How to use the redesigned iPhone Magnifier in iOS 14

A handy digital magnifying glass to replace reading glasses has been buried in the iPhone for many years. With iOS 14, it becomes a lot easier to find. And there are some fantastic new features.

Here’s how to use the Magnifier on iPhone. And iPad, too.

Magnifier can really save you when eating out

This is a handy tool for anyone of a certain age. Your mind is better than ever, but your eyes aren‘t as sharp as they used to be. You find yourself squinting to try to read tiny print in dimly-lit restaurants.

Magnifier is here to help. It uses the camera in your mobile device to make it easier to see itty-bitty print. Of course, you can do this with reading glasses instead… if you remembered to bring some with you. Think of Apple’s option is an emergency backup.

Admittedly, it’s a bit cumbersome. You aren‘t going to read a whole book this way unless you are exceptionally desperate. But it’s a lifesaver when trying to read the description of cuisses de grenouilles in a candle-lit bistro.

Don’t confuse this with Apple’s Zoom feature, which enlarges sections of the iPhone/iPad screen for easier reading. Magnifier is for reading text in the real world.

Much easier to find

In iOS 14, Magnifier is an app, like Mail or Safari. It sits on the Home screen where you’re not likely to overlook it.

This feature used to only be available through the Accessibility section of the Settings. That’s a logical place, but it’s deeply buried in menus where people aren‘t likely to idly run across it.

That said, long-time users of this feature might be happy to learn that you can still set it up as an Accessibility Shortcut, the same way it’s been since iOS 10. If you prefer this option to simply opening Magnifier from the Home screen, go to Settings > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Magnifier. Then triple-click the side button on your iPhone or iPad to start magnifying. Apple has a video explainer for this process.

Magnifier is way more than a digital magnifying glass

The iPhone Magnifier does the basic job quite well. Open it, point your handset’s camera at what you want to read, and you’re in business.

If you still can’t make out the tiny text written in dark grey on a light grey menu, there’s a slider to further enlarge what you’re looking at. In exceptionally dimly lit restaurants, turn on the iPhone’s flashlight.

Those are the basics. But there are some extras for people who need them. You can adjust the contrast, which makes it easier to see text printed in a color too close to the the background color. You can increase the brightness of the image, which sometimes helps in dim lighting.

If these don’t do the job, you can pull out the big guns. Filters can invert the colors, so black-on-white text is white-on-black. Or you can switch to inverted greyscale, so white-on-red text is black-on-white text. There are other color combinations, all designed to help people see better.

And Magnifier isn’t quite done yet. You can temporarily capture images of what’s on the screen to make it easier to read. And starting with iOS 14, this app can hold multiple images. This is handy if you’re trying to decide between the pâté de foie gras and the hamburger. These images don’t get stored in the Photos app — they’re temporary.

The iPhone Magnifier app can be a real life saver.
Don’t struggle to see tiny text without reading glasses. Just pull out the Magnifier app.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Bonus feature: Telescope

A magnifying glass has a range of about a foot. It’s not a telescope. But the iPhone’s Magnifier really is a telescope. You can use it to enlarge distant objects so you can more easily see them.

It’s probably not going to replace your binoculars, though. This feature is doing digital zoom, not optical zoom. That’s a fancy way of say that all your iPhone can do is make the pixels bigger. Sometimes that makes distant objects easier to see. But not always.

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