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13 Gems in iOS 8: Dave’s Faves

David Pogue
Tech Critic
Yahoo Tech

iOS 8 is a teeming mass of code, a carefully crafted cornucopia of new features. Some, Apple has marketed to the skies. Others are quiet touchups that you’ll just stumble upon.

You can read about some of the buried treasures in our story here. But right here, on one handy page, are 13 more. You might call them Dave’s Faves.

1. Send the most recent photo.
When you’re texting someone, and you want to send a photo, which photo are you most likely to want to send?

Why, the last one you took, of course. Or at least one of the last few. iOS 8 realizes that and saves you the hassle of burrowing through all your photos and albums to find it.

iPhone Messages app

Where to find it: When you’re in Messages, tap the Camera icon. BOOM: The last few photos you’ve taken or imported are right there in front of you. Scroll to the left to see more of them, going back in time. Tap the one you want, and then tap Send 1 Photo. (Actually, you can tap more than one, if you want.)

2. Last known location.
Your battery dies. You can’t find your phone. Now what? You can’t use Find My iPhone if your phone is lying dead under a couch at a neighbor’s house, because that feature used to work only when your phone could respond.

Thanks to this update, you now have a prayer of finding your phone again. Before it dies, your phone will send Apple its location. You have 24 hours to log in to iCloud.com and use the Find My iPhone feature to see where it was at the time of death. (After that, Apple deletes the location information.) 

Find My iPhone setting

Where to find it: Open Settings  iCloud → Find My iPhone. Turn on both Find My iPhone and Send Last Location.

3. Hands-free Siri.
Apple is keeping up with the Joneses — or, rather, the Motos. Now you can command Siri without having to hold down the home button. Just say “Hey, Siri” to get her attention — and then speak your command.

This trick is especially good when you’re driving. If you must use your phone, doing so without looking at it or touching it is the best way. 

The feature works only when your phone is plugged in to power, though.

Siri settings screen

Where to find it: Open Settings  General  Siri. Turn on Hey Siri.

4. Scan my credit card.
The iCloud Keychain feature can already store your credit card information, address info, and other details, so you don’t have to painstakingly type it into every website where you buy something. But now it’s super easy to store your credit card information in the first place.

iPhone Enter Your Credit Card screen

Where to find it: At the moment you’re asked for your credit card number (on a website), the Safari browser’s keyboard sprouts a new button that says Scan Credit Card. Aim your phone/tablet’s camera at your credit card and take a picture; Safari analyzes the photo and converts the numbers to text. (As always, you still have to manually enter the four-digit security code every time you buy something — an extra layer of security.)

5. Hide my photos.
Not all of your photos, ahem, are meant for public consumption. So in iOS 8, for the first time, you can hide photos and videos within the Photos app.

iPhone Hide Photo screen

Where to find it: Hold your finger down on a photo. In the shortcut menu, tap Hide. Confirm by tapping Hide Photo. (Your hidden stuff is, for some reason, still visible in its original album — in Albums view. It’s hidden only from the Moments, Collections, and Years groupings.)

6. Sleuth out the battery gluttons.
Now you can see which apps are responsible for sucking down your battery power. That’s an incredible help if you’re frustrated by short battery life.

Where to find it: Open Settings General Usage Battery Usage. Wait patiently.

iPhone Battery Usage screen

(Note, in this shot, the Low Signal notation indicates that your phone blew through a lot of power trying to reach the Internet to get your mail or a cellular signal when there wasn’t much signal.)

7. Load the full website (instead of the mobile version).
In an effort to conserve time and bandwidth (yours and theirs), many websites are available in special mobile versions — smaller, stripped-down sites that transfer faster than (but lack some features of) the full-blown sites. You generally have no control over which version you’re sent.

Until now, that is. In iOS 8, you can request the full-blown site if the mobile one isn’t quite cutting it for you.

Request Desktop Site button on iPhone

Where to find it: Suppose you’re in the Safari browser and some site has dished up its mobile version, and you’re gnashing your teeth.

Tap in the address box, and then swipe downward on the screen. A button called Request Desktop Site appears; tap it.

8. Quick access to your VIPs.
Next time you want to reach someone — call, text, FaceTime — don’t fumble for the Contacts or Phone apps. Use the new feature that presents the headshots of the people you’ve communicated with most recently; and, to their right, the icons for people you’ve listed on your Favorites screen.

Where to find it: You can use this trick anywhere, from within any app. Double-press the home button, as though you want to open the app switcher. There, at the top of the screen, are the new headshots. Tap one to make it expand into icons for the various comm channels: Phone, Message, FaceTime Audio, and so on.

iPhone Favorites screen

9. Delete email faster.
In your list of messages, one gesture, not two, can delete a message.

Where to find it: Swipe leftward. Halfway across the screen, you’ll see the More, Flag, and Trash buttons. You can tap one of those, if you’re so inclined.

iOS 8 changes to Mail app

But if you swipe fully across the screen, you trash the message — no muss, no fuss.

Bonus tip: If you drag a message you’ve already read to the right, you get a Mark As Unread button. Wild.

Mail updates in iOS 8

10. Take Mail’s hint.
If Mail spots a name, number, flight, or date in the body of an email message (for example, the block of contact info in somebody’s signature), it thoughtfully offers to record that detail into the appropriate app. For example, it can stash a new correspondent’s contact info into your Contacts with one tap, or add an appointment to your Calendar.

Mail updates in iOS

Where to find it: It’s automatic. Open any message where somebody has included contact, appointment, or flight information. Tap Add to Contacts or Add to Calendar.

11. Much, much better dictation.
The phone’s ability to turn your spoken dictation into typed text has always been a source of frustration (and not just on the iPhone). Well, this time around, Apple has done something about it.

When you dictate, you’ll notice, first of all, that the words appear as you say them (like on Android). No more staring at a blank screen, wondering if and when you’re going to get a transcription.

(But doesn’t Siri need the context of the entire sentence before it knows what words you’ve said? Yes. That’s why, often, you’ll see words change before your eyes, after they’ve already been heard. That’s Siri reconsidering what you meant, based on the full passage.)

You’ll notice much better transcriptions overall — especially if you have an accent.

Where to find it: Anywhere you can type. Tap the microphone icon at the bottom of the onscreen keyboard.

12. The predictive words row.
From the BlackBerry and other phones, iOS 8 adopts a new way to speed up typing. There’s a row of three candidate words above the keyboard. They change as you type — and they get smarter and smarter the more you use it. In fact, the phone learns different predictive vocabulary in email and texting, since you probably use a different style in each of those contexts.

Predictive text in iOS 8 Messages app

When you first start typing, these suggestions include “I,” “The, and “I’m” — the three most common words to begin messages.

Suppose, for example, that you want to type: “I’m sorry, but I can’t find it anywhere.” Here’s a blow-by-blow look at how the suggestions change as you type. (Left column: What you do. Right column: How the three predictive words have changed.) You use a combination of typing letters and tapping full words to save time:


Total taps: 14. If you had typed it on the old keyboard, it would have been 32 taps.

(Notice how iOS 8 adds or removes spaces correctly, even when you put in a comma.)

13. Learn your own darned tips.
There’s a new app called Tips. Open it to read a set of tips, which Apple will periodically update, that let you know about great little iOS 8 features like the ones described here.

Tips app

David Pogue is hard at work on iPhone: The Missing Manual, Eighth Edition.Get his columns sent to you by email! Details here. Or subscribe to his weekly videos on our YouTube channel here. Or email him here.