Worn iPhone Home Button Fix

Over last weekend, the home button on my iPhone started to become less responsive. By Sunday night, it had nearly stopped working entirely. To get it to work, I had to mash it hard with my thumb. The amount of pressure required was surely going to wear it out even faster. Double-tapping didn’t work at all. I was worried that my phone would soon be a goner. As it turns out, things aren’t so bad.

I still have an iPhone 5. I bought it 2 1/2 years ago. It has held up remarkably well over that time. It is in nearly flawless condition. I just entered my purchase date in an online date calculator, and it turns out that I have had the phone for a whopping 907 days. I’ve taken very good care of it. Fortunately, the battery also remains in great shape, despite years of usage.

Considering how well my phone as aged, I was disappointed when my home button began to flake out over the weekend. I went online and looked up potential home remedies to get it working again. I learned some interesting tricks.

If the home button is completely unusable, you can still use the phone by enabling AssistiveTouch, which is an Accessibility feature in iOS. You can find it in Settings > General > Accessibility. Once AssistiveTouch is turned on, a small circle will appear at the bottom right of the screen that allows you to use a virtual home button in place of the physical one. Cool!

Since my button was still working to some degree, I looked for a solution to repair it. I found a terrific page listing several such solutions. You can find that page here.

Last night I tried the solution of pressing and wiping around the home button with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. I didn’t seem to make any immediate difference. However, this morning, the home button was suddenly working perfectly again. It’s as good as new! Even the gentlest tap now elicits a response, and double-tapping works again as well. Problem solved!

If you are experiencing a similar problem, visit the link above and try one (or all) of those solutions. Hopefully one will get you up and running!

The Annoying iOS Game Center Banner

I’d like to submit a complaint about the Game Center banner in iOS. When you load a game in iOS that works with Game Center, a banner slides down from the top of the screen that says, “Welcome back, [your username].” My argument is that it is too large and hangs around a little too long. Sure, this is a rather nit-picky thing to gripe about, but if you load games often enough, trust me, it will slowly chip away at your tolerance.

A great example of how the banner is super annoying is with one of my favorite games at the moment, called Kingdom Rush. Kingdom Rush has background game music that I prefer to turn off. (I turn off all in-game background music, actually.) The problem, particularly with Kingdom Rush is that the music is re-enabled every time I launch the game. The controls for turning it off are in the upper left corner of the launch screen. When I load the game, the music cranks up and I scramble to turn it off, except I can’t turn it off quickly because of the annoying Game Center banner that is lingering at the top of the screen.

I think that Apple should redesign the banner to take up less space in future versions of the operating system. Moreover, it would be nice to have an option to disable it entirely. I would disable it if I could.

Having said all that, I have an even greater idea for how to handle this. Perhaps they could reprogram it to only enable a (smaller) banner when the phone is silenced. When the phone is not silenced, how about a voice that simply whispers “Game Center” when you launch a game? It would be wispy and fun. Wouldn’t that be much better than the annoying banner? I think so.

iOS Game Center Banner

I Don’t Need An App For That

There is a temptation to load your phone up with as many apps as possible, installing one for everything you think you may ever need. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. At one point I had 150 apps on my iPhone.

I began to realize over time that I really didn’t need a lot of those apps. There were some that I hadn’t used in over a year.

When I upgraded to the iPhone 5, instead of restoring my previous state, I decided to completely start over and only add the apps that I really used. I’m glad that I made that decision at the time. It was like cleaning house. That was about a year and a half ago, and since that time, my app count has inevitably crept back up again.

I’ve now reached a point where I’ve decided that it’s time to again get rid of apps that I don’t need. I went in and deleted scores apps I hadn’t been using. I didn’t stop there, though. I even deleted apps for services that I actually use. The reason I did that is because there are a lot of services that have excellent mobile websites that do the same job that the custom app does. I’ll give you some examples.

Bitly. I use Bitly every now and then to shorten long URLs. Bitly has an iOS app but I’ve actually never downloaded it. Browsing bitly.com in mobile Safari or Chrome is perfectly sufficient. It retains my login and I am able to perform every task I need from their website. No app necessary!

Wikipedia is another good example. I had the app installed on my phone for years and barely ever used it. I would always do a Google search on what I wanted to know about and I came to realize that I always browsed Wikipedia using only the web browser. Their mobile website does everything that the dedicated app does. It even looks the same.

Shopping apps are another example. I’ve had the Target app on my phone for years but I can only recall having used it one time. Before I recently deleted the app, I browsed over to target.com in Safari, and as you would expect, they have a very clean mobile website that lets me search and shop for anything I am looking for. Again, no need for the app, or others like it.

I could go on and on. Mobile banking, news sites, and more. All of them have full-functioning websites that allow you to do everything you can do from the app. As a general rule, if the service in question merely delivers information, you’re probably fine just using their website to obtain it.

