Create custom iMessages for calls you can’t answer

Create custom iMessages for calls you can't answer 

Sometimes it’s not the right time for a phone call; and 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 let you quickly respond to a call with a text message.

Depending on which version of iOS you’re running, you either swipe upward on the phone icon that appears next to the unlock slider and choose Respond With Text, or tap the button labelled Message above the Slide To Answer slider.

By default, you’ll get three pre-written options (“Sorry, I can’t talk right now”, “I’m on my way” and “Can I call you later?”), along with a button that lets you enter text there and then.

However, you can customise the prepared messages:

  • Go to Settings > Phone > Respond With Text.

You can’t have more than three responses, however: if you want to add a new one, you’ll have to sacrifice one of the current options. Tap the one you’re willing to lose and type in the new response.

Join a Group FaceTime call

Join a Group FaceTime call 

This feature wasn’t ready in time for the release of iOS 12, but soon you will be able to partake in a group FaceTime call with up to 32 participants.

To make a group FaceTime video call you simply have to enter more than one contact into the address box when initiating the chat.

The interface is a little different: the tiles showing each participant (there can be up to 32) vary in size and prominence depending on how recently that person spoke.

Double-tapping a tile brings that person to the front in your view.

You can also launch a group FaceTime call from within Messages if a thread is getting particularly out of hand.

Want to know more? Here’s how to make a group FaceTime call.

Skip calls with Remind Me Later

Skip calls with Remind Me Later 

Alternatively, you can get iOS to remind you to call back later. As with the auto-replies, the way you do this depends on your version of iOS: most likely, you tap the Remind Me button above the slide, but in earlier versions you had to swipe upwards before you could select Remind Me Later.

You can choose to be reminded in an hour, ‘When I Leave’ or (where applicable) ‘When I Get Home’. Make sure your address details are up to date in Contacts, so your iPhone knows where home is. The timings will be based on your GPS movements.

Create custom ringtones and alert tones in iTunes or GarageBand

Create custom ringtones and alert tones in iTunes or GarageBand 

You can create ringtones for your iPhone based on any music track in your iTunes library. We looked at this in depth here, but to sum up: create a short, sub-30-second duplicate version of the track; convert the file type of this track from .m4a to .m4r; re-import the track to iTunes as a ringtone; sync the ringtone with your iPhone.

Better still, you can create unique custom iPhone ringtones from your own audio creations, and this is especially user-friendly if you do the creative work on the iPhone itself. Create a 30-second track in GarageBand; go to the Share options and choose Ringtone; then assign it to a contact or notification.

How to set custom vibrations on your iPhone

How to set custom vibrations on your iPhone 

Want to know who’s calling you without taking your phone out of your pocket? That’s easy – assign a ringtone to a contact. But what about doing it all silently? Not only can you assign a custom ringtone or text tone to a contact, you can even give them a custom vibration pattern.

  1. Open Phone or Contacts.
  2. Select a contact.
  3. Tap the Edit button in the top-right corner.
  4. Scroll down to find the ringtone field; below it is a vibration field.
  5. Tap Vibration and you’ll see an assortment of built-in vibration patterns you can choose from.
  6. Further down is the ability to add a custom pattern: tap Create New Vibration, and you can tap on the screen to create your own rhythm.
  7. 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 and also assign a custom vibration pattern for text messages.

Customise the Control Centre

Customise the Control Centre 

It was a long time coming, but in iOS 11 Apple finally allowed us to customise the toggles and options that appear in the Control Centre.

Go to Settings > Control Centre > Customise Controls. The controls that will appear are listed at the top, under the heading Include; tap the red minus sign to remove one, or tap and hold to drag them around and change the order.

Available controls that are not currently included are listed below, under the heading More Controls. Tap the green plus sign to add one.

Customise your Animoji

Customise your Animoji 

Owners of X-series iPhones (the X, XS, XS Max and XR) will already have enjoyed the pleasures of Animoji: the facial capture animations you can create and send to your mates.

