iPhone and iOS: The Complete Newbie's Guide

Technology PCmag

There comes a time in almost every life where you put a computer in your pocket that's more powerful than anything that went to the moon. I'm speaking of course, of owning your first smartphone. And for many that first smartphone will be Apple's iPhone.

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Years ago, a friend of mine made that astronomical jump from feature phone to iPhone, and in talking to him I realized there were things I take for granted that he found completely alien. He didn't know the difference between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and had no clue about the difference between Messages and Mail. Why is the web browser named Safari? Does he really need iTunes on his computer? Why on Earth would anyone talk to Siri?

Those questions have since been answered, but as the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X make their debut, new users will join the iOS family. And there will be even more questions. Even seasoned veterans of the iPhone probably don't know every little basic tidbit. I'm not talking the advanced new features of iOS 11 (though they are worth checking out). I'm talking about the basics.

This tutorial aims to create iPhone users who are not scared of their new tech, but confident, competent, and maybe on their way to power-user status.

Know Your iPhone Model

Apple currently sells seven iPhone models. The latest are the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus; iPhone X (pronounced "iPhone Ten") arrives in November. Here's a quick rundown of available models:

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iPhone SE
The lowest-end, least expensive iPhone currently for sale, the SE's screen is only 4 inches (measured diagonally). It has a 12-megapixel camera on the back and 1.2-megapixel shooter on the front for FaceTime calls and selfies. There's a Touch ID fingerprint scanner for security, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and 32GB or 128GB of storage. Get it in space gray, silver, gold, or rose gold, starting at $349.

iPhone 6s
The 6s, which arrived in 2015, is a bit bigger, with a 4.7-inch display. There's a 12MP camera on back and a 5MP camera on the front, Touch ID, 3D Touch, and the 3.5mm headphone jack. Prices start at $449 for 32GB; 128GB is $100 more. Same color options.

iPhone 6s Plus
The current baseline phablet—phone meets tablet—has a big, 5.5-inch screen and dual cameras on the back. It weighs 6.77 ounces—about 1.7 ounces more than the 6s, but is otherwise quite similar to its smaller sibling. The base price is $549 for 32GB of storage and $649 for 128GB of storage.

iPhone 7
The iPhone 7 ditches the headphone jack for a Lightning port that does double duty as a charging port and connection point for things like headphones (Apple encourages you to buy its wireless AirPods). The Home button is also haptic; it's a virtual button—you can't really press it, but you get some physical feedback from the motor inside. But it's the first iPhone to be water- and dust-resistant, so it can survive a quick dunk. There's a 12MP camera on the back and a 7MP shooter on the front. The internals get an upgrade too, naturally. It starts at $549 for 32GB, $649 for 128GB, and comes in two extra colors: jet black and black, but no space gray.

iPhone 7 Plus
Another phablet, this one a little lighter, with the same lack of headphone jack, but with the addition of water-resistance and the haptic Home button. Apple says its dual 12MP cameras make 7 Plus a "telephoto" camera, which isn't exactly true, but it's nice to have a wide-angle and more narrow view, with optical zoom up to 10x. The 7 Plus has the same colors as the 7, and goes for $669 for 32GB and $769 for 128GB.

iPhone 8
Many people—including our reviewer—think this one should have been called "7s" since it's essentially last year's model with an upgraded "A11 Bionic" processor and a few new perks, like wireless charging (which required a glass back instead of metal) and the new camera sensor. It'll also likely be the last standard iPhone to have a Home button on it at all. It comes in three colors (silver, gold, space gray) and costs $699 for 64GB and $849 for 256GB.

iPhone 8 Plus
Everything we said about the 8 applies here, except this model sports a bigger screen (5.5 inches), and is a trifle bit heavier than all the rest at 7.13 ounces. It's also waterproof and more expensive at $799 for 64GB ($949 for 256GB) but those prices are cheaper than the upcoming iPhone X, which starts at $999.

