iOS annoyance: the volume icon


The iPhone’s big, non-transparent volume icon has got to go.

Instead of writing a wish list of iOS changes, I’ve got a single request: eliminate the huge volume icon that commandeers the center of the screen. It’s distracting and outdated. My hope for iOS 9.4 is a new volume icon.

Daily Tip: Disable in-app purchases

The BBC recently posted a story about a boy who racked up £1,700 worth of in-app purchases. In a very generous move, Apple has agreed to refund the money to the child’s parents. Of course, it’s not Apple’s job to parent your kids, and there’s a very easy way to disable in-app purchases via the Restrictions setting in iOS. Here’s how to do it.


  1. Tap Settings then General
  2. Tap Restrictions and then Enable Restrictions
  3. Enter a Restrictions passcode, one that your child can’t guess (1234 is out)
  4. Scroll down and move the In-App Purchases slider to the Off position

That’s it. Your child can no longer make in-app purchases. I know many kids have their own iPod touches and even iPads. If they’re young and not buying apps with their own money, you should do this. If you share an iDevice with your kids, choose a complex Apple ID and do not share it.

This post is part is one of 31 tech tips I published in March, 2013You’ll find the rest here.

Daily tip: Disable iOS Mail sounds


One of my most effective productivity tips [1. You could also, as reader Kit Pierce points out, switch it to manual check.] is to disable email alert sounds. Few things are as distracting and demanding as that little beep. Fortunately, it’s easy to switch them off on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Here’s how.

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Sounds.
  3. Tap New Mail. A new screen appears. Select None.

That’s it. Now you can keep your push mail account active without hearing that little “Ping!” every time a new message arrives. While we’re at it, let’s disable Mail notifications, too:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Notifications.
  3. Tap the appropriate email account, then move the slider to the Off position.

That’s it! No more pestering sounds or messages every time a new email arrives.

This post is part is one of 31 tech tips I published in March, 2013You’ll find the rest here.

Daily Tip: iOS-style folders in Mountain Lion

Apple’s iCloud lets you store documents and other files on its servers for sharing across compatible devices. It’s extremely fast and handy, especially if you want to work on one project on several Macs or iOS devices.

On the Mac, compatible applications show a dialog box upon opening that lists documents that are stored in the cloud. There are two views available: list view and icon. While in icon view, you can sort document thumbnails into iOS-style folders. It’s an easy way to keep things organized and quickly find what you’re after. Here’s how.

  1. In the Open window, click icon view in the bottom toolbar.
  2. Your files are presented as thumbnails, along with their titles and modification dates.
  3. To create folder, simply drag and drop on file on top of another.
  4. A new folder appears. By default, it’s named “Folder.” Click the title to customize it.


That’s it! There are a few things to note. First, all documents in the Open window are sorted by modification date, including folders. That means you can’t force folders to always be listed together. You can right-click (or Control-click) on a folder to rename it or duplicate it and its contents. Finally, folders also appear in list view. Double-click the folder itself or single-click the white disclosure triangle to reveal its contents.

This post is part is one of 31 tech tips I published in March, 2013You’ll find the rest here.

Post-Forstall iOS changes

Now that Scott Forstall is out at Apple and Jony Ive has increased influence over iOS, I’ve assembled a list of iOS changes I’d like to see. Of course, I don’t know if Forstall had direct influence over any of these features, nor do I know if Ive can/will change them. But a guy can dream.

  1. The colored status bar. I’ve written about my aversion to this change at length, so I’ll only say that I find it distracting and unnecessary. There’s no need for it and I can’t not notice it.
  2. All the flippin’ leather. Find My Friends goes overboard with the Corinthian leather. I’d like to see it disappear.
  3. The Passbook delete animation. Scott seemed wonderfully pleased with this when he demonstrated it and I suspect it was his doing. Yes it’s fun the first time you see it. After that, you just want to delete the card. That is, if you have any…
  4. Passbook improvements. Passbook is confusing because, when you launch it for the first time, it does nothing. There should be a demo card in there for users to play with.

Would you add anything that I’ve missed?

Use shortcuts for faster typing on the iPhone

The software keyboard that’s a part of the iPhone and iPad is divisive. Some are happy to use it while others find it frustrating. The best advice I have for those after improved speed and accuracy is to simply type and trust the results. If that’s not enough, consider the keyboard shortcuts feature.

Shortcuts let you create short combinations of letters that will produce a larger word or phrase when typed on your iPhone or iPad. Think of it as TextExpander lite. For example, you could type “omw” and have your device replace it with “On my way!” (Incidentally, that one is enabled by default. Try it.). Here’s how to create typing shortcuts on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap General.
  3. Tap Keyboard.
  4. Tap Add A New Shortcut…
  5. The shortcut creation page appears. Type the complete word or phrase you’re after in the Phrase field, and the short abbreviation in the Shortcut field (note that a shortcut cannot contain spaces).
  6. Tap Save and you’re done.

