Tips and Tricks: for Better Smartphone Photography

For many, phones have completely replaced dedicated digital cameras, but even pros reach for their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones to snap images from time to time. Here’s how to take better pics with your smartphone.


By Jim Fisher of

Your smartphone is always with you, a constant companion that can connect to the web to look up any tiny nugget of trivia, and generally keep you in constant contact with the outside world. It’s one of the key items you grab before leaving the house, and the last time you (probably) turned it off was at the movie theater.

This also makes your phone your take-everywhere, shoot-anything digital camera. Just a few short years ago, making images and video with smartphones was a compromise, with poorer image quality but a heck of a lot more convenience than a good point-and-shoot camera.

But times have changed and phone cameras have gotten better and better. The latest models offer superior imaging and video to budget point-and-shoot cameras, and offer nifty software tricks to blur backgrounds, just like an SLR and f/2 or f/1.4 lens.
Check out these tips to get the best images you can get from your phone. But remember, even with the latest tech, phones aren’t as versatile imaging tools as modern interchangeable lens cameras.

Start With a Good Camera Phone

Smartphone camera quality has enjoyed a big leap forward in quality over the past couple of years. If you’re using an older handset, chances are the camera isn’t up to snuff. If camera quality is a priority when shopping for a new one, make sure you peruse our list of the top camera phones we’ve tested. But remember that you really can’t go wrong with the latest Apple iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy devices.

Look for the Light

Smartphones have very bright lenses—the Samsung Galaxy S9 has one that opens up all the way to f/1.5. But sensors are much smaller than you find in a premium compact camera with a 1-inch sensor like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. That gives them a distinct disadvantage in image quality in dim lighting. To get the best shots, look for opportunities where your phone’s sensor can shine. If you’re indoors, try to set up your shot so there’s light falling on your subject—some window light will do more to improve your photos than a new phone or camera. It’s always a better option to find good light as opposed to using your phone’s underpowered LED flash.

Adjust Exposure

Smartphones are the modern point-and-shoot, but the apps that run their cameras typically offer some level of manual control. The most basic adjustment you can make is exposure—brightening or darkening a scene—and using it effectively can turn a bland image into a head-turner. Use it to brighten the shot of your fancy dinner to make it perfect for Instagram, or to darken shadows in a portrait for a more dramatic look.

The feature isn’t always labeled the same. On an iPhone you’ll want to drag the sun icon, to the right of the focus confirmation box, up to brighten an image or down to darken it. Android phones typically have the more traditional +/- icon for exposure adjustment.

Turn On Your Grid

Pro SLRs typically have framing grids in the viewfinder window to help you better square up shots and conform to compositional guidelines like the rule of thirds. (For more on composition and other photo basics, read our tips for basic photography, which apply as much to smartphones as they do to pro cameras.)

You can turn on the same thing in your phone’s camera app. Adding a grid line gives you help in keeping the horizon straight and is a big plus for portraits in front of famous landmarks. With the notable exceptions of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s generally a good idea to keep upright structures perfectly vertical in your photos.

Learn Your Camera’s Features

The imaging capabilities of modern smartphone cameras are staggering. We’ve seen advances in computational photography that allow you to blur the background of images, mimicking the look of a wide aperture lens and big image sensor, and some handsets can also capture insanely slow-motion video.

Your phone probably has a good burst mode too, and it’s never a bad idea to take a few images in a sequence to get the best one—just make sure not to post all of them. iPhone owners can check out Live Photos, which mix still images and video together.

Try an Add-On Lens

Your phone’s camera certainly has one lens, and some models offer dual rear cameras with the second lens capturing a tighter or wider angle of view than your phone’s main eye. A quality add-on lens will cost you—the bargain-basement ones we’ve reviewed have been universally terrible. Go with a trusted brand like Moment or Olloclip.

Picking the type of add-on lens is important too. I think a macro adds the most versatility to your phone’s camera, but you may prefer an ultra-wide, a fish-eye, or a telephoto conversion lens.

Focus Close

Even without a macro add-on, your phone can focus pretty close. Use it to your advantage. You can snap a shot of your fancy dinner and get close up, but keep the whole frame in focus. That’s something you can’t do with a big camera shooting at f/1.4 or f/2, and one of the areas where small image sensors have a practical advantage over larger ones.

Get a Gimbal

It’s not all about images. Entry-level compact cameras are stuck at 720p, but if you’ve got a recent smartphone you have a 4K-capable video camera in your pocket. Flagship models include optical image stabilization, but that can only go so far. If you want truly smooth, great-looking video, think about a powered gimbal to keep your phone steady. Our favorite is the DJI Osmo Mobile 2, a $130 device that steadies video, can track moving subjects, and also supports time-lapse and panoramic stitching.

Add a Microphone

When shooting video, good audio is more important than sharp footage. Your phone’s internal mic is meant for making phone calls—not recording high-quality audio. Headphone jacks may be disappearing from phones, but you can get a microphone that plugs directly into your USB or Lightning port, or one that works with your phone’s audio dongle. Just make sure to read some reviews to make sure the mic is compatible with your particular phone and its operating system.

Edit Your Shots

Your phone is a powerful handheld computer, just as capable of making basic image adjustments as a high-end laptop running Photoshop. You should download some image editing software—my favorite is VSCO, a free download for both Android and iOS—or use the basic image editing tools built into your operating system.

More advanced photographers can enable Raw capture, which will deliver much more leeway in editing. And if you have a dual-lens iPhone, you can add an app like Focos, which allows you to adjust the amount of and quality of background blur in your Portrait Mode shots.