I created a bookmarks folder on my iPhone for services like the ones I’ve listed above that have perfectly useful mobile sites. To save a bookmark as an icon on iOS, simply tap “add to home screen” in Safari. The icon added usually looks indistinguishable from the native app.

If you have apps on your phone that you don’t use very often, it’s worth it to browse the mobile website for that service and see how close the experience can be to using a native app. You may be surprised. If you’re using push notifications, however, you need to continue using an app for such interactivity. For example, if you use eBay and rely on the app for notifications about items and auctions, you’ll want to keep that app installed.

Go forth and do some digital spring cleaning. It can be very liberating.

iOS Push Notification Permissions Are Not Always Honored

The first time you launch an app in iOS, you are usually asked if you want to allow the app to deliver push notifications. A box pops up asking your preference, and you can either tap “Don’t Allow” or “OK.” Half the time when I select “Don’t Allow,” notifications are enabled anyway. I am not exaggerating. In my experience over the years, I would say that this happens about 50% of the time.

When I install a new app, I almost always deny push notifications for it. After using an app for the first time, I’ve been in the habit of going to the iOS settings to look at the notification settings. Sure enough, I often have to go in and manually disable Badges, Sounds, and Banners for the app I just installed. This needs to stop.

I only allow notifications on apps that I use for communication. In total, I only have notifications enabled for about five apps, most of which are instant messengers. It simply isn’t necessary for other types of apps to use them, certainly not games and other such trivial nonsense. Notifications can get annoying and I imagine that they probably tax your battery if you have too many enabled.

I don’t understand why the initial permissions preference is broken half the time. Are app developers deliberately programming so that notifications for their app are allowed no matter what the user chooses when they launch it? I suspect that they are. I don’t have any other explanation for the behavior. It can’t be an iOS glitch because half of the apps I’ve encountered honor it correctly.

If developers are in fact doing this on purpose, I’d like to see Apple crack down on the practice. Evildoers should be rejected from the App Store. There just isn’t any sense in developers getting away with this, if this is what they’re doing.

I would advise that everyone check their iOS settings from time to time to see if any apps have sneakily turned on notifications without their knowledge. I think we should all collectively begin giving poor ratings to apps that don’t honor the preferences of the user.

iOS push notifications permission

Siri Has Become Unreliable

Has anyone had problems with Siri lately? I’ve used it occasionally for the past year, but lately it has been very hit and miss. Mostly miss. I don’t know if it is iOS 7 related, network congestion, or what. Siri has become completely unreliable, whether I am accessing it on LTE data or my home WiFi.

For the past month or so, when I voice dictate text, it takes an unacceptable amount of time to complete. It regularly takes 20 seconds or more, much longer than it would take to type out the text by hand. And when I ask Siri a direct question, at least half the time she says she can’t take any requests at the moment. And when it does work, it regularly takes up to 30 seconds to respond. Unacceptable.

When I need directions on the go, I’ll ask Siri to navigate to a location or to a contact in my address book. That has always worked well for me in the past, but lately it just spins its wheels, often not responding at all. A few nights ago, I had to pull over and type in where I was trying to go.

I can’t be alone in this problem. It’s getting on my nerves. This has not been an issue for me until about a month ago. Siri has become nearly unusable. It’s a possibility that the millions of new iPhones sold since the release of the 5S are clogging up the pipes. Apple needs to address this immediately or risk alienating their users.

Wanted: iOS Music Skipping

Apple developed an iOS app for podcast lovers, simply called Podcasts. One handy feature of the app is the ability to skip 15 seconds ahead or 15 seconds behind with the tap of an icon. This has become indispensable for me, as I often like to skip back to hear something I either missed or want to hear again. These skip icons are essential for navigating close to the part of the recording your are listening to. It would be too difficult to use the scrub slider to back up a few seconds in what could be and hour or two of content.

I want the same skip feature to be built in to the iOS Music app as well. When I’m out walking and listening to music, I often find myself wanting to back up a few seconds to hear a particular part of a song again. I admit that the scrub slider is of more use for a single song in comparison to podcasts because the width of the slider represents only 3 or 4 minutes of audio. However, I keep around an old iPhone and use it as a mere iPod when I’m exercising. It’s old and the screen is cracked at the top, right along the area where the time and audio scrubber are displayed. It’s hard for me to be able to glance at the screen and find the head of the slider to navigate within a song. It would be far easier if there were skip icons that I could tap and go forward or back with ease. I don’t understand why they haven’t thought to add them. Make it so.

iOS skip buttons in Podcasts app

Half-Baked iOS 6 Reminders

I began writing about the lackluster Reminders app in iOS 6 more than a week ago, but I thought I’d wait until after the announcement of iOS 7 to see if improvements were on the way. Since iOS 7 won’t be released for a few more months, I’ve decided to proceed with my issues about Reminders.

