Want to Push Some Buttons? Make the Most of Control Center in iOS

Starting back in iOS 11, Apple made Control Center significantly more useful by letting you customize it more to your liking by adding and rearranging buttons. You can even remove a few of the default buttons if they’re just taking up space.

Opening and Closing Control Center

To open Control Center in iOS 11 and later on an iPhone X or later (the models with Face ID), swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen. For iPhones with a Home button that use Touch ID (including the just-released iPhone SE and the iPod touch), swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen.

On an iPad, you’ll swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen if it’s running iOS 12 or iPadOS 13; if it’s still running iOS 11, swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen.

If you swipe down to invoke Control Center, you can close it by tapping a blank area of the screen or by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. If you swipe up to show Control Center, close it either by tapping the top of the screen or pressing the Home button.

Interacting with Controls

In Control Center, you can interact with the various controls in two ways: tap or press and hold. Unfortunately, the interface provides no clues to alert you to how you should interact with any given item.

Start with a tap, but it’s always worth pressing and holding to see what options Apple might have hidden behind that button. Some buttons, like Camera, Do Not Disturb, and Flashlight, even react to both a tap (launching the app or turning on) and a press-and-hold (providing extra useful options).

What happens when you tap a button varies, but here are some guidelines:

  • Apps: A number of buttons, like Camera, Magnifier, and Stopwatch, open other apps instantly. Alas, you can’t pick just any apps to open in this way.
  • Toggles: Some Control Center buttons, like Screen Lock and Low Power Mode, are simple on/off toggles. Tap the button once to turn it on; tap it again to turn it off.
  • Sliders: Drag the sliders for Brightness and Volume to adjust the intensity of the setting.
  • Option screens: With a few of the buttons, like Screen Mirroring and Text Size, a tap opens another screen with more options.

What happens when you press and hold is more predictable. If you press and hold a button that has more options (or if you press and hold a “card,” which is what Apple calls the collection of buttons for networking and audio controls), another screen opens, showing controls for those settings. Some of those screens provide even more options—press and hold the networking card to expand it from four buttons to six, and then press and hold the Wi-Fi, AirDrop, or Bluetooth button to switch Wi-Fi networks, choose who can send you files via AirDrop, or connect to Bluetooth devices.

Customizing the Controls

To change which buttons are available in Control Center, go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls. The Customize screen is split into two sections: Include lists controls that are showing in Control Center, and More Controls contains inactive controls you can add.

Here’s how to switch things up:

  • Add a button: Tap its green plus button. It moves to the Include list. You can add as many buttons as you like. If you add so many that they don’t fit on the screen, you’ll have to swipe in Control Center to see the extras.
  • Remove a button: Tap its red minus button, and tap Remove. The button moves to More Controls.
  • Arrange buttons: For any button in the Include list, drag the grab handle on the right side up or down.

Pay attention to which buttons you find yourself actually using in Control Center and how often you use them. Then you can adjust which ones appear and where they’re located, so you can find them quickly whenever you open Control Center.

Interesting Buttons

Apple has a full list of all the controls in Control Center, but here are a few of our favorite optional buttons, and what to expect from them:

  • Apple TV: This button opens an Apple TV remote control that can replace your Siri Remote. It’s especially useful when you need to type a search string or password into the Apple TV.
  • Clock Options: Need to keep track of the time? Three buttons—Alarm, Timer, and Stopwatch—each open their corresponding screen in the Clock app so you can complete a timing task quickly. Timer is the most useful because it has a press-and-hold option that lets you start a timer without switching to the Clock app.
  • Magnifier: Tapping the Magnifier button takes you to a camera-like app designed to zoom in on something in the physical world so you can see it better. It’s helpful for seeing tiny type, such as serial numbers on electronic devices.
  • Notes: Tap to start a new note in the Notes app. Or press and hold to bring up a menu of choices for starting a new note with a checklist, a photo, or a scanned document.
  • Screen Recording: Want to make a movie of something you see on your iPhone or iPad’s screen? Tap the Screen Recording button to start a recording, then tap the red button in the upper-left corner of the screen to stop.
  • Text Size: This button brings up a slider for adjusting the size of the system font—this is the text in places like the Messages and Settings apps.
  • Voice Memos: This button opens the Voice Memos app when you tap it, but if you press and hold instead, you can start a new recording immediately or access recent recordings. If your yoga instructor doesn’t mind, recording a class is a handy way to recap workout instructions.

