capabilities that let you get the most out of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

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We’ve got a collection of tips and tricks that can help you super-charge your phone, master your mailbox, take control of notifications and alerts and bend mobile browsing to your will.

Enable Short Names to Distinguish Contacts

Ever received a text message from "John" and realized you weren't exactly sure which of the many Johns you know sent it? Fortunately, iOS lets you tweak how your contacts are identified with its Short Name feature, letting you see initials for first or last names, or first and last names only.

1. Open Settings.

2. Tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars.

3. Scroll down and tap Short Name under the Contacts section.

4. Enable the Short Names feature by tapping on the slider.

5. Choose the display name you'd like. You can also enable Prefer Nicknames to have the "Nickname" field from Contacts override whatever's specified here.

Make FaceTime Audio Calls

If you're watching your minutes, traveling abroad, or just want better voice quality, you can call any other user of an iOS device or Mac using FaceTime -- but without having to also have a video component to your chat. The resulting call looks much like a normal phone call, but instead happens over the device's data connection (via Wi-Fi or cellular if you've enabled it).

1. Open the FaceTime app. (You can also use Contacts or Phone.)

2. Tap Audio.

3. Tap any of your recent calls to immediately start a call, or enter a name, email, or phone number in the search box.

4. Tap the blue phone icon next to any of your contacts to start a call. (A grayed out icon means that you don't have a registered FaceTime number or email for the contact in question.)

Auto-dial PIN Codes

If you frequently call into an automated phone system -- say for a conference call -- you can set your iPhone to automatically dial the PIN code you use.

1. Open the Phone app.

2. Tap Keypad.

3. Enter the phone number you dial into.

4. Tap and hold the Pound key (#) until a semicolon appears in the number.

5. Enter the PIN code.

6. Tap the green phone icon to dial the number. After the call connects, there will be a pause and then the PIN code will be entered. (You can also create a contact that includes the whole phone number and PIN as a single entry, to enable one-tap dialing.) 

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Paste phone numbers

While iOS is usually pretty good at recognizing phone numbers and letting you tap them to make a call, sometimes it doesn't pick up on them. Fortunately, there's an easier way to call those numbers then having to retype them: copy and paste!

1. Select the phone number.

2. Tap Copy.

3. Launch the Phone app.

4. Tap Keypad.

5. Tap and hold on the blank space above the keypad until the pop-up menu appears.

6. Tap Paste.

Create Text Shortcuts

Typing on iOS's onscreen keyboard whether in Message or any other app can sometimes be tricky, so it can be handy to have a quick way to type frequently-used phrases. That's where iOS's built-in Shortcuts feature comes in.

1. Open Settings.

2. Tap General.

3. Tap Keyboard.

4. Tap Shortcuts.

5. Tap the New button(+) in the top right.

6. Enter a phrase and a shortcut, for example "Be right there!" and "brt".

7. Tap Save.

8. In any text field, type your shortcut ("brt") to have it automatically expand ("Be right there!)

Type Hidden Symbols, Accents

Speaking of typing, if you often find yourself typing phrases in languages other than English, or you're simply a stickler for correct accents and the like, you'll find you can type many variations on letters and symbols without having to switch to another language keyboard.

Simply tap and hold many letters to see the variations available: i.e., tap and hold "e" to see "e" with various accents applied, tap and hold the $ to see other currency symbols, and tap and hold the hyphen to get en-dash, em-dash, and bullet options. Tap and hold other keys to see what they're hiding!

Mail Tips

Want to get more out of the Mail app in iOS? These tips allow you to customize gestures, create special mailboxes, manage draft emails and more.

Alter Mail Swipe Gestures

Mail offers some handy gestures that let you quickly delete emails or mark them as read just by swiping them, but did you know you can actually choose what action is triggered by those gestures?

1. Open Settings.

2. Tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars.

3. Tap Swipe Options under the Mail category.

4. Tap Swipe Left to choose from None, Mark as Read, or Flag; tap Swipe Right to choose from None, Mark as Read, Flag, or Archive.

Add Special Mailboxes in Mail

Everybody uses email a little differently, but iOS's Mail app can seem to take a "my way or the highway" approach. Fortunately, some hidden features allow you to more quickly access certain types of emails, like those that are unread or flagged or ones with attachments.

1. Open Mail.

2. Navigate to the top level Mailboxes screen.

3. Tap Edit.

4. Tap any mailbox for the list that appears to show or hide it, including options for All Drafts, mail in which you are in the To or CC line, those with attachments, and so on.

