Skewed Lines in Your Photos? Use the Camera App’s Hidden Level

If you’ve ever photographed a sheet of paper or some other rectangular object, the image may have come out skewed because you inadvertently tilted the camera. The iOS 11 Camera app has a level feature to help you avoid this problem, but it’s so subtle that you may not have noticed it. To use it, first go to Settings > Camera and turn on the Grid switch so thin white lines divide the viewfinder image into a grid of nine rectangles. Then, to access the level, hold the iPhone or iPad flat, so the camera points straight down toward the floor (or straight up toward the sky, if you’re photographing a ceiling). Notice that two crosshairs appear in the middle of the viewfinder, a yellow one that marks the position where the camera will be level and a white one that shows the camera’s current angle. Tilt the camera until the crosshairs merge into a single yellow image, and tap the Shutter button.

iOS 11.3 Introduces New Battery Health Feature, Business Chat, & More

At the end of March, Apple released updates to all four of its operating systems, but iOS 11.3 was the most notable. It boasts a variety of new features and other changes—you can think of it as the midpoint update between iOS 11’s first release and iOS 12, probably coming next September. All remaining updates to iOS 11 are likely to be minor maintenance updates. Here’s what’s new.

iPhone Battery Health

The most anticipated change is the Battery Health feature that Apple promised to add in the wake of revelations that the company was quietly reducing the performance of older iPhone models (starting with the iPhone 6) to lessen the chance of unexpected shutdowns with weak batteries. You find the new Battery Health screen in Settings > Battery > Battery Health, and Apple explains it in detail here.

If your iPhone battery is aging, you may see a lower maximum capacity, and if your iPhone has shut down because of a weak battery, the screen will tell you that performance management has been applied. You can disable performance management, if you prefer the iPhone shutting down to degraded performance, but it will turn on again the next time your iPhone shuts down. Finally, if your battery is bad enough, the screen will recommend replacement.

Also note that iPads running iOS 11.3 can better maintain battery health when they’re plugged into power for long periods of time. Be sure to upgrade if you have an iPad that stays plugged in all the time.

Business Chat

New in both iOS 11.3 and macOS 10.13.4 High Sierra is Business Chat, an Apple service that lets you chat with participating companies directly within Messages. If you look up one of these companies in Maps, Safari, or Search/Spotlight and see a Messages button, just use it to start a conversation. Only you can start conversations, and Business Chat can be a fast way to ask questions, get support, schedule appointments, and even make purchases using Apple Pay.

Apple’s launch partners are 1-800-Flowers, Ameritrade, Discover, Hilton, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Marriott, Newegg, and Wells Fargo, although not all of them seemed to be active out of the gate. And, of course, you can use Business Chat with Apple itself.

Health Records

Most people won’t be able to take advantage of iOS 11.3’s next new feature—medical records in the Health app—right away, but we have high hopes for it. Apple has partnered with over 40 healthcare systems to bring your medical records into the Health app, centralizing them and making them easier for both you and healthcare professionals to access. The records include lab results, medications, conditions, and more. Health Records data is encrypted and protected with a passcode so it remains private.

Data & Privacy

We haven’t yet seen this, but Apple says that iOS 11.3 (and macOS 10.13.4) will display a new privacy icon whenever Apple asks for access to personal information, as it might do to “enable features, secure Apple services or personalize an iOS experience.” The icon should be accompanied by detailed privacy information explaining the situation. In an era when every company seems hell-bent on collecting and exploiting our personal data, it’s nice to see Apple increasing the transparency of its data collection practices.

Safari

iOS 11.3 tweaks Safari in several small ways that make it easier to use and more secure:

  • Autofill now inserts usernames and passwords only after you select them on Web pages.
  • Autofill now works in Web views within other iOS apps.
  • Safari warns you when you interact with password or credit card forms on non-encrypted pages.
  • Safari now formats shared articles sent via Mail as though they were in Reader mode.
  • Favorites folders now show icons for the contained bookmarks.