Only Apple can provide new controls for Control Center right now, so you won’t find any options for working with independent apps. But who knows—as with Siri, perhaps Apple will open Control Center up to developers in the future too.

(Featured image by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash)

How to Choose Between iCloud Photos and My Photo Stream

For quite a few years, Apple enabled users to download their iPhone or iPad photos to their Macs with a service called My Photo Stream. It wasn’t perfect, but it was free, and it did a decent job of ensuring that photos you took on your iPhone or iPad would end up on your Mac.

Then Apple introduced iCloud Photo Library, later renamed to iCloud Photos, which is a full-featured cloud-based photo syncing service. However, because it stores all your photos in the cloud, most people need to purchase more storage from Apple to use it.

As a result, Apple has kept My Photo Stream around, at least for most existing users. (The company says, “If you recently created your Apple ID, My Photo Stream might not be available. If My Photo Stream isn’t available, use iCloud Photos to keep your photos and videos in iCloud.” Huh.) For those who have a choice, which should you use? (On the Mac, you make that choice in Photos > Preferences > iCloud; in iOS, look in Settings > Photos.)

Cost and Storage Details

The key advantages of My Photo Stream over iCloud Photos are that My Photo Stream is completely free and the storage it uses doesn’t count against your iCloud limits.

In contrast, Apple gives every iCloud user 5 GB of free storage, but that’s shared among all your iCloud services, like iCloud Drive and icloud.com email, so it disappears quickly. Most of us have more than 5 GB of photos anyway. You can purchase 50 GB for $0.99 per month, 200 GB for $2.99 per month, or 2 TB for $9.99 per month (prices vary slightly in other countries).

On a pure price basis then, My Photo Stream wins. However, it suffers from other limitations that make it less compelling:

  • My Photo Stream stores your photos on your iOS devices in a lower resolution to save space and transmission time. On the Mac, however, your photos download in full resolution. In contrast, iCloud Photos lets you choose on each device whether you want original images or optimized versions to save space—full-resolution originals are always stored in iCloud itself.
  • My Photo Stream manages only the last 30 days of photos and only the last 1000 photos. That’s fine for just transferring photos from your iPhone to your Mac for permanent storage, but your other devices will be able to display only your most recent photos. iCloud Photos stores all your photos as long as you have sufficient space.
  • When you edit a photo while using My Photo Stream, the edits apply only to the photo you edited, not to versions synced with other devices. With iCloud Photos, all edits you make—on any of your devices—sync to all the rest of your devices.

Supported Formats

There’s another big gotcha with My Photo Stream. It supports only photos and images in JPEG, PNG, and TIFF formats, plus most raw formats. That doesn’t sound terrible until you realize that it doesn’t include Live Photos or any video formats. That’s right—My Photo Stream won’t sync your Live Photos or videos from your iPhone to your Mac at all! You’ll have to move them over manually in some other way.

In comparison, iCloud Photos supports the same still image formats as My Photo Stream and adds GIF, HEIF, and more raw formats, along with Live Photos. Plus, it supports MP4 and HEVC videos. In other words, iCloud Photos will sync all your images and videos, regardless of format.

Supported Devices

Finally, My Photo Stream works on the Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV, and with Windows-based PCs. iCloud Photos extends that list to include the Apple Watch and the iCloud.com Web site. Apple Watch support likely isn’t a dealbreaker for most people, but it can be useful to be able to see all your photos in a Web browser on any computer.

Making the Choice

Technically speaking, you can have both My Photo Stream and iCloud Photos turned on. However, if you’re using iCloud Photos, My Photo Stream doesn’t get you anything, so you should turn it off.