What tips do you have for shooting quality pic on a smart phone? Tell us in the comments below!

Seven Excel Tricks You Need To Start Using

By Alan Henry of



Tips & Tricks: Instant Markup gets way better in iOS 12


By Charlie Sorrel of Cult of Mac

iOS 12 doesn’t really have any huge new standout features. It’s more a collection of really solid improvements to iOS 11. It sounds odd to say that my favorite new feature is Do Not Disturb during Bedtime, but it’s made a big difference in how I use my iPhone.

Likewise with today’s Pro Tip. Markup for screenshots, PDFs and Photos was already good, but new options for the pen tools make it great.

Markup in iOS 12

Here’s the new pen in iOS 12’s Markup tools. It’s just like the old pen, only now when you tap it, you can pick from five different tip sizes and an opacity slider. This means that the plain pen tool can become a fat, translucent highlighter or a thin, hard fineliner.

The same is true for the highlighter and pencil tools:

These new tools also carry across to the drawing tools in the Notes app. If you have an Apple Pencil, you probably love the Notes app, because it is the fastest drawing app on the iPad. It has very low latency, making it really feel like you are really drawing with a pen on paper. Now, with custom opacity, and different thicknesses, it’s a fully-fledged drawing app.


Finally, Markup gets a color picker. You’re no longer limited to just four colors, plus black and white. Now there’s an extra circle at the end of the color section. Tap it, and you see a color picker with a 12×10 grid of swatches. Pick any of these, for any tool — highlighter, pen, or pencil.

As I said, it’s a small change, but a big one in terms of how it will affect your use of Markup. And that’s the case with pretty much everything in iOS 12. For instance, did you ever run a beta of iOS that made your iPhone and iPad run faster? That’s iOS 12.

Do you have the Beta of iOS 12? What’s your favorite feature so far? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Tips & Tricks: 13 quick fixes for when your phone starts overheating this summer


Be careful using your phone in direct sunlight.

By Madison Vanderburg of

If you’ve ever had a smartphone, chances are that you’ve had to deal with it overheating. It’s a common issue that’s worse in the summer when the temperatures outside start rising.

According to, “smartphones have to physically move things around to work at all, so they have to generate heat.

The amount of heat your smartphone produces is largely proportional to the amount of electricity moving through it.”
This combined with the hot summer sun can cause your phone to overheat.

Here are 13 quick fixes for when you’re smartphone just can’t take the heat.

Only charge your phone’s battery to 80%.


Don’t do a full charge

First off, if you must charge your phone overnight, keep it on a cool, flat surface rather than a pillow or bedsheet. But you shouldn’t be charging to your phone to 100% anyways, according to Android Pit— constantly doing a full recharge will shorten the battery’s lifespan. Your phone is more likely to overheat when it’s at a full charge, so charge it when it drops to near 30% and unplug it once it reaches an 80% charge.

Avoid exposing the phone to direct sunlight.

Keep your Tech out of the sun!

This one is self-explanatory — don’t leave your phone on a chair by the pool in direct sunlight for an entire afternoon.

Always close unused apps.

If you’re not using an app — close it.

Your phone works overtime when you have multiple apps open at the same time (this includes open web browser tabs), so get in the habit of closing unused apps periodically. Also, close apps (especially graphics-heavy apps like games) when you charge your phone. Android-users recommend the app Greenify because it automatically puts unused apps into hibernation and conserves power overall.

Turn the brightness down.

Having your phone on full-brightness depletes its battery.


Turn your brightness down, especially when you are using the phone outside. If you have a hard time seeing the screen with the brightness low, invest in an anti-glare screen.

Keep apps up-to-date.

Avoid a glitchy phone by updating your apps.

Keep your iOS and your apps up to date because there could be a glitchy bug in an old update that, once fixed, will make your phone operate smoother, according to P Safe.

Don’t be an app hoarder.

These little things can prevent your phone from working to hard.

Delete functions and apps you don’t use. This also includes turning off push notifications, turning off apps that are running in the background, and disabling location services from certain apps.


Utilize airplane mode.

If you’re not using your phone, it should be on airplane mode.


If you’re at the beach or planning to be outdoors for many hours, turn your phone off or put it on airplane mode. Why burn through your phone’s power when you aren’t really using it?

Ration the Bluetooth.

Disable your phone’s auto-connect while driving.

Try to avoid using Bluetooth for extended periods of time, and make sure you’ve disconnected from Bluetooth once you’re done using it. If your phone auto connects to Bluetooth in your car, disconnect the auto-pairing — especially if you aren’t planning on speaking on the phone or listening to a podcast that day.

Install an antivirus software if you have an Android phone.

It’s possible your Android has a virus.

If you have an Android and your phone is overheating, it could mean that you have a virus. Android phones are susceptible to malware, so eliminate that option entirely by installing anti-virus software on your phone.

Take a break from playing games.

Is it really important to finish that game?

If your phone is already prone to overheating, maybe cool it on playing games and definitely make sure the game isn’t still running in the background after you’ve finished playing.

Take off the case.

The case will only make the phone hotter.

If your phone is already hot, take off the phone’s case in an attempt to cool it down.

Check the charging cable.

A faulty charging cable could be to blame.

If your phone is overheating while you charge it, it could be that there’s an issue with the charging cable. Try swapping it out first and see if that fixes the issue.

The camera could be the culprit.

Try not to use the camera too much.


Search “phone overheats camera” and you’ll find hundreds of message boards dedicated to this wildly common problem. This kind of overheating typically happens when you attempt to take a long-form video. So if your phone is overheating and you’ve been filming something for the last five minutes, stop filming, and close the camera app.


