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iOS 14: 9 hidden iPhone features we discovered after installing

We've dug through Apple's latest mobile operating systems and discovered a handful of hidden features. We show you where to find them and how to use them.

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- 06:49
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iOS 14 is full of hidden gems; you just have to know where to look. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Apple's new iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 update for your iPhone ($699 at Amazon) and iPad ($239 at Back Market) add a bunch of new features we're excited about, like widgets on the home screen, an app drawer of sorts and privacy improvements. You can install iOS 14 and iPad 14 right now, after prepping your phone or tablet, of course. (And once you're set up, make your home screen "aesthetic" like everyone else is doing.) If you're preordering the iPhone 12, iOS 14 will come installed, and these features will be available right away on your new phone.

These welcome enhancements will surely enrich your experience, but my favorite tricks in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 are the ones you have to work to find. For instance, you can now fully ditch Apple Mail and Safari with a new default apps setting.

Below, I'll walk you through how to use nine of the best hidden features I've uncovered in iOS 14. This list will surely continue to grow, so check back for more gems. 

Set your default email or web browser

It's true, Apple is finally giving up some control over your default apps. Right now the feature is limited to email apps and web browsers. So, for example, you can assign Chrome to be your go-to browser or Outlook as your email app of choice. 

App developers will need to update their apps for iOS 14 in order for the new default assignment option to appear, so you may need to be patient if your favorite app isn't ready. 

To get started, open your iPhone or iPad's Settings app and then scroll down to the bottom where it lists all of your installed apps. Find the mail or browser app you're looking for and tap on it. If it's been updated for iOS 14, you'll see either Default Browser App or Default Email App; tap it and then select your preferred app. 

There's currently a bug in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 that resets your default app selection when you restart your device. Apple is aware and promises a future update will fix it. 

Right now, I know Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Outlook and Hey email have updated to include this new "default" toggle. 

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It's true, you can set some default apps on iOS 14. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Quickly get rid of app home screens

iOS 14's new App Library acts like an app drawer, allowing you to ditch countless home screens full of apps you rarely, if ever, use. Instead of going through each app one by one and sending them to the App Library, you can hide entire home screen panels with just a few taps. 

Long-press on an empty area of your home screen to trigger edit mode. Next, tap on the page indicator, then tap the check mark below each panel you want to remove. This won't delete those apps, but will instead move them solely to the App Library, where they're more or less hidden in an app drawer that you can access at any time.

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The home screen on your iPhone is now a lot more customizable. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Banish newly downloaded apps from your home screen

You just took all that time to curate your home screens, adding widgets and keeping just your most important apps, only to have all of your hard work ruined by a new app you just downloaded. Instead of letting your iPhone put apps on your home screen when you install them, send them directly to the App Library until they prove they're worthy. 

Open Settings > Home Screen and select App Library Only in the top section. You can easily find recently downloaded apps in the App Library's Recently Added category, which should be the top-right folder when you view it. 

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Can't find that emoji you need? Search for it. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Search the emoji keyboard

Finally -- yes, this one deserves a very loud "FINALLY! "-- you can search the emoji picker for exactly what you want. Launch the emoji keyboard just like you always do and now you'll find a search bar at the top of the keyboard. 

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Your hidden photo album can actually be hidden now. Cool, right? 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Hidden photos are now actually hidden

The ability to hide specific photos or videos has been in iOS and iPadOS for awhile now, but there was a big problem -- these photos you didn't want to see anymore were stored in a Hidden Album in the Photos app that was far too easy to find. With iOS 14, Apple has added the option to hide the hidden album, letting you truly cloak those photos and videos you want to keep, but don't want anyone else to see. 

Turn it on by going to Settings > Photos and making sure the Hidden Album switch is turned off. (Yes, off: Enabling the setting means the Hidden Album will show in the Albums tab.) Anything you hide in your camera roll will still be saved on your device and in your iCloud Photos library, but you won't have a way to get to it unless you go back to this setting and turn the Hidden Album feature on. 

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Picture-in-picture is one of our favorite iOS 14 features. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Watch YouTube videos in Picture in Picture mode

The iPhone now has one of my favorite iPad features: Picture in Picture (PiP) mode for watching videos or using during FaceTime calls. Here's how it works. Instead of having to stay in an app, for example if you're watching your favorite game streamer in Twitch, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to leave the app and the video will automatically shrink down to a floating window. You can move this thumbnail video around, or even hide it off the edge of the screen if you just want to listen to the audio.

The YouTube app doesn't support PiP right now, but you can get around that by starting to watch a YouTube video in Safari in full-screen mode, then swiping up to go back to your home screen. The key is you have to put the video in full-screen mode before leaving the app. If that's not working for you, try requesting the desktop version of the site before you start watching the video. 

If you'd rather not trigger PiP when you leave an app, turn off automatic activation by going to Settings > General > Picture in Picture and turn it off. After which, the only time PiP will be used is when you tap on the icon in a playing video. 

Now playing: Watch this: Try a custom home screen using iOS 14
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Fake eye contact in FaceTime

We first saw FaceTime's eye contact feature show up in the iOS 13 beta last year, but ultimately it was never released. Well, it's back in iOS 14. Essentially your iPhone or iPad will make it look as if your eyes are looking directly into the camera, even if you're staring at the screen. 

It's a subtle feature, but one that should make the person on the other end of the call feel as if you're fully paying attention instead. 

Turn it on by going to Settings > FaceTime > Eye Contact

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Tap on the back of your phone to do all kinds of fancy tricks. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Double- or triple-tap on the back of the phone to trigger actions

A new accessibility feature called Back Tap makes it possible to trigger system features, like multitasking or Control Center, or launch a Shortcut just by tapping on the back of your iPhone two or three times. 

Find the feature in Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap. Pick the number of taps you want to use, and then you'll see a list of actions you can initiate. 

For example, you can triple-tap on the back of your phone to take a screenshot or launch Siri

When I first read about this feature, I thought it would be all too easy to prompt it just by putting my iPhone in my pocket or placing it on my desk. But that hasn't been the case at all -- the phone seems good at identifying the tap pattern before it activates. 

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You can use the Apple Pencil to write in any text field. 

Scott Stein/CNET

Scribble in any text field on your iPad with Apple Pencil

The iPad has a new feature called Scribble. It basically converts any text field into a box that you can write in using an Apple Pencil, and your iPad will convert your handwriting to typed text automatically. 

If you're in the middle of jotting notes and you get a new iMessage, you can pull down the alert and use the quick-reply field to write out your response and go back to writing notes, all without ever putting down the Pencil or activating the keyboard. 

For heavy Apple Pencil users, Scribble should speed up a lot of tasks that normally would have been slowed down by having to switch between stylus and keyboard. 

There's so much more to these updated operating systems. iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 are available as free updates and don't take long to install. Just make sure to do some housekeeping on your device before installing to make sure the process goes smoothly.