If you’re trying to save money and have more than 5 GB of photos, My Photo Stream works to bring most of your iPhone photos down to your Mac for permanent storage in the Photos app. Just beware that it won’t sync your Live Photos or videos, and any other iOS devices you have will be limited to seeing the last 30 days or 1000 photos.

For most people, though, iCloud Photos is the way to go. It’s easily worth $12 or $36 per year for 50 GB or 200 GB of storage, it syncs all your photos and videos among all your devices, and it even syncs edits.

(Featured image based on originals by Jon Tyson on Unsplash and OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay)

What to Do If You Run out of iCloud Storage Space

By default, Apple gives every iCloud user 5 GB of storage space. That disappears quickly, given how it’s shared between iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive, iCloud Photos, Messages, and iCloud-enabled apps.

Apple will, of course, sell you more iCloud space. $0.99 per month gets you 50 GB, $2.99 per month provides 200 GB, and for $9.99 per month, you can use a whopping 2 TB. The latter two plans can even be shared with others in your Family Sharing group.

As we’ve noted elsewhere, using iCloud Photos almost certainly requires you to pay for extra storage. But if you’re paying $2.99 per month and nudge up against the 200 GB limit, you may not be enthused about increasing your payment to $9.99 per month when you’re unlikely to need anywhere near 2 TB.

That said, you don’t want to run out of storage space. Email to your iCloud email address will be rejected, photos won’t upload from your iPhone, and app data will fail to sync. Happily, Apple alerts you when you’re running low on space, before things get bad.

It’s often easy to recover space that’s not being used in a helpful way. First, check how much space you have and how much you’re using. In macOS 10.14 Mojave, look at the graph at the bottom of System Preferences > iCloud. In 10.15 Catalina, the graph is in System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud. In iOS, you’ll find a similar graph at Settings > Your Name > iCloud.

Then, to clear space, work through these five approaches.

1. Remove Unnecessary iCloud Device Backups

The biggest win comes from deleting iCloud device backups for devices you no longer use. It’s common for these to stick around, so if you recently upgraded from an iPhone X to an iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone X backup is probably still consuming gigabytes.

Navigate to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups to see what you have. If you find backups for a previous iPhone or iPad, tap it and then tap Delete Backup.

2. Delete Unnecessary Data from iOS Apps

While you’re in the iCloud Storage screen (the leftmost screenshot above), look through the other apps at the top of the list. The Photos app will likely be using the most storage, but all you can do to minimize its space usage is delete unnecessary screenshots, duplicate photos, and accidental videos from Photos. That will likely require lots of manual effort.

However, some other apps—think about third-party camera or video apps—may be using space unnecessarily. Investigate any apps reporting a lot of usage in the iCloud Storage screen, and if possible, clear out the unnecessary data.

Finally, consider Messages. If you regularly trade photos and videos in chats, it could be another place you can save significant space. In the iCloud Storage screen, tap Messages > Top Conversations to see which conversations are the largest. Tap one to switch to Messages, tap the person’s avatar at the top of the conversation, tap the Info button, scroll down to see the photos, and tap See All Photos. Tap Select, tap photos you have no desire to keep within that Messages conversation, and then tap Delete at the bottom-right of the screen.

3. Avoid Backing Up Apps with Massive iCloud Data Stores

If one of your apps is storing a lot of data that you don’t want to delete, but that you don’t care if it were to be lost, you can prevent it from being backed up by iCloud Backup and reduce the size of your backups.

To find such apps, navigate to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups and tap the name of the device you’re on. That screen shows which apps consume the most space in your backup. Tap the toggle switch next to an app to stop backing it up and delete its data from your backup.

4. Scan for and Delete Large Files in iCloud Drive

It’s hard to know if you’re likely to be using lots of space in iCloud Drive—it all depends on what iCloud-savvy apps you use and if you store other files in iCloud Drive via the Mac’s Finder or the Files app in iOS.

