iPhone Features You Can’t Do Without

Big iPhone features like dual rear cameras grab all the attention, but it’s the little things that matter the most.

Josh Miller/CNET

I’m sitting in the audience at the Castro Theater for the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film Don’t worry, he won’t walk far has just ended and Gus Van Sant and Danny Elfman, respectively director and composer of the film, take the stage for an interview. I panic.

“Is my iPhone on? Or is it off? I’m sure I turned it off before the movie. Or did I put it on airplane mode? What if I didn’t? “

Uncertain, I reach into my pocket and use my thumb to activate the mute button. Instantly, I’m sure my phone won’t disrupt the talkback.

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Every iPhone has had a mute switch since Steve Jobs launched the original in 2007. It’s not a flashy feature. There’s no line for that on CNET’s specs chart. I do not remember when it was last mentioned in a review. But this switch has helped me so many times.

There are lots of little things on the iPhone that come in handy like the mute switch. Here are some of my favorites:

Mute switch

Apple calls it the “Ring/Silent switch”. It’s a material reminder of a time when our phones were primarily for making calls. But as our iPhone habits have evolved, it’s still useful as a last line of defense for all audio alerts except alarms.

Back to the top of a page

If you’re on a webpage in Safari or using a scrolling app — think Instagram — you can tap the time at the top of the webpage or app as a shortcut back to the top. In Safari, you tap once to reveal the web address field, then tap the time again.


If you have a iPhone 8, 8 More or one iPhone Xyou have one of the most beloved camera features ever made for a phone: Slow sync flash. Basically, Apple has made the camera flash actually usable. Goodbye, goodbye red eyes, and no more looking like you got caught in a pair of headlights when your photo was taken.

The iPhone takes the photo at a slower shutter speed while firing the flash quickly. With the shutter open longer, the background is exposed more, making it brighter. The results are impressive:


These shots were taken in a bar. The one on the left is from the 7 Plus using flash, and the one on the right is the 8 Plus using slow sync flash.

Patrick Holland/CNET


If you need to share photos, videos, or files with other Apple devices, AirDrop is the way to go. It’s incredibly easy. Just tap the share button and a row of possible devices on AirDrop will appear. Then you tap on a friend’s icon and once they accept, the file or photo is sent.

When AirDrop first rolled out, it seemed to work intermittently at best. But five years later, AirDrop is the primary way to transfer stuff between devices. To verify this article for a refresher on AirDrop.


The smallest and cheapest Apple phone you can buy is the iPhoneSE. He has the body of iPhone 5/5Sbut the internal components and camera of the iPhone 6S. It’s almost impossible to find a new phone that’s actually small and good. Oh, and it still has a headphone jack.

There are rumors that Apple will update the small phone with a iPhone SE 2. But nothing has been officially announced.

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Share your Wi-Fi password

One of the many pleasures of iOS 11 is when you join a new Wi-Fi network and a “Share your WiFi” prompt appears on a friend’s iOS or Mac device ask their permission for the password. Once they approve it, the devices do the rest. (I should note that the other person must be a contact in your address book.) This feature has made the impossible a reality: it’s actually fun to share a Wi-Fi password and protect your privacy – the actual password is never displayed.


When Apple released the juggernaut iPhone 6Plushe added Accessibility – a software feature that makes it usable with one hand. It works pretty easily on every iPhone since, aside from the iPhone SE.

Press the home button twice and the screen content shrinks by a third, making it accessible with a thumb. This gesture is second nature to me. On iPhone X, there is a setting in the Accessibility menu to enable the feature.


iOS 11 has brought a practical level to the iPhone camera for all your top-down shots.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Perfectly level photos

With the release of iOS 11, a pair of crosshairs – one white, one yellow – will appear when taking top-down shots. You maneuver the iPhone slightly until the reticle merges and turns yellow, indicating your phone is level with your subject – think food photography.

I feel like Wes Anderson knowing that my photo of avocado toast is perfectly framed and level.

Live Photos

When Live Photos came out, I wasn’t too enthusiastic and turned it off. A Live Photo consists of a photo and a 3 second video consisting of a 1.5 second recording before and after the shot. Over the past year, I have Live photos reactivated and I’m so glad I did. It captures truly amazing moments that a single photo can sometimes miss.

Once I was playing Super Mario Odyssey on my nintendo switch and my cat Stella decided to sit in front of the TV. I paused the game and took a picture with my iPhone 7. Incidentally, the game’s pause screen has become a wonderful juxtaposition to Stella – a perfect moment for Live Photos. Check it out:

I took a photo and also got this great live photo.

Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone touchpad

The failure iOS keyboard on any iPhone 3D Touch has a hidden trackpad. To activate, firmly press any key until you see the keys go blank and feel a haptic tap. The keyboard essentially becomes a trackpad, and as you slide your finger across the keyboard, the on-screen cursor follows.


At WWDC 2018, Apple announced iOS 12, which will be released this fall. It adds features like Memoji, Group FaceTime and Siri improvements among others. Discover our story on iOS 12 for a deeper look at iOS 12.

Your favorite little things

What are your favorite little things about the iPhone? Let me know in the comments.

And Android users, don’t worry. I’m working on a similar piece for Android phones.

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