11 iPhone tips for total novices

Welcome, newbies! If you're finding the iPhone learning curve a little steeper than you expected, these handy tips should help with the basics.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
5 min read

My very own mom just joined the ranks of iPhone owners. (Welcome to the party, Mom!) Much as I was excited to show her all the cool stuff (FaceTime! Apps! Visual voice mail!), I quickly realized she needed to walk before she could run.

In other words, she needed a course in Basic iPhone Operation. After all, she was accustomed to a simple flip phone with a physical keypad. Going from that to an iPhone is like trading a car for a 747: confusing, intimidating, and no doubt a little scary.

With that in mind, I put together this list of 11 tips for iPhone newcomers. If they seem overly obvious to you, well, you're not the target audience. But I'll bet you know someone who is, so feel free to share this with the iPhone newbies in your life. Trust me: they'll thank you!

The Home button.
The Home button. Screenshot by Rick Broida

1. When in doubt, go Home.
Want to go back to the main screen, the one with all the icons? That's called the Home screen. It doesn't matter which app you're using or task you're performing--a single press of the Home button (the only physical button on the front of the iPhone) will return you to the Home screen.

2. Always turn your iPhone off before you slip it into your pocket.
Although your iPhone will switch itself into idle mode (where the screen turns off but the phone stays on) after a designated period of inactivity, you should get in the habit of manually turning off the screen. Otherwise you might accidentally place a call or run a battery-draining app while slipping the phone into your pocket. So remember: when you're done using your iPhone, press the top button (aka, the Sleep/Wake button).

3. Send calls straight to voice mail.
Don't want to answer the incoming call, but don't want your iPhone to keep ringing and/or vibrating until it finally goes to voice mail? Just quickly double-press the Sleep/Wake button to immediately route the call to voice mail.

4. Double-tap the space bar at the end of a sentence.
Speaking of double-presses, if you quickly tap the space bar twice at the end of a sentence, the iPhone will insert a period and a space, then enable the Shift key for the start of your next sentence.

Tap the Keypad button while on a call to access a numeric keypad.
Tap the Keypad button while on a call to access a numeric keypad. Screenshot by Rick Broida

5. Access the keypad while you're on a call.
Need to "press 1 to leave a message" or enter a security code while on a call? The iPhone has no keypad, so how are you supposed to do that? Simple: just take the phone away from your ear, then tap the Keypad icon that appears in between the Mute and Speaker icons (which can also come in handy when you're on a call). Now use the onscreen keys to enter the necessary numbers. When you're done, just hold the phone back up to your head.

6. Don't forget to sync.
Your iPhone is not an island; it needs to connect with your computer, even if it's just once in a while. That means installing iTunes if you don't already have it and plugging that little white sync cable into a USB port (and then into your iPhone, natch). Although you can download apps, music, and the like directly to your device (i.e., no computer required), syncing makes a backup of everything on your handset (contacts, appointments, apps, etc.)--something you might need in the event you have to replace a lost, stolen, or broken phone. It also allows you to install operating-system updates.

7. Master autocorrect.
Even savvy users sometimes get thrown by the little word-bubbles that sometimes appear as you type. This is the iPhone's autocorrect feature: it's trying to guess which word you're trying to spell. If you want to accept the suggestion (even before you finish typing), just tap the space bar. Don't want the suggested word? Tap the little X in the bubble before you hit the space bar.

8. Fix "jittery" icons.
Did all your icons start shaking all of sudden? Don't panic! You've inadvertently put the iPhone into "rearrange icons" mode, which allows you to organize the icons to your liking by tapping and dragging them. This happens when you hold your finger down on an icon (any icon) instead of just tapping it. How do you stop the shaking? Easy: just press the Home button.

9. Learn to use Airplane Mode.
Federal law says your phone needs to be off when you're in the air. But that doesn't mean off, off; you simply have to disable its wireless capabilities. To do so, put it in Airplane Mode: tap the Settings icon, then tap the Airplane Mode on/off switch (which is conveniently located at the very top of the Settings screen). When it's set to On, your iPhone won't be able to make calls or send text messages--but it'll still work as an iPod. In other words, you can still read books, listen to music, watch movies, play games, and so on. After you land, just return to the Settings screen and set Airplane Mode back to off.

There's an iPhone User Guide hiding inside the Safari app's bookmarks.
There's an iPhone User Guide hiding inside the Safari app's bookmarks. Screenshot by Rick Broida

10. Access the built-in User Guide.
Apple sure didn't provide much in the way of an instruction manual. Fortunately, for anyone who needs help on the go, there's a user guide built into the iPhone--sort of. To access it, tap the Safari icon (which opens the Web browser). Next, tap the Bookmark icon (it looks like a little open book) at the bottom of the screen. You should see an entry for iPhone User Guide. Tap it to gain access to a full roster of subjects, everything from Getting Started to Using the App Store.

11. Turn off "Ask to Join Networks"
Everywhere you go, your iPhone keeps asking you if you want to join this network or that network. These are Wi-Fi hot spots, and if you're tired of the iPhone bugging you about them, you can turn off these notifications. To do so, tap the Settings icon, then tap Wi-Fi. On the following screen, find Ask to Join Networks and tap the On button (which will switch to Off). The only caveat here is that if you want to view and join an available network, you'll have to return to this screen and select it manually. Find out more in the aforementioned User Guide.

OK, those are my tips--now let's hear yours! After all, everyone was an iPhone novice once, so what advice would you offer to the newbie user?