You might have an older iPhone, say the 5s or the 6/6 Plus. They're not actively sold anymore, but they support iOS 11, along with the models listed above. For the purposes of this article, we'll assume you made that upgrade to iOS 11.

How to Work the iPhone

This might seem basic for those of us used to the world of touch-screen phones, but here are some general techniques you need to know.

An iPhone is not just a touch screen—it's a multi-touch screen, meaning more than one finger on the screen at a time can make the software do different things. Every gesture you make on the phone has a name and does something specific, depending on if you're on the Home screen (the screen full of app icons) or in an app itself.

The tap is like a click on a computer screen with the mouse cursor. A double tap is almost like a double-click. You generally double tap in apps to do things like zoom in. Newer iPhones (since the 6s) also support 3D Touch, where if you push down on the screen halfway in supported apps, it brings up more features.

Drag and hold is when you hold your finger down on the screen, usually on some text, and then drag until you've highlighted even more text. You can also do this to move items around on the screen. This is a much bigger deal in iOS 11 than ever before, especially if you use it on an iPad tablet.

An important part of the iOS interface is the swipe—a quick flick of your finger along the screen in a direction like left, right, up, or down can do wonders in some apps and on the Home screen.

Where does the multi-touch come in? In a pinch. Putting two fingers on the screen in certain apps, like Maps, lets you move both fingers as a quick way to zoom out (pinch them together) or in (move your fingers apart). Likewise, with Maps in particular, and many image-editing apps, you can rotate what you're looking at by moving the dual-fingers clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Parts of the iPhone

The iPhone is famously minimalist, but it still has methods of interaction. Here are the toggles and switches and parts of the screen you should know.

Buttons

The single button at the bottom of the screen is called the Home button; it doubles as the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and you'll use this button to activate Siri (hold it down) or get to the Home screen. If you're in any app on the phone, a push of this button will take you back to the Home screen.

A quick double-press on the Home opens the App Switcher (right), which shows you every open app. Swipe up to remove them from App Switcher.

A double-tap (with no press) on iPhone 6s and above moves the top of the screen to the bottom so you can more easily reach apps; Apple calls it Reachability. Double-tap again to return to normal view.

The iPhone X will not have a Home button. That's a first for iPhone, but Android phones from Samsung, Sony, LG, Google, and Huawei have not had physical home buttons for awhile in order to facilitate edge-to-edge screens.

The button at right side of the iPhone is the Sleep/Wake button (on older model iPhones, it was at the top). Push this button to put the phone into lock mode, where it is dormant to you, but can still take calls, texts, and download info in the background. If you hold down this button, you get the option to shut down the phone completely. You also hold down this button to power it back on.

On the left is a toggle button, the Ring/Silent switch, which does exactly that—it moves your phone instantly into a silent, vibrate-only mode. The buttons below it are the volume up/down. Volume buttons can be used as a shutter switch when you're using the iPhone as a camera.

There are also various holes to be found on the iPhone: on the bottom you'll see the speakers, very tiny microphone holes, and the port for the Lightning connector use to charge the iPhone and connect it to a computer (and on the iPhone 6s and earlier, the headphone jack).

On the back, there's another microphone hole between the rear camera shutter and the True Tone Flash, which doubles as a flashlight. Back in front, there's a phone receiver for when you hold up the iPhone to your ear, and a hard-to-see lens for the FaceTime/selfie camera. There's one more port on the right for the tray that hold the phone's SIM card, but you'll probably want to leave that alone.

Lock Screen

A quick press on the Home button wakes your phone. If you have a passcode (Settings > Touch ID & passcode), it'll prompt you to enter it; if you've set up Touch ID, your phone will recognize your fingerprint and unlock when you press.

The Lock Screen will display the Status Bar, a clock with the date, and a wallpaper image of your choice. The Lock Screen and Home Screen can have separate wallpapers; set them up in Settings > Wallpaper > Choose a New Wallpaper.

The Lock Screen is also where notifications appear even if your phone isn't active, if you've set them up. The camera can also be accessed here—swipe left—so you can take pictures without actually getting into the iPhone first.