But did you know that, since the launch of iOS 12, you’ve been able to create Animoji of your own? These are called Memoji, and they can look like you, or your favourite celebrity, or almost anyone you choose.

When sending an Animoji, the first stage is to choose the dog, robot, chicken, poop etc. But if you go to the far left of this selection pane you will see a plus sign with the words New Memoji underneath. Tap this and you will be walked through the (many) different customisation steps available to you.

We address this process in more depth here: How to create a custom Memoji.

Save battery with Low Power Mode

Save battery with Low Power Mode 

Whenever your iPhone drops below 20 percent power, a message will pop up to warn you of this fact and to offer to start Low Power Mode. But you can use this handy mode any time you want to make your battery last a little longer.

  • Switch to Low Power Mode by tapping Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode.

Low Power Mode reduces power consumption by turning off a number of iPhone features. For example, it will reduce animations, decrease the time before the screen darkens, fetch Mail less frequently, turn off Hey Siri and background app refresh… It generally make every effort to eke out your battery life for a little longer.

You may not notice the difference (although you may not get a vital email or social media message unless you check for it). On the whole, though, the iPhone works as normal and the battery will last for much longer.

If you found this tip useful, you might also like our advice on How to improve iPhone battery life.

Maximise battery life

Maximise battery life 

Speaking of eking out more battery life, you can check your battery usage on your iOS device to see if your own behaviour could improve things.

Apple lets you see which of your apps are using up the most battery on your device.

  1. Go to Settings > Battery.
  2. Scroll down the page to the section that shows the Last 24 hours, and the Last 4 Days.

Here you’ll see details about which apps used the most battery.

Apple also offers up Insights and Suggestions to help you save battery life in the section above. This could inslude turning down the screen brightness, or enabling auto-lock.

Shake to undo

Shake to undo 

This one can be a little awkward at times but it can be a bit of a life saver.

If you’ve just typed a long sentence and accidentally deleted it, or made some other catastrophic error, you can give your iPhone a shake to bring up the undo/redo dialogue box.

Just make sure you’re holding on to your iPhone tightly before you shake it!

Tap to top

Tap to top 

Just scrolled down a really long list in Notes, or worked your weary way through a ton of emails? Instead of laboriously scrolling back to the top, you can jump there immediately by tapping at the very top of the iPhone’s screen.

We’d rank this tip with the double-space full stop: it’s reasonably widely known, but for everyone else it’s a game-changer.

And it’s not just Notes and Mail; tap to top works in most iPhone apps. Some apps, cleverly, offer an undo on this function, just in case you tap it by accident and lose your place in a long article. The excellent Instapaper pops up a Return to Position command, for instance – and if the menu bars have disappeared you have to tap the top of the screen twice to activate the feature in the first place.

Experiment to see if the app you’re using offers some other variation on or evolution of this handy feature.

Set up Do Not Disturb mode

Set up Do Not Disturb mode 

Are you using the Do Not Disturb feature? It’s perfect for insulating you from distractions where you’re trying to work, or get some sleep.

Do Not Disturb can be activated from the Control Centre; swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen and tap the crescent moon icon.

A matching moon icon will then appear in the top bar of your iPhone screen. With Do Not Disturb activated, incoming calls and alerts will be silenced.

For a more advanced range of options, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb; this includes the ability (under the label Scheduled) to set ‘quiet hours’ each day or night. You can also allow exceptions: people who will be allowed to contact you even with this mode activated.

And in iOS 12 it’s now possible to set Do Not Disturb for one-off occasions, rather than at the same time every day.

To do so, hard press on the crescent moon icon in Control Centre and choose from the options: For 1 hour, Until this evening, Until I leave this location.

On a related note, you may be interested to know how to tell if someone is using Do Not Disturb.

Do Not Disturb While Driving

Do Not Disturb While Driving 

Do Not Disturb has some variant modes, such as Do Not Disturb During Bedtime in the iOS 12 update. But the most famous is the version introduced in iOS 11 to reduce distractions when driving. It blocks incoming notifications (but you can set an automated reply for selected contacts only along the lines of “I’m driving right now, will get back to you in a bit”) and blocks phone calls too, unless you’ve got a hands-free kit.

  • Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb and then, under Do Not Disturb While Driving, tap Activate.

You’ll see there are three settings: Automatically (which attempts to work out when you’re driving by your motion, and which we wouldn’t recommend, given how many times we’ve seen this activate on trains), When Connected to Car Bluetooth, and Manually. Choose whichever option suits you.

Go back to the Do Not Disturb page of Settings and you’ll see the automated replies at the bottom of the screen. Select who you want to get this reply, and edit the reply by tapping Auto-Reply and then tapping the message.

Sometimes people find this mode annoyingly persistent; here’s how to turn off Do Not Disturb While Driving.

Take photos while shooting videos

Take photos while shooting videos 

You’re using your iPhone 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 onscreen 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.

For more related advice, take a look at our iPhone camera tips.

Portrait Lighting

Portrait Lighting 

If you’ve got an iPhone 8 Plus, an iPhone X, an iPhone XS, or XS Max, you can access a photographic feature called Portrait Lighting (the XR has some Portrait Lighting features, but not all). We find Portrait Lighting a little inconsistent, but it can sometimes produce some attractive effects with very little effort.

Open the Camera app, and swipe across the bottom rotating menu so you’re in Portrait Mode.

Just above this label you’ll see a hexagonal icon and the label Natural Light, which indicates that you’re about to take a standard Portrait Mode shot, with the arty bokeh background blur. Very nice.

If you tap the Natural Light icon, however, it’ll pop up slightly and you’ll see it’s on a circular menu. Swipe across and you can scroll through the four other options: Studio Light, which brightens up the subject’s face and other ‘high points’ and is generally the most reliable mode; Contour Light, which darkens the shadows and sometimes produces a good effect, but often makes people look scruffy or unshaven; and two versions of Stage Light (colour and mono), which cut out the subject and place him or her against a dark background.

The Portrait Lighting effects are a little better in iOS 12, but we still find the mono modes to be a bit unreliable when it comes to curly hair.

Note that you don’t have to apply these effects while or before taking the shot. Open any photo which has the label Portrait at the top left, and you’ll be able to apply them retrospectively. Tap Edit, then tap the hexagon icon and you’ll be able to scroll through the options as above.

A new feature on the iPhone XS and XS Max allows you to adjust the blur after taking a picture.

It’s made possible by the separate of layers in photos. When we get to test out the iPhone XS we’ll fill you in on how it works.

Switch direction in Panorama mode

Switch direction in Panorama mode 

You can change the direction of your Panorama photograph in the Camera app by tapping the arrow that appears in the middle of the screen in the Panorama mode.

Use your headphones to take a selfie

Use your headphones to take a selfie 

Selfies continue to be all the rage, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, but if the quality of your selfies is a concern, try this handy trick.

A decent proportion of iPhone owners know that you can activate the camera shutter by pressing one of the volume buttons (volume up or volume down – doesn’t matter which) instead of the onscreen button. This tends to produce less camera shake.

But a still better option for selfies – and one that is far less widely known – is to use the volume button on an attached pair of headphones.

When the camera app is open on your iPhone, you can use the volume button on an attached pair of headphones to take a photo. Not only does this reduce shake even more than using the iPhone’s volume button, but it also means you can take a more natural-looking photo from further away or take a photo hands-free.

Make an iPhone safe for kids

Make an iPhone safe for kids 

Kids love iPhones – maybe a little more than is good for them. But there are steps you can take to ensure youngsters aren’t accessing unsuitable content on their devices.

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions and you can limit access to specified apps, block in-app purchases, and set an age range for appropriate content. All of this is covered in How to set up parental controls on an iPhone.

You should also look into the possibilities of Family Sharing, a feature that allows you to share apps and content between your family’s devices without having to pay for them more than once.

The arrival of iOS 12 will bring further parental controls in the form of Screen Time, which lets you set ‘allowances’ for use of certain apps or categories of app, warnings when time is running out and eventually a block. (They can ask for extra time, but you will get the final decision.)

