How To Get Started With Your New Apple iPhone (or iPod Touch)

From the glossy front glass, silky smooth to the touch, to the gently curved back, all the way to the crystal clear colorful screen, the iPhone inspires gadget lust in typical Apple fashion.  Perhaps you're going to be one of the lucky ones receiving this wonder of technology as a gift for the holidays this year. 

One thing about the iPhone is certain; while it's a simple device to use, the sheer quantity of functions, apps, and features can be overwhelming.  As a long time iPhone owner, and someone who has fully integrated it with my personal and professional life, I'd like to guide you through some of the most important (and fun) ways to get started with using your new gadget. (Note: many if not most of these tips will also work for the iPod Touch.)

Step 1: Activate and Get Syncing Set Up

One of the first things you'll want to do is get your iPhone set up to sync to your PC or Mac.  This is essential for transferring music, videos, and photos - as well as enabling you to transfer over email account and contact information.

When the iPhone is connected to your PC, you'll see it pop up in the sidebar on the left in iTunes (yep, iTunes is required.)  You may need to activate the phone; just follow the instructions given to you by Apple or your cellphone provider. 

Afterwards, click on the phone and you'll see the sync panel pop up with all the various options you will need.  You navigate through the sync panel via the tabs at the top.

Once activated, you can flip through the syncing panels to set up the options you like.  You can choose from a variety of services, including your Mac Address Book, Google, or Yahoo Contacts.

You can also sync your calendars, notes taken with the iPhone Notes app, bookmarks with Safari, and Mail accounts.  For your first sync, you may want to choose the "replace information on iPhone" options that you will see at the bottom of the panel.


Step 2: More Music Syncing Options

One of the most common uses for the iPhone is for it to double as one of the best MP3 players out there - it's basically an iPod Touch with phone features built in.  I get a lot of questions on how to properly sync an iPod or iPhone - it can actually be quite annoying if you don't know all the little tricks.

The very first thing I would do is disable automatic syncing.  I find this to be terribly annoying; you may think otherwise, but that's my recommendation.  I would also tick the "sync only checked songs and videos."  Most of us have more than 16-32GB of music and videos these days; as such, you'll probably have to organize what you want transferred anyway.  If you don't have a lot of media, then there's no harm in just automatically syncing it all, though.

Once you head to the Music tab, you'll first see the options above.  You can select individual playlists or artists to sync, or just sync your whole library.  Remember - if you selected the "only sync checked songs" ONLY the songs that you've checked in your library will be synced.  Items are all checked by default, and must be unchecked in order to be omitted from the sync.

You can also sync by genre.  Photo and video syncing works in an almost identical fashion to music syncing, so we don't really need to cover it separately.  Now that you know how it works, just select what you want and go!

Step 3: Setting Up Email

Setting up email is another thing that can often be kind of a pain, but the iPhone does everything it can to make it easy for you.  If you have Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, MobileMe, Google, or AOL - the setup is basically automatic.  Just choose the option, enter your info, and you're good to go.  You can do this via the Settings icon => Mail, Contacts, Calendars => Add New Account.

However, what if your email isn't on one of the services listed above?  Now what do you do?  The very first thing you'll want to do is find out what settings your email provider uses.  First, is it IMAP or POP?  (IMAP is preferred, as that setup allows you to keep folders in sync easily - but some providers only have POP.)  Then, discover your login, password, and any additional information such as whether your email service uses SSL (which is a form of encryption) or any special ports.  You may not actually need this info, as iPhone attempts to configure automatically, but it's good to have just in case.

Also, to manage your battery life, another setting you can modify is whether the email will "push" or "fetch" emails from the server.  "Push" is hardest on your battery life, while "fetch" once per hour or manually is the least power-intensive.


Step 4: Some Handy Configuration Options

As you can probably see, the iPhone has TONS of options for you to discover and configure, and I wanted to touch on some of the most important ones here.  The two settings we're discussing are found via Settings => General.

First, I would highly recommend that you set an auto-lock time with a passcode lock.  This might seem annoying at first, but it is a good measure to keep your phone secure.  Next, as shown in the photo to the right, you can change how your Home button functions; more specifically, what happens when you double click it.  This sounds insignificant, but makes the phone much more useful and convenient.  I like to leave mine on "iPod," so I can switch tracks while in the car or at home without having to look at the device or unlock it.  You may prefer to have it quickly bring up the camera or your phone favorites; the choice is yours!