Home Screen

The Home screen is just that, home sweet home, providing access to all the apps on your iPhone. Of course, your Home screen is actually several screens—swipe to the left to access more and more screens, full of apps, depending on how many you download. (For better organization, look to Folders, below.) The icon row at the bottom of the page, the Dock, is always visible on any Home screen. Put your four most important apps there for easy access.

Status Bar

The Status Bar appears on top of the Home screen (and in some apps) to give you an instant idea of the status of everything happening in that little computer.

Icons will appear for the cell signal strength (; or "No service" if that happens), what kind of network you're on (LTE, 4G, E, etc.) or if you're in Airplane mode (with a little plane icon). You'll also see your Wi-Fi signal strength (), Bluetooth, (' if it's colored Blue you're connected to a Bluetooth device), battery life (; go to Settings > General > Usage > Battery Percentage if you'd like to see it as a number), the location-tracking arrow, and if an alarm is set.

Control Center

Control Center provides fast access to tools and networks. From any screen on the phone—even while using apps—swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

The top left block has icons to activate Airplane Mode (), or to turn off or on the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular signal. If the color shows, they're active. You can turn on airplane mode and then turn on just one kind of connect, like Wi-Fi, for example.

Note that with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, these button do not turn those radios completely off in iOS 11. They disconnect your iPhone from accessories and networks, but they turn back on if you change location or the next time 5 a.m. rolls around. For example, your iPhone is still available for AirDrop, AirPlay, or with accessories like the Apple Watch. To completely turn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off completely, go into Settings.

Below that are permanent icons for the Orientation Lock, so you can lock the phone into portrait or landscape mode and it won't change as you move the phone around, and a moon to turn on the Do Not Disturb function.

At the upper-right is a Music box. It actually works with any audio, such as audio books or podcasts. It provides a pause/play button, plus buttons to skip ahead and back, depending on what the app you're playing uses.

Below it are vertical sliders for the screen brightness and speaker volume.

Mixed in there you'll see a button called Screen Mirroring. That's only going to work if you have an Apple TV, or hook up your iPhone to a device like a PC running software that allows screen mirroring, such as ApowerMirror.

The rest of the buttons at the bottom of the Control Center are optional—pick those you want by going to Settings > Control Center. At the very least it's nice to have quick access to the Flashlight (it uses the flash on the back), Calculator, and Camera.

Delete and Move Apps

This might be the most important thing newbie iPhone users ever learn: you don't have to keep all your apps on the screen in the order you download them. You can arrange them.

Hold down your finger on any icon on the Home screen. It'll start to wiggle and jiggle, and gets a little X in the corner. You tap the X to delete the app (and all the data associated with the app).

But while it's wiggling, you can also move it. Hold and drag it to any spot on the screen—or to the edge of the screen to put it on a new virtual page of the Home screen. You can have as many as 15 virtual pages of apps. To stop the wiggle/jiggle, tap the Home button.

Want to organize your apps even more? Use Folders. Hold an icon to get them wigglin', then drag one app icon on top of another. They'll seem to merge as one, and when you let go, you'll see they are in a Folder. Apple will suggest a name (Music, Social, etc.) but you can write your own. To rename a folder later, open it, and hold your finger on the name. Drag more apps to the folder whenever you like. Even the folders get multiple virtual pages, up to 15, so one folder can hold up to 135 apps. To delete a folder, drag all the apps out of it and it'll disappear.

Safari Is What Now?

On a desktop computer, you use a web browser to access the internet. It might be Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox. If you're on a Mac, it's probably Apple's Safari.

Launched in 2003 by Apple, Safari quickly became the default browser for macOS computers (and it was available for Windows, too, for a while). The name was used, of course, for the default browser on iOS as well. So when you're new to Mac products in general, or iOS in particular, don't be surprised: Safari is how you navigate the web.

There are several other browser apps available for download, in particular Google Chrome. Just be clear that you don't get any speed benefit using it, because Apple doesn't really let other real browsers into the App Store. Google Chrome for iOS is the Chrome interface wrapped around the same engine used by Safari, but Google fans will appreciate it more.

