16 Useful Gems in Apple’s New iOS 13

Every September, Apple offers the world a new update of its iOS software for iPhones. This year’s version, iOS 13, didn’t exactly have a graceful landing; since its release in September, Apple has produced no fewer than five follow-up versions intended to fill feature holes and fix bugs. A sixth version, 13.2, is in beta testing now.

But never mind all that. Apple has said plenty about what it considers the most important new features: Dark Mode, which gives all your apps a slick, white-on-dark, inverted-colors look; QuickPath, which lets you type by swiping sloppily across the relevant keys instead of tapping them, as you can on Android phones; and a rewritten Maps app.

But when you give thousands of software engineers a whole year to improve your phone software, you wind up with dozens of features that don’t get a lot of press. Here, then, is a treasure map to the hidden gems of iOS 13.

You can now do everything on the phone by voice alone: tap and drag, operate buttons and sliders, edit text, even “push” the buttons on the edges of the phone. The feature is intended for disabled iPhone fans. But it’s so complete, easy, and fast, it might appeal to other kinds of people, too: those whose hands are wet or grubby, for example, or those who are reclining and tired.

To turn on Voice Control, tap Settings >Accessibility >Voice Control.

At this point, you can navigate by saying, for example, “Go Home,” “Open Maps,” “Go back,” “Open app switcher,” and “Open Control Center.”

You can “use your fingers” by saying, “Tap Reply,” “long-press Mail,” “swipe up,” “scroll down,” “zoom in,” “pan up,” “swipe left three,” and so on. Instead of pressing the hardware buttons on the phone, say, “Turn volume up,” “Mute sound,” “Rotate to portrait,” and “Take screenshot.”

The real miracle is text editing. You can say “Delete that” to backspace over the last utterance (or, say, “Delete previous two lines”). Best of all, you can speak corrections, which is heaven-sent when you have to fix the errors (either yours or Siri’s) in a dictated message. Just say, “Replace ‘Never call me again’ with ‘Best of luck.’”

If there’s something you want to tap, like a spot on the map, that has no identifying labels, say, “Show numbers,” “Show grid,” or “Show labels.” You get tiny numbers, words, or grid squares overlaid on the screen. Speak what you want to tap.

And don’t worry about triggering accidental functions. The phone ignores everything you say (“Hey, can I borrow your charger?”) that isn’t a command (“open Messages”).

The Reminders app is a far more competent To Do manager in iOS 13. One welcome touch: you can now create “subtasks” for a reminder. For example, for a reminder called “Tonight’s hot date,” the indented subtasks might be “Shower,” “Pick up dry cleaning,” and “Get braces removed.”

To create a subtask, long-press the subordinate item’s name and then drag it beneath the primary one. It indents itself.

To make Reminders more useful, iOS 13 lets you create them right from within Messages, Mail, Photos, Maps, and other apps. Select some text (or a photo, or a location, or whatever), tap the Share button, and then tap Reminders. You’ll see the new To Do the next time you open Reminders.

Finally, this one’s worth its weight in gold: When you’re creating a Reminder, you can turn on “Remind me when messaging” and then tap Choose Person to pluck somebody’s name from Contacts. When you next begin messaging this person, the reminder will pop up.

It’s ideal for those moments when you’re preparing for bed and remember: “Oh shoot — I forgot to ask Robin to return my Tesla.”

There’s no more Loupe — the magnifying glass that has made placing the text-insertion point easier for the last 12 years. Instead, you’re supposed to drag the blinking insertion point with your finger. It gets larger as you drag it into position.

Alternatively, use the iPhone’s invisible trackpad. When you long-press the Space bar, all the keys go blank; you’ve just turned the entire keyboard area into a trackpad. Keep your finger down; slide it around to move your cursor.

Once you’ve highlighted some text, you can tap anywhere with three fingers to summon a new toolbar, bearing icons for Cut, Copy, and Paste.

But toolbar, schmoolbar — it’s even faster to use the new three-finger gestures.

For Copy, pinch on the screen with three fingers. For Cut, do that twice. For Paste, tap where you want to paste, and then unpinch with three fingers (spread them).

You, no doubt, never make mistakes — but for the record, you can now do Undo by swiping left with three fingers. (Swipe right for Redo.)

