Five top tips for new iPhone users

If it turned out that the big lump at the bottom of your stocking wasn’t in fact coal, but rather a happy, shiny new iPhone 3G, then, like most new iPhone owners, the thing’s probably rarely left your clutching grasp. But though you may be surfing the web, checking your e-mail, even looking up directions on Maps, there are a few features that you might have missed in your initial excitement. Let us help you fill in the gaps with these top tips.

Pick a letter, any letter: The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard takes some getting used to, but it’s also incredibly versatile, supporting more than 20 different languages. Sometimes you don’t need a whole different alphabet, though—maybe you just need to be able to spell François or M...tley Crue. No worries, the iPhone’s got you covered: to insert one of those special characters, just hold down the base letter for a couple seconds (for example, to get ..., hold down the ‘o’ key) and you’ll see a menu of special characters pop up. Slide your finger to the right one, let go, and presto, you’re all set. Bonus tip: this technique also works with the “.com” key that you see when typing in a web address in Safari—hold it down and you’ll get options for .org, .net, and .edu too.

There’s no place like home: The Home button is one of the iPhone’s few physical buttons; it’s also your best friend, because it’s always there for you. Clicking it will quickly jump you back to the home screen, whether you’re in an app or paging through your sixth screen of iPhone applications. If you visit Settings -> General -> Home Button, you can choose to have a double-click of the button bring up the Favorites screen of your Contacts, or pop up a dialog box with iPod controls. And if you’re trapped in a frozen or hung application, you can often escape by holding down the Home button for around six seconds.

Take a picture, it’ll last longer: Maybe there’s some information on your iPhone you want to be able to retrieve later, like flight information, or perhaps you want to share that data with somebody else. Some programs, like Safari, let you email information to others, but many don’t. There is a workaround, though: take a screenshot. If you push the iPhone’s Home button and Sleep/Wake button simultaneously, the screen will flash to white and a screenshot of whatever you’re looking at will appear in your iPhone’s Photos app. From there you can attach the image to an e-mail message or just save it for future reference.

Shake it up, baby: You’re going to spend a lot of time on the iPhone’s home screen, so just like your actual home, you’ll probably want to arrange it to your liking. By tapping and holding any application icon on the home screen, all the icons will jiggle like they've caught a bad case of dance fever. In this mode, you can drag-and-drop icons wherever you like; if you drag them to the edge of the screen, you’ll shift to the adjacent page. You can even drag icons in and out of the iPhone’s dock, if you want to have quick access to an application no matter what home screen you’re on. While the icons are shaking, you can also remove any third-party apps (those that don’t come with the iPhone) by tapping the little ‘x’ that appears in the top left corner. When you’ve got everything set up just the way you want it, tap the Home button to lock it in.

The tip that keeps on tipping: That third-party application you downloaded would be great if only it just let you change that one little setting that's driving you nuts, but you can't find a preferences option anywhere in the program. That's because Apple's developer documentation asks programmers, rather unintuitively, to put their applications' settings in the iPhone's Settings app. Not all developers do Apple's bidding, but it's a good idea to check the Settings app before complaining to the program's creator that something's totally impossible.