Do you have any tips for keep your phone cool when the weather is uber hot? Sound off in the comments below!

Tips & Tricks: 18 iPhone Tips And Tricks You’ll Wish You Knew About Sooner

Holy sh*t! These are legit.


By Kevin Smith of BuzzFeed


1. Completely customize your control center:

This one’s easy, go into “settings,” next, tap “control center,” and tap “customize controls.” Finally, select whichever features you want to add to your control center by tapping the green “+” icon.

*Make sure you include screen recording so you can follow along with the next step.

2. Record your screen:


From the previous step, you added Screen Recording. Now, swipe down on the right side (if you have an iPhone X), or swipe up (if you have an iPhone 8 or later). You’ll see a record button (the arrows are pointing to it), tap that and your screen will begin to record. You can record whatever you like, and when you’re done, tap the red bar at the top.

3. Hide your “private” photos:

If you have sensitive pictures on your phone like “private” photos or even something as simple as bank account information and you don’t want it to show up when you open your photos app try hiding them.

Open up your Photos app, next select the photo or video that you want to hide.
Then, tap hide (you may have to slide over a bit to see it), finally, confirm that you want to hide the photo or video.

4. You can close out three apps at once:

When you open the app switcher, use three fingers and drag up on the apps. It will close three at once.

5. Have Siri read your email out loud:

Activate Siri and say, “read me my emails” and the digital assistant will read them out loud to you. You can also do this for text messages by saying, “Siri, read me my messages.”

6. Turn your keyboard into a trackpad:

If you press and hold anywhere on the keyboard it will turn into a trackpad so you can easily move around a big block of text.

7. Make custom vibrations for alerts:

To make a custom vibration, head into settings, next tap “Sounds & Haptics.” Once you’re in there select the “sound and vibration patterns” you want to change. For this example, we’ll go with “ringtone.” At the top you’ll see “vibration.”

Towards the bottom you’ll see under “custom” the “create new vibration” option, follow the on screen instructions and you can create a vibration pattern of your choosing.

8. Use words and letters to make your password instead of numbers:

This one’s pretty simple, a stronger password is one with numbers and letters. So if you want your phone to be even more secure go into settings and then select “Passcode.”

You’ll have to enter your current passcode and then when you go to change it, the second screen will come up. From there choose “create alphanumeric code,” and come up with whatever combination you like.

9. If you make a mistake remember you can “shake to undo” as a way to backspace:


Just shake your phone from almost any screen and you can undo.

10. Use the built-in compass as a level to make sure things are hanging straight:

Open the compass app, and swipe to the left. A new screen will pop up and it’s a level. What’s great about it is that the screen turns green when something is level.

11. Use the built-in clock to go to bed on time

Go into the clock app. Select “Bedtime” at the bottom. Set how many hours you want to sleep each night and the app will tell you what time to go to bed and will wake you up. It can also give you an analysis of your sleep quality. Cool!

12. Have your flashlight go off when you get an alert:

This one’s pretty cool. If you want your phone’s flash you light up when you get an alert do this. Start by going into “settings,” then go into “accessibility,” after that scroll down to the “hearing” category. Once you’re there switch on, “LED Flash for Alerts.” Your phone will now flash when you get a message, phone call, or other alert.

13. You can ask Siri what planes are flying above you right now:

Simply say, “Hey Siri what plans are flying above me right now?”

14. Use your phone to set reminders when you arrive or leave a specific location:

Open the reminders app. Tap the “+” sign and write out your reminder. Once you’re done, tap the “i” next to your reminder. Select “Remind me at a location” and then tap the “location” option that shows up. It will allow you to enter an address and then you can choose “when I arrive” or “when I leave” and you can set a reminder for a particular place.

15. You probably already know this one, but if you push the volume button it will snap a photo:

Pretty simple, but you can use the volume button to snap a photo if your hand can’t reach the actual shutter on the screen.

16. Use the camera as a magnifying glass:

For this one start out in settings. Next choose “general.” Once inside that menu, select “accessibility.” Select “magnifier,” and switch it on.

If you have an iPhone X to activate it click the side button three times. If you have an iPhone 8 or later, you can triple click the home button. You can then zoom in on anything and use the screen to see it easier.

17. If you have an iPhone X you can swipe at the bottom of the screen to switch between apps:

Easily switch between apps on the iPhone X by taking your finger and sliding it across the bottom corner. This makes it easy to get back to what you were doing in a different app.

18. And finally, record in 4K video:

Your phone by default doesn’t record in 4K, but it has the capability to. Every phone after the iPhone 6S can record in 4K.

To turn it on start by going into settings. Next, scroll down and go to “Camera,” once inside the camera settings, tap on record video and select 4K and whichever frame rate you want.

Remember that 4K takes up a lot of space and battery so use it with discretion.


What’s your favorite iPhone Tip? Tell about it in the comments below!

Tips & Tricks: You’re Not Using a VPN? Bad Idea

A PCMag survey demonstrates that most people are aware of the privacy risks on the internet, but most aren’t doing anything about them.

By Max Eddy of

In the past few years, PCMag has seen VPN services go from being fringe security utilities to red-hot, must-have cyber accessory.

The popularity (and necessity) of the once-lowly VPN is certainly due to the ever-growing legal and technological challenges to individual privacy. Virtual private networks are a tool whose time has clearly come. That’s why it’s so surprising that a poll conducted by PCMag found that, despite understanding the threats to their privacy, the vast majority of respondents don’t use VPNs and never have.

Unsecured Traffic


Of the 1,000 people polled by PCMag between Feb. 7-9, 71 percent have never used a VPN.

