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How to organise your iPhone and make the most of iOS 7

If you were one of the millions of people to upgrade an iPhone from iOS 6 to iOS 7 recently, since then you've probably spent a little more time than normal exploring your phone. Given that your nose is already buried in the screen, it's a perfect opportunity to make a few other improvements to your phone while you're there. You can spruce up your iPhone by making a couple of small changes to preserve the battery, reclaim some space, and make a few other general improvements.

If you haven't had a chance to really get into iOS 7 yet, I recommend checking out these before and after images so you can see exactly what's new with your own eyes.

And if you're unsure whether your device is compatible with the new operating system, see our complete list of devices that will run iOS 7. Then, if you want detailed instructions on how to download iOS 7, you’ll find them here.

Reclaim space

Checking space: When iOS 7 launched, a handful of people told me they couldn't upgrade their phone's operating system due to space constraints. Rather than delete apps and videos off your phone at random to free up space, you can check what's eating up the most space by going to Settings > General > Usage. Give it a moment to load, and you'll see which apps take up the most space in order, with the biggest offenders at the top. On my phone, Podcasts currently eat up 1GB, and I know I could make easy gains by deleting several episodes of a show that I'm behind on.

Podcasts: You can manually delete the podcast episodes that you don't want to keep, but you might also want to change the settings for better maintenance going forward (in Settings > Podcasts). I like to turn off the auto-download feature, for example, and set Episodes to Keep to All so that I can manually delete each show after I've listened to it. That setting helps me account for errors, such as when I accidentally turn an episode on by hitting the headphones pause/play button when I'm not actually listening and the app plays through an entire episode. It happens at least once a month.

Photos: Many people find Photos at or near the top of the space-eating list, so here's a tip on how to very quickly transfer images off your handset. You could just connect your phone to your computer and transfer them that way, which works well if you're sitting in front of your computer with a few minutes to spare. An alternative method that's just as simple and quick, but that you can do at any time, is to leverage a file-syncing service that has a photo-upload feature. Dropbox and SugarSync are two such services that we recommend.

This is the method I used to remove several hundred photos from my phone. I went into the Dropbox app and turned on Camera Upload while connected to Wi-Fi. All my photos automatically uploaded to a new folder that Dropbox created for me (simply called Camera Uploads). I did have to manually delete images from the Photos app afterwards, but that took approximately two minutes. If you transfer photos using the USB cable and your computer, you can select the option from your upload program of choice to delete the images from the iPhone.

Preserve the battery

Background App Refresh: A few settings in OS 7 will help you preserve your iPhone's battery. One of the most important is called Background App Refresh (Settings > General > Background App Refresh).

This function lets you see all the apps that are set to refresh in the background. Having that setting on is largely how you get push notifications when your phone is locked. Many apps will be turned on by default, but you don't necessarily want them to be. Turning off some of these apps and stopping them refresh will improve your iPhone's battery life.

Toggling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi: Take a moment to explore the new Control Centre if you haven't already. In terms of helping you preserve the iPhone's battery life, it's essential because it gives you quick access to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on/off buttons.

I really wish Location Services had been included here, too, but such is life. Anyway, be careful not to inadvertently hit the Do Not Disturb button when toggling these other buttons to save the battery. If you accidentally turn on Do Not Disturb, you'll see a waning crescent moon icon at the top right of your phone.

Preserve the physical buttons

Sometimes the physical buttons – power and home – on older iPhones get sticky and become unresponsive. One of my favourite features, although it isn’t new to iOS 7, is Assistive Touch, which lets you stop using those two buttons most of the time. Assistive Touch does a lot of other things, too, but I primarily use it to return to the home screen, lock the phone, and take screenshots, all without ever touching a physical button.

When you turn on Assistive Touch, you'll see a little floating dot about the size of your fingerprint on the screen. You can drag it around at any time. Tapping it opens up a touchscreen menu of buttons that includes home, Siri, lock screen, mute and unmute, screenshot, shake, multitasking, and more. Now you can touch the screen instead of the buttons to get to all those functions.

You can find it by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Assistive Touch.

Turn on auto updates (maybe)

New to iOS 7 is the ability to let your apps update automatically, instead of seeing a new badge notification several times a day. When you first start iOS 7, the operating system will ask if you want to enable this feature. If you said no initially and have now changed your mind, go to Settings > General > iTunes and App Store. You'll see a section for Automatic Downloads – turn on the Updates button here. The other options for Music and Apps download apps and music that you buy on other devices to this iPhone.

I'm not sure how I feel about auto updates just yet. Because I write about software for a living, I generally update my apps the moment they can be updated – even when I know an update might be problematic (I want to analyse the problems thoroughly). But if you're more cautious, you might want to keep auto-updates off so that you're not pushed into upgrading an app until you're sure the new version doesn't have any serious bugs.

No matter how you enable your settings, I do recommend keeping the option for Use Cellular Data off in this section. I don't see much sense in updating apps unless you have Wi-Fi enabled because it's so much faster.

iOS 7: Best and worst

I personally think there's a lot to love about iOS 7, once you get used to the look and feel of the operating system. There are some wonderful security features and enhancements that you should definitely learn, in addition to several overlooked features that I think are worth exploring as well.

Apple still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly in terms of how iOS 7 lets you block calls, texts, and FaceTime requests (you can't block from within the Contacts app, for example, and blocked callers can still leave you voicemail). I also think there's a lot to be done in terms of Photo management features. But overall, it's a big step up from iOS 6. While you’re here, you might want to check out our 6 handy tips for Apple’s iOS 7 as well.