Connections: Cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth

The iPhone probably has more ways to communicate than your laptop, but it's easy to turn each wireless connection technology on and off.

Obviously, your iPhone is a mobile cellular phone and comes with that connection, via your mobile carrier of choice. The iPhone is available from all the major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) plus most of the little guys. That's because it's a "world phone," capable of working almost anywhere, even overseas. But don't go using it overseas without checking with your carrier first about all the extra charges they'll tack on; most now have less expensive roaming plans for foreign lands.

Your cellular connection includes a data plan. While you use the cellular talk time to chat on the phone itself, data covers just about everything else on the phone: surfing the web, downloading apps, streaming music or video, etc. If your data plan is limited, you need to keep an eye on your data usage, lest you go over and get charged or see your data speeds throttled (aka slowed down).

The trick is to do most of your heavy data usage on Wi-Fi, the wireless internet connection you have at home, via your own home router, or that you'd find in a coffee shop or restaurant. It's faster than the cellular data plan in almost every case, and once you're logged in (LTE will be replaced by the Wi-Fi icon up top), your phone use won't eat into your monthly data allotment.

You may have to pay for Wi-Fi in some cases, but that's between you and the Wi-Fi provider in such locations (like hotels or coffee shops). You may also have to open up the Safari web browser to set up such a connection, as some require a browser log-in

Bluetooth is for connecting the iPhone to other devices at a short range (the max is supposed to be 33 feet). Use Bluetooth to connect to things like your car (for talking and playing audio or even some cases for CarPlay, which puts your iPhone on the dash screen), a headset (for talking), a wireless speaker (for audio), a keyboard (for typing), and more. Each Bluetooth device has a different way to set up with the iPhone, so consult the directions. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's as arcane as a National Treasure movie.

Remember, you can access all of these in the Settings, or swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get to the Control Center to instantly turn off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or turn on Airplane mode to kill all iPhone connections. (You can turn on Airplane mode, then activate Wi-Fi for when you're traveling abroad and want to tap into hotel Wi-Fi, for example, without incurring data or roaming charges.)

Most carriers also support Wi-Fi Calling. Like it sounds, it uses Wi-Fi connections for your phone calls. This is a huge bonus if your home doesn't get a good cell signal; your carrier also gets to offload call traffic on to your ISP. Your carrier may also support your phone as a Personal Hotspot, which allows you to share your cellular connection among multiple Wi-Fi users (such as all the people using tablets in your car).

You may hear a bit about NFC, or near-field communications, which has been around since the iPhone 6. It's used for instant data transfers when devices touch. To date it's been restricted to use for Apple Pay, which lets you pay for things using your iPhone at supported stores. It appears NFC use will expand beyond Apple Pay with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Messaging and Communication

That's what the iPhone is all about, right? But newbies might have a problem distinguishing what's what.

Let's take the Messages app, for example. Even those of us with a feature phone know all about SMS texting, the ability to send quick, 160-character, text-based messages. Along with that goes MMS messages, which sends pictures and videos on the same service. You may pay extra for the ability, even though it's not costing your carrier much.

You can still do all the texting and picture/video sending you want with an iPhone via the Messages app. When you do it over your cell carrier's network (by sending a message to someone who doesn't have an Apple product), the little word balloon of what you send will appear in green.

But iOS since version 5 in 2011 has come with iMessage, Apple's replacement/companion to texting. It works not just on iPhone, but also iPad and macOS. Users register not only their phone number but also email addresses with Apple to send/receive iMessages. On an iOS device, they appear as a blue word balloon.

The difference: with iMessage, it doesn't eat into your monthly text message allotment. Send as many "blue" messages as you want each month. You also aren't limited to 160 characters, and you can send multiple pictures, audio messages, quick videos, animated GIFs, and stickers from apps that support Messages.

