Getting the Most Out of Apple iOS 8
JAN. 14, 2015
EVERY new mobile operating system needs a little time to settle in. But now that Apple’s iOS 8 has been out about four months — long enough to fix some bugs in iOS 8.1 — we have had some time to get used to its new features.
Whether you are still getting used to it or looking for a reason to upgrade, here are some of my top tips for getting the most out of Apple’s latest mobile operating system.
Credit Minh Uong/The New York Times
KNOW YOUR BATTERY The new version of iOS finally lets you know exactly what is using up your battery life, instead of giving you mystery percentages. In the Settings menu, under General and then Usage, you will see an option called Battery Usage. Tap that and you will see a list of apps and exactly how much battery power they have used that day and over the last seven days.
The amount largely depends on you; I text all the time, and that is obvious from the usage patterns. Messages accounted for 21 percent of my battery drain over the last seven days. But if you find any surprising apps, just double-tap on the home button to see all running apps and swipe up to close the offender (or offenders).
TALK TO SIRI HANDS-FREE Holding down the home button to reach Apple’s built-in voice assistant, Siri, is so last version. In the Siri menu under general settings, there’s an option to turn on “Hey Siri.” Then, instead of holding down the home button, you can just say “Hey Siri” and ask your question, set your reminder or start a text message or phone call.
The feature works only when the phone is plugged in — a pretty big miss, considering that Google introduced a similar feature for Android phones in 2013, and it works whether or not the phone is plugged in (it’s activated by saying “O.K. Google.”)
But if you keep your phone plugged in while you’re driving, as many of us do (battery life still not being what it should be), the hands-free Siri service is a useful feature if you’re lost or need to start a call. And it can be helpful if the phone is plugged in across the room and you need to ask for the weather, for example.
IDENTIFY THAT SONG Siri now integrates with the music-recognition service Shazam. It can listen to music playing around you and tell you what the song is — great when a good song plays during a commercial or TV show, or in the car. To find out what the song is, ask Siri, “What’s playing?” The phone will listen for a bit and then, in most cases, say and display the name of the song and artist, including a link to buy it from iTunes.
SCAN CREDIT CARDS IN SAFARI This is a fairly useful tool for mobile users, but I wish it went a bit further. If you are shopping on a website in the Safari browser on either a phone or an iPad and you don’t have an account on the site, you will inevitably have to enter your credit card number.
Just above the keyboard, you will see an option to Scan Credit Card. Then, hold your credit card up to the device’s camera and it will read the credit card number and expiration date and enter it for you on the site. The camera doesn’t take a picture of your card; it just scans it and transfers the numbers.
It can’t read the security code — or it couldn’t whenever I tried it — and you will still have to enter your billing information. But it does reduce typing mistakes, and it worked reliably every time I tried it.
USE A DIFFERENT KEYBOARD For the most part with Apple, you get what you get; there is little to customize or personalize. But with iOS 8, Apple gave users the ability to download and use alternate keyboards.
The built-in keyboard is quite good — although the space bar is a little small, and we have all had our issues with auto-correct. There are two good options on iOS that have been available on Android for years.
Swype ($1 on the App Store) is a clever keyboard technology in which you drag your finger across the keyboard and it recognizes patterns and makes words. Some people find it faster than typing, and it has many devotees.
SwiftKey (free) is another strong option. It quickly learns from your typing habits for better predictive typing. (It also lets you swipe to type, like Swype.)
SwiftKey includes themes for changing the look of the keyboard, although they are limited to black and white and, at least when I tried it, a pretty tacky holiday theme.
Replacing the keyboard is a commitment, and I found Swype a little unstable. Most people will prefer the new multitude of apps that add colors and other personal touches to the built-in keyboard. Apps like Color Keyboard Themes and Custom Keyboard for iOS 8, both free, add colors, typefaces, styles and even sound effects.
TAKE BETTER PHOTOS The Camera app in iOS 8, whether you have a new iPhone 6 or not, adds some simple and some advanced features. For example, you can now control the light exposure before you take a photo. With the camera open, tap the screen to focus and a small sun icon will appear next to the focus box. Drag it up or down to let more or less light into the picture.
IOS 8 also adds the ability to create time-lapse videos, which is an amusing extra. Open the camera and swipe all the way to the right until you get to time-lapse. Click the Record button and hold the phone steady as long as you want the video to last.
Note that you will want to hold the phone really steady. One pro tip is to set the phone somewhere stable and plug in your Apple earbuds. You can use the volume button on the headphones (or on the side of the phone) to start the video, and then you won’t shake it when you tap Record.
There is also a self-timer built into the camera app. A small timer icon appears at the top of the screen when the camera is open. Tap it and you can set the countdown to three or 10 seconds, and get your group shots or selfies just right.
Obviously, iOS 8.1 is a powerful operating system with a lot of useful features built in. Finding how to make the most of them, though, isn’t always easy — and can take a little poking around.