In the beginning, there was Find My iPhone: a feature that let you locate a lost phone from iCloud.com.

In iOS 13, incredibly, that works even if the phone has no internet connection — if, for example, you left it in some Montana bus stop that has no signal.

Apple has turned the world’s 1.4 billion other iPhones, iPads, and Macs into remote detectors for your phone. Any passing iOS 13 iPhone will, unbeknown to its owner, pick up your phone’s silent Bluetooth beacon signal and relay its location back to you.

To make all of this happen so securely that neither Apple nor anybody else can locate your phone, Apple designed a solution that requires you to own a second Apple device; it’s the only machine capable of decrypting your phone’s location.

(You can turn the feature off in Settings >[your name] > Find My > ​Find My iPhone.)

The Photos tab of the Photos app presents your entire photos collection in a delightful and efficient way: As grids of photos labeled Years, Months, and Days. (Videos play silently in place as you browse.)

Each presents representative photos; the software omits duplicates, duds, and screenshots. You can time-zoom in or out — from Years to Months to Days, or the other way — by pinching or spreading two fingers.

Handily enough, you remain on the same photo as you zoom. For example, if a photo of a bleary-eyed you is the sample photo for 2019, you’ll land on the same photo when you zoom into Months (as the October photo), and again into Days (for this week).

The Edit screen has some new options: Vibrance, Sharpness, Definition; vertical and horizontal perspective correction; and Vignette, which darkens or brightens the four corners of the photo. For the first time in iPhone history, you can zoom in on a photo while editing.

Perhaps most valuable of all: You can perform any editing maneuver on videos just as easily as on photos. That includes all the color-correction tools, perspective-fixing tools, cropping tools, and even rotating tools. At last, you can fix videos that the phone mistakenly captured sideways.

You’d need a hundred articles like this one to document all of the minor improvements, but here’s a teaser list:

  • No more fiddling at the subway turnstile. In cities whose transit systems accept Apple Pay, like New York City’s, you can breeze through the gates without the button-pressing and ID-authenticating steps that used to be required every time. To set this up, visit Settings -> Wallet & Apple Pay -> Express Transit Card, and choose the credit card you want to pay your fare. Now just hold the phone near the turnstile sensor and blow on through.

  • In the Calendar, you can attach files, photos, Word or PDF documents to appointments. That’s handy for itineraries or business documents for a meeting.

  • In the iCloud Drive (Apple’s version of Dropbox), you can now create or open .zip files, compressing or decompressing a file on the fly. Just long-press the file to view the commands.

  • In Maps, iOS 13 displays addresses that it finds in your Calendar appointments, to save typing when getting directions.

  • Silence Unknown Callers (in Settings-> Phone) offers a small weapon against obnoxious robocallers. Every incoming call will go straight to voice mail without making your phone ring, buzz, or display a notification — except calls from people in your Contacts and people you’ve called yourself.

  • Your battery’s life span will be much longer if you turn on Optimized Battery Charging in Settings->Battery. This option makes the iPhone stop charging at 80 percent except when it thinks you’ll need the extra oomph, which it learns by studying your daily charging patterns. (Lithium-ion batteries last longest if you avoid charging them fully every day.)

  • In Mail, when you’ve started addressing a message, you can tap the “i“ beside someone’s name to see a choice of their email addresses.

  • Email formatting has had a huge upgrade. Now you can decorate your outgoing messages with typefaces, styles, formatting, attachments, and photos. It’s all waiting in the new formatting bar, which appears when you tap the < at the right end of the typing suggestions bar.

  • In Messages, you can shoot canned responses right from the conversation list. Long-press a conversation’s row to view the available short replies. They’re usually along the lines of “Thanks,” “Yes,” “No,” and “Talk later?”

  • To choose a Wi-Fi network, you no longer have to burrow into Settings. Just open the Control Center (swipe up from the bottom of the screen, or, on recent models, down from the top right “ear”); long-press the Wi-Fi cluster; and then long-press the Wi-Fi icon. There’s your list of available hot spots.

All of this, of course, is a lot to get used to — and change, as we all know, is hard. But look at the bright side: You have a whole year to get used to the new software before Apple changes it again next fall.