Perhaps you are already an iOS master. Or maybe you consider yourself more of a novice. Either way, we feel confident that at least some of the tips and tricks for iOS 6 that we present below will be new to you. What’s more, we hope you love them—and benefit from them—as much as we do.
Spread the word
Your iPhone or iPad can read to you. Enabling the Speak option makes it possible for your iOS device to read aloud any selectable text. Launch the Settings app, tap on General, and then choose Accessibility. Scroll down to Speak Selection, and tap to turn it on.
Now, go into any app where you can highlight text. Your options include Mail, Safari, Notes, and many others. Select some text, and you’ll see a new option appear in the contextual menu (you may have to tap the right arrow to view more options). Tap the Speak command, and your iOS device will start reading the text aloud.
Enable the Emoji keyboard. Perhaps you’ve seen these iconographic symbols in emails, iMessages, and tweets, and wondered how the heck people managed to type them. Maybe you’ve mistakenly assumed that you need to purchase a third-party app to gain access to those special symbols.
You don’t: Apple treats those symbols, called Emoji, as an international keyboard. Launch Settings, and tap General, International, Keyboards. Then tap Add New Keyboard and find Emoji. Now open an app where you can type some text.
Next to the spacebar, you’ll see a little globe icon. Tap it to switch between your regular keyboard and the Emoji one, which contains many tabs full of different characters. Tap on those characters to insert them wherever you’d like. (If you have many international keyboards, tap and hold the globe to bring up a menu of all your options.)
Spoken Emoji. For real fun, type in a bunch of Emoji symbols, select them all, and then tap the Speak button. You’ll hear the often-entertaining names of each symbol read in sequence.
A series of Siri tips
Use the “in transit” cue. Ask Siri to help you find an address with a couple extra words at the end, as in: “give me directions to San Francisco International Airport via transit.” iOS will open up the Maps app and display the routing pane, which lets you choose which third-party app you’d like to supply your directions.
Attentive readers will know that Google Maps is included among these routing apps, which means that you can actually use this trick to get directions via Google Maps using Siri.
Siri audio output. If your car has a built-in speakerphone, or if you have a Bluetooth accessory that has a microphone and speakers, you can choose which one Siri listens to for commands. When you click and hold the iPhone’s Home button, you’ll see a speaker icon to the right of the main Siri button. Tap it, and you’ll get a menu of all the various sound inputs your iPhone can use; select the one you want, and Siri will listen using that microphone and, if possible, give its feedback via those speakers.
Your own private IMDb. You probably already know that you can use Siri to get information about what’s playing at movie theaters near you. But Siri’s also in expert in pretty much every motion picture ever made. That means you can ask questions about your favorite films, but you can also make Siri do more of the legwork for you when, say, you’re curious about which films specific actors have appeared in together. You might ask, “What movies star both Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry?” And Siri will, in turn, reply with both The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Rugrats In Paris.
Get movie reviews. Not sure if a given movie is worth your time? Just ask Siri: “Is Rugrats In Paris any good?” Siri replies with a review from Rotten Tomatoes.
Editing Siri. Sometimes Siri doesn’t understand you quite right. Maybe you told it to call your friend “Aaron” and it thought you said “Erin.” Fortunately, you can fix Siri’s mistake; after Siri reports that she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, scroll up and find the speech bubble where Siri records what it thinks you said. Then tap that bubble, and you’ll find that you can now edit what Siri heard and resubmit your request.
If you don’t want to bother typing out a long correction, you can also use iOS’s built-in dictation feature to enter your corrected text. Just tap the microphone in the keyboard and speak your text aloud. We’ll give you time to make your own Inception joke about using Siri to fix Siri.
Siri can help you post to your favorite social network. If you use Facebook and/or Twitter, Siri offers a bunch of helpful options. You can say “Post to Facebook I love reading Lex and Dan’s stuff at Macworld.com,” or “Write on my Wall I love Siri,” or even, “Post I’m an over-sharer to Facebook.” With Twitter, you can say “Tweet I’m eating breakfast” or “Post I’m still eating breakfast to Twitter,” along with other, similar variations.
Fun with Settings
Privacy. You don’t necessarily want your personal data accessible to every app that asks, and iOS is here to give you the kind of fine-grained control that you crave. Under the Privacy section of Settings you can not only adjust which apps have access to your location, but also prevent them from accessing your contacts, calendars, reminders, photos, and Bluetooth sharing. Plus, if you use Twitter or Facebook, you can decide which of your apps can log in with your credentials. Just tap the appropriate section for any of these and slide the switch for the selected app to Off.
Restrictions. Go to General and then to Restrictions. You’ll be prompted to enter a passcode. You can then select which features you would like to lock down on your iOS device. If you’re planning to hand the iPhone off to Junior, and Junior has a habit of unintentionally deleting your apps, you can specifically disable that capability from the Restrictions screen. You can also prevent access to the iTunes Store, the iBookstore, Safari, Camera, FaceTime, and more.
