iPhone Hints: Give thanks for the iPhone's physical controls

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Thursday is Thanksgiving in the U.S, so in this week's super-sized edition of iPhone hints we give thanks for the few, the proud, the useful—the iPhone’s physical controls.

The iPhone’s touch interface is part of what helped make it such a revoluationary device, but despite Steve Jobs’s war on buttons, a few physical controls have lived to fight another day on the iPhone. While you’re probably aware of the buttons’ standard uses, you may not know that many of them hold down two or even three jobs in their attempt to avoid the axe.

Home, sweet Home

The Home button is the most prominent of the iPhone's physical controls and also probably the one that you use most, since clicking it jumps you back to the familiar Home screen. But clicking the Home button multiple times can perform different functions. The most obvious of those is the double-click, which you can configure under Settings -> General -> Home. As of iPhone 3.0, your options for the double-click include having it take you to the Home screen, display the Search screen, jump to your favorite contacts list in the Phone app, launch the Camera app, or launch the iPod app.

You can also have a double-click of the Home button display the mini iPod player when music is currently playing in the background by sliding the iPod controls slider in the same Settings pane to ‘On.’

That’s not all the Home button can do, though. If you have an iPhone 3GS, you can also configure what happens on a triple-click. (Not a quadruple-click, though, lest it give ammunition to the whole “we still need physical buttons!” side of the war.)

Triple-clicking is limited to triggering one of the 3GS’s accessibility functions; you set it up under Settings -> General -> Accessibility. There you can choose between having the triple-click activate the VoiceOver feature, change the display to the higher-contrast White on Black setting, or have it prompt you which feature to activate when you click. (If you choose ‘Ask’, then the iPhone will pop-up a menu when you triple click, letting you choose from the two features above as well as activating the iPhone’s visual Zoom feature).

You are feeling sleeeeeepy

The other control you’re probably most familiar with is the iPhone’s Sleep/Wake button, the small silver (or black if you’re still rocking the original iPhone) control on the phone’s top. Clicking the button normally toggles the phone’s display on and off or, if you hold it down, brings up the iPhone's power-off slider.

In certain contexts, however, it also performs other functions. For example, when a call comes in, if you click the Sleep/Wake button once, it silences the call—click it twice and it sends the call straight to voicemail. (You can also use one of the volume buttons to do this.)

The Sleep/Wake button can also help you deal with troublesome applications. If the program you’re currently running seems to have frozen, you can give it a kick in the seat of the pants by holding down the Sleep/Wake button until the power-off slider appears. Then release the Sleep/Wake button and hold down the Home button until the app quits (about six or seven seconds).

If the whole phone is acting up, you can restart it all the way by holding down both the Sleep/Wake button and Home button for about ten seconds until the Apple logo appears.

Finally, if you want to snap a screenshot of your iPhone’s current display, you can also do that by simultaneously holding down the Sleep/Wake button and Home button for about a second or so and then releasing them. The resulting shot shows up in your Camera Roll.

That’s it for this week’s iPhone hints installment. Remember, if you’ve got a hint, tip, or trick to suggest, send it to iphone@macworld.com with the subject line ‘iPhone Hint.’ To those of you in the U.S., have a happy Thanksgiving.

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