That struck me for two reasons. First of all, the search volume we receive at PCMag for VPN-related articles is enormous. Second, many companies require the use of a corporate VPN when working remotely. That might explain why 15 percent had used a VPN in the past, but don’t currently log on.

Most people, I assumed, would have crossed paths with a VPN at some point. And yet, the vast majority of respondents not only do not currently use a VPN, they have never laid hands on one.

New (and Old) Threats to Privacy

What’s interesting about the recent interest in VPNs is that it hasn’t been tied to a single issue, but rather an avalanche of privacy and security concerns. An awful lot has happened in the last few years, the answer to which has often been “use a VPN.”
One of the first news items that seemed to spur VPN adoption was the decision by Congress to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to sell anonymized user data.

That’s reflected in our survey data, where 25 percent of respondents (correctly) identified ISPs as the biggest threat to their individual privacy.

In our survey, 24 percent of respondents also listed Facebook as a threat to their privacy. This was despite the fact that our survey was in the field back in February, before the Cambridge Analytica scandal raised nascent privacy concerns about the social network to a new level. I imagine that if we ran the same survey now, even more consumers would be concerned about Facebook, and rightly so.

Admittedly, a VPN won’t do much when it comes to the kind of surveillance carried out by Facebook, but it’s still spooky to learn that the company is even tracking users who don’t have Facebook accounts.

These issues haven’t been limited to the US. Russia and China have introduced new rules that make it much harder for VPNs to operate within those countries. Furthermore, Russia recently banned popular encrypted messaging app Telegram, reportedly driving more users to adopt VPNs.

Another threat reflected in the survey is the dangers in using public Wi-Fi networks. There’s no way to know that the network labeled “Starbucks_Wifi” is legit and not a network created for the express purpose of nabbing people’s personal information. Fortunately, 43 percent of respondents said the main reason they would use a VPN was to access public Wi-Fi.

And then there’s net neutrality. Many hoped that the ongoing fight to ensure that ISPs must treat all web traffic equally in terms of speed and accessibility would end with updated FCC rules during the Obama administration. Unfortunately, a new FCC chairman decided (incorrectly) that these rules were unnecessary and successfully dismantled them.

This is where our numbers seem a bit out of step with reality, as we found that 55 percent of respondents who agreed with the concept of net neutrality had never used a VPN. Although 46 percent said they supported it, 32 percent didn’t know what it was. That’s disappointing on its own.

Is Privacy Dead?

Also disheartening were the responses about voluntarily surrendering personal information.

A dismal 62 percent of respondents said they’d willingly hand over personal information for free Wi-Fi. Another 23 percent said they would hand over personal info for exclusive content on video streaming platforms, and 13 percent said they’d do it for exclusive content in video games.

A staggering 7 percent said they would surrender personal info for free adult content. I find this particularly mind blowing, as there is not (last I checked) a dearth of free porn on the internet.

That said, a key caveat of this particular set of questions was the phrase “willingly.” Too often, people aren’t aware of the information they’re giving up in exchange for a free mobile app or what companies can see when they share a post on Facebook. If we’re going to use our personal information as currency, it’s better that we make those transactions willingly.

You Should Definitely Use a VPN

In all my writing about VPNs, I’ve tried to stress their limitations. They won’t make you truly anonymous online (you need Tor for that), and there’s a risk anytime you use a for-profit company for security (you can roll your own VPN with Outline, but I digress).

Many of you have concerns about using VPNs in general, such as what kind of impact a VPN will have on internet speeds (37 percent), whether or not it will work with a particular online service (15 percent), and if it can be used to access Netflix (28 percent). Those are legitimate concerns, and ones that have only been partially solved by VPN companies.

But the last few years have shown that an economy based around gathering user data has real consequences. Between data breaches, foreign election influence, and the sheer volume of data being gathered by seemingly innocuous services, it’s never been more urgent to take control of our privacy online. A VPN won’t solve all those issues, but it’s a start and one that only 29 percent of you have so far used.


Do you use a VPN for your personal network? Sound off in the comments below!

Tips & Tricks: The Easy Trick That Will Help You Organize Your iPhone Apps Faster



By Emily Petsko of

With millions of apps to choose from, your smartphone’s home screen might get a little cluttered from time to time. Holding and dragging apps one by one to organize them can seem like more of a chore than it’s worth, but fortunately, there’s an easier way to do it.

As spotted by Finer Tech, iOS 11 lets you lump multiple apps together to move at the same time. With one hand, tap and hold an app until it enters “jiggle mode” and move it away from its current location. With your other hand (or other finger, if you’re particularly coordinated), tap the apps you’d like to move with it, and they’ll instantly be grouped together.

If you’re hoping to trick yourself into using your social media apps less by moving them all to page three (as some experts recommend), this hack will save you a few minutes of dragging and dropping.

This video provides a handy demonstration of how it’s done:

While you’re at it, you might as well uninstall any apps you haven’t touched since you downloaded them, as they can be a drain on both memory and battery.

What’s your favorite way of organizing your apps? Sound off in the in the comments below!

Tips & Tricks: 11 Tips for Working on the iPad




In a recent episode of Connected, we rounded up some of our favorite “iOS little wonders” and Myke was surprised by one of my picks: the ability to launch individual notes on iOS through shared links. The ensuing discussion inspired me to assemble a list of tips and tricks to improve how you can work on an iPad with iOS 11.

Even though I covered or mentioned some of these suggestions in my iOS 11 review or podcast segments before, I realized that it would useful to explain them in detail again for those who missed them. From keyboard recommendations and shortcuts to gestures and Siri, I’ve tried to remember all the little tricks I use to get work done on my iPad Pro on a daily basis.