You can view the list of available shortcuts at any time by navigating to the keyboard settings in the Settings app. To edit or delete a shortcut, just tap it in the list.

While this little feature is handy, it’s no match for the full-featured TextExpander. However, since TextExpander isn’t system-wide, meaning you must be in the app to use it, shortcuts are useful for lengthy, common phrases in apps like Mail, Safari, Notes and so on. Plus, it could reduce frustration for those who loathe time spent with Apple’s software keyboard.

Here’s a final tip: use a shortcut to replace a common spelling error. For some reason, I tend to type “iPHone” instead of “iPhone.” The built-in spelling correction usually gets it, but not always. This is also useful if you’ve got to remember an unusual proper name that isn’t in the iOS dictionary. For instance, I have a friend named Jutta and my brain loves to subconsciously type “Jetta” instead. A shortcut takes care of that.

Thanks to Brett Kelly for inspiring this post.

Print from iOS with Dropbox, IFTTT and Automator

My printer, a Kodak 5250, [1. So close.] does not support Apple’s AirPrint and likely never will. That’s too bad, because I’d like to print from my iPhone and iPad. Today I worked up a convoluted work-around with some additional benefits. [1. Printopia is a fine solution and I recommend it. Set it up and it works. But where’s the fun in that?] Best of all, it didn’t cost me a dime.

The idea is to create a folder in Dropbox and attach a Folder Action to it that prints new additions. I use email to populate that folder and thereby trigger print jobs. Here’s how to set it up with IFTTT, Dropbox and Apple’s Automator.


To get started, you’ll need an IFTTT account and a Dropbox account. Go to and to sign up. Both are free [1. Dropbox offers 2 GB of storage for free. Additional storage is available for a fee.]. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get started.

Dropbox and Automator

The first step is to create a destination folder in Dropbox. I made one called “Print.” Next, create a Folder Action with Automator and attach it to that folder. The action will print any document that’s added to the folder (below). Here’s how to create it.

  1. Launch Automator, which can be found in your Applications folder.
  2. Automator asks you to select a template. Click Folder Action and then click Choose.
  3. Click Utilities in the Action Library on the left and then find Print Finder Items in the next column. Drag it into window on the right.
  4. Choose your destination folder (“Print” in my case) from the drop-down at the top of the window.
  5. Select the printer you’d like to use from the Print To drop-down.
  6. Click Save and you’re done.

Easy, right? To test it out, drop a text file into the folder. If you did it correctly, your printer should spring to life and produce the document. [1. Bonus feature: Place an alias to that folder on your desktop for easy drag-and-drop printing.]. Now, on to the next step: getting stuff into that folder easily from an iPhone or iPad.

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Reminders as shopping list

Mountain Lion has made Reminders so useful. Thanks to iCloud, I can now create reminders and lists on my Mac and presto! They appear on my iPhone.

Now that I’m using Reminders regularly, I’m thinking up other uses. Today, I created a shopping list. It was so easy and useful, I’ve saved the “Stop & Shop” list. Try it. Reminders is great as a list app in the cloud.

In Soviet Russia, apps purchase you

Alexey V. Borodin, whose iOS hack lets users acquire in-app purchases for free, [1. Sometimes called “stealing.”]  is now in a cat-and-mouse game with Apple. WAtoday:

“Borodin has responded by moving the server to a new location that is harder for Apple to reach and he now accepts donations using the anonymous Bitcoin service. The hack works by placing Borodin’s server in between the device and Apple – intercepting incoming purchase requests from the iOS device. But now Borodin has tightened up the exploit to avoid interacting with the App Store, making it even harder for Apple to shut down.”

This after telling Macworld, “I think [Apple] will hire me.” What an ass.

Calm down, Ben [Update]

Ben Brooks has published his opinion on the “gamification” of iOS apps. The term refers to the process of requiring the user to jump through virtual hoops — like downloading an additional app — to unlock certain features. Most recently, an update to Clear shipped with several “secret” themes, two of which are unlocked by installing Path and Tweetbot.

Ben is understandably frustrated with the practice. It’s silly at best and manipulative at worst. I don’t understand why it makes him so angry. His short, 209-word post contains “dick” twice, “hate” twice and “bullshit” once. Then it ends with what seems like a virtual call to arms:

“It’s time to put an end to this.”

And how are you going to do that?

It’s OK to dislike the gamification of iOS apps. I certainly do. But is it worth getting this worked up over? It’s productivity software on a telephone. Let it go.

Update: Some nice perspective from Curious Rat:

“Clear isn’t an app for power-users. It’s a fun and whimsical little gem meant for casual list makers, so the idea of unlocking new themes by accessing different sections of the app isn’t off putting – it simply adds to the charm.”