5. Tap Done when finished.

Quickly Access Email Drafts

Don't want to dig through that Drafts mailbox to find the email you were working on? Mail gives you quick access to all the emails that you've started composing but haven't sent yet.

1. Open Mail.

2. Tap and hold on the Compose icon.

3. Select the draft you want to work on, or tap New Message.

Minimize Your Draft Email

Sometimes you're working on writing an email but want to refer to another message. You can minimize the current message you're composing so you can find those other details, and then return to writing.

1. While composing a new message, drag the title bar down toward the bottom of the screen.

2. Navigate the Mail app as usual.

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3. Tap the minimized title bar at the bottom of the screen when you're ready to return to your message to have it pop back up.

Get Alerts for Certain Email Threads

Many people turn off alerts for email, thanks to the volume of messages they receive. If you follow that practice but still want to be alerted to messages from a certain thread — say, dinner plans — Mail can help you out.

1. Compose an email or a reply to an existing thread.

2. Tap the subject line of the email.

3. Tap the bell icon that appears next to the subject.

4. Tap Notify Me in the popup that appears at the bottom of the screen.

5. To disable, reply to the existing thread, but deselect the bell icon in the subject line.

Notifications and Alerts Tips

If you’re not careful, your iOS device can buzz and beep constantly every time a notification comes through. Here are a few simple ways to manage those alerts appearing on your phone or tablet.

Use the LED Flash for Alerts and Notifications

If you don't like to be disturbed by beeps or buzzes from your iPhone, or you'll be too far away from your phone to hear them, you can instead tell your phone to blink the LED flash when it receives an alert.

1. Open Settings.

2. Tap General.

3. Tap Accessibility.

4. Under the Hearing section, slide LED Flash for Alerts to the On position.

Include Travel Time Estimates for Your Appointments

Having your iOS device alert you to an upcoming appointment is great, but for events that are far away, wouldn't it be great if it let you know when you needed to leave? Here's how you can build travel time into your appointments.

1. Open Calendar.

2. Tap an event.

3. Tap Edit.

4. Tap Location to enter the location of the event.

5. On the Edit Event screen, tap Travel Time.

6. Switch Travel Time to on.

7. Select a different Starting Location, if necessary. (By default, it's the address set as Home in your contact record.)

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8. Choose driving or walking travel time, or choose from the list of predefined travel times.

9. Return to the Edit Event Screen.

10. Tap Done.

11. Return to the day view to see the travel time included in your appointment.

Adjust Location-Based Reminder Perimeters

You probably know that iOS can remind you to do something when you arrive at or leave a specific location. But did you know that you can choose exactly how big that location is? That's handy if you want to be reminded of something when you're at the park, for example, or a shopping center.

1. Open the Reminders app.

2. Tap an empty line and enter a reminder.

3. Tap the "i" icon next to the reminder.

4. Swipe the "Remind me at a location" switch to the On position.

5. Tap Location.

6. Enter the address at which you'd like to be reminded, or select it from the list of recent searches.

7. In the map at the bottom, tap on the black handle and drag it outward to expand the diameter of the circle. This widens the area in which you'll be notified of your reminder.

8. Choose "When I leave..." or "When I arrive..." to be reminded at the appropriate time.

9. When finished, tap Details to return to the reminder.

10. Tap Done.

Safari and Mobile Browsing Tips

iOS comes with its very own browser app that’s capable of more than you probably realized. Here are some ways that you can super-charge Safari.

Open Safari Tabs From Other Devices

If you've got more than one iOS device or you also have a Mac, you may sometimes want to access a web page that's already open on one of your other devices. Fortunately, if you're signed into the same iCloud account on all those devices, doing so is a snap.

1. In Safari, tap the Tabs button.

2. Scroll down until you see the name of your over devices.

3. Tap any listed tab to load it immediately.

Open Recently Closed Browser Tabs

Accidentally close a browser tab that you were looking at? We've all done it. Fortunately, it's easy to reopen your most recently closed tabs without digging through your browser history.

1. On an iPhone tap the Tabs button on Safari's toolbar. (On the iPad, skip to the next step.)

2. Tap and hold on the New Tab button (+).  

3. A panel called Recently Closed Tabs will open.

4. Tap any entry to reload it.

Search Websites Quickly in Safari

Using search engines in Safari is pretty easy, but sometimes you want to search a specific site, such as Amazon, Wikipedia, or IMDB. Safari can make that process even faster, thanks to the Quick Website Search feature.

