Tag Archives: Apple

Boost Your Phone’s Data Connection or Signal Strength

By Tracey Dowdy

If you have you ever been in an area where your device shows plenty of signal strength, but you can’t get pages to load, messages won’t send, photos don’t download, you know how frustrating it can be. There are any number of reasons your phone seems “stuck” – sometimes it’s the carrier, sometimes it’s the phone itself.

Of course, everyone’s go-to hack is to turn on Airplane mode for a few seconds, then turn it back off, but times when that’s not enough, there are other options.

To quote our favorite IT guy Roy, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” Remember, your phone is a handheld computer, so restarting it works for all the same reasons restarting your laptop can resolve issues. You can get similar results by taking the SIM card out and putting it back in place while the phone is turned on. Use the tool that came with the phone, or if that’s nowhere handy, use an unfolded paper clip. Heads up, iPhone XS, XS Max, XR or Pixel 3 users, your SIM card is embedded in the hardware, so this isn’t an option for you.

If you’re still having trouble, either Apple or Android’s support pages may be your next stop. Both allow you to type in the issue you’re having and will direct you to a list of possible solutions, or prompt you to engage with a support team member either through Live Chat or phone call.

Apple’s support page for iPhone does highlight two features that may save you the trouble of waiting for Live Chat or a phone call. Carriers regularly update their settings, and it’s essential that you keep up with them, just as it is with updates to your phone’s software as it optimizes your connectivity. To see if you’re due for an update, open Settings > General > About on your phone. If there’s an update to be installed, you’ll be prompted to download it.

As something of a last resort, you can refresh your network settings.  I say as a last resort because refreshing also means you’ll have to reset all your saved Wi-Fi passwords, VPN connections and any custom APN settings for users on carriers that require additional setup. If you have those passwords saved and are okay with the other set-up steps, go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. Once you confirm your selection, the phone will restart. Don’t forget to reconnect your phone to your home and work Wi-Fi networks.

Finally, as a last last resort, you can contact your wireless carrier. Sometimes signal issues can be traced to a cell tower being down in your area, the fiber optic cable may have been damaged in a storm or by construction crews, or perhaps there’s not adequate coverage in your area. If this is the case, you may need a network extender that will boost the signal and act as a mini cellphone tower.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Change Your Default Privacy Settings

By Tracey Dowdy 

In a recent article, Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler asked, “It’s the middle of the night. Do you know who your iPhone is talking to?”

In the story, Fowler outlines a problem most iPhone users aren’t even aware of, that being the volume of data-mining that occurs while you – and your phone – are asleep. “On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.

And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address -— once every five minutes,” Fowler says.

Data mining is nothing new, but it’s becoming an increasingly bigger problem. Though Apple stated in a recent ad, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,” Fowler’s investigation proves that’s far from the truth. Another problem is that some of it is our fault. Charles Arthur points out that 95% of us don’t change any of the default settings on our devices, and how many of us take the time to read updates on Privacy Policies? It’s the Rule of Defaults. We’re just too lazy to try and Scooby-Doo the mystery.

Fowler published an excellent article last June that maps out how to start setting boundaries on all the information we willing hemorrhage into the ether via everything from our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches to our smart home devices like Alexa, and our Nest doorbell.

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the trouble to dive into the deep end and change those default settings, consider this, by default:

Fowler calls his suggestions “small acts of resistance,” but if The Handmaid’s Tale has taught us anything, those small acts of resistance are critically important. Blessed be.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tips and Tricks for New iPad Users

By Tracey Dowdy

The iPad has been around for several years and like most devices, each generation adds new features and shortcuts.

Whether you’ve just purchased your iPad or you haven’t explored much, these hacks can help you make the most of your new tablet.