After several years of being iPad-only for the majority of my work, I often take some of these features for granted. And admittedly, Apple doesn’t always do a great job at teaching users about these lesser known details, which have become especially important after the productivity-focused iPad update in iOS 11. I hope this collection can be useful for those who haven’t yet explored the fascinating world of iPad productivity.

Let’s dig in.

#1 Create Launchers for Notes

As I mentioned above, you can take advantage of Notes’ built-in collaboration capabilities (introduced in iOS 10) to create custom launchers that open individual notes directly.

Apple’s Notes app doesn’t offer a way to copy local URLs that reference a specific note. Thanks to note sharing though, you can create your own “URL scheme launcher” for Notes simply by sharing a note with yourself and using its URL as a personal note launcher.

Let’s say you have a note that you open multiple times a day. You’d like an easier way to open this note, such as a widget built using Launcher or a workflow. Open the note, tap the Add People button, then scroll the extension list until you see Copy Link. Tap it, then in the contacts dialog that appears enter either your iCloud email address or phone number.

Tap Copy Link in the top right, and you’ll have a link that can reopen the note directly. The note has been uploaded to to generate this link, but it’s only shared with yourself, so only you can see it. At this point, you can paste the note’s link in Launcher, Launch Center Pro, Workflow, or any other iOS automation app to turn it into a shortcut to reopen the note.

I use this system for dozens of notes that I frequently open in the Notes app. The only downside is that every time you tap on a note launcher, you’ll see a message that says ‘Retrieving’ – that means your device is checking with iCloud’s servers to see if the note on your device can actually be opened because it’s a shared one. In my experience, this dialog disappears in less than a second, and self-shared note links always work reliably. If you’re a heavy user of the Notes app and find yourself constantly opening the same notes, I recommend setting up some of these launchers.

#2 Trim Spotlight App Results

Whether you access it by hitting ⌘Space on a keyboard, swiping down on the Home screen, or via a dedicated physical key, iOS’ Spotlight search can be a powerful tool…once you’ve taken the time to trim down its list of included results.

I love Spotlight and use it a lot, but it requires time to be optimally configured to ensure its results are not polluted by unnecessary app data.

With iOS 9, Spotlight gained the ability to display results for documents and data contained in third-party apps. You can tap these results (or navigate them with the ↑/↓ arrow keys on a keyboard) to open them directly in the main app. The problem with Apple’s approach is that once an app is installed, its Spotlight integration is enabled by default.

If you find yourself searching for information with Spotlight and thinking that some of the results you see could be omitted, you can disable them and retain the ability to launch the app via Spotlight. To do this, go to Settings ⇾ Siri & Search, scroll to the app you want to disable for Spotlight results, and deactivate the ‘Siri & Search Suggestions’ toggle.

Once turned off, a second toggle called ‘Show App’ will appear; leave this one enabled to keep the ability to launch the app by typing its name in Spotlight.



#3 Take Edit and Share Screenshots Faster

I’ve repeated this process for all the apps I just want to launch via Spotlight and my experience has dramatically improved. Now when I type something in Spotlight because I’m looking for a document or message, only important apps I care about are allowed to display their contents in search results. It takes a while to disable search and Siri suggestions for every unimportant app, but it’s worth the time.

Lastly, here are some other useful Spotlight tips:

• If you’re using an external keyboard, you can press Return to immediately open the first (and most relevant) result brought up by Spotlight. This is perfect for turning Spotlight into a fast app launcher.
• You can use ↑-Return and ↓-Return to navigate between the first items of each Spotlight section (such as results from different apps).
• You can highlight different app icons on the same row by navigating them with the ← and → arrow keys.
• If the changes you make have no effect on the Spotlight results displayed by third-party apps, restart your iPad. Sometimes a hard reboot is necessary for Spotlight’s cache to clear.

Among various iPad-focused productivity enhancements, iOS 11 brought fantastic new screenshot features to quickly edit, share, and discard screenshots. What you may not know, however, is that you can make this workflow even faster on the iPad thanks to multitasking-aware cropping and keyboard shortcuts.

Unlike its iPhone counterpart, the iPad’s screenshot editing UI can recognize the edges of multiple app windows in a screenshot that was taken while in Split View or Slide Over mode. This means that if you take a screenshot while multitasking, then tap on the preview to edit it right away, the crop tool will automatically snap to the edges of a floating app in Slide Over or multiple apps in Split View, letting you easily crop just one app to share as a standalone image.

This special multitasking crop mode only works from the new screenshot editor of iOS 11; if you save a screenshot to the Photos app then edit it there, the crop tool will no longer recognize multiple apps captured on screen.

Furthermore, while iPad users have long been able to capture a screenshot by pressing the ⇧⌘3 hotkey, iOS 11 introduces ⇧⌘4.

This new shortcut takes a screenshot and immediately jumps into the editing UI, removing the need to tap on the floating thumbnail preview to open a screenshot.

Finally, the screenshot’s thumbnail preview is fully compliant with drag and drop and app extensions. After taking a screenshot (or multiple ones in a row), you can tap & hold the screenshot preview and drag it around to drop it into other apps such as Mail or Gladys. If you don’t want to use drag and drop, you can long-press the screenshot preview until the system share sheet appears. I do this all the time to instantly process screenshots with the Workflow extension.

#4 Consider a Smart Keyboard Alternative


For most people, Apple’s Smart Keyboard is a good (albeit slightly expensive) option to complement typing on the iPad with a physical keyboard. Its big advantage, of course, is that it uses the Smart Connector in lieu of Bluetooth, so you never have to worry about pairing and battery life. It’s also thin and light, making it an ideal choice if you plan on typing on an iPad that you’re frequently carrying around.

