Take Advantage of Extra Features in Messages Group Conversations

Using Messages on the Mac or in iOS is simple. Start a new conversation, enter someone’s phone number or email address, and start chatting. And if you want to talk with several people at once, type a couple of phone numbers or email addresses when you begin.

What you may not realize is that if everyone in your group is using an Apple device and iMessage—this is the case if their messages appear in blue bubbles, a variety of extra features become available when you click or tap the Details button in the upper-right corner of Messages. Did you know that:

  • Messages-Details-screenYou can give the conversation a name that’s more descriptive than the truncated names of the people in the conversation. On the Mac, just type in the Group Name field; in iOS, pull down on the Details screen to reveal the Group Name field.
  • At any time, you can add more people to the conversation; just click or tap Add Contact and select the desired contacts.
  • Similarly, people can be removed from the conversation. On the Mac, click the person’s name and press Delete; in iOS, swipe left on their name and tap Delete. Be careful with this feature since there’s no opportunity to confirm the deletion, so you’d have to add any mistakenly deleted people back manually. Plus, the iOS version of Messages doesn’t always let you remove people.
  • You can even “delete” yourself. If you’ve been included in a group conversation accidentally or ended up in one that doesn’t interest you, click or tap Leave This Conversation at the bottom of the Details screen. Once you’ve left, you can’t get back in without someone else adding you.
  • Is leaving a little drastic? Perhaps the conversation is just being too chatty while you need to get work done. Turn on Do Not Disturb to mute notifications from the conversation; turn it off again when you’re ready to be alerted to new messages again.
  • Everyone in the conversation can send or share their location from an iPhone or iPad. Sending a location is like posting a message saying “I’m at the library now” along with a map to where you are. Sharing your location allows the others to see where you are at all times, for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. Of course, if you opt to share indefinitely, you can revoke that sharing later.
  • When anyone in the conversation is sharing their location, a map appears at the top, showing the locations of those who have shared. This is fabulous for keeping track of relatives during family reunions where different groups might head out on separate outings.
  • Finally, at the bottom of the Details screen, you can see all the attachments that people have shared within the conversation. Messages gives you control over attachments, letting you preview, copy, save, open, delete, and share them. It’s all easy; on the Mac, select attachments and Control/right-click to display a contextual menu, or press the Space bar to invoke Quick Look. In iOS, press and hold on the attachment until additional options appear.

Alas, if you want to include even one green bubble friend who doesn’t have an iPhone with an iMessage account set up and instead relies on plain old SMS text messaging, these features disappear. It’s just another way Apple encourages your friends and relatives to use iPhones.

Going into Airplane Mode: Flying with Technology

Since 2013, we’ve been able to use handheld electronic devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and Kindle at pretty much all times during airplane flights, including takeoff and landing. That was a big change from previous FAA policy, which banned the use of personal electronic devices below 10,000 feet, forcing passengers to occupy themselves with books and magazines at the start and end of flights.

But now flight attendants ask us to put our devices into “airplane mode.” You probably know how to do this on your iOS device, but if not, here’s how. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up Control Center, and tap the Airplane Mode button at the top left. Or open the Settings app and enable the Airplane Mode switch that’s the very first option. When you land, use the same controls to turn it off again.

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What does airplane mode do? It disables the wireless features of your device to comply with airline regulations. Specifically, it turns off the cellular voice and data features of your iPhone or iPad, and on all iOS devices it turns off both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. However, only the cellular features are important to your airline—you can re-enable both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at any time. That might be useful if you want to use the airplane’s Wi-Fi network for Internet access (usually for a fee) or Bluetooth to play music over wireless headphones.

To turn these wireless features back on, tap the grayed-out Wi-Fi and Bluetooth buttons in Control Center, or flip their switches in Settings > Wi-Fi and Settings > Bluetooth. Don’t bother turning them on unless you’re going to use them, though, since you’ll save a little battery life by leaving them off for the duration of a long flight.

Why do the airlines care about cellular? It has little to do with airplane safety; the prohibition on their use comes from the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, not the Federal Aviation Administration. The reason is that fast-moving cell phones used high in the air may light up many cell towers at once, which can confuse the mobile phone network.

