No question, the iPad and iPhone are amazing devices. But the iOS operating system isn't perfect. For example: How come AT&T rebills customers every month for cellular data service without asking? Do you really have to buy a AirPrint-compatible printer to print via your iPad? Can you get a refund from Apple on an iTunes purchase?
Apple gadgets have their pain points. The good news is that where there's a will, there's a workaround. With that in mind, we look at five iOS solutions to five confounding iOS headaches.
Come to Grips With Game Center
I know people love to share their gaming achievements, challenge their friends, and use the iOS Game Center on the iPad and iPhone to do other fun stuff -- but I don't. I hate Game Center's constant pop-ups that interrupt my pig-smashing sessions just to ask me to sign in.
Here's what I did to quash Game Center alerts for Angry Birds. Open the Settings application (the silver cog) and tap Notifications. Scroll down until you see the Angry Birds icon. Tap it, and then on the next screen tap the on/off slider next to Alerts. Your mobile device will now be Game Center-free for Angry Birds.
It's not an elegant solution, as you have to go through the same steps for every Game Center-enabled app on your device. And because the workaround turns off all alerts for your game, you'll also lose any non-Game Center alerts. But it's worth it afterward if you truly wish to escape the Game Center grip.
Tip: Create a folder on your iPhone or iPad dedicated to hiding the apps you can't delete. My annoying app folder holds Stocks, Compass, YouTube, and Game Center.
Print Docs From Your iPad
Want to print from your iPad without shelling out more hard-earned money for an AirPrint-compatible printer? You can print for free from your iOS device with a Gmail Account, a PC or Mac computer (Linux is coming soon), Google's Chrome browser, a printer (wired or wireless), and a little bit of patience.
Open a tab in Chrome, type chrome://settings/advanced in the address bar, and press Enter. Scroll down to the bottom and click the Sign into Google Cloud Print button. You must authorize Cloud Print by entering your Google Account credentials in a pop-up window. After you've signed in, return to your iPad and send your Gmail account a document that you want to print. Then open up Gmail in mobile Safari and tap the message containing the attached document. Next to the attachment you should see a link that says 'Print'. Tap that link to open a Cloud Print window, and select your printer.
Tap Options on the Cloud Print page for access to options such as printing multiple copies, selecting color or grayscale, choosing duplex printing, and collating copies (if your printer supports it). Since Cloud Print sends print jobs via the Internet, you can print documents even when you're nowhere near the printer.
The computer you use to authorize Cloud Print acts as a local server for your print jobs, so in order for Cloud Print to work, your computer has to be running and connected to the printer through via a peripheral cable or Wi-Fi. The good news is that Google will save print jobs for you and send them to the printer when your computer comes back online. In my tests, Cloud Print worked like a charm and printed documents very quickly; however, my colleague Melissa Riofrio found that Cloud Print can be problematic. For one thing, Cloud Print does not work with newer Microsoft office file formats such as .docx.
Note: If you plan to use Google's multifactor authentication security feature, you must sign in to Cloud Print in Chrome with a one-time Application-specific password. To create an app-specific password, visit your Google Account page and click Authorizing applications & site under 'Personal Settings'.
Related: "Google Cloud Print: A Hands-On Tour"
Expand Your iPad's Storage Capabilities
Do you regret being a cheapskate and buying a 16GB iPad 3G instead of the 64GB model? There are several methods you can use to expand your storage beyond the measly allotment you got from Apple.
The most expensive option is to purchase a $200 battery-powered external hard drive from Seagate, the GoFlex Satellite Mobile. This device is designed specifically for streaming content via Wi-Fi directly to the iPad and other mobile devices. To view files stored on the external hard drive, you can download a free companion app called GoFlex Media from Apple's App Store. The GoFlex Satellite Mobile drive will be available in July from Best Buy and other retailers for about $500.
You can get more storage for your music by using Amazon's Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. The service offers users 5GB of free storage and will upgrade from that amount to 20GB if you buy one album from Amazon at least once every year. You can store your purchases on Cloud Drive from the Amazon MP3 store, and you can also upload your personal music collection to it so that you can stream it from anywhere. Unfortunately, adding storage beyond your 20GB allotment can get expensive: It's $1 per gigabyte per year.
A popular option for storing documents is Dropbox, which is integrated into many other third-party iOS apps such as Elements, GoodReader, and Documents To Go. But Dropbox recently revealed that it can peek at your documents when instructed to do so under a court order. For alternatives that offer better encryption standards, check out backup and cloud storage solutions such as SpiderOak (2GB of free storage) and Carbonite (a minimum fee of $59 per year for unlimited storage).
Avoid AT&T's Automatic Renewal of Billing
The great thing about the 3G iPad is that you can get contract-free mobile broadband service from AT&T. That's a great advantage if you want 3G service only in July while you're taking your summer vacation. The problem is that AT&T will automatically continue to bill your account for 3G service in August and every month thereafter until you cancel the service.
There are several ways to prevent A&T from automatically renewing your 3G account and charging you each month. The first is to cancel your AT&T data plan. To do this, you can visit an AT&T retail store, call 1-800-331-0500, or open your AT&T account settings on your iPad and then cancel your account.
To stop automatic billing using your iPad's account settings for AT&T, go to Settings, Cellular Data, View Account. Log on to your account, and select Add or Change Plan and then Cancel Plan. Then either cancel your plan and delete all your credit card information or select Cancel Account and Delete Account Later to stop the AT&T automatic renewal. If you don't subsequently reactivate your account within 60 days, your account data will be deleted.
Get iTunes Refunds (Sometimes)
I recently downloaded Lady Gaga's latest album -- but instead of buying the standard version, I mistakenly bought the deluxe album. So I decided to try to return it or get a refund. And while I was at it, I attempted to dump an iPhone app that I'd mistakenly thought was a universal iPhone-iPad app.
Apple says that all iTunes sales are final. But after some searching online, I discovered that Apple might make exceptions. So I gave it a try and requested a refund. About 48 hours after filing my request, I received a message from Apple telling me that my purchases had been reversed. Apple's customer service was fantastic. The representative even went so far as to provide me with his upcoming work schedule. That way I could follow up with him personally if I had any questions or concerns.
Refunds from Apple are by no means guaranteed, but if you have a valid reason for seeking your money back and want to give it a try, here's how to proceed. Find your e-mail receipt from iTunes, and click the Report a problem link underneath your specific purchase. This will launch your account page in iTunes, where you can select your unsatisfactory purchase. On the next page, choose your problem category from a drop-down menu, and fill out the comments section to explain your situation. To maximize your chances of getting a refund, write a simple, brief, and polite refund request.
If you don't have your receipt, visit Apple's online customer support page and click iTunes Store Account and Billing, Billing Inquiries, Email Us. This will give you a Web form similar to the one in iTunes.