There’s no need to guess, however, thanks to free Mac apps that help you identify especially large files and folders. Our favorites are GrandPerspective and OmniDiskSweeper. GrandPerspective uses a graphical view so you can see at a glance where your space is going, whereas OmniDiskSweeper opts for a classic text-based approach that gives you hard numbers. In GrandPerspective, choose File > Scan Folder and select iCloud Drive in the sidebar of the Open dialog. For OmniDiskSweeper, choose File > Size Folder.

Whichever app you use, it’s easy to select large files or folders and click Delete (GrandPerspective) or Trash (OmniDiskSweeper). You may have to set an option in GrandPerspective > Preferences to enable deletions if its Delete button is disabled.

5. Delete Old Email from iCloud Mail

All the email you store at iCloud counts against your free space, so it can be worth clearing out unwanted old messages (and their large attachments). To delete individual messages using Apple’s Mail, just select them and click the Trash button in the toolbar. Some messages are much bigger than others, however, and to find them, choose View > Sort By > Size. That puts the largest messages at the top.

Of course, deleting messages normally just moves them to the Trash mailbox; to reclaim the space they occupy on iCloud, choose Mailbox > Erase Deleted Items > AccountName. Once you do that, the messages are gone for good.

If you want to remove an entire mailbox and its contents, select it in the sidebar and choose Mailbox > Delete Mailbox. That deletes all of its messages immediately and can’t be undone.

When you put all these space-clearing techniques together, you’ll likely be able to clear enough cruft that you won’t have to pay Apple for more iCloud storage space. But if you’re uncomfortable deleting such data, there’s no shame in upgrading to a larger iCloud storage plan.

(Featured image by stokpic from Pixabay)

AirDrop Reception Not Working? Here’s the Likely Fix

AirDrop has become a fast and reliable way to transfer data from one iPhone to another that’s nearby. Just tap the share icon and in iOS 13’s activity view, either tap an AirDrop shortcut in the top row or tap AirDrop in the second row and select choose a person or device in the subsequent AirDrop screen. But what if your iPhone doesn’t appear for the person who wants to share with you? Assuming Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both on, the fix is generally to go to Settings > General > AirDrop and select Everyone. If you’re concerned about unwanted transfers, switch to Contacts Only afterward.

(Featured image by Günther Schneider from Pixabay)

Use Guided Access to Let Kids and Others Temporarily Use Your iPhone

Let’s get one thing straight. You know that you should never, ever share your iPhone or iPad passcode with anyone you don’t trust implicitly, like a spouse or adult child, right? That’s because, with your iOS passcode, someone could change your Apple ID password, and if you use iCloud for email, completely steal or otherwise abuse your online identity. (Scared? Good. If you’ve given anyone your passcode, go change it right now. We’ll wait.)

So if sharing your passcode is such a terrible idea, how do you let someone else use your iPhone or iPad temporarily? Perhaps you want to let your kid play a game in the car while you focus on tricky winter driving. Or maybe you time running races with an iPhone app and want someone to do the timing without giving them full access to your iPhone. Whatever the reason you want to give someone limited access to a single app in iOS 13, the solution is Guided Access.

Enabling and Configuring Guided Access

To turn Guided Access on, navigate to Settings > Accessibility > Guided Access (it’s near the bottom), and flick the switch. While you’re here, check out the remaining settings:

  • Passcode Settings: Create a passcode for getting out of Guided Access here (it can be different than your normal one), and choose whether you can use Touch ID or Face ID to exit as well.
  • Time Limits: You don’t set time limits here, but you can set audio and spoken warnings before the time runs out.
  • Accessibility Shortcut: Enable this if you also use triple-click for another Accessibility Shortcut like Magnifier.
  • Display Auto-Lock: Choose how long the device can be inactive before the screen turns off. If the Guided Access user wakes up the device, they’ll still be in Guided Access.