Other Improvements

Apple made lots of other minor improvements in iOS 11.3. You can see a full list in the release notes, but those that we find most noteworthy include:

  • iPhone X users get access to four new animoji: a lion, dragon, skull, and bear.
  • iOS 11.3 adds support for the Advanced Mobile Location (AML) standard, which provides more accurate location data to emergency responders when Emergency SOS is triggered.
  • Podcasts now plays episodes with a single tap, and you can tap Details to learn more about episodes.
  • Apple Music now streams music videos uninterrupted by ads.
  • Apple News has improved its Top Stories feature and includes a new Video group in the For You collection.

iOS 11.3’s improvements may not change the way you use your iPhone or iPad, but they’re welcome nonetheless, and Business Chat and Health Records should become more interesting as additional institutions sign on. And, of course, anyone with an older iPhone should check the Battery Health screen right away.

10 Things You Need to Know about Apple’s New HomePod Speaker

After months of anticipation, Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker finally shipped in mid-February. Reviews of its audio quality have been positive, and for the most part, it works both as advertised and as you’d expect. However, there were some surprises, most good but some bad. Whether you have a HomePod on your credenza (which may be a bad spot for it!) or you’re still deciding if you want to buy one, here are ten things you should know:

  1. Furniture rings. Let’s get this one out of the way. The HomePod can leave rings on oil-finished wood furniture because the silicone base can react with certain wooden surfaces. That has to be embarrassing for a company that prides itself on materials expertise like Apple. The solution is easy—just put something under it.
  2. Single user. Anyone in the room can give Siri commands, but when it comes to account-based connections, the HomePod is a single-user device. So if you set it up, which is astonishingly easy, it will connect to your Apple Music account, your iMessage account, your iCloud account for Reminders, and so on. That’s fine for you, but your family members won’t be able to access their Apple Music playlists, for instance.
  3. Speakerphone. The HomePod may be the best speakerphone you’ve ever used. Alas, you can’t initiate a call on it, but once you start one on your iPhone, you can transfer the call by tapping the new Audio button that replaced the Speaker button in iOS 11.2.5 and selecting the HomePod.

  4. Apple Music. The HomePod can act as an AirPlay speaker, and can thus play audio from your other Apple devices. But when you control it via Siri, the music must come from Apple Music, your iTunes Store purchases, or be matched in your iCloud Music Library. To send Mac audio from apps other than iTunes to the HomePod, get Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil.
  5. Audio power. It may be small, but the HomePod has plenty of power. At 6 feet, we measured the sound output at 100% volume at 80 decibels, which is louder than is comfortable.
  6. Volume control. Speaking of volume, you control it by percentages, as in “Hey Siri, set the volume to 15 percent.” You can also tap the + and – buttons on the top of the HomePod to adjust the volume in 5% increments.
  7. Electrical usage. The HomePod may be turned on all the time—it has no power switch—but it uses very little electricity. In our testing, it used 2.5 to 3 watts when it was idle but has been used recently, and 4 to 7 watts when playing. Leave it alone in a quiet room for a while, and its power usage drops to 0 watts with just an occasional 1.5-watt spike.
  8. Good listener. The HomePod hears your commands remarkably well, even when it’s playing music at a high volume. You shouldn’t have to shout at it.
  9. Hey Siri. If you’re within earshot of a HomePod and want to give Siri a command on your iPhone or Apple Watch, don’t say “Hey Siri” right away. Instead, to use your iPhone, unlock it first. Or, to use your Apple Watch, raise your wrist. Apple has an explanation of how Hey Siri works with multiple devices.
  10. Apple TV. You can play audio from your Apple TV through your HomePod. On the main screen of the Apple TV, press and hold the Play/Pause button on the Siri Remote, and then select the HomePod before playing a show. Or, while playing video, swipe down on the Siri Remote, swipe right to select Audio, and then select your HomePod in the Speaker list.

    Once you’ve transferred audio to the HomePod, you can use Hey Siri commands to pause and play the Apple TV content, change volume, and even rewind and fast-forward by a certain amount of time (“Hey Siri, rewind 10 seconds”). However, other things that Siri on the Apple TV can do, like tell you who stars in a movie, work only when you press and hold the Siri button on the Siri Remote.

Much as the HomePod works well right now, it stands to improve in the coming year. Apple plans to release software updates that will enable two HomePods in the same room to provide true stereo sound, and that will let you control multiple HomePods simultaneously for multi-room audio.

How to use Apple Pay Cash

You’re out to lunch with tech-savvy friends, one of whom picks up the check and says, “Just send me your share via Apple Pay Cash.” Say what?

