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Eight Apple Features You Probably Never Use

Not every Apple creation is sweet. Here are some software features that missed the mark -- or are too subtle to ever find and use.

Quin Paek for Re/code

The Apple name is synonymous with success, from hardware home runs like the iPhone to software programs like iTunes.

But what about those Apple software features that aren’t so successful, either because they’re too subtle to discover or were just big misses? This week, I rounded up eight examples of these to make sure you remember that Apple is … human.

1. Tap to Talk, iOS

I’ll admit it: I really thought that this new feature in iOS 8 would change the way people send messages back and forth, since Tap to Talk melds text messaging with voicemail. To use it, you open your Messages app to compose a message, lift your phone to your ear to hear a soft chime — or tap and hold an on-screen microphone icon — then speak your message.

Your voice doesn’t get translated into text, like speech-to-text technology; rather, Tap to Talk records your actual voice in an audio file that plays back for the recipient. It only works for people using iMessage, which means they have an iPhone.

I couldn’t wait to use this feature with friends and family, instantly listening to their voices again after years of lifeless text messages. But the chime that plays in your ear is so faint that the lift-and-talk trick often fails for me — especially on noisy city streets. The microphone icon isn’t obvious enough to prompt people to use it regularly, assuming people even know the feature exists.

I would guess that most people don’t know that Tap to Talk also works for photos, by holding down a camera icon in Messages to immediately take and send a still or video selfie.

2. Launchpad, Mac OS

Sorry, Mac die-hards, but I’m hard-pressed to find anyone who ever uses Launchpad. If you’re asking yourself what Launchpad is, you’ve proved my point. It’s Apple’s way of displaying your apps in one central view, and it looks a lot like a phone’s home screen.

Quin Paek for Re/code

The problem is, Macs don’t have touchscreens, so Launchpad feels unnatural. And on bigger desktop or laptop screens where we can keep a lot of windows open at once, we easily select them with our cursor to jump from one to the next. Launchpad has been around since 2011, but it’s still not replacing the Dock anytime soon.

3. Reachability, iOS

Here’s another feature that I imagined lots of people would be using after its release with iOS 8 on Apple’s larger-screen phones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Reachability is designed to give your thumb a break from stretching to reach app icons. It works when you tap two times, rather than press, on the iPhone’s Home button.

If people have found Reachability, it’s likely by accident, and they don’t know what they did to use it — or how to use it again. Everyone else just got familiar with their phones’ bigger screens, using one hand to hold the phone and the other to tap on the screen or, yes, even stretching that thumb a little farther than usual.

4. Notifications, Mac OS

In another attempt to make the computer more like the phone, Apple added Notifications in a right-side pop-out panel. These are like the notifications that show up on your iPhone when you swipe down from the top of the screen.

But next to no one uses them.

Quin Paek for Re/code

Notifications often include things like notices about incoming emails, weather updates, calendar information and Facebook notifications. But on the computer, you use email programs or tabs in your browser to know about this kind of thing, making Mac notifications pretty useless.

If you happen to be someone who uses these and you’re tired of seeing certain Notification alerts on your Mac desktop or laptop, open Settings, click on Notifications and choose “None” from the message alert styles for the specific notification that’s bugging you.

5. Passbook, iOS

Mention Passbook, Apple’s digital wallet for iOS, and you’ll find that people either love it or never use it. Storing virtual things like coupons, movie tickets and boarding passes in the app can be a real convenience, but it’s clunky to set up.

If you haven’t bothered to set it up, you might rightfully wonder how and why other people use Passbook. Since several apps don’t need to use Passbook — including airlines with their own digital boarding passes — it isn’t missed.

If you do use Passbook a lot, you’ll find it filled with old documents — the digital equivalent of a wallet stuffed with receipts. Apple needs a better way to organize this, by either sorting your old stuff into one neat folder, or by giving you the option to automatically delete things you’ve used.

6. AirDrop, iOS and Mac OS

AirDrop serves as an alternative way to send large files to people without using more traditional methods like email or a USB thumb drive. It’s built into iOS and the Mac OS, though it’s not as obvious as it should be.

To turn on AirDrop, you swipe up from the bottom of your phone and choose AirDrop from the menu that appears. After you choose who you want to be able to share with using AirDrop (Contacts or Everyone), the next time you hit the Share button on anything you’ll see nearby people or computers that have AirDrop on.

But since AirDrop isn’t on by default, and it uses battery-sucking Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on iOS, a lot of people never turn it on. And a lot of us are comfortable or stubbornly unchanging in the tried-and-true methods we’ve always used for sharing files, like email, text message or iMessage.

7. Gestures, Mac OS

Fun as these may be, gestures on the Mac trackpad aren’t used by a lot of people.

I’m a big fan of Mission Control, which lets me see all of my opened apps with a single three-finger swipe up. I also like to open apps to their full-screen view by clicking the green button in the top left of an app, then I move between these apps with three-finger trackpad swipes to the right or left.

But I rarely see anyone else using gestures like these. Most people simply don’t know they exist, or come across them by accident and don’t know how to use them again.

Quin Paek for Re/code

To get a better handle on what your trackpad can do, open Settings, then select Trackpad. There you can see demonstrations of each gesture and what it does. Even the unused Launchpad has its own gesture: An inward pinch with your three fingers and thumb.

8. Saving Drafts in Mail, iOS

Unless you know a trick, Apple Mail seems to make it near impossible to take a break in the middle of composing one email to go back and look at your inbox. But you can save as you go.

The obvious way to do this is to close an email and opt to save it as a draft, but a lot of people don’t know where to quickly find drafts after doing this. If you tap and hold on the Compose button in Mail, you’ll see a list of your email drafts.

The less obvious way to save an email draft is to tap its header at the top of the screen and drag the email down to the bottom of the screen, revealing your inbox below. When you’re ready to look at your draft again, it will still be displayed at the bottom of the screen with its subject line. Tap on this to keep composing your email.

Reading about these features may have clued you in on something you didn’t know existed before. Or you may have simply learned how to turn off something that bothered you. Either way, it’s worth remembering that some of the fancy features that Apple crows about may actually have little impact on your day-to-day life.

Share your thoughts with me on which Apple software features you find most useless or useful by emailing

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