With those settings configured, switch to the desired app and triple-click the side or Home button, and if necessary, tap Guided Access in the Accessibility Shortcut list. You can do five things:

  • Set session-specific options: Tap Options in the lower-right corner to access various switches. If they’re disabled:
    • Side Button or Sleep/Wake Button: The user can’t put the device to sleep.
    • Volume Buttons: The user can’t change the volume.
    • Motion: The screen doesn’t change from the orientation (portrait or landscape) it was in when you started Guided Access.
    • Touch: The user can’t do anything with the screen at all—probably most appropriate for letting a young child watch a video.
    • Dictionary Lookup: Prevents word lookups in some apps.
  • Set time limits: At the bottom of the Options list, tap Time Limit and set an amount of time after which the device can’t be used until you enter the Guided Access passcode.
  • Disable specific areas on the screen: Draw circles around parts of the screen you want to make off-limits to the user. After making a circle, you can move it by dragging it, resize it by dragging any of its handles, or remove it by tapping its X button.
  • Start/Resume Guided Access: In the upper-right corner, tap Start. If you haven’t yet set a passcode, you’ll be prompted to do that.
  • Exit the setup screen: In the upper-left corner, tap End.

Using Guided Access

Once you tap Start, iOS tells you it’s entering Guided Access and lets you use the current app with the restrictions you’ve applied. If you decide that the restrictions aren’t right, triple-click the side or Home button to return to the setup screen. When you’re done, tap Resume in the upper-right corner.

To leave Guided Access, triple-click the side or Home button, enter the passcode, and in the setup screen, tap End in the upper-left corner.

That’s it! Once you understand the various limitations of Guided Access, you’ll be able to turn it on and off quickly whenever you need to let someone use your iPhone or iPad for a while.

(Featured image by mohamed Abdelgaffar from Pexels)

In Case of Emergency, Create an iPhone Medical ID

Accidents, particularly those involving automobiles, are all too common, and while no one plans to be in one, you can prepare for the eventuality. If you end up in a state where you can’t speak with emergency responders or are too shaken up to share your details clearly, your iPhone can provide them with essential medical information. Emergency responders are trained to know how to access these details.

Apple makes this possible via the Medical ID feature of the Health app, which you can use to record medical data and emergency contact information (this is sometimes referred to as “ICE information,” where ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency”). Once you’ve entered all this information, emergency responders can use your iPhone to learn about your medication allergies and other conditions, plus contact your family. This data could also help a Good Samaritan return a lost iPhone. (Unfortunately, the Health app isn’t available on the iPad.)

To set up or edit your Medical ID, follow these steps (in iOS 13; they’re slightly different in earlier versions of iOS):

  1. Open the Health app and tap the Summary tab at the bottom.
  2. Tap your profile picture in the upper-right corner.
  3. Under Medical Details, tap Medical ID.
  4. Tap Edit in the upper-right corner.
  5. Make sure the Show When Locked switch is on.
  6. Enter all the relevant details about your medical conditions, medications, allergies, and so on.
  7. Specify one or more emergency contacts. These must be people in the Contacts app with phone numbers; if the right people aren’t there, add them first. You can’t select your own card in Contacts, so consider making one for a fake person called “If Lost, Please Call” and listing a different phone number at which you can be reached.
  8. Tap Done.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to use someone else’s Medical ID information, but you should know how to do so. You should also teach family, friends, and colleagues how to find and use this information. Should you come across a bicyclist who has had a bad crash or a similar situation, follow these steps:

  1. With a locked iPhone that uses Touch ID, press the Home button to display the Passcode screen. For iPhones with Face ID, press the side button and swipe up from the bottom.
  2. On the Passcode screen, tap Emergency in the bottom-left corner to move to the Emergency screen. If needed, call 911 from this screen by tapping Emergency Call.
  3. Again at the bottom left, tap Medical ID to display the Medical ID screen, complete with all the details that person entered into the Health app.
  4. From that screen, you can share the information with EMTs or other first responders so they’re aware of any serious conditions or allergies that would affect treatment. You can also call any emergency contacts listed by tapping their numbers.

Please, enter your medical and emergency contact details into the Health app right now, and spread the word to everyone you know. It could save your life, or help you save someone else’s!

(Featured image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay)

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