It's all seamless—you don't have to do anything to make your costly text into a free iMessage. Before you send any message, the iPhone looks to see if the recipient is in the iMessage database. If they are, the messages is routed through Apple's servers. If an iMessage won't go through, the Messages app will resend it for you as a text. Supposedly, all iMessages are encrypted from one end to the other, so in theory it's more secure than texts.

Messages Aren't Email

How do Messages differ from email? For email, you need to have accounts via a third party—from your work, your ISP, a service like Gmail or Yahoo or Outlook.com, your own website/host, etc. For email, you use the built-in Mail app on iPhone, but there are also many great third-party mail apps like Mailbox. Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook.

Of course, Apple supplies you an email if you want, via iCloud. Anyone with an Apple ID can get one. If your Apple ID is another email address, you have to set up the iCloud address. (If you had an old @me.com or @mac.com email address from Apple, that will still work—you don't need a new iCloud account.) On the iPhone go to Settings > [your name at the top] > iCloud to do so. Then, to activate the email address in the Mail app, visit Settings > Accounts & Passwords > Add Account.

Note that if you want more than 5GB of online storage with iCloud, you've got to pay for it. The lowest price is $0.99 per month for 50GB. But it's right on the iPhone via Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Manage Storage.

Voice vs. FaceTime

You can make phone calls with a phone... don't forget it's a phone as well as a computer! But what's this FaceTime?

It's an app for ultra-simple video conferencing, much like Skype. (In fact, you can get Skype for iOS, and a number of other video-conferencing apps, if you prefer). But FaceTime also works with macOS, so if you and your friends/family have an entire ecosystem of devices from Apple, you might find you prefer to FaceTime.

Calling is as simple as using the phone—you'll see in your contacts who's available on FaceTime; look for the video camera icon. If you don't want to get FaceTime calls, turn it off via Settings > FaceTime.

Just be aware, video can be a bandwidth hog. Limit FaceTime to Wi-Fi via Settings > Cellular and toggle FaceTime (and any other app) to off.

Shopping: App Store, iTunes, and More

You get new apps for the iPhone from one place and one place only: Apple's App Store. There are thousands of apps that are totally free. Some people never pay for an app, ever. Many apps are free to download but require in-app purchases for extra perks (like game levels).

To shop in the App Store, you'll need an Apple ID—something you already have by purchasing and setting up an iPhone. It's your gateway to all things Apple/iPhone-related—and a credit card is attached to that ID. Then, to be honest, go nuts, at least with the free apps. The worst thing that'll happen is you fill your iPhone with so many apps that you have to delete them. If you buy an app and delete it later, guess what—you can always download it again, since it's already purchased. (That is, as long as the app is still available.)

When you want to shop for music, TV shows, or movies to play on the iPhone, you go to another app: iTunes Store. It's also the place to buy ringtones and text alert tones. Purchases are tied to your account via Digital Rights Management (DRM), so that you can use them on multiple devices with the same account, but you can't transfer the purchases to other users with a different account.

Yes, the iPhone can still serve as an "MP3 player," like the original iPods. But we also live in a world of streaming music and video services now; with apps like Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Prime Video, and others, you can hear and watch plenty for a monthly fee. Apple Music is $10 a month for unlimited tunes and can be found via the built-in Music app.

See Spotlight and Notifications

When you're on an unlocked iPhone and swipe down from the middle of the screen, you get the Spotlight Search.

This is how you find things on the iPhone itself – Spotlight looks inside your contacts, notes, calendar entries, and more for the names of apps, among other things. Now, it will even search the web. It's a great way to find an app when you've hidden it away in a folder but don't know which one. As you search, keep typing to refine it, or scroll to the bottom and click Search Web, Search App Store, or Search Maps to narrow it.

When you do a search with Spotlight, you also get an option to go to a suggested website if one is found, or go to a corresponding Wikipedia page, and you get some results from Bing search (which will open in Safari), even if you've told Safari you prefer another search engine at Settings > Safari > Search Engine (I prefer DuckDuckGo).

If you touch above the iPhone screen and swipe down, you get Notification Center.