For all its nice perks, however, the Smart Keyboard also has some serious drawbacks – particularly for users who need to type on a large iPad Pro that usually sits on a desk.

Most notably, the Smart Keyboard is not backlit: unless you’re an extremely proficient touch typist, typing in dark environments will be a challenge as you won’t see the keycaps’ labels. The Smart Keyboard’s other big problem is its lack of additional function keys to activate system features or simulate physical buttons. When you use a Smart Keyboard, you’re more likely to be forced to reach out to the screen with your hand because iOS’ native keyboard shortcuts only support a subset of system functionalities.

Which brings me to my keyboard recommendation: if you want to use an iPad as a laptop replacement with lots of typing involved, you should consider a Smart Keyboard alternative. Whether it’s a Smart Connector-enabled keyboard (such as Logitech’s Slim Combo line), a keyboard case setup, or an external Bluetooth keyboard paired with an iPad stand, my suggestion is to get your hands1 on a backlit keyboard that offers good battery life, multiple levels of backlight illumination, and an extra row of physical function keys mapped to iOS system features and media controls.

For the past few months, I’ve been using a Brydge keyboard with my 12.9″ iPad Pro. This keyboard, besides being backlit and similar to a 2015 MacBook Pro keyboard in style and feel, comes with physical Siri and Home button keys that can be pressed to open the assistant and exit apps, respectively. The Siri key is effective when combined with Type to Siri (more on this below) and the Home key can even be double-tapped and long-pressed to enter the multitasking switcher or summon Siri.

Furthermore, the keyboard’s function row contains keys to control media playback and brightness (for both the system and the keyboard itself), show the software keyboard (useful to manually switch to the emoji picker), and lock the iPad. I’ve really enjoyed working on longform pieces with this keyboard – it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to the dream of a real iPad laptop.

Brydge keyboards, unfortunately, are notoriously affected by quality problems that result in defective units that “drop” keystrokes. I know because I’ve been in that situation twice: I had to send my first two Brydge keyboards back to Amazon because it was impossible to type on them. I got lucky the third time. If you get a Brydge keyboard but it’s not working properly, and if you like the form factor, return it and repeat the cycle until you get a fully functioning one. Trust me – it’s worth it.

In addition to the Brydge keyboard, there are two other iPad keyboard setups I’ve tested over the years that I can safely recommend: Logitech SLim Logitech Slim Combo keyboard case. It’s bulky and made of plastic, but the case features an adjustable kickstand and has a Pencil holder at the top. The big advantage of the Slim Combo is that it uses the Smart Connector, just like Apple’s Smart Keyboard. The keyboard, which is backlit, replaces the Siri key with a dedicated Spotlight key. I used this keyboard for months before I moved to the Brydge.

Apple Magic Keyboard + Canopy+Smart Cover Even though it’s not backlit, I like the feel and reliability of Apple’s Magic Keyboard. I also appreciate that I can charge it with a Lightning connector instead of micro-USB like other Bluetooth keyboards. Studio Neat’s Canopy is my favorite solution to carry the Magic Keyboard around and prop the iPad up at a good viewing angle. When you don’t need to use the Magic Keyboard anymore, you can close the Canopy and go back to using the iPad with a Smart Cover attached. This setup is how I wrote my iOS 11 review last year, and I recommend it if you already own a Magic Keyboard.

While Apple should do a better job at integrating external keyboard controls with iOS’ system navigation (for instance, you still can’t control Split View and Control Center with the keyboard), using a good keyboard with iOS 11 can considerably improve your iPad workflow. Whatever you end up choosing, I suggest getting a keyboard that features additional function keys and is backlit. And if you decide to try the Brydge lottery: good luck.

#5 Use Favorites in Files App

As I argued in my review of iOS 11, the new Files app is the natural culmination of a new concept of file management that combines the traditional Finder model with an app-centric approach. While Files has a long way to go – in terms of stability, customization, and advanced integrations – I believe Apple has correctly identified the best path forward with this new app.

The ‘Favorites’ feature of Files’ sidebar is a great example of how it aims to combine classic folder-based navigation with apps. The Favorites section of the sidebar lets you pin frequently used folders for quick access. However, rather than being limited to iCloud Drive, you can mix and match favorite locations from iCloud and third-party file providers that show up under the ‘Locations’ area of the Files app.

I take advantage of Favorites in a couple of ways. In the Files app, I’ve enabled Dropbox, DEVONthink, iCab, and Working Copy as file providers. This allows me to browse the contents of the apps from Files and therefore manage their documents with the system’s drag and drop framework (which is available for every location in Files). More importantly, because third-party file providers are treated as native locations just like iCloud Drive, my Favorites section now contains folders from multiple sources. In addition to a handful of iCloud Drive folders, I have quick access to a shared folder in Dropbox, a repository in Working Copy, and a group from DEVONthink. This helps me use Files as a centralized location for all my documents, which I can retrieve with a couple of taps.

For the past few weeks, I’ve also started saving documents that I need to act upon and then delete in a temporary “inbox” in Files that is pinned at the top of my Favorites. If there are any PDF receipts of screenshots I need to process and discard, I can open the first folder in my Favorites to get instant access to those items.

I named this folder ‘* Temp Files’ so that it’s automatically sorted at the top of my iCloud Drive’s main view. This way, the folder is also displayed at the very top of Files’ extension when saving documents from other apps. If I need to save a PDF displayed in Safari, I can invoke the ‘Save to Files’ extension, save the document in the ‘* Temp Files’ folder, and act on it later once I’m back in the Files app.