Next up are some options for Safari, the web browser built into the iPhone, and text message behavior.  The Safari option screen is quite useful and straightforward.  You don't necessarily need todo anything here now, just be aware that you can clear the history, cookies, and cache.  Second, take a look at the "Messages" screen.  The iPhone does a few things when it receives a text.  It will either vibrate, make a sound, or both (depending on what you choose in the "Sounds" area.  That menu is pretty simple and doesn't require a tutorial.)  It can also display a preview of the text as a pop-up message that can be viewed without unlocking the phone.  I like this, mainly because I can see messages at a glance, and I'm not really doing any top-secret communication via SMS.  You can also instruct the phone to repeat text alerts, which I also like (since I don't always hear it on the first ring) but could be annoying to some.

Step 5: Maximize Your Battery Life

Another common question I get is "how do I get better battery life on my iPhone?"  The problem is that the phone sucks power like a thirsty traveler in the middle of the desert.  Not to worry, though, there are several steps you can take to help out your battery life.

  • Minimize your use of vibrating ring features
  • Turn off Notifications
  • Lower your screen brightness
  • Change email settings to "Fetch" instead of "Push"
  • Limit gaming time
  • Use Wi-Fi over 3G when possible
  • Use EDGE instead of 3G when power is low
  • Lock the phone when not in use, as this turns off the screen


Step 6: Bring On The Apps!

You already downloaded an app, didn't you?  Couldn't keep your finger off the App Store button, right??  I don't blame you at all, those pesky email settings can get boring... and apps are what really make the iPhone unique.  In case you were reading intently and were not tempted, you can get to the App Store via the phone directly (the blue button) or on iTunes on your computer.

The App Store is easy to use, and yes, it's easy to buy.  Once you get an Apple ID set up (which you may already have done if you bought the phone from the Apple Store) you can buy with a simple tap.  I review apps frequently in my blog; you can visit there for some of my favorites.  However, I would like to make some recommendations for how to use the store and how to choose apps to download.

  1. Do a bit of research before you download.  When you find an app that looks cool, Google it.  See if you can find a review.  I wouldn't listen to the vast majority of the juvenile-sounding reviews on the App Store itself, look for a real write-up.
  2. See if there's a demo or free version of the app.  This will allow you to test the app to see if you like it first.  Most developers will provide a free version for you to cut your teeth on.  A lot of fully featured apps are free, too.
  3. Don't be afraid to spend a few dollars more for apps that are worth it.  If you find an app you really like and will use every day, pay the extra two bucks.  It's way less than a Happy Meal and will show its value time and time again.  A great example is Tweetie 2.  Yep, it's $2.99, but it's awesome and absolutely blows away any of the free Twitter clients I have used.  Supporting independent developers by buying their apps is what keeps the great stuff coming; remember, they work hard for that three bucks, and probably deserve more.
  4. Be careful with downloading games.  It's addictive.  Before you decide to buy that totally sweet looking game, ask yourself how much time you have (or are willing to devote) to actually playing it.  I've downloaded and paid for about a dozen games that I never play.  Yeah, it was only a total cost of maybe $20, but it can get out of hand!
  5. Watch for sales.  iPhone apps go on sale frequently, especially around holidays.  Apps that are normally $4.99 will often be sold for $1.99 or even $.99 from time to time!

Step 7: Organize Your Dashboard

In the newest version of iTunes, Apple added an awesome "app organization" feature.  It's pretty self explanatory, but is very important.  Head over to the Sync screen in iTunes and select the "Applications" tab.  You will see the screen above.  The panel to the left allows you to pick and choose with applications will be synced to your iPhone; you might find that these will change often.  The middle panel allows you to drag and organize your apps, with the right panel allowing you to edit each dashboard separately.  You will find a structure that works for you; for example, I organize my apps by type (i.e., news, games, music, etc.)  Remember you can drag and drop individual app icons from dashboard to dashboard, too, making it super easy.  You can do it from the phone, but it's far more cumbersome and takes forever!


The iPhone is a powerful beast, with tons of great features crammed into a friendly, easy-to-use device.  Honestly, I've only scratched the surface here in terms of what the iPhone can do - there are a number of things that you will discover as you use the phone.  Please feel free to comment here or in the TechLore forums if you have questions about your new iPhone!

Here are some more things you can experiment with:

  • Capturing and sharing photos online with MobileMe or third party apps
  • Mastering Safari's features, including saving and syncing bookmarks, RSS, and more
  • Storing and sharing files on your iPhone with third party apps
  • Becoming proficient with the touch screen keyboard
  • Downloading ringtones from the App Store, or making your own
  • Making the iPhone your mobile newspaper and feed reader
  • and more!

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