Apple Pay Cash is Apple’s new person-to-person payment service, designed to make it easy for individuals to send and receive money. It’s perfect for repaying a friend who buys concert tickets or a relative who picks up some groceries for you. Or rather, it’s perfect if your friends and relatives use iPhones with iOS 11.2 or later—for green-bubble Android acquaintances, you can instead rely on cross-platform services like Venmo, Circle, and Square Cash. Here’s how to start using Apple Pay Cash.

First, if you haven’t yet enabled Apple Pay, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay > Add Credit or Debit Card, and follow the prompts to add at least a debit card. You’ll also need two-factor authentication turned on in Settings > Your Name > Password & Security—regardless of Apple Pay, two-factor authentication is essential for security. With Apple Pay enabled, tap Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay > Apple Pay Cash and run through the setup process. You might also be asked to verify your identity after setup—it’s necessary to send or receive more than $500 in total.

When you’re done, you’ll end up with a new Apple Pay Cash card in the Wallet app. It’s a virtual card that stores money you receive and works like any other debit card for payments. If it doesn’t have enough money on it to cover a payment, you can choose any other debit or credit card you’ve added to Apple Pay. You can also add money to it or withdraw money to a linked bank account. You’ll want to use a debit card when adding money or paying beyond your balance with Apple Pay Cash, since then there is no transaction fee. A credit card incurs a 3% fee.

To send or request money via Apple Pay Cash, you use its Messages app, which is installed automatically. While in an iMessage thread (blue bubbles) with the person with whom you want to exchange money, make sure the app drawer is showing (tap the app button if necessary) and then tap the Apple Pay button in the drawer.

A panel appears with a dollar amount, + and – buttons, and buttons for Request and Pay. Use the + and – buttons to set the amount, or tap the dollar amount to show a keypad where you can enter an exact amount, with cents if necessary. Then tap Request or Pay to insert the transaction into the message. It won’t be sent until you tap the black send button, so if you change your mind, you can tap the little x to delete. Lastly, you’ll be prompted to verify the transaction in the usual Apple Pay fashion, which means authenticating with Face ID on the iPhone X or Touch ID on all other iPhones.

You can even use Siri to initiate transfers—“Send my mother $15.” or “Ask my sister for $4.99.” And if you have an Apple Watch with watchOS 4.2 or later, you can also send money from the Messages app, or send or request money via Siri. On the watch, double-press the side button to confirm the transaction.

Frankly, the only downside to Apple Pay Cash is that it works only within the Apple world. But as long as you want to exchange money with Apple-using friends and relatives, it’s fast, easy, reliable, and one less reason to visit the ATM.

Here’s the Fastest Way to Set Up a New iPhone

When you’re unboxing a new iPhone, it’s time to think about how you’ll move your digital life from your old iPhone to the new one. If your old iPhone is running iOS 11, you can use Quick Start, a new iOS 11 feature that makes the transfer easy. Just turn on the new iPhone, set it next to the old one, and tap Continue when asked whether you want to use your Apple ID to set up your new iPhone. An animation appears on the new iPhone for you to scan with the old iPhone—once you’ve done that, follow the rest of the instructions to enable Touch ID or Face ID and then restore your data and settings from your most recent iCloud backup (you can update the backup first if necessary). Leave the two iPhones next to each other while data is being transferred, and if possible, keep the new one plugged in and on Wi-Fi after setup so it can download your apps, photos, and music from Apple’s cloud-based services.

Stop Paying Too Much for a Family’s iCloud Drive Storage

Apple gives iCloud users 5 GB of free storage, but that fills up fast with iCloud Photo Library, iOS backups, iBooks, and more. Until iOS 11 and macOS 10.13 High Sierra, each person in a family had to buy extra iCloud space separately. Happily, Apple has now made it so everyone in a Family Sharing group can share a single 200 GB ($2.99 per month) or 2 TB ($9.99 per month) plan. The family organizer can start sharing storage in High Sierra or iOS 11 as follows: on the Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud > Manage Family > My Apps & Services > iCloud Storage; in iOS, go to Settings > Your Name > Family Sharing > iCloud Storage. Any other family member can then cancel their paid plan and join the Family Sharing plan using their iCloud Storage screen.