#6 Get URLs of Mail Messages


Did you know that iOS, just like macOS, supports referencing individual messages in Mail with a message:// protocol? And that this feature, which first appeared in Mac OS X Leopard’s Mail in 2007, can only be controlled by iPad users on iOS thanks to drag and drop and third-party apps?

If you’re on an iPad and use Apple Mail, try this: pick up a message from Mail’s inbox and drop it into a note in Apple Notes. You’ll notice that the message gets saved as a link, which you can tap to instantly reopen the message in Mail.

The beautiful aspect of these Mail links is that they keep working even if the message they reference is archived or moved to another folder. Mail’s message links are ideal for task managers and note-taking apps where you may want to save email messages as todos for later.

Unfortunately, unlike macOS and its AppleScript support in Mail, there’s no easy way to copy these Mail message links on the iPad. If you use drag and drop with Notes, you can long-press the link to open a menu that lets you copy the URL you can paste elsewhere.

Alternatively, you can use the shelf app Gladys to save an entire email message and only export its URL component to other apps on your device.

By now, even though Apple never officially documented support for message:// URLs on iOS, a few third-party developers have figured out how to take advantage of those links to integrate their apps with Mail. In my opinion, Things offers the best implementation of the feature: when you drop a Mail message in the app, it is saved with its subject line and a tappable link that reopens the message in Mail.

I wish Apple provided an official API for apps to integrate with Mail; until that happens, individual message links are a good workaround to turn emails into tasks and notes in other apps.

#7 Install Custom Fonts


Whenever I share screenshots of my Numbers spreadsheets or Pages documents, readers ask how I was able to install San Francisco Mono on iOS. The simple truth is: iOS, unlike macOS, doesn’t offer a built-in solution for manual font installation, but it can be done through third-party apps and custom profiles. Even better: custom fonts you install on your iPad will be available in any app that uses iOS’ native font selection controls.

The app I’ve been using to install custom fonts on iOS for years now is AnyFont. After copying multiple font files into AnyFont with the ‘Copy To…’ menu in the share sheet, you can select them, confirm that you want to install them, then follow the onscreen instructions to install a custom profile in the Settings app that contains the fonts you want to use. It’s a guided process that requires absolutely no coding or other advanced skills. Once the fonts are installed, you’ll be able to select them in any standard font picker on iOS. You can try this in apps such as Numbers, Pages, Pixelmator, OmniGraffle, or Drafts. As long as the app features a native font picker, you’ll see your custom fonts.

I keep dozens of custom typefaces on my iPad and I’ve installed them all using AnyFont. It couldn’t be easier, and I like how this system lets me personalize my typing experience depending on the app I’m using. If you have a library of fonts that you want to move to AnyFont (or an alternative such as FondFont), I recommend keeping them in a folder synced with Files through iCloud Drive for convenient access on iOS.

#8 Use Text Replacements


Once you have your iPad set up with an external keyboard you’re comfortable with, it’s time to start using text replacements. This feature is supported by the default software keyboard too and is typically used for simple abbreviations, but I’ve grown to use it a lot with my Brydge keyboard as a lightweight TextExpander replacement that works in any app.

Besides obvious shortcuts for my name and address, I’ve set up text replacements for a variety of text strings I usually type or search for on my iPad:

• File names for documents or folders (in the Files app) I frequently find via Spotlight;
• Templates for email messages or tweets I send on a regular basis;
• Emoji I frequently type;
• Unicode characters that would otherwise require a dedicated app on iOS (such as the keyboard command characters in this story);
• Tag and project shortcodes for my task manager;
• Entire sentences that are expanded in Type to Siri to control HomeKit devices or save data into SiriKit-compatible apps.

I’ve become so accustomed to writing and working with apps on my iPad using text replacements, iOS feels broken when I use a device that isn’t logged into my iCloud account and doesn’t have my shortcuts. The functionality of Apple’s text replacements pales in comparison to what you can achieve with TextExpander, but their system-wide integration lets you save time in places where TextExpander will never be available.

#9 Tap and Holding Safari


There are several interesting and useful shortcuts hidden behind tap & hold gestures in Safari for iOS. It can be tricky to commit them all to muscle memory, so here’s a list of my favorite long-press shortcuts in Safari.

• Bookmarks. Tap & hold to quickly add a new bookmark or add the current webpage to Reading List.
• Plus button. Reopen recently closed tabs.
• Tabs icon. Brings up a menu to close all tabs or the current tab only, plus options to create a new tab or a new private tab.
• Address bar. By default, a long-press here brings up a Copy button to copy the current URL. With a URL or text in the clipboard, you’ll also see options for ‘Paste and Go’ or ‘Paste and Search’, respectively.
• ←/→ arrows. Preview browser history in a contextual menu.
• Safari Reader (text icon on the left side of the address bar). Display settings to always use Safari Reader on the selected website or for all websites.
• Refresh icon. Open menu to request a desktop version of the website or reload the webpage without content blockers.
• Links inside webpages. Tap & hold and wait for the link to lift up to start drag and drop; alternatively, let go of the link after it’s lifted up and you’ll open a standard contextual menu.

#10 Type to Siri


I’ve written about Type to Siri at length in an iPad Diaries column, but I want to repeat my recommendation here as I believe the feature dramatically alters Siri’s role on the iPad. With iOS 11, Siri gained support for an Accessibility option called Type to Siri that lets you text, rather than talk with, the system’s built-in assistant. The feature can be enabled in Settings ⇾ General ⇾ Accessibility ⇾ Siri, and it retains all the functionality you’re used to having in Siri, only in text form.