1. Open Settings.

2. Tap Safari.

3. Tap Quick Website Search.

4. Enable the Quick Website Search feature if it isn't already.

5. Return to the Home screen.

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6. Open Safari.

7. Visit a website with built-in search -- IMDB, for example -- and use the site's own search to look for something.

8. Use the name of the site as a search prefix. For example type "imdb George Clooney" and you'll seen an option to "Search imdb.com for "George Clooney"." Tap that to be taken to the search results on IMDB.com directly.

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Request Desktop Version of Mobile Sites

Many websites offer a mobile-friendly version that's formatted for a smartphone, but sometimes those versions don't offer all the same options as the full site, or make it hard to find what you're looking for. Fortunately, in both iOS 7 and iOS 8, you can request the full desktop version of any site.

1. Tap the URL bar.

2. Swipe down on the screen.

3. Tap Request Desktop Site.

Miscellaneous iOS Tricks

Want to achieve even greater iOS mastery? These hidden tricks let you do even more with your iOS device.

Set a More Sophisticated Passcode

By default, iOS currently makes you set a four-digit passcode, but that doesn't make for a terribly secure device. While iOS 9 will introduce six-digit passcodes, you can create a more complicated one right now, especially if you have a Touch ID-enabled device, which makes you enter your passcode only rarely.

1. Open Settings.

2. Tap Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode if you have a device with a fingerprint scanner).

3. Enter your current passcode when prompted.

4. Deactivate the Simple Passcode setting.

5. Tap Change Passcode.

6. Enter your current passcode, then enter a new passcode and verify it. With Simple Passcode off, you have access to a full keyboard to enter your passcode, not just numbers. (Tip: You can also simply enter a longer string of numbers; that way, iOS will still prompt you to enter your passcode with a numeric keypad instead of a keyboard.)

Create a Medical ID

You can store important medical details on your iPhone in case of emergency, thanks to iOS 8's Health app. That way, if your phone is accessible during an emergency, medical professionals can be alerted to any existing conditions.

1. Open the Health app.

2. Tap the Medical ID icon in the toolbar.

3. Tap Edit.

4. Enter any relevant details — allergies, conditions, medications, blood type, and so on — and decide whether the information should be accessible when the phone is locked.

Lock Focus in Camera

The cameras on iOS devices do an adroit job of keeping your images in focus, but sometimes you want to manually specify exactly where the focus and exposure should be. Fortunately, the Camera app makes that pretty easy.

1. Open the Camera app.

2. Tap and hold on the screen where you'd like to lock the focus.

3. Release when you see the "AE/AF Lock" banner appear.

4. Tap the shutter button or volume buttons to take a picture, as usual.

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5. Tap anywhere on the screen to release the lock.

Access Calculator's Scientific Functions

iOS contains a capable calculator app, but it's actually even more useful than you might know. If you're looking for more advanced features like square roots, sines, cosines, tangents, and so on, just use this handy tip: turn your iPhone into landscape orientation while in the Calculator app. (Make sure that your Orientation Lock is off -- swipe up to access the Control Center pane and tap the lock icon on the far right.)  

Define Words

Ever get an email with a word that you just don't know? Relax: iOS has a built-in dictionary app that makes it easy to get a definition of any word in pretty much any app.

1. Tap and hold on a word until the loupe appears.

2. Tap the Define button in the pop-up menu that appears.

3. When finished, tap Done. (You can also tap Search Web to look for the word in Safari using your default search engine.)

Use The Timer To Automatically Stop Playing Music

Some people like falling asleep to music, and your iOS device can oblige you by letting you set a sleep timer so that your tunes don't play all night.

1. Start playing music.

2. Open the Clock app.

3. Tap Timer in the toolbar if the timer is not already displayed.

4. Choose how long you'd like the music to continue.

5. Tap When Timer Ends.

6. Scroll down to the bottom and select Stop Playing.

7. Tap Set.

8. Tap Start.

Use Your iPhone as a Level

In a pinch, your iPhone can help you figure out if that picture you just hung is straight, or whether you need to shim that IKEA table you just assembled.

1. Open the Compass app.

2. Swipe to the left.

3. Place the phone on a flat surface, or turn it on its edge to determine whether or not the item in question is level; if it is, the display will turn green and read 0°.

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