Over the last nine years, iOS has had to walk a thin line: make the OS so simple that anyone can pick it up, but also robust and feature-rich so that hardcore power users can also excel.
The way Apple has handled this so far is to have a layered approach. On the surface, it’s still simple. But look around a bit, peek behind menus, share buttons, 3D Touch shortcuts, and you’ll find a whole new world of useful hidden features.
Rather than spending a couple of hours poking your nose into the nooks and crannies of iOS, just read our guide below.
1. Send Voice Messages in iMessage
If your family, friends, and coworkers use iMessage for communication, try sending them a voice message when it’s not easy or possible to type out a response. This feature has been in the OS for a couple of years now but it’s massively underused.
In a conversation, you’ll see a microphone icon next to the text box. Tap and hold, speak your message and swipe up to send it along. The person on the other side can tap on it to hear it or just put their phone to their ear to listen to it automatically.
This feature makes communicating really seamless. It’s almost like a walkie-talkie for iPhone. Put your phone to your ear when you’re in a conversation, speak, put your phone down and the message is sent automatically. The messages also disappear automatically after a set time. You can choose to Keep them individually or change the setting for auto deletion for all voice messages from Settings > Messages.
Voice messages work differently from dictation. This feature doesn’t transcribe your words to text, it just sends it as is. WhatsApp also has a similar feature.
If you haven’t already, you should also give the dictation feature a shot. It’s really good at converting your speech to text and it’s accessible everywhere you can use a keyboard.
2. Interactive Notifications
Notifications got a big upgrade in iOS 10. If your device supports 3D Touch, try pressing deeper on a notification on the Lock screen or in the Notification Center. You’ll usually get contextual options: actionable shortcuts for archiving an email, accepting a calendar invite, replying to a message, and so on.
If the app supports it, you’ll even see a rich preview. This can be a preview of the email or a map view of the Uber you’ve ordered. It’s also now really easy to reply to messages from a variety of IM apps, right from the notification.
Try to get in the habit of 3D Touching notifications and see all the things you can get done without ever opening the app. It will end up saving you quite a bit of time and might save you from cognitive overload.
3. 3D Touch Shortcuts and Trackpad Mode
3D Touch is now available in enough places that you should care about it. The feature is completely hidden but once you discover what lies beneath a deep press, you’ll figure out faster way of doing things. Squeeze harder on your screen to reveal shortcuts to jump into parts of the app, or show widgets that allow you to quickly accomplish a task. 3D Touching links and images even lets you preview them.
Then there’s the trackpad mode which genuinely solves the issue of cursor movement and text selection on touchscreens. When you have the keyboard on-screen up, squeeze harder in the middle of the keyboard and it will turn into a trackpad.
Move left, right, up, down and the cursor will move with you. 3D Touch once again and you’ll enter the text selection mode, with the current word already selected. Move around and you’ll select the text. Press deeper once again and you’ll select the entire paragraph. Isn’t that cool?
I’m still surprised just how many iPad users either don’t know about multitasking gestures or just don’t use them often. Swipe left or right with four fingers on the screen to switch between apps. Pinch in with 5 fingers to go to the Home screen.
Swipe in from the right edge of the screen and you’ll enable Slide Over. This shows a preview of a second app. If you’re using an iPad Air 2 or higher, swipe in further and you’ll dock the app to the side. Voila, you now have two apps running side by side.
In Safari, you can have two tabs open in a similar fashion. Tap and hold the tabs switcher and select Open Split View to get started.
Switch between apps without ever pressing Home with 3D Touch on iPhone 6s or 7. pic.twitter.com/yY8G08Sxpv
— Apple Support (@AppleSupport) January 22, 2017
On the iPhone, there’s a 3D Touch gesture to open app switcher and to switch between your last used app. Press deeper at the left edge of the screen and swipe in a bit to open the app switcher. Swipe in all the way to the right edge to switch to the last used app.
5. Mail Filters
If you have multiple email accounts in the Mail app, it might get a bit too cluttered. There’s a way to filter all the mail, right from the list view. When you’re in your inbox, tap the funnel icon in the bottom-left corner. From here you can instantly switch between your different accounts or filter by flagged email. You can choose to see emails only with attachments or just from VIPs as well.