If you work from an iPad connected to an external keyboard, I think you should give Type to Siri a try – especially if your keyboard has a dedicated Siri key that directly opens the assistant’s UI. Besides obvious commands such as simple calculations or currency conversions, you can leverage Type to Siri and combine it with text replacements to perform advanced actions such as saving data into SiriKit apps or controlling HomeKit devices. For example, I set up text replacements as “sentence templates” for Siri to create a task in a specific list in Things; I have a shortcut to set my air purifier to 20% speed; I even created an abbreviation to save a note in Drafts’ inbox without opening the app – perfect for random thoughts that I don’t want to forget.

Normally, interacting with Siri or asking it to save information in third-party apps is a laborious and time-consuming process that feels like an interruption. With Type to Siri and text replacements on the iPad, however, Siri feels more integrated with the system and lends itself to being invoked more often and performing more advanced actions. Type to Siri made me reconsider Siri’s role as a productivity-focused enhancement that complements my iPad workflow.

#11 Open Documents from the Home Screen


Despite being one of the highlights of Craig Federighi’s iOS 11 demo from WWDC 2017, I often receive emails and tweets from readers who either just discovered this feature or aren’t sure about how it works.

In iOS 11, document-based apps can show you recently opened documents on the Home screen when you long-press their icons. The same gesture that would initiate drag and drop for other icons on the Home screen displays a “widget” for apps that work with documents.

This means that apps such as Bear or Trello will not show you recent files; document-based apps like Numbers, MindNode, or PDF Viewer, however, because they implement the native file browser in iOS 11, will bring up a menu of recently opened files on the Home screen.

The menu is useful in a couple of ways. Just like a widget, it can be expanded to show you more documents in additional rows. Then, you can either tap a document to reopen it in the app, or you can pick it up and use drag and drop to export it to another app.

Drag and drop is particularly useful in this instance if you find yourself sharing the same document over and over with the same app or the same people and want to save a little bit of time when doing so. Instead of navigating into the app that contains the document to find it, you can just press the icon, pick up the document from the Home screen (or even the dock) and drag away. If the file is stored in a cloud service, it’ll be automatically downloaded and sent as an offline copy when you drop it.

The impact of iOS 11 on my everyday iPad usage has been profound. While not without its fair share of problems, I don’t miss the days of iOS 10 and I have fully embraced the changes brought by iOS 11 to multitasking, file management, and inter-app communication. iOS 11 is a powerful new foundation for the iPad platform, and one that I’m still optimizing to my needs.

If you already work on the iPad as your main computer, or if you’re planning on doing so in the near future, I hope these tips will help you save a little bit of time every day.

Tips& Tricks: iPad app lets you play a violin with Apple Pencil

Pen2Bow turns the Apple Pencil into a virtual violin bow.

By Charlie Sorrel of Cult of Mac

The Apple Pencil, now compatible with pretty much all new iPads, is not just good for drawing and writing. Because if its bevvy of sensors — tilt, pressure, acceleration, and orientation — the Apple Pencil is also a pretty good musical instrument. Pen2Bow is a new iPad app which turns the Pencil into a violin bow, letting you use all of these natural gestures to play a virtual violin.


The idea is that you use Pen2Bow as a controller for a violin app, or for any other app which accepts MIDI signals as input (which is pretty much all music apps on Mac and iOS). Pen2Bow itself doesn’t actually generate sounds — its purpose is turning the swoops, swipes, and swirls of the Apple Pencil into expressive MIDI data. The piano keyboard has already been successfully translated into an electronic keyboard, complete with sensitivity to how hard you hit the keys, and even how you move them after the note has sounded. But a virtual violin can’t really be controlled with a keyboard.

Pen2Bow fixes this using there Apple Pencil. You can squeeze a huge amount of expressiveness from the little white stick, depending on how hard you press on the iPad’s screen, how fast you move it, and even the angle at which you tilt the thing.

As you can see in the demo video, Pen2Bow actually has some advantages over a real violin bow. For instance, a real violin bow has a finite length. You can only bow upwards for so long before you have to switch directions. Pen2Bow lets you bow upwards or downwards indefinitely, by moving it in a circle or figure-eight. And those funky trailing light-tails tell you whether you’re bowing up or down, according to their color.

Not just violins

While Pen2Bow is perfectly suited to controlling a violin, it can also be used with any synthesizer app. And you can use it with instruments that aren’t usually bowed, or which require a higher degree of control than afforded by a keyboard. The electric guitar, for example, is extremely expressive, with all kids of ricks to add vibrato and pitch variations as you play. To use Pen2Bow to play guitar, you just need a guitar synth app that supports enough MIDI control parameters.
Pen2Bow is just $8, which is a steal considering what it can do. And of course you’ll need an Apple Pencil and an iPad.

Price: $7.99
Download: Pen2Bow from the App Store (iOS)

Tips & Tricks: Apple Quietly Changed the Icon for the iOS Pages App



By Andrew Orr

The new iWork update gave us features like Apple Pencil support, Smart Annotation, book creation, and new collaboration. The iWork suite includes Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, and they have been updated on macOS and iOS. Speaking of iOS, the iOS Pages app has a slight change that came with the update.

Goodbye Pen, Hello Pencil


On the old icon, there was a pen drawing on a sheet of paper. But the new icon replaces the pen with an Apple Pencil. I think it’s an interesting move and obviously makes sense given the new support for Apple Pencil in iWork.

The Pages icon on the Mac remains the same though, although maybe it will get updated in the next version of macOS.

Pages is Free for Mac and iOS

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