Ten tips for mastering the iPad

With Apple releasing a second version of the iPad on Friday, it’s easy to feel as if that tablet has been around forever. In reality, though, the original iPad shipped less than a year ago—enough time to become familiar with the tablet’s ins and outs, but hardly long enough to truly master its controls.

Not to worry—we’ve assembled this list of tips for subduing the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, managing your multitude of apps, searching through the contents of your tablet, and more. Learn these skills, and you’ll soon impress everyone with your iPad-savvy, whether you’ve owned an iPad since day one or if the iPad 2 is your first model.

1. The comma key’s hidden powers

Whether you’re a touch-screen typing savant or a two finger tapper, there’s no denying that iPad typing isn’t as convenient as using a real keyboard—especially when you want to access frequently-used punctuation that isn’t even available on the virtual keyboard’s main screen. A little-known trick can help: swiping up quickly on the Comma key will instantly insert an apostrophe; swiping up on the Period key inserts a quotation mark. That’s one quick swipe, instead of a tap on the .?123 punctuation key, and then a second tap on the specific punctuation mark you’re after.

2. Tapping and holding virtual keys

Other virtual keys hold special powers, too. Press and hold on a vowel, for example, and a popover containing accented versions of the selected character appears. (Certain consonants, like C, S, and N, also offer alternate versions when you tap and hold on their virtual keys.)

Press and hold a vowel key—the ‘i’ in this case—and the iPad will summon a popover with accented versions of the character in question.

Similarly, holding down punctuation marks can provide extra options. the standalone Period key—the one on the punctuation keyboard, not the main keyboard—hides an ellipsis. The hyphen offers an em-dash and bullet. And the dollar sign hides symbols for numerous currencies.

3. Common keyboard shortcuts

When you connect your iPad to a regular keyboard like the Apple iPad Keyboard Dock or a Bluetooth keyboard, you can use some of the same keyboard shortcuts you’ve mastered on your Mac. Text editing key combinations—like Command-C, X, and V for Copy, Cut, and Paste—all work, as does Command-Shift-Arrow key-based text selection.

You can also use Option-key shortcuts for typing diacritical characters. Other key combinations that work include Undo and Redo (Command-Z and Shift-Command-Z, respectively), and Emacs-style cursor shortcuts like Control-A, Control-E, and Control-K.

Even with the iPad 2 introducing a new design, external keyboards should still work with Apple’s latest tablet. Apple, for example, lists its Wireless Keyboard as an accessory for the iPad 2, and we’ve heard no reports of changes to Bluetooth keyboard support in this week’s planned iOS 4.3 update.

4. Auto-correction is your friend

The backspace key is for suckers—true iPad masters know to let auto-correction fix your typing mishaps.

One last keyboard-related tip: especially when you’re using the on-screen keyboard, the easiest way to becoming a virtual typing pro is simply to trust the auto-correction algorithm. The slower your iPad typing speed, the more likely it is that you make frequent use of the backspace key. Or to put it another way: slow iPad typists only allow themselves to type precisely the right keys, and delete each individual mistake.

Not power users! Power users trust that iOS will fix their typos for them. When I type “Dippieedl,” my iPad recognizes that I’m after “Supposedly.” After just “Wkeph,” the iPad knows I want “Elephant.” Fix fewer typos, and your iPad typing will ironically improve.

5. Avoiding application exits

Sometimes, you notice something you’d like to check out more closely in an app—at the same instant you press the Home button. Instead of letting the app close, then finding its icon and waiting while the app relaunches, you can tell your iPad to abort your now-unwanted Home button press. Doing so is hilariously simple: don’t let go. If you hold down the Home button extra long—just a few seconds needed—your iPad will abandon its plans to close the current app, and you tap on that enticing link instead.

6. Closing background apps

On other occasions, though, you may want to close apps that are still (quietly) running. Ever since iOS 4’s introduction of multitasking, some of your apps can keep on running in the background, even after you’ve closed them. Generally, that’s fine; the iPad does a great job of killing apps when memory limits require it. Some apps, however—particularly GPS and VoIP apps—can eat up quite a bit of memory and battery life if they remain open when you no longer need them.

To quit apps running in the background, bring up the multitasking bar, press and hold on an app, and then tap the red minus sign that suddenly appears.

To make sure power-hungry apps that you don’t need don’t gobble your battery, you can force them to quit: double-tap the Home button to bring up the multitasking bar. Then, press and hold on any one app until all the apps start jiggling. Tap the red circle on the running apps in your multitasking bar that you’d like to quit.

(Again, remember, most apps running in the background will take care of themselves. You needn’t police the multitasking bar; this tip only concerns major memory guzzlers.)

7. Track down music playback controls

With the introduction of that multitasking bar, Apple made it a smidgen trickier to find music playback controls. When you double-tap the Home button, swipe the whole shebang towards the right. Doing so will reveal several controls: playback buttons (Reverse, Play/Pause, and Skip, along with sliders for brightness and volume.

Swiping the multitasking bar to the right will produce those hard-to-find iPod playback controls.

8. Search smarter

When you double-tap the Home button, or swipe to the left of your first home screen, you enter Spotlight search. It’s a great way to launch apps, find specific e-mails, or look up an individual contact. But if you never use (or never need to search) the iPad’s calendar, or Audiobooks, or Podcasts, you can remove those from your Spotlight search results. You can also rearrange the order in which Spotlight presents search results.

Launch the Settings app, tap on General, and then tap Spotlight Search. Uncheck the categories you don’t want to search, and tap and drag on the right-aligned handles to adjust the sorting.

9. Stash more apps in the Dock

Brand new iPads feature just four apps in the Dock. Because of that, many iPad owners keep just four apps in their docks. But it turns out that the dock actually holds six apps, if you’d like it to. All you need to do to keep more frequently-accessed apps in your dock is move them there: press and hold on any app icon until the apps start to jiggle, and then drag the app you’d like to move right into the Dock.

10. Launching apps quickly

Type an app’s name into Spotlight, and you can then tap the search result to immediately launch the app.

I have too many apps on my iPad. While I can always find certain apps quickly—I remember which home screen they’re on, and where geographically the icons are located on that screen—there are many more apps that I just can’t find. Instead of paging through home screen after home screen, I use Spotlight as a virtual keyboard launcher.

Tap the Home button to get to your first home screen, and then either tap it again or swipe to reveal Spotlight. Start typing the first few letters of the app’s name, and then tap on the right result to launch it instantly. Spotlight automatically surfaces your most frequently used apps at the top of its matching results, which is often very useful.

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