Just like Safari, Mail is filled with hidden gestures and features hiding behind long press actions. Long pressing the compose button shows all your drafts, and long pressing the delete button brings up both delete and archive options.
Did you know that one touch lets you quickly access email drafts? pic.twitter.com/qMAPGnc2K2
— Apple Support (@AppleSupport) August 25, 2016
6. Call Blocker Apps
One of the under-appreciated features in iOS 10 was the release of CallKit. It’s an API that lets third-party apps hook into the Phone app to provide live caller ID information and even automatically block calls.
There’s been a bit of a spam call epidemic recently, especially in U.S. and Europe, so this feature is well timed. There are multiple apps that keep a repository of spam callers and will automatically block them for you.
For Europe and Asia, Truecaller works best. But it requires your name, phone number and email to verify your identity. You can choose to hide your details from public from within the app. Once you’ve downloaded the app, go to Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification to turn it on.
There are privacy concerns with all such apps. Their reasoning for asking your details is to add you to the whitelist. If you’re getting so many spam calls that it’s affecting your productivity, installing a call blocker might just be worth it. There’s also an added benefit of almost always knowing who’s calling you, even when you don’t have their contact details saved.
7. Universal Clipboard
One of my favorite features Apple released in 2016 was Universal Clipboard. Yet there’s no mention of it in iOS or macOS anywhere. You won’t find a Settings item for it, or a helpful popup to guide you through it.
Universal Clipboard lets you copy something (text or photo) from iOS 10 and paste it directly on macOS Sierra (and vice-versa). The shared clipboard lasts for two minutes so it doesn’t disrupt your local clipboard.
And this little feature has improved my productivity quite a bit in the last few months because I’m no longer frustrated when I want to copy something from my iPhone to Mac or from my iPad to iPhone. Copy on one device, paste on another. So long, third party tools like Pushbullet that never quite worked as seamlessly. The feature works as long as all your devices are on the same iCloud account.
8. App Extensions
iOS 8 brought us app extensions and finally, apps could talk to each other. But it’s possible that you’re not making the best out of them, as each app extension needs to be enabled manually.
App extensions are bundled with apps themselves and they live in the middle row of the Share sheet. To get started, open Safari, tap the Share button, swipe to the end of the middle row and select More. Now look at the app extensions that are available for the apps you have installed and enable the ones you’d want to use.
Most of the productivity-focused apps do support an app extension. Once enabled, you can use app extensions to send text, link or media to an app, or accomplish a task, without ever opening the app in question. For example, Facebook Messenger’s app extension lets you send a link from Safari to a group chat directly. Apple Note’s extension lets you save a page directly into a note and so on.
9. Siri’s Hidden Productivity Prowess
I’m sure you’ve used Siri multiple times, maybe got annoyed by it too. Recently, Siri has learned a lot of new tricks that can help you be more productive.
For example, open a Safari page, bring up Siri and ask her to “remind me about this tomorrow” and she will, along with a link to the page. You can also ask Siri to add things to a list in Reminders app or to take a new note.
Bad memory? Not a problem. Ask Siri to create reminders and don’t forget a thing this weekend. pic.twitter.com/DhInVuB1SE
— Apple Support (@AppleSupport) February 4, 2017
Siri works with third party app as well. You can ask her to send a message to a friend using WhatsApp or to call you an Uber.
10. Today View Widgets Are Your Dashboard
Alright, this isn’t a hidden feature but Today View widgets are used by a criminally low percentage of iOS users. The Today View is now only a right swipe away from the Lock Screen and the Home screen.
Download the following apps: Widget Calendar, Pcalc Lite, Stacks Currency Converter, Launcher Widget, World Clock Today Widget, Dark Sky. Then go to the Today View, swipe to the bottom, select Edit, enable all these widget and arrange them in the way you like.
And just like that you have a utility dashboard. Just swipe right from the Lock screen any time you want to check your calendar, do a bit of math or check the weather.
Let Third-Party Apps Take Care of the Rest
iOS’s built-in features will only get you so far. Now that you know how to use the built-in features to be more productive, try some time-saving productivity apps. Todoist is a feature-rich task management app that’s a joy to use. Workflow lets you automate repetitive tasks no matter how small or big.
And don’t forget that your iPhone’s default apps have some awesome secrets of their own. Also, did you know that you can control your iPhone with your voice without enabling Siri?