Stop iPhone addiction

Stop iPhone addiction 

Speaking of Screen Time, it’s a new feature in iOS 12 that can help you be less addicted to your iPhone.

  • To find out just how much of your time you are waiting on your iPhone, go to Settings > Screen Time.

Here you will find details on how long you use each app, how often you looked at your phone, and what apps you spent the most time with.

Tap on your device in the top section to see the Screen Time breakdown. You can look at the breakdown for today, or for the last seven days.

You can set Downtime, with only certain apps being available between certain hours, say after 9pm. You’ll get a reminder just before your Downtime starts. You can decide which apps are allowed during Downtime in the Always Allowed section.

It’s also possible to set App Limits (although these limits reset each day at midnight). For example, you could limit your Social Networking apps so you can only use them for one hour today.

You can set a Screen Time password to use when you need a few minutes more.

Quickly add symbols

Quickly add symbols 

You’ve probably been using your iPhone’s keyboard for ages without realising that it’s actually easier than you thought to add symbols to your messages.

Instead of tapping once on the 123 button, once on your chosen symbol and then once again on the ABC button to go back to the conventional keyboard layout, you can do the whole thing in one gesture.

Tap and hold the 123 button, slide your finger to select the symbol you want to insert, then release. Once it’s been added, your keyboard will automatically revert back to the letters keyboard. One tap instead of three: that’s some serious time savings right there.

Oh, and while we’re talking symbols: hold your finger on any letter or symbol for a second or two and you’ll see any alternative (usually related) symbols that the button can offer instead. The dollar key also offers pound, euro and yen symbols, for example. If you often type letters with accents this is also a quick and easy way to see an accented option.

There are many additional symbols hidden within your keyboard that you may never have discovered. Experiment!

One-handed keyboard

One-handed keyboardIf you’re on iOS 11 or later you can use a system keyboard that’s designed for use with one hand (and only one thumb on that hand, realistically).

  • Go to Settings > General > Keyboards, and tap One-Handed Keyboard. Select Left or Right.

Customise auto-correct text replacement

Customise auto-correct text replacement 

iOS’s QuickType system-wide keyboard is clever at guessing what you’re trying to write, and in many situations will auto-correct your clumsily typed screed into something far more accurate.

It gets better still, however, when you start customising it so that it knows your own personal favourite shortcuts and abbreviations and the full phrases you’d like it to expand those abbreviations into.

You might decide that “omg” should be turned into “Oh my God”, for example. “omw” should become “On my way”. And so on.

It’s easy to set up a personalised shortcut:

  1. Go to Settings > General, scroll down and tap Keyboard.
  2. Select Text Replacement. You’ll see what text replacements you currently have set up.
  3. To add a new one, tap the plus sign. Enter the desired full phrase (“MacBook Pro 2016 with Touch Bar” might be a good one for a tech journalist), the shortened version that you want to expand into the longer phrase (“MBP”, say), and tap Save.

Never fill in a password, address, or account info

Never fill in a password, address, or account info 

If you want to save time and also benefit from not having to memorise passwords or account information, make sure you turn on auto-fill.

It is possible for your iPhone, iPad, even your Mac, to enter your name, address, email, phone number, passwords and more automatically.

  • Go to Settings > Safari > Autofill.

You’ll need to make sure the information you want to be filled in is correctly entered in your phone in various places – read this article for help setting up passwords, bank cards, names and addresses so they can be autofilled on your iPhone.

New in iOS 12 – when a security code arrives in a text message it will automatically be available as a AutoFill suggestion – so you won’t even have to open the Messages app to see the code.

Get a thesaurus

Get a thesaurus 

There’s a new Thesaurus option in iOS 12, but you’ll need to enable it. To do so, go to Settings > General > Dictionary. Now Select British English “Oxford Thesaurus of English” (or if you’re American, the “Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus”).

While you are here, you can download translations, such as French-English, Spanish-English too.

Now select a word by tapping on it.

Choose Look Up from the options (you may need to tap on the arrow to reveal extra options). Now you will see suggestions of alternative words, as well as the Dictionary definition.