The technical solution is akin to what the airlines do to provide Internet access now; a device called a “picocell” would be installed on the airplane to provide connectivity with the phone network, and cell phones on the plane would communicate with it instead of individual cell towers on the ground below. Will it happen, though?

The FCC has proposed that it would allow cell phone use on properly equipped planes; however, the thought of fellow passengers having phone conversations during flight fills many people with dread. Many lawmakers in the United States oppose allowing passengers to make and receive phone calls during flight, citing concerns about cabin safety, a worry echoed by the flight attendants union. Even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has acknowledged this, saying “I get it. I don’t want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else.” So don’t expect that rule to change.

If you’re allowed to use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, why do the airlines make you stow your MacBook Air during takeoff and landing? It has nothing to do with the technology—the airlines ban laptops during times when there could be an emergency landing because they could, like carry-on luggage or lowered tray tables, impede evacuation.

Taking Screenshots: Three Tricks for the Mac and One for iOS

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Did you ever want to capture what’s on your screen, or at least a part of it? Screenshots aren’t just for technical writers trying to document app behavior—you might also use them to provide feedback on a photo, to document an error message for someone who helps you with your Mac, or to record a particularly funny auto-correct fail in Messages on your iPhone.

OS X and iOS have both long included built-in screenshot features that make it easy to take a high-resolution picture of what you see onscreen. (You can, of course, use a camera to take a photo of your screen, but that will never look as good.)

Taking a screenshot in iOS is super simple, and it works the same on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. Just press the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons simultaneously. You’ll see the screen flash, and iOS saves the screenshot to your Photos app—look at the bottom of the Camera Roll or, if you’ve turned on iCloud Photo Library, the All Photos album. The same technique works on the Apple Watch, where you press both the digital crown and the side button simultaneously. (Accidental presses of those buttons explains why random Apple Watch screenshots might appear in Photos.)

On the Mac, you can take your pick from three built-in methods of taking screenshots:

If you take a lot of screenshots, consider memorizing OS X’s keyboard shortcuts. For a full-screen screenshot, press Command-Shift-3. For a screenshot of an arbitrary size, press Command-Shift-4 and drag out a rectangle. To capture just an object like a window, press Command-Shift-4, hover the pointer over the window, press the Space bar to show the camera cursor over the highlighted object, and then click to take the screenshot. The Command-Shift-4 shortcut is the only way to capture a menu. All screenshots are saved as PNG files on your Desktop and automatically named with the date.

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If that sounds geeky and hard to remember, try Apple’s Grab app, which is hidden away in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder. It’s a simple app, but it can take full-screen, window, and selection screenshots, and it walks you through the process. You can also use Grab to capture a full-screen screenshot with a timer, which is handy if what you want to record appears only while you’re dragging an icon or other object, for instance. Captured screenshots appear in Grab as Untitled TIFF documents that you can close, copy, save, or print.

 

 

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Want to mark up a screenshot with circles and arrows and a paragraph of text, just like the photos in Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant song? For that, use Apple’s surprisingly powerful Preview app, which can take screenshots and opens them as graphic documents that you can edit. Choose File > Take Screenshot > From Selection, From Window, or From Entire Screen. That last option is automatically a timed screenshot so you can set up any temporary conditions while the timer counts down. To access the tools you need to  add shapes or text to your screenshot, choose View > Show Markup Toolbar. When you’re done, you can save the screenshot in a variety of formats.

You can also take screenshots using a cornucopia of third-party screenshot utilities. In general, they don’t offer much more than Apple’s options when it comes to capturing screenshots. Where they stand out is providing better tools for marking up and manipulating screenshots, and in offering an interface for managing and sharing screenshots. Choosing among them is largely a matter of personal preference, but check out Evernote’s free Skitch, Global Delight’s $29.99 Capto, and Aged & Distilled’s $39.99 Napkin.

Whatever method you choose, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, and the right screenshot can be even more valuable.