Guided Access. While we’re talking about limiting what your iOS device can do, now’s a good time to mention Guided Access, which you turn on under General > Accessibility. Once you’ve enabled the feature, go into any other app and triple-click the Home button. That enters Guided Access.
Now, if you want, you can black out certain regions of the current app’s interface. Say, for example, that the game your kid will play has an omnipresent Settings button. You can trace a circle around that button, and that section of the app will ignore any taps. The other key feature of Guided Access is that it disables the Home button, so your kid won’t accidentally quit the app prematurely. To exit an app in Guided Access mode, you triple-click the Home button again, and provide your passcode.
One added benefit of Guided Access is that it can serve as a better Do Not Disturb, since it silences banner notifications and alert sounds while enabled.
Limit advertiser tracking. If you’re going to restrict your children’s access, you might as well restrict what marketers can do too, right? Under General, tap on About, and then tap on Advertising way down at the bottom. On the screen that appears, you’ll find two options. The first one, Limit Ad Tracking, provides an indicator to Internet advertisers that you don’t want them to track which ads you’ve viewed and engaged with, so they can show you ads that they think may be better suited to you.
The second option on this screen is a button to reset your advertising identifier—a new creation of Apple’s in iOS 6; it’s meant to be an anonymized tracker that advertisers can use to recognize your interest when showing their ads in apps. Apple doesn’t yet require that in-app ads use the identifier, but says that one day it will. If you start seeing in-app ads that seem to know you too well, you can reset your advertising identifier here to start from scratch.
Manage storage on your device. Maybe your iPhone won’t let you snap another photo. Perhaps your iPad refuses to let you download one more app. Because iOS storage space isn’t expandable, it’s important to monitor what’s gobbling up the available gigabytes on your device. Here’s how. Go to General > Usage in Settings, and wait for a moment or three as iOS calculates which apps are using the most space.
Often, Music and Photos & Camera are the two biggest offenders. If you use a service like iTunes Match, you can safely delete the Music cache on your device to free up space. If you sync your device with your Mac to back up photos and videos, you can delete those photos and videos, too.
Elsewhere on the list, you’ll spot the apps you use, sorted with the most storage-intensive ones at the top. If you see apps that you rarely use but that take up a ton of space, tap on them in the list, and then tap Delete App to remove them in an instant.
Manually manage iCloud backup space. While we’re saving space, don’t forget that you can control what iCloud stores for you in your online backup—especially if you’re just using the free 5GB allotment that Apple offers. Find instructions here.
Snap photos while shooting videos. You’re using your iPhone 5 to film a magical moment, and you wish you could snap a photo at the same time. Don’t stop recording! Just tap the camera button, which appears on-screen in addition to the shutter button as you film. You aren’t using the iPhone’s true photo sensor; you’re getting the slightly less impressive video sensors instead, but the photos should still turn out pretty nicely. Note that this tip doesn’t work on older iPhones.
Reverse panorama. While we’re sharing tips that work only with certain iPhones, here’s one that matters just to folks with the iPhone 4S or newer—that is, iPhones that support taking panoramic photos. Normally, the Camera app prompts you to take those photos from left to right. To reverse that, tap once on the panorama guide to flip it to the opposite side of your screen.
In the Mail
Quickly add photos and videos to messages. Suppose you snapped the perfect panorama and want to email it to your friend. You needn’t start from the Camera or Photos app. Instead, head over to the Mail app and start composing your new message. Tap once in a blank section of the message to bring up the contextual menu, and then tap on Insert Photo or Video. You’ll get the familiar photo selecting screen.
Get back to drafts in a snap. Maybe you abandoned that message before you tapped to send it. You needn’t navigate deep into the Mail app’s mailbox hierarchy to find your Drafts folder. Rather, you can tap and hold on the New Message button to bring up a menu listing all your saved drafts.
Archiving messages. You probably already know that you can archive messages from your Gmail account on iOS. But you can also add an archive option for messages to your iCloud email address. To do so, navigate to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar and tap on your iCloud account. Tap on the Account entry at the top, scroll down to the Advanced section, and tap on your email address; swipe down until you find the Archive Messages switch. Slide it to On, and then make sure to tap the Done button in the upper right corner twice to save the change.
Now, all instances of the Delete command in Mail will be replaced by an Archive button.
Deleting messages. If you do enable archiving as an option for your messages, that doesn’t mean you’re no longer able to delete messages outright from your iPhone or iPad. Just tap and hold on the Archive button, and you’ll get a second option: Delete Message.
Surf’s our turf
Quickly access your recent browsing history. In Mobile Safari, tap and hold on the Back button to see a list of your recently visited pages. On the iPad, tap and hold on the browser’s New Tab Plus (+) button to get a list of recently closed tabs.
Open webpages in the background. Safari on the Mac makes it easy to open linked webpages in a new tab, so that you needn’t interrupt what you’re reading just because you also want to check out a few linked items. You get that same perk on iOS—though you need to enable it first. Visit Settings > Safari > Open Links and choose the In Background option. Now, tap and hold on links in Safari to choose to open them in the background instead.