Naturally, you also get Notifications on your Lock Screen as they come in, if you've got them set up to do so. You can modify and change Notifications all you want at Settings > Notifications. The alerts can play a sound, show as a banner at the top of the screen, in the middle of the screen, or just get a badge—that little round number in red on an icon. They don't even have to show in the Notification Center after you've seen them. The combinations possible for all your different apps is huge. Hide some, make others stand out.

The iPhone also supports widgets, little info bits offered up by your apps, like headlines from the News app, or temperatures from weather apps, or quick access to ebooks, etc. To get to them, from the first screen on the Home Page, swipe right (just keep swiping right until you get to them). Scroll down to the Edit button and configure what widgets to use; you can delete them or reorder them as you see fit.

Say Hi to Siri

No one is going to say that Siri is the perfect artificially intelligent assistant, but the voice-activated tool is pretty handy and always getting better and better.

To activate Siri, hold down the Home button. Or you can turn on "Hey Siri" and she will respond to that voice command (set that up via Settings > Siri & Search > Listen for "Hey Siri"). Or he, if you picked the male voice at Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice. Pick the British Male voice and you feel like you have a butler.

The list of things Siri can't do is probably now shorter than what it can, whether its answering questions for you or controlling your phone. The latest option is translation of English words and phrases into a few other languages (Mandarin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish for now).

If you are unable to talk to Siri, or just hate the sound of your own voice, you can type commands to the assistant now. Set it up in Settings > General > Accessibility > Siri > Type to Siri.

Security and Privacy on Your New iPhone

It turns out that smartphone theft overall has declined a bit over the last few years, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider both physical and virtual security on your new iPhone.

The first thing you should do with any new iPhone is activate the Find My iPhone app. It lets you see where the phone is on a map, remotely lock your phone, send messages to your missing phone (helpful when you leave it in the back of a cab), or wipe the phone clean—all of which you can do from any computer via iCloud.com or from a different iOS device.

Use your Apple ID to sign into the program. Then also go into Settings > [your name] > iCloud >Find My iPhone and make sure it's turned on. Turn on Send Last Location so if you phone is missing, it'll send out a signal just before the battery goes dead or it's turned off. (If you didn't activate Find My iPhone, dry your tears and read this.)

Here's what else you should do:

Use a Passcode

Go to Settings > Touch ID & passcode. If you don't have a passcode set up, do it. It can be four or six digits, or a password or phrase. You'll want a passcode in case the phone is stolen, so you have more time to recover it—or deal with it from afar. You also have the option to have your iPhone erase all its data after 10 failed passcode attempts. It's the nuclear option, but better than a stolen phone with your whole life on it.

Use Touch ID

In those same settings, you'll get the option to use a fingerprint, scanned by the Touch ID built into the Home Button, as your biometric passcode. (There's still times when you have to enter the passcode digits even after this, but it's for security, so suck it up, buttercup.)

You can also use it as your ID when buying items from iTunes or other kinds of online purchases—even on Amazon's app—and of course it'll authenticate you as the owner of the phone when Apple Pay. It's available on all the current iPhones, but will not be on the iPhone X when it ships—that comes with facial recognition called Face ID instead.

It's worth noting that when it comes to law enforcement, they can't force people to unlock with a passcode. But they can force you to put your fingerprint on the Touch ID scanner, legally. And of course, holding the phone up to your face for biometric access will be a breeze. So privacy advocates always will lean toward the passcode (or better yet passphrase).

Regain Some Privacy

There are plenty of privacy options on iPhone found at Settings > Privacy. You can turn off Location Services on apps that don't need to track where you are. You can prevent apps from accessing your Contacts, you Photos, your iPhone microphone or camera, even prevent access to your social networks (Facebook and Twitter). Under Analytics, turn off Share iCloud Analytics and Share iPhone Analytics so Apple doesn't get extra info from your phone's apps. Under Advertising, turn on Limit Ad Tracking and you'll see fewer targeted ads in apps or the browser.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.