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iPhone features you can’t live without

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


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I am sitting in the audience at the Castro Theater for the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot just finished and Gus Van Sant and Danny Elfman, the film’s director and composer, respectively, take the stage for an interview. I panic.

“Is my iPhone on? Or is it off? I’m pretty sure I turned it off before the film. Or did I put it into airplane mode? But what if I didn’t?”

Uncertain, I reach into my pocket and with my thumb I toggle the mute switch on. Instantly, I feel confident that my phone won’t disrupt the talkback.

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Every iPhone has had a mute switch since Steve Jobs launched the original one back in 2007. It’s not a flashy feature. There’s no row for it on CNET’s spec chart. I can’t remember the last time it got mentioned in a review. But that mute switch has helped me out so many times.

There are a lot of little things on the iPhone that are handy like the mute switch. Here are some of my favorites:

Mute switch

Apple refers to it as the “Ring/Silent switch.” It’s a hardware reminder of a time when our phones were mostly for making calls. But as our iPhone habits 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 web page in Safari or using an app that scrolls — think Instagram — you can tap on the time at the top of the web page or app as a shortcut to return to the top. In Safari, you tap once to reveal the web address field and then again on the time.

Flash

If you have an iPhone 8, 8 Plus or an iPhone X, you have one of the most welcomed camera features ever made for a phone: Slow Sync Flash. Basically, Apple made the camera flash actually usable. Bye, bye red-eye, and no more looking like you were 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:

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These shots were taken in a bar. The left one is from the 7 Plus using the flash, and the right is the 8 Plus using Slow Sync Flash.


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AirDrop

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

When AirDrop first rolled out, it seemed to work intermittently at best. But five years later, AirDrop is the main way I transfer things between devices. Check out this article for a refresher on AirDrop.

iPhone SE

The smallest and cheapest Apple phone you can buy is the iPhone SE. It has the body of the iPhone 5/5S, but the internals and camera from the iPhone 6S. It’s nearly 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 petite phone with an iPhone SE 2. But nothing has been formally announced.

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Share your Wi-Fi password

One of the many delights of iOS 11 is when you join a new Wi-Fi network and a “Share Your WiFi” prompt appears on a friend’s iOS device or Mac asking their permission for the password. Once they OK it, the devices do the rest. (I should note that the other person needs to be a contact in your address book.) This feature 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.

Reachability

When Apple released the behemoth iPhone 6 Plus, it added Reachability — a software feature that made it usable one-handed. It works easily enough on all iPhones since, aside from the iPhone SE.

Double-tap the home button and the content on the screen lowers by a third, making it reachable with a thumb. This gesture is second nature to me. On the iPhone X, there’s a setting in the Accessibility menu to turn the feature on.

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


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Perfectly level photos

With the release of iOS 11, a pair of crosshairs — one white, one yellow — appear when you shoot top-down photos. You slightly maneuver the iPhone until the crosshairs merge and turn yellow, indicating that your phone is level with your subject — think food photography.

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

Live Photos

When Live Photos came out, I wasn’t too keen on it and turned it off. A Live Photo consists of a photo and a 3-second video made up recording 1.5 seconds before and after the picture is taken. Over the past year, I’ve re-enabled Live Photos and I’m so glad I did. It captures truly amazing moments that sometimes a single photo can miss.

One time 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. The game’s pause screen incidentally became a wonderful juxtaposition to Stella — an ideal moment for Live Photos. Check it out:

I took a photo and got this great Live Photo, too.


Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone trackpad

The default iOS keyboard on any 3D Touch iPhone has a hidden trackpad. To activate it, press firmly on any key until you see the keys turn blank and feel a haptic tap. The keyboard essentially becomes a trackpad and as you slide your finger around the keyboard, the onscreen cursor follows.

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iOS 12

At WWDC 2018, Apple announced iOS 12, which will be released this fall. It adds features like Memoji, group FaceTime and improvements to Siri among other things. Check out our story on iOS 12 for a more in-depth 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 fret. I’m working on a similar piece for Android phones.


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