iOS isn’t known for its flexibility and the reputation isn’t entirely undeserved. It doesn’t have a built-in speed dial feature, sharing between third-party apps is a long-winded process, there are no widgets, and syncing files over iTunes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Do you have to jailbreak for simple solutions to these problems? Not if you follow these simple tips and install the right apps.
Make Faster Calls
Every call need not be two taps away. iOS allows you to set contacts as favourites for quick access, but you could make calls a lot faster if you pinned contacts to your homescreen. To call a contact who isn’t among favourites, most of us go Phone > Contacts > Search > Contact Name > Number. Too many taps, right? You can speed this up without any apps.
Spotlight Search is one of the most improved iOS 7 features, yet most iPhone owners I’ve met rarely use it. All you have to do is swipe downwards on your homescreen and type the name of the contact. If this contact is among your favourites, it will show up as soon as you type the first letter. Two more taps and you can call that person – a lot faster than the default method mentioned above. The difference may seem minimal initially, but it will save a lot of time if you make a lot of phone calls.
If that’s not fast enough, you can use OneTap to pin contacts to your homescreen. Before you download, I must tell you that the app is crude. The design is still iOS 6-era and it doesn’t even cover the full height of the screen on 4-inch iPhones. This means it probably hasn’t been updated since before the launch of iPhone 5. But don’t worry too much, it works as advertised.
Open OneTap and you can choose whether you want call, text, mail, FaceTime or Tweet to your contacts. The app uses Safari to pin contacts to the homescreen. For every contact, it generates a long URL that opens in Safari. Just tap the share icon and hit Add to Homescreen to create speed dial icons. It works even when there is no Internet connection.
If you use a prepaid connection, you might be using a USSD code (for example: *123#) to check balance or get a recharge. If you’ve saved a USSD code as a contact, don’t pin it using OneTap. My iPhone froze while dialling a USSD code through OneTap. I had to restart it (hold power + home button for 10 seconds) to exit the app, so be careful.
When you a call a pinned contact, OneTap doesn’t show the phone app right away. Until your contact receives a call, you’ll see a black screen. If you want to put the call on speaker mode, you will have to wait until the call is received. OneTap does have these limitations, but it is the best free app I could find for the job. There are several paid speed dial apps on the App Store, but I don’t think they are worth the money – given the limited function.
Speaking of paid apps, Launch Center Pro belongs on your homescreen if you want to become an iOS power user.
It lets you set buttons for your favourite tasks such as calling, texting or mailing certain contacts, Tweeting through third-party clients, and even slightly complex tasks such as uploading the most recent photo to Dropbox and copying its URL for sharing. Customisability is its greatest asset. If that appeals to you, then the app is well worth $4.99.
Goodbye Buttons, Hello Gestures
Launch Center Pro is amazing for its integration with third-party apps, but you won’t need it if you rely only on default apps. Buttons and icons are great for opening apps quickly, but can you get work done faster after opening an app? If you use the right gestures, the answer is yes.
This article mentioned Spotlight Search, which can also be used to search for and open mail, messages and apps. If you swipe upwards from the lower edge of the screen, you’ll open Control Center. Most people use it to toggle various connectivity options, but it also allows you to set an alarm without unlocking your device. Just tap the timer icon and click alarms.
Many of my Android-using friends keep looking for a back button whenever they open apps on iOS devices. Even my iOS using friends still use in-app back buttons. iOS has a system-wide back gesture – swipe towards the right from the left edge.
If you’re using Safari, this gesture takes you back to the previous page you opened. Swiping from right to left in Safari is an alternative to the forward button.
Pressing the home button twice lets you view and close open apps. If you have an iPad with multitasking gestures enabled, you can do this simply by swiping upwards with four fingers. Switching between apps is much easier on iPads – just place four fingers on the screen and swipe right or left. You can enable or disable these gestures under Settings > General > Multitasking Gestures.
Who Needs iTunes?
Now that you’ve mastered gestures, it’s time to take a look at what is probably Apple’s most polarising software – iTunes. Some people prefer drag-and-drop for file transfers. This is easier especially if you’ve bought music and films from another source. There are two things you should know – file sharing is not that hard on iTunes and you can drag-and-drop files without installing iTunes.
If you already have iTunes, apps such as VLC for iOS and Kindle support drag-and-drop file transfer. Connect your iOS device to a computer, open the apps tab on iTunes and scroll down to find the File Sharing sub-head. Scroll down a little more and you will find two buttons – Add and Save To – that let you copy files from and to your device.
You don’t even have to connect your iOS device to a computer to transfer files. VLC for iOS is more than capable of doing the job. Its WiFi upload feature is a real life-saver as you can drag and drop files over your local wireless network. All you have to do is check the address in VLC for iOS (in the screenshot below it is http://192.168.1.2) and enter it in your Web browser.
I absolutely hate having to rely on iTunes whenever I want to transfer my beloved songs and films. It’s so tedious that I almost got a headache thinking about the whole procedure. If you’re suffering from the same problem, VLC for iOS is like a breath of fresh air.
Tim recently arrived at the same conclusion and urged you to ditch iTunes in favour of VLC. Do keep in mind that you will need to keep your iPhone unlocked and the VLC app open to transfer files. If your screen locks in the middle of a transfer, it will fail.
If you fancy using your iPhone or iPad as a mass storage device without having to jailbreak or mess around with cables try Feem, which allows you to transfer pictures, videos and other documents between your Mac, Windows, Android, Linux and of course other iOS devices.
Sharing Between Apps
Cloud storage apps such as Dropbox let you save files to your device and open files in third-party apps. I’ve bought quite a few DRM-free songs from an Indian online retailer. I’ve saved these to Dropbox and I use VLC to listen to them. Gone are the days when you had to convert every media file to an Apple-supported format. VLC for iOS plays them all.
Ever tried sending links to an Instagram photo via iMessage or WhatsApp? The only option is to copy the photo URL and paste it in the chat window. The problem is that when a person clicks this link, it will open in Safari. Here’s an easy fix to open links in their respective apps. Just add appname:// before the URL. For instance, to open a page in Instagram, you need to send the link as instagram://http://instagram.com/xyzabc.
This tweak works well with some apps, but not with all. For instance, I couldn’t open tweets in Tweetbot (it kept loading my timeline) and the Soundcloud app didn’t open Soundcloud links. Also, you will have to guess a bit to get the app name right. An example is Chrome browser. To open links in the browser, you have to type googlechrome://http://makeuseof.com. When it works, this trick is great for collaboration on iOS.
Alas, iOS doesn’t have homescreen widgets. There’s no way to monitor different tasks without opening apps. However, there are cool dashboard apps for iPad that will let you keep an eye on weather, emails and other productivity tasks.
You might want to download Google Now on iPhones (free) or Panic Status Board ($9.99) if you have an iPad. Both apps have great widget-like features. Tim recently wrote about Eddy – a passive Twitter client that automatically scrolls tweets from your timeline. That’s also a good widget-like app for monitoring your Twitter feed.
It may take some time to start using these features regularly, but the result will be a much faster workflow.
Did you find these tips useful? Have any other suggestions for speeding up basic tasks? As always, drop a comment to let us know!