Full screen mode. New in iOS 6 is an option to browse the Web in full-screen mode—at least when you’re using your iPhone in landscape orientation. This frees up the pixels otherwise occupied by Safari’s location bar and tab bar. Rotate your phone to landscape mode, and then press the full-screen double-arrows at the bottom right corner.
Stream of photo consciousness
Shared Photo Streams. You probably already know about your own Photo Stream, which shares devices between your iOS devices and Macs. But if you want to share photos with your friends, family, or colleagues you can also create Shared Photo Streams.
To create such a stream, open Photos and tap on the Photo Stream button in the toolbar. In the upper left corner is a Plus (+) button; tap that and enter a name for your shared stream along with a list of people you’d like to invite. Photos can be added from your existing photo albums or Camera Roll by tapping on the Share button and selecting Photo Stream or by tapping Edit while viewing your shared stream and tapping the Add button that appears at the bottom. While the people you’ve shared the photo stream with can write comments on or “like” your photos, they cannot add their own photos to the stream.
Public websites for Shared Photo Streams. One downside to Shared Photo Streams is that they’re really accessible only to users on iOS devices running iOS 6 or later or on Macs running Mountain Lion. So if you want to share those photos with Mom, who’s using an original iPad, or Dad, who’s still using his PC laptop, you’ll want, instead, to make your stream available via a public website.
You can do this when you create a Shared Photo Stream by tapping the Public Website slider; after you’ve made a stream, you can find that same option by tapping the blue arrow next to the Shared Photo Stream in the Photos app. An icloud.com link to the stream will be generated; be aware that it is public, so anyone who has the URL can access it, though it’s not something that people are likely to stumble across. You can tap the Share Link button to send the link via email, an iMessage, or a Twitter or Facebook post, or just copy it to the clipboard.
Phones, texts, and such
Customize iMessage auto-replies for rejected calls. Sometimes it’s not the right time for a phone call; while you could just let calls you don’t want to take go to voicemail, sometimes you want to explain why you’re not picking up. iOS 6 lets you quickly respond to a call with a text message. Just swipe upward on the phone icon that appears next to the unlock slider and choose Reply with Message.
By default, you’ll get three pre-canned options, along with a button that lets you enter a custom text. However, you can also customize those pre-canned messages under Settings > Phone > Reply with Message.
Create custom ringtones and alert tones in GarageBand. It’s true, you can create custom ringtones for your iPhone—on your iPhone. Here’s how.
Custom vibrations for text and ringtones. Want to know who’s calling you without ever taking your phone out of your pocket? Not only can you assign a custom ringtone or text tone to a contact, you can even give them a custom vibration pattern.
Open Phone or Contacts; select a contact, then tap the Edit button in the top right corner. Scroll down to find the ringtone field; below it is a vibration field. Tap that, and you’ll see an assortment of built-in vibration patterns you can choose from. Further down, though, is the ability to add a custom pattern: Tap Create New Vibration, and you can just tap on the screen to create your own rhythm. When you’re satisfied (tap the Play button to see what it will feel like), tap Save to set the pattern.
If that’s not enough, go back to the contact record and also assign a custom vibration pattern for text messages.
But wait, there’s more
Swipeable Map directions. We’ve all run into problems with iOS 6 Maps taking us places that we weren’t sure we wanted to go to. But if you simply get directions for a route by tapping the Quick Route button in Maps, you can’t always tell what route Maps has in mind.
If you’d like to get a preview of your route, tap your destination on the map and choose Directions to Here. Then, instead of using the Current Location option for your starting point, enter your address manually and tap Route. Once you’ve chosen your route and tapped Start, you’ll be able to swipe through the instructions at the top and see exactly which turns Maps wants you to take. (It’s the same way you got directions back in iOS 5.)
Location-based reminders for specific locations. If you want to be reminded to do something when you leave your home, work, current location, or any address in your address book, that’s pretty easy to get with iOS’s Reminders app. But what if you want to remember to buy something when you’re at the grocery store or pharmacy? You probably don’t want to add their locations in your address book just to get that feature.
Fortunately, you don’t have to. When you create a reminder, tap on it and turn on Remind Me At a Location. By default, Reminders will populate your current address—tap that and you’ll get a host of options, including, at the bottom, a text box to enter a custom address.
Download a single track from iTunes Match. As of iOS 6.1, Apple has once again restored the ability for iTunes Match users to download any individual track from the cloud onto your iOS device—just tap the cloud download icon next to the entry. In addition, if you decide you want to free up space on your device, you can delete a downloaded track by swiping your finger across it and tapping Delete.
Easier music controls over USB. Perhaps you’ve abandoned the notion of hooking your iPhone up in your car over USB, because you’re so sick of the Accessory Connected screen that dominates the Music app in that setup. Good news! iOS 6.1 improved matters, and—finally—the Music app now remains accessible even when you’ve plugged your iPhone into a USB playthrough device that lacks the Made for iPhone distinction. It’s a delight.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.