9 hidden iPhone features that make your life easier


This month a viral post on Twitter taught us all a valuable lesson about how the intuitive phone interface are not: Apple let iPhone users move a text-editing slider around the screen for a few years, but outside of the tech press no one seemed to have the memo.

Yes, it’s hard to make the interface functionality obvious on touchscreens. (I wonder why Apple isn’t more aggressive in using the built-in Tips app to teach people how to use the features of its devices.) But it’s also a learning opportunity! And with that, I present nine other simple iPhone features that may have escaped your attention.

Switch applications with a simple gesture

On the iPhone X family models (iPhone X, XS, XS Max, and XR), you might know that you can swipe up on the screen to go home. But you can also slide your finger left or right on the home indicator (that horizontal bar that appears at the bottom of the screen most of the time) to switch between apps.

It’s a handy way to quickly jump to the last app you’re using, and if you keep swiping you’ll keep jumping to previous apps.

Show multitasking commands

Swiping up from the home indicator takes you home, yes, but if you swipe up more slowly and then release, you’ll enter iPhone multitasking view. This view lets you browse previews of all the apps you’ve used recently. Tap one of them to bring them to the foreground. If you think an app is misbehaving, swipe up on that app’s preview and you’ll force it to quit.

If you want to access this view even faster, try swiping your finger up from the lower left corner diagonally. Every little time saved is worth it.

Customize the control center

Control Center is a convenient place to quickly access your phone’s features without opening an app. To open Control Center on an iPhone X family phone, swipe down from the top right corner of the screen. (Swiping the rest of the top of the screen brings up the Action Center, but if you do it on the top right, it’s more of the Control Center. Talk about non-intuitive!)

Control Center is a great place to quickly play or pause music or podcasts, adjust volume and brightness, disconnect from Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and do all kinds of other tasks. (Here’s an extra tip: try 3D Touch – or Haptic Touch if you’re using an iPhone XR – on the Control Center buttons. You’ll find that many of them will expand into more comprehensive controls. For example, you can select the flashlight brightness level.)

But there’s more to Control Center than you might think: it’s customizable. Go to the Settings app, tap Control Center, then tap Customize Controls. From there, you can add all kinds of buttons, including access to accessibility shortcuts, screen recording, and apps like calculator and alarm.

Reverse light applications

So you stare at your iPhone at night, and an app’s bright, all-white interface is just too blatant to use. (Bright white web pages in Safari are a common offender.) Consider using an accessibility feature called Smart Invert Colors in combination with Control Center to combat this problem.

Smart Invert Colors reverses your phone’s screen, so white is black and black is white. This is ideal for web pages that normally feature black text on a white background. What makes this feature Clever is that it’s usually smart enough not to reverse other media, like photos, for example. The result is a surprisingly readable white-on-black view that’s better for some applications when you’re in the dark.

First, open the Settings app, tap General, then tap Accessibility. Scroll down and tap Accessibility shortcut, and make sure Smart Invert Colors is checked. This means you can triple-click the side button to bring up a quick menu of accessibility options, including Smart Invert Colors.

Then go back to the top level of the Settings app, tap Control Center, tap Customize Controls, and add accessibility shortcuts to your Control Center. Now you can also trigger Smart Invert directly from the control center with just a few clicks.

Quickly access the camera or flashlight

At the bottom of the iPhone X family device lock screen, you’ll see two icons: a flashlight on the left and a camera on the right. They’re easy to miss, but they’re important – they give you quick access to both of these features.

But you can’t just tap on it: Apple doesn’t want to trigger these features with the wrong key. So you have to use 3D Touch on them to trigger them (which means pressing hard – on the iPhone XR, just touch and hold). This is the best way to turn on the flashlight, bar none.

Show Today screen

One of the most useful features of iOS is hidden to the left of the action center. This is the Today screen, populated with small items called “widgets” that are generated by applications on your phone. These widgets can be full of useful information or can provide shortcuts to useful features. (Quite literally, you can save shortcuts from Apple’s Shortcuts app and run them right from Today view.)

To see the widget view, swipe down from the top of the screen (but not the top right, it’s Control Center) to bring up Action Center. Then swipe left to right to display the Today view. It’s useful! And you can make it more useful by personalizing it. Just scroll down to the bottom of the view and tap Edit to choose the widgets you want to display in that view.

Unsubscribe from notifications

One of my favorite features of iOS 12 is the ability to manage your notifications right from Notification Center. When viewing notifications, swipe right to left on any one of them to bring up a submenu. From there, you can tap View to open the app that sent the notification, Clear All to clear all notification bubbles from that app, or Manage.

Managing is a great feature. Try it every now and then. From the resulting interface, you can quickly turn off all notifications for that app – the equivalent of an unsubscribe link in an email. You can also choose Deliver Quietly, an option that allows these notifications to appear in Notification Center, but not interrupt you by popping up a notification bubble while you do other things.

Use Siri Shortcuts without programming

I love the Shortcuts app for all the power it gives me on iOS, but it’s not for everyone, which is why Apple doesn’t even include it on devices; instead, you download it for the App Store. But even if you don’t want to take the plunge with the Shortcuts app, you can still personalize your phone through Siri Shortcuts.

To do this, open the Settings app and tap Siri and search. In the resulting screen, you will see a list called Suggested Shortcuts. These are things you’ve been doing recently that Siri thinks you might want to turn into a useful shortcut. Tap one of them to save a key phrase and turn that action into a new Siri command. You can also tap the All Shortcuts list for a whole bunch of actions you’ve taken over time, all of which you can assign to a Siri voice command.

Go to the top with a tap

This gesture has been on iOS forever, but I keep meeting people who don’t know it, so it’s worth repeating once more. If you’re at the bottom of a drop-down list and want to come back to the top, don’t waste time slowly scrolling up.

Just try tapping all the way to the top of the app or menu bar and see what happens. In most applications, you automatically return to the top.



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