iPhone and iOS: The Complete Newbie's Guide

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.

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:

iPhone SEThe 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 PlusEverything 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.


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 (