Rich formatting

Rich formattingWhile it’s not universally supported, you can use rich formatting in a number of iOS apps including Mail, Notes and third-party apps like WhatsApp to make certain sections of text stand out. But while it’s easy to use, it’s also extremely easy to miss.

Just open an app that supports rich formatting, highlight the text you’d like to edit by double-tapping it and select the formatting menu, labelled BIU.

From there, simply select your preferred effect and it’ll be applied to the selected text.

Tap the arrow on the right to see additional effects such as struck-through text.

Quick-delete in the Calculator app

Quick-delete in the Calculator app 

If you use the calculator app a lot, you might like this handy and little-known time-saving trick.

The Calculator app, like real-world calculators, doesn’t have a delete button, which can be annoying if you’ve just typed out a long number and made a mistake right at the end.

Fortunately you can swipe across the number in the black area at the top – left or right, it doesn’t matter – and for each swipe, a single digit will be removed from the end of the figure.

Stop music with a timer

Stop music with a timer 

This is a cool trick for those of you who enjoy falling asleep to music. The problem with that is it’ll still be playing when you wake up in the morning, and you’ve probably just drained most of your battery in the process. Using the hidden ‘Stop Playing’ timer, you can choose how long you want the music to play for as you drift off to sleep.

Open the Clock app’s Timer tab. (You can just straight to this from Control Centre: tap the stylised clock face.) Choose how long you want your timer to last for and then tap ‘When Timer Ends’. Scroll down to the bottom of the menu and select ‘Stop Playing’.

Press start on the timer and then begin playing your music from the Music app. When the timer ends, the music will fade to a stop. This trick will also work for audiobooks and other media.

Search music by lyrics

Search music by lyrics 

In iOS 12 you have the additional option of searching for a track by a lyric – whatever phase it is that is stuck in your head since you heard it on the radio this morning.

Just open the Music app and type in the words in the Search field.

It should work even if you don’t have all the words, but the longer the phrase you type in the more likely it will give you a correct result.

You can also ask Siri the same question without typing anything.

Get your iPhone’s flash to blink when you get a message

Get your iPhone's flash to blink when you get a message 

If you find that the vibration or sound that your phone makes when you get a message is not always enough to attract your attention, there’s another element that you can add to the alert: light. By going to Settings > General > Accessibility and scrolling down to the ‘Hearing’ section, you can turn on ‘LED Flash for Alerts’.

Now every time you get a notification, the flash next to your iPhone’s rear-facing camera will blink.

Find words or phrases on a web page

Find words or phrases on a web page 

If you’re looking for a particular word or phrase on a web page, you can find it by typing the word or phrase in the URL/search bar at the top of the screen. (As soon as you tap on the top bar the page you were on will be replaced by a screen filled with your Favourites, but don’t worry – you’re still on the web page. It’ll return as soon as you tap off the top bar or run the in-page search.)

You’ll see a list of web search results – and search results from the App Store, Wikipedia and so on if applicable, but you need to look at the bottom of that list for a section labelled “On This Page”, with the number of matches.

Tap it, and you’ll see that the results are highlighted on that particular web page in yellow. Tap the arrows at the bottom of the screen to go to the next instance.

Use AirPods as a hearing aid

Use AirPods as a hearing aid 

If you have a pair of AirPods, you can use the Live Listen feature in iOS 12 to turn your AirPods into a hearing aid.

Go to Settings > Control Centre > Customise Controls.

Tap on Hearing (under More Controls) to add it to your Control Centre.

Now when you choose this option in Control Centre it will magnify voices through your AirPods.

We can’t wait to try this out so that we can spy on what our friends say behind our backs.

Save a web page to Books

Save a web page to Books 

You can turn web pages into PDFs and add them directly to your Books app. This is handy if you’re reading a long web document, or especially if you’ve found an HTML book online and want to keep a copy of it.

When you tap Share, scroll across the apps to find Copy to Books.

Tap it and the web page will be converted and added to your book collection.

