Block Telemarketing Calls Automatically on Your iPhone


Junk calls are one of the great annoyances of the modern world. You’re minding your own business when your iPhone vibrates in your pocket. You pull it out, curious as to who’s calling, but don’t recognize the number. You may notice that it’s in the same exchange as your phone number, suggesting that it’s a neighbor. But no. When you answer, it’s “Heather,” a pre-recorded voice wanting to sign you up for a resort vacation, give your business a loan, or help with your credit card debt. Angered by the intrusion, you tap the red hangup button, wishing you had an old-style telephone receiver to slam down.

There’s no way to retaliate against these scum-sucking bottom feeders, and the best option is to hang up immediately. For quite a few versions of iOS, you’ve been able to block a caller manually—just tap the i button next to the call in the Recents screen in the Phone app, scroll to the bottom, and tap Block This Caller. But that’s seldom worth doing since telemarketers often spoof the numbers they call from, so it’s unlikely you’d get a second call from the same number.

Instead, we recommend taking advantage of a feature Apple introduced in iOS 10 that enables apps to block calls for you. Quite a few of these apps have appeared, with some of the best reviewed being HiyaMr. NumberRoboKiller, and Truecaller. Hiya and Mr. Number are both free and from the same company—Mr. Number is a stripped-down version of Hiya—whereas RoboKiller and Truecaller require an in-app purchase for a monthly membership.

In general, these apps work by receiving caller ID information from iOS and comparing it against both your local contacts (to identify good calls) and a constantly updated database of numbers used by telemarketers (bad calls). Calls from your contacts ring through normally, as do calls from phone numbers not in either of those sets. That’s key, since your doctor might call back from a secondary number, or your kid’s new teacher might call to talk about an upcoming snack day. But if you receive a call from a number known to be used by a telemarketer, the app can either identify it on the incoming call screen or block it automatically, sending it to voicemail.

To enable one of these apps, after you download it from the App Store, go to Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification and enable its switch. You’ll probably also have to do some setup in the app itself, providing your phone number, perhaps creating an account, and determining what should happen with different calls (Mr. Number is shown below, right).


With Hiya and Mr. Number, you can copy a number from the Phone app’s Recents screen (tap the i button for a call, and then press the number to access a Copy button) and then look it up to learn more and see comments other users have made. And if you get a telemarketing call from a number that the app doesn’t recognize, you can submit it to protect others.


RoboKiller claims that it wastes the telemarketers’ time by playing pre-recorded “Answer Bots” conversations to keep them on the line, preventing them from calling more people.

Details vary by app, but the only real downside to using one of these apps is that it may ask for information about you or your contacts to improve its services. If that feels intrusive, investigate one of the apps that requires a membership, like RoboKiller, to see if it better answers your concerns.

In the end, it comes down to how many telemarketing calls you receive each day, week, or month. If you’re lucky and get only one or two per month, it’s probably not worth messing with a call blocking app—maybe just send unidentified (and unexpected) calls to voicemail. But if you’re interrupted by multiple junk calls per day or week, give one of these apps a try and let it reduce the onslaught.

10 Things You Need to Know about Apple’s New HomePod Speaker


After months of anticipation, Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker finally shipped in mid-February. Reviews of its audio quality have been positive, and for the most part, it works both as advertised and as you’d expect. However, there were some surprises, most good but some bad. Whether you have a HomePod on your credenza (which may be a bad spot for it!) or you’re still deciding if you want to buy one, here are ten things you should know:

1. Furniture rings. Let’s get this one out of the way. The HomePod can leave rings on oil-finished wood furniture because the silicone base can react with certain wooden surfaces. That has to be embarrassing for a company that prides itself on materials expertise like Apple. The solution is easy—just put something under it.

2. Single user. Anyone in the room can give Siri commands, but when it comes to account-based connections, the HomePod is a single-user device. So if you set it up, which is astonishingly easy, it will connect to your Apple Music account, your iMessage account, your iCloud account for Reminders, and so on. That’s fine for you, but your family members won’t be able to access their Apple Music playlists, for instance.

