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Don’t Trust an App Fully? Hide Your Precise Location from It

Most of the time, having your iPhone know precisely where you are is good. You want Maps to tell you exactly when to turn, not after you’ve passed an intersection. But too many apps abuse their users’ privacy. We strongly encourage you to stop using such apps entirely, but we acknowledge that it can be hard to give up apps that seem necessary for modern life. Barring that, you could prevent such apps from seeing your location at all, but even that isn’t always feasible. Since iOS 14, Apple has provided another compromise—you can prevent an app from seeing your precise location while still giving it your approximate whereabouts. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, scroll down and tap the app in question, and disable Precise Location.

(Featured image by iStock.com/Melpomenem)

Use Your iPhone to Identify Plants, Wildlife, and Birds with Seek and Merlin

Now and then, we run across iPhone apps that feel magical, and we want to share two of them: Seek and Merlin. They both use machine learning to help you identify something from the natural world using your iPhone. If you’re at all curious about the plants, wildlife, and birds you encounter outside, you’ll want to download these free apps.

Seek from iNaturalist

You’re out for a walk and see a particularly pretty flower or a tree with an unusual leaf shape. In the past, you’d probably wonder what it was and move on, or if you were really motivated to identify it, you might take a photo and consult a master gardener or arborist.

Instead, download the Seek app, created by the team behind iNaturalist, a social network that encourages members to share their photographs of living things to document organisms in time and space. iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, and it maintains a massive database of identified images of plants and wildlife.

To start using Seek, which doesn’t require an account, tap the green camera button on any screen. Then point the camera at something you want to identify and watch as the ID meter at the top of the screen works its way through the taxonomic ranks: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Once Seek fills all seven dots—indicating that it knows the species—you can tap the camera button again to take a photo and add the organism to your observations. Seek then presents a page with additional information about the organism.

Beyond plants, Seek can identify amphibians, fungi, fish, reptiles, arachnids, birds, insects, mollusks, and mammals. It can be more difficult to get a spider or rodent to hold still while you point the camera at it, but you can also take a regular photo and have Seek identify it instead—just tap Photos at the bottom of the camera screen to select a photo from your library. If Seek recognizes the organism, it lets you add it to your observations, but it often has more trouble getting to the species level with a photo.

If you’re a parent, Seek’s challenges and badges might make the app especially fun to use with your child. A new challenge appears each month and asks you to identify a set of species near your location. You can also try past challenges, though you’ll have the most luck with ones from a similar season.

Merlin from Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology

Although Seek can identify birds using its camera, if you’re intrigued to learn more about birds in particular, check out the Merlin app, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It can identify over 8500 species of birds using images or 685 species by listening to bird songs. Since birds can be difficult to see, much less photograph, Merlin’s capability to identify birds by listening to songs around you is hugely helpful.

To get started with Merlin, tap the Sound ID button on the main screen and then tap the microphone button. The app starts recording, and as it identifies bird songs nearby, it adds them to a list. It’s likely that you’ll hear multiple birds, and as Merlin continues to hear their songs, it highlights the species singing. After you tap the red stop button, Merlin saves your recording. You can then compare Merlin’s recordings with the one you made, and if they match, tap a button to add the bird to your list.

Merlin is also happy to identify a bird from a photo, which you can take from within the app or pull out of your Photos library. (Tip: When viewing your library from within Merlin, search for “bird” to find just the photos you might want to identify.) After you use a two-finger pinch-out gesture to zoom the photo to fit in the box, tap the Next button and confirm the photo’s location and date to see details about the bird. Again, if it’s right, tap the This Is My Bird button to add it to your list.

Just as Seek connects to iNaturalist for additional online capabilities, Merlin can connect to an online eBird account where you can manage your sightings and more. There’s also an eBird app that makes sightings public, provides rankings, and incorporates sightings into cutting-edge research projects.

Whether you’re a parent looking for something to do with your child outdoors, an environmentalist with an abiding interest in the natural world, or just someone who would like to identify a pretty flower or unusual visitor to your birdfeeder, Seek and Merlin are well worth downloading. Both are easy to use and require no upfront commitment, but be warned that you may find them surprisingly addictive!

(Featured image by iStock.com/mbolina)


Social Media: Ever wondered what that pretty flower was that you saw on your walk or felt curious about an unusual visitor to your birdfeeder? With the free Seek and Merlin iPhone apps, you can identify plants, wildlife, and birds—learn how at:

Wi-Fi Calling and Wi-Fi Assist: What Are They and How Are They Different?