(Note that this option appears only if you’ve got Books on your iPhone! If you don’t you can still Save as PDF and add it to your Files).

Change Siri’s accent

Change Siri’s accent 

English speakers have been able to change Siri’s voice from male to female with the choice of three accents since iOS 11, in iOS 12 you also get the choice of Irish or South African too.

Go to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice.

Here you can change an English speaking voice from Male to Female, or change the accent to American, Australian, British, Irish or South African.

Speaking of accents, Siri can translate into lots of different languages for you.

In iOS 12 gained the ability to translate words and sentences into even more languages – there are up to 50 different combinations.

We have a dedicated article showing how to translate using Siri.

It should be a simple case of saying: “Hey Siri, how do I say Good Night in Spanish”, for example.

Ask Siri to do maths for you

Ask Siri to do maths for you 

No matter how good of a mathematician you might be, having Siri on-hand to help with you simple and complex maths questions is always useful.

Simply open Siri and recite your equation to it. If the number is complex, make sure you say it at a slightly slower pace, so that Siri doesn’t misunderstand it.

We found Siri to also correctly divide, multiply, subtract and add, with slightly more complicated equations too!

Create shortcuts for common tasts

Create shortcuts for common tasts 

iOS 12 allows you to group tasks together so that you can trigger them with a single Siri command.

You’ll need to download the Shortcuts app from the App Store.

Open the Siri Shortcuts app and tap on Gallery to see a gallery of ready-made shortcuts, such as Calculate Tip, Log Water, Make PDF, or Remind Me At Home.

Once you have the app on your iPhone, you will see suggestions of shortcuts you might want to use when you swipe down on your Home screen – Shortcuts can be found below your Siri Suggestions of apps you might want to use.

Just tap on the suggestion – which will be based on something you frequently do, such as send a group text message, and you will be taken straight to a message.

Read all about Siri Shortcuts here.

Measure things

Measure things 

The new Measure app in iOS 12 will make it easy to measure the dimensions of objects.

All you need to do is trace the sides of the object and it will tell you how long they are.

  1. Open the app and you will see the option to Move the iPhone to start.
  2. Eventually a circle will appear and the option to add a point.
  3. Add points and the app will tell you how many cm between them.

The Measure app is also the new home of the Level app.

This level can be used if you want to make sure that bookshelf you’re putting up is perfectly level.

The iPhone uses its Gyroscope to determine the level of the surface the iPhone is placed on. You’ll have the opportunity to calibrate it on a flat surface before assessing the situation.

Enable Night Shift

Enable Night Shift 

Night Shift, which arrived with the iOS 9.3 update, is a useful feature which dims the white tones of your display, in order to make it easier on your eyes in low-light conditions.

You can schedule Night Shift to take place at the same time every day, or you can manually enable it until tomorrow.

You can also adjust the colour temperature so that it is more or less warm.

  • Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift.

Have your iPhone read out your texts

Have your iPhone read out your texts 

If you require or want your iPhone to read out your texts, then you can enable Speak Selection.

First of all navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility and toggle the option ‘Speak Selection’.

If you are to long-press on a speech bubble within your Messages, you’ll now find the option to ‘Speak’ – the option is especially useful if you have a long text message or decide to start driving and want to listen to the text whilst in hands-free mode.

See when a message was sent

See when a message was sent 

Within the Messages app, you’ll be able to swipe from right to left to reveal the time-stamps of each individual message.

Normally you’ll be able to see what date and at what time the first message was sent. However, to reveal each individual message after that, you’ll need to quickly glance at the timestamps by swiping.

This can be useful to either know what time the last message was received at, or to see if your friend was lying about arriving on time!

Call from within Messages

Call from within Messages 

If you are chatting via Messages and then decide that it would be good to talk, in iOS 12 you can simply tap on the icon for the person you are texting and it will reveal options for either an audio or FaceTime call.

You could do this before, but the interface is a lot less cluttered than it was previously.

When Group FaceTime arrives in an update to iOS 12, you’ll be able to start a Group FaceTime call from a Group Message, imagine that!