Change Camera Modes Easily on an iOS Device

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The Camera app on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch can take three kinds of video and three types of photos, and the interface suggests that you switch between them by tapping or swiping on the labels below the viewfinder. Unfortunately, those labels are small and can be difficult to swipe accurately. If you’ve found it frustrating to move between modes, try swiping left or right on the entire viewfinder, which has the same effect as swiping on the labels but with a much larger swipe area. And, if your Camera app occasionally takes an unexpected type of photo, an errant swipe could explain it.

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Use Command Keys for Bookmarks instead of Tabs in Safari

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In the version of Safari that comes with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Apple changed the behavior of the Command-1 through Command-9 keys. Before El Capitan, pressing Command-1 would open the first bookmark on your Favorites bar. After El Capitan, however, Command-1 switches to the first tab, Command-2 opens the second tab, and so on. If that’s not how you want to work, choose Safari > Preferences > Tabs and deselect “Use ⌘-1 through ⌘-9 to switch tabs.” From then on, Command-1 through Command-9 will once again open bookmarks. Regardless of which behavior you prefer, you can reverse it on any invocation with the Option key, so if you set Command-1 to open your first bookmark, Command-Option-1 switches to the first tab.

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Supercharge Your iPhone’s Keyboard with Google’s Gboard

As much as Apple keeps improving typing on the iPhone and iPad, most people find tapping characters on the on-screen keyboard slower and more error-prone than on a physical computer keyboard. Dictating via Siri is one solution, but there are plenty of places where it’s inappropriate to talk to your iPhone, and some people just don’t like dictating. iOS 8 first allowed third-party software keyboards, and while developers have released lots of interesting keyboards, most have proved disappointing.

Breaking that trend is the free Gboard keyboard from search giant Google, which combines a highly competent keyboard with the innovative feature of being able to search Google from the keyboard in any app. Why would searching from the keyboard be useful? Imagine you’re meeting a friend for dinner, and you need to text her the location of the restaurant. Rather than searching for the address via Siri or in Safari and then laboriously copying and pasting it into Messages, you can just tap Gboard’s Google button, search for the restaurant, and tap the result card to insert the restaurant’s linked address into a message.

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You aren’t limited to location searches, so Gboard is great for sending links to news articles, images, YouTube videos, or anything else you can bring up in a Google search. Google is transparent about the privacy aspects of Gboard—it collects search queries and anonymous statistics, but nothing else you type.

Speaking of which, Gboard’s basic text entry works as you’d expect, complete with suggestions like Apple’s keyboard. However, Gboard also supports “glide typing,” where you slide your finger from letter to letter in a word without picking up until you’ve completed the word. The order of the characters you swipe over enables Gboard to guess at the word you mean, and it’s highly accurate.

If Gboard guesses wrong, or if it doesn’t know a word at all, a single tap on the Delete key removes the entire word so you don’t have to backspace over every character. When you type a word manually, Gboard learns it for future use. Even better, if you want to edit what you’ve written, just slide your finger left or right along the Space bar to move the insertion point within the text—far easier than trying to tap between characters!

For those who like dressing up their messages, a tap on the smiley face Gboard-emoji-button button displays Gboard’s built-in emoji keyboard. If you have trouble finding the right picture to accompany your latest witticism, Gboard suggests emoji and lets you search for emoji. Take it one step further by tapping the GIF button below the emoji keyboard, which enables you to search for and insert animated GIFs. Gboard won’t display GIFs that are NSFW, so you don’t have to worry about what might pop up.

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To install and use Gboard, first download it from the App Store to your iPhone or iPad. Then tap Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard, and under the Third-Party Keyboards heading, tap Gboard to add it to the list of active keyboards. Next, tap Gboard in the active list and enable Allow Full Access. Then, in any app in which the keyboard appears, tap the Next Keyboard Gboard-keyboard-button button in the lower-left corner, which usually looks like a globe or indicates that the next keyboard is a letter Gboard-ABC-button keyboard. You’ll know you’re in Gboard when you see the round Google search Gboard-Google-search-button button in the upper-left corner of the keyboard.

The only downside of using Gboard? You lose access to Siri’s dictation button, since Apple doesn’t let third-party keyboards include it. Hopefully, Google will add its own dictation button to a future version of Gboard. But in the meantime, Gboard offers the best third-party typing experience in iOS. Give it a try!

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