Reminders feels a little half-baked. Its primary purpose is to remind me about something, but that function is its biggest weakness. Hear me out.

When I get a text message in the Messages app, it will alert me twice if I don’t acknowledge it the first time. If my phone is sitting on the desk in front of me and it lights up with a text message, I can lean over and look at the lock screen and read it. If I don’t need to reply right away, I’ll just let it be. When I do this, the phone doesn’t know that I read the message because I didn’t physically interact with it. A couple of minutes later, it will chime again with the same message to make certain that I saw it. This behavior used to be optional, and I would usually leave that option turned off because I found it slightly bothersome. At some point in the updates to iOS, Apple, in its infinite wisdom, decided to remove the ability to disable the second reminder. I find that rather annoying because when I’m driving and the phone is in my pocket, I can’t tell if a second chime is a new message or just the same old one popping back up.

Contrast that behavior with the Reminders app. In Reminders, there is no option whatsoever for a second notification. None! You can’t get a second notification even if you wanted one. I find that to be ridiculous to say the least. Apple is so hell bent on making sure I don’t miss a text message that I can no longer disable second notices on them. But in Reminders, an app whose sole purpose is to remind me about things, I can’t choose to receive multiple notices. That single issue makes me not want to use Reminders at all.

When you go into the system settings and look at the available options for the Reminders app, you’ll notice that there basically are none. The only setting I see is being able to change the default list that future reminders will be added to. That is all. Below that is an empty screen.

I put Reminders on my home screen so that if I do miss an alert about a reminder, I’ll at least notice a red badge on the icon. The problem is that it doesn’t always work. I have missed reminders and later unlocked my phone to find no badge icon at all. Granted, it doesn’t fail every time. It usually works, but I have seen it not work a couple of times, and I have read complaints on online forums from other users registering the same complaint. This degree of unreliability is unacceptable.

Let me give you two examples of how I’ve used Reminders in different situations.

In one instance, I checked out a book from my local library. While I was leaving the library, I set my phone to remind me weeks later on the morning that it was due. I set it to remind me early so that I’d make sure to bring the book with me when I left the house in the morning. In that instance, I didn’t require multiple notifications. At some point during that day I’d notice the reminder and have time to return the book.

In another instance, I was at a party. I set Reminders to remind me to send an important text message to a friend at a specific time during the night. I made sure that my phone was not on vibrate and that Reminders was using the loudest possible sound effect in my library. An hour after I was supposed to send the text message, I happened to pull my phone from my pocket to see a message from the friend I was supposed to have written. I’d completely missed the reminder. I couldn’t hear the notification because it was too noisy at the party, and I somehow didn’t feel my phone vibrate in my pocket either. The popup alert was also obscured by the more recent text message I’d received. This also happened to be an instance where a badge icon did not show a missed notification. The only way I knew I’d missed it (besides my friend writing me) was pulling down the Notification Center and seeing an entry for Reminders that I was supposed to have written them. It was that night that I knew that Reminders wasn’t up to snuff. In hindsight, I suppose I could have gone to the extreme length of setting an alarm in the Clock app, but I never dreamed that such a drastic measure would have been necessary.

Reminders does have a few cool features such as location-based reminders, although I’ve never used that and do not intend to. There is an option to set the priority level of individual reminders, but I can’t tell that the priority level does anything but change the appearance of the reminder in the app itself. I hope that in iOS 7 the Reminders app gets some needed new features and customizations. In its current state, it generally works, but I don’t find it to be entirely useful.

I’m currently experimenting with a third party app called Alarmed. It has a lot more features than Reminders, and allows for endless nagging at intervals as often as every minute! Alarmed lets you set quick reminders or “super reminders,” and has a large library of alert sounds to choose from. I find that it works well and it has positive reviews in the App Store. I’ll continue to use both apps, depending on my individual circumstances, and cross my fingers that Reminders gets an update in iOS 7 later this year that makes it useful for all of my needs.

My Old iPhone 3GS is Crapping Out

My 3-year old 3GS may be beginning to crap out on me. I recently loaded it to capacity with music and podcasts, and have began using it regularly again strictly as an iPod.

My new phone has plenty of capacity for music, but I don’t like wearing down the battery by playing music. Most importantly, I tend to abandon it with the earbuds plugged in, so I end up missing calls and notifications since the earbuds aren’t in my ears and I can’t hear it. So I’d come to use my old 3GS as an iPod, even though it looks rather battered after having taken many falls over the years.

Lately it has been flaky. It will drain to a low battery (but not yet in the red “20% or less” zone) and it will suddenly die completely, and asked to be plugged in, without any battery warning at all. When it dies like that and I plug it into the wall, it now takes 15 minutes or more before it is able to boot and function again. And even when fully charged it goes through periods of rapid, unexpected battery decrease. I suppose after all these years, the battery is finally giving out. I’ll keep using for my tunes as long as it keeps working, but its days may be numbered.