3. Speakerphone. The HomePod may be the best speakerphone you’ve ever used. Alas, you can’t initiate a call on it, but once you start one on your iPhone, you can transfer the call by tapping the new Audio button that replaced the Speaker button in iOS 11.2.5 and selecting the HomePod.


4. Apple Music. The HomePod can act as an AirPlay speaker, and can thus play audio from your other Apple devices. But when you control it via Siri, the music must come from Apple Music, your iTunes Store purchases, or be matched in your iCloud Music Library. To send Mac audio from apps other than iTunes to the HomePod, get Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil.

5. Audio power. It may be small, but the HomePod has plenty of power. At 6 feet, we measured the sound output at 100% volume at 80 decibels, which is louder than is comfortable.

6. Volume control. Speaking of volume, you control it by percentages, as in “Hey Siri, set the volume to 15 percent.” You can also tap the + and – buttons on the top of the HomePod to adjust the volume in 5% increments.

7. Electrical usage. The HomePod may be turned on all the time—it has no power switch—but it uses very little electricity. In our testing, it used 2.5 to 3 watts when it was idle but has been used recently, and 4 to 7 watts when playing. Leave it alone in a quiet room for a while, and its power usage drops to 0 watts with just an occasional 1.5-watt spike.

8. Good listener. The HomePod hears your commands remarkably well, even when it’s playing music at a high volume. You shouldn’t have to shout at it.

9. Hey Siri. If you’re within earshot of a HomePod and want to give Siri a command on your iPhone or Apple Watch, don’t say “Hey Siri” right away. Instead, to use your iPhone, unlock it first. Or, to use your Apple Watch, raise your wrist. Apple has an explanation of how Hey Siri works with multiple devices.

10. Apple TV. You can play audio from your Apple TV through your HomePod. On the main screen of the Apple TV, press and hold the Play/Pause button on the Siri Remote, and then select the HomePod before playing a show. Or, while playing video, swipe down on the Siri Remote, swipe right to select Audio, and then select your HomePod in the Speaker list.

 Once you’ve transferred audio to the HomePod, you can use Hey Siri commands to pause and play the Apple TV content, change volume, and even rewind and fast-forward by a certain amount of time (“Hey Siri, rewind 10 seconds”). However, other things that Siri on the Apple TV can do, like tell you who stars in a movie, work only when you press and hold the Siri button on the Siri Remote.

Once you’ve transferred audio to the HomePod, you can use Hey Siri commands to pause and play the Apple TV content, change volume, and even rewind and fast-forward by a certain amount of time (“Hey Siri, rewind 10 seconds”). However, other things that Siri on the Apple TV can do, like tell you who stars in a movie, work only when you press and hold the Siri button on the Siri Remote.

Much as the HomePod works well right now, it stands to improve in the coming year. Apple plans to release software updates that will enable two HomePods in the same room to provide true stereo sound, and that will let you control multiple HomePods simultaneously for multi-room audio.

iCloud Photo Library Users: Do NOT Turn Off iCloud


File this warning under “unless it’s absolutely necessary.” If you use iCloud Photo Library on your Mac, don’t sign out from iCloud. Also, don’t deselect the iCloud Photo Library checkbox in either the Photos options of the iCloud pane of System Preferences or in the iCloud preferences in Photos itself. Why not? Because, when you re-enable iCloud or iCloud Photo Library, Photos will re-upload all your photos, which could take days. (It’s not really re-uploading all of them, but even just resyncing will take a long time.) Worse, if you don’t have enough space in iCloud for your entire Photos library again, you’ll have to upgrade to a larger plan temporarily, resync, and then downgrade to your previous plan. Apple will refund you the cost of the upgrade, but you’ll have to work with support to get reimbursed. Read more at TidBITS.