  • Play a video within a separate app. To watch a video or FaceTime while you browse another app, press the Home button. The video will shrink and drop to the lower right corner of your screen. Tap the Home button again to return to full-screen. Note: this functionality is app specific, not universal. (iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro only)
  • Zoom in and out. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom and make sure the slider is set to On to enable you to zoom in on specific areas of your screen.
  • Use Split View to run two apps simultaneously. Simply swipe in from the right side of the screen and one app will launch in Slide Over view. Tap the white handle that appears in the second app to expand it into a split-screen. (iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro only)
  • Customize accessibility features for users with visual or auditory impairment. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut to enable specific features immediately accessible by triple-pressing the Home button. Select Voice Over, Invert Colors, Grayscale, Zoom, Switch Control, or Assistive Touch.
  • Open a sidebar without leaving an app. This is one feature Android and Windows devices have offered for awhile and Apple is finally catching up. While one app is open, you can simply swipe right to the edge of your screen and a list of compatible apps will appear. Tap the one you want and it will appear alongside the app currently open. (iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro only)
  • Turn on Find My iPad. Go to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPad and toggle the slider to On. You also have the option to send location information to Apple if the battery is getting low. To find your iPad, log in to iCloud or open the Find My iPhone app on your phone. Remember, it uses your phone’s location services so it will let you know if the iPad is at your house, but sadly not where in the house.
  • Choose what appears in your dock. Siri is intuitive and learns the apps you use most, but you can go one step further and customize the six apps that appear in your dock. Hold down an app just as you would if you were deleting or moving your apps around and drag them to the bottom of the screen.
  • Use your iPad as a second monitor. (Available with some third-party apps) After installing third-party apps like Duet Display or Air Display, you have the option to connect your iPad to your computer and enable it to act as a second display.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apple Introduces the iPhone SE

By Tracey Dowdy

In a world where bigger is better, Apple has once again flown in the face of convention and taken a step back with the iPhone SE.

Debuting at $399 for 16GB and $499 for 64GB, it’s the lowest price yet for an iPhone at launch, and though it looks like an iPhone 5s with its 4 inch screen, it’s really a scaled-down version of the iPhone 6 and 6s.

The SE includes familiar features like:

Apple’s A9 processor, described as “capable of gaming console-class graphics performance that makes games and other apps much richer and more immersive.”

  • A 12mp camera that offers the same high quality features as the 6s like 4K video, capability for low light selfies, Retina Flash, and optical image stabilization.
  • Apple Pay for secure purchases in stores and in apps.
  • Live Photos that turns your photos into a 3-second clip, capturing before and after the moment.
  • Version 9.3 of Apple’s iOS software with features like Night Shift and improved News and CarPlay.
  • An always-listening Siri means your virtual assistant is ready to serve you as soon as you say “Hey Siri!”
  • An aluminum body.
  • Available in Silver, Gold, or Rose Gold.
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Battery life of 13 hours of video playback.

Sure it doesn’t have some the features of the 6s like 3D touch, but that’s a feature most of us can live without. When it comes down to it, for most people the biggest difference is going to be the size. The A9 processor means you’re getting top-of-the-line Apple software, just in a smaller package. From a design standpoint, it’s more reminiscent of the iPhone 5 than the 6 or 6s, but it’s still a sleek, lightweight and beautifully designed phone.

The launch of the SE comes just months after the launch of the iPhone 6s and months ahead of the anticipated iPhone 7 this September. The more recent iPhones may offer larger displays but they come with a correspondingly larger price. For those accustomed to the 4-inch display, the opportunity to upgrade to a faster, more feature-packed phone with the same size screen at a significantly lower cost than the iPhone 6 (4.7-inch) and 6 Plus (5.5-inch) is a big draw. Plus, that $399 price tag makes it a full $250 cheaper than the iPhone 6s. That’s a lot of saving for not much screen loss.

So who’s going to buy the iPhone SE it? With so many of us using our phones to watch videos, who is going to opt for a smaller screen? When you consider that according to data from MixPanel, 35 percent of iPhone users are still using a 4-inch device, Apple is betting on quite a few.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

What to Expect from iOS 9.3

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple released the beta version of iOS 9.3 to developers in early January and those with access are starting to roll out their reviews. These are some of the features that are generating the most buzz as we wait for a final version of 9.3 to be released in the coming weeks.

As a chronic insomniac and someone who uses my phone or iPad later in the evening than I should, Night Shift has definite appeal. Going beyond “night mode” (white text on a black background vs. black text on a white background), Night Shift changes the colors on your display to “to the warmer end of the spectrum,” thus reducing the amount of blue light that tricks your mind into thinking it’s still daytime. Night Shift will kick in at sunset and turn off at sunrise based on your location. It’s likely to be an optional feature as there are obviously times you need to be awake and alert after dark.

Notes isn’t new but going forward it will be password or fingerprint protected, giving your memos an added layer of security. Apps like Evernote and Day One have offered this feature for awhile so it’s nice to see Apple catch up.

I have never been a fan of the News feature. Consequently, it’s in a folder labeled “Stuff I Never Use” on my phone only because it’s native and I can’t delete it. Apparently I’m not alone in my opinion. Apple has responded by redesigning News with features like inline video that allows you to watch without exiting your feed, landscape capabilities through the iPhone version, and more intuitive content in For You.