Two similar-sounding iOS features generate quite a bit of confusion. Wi-Fi Calling and Wi-Fi Assist both aim to improve your connectivity by using the best network available, but they achieve that goal in diametrically opposed ways. Wi-Fi Calling leverages your Wi-Fi connectivity to replace weak or nonexistent cellular coverage, whereas Wi-Fi Assist uses your cellular data connection when the Wi-Fi connection is poor. Here’s what you need to know.

Wi-Fi Calling

Of the two technologies, Wi-Fi Calling is more commonly used and more helpful. It enables you to make or receive a phone call if you have a Wi-Fi connection in an area with little or no cellular coverage. That’s a huge win—cellular coverage in cities often doesn’t work below ground and can be blocked by thick walls in old buildings too. And in rural areas, weak coverage is a common problem. Your wireless carrier must support Wi-Fi Calling for it to work, but most do—check the full list for your carrier.

To enable Wi-Fi Calling, go to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling, and enable the Wi-Fi Calling On This Phone switch. You’ll likely need to enter or confirm your address for emergency services. Normally when you call emergency services, your iPhone provides the dispatcher with your location based on cell tower triangulation; using Wi-Fi prevents that, so the system falls back to your address. For this reason, the iPhone tries to use the cellular network for emergency calls whenever possible. When Wi-Fi Calling is active, you’ll see “Wi-Fi” after the carrier name in the status bar.

The other utility of Wi-Fi Calling is that it lets you take and make phone calls on iPads and Macs that lack cellular capabilities, even when your iPhone isn’t nearby. It’s a little more complicated to enable, requiring the following settings:

  • In Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling, turn on Add Wi-Fi Calling For Other Devices.
  • In Settings > Phone > Calls on Other Devices, turn on Allow Calls on Other Devices.
  • Still on that screen, turn on each device you want to use with Wi-Fi Calling. (Each device must be signed in to the same Apple ID.)
  • On your iPad or iPod touch, go to Settings > FaceTime and turn on Calls from iPhone. On your Mac, open the FaceTime app, choose FaceTime > Preferences, then enable Calls from iPhone and click Upgrade to Wi-Fi Calling. You’ll need to approve the action or enter a code on the iPhone to confirm.

Once you have everything set up, calls should come through to all the devices you’ve added, and you can start new calls from the FaceTime app by entering a contact or phone number and using the phone button. The only downside? Multiple nearby devices can announce incoming calls, which may be annoying.

Wi-Fi Assist

Wi-Fi Assist solves a less common problem than Wi-Fi Calling, but it’s such a useful fix that Apple turns it on by default. In short, when you have a poor Wi-Fi connection to the Internet, Wi-Fi Assist automatically switches your connection to cellular. So, if a Web page doesn’t load or a search in Maps isn’t getting results, Wi-Fi Assist kicks in to ensure the task completes over your cellular connection.

The only downside to Wi-Fi Assist is that you could end up using more cellular data than you expect. That’s likely a problem only if your plan provides extremely limited cellular data or charges significant amounts for additional usage, as might be the case with a pre-paid SIM while traveling. To ensure that doesn’t happen, go to Settings > Cellular, scroll all the way to the bottom, and turn Wi-Fi Assist off. (That screen also tells you how much cellular data Wi-Fi Assist has used; even when it’s on, it’s unlikely to consume much.)

There are a few caveats:

  • Wi-Fi Assist won’t automatically switch to cellular if you’re data roaming (using a carrier other than your main one for cellular data).
  • Wi-Fi Assist works only with foreground apps, not those that download in the background.
  • Wi-Fi Assist doesn’t work with some apps that stream audio or video, or that download significant amounts of data.

In short, Wi-Fi Calling and Wi-Fi Assist are helpful features that attempt to enable your iPhone to work normally for phone calls and Internet-related tasks by switching between Wi-Fi and cellular as necessary to ensure solid connectivity.

Of course, if you have neither cellular coverage nor Wi-Fi connectivity, you’re just stuck and will have to amuse yourself offline for a while!

(Featured image by iStock.com/ipopba)


Social Media: Wi-Fi Calling and Wi-Fi Assist. They sound similar and share a goal of providing connectivity when you need it. But they go about doing that in opposite ways—learn more here:

How to Restore Missing SMS Two-Factor Authentication Codes

Many websites, from Adobe to Zendesk, let you receive two-factor authentication codes via SMS text messages. That’s good—any form of two-factor authentication is better than none—but you’re often effectively locked out of your accounts if those text messages don’t arrive. A simple fix is to call your cellular carrier and ask to have any blocks removed from your account. Automated scam and fraud prevention systems may have installed those blocks—it wasn’t necessarily related to anything you did—and the carrier can remove them easily.

(Featured image by iStock.com/tsingha25)