Likewise, HealthKit, another feature that hasn’t taken off the way Apple hoped it would, has been revised. Originally designed as a framework for all the third-party health related apps we use, iOS 9.3 will recommend HealthKit apps to install related to Weight, Workouts and Sleep. It will also include a section for Reproductive Health, something that was noticeably missing from previous versions. If you use an Apple Watch, it will also integrate the move, exercise, and stand data that’s collected.

CarPlay users will now see New and For You in the Apple Music app, and Maps now supports Nearby so you can easily locate gas stations, restaurants and parking.

The education features may be the most significant of all the updates and changes. Schools that use iPads in their classrooms will get an Apple School Manager portal to allow teachers, administrators and support staff to “easily reset passwords, audit accounts, create IDs in bulk, and create customized roles for everyone in the district.”

Teachers will now be able to see what their students are looking at on their individual iPads, as well as the ability to lock apps via Remote Control to help students stay on task during a lesson. Students can look forward to a new shared iPad feature that allows access to their unique content and lets them pick up right where they left off.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How To Avoid In-App Purchases on Apple Devices

By Tracey Dowdy

Back in 2013, Paula Marner thought her credit card had been compromised when $3,000 in unexpected charges suddenly appeared on her account. Her 7 year old twins had been playing Clash of Clans and while the game was free, unbeknownst to Marner, the game required in-app purchases. Her boys were frequently prompted to make purchases ranging in price from 99 cents all the way up to $99, so that’s what they did. “That kept coming up consistently and they kept tapping it, because it’s just tap purchase, tap purchase, tap purchase,” said Marner. Before she knew it, the boys had racked up significant charges.

Since then, the FTC has made changes so that it’s harder for children to buy apps and in-app purchases without the consent of parents. In fact, last year Apple Inc. consented to FTC demands and paid $32.5 million in restitution to affected customers.

Whether your kids don’t understand that they’re dealing with actual currency or whether they don’t understand the real world consequences, there are safeguards you can put in place to make sure there are no surprises when next month’s statement arrives.

Restrict their access: Go to: Settings>General> Restrictions. Under Allow, choose Off for in-app purchases. Remember: Restrictions requires a password to lock the settings. It’s not the same as the passcode to unlock your phone and don’t be tempted to use the same password. Above all, don’t tell your kids the password so they can’t bypass your restrictions.

Eliminate the 15 Minute Window: Newer versions of iTunes give users the choice of requiring a password every time there’s a purchase or allowing a 15 minute window after the password has been entered for an in-app purchase before requiring it again. Do yourself a favor, disable the grace period and require it immediately.

Free vs. Paid apps:  There are a lot of great free apps available but sometimes it’s worth going for the paid version. Free apps often require in-app purchases to access certain features and it’s often cheaper in the long run to go for the paid version.

Don’t Add a Credit Card: I learned this trick back when my kids were still using my iTunes account. Instead of using a credit card for purchases, I used gift cards. There’s no risk of going over your spending limit: once your card is out of money, it’s over. Parents also have the option of setting up an allowance for their kids: Go to Send iTunes Gifts> Learn More About Gifting> Set Up an Allowance.

Set Clear Boundaries: It’s not enough to set restrictions in your phone’s settings. Have a conversation with your kids about whether or not you’ll pay for in-app purchases. Let them know there’s a limit to what you’ll spend or tell them it’s part of a monthly allowance.

If charges appear and you’re not sure if they’re from in-app purchases, it’s easy to figure out.

  • In the iTunes store, click on your username.
  • Click Account info – login if prompted
  • Under Purchase History, click See All
  • If the charge is from your most recent order it will be at the top of the screen. If it’s not there, click on Previous Purchases and click the arrow next to the date of the order you want to review.
  • In the Type column, look for In-App Purchase.

If it turns out your child has made an unintentional or unauthorized in-app purchase, you can contact Apple support to request a refund.

Use this link for details on setting restrictions and Parental Controls on your Apple device.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Use Master Accounts to Simplify Your Digital Life

By Robyn Wright

It used to be that we could use one computer for everything. Then we added laptops. Next came smartphones, and then tablets too. All of these devices can simplify our lives, but if we can’t share information between them, it can actually make things more difficult. Using master accounts to connect our devices makes accessing and sharing our information, documents, photos, and data that much simpler.

The major players for these master accounts are Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Not so long ago these master accounts were only for use on compatible devices but now many of them can be used across different platforms. I find Google and Microsoft to be the most cross-platform friendly.

As you connect and share data on your master account, you run the risk of losing some privacy along the way. Finding a balance between simplifying your life and protecting your privacy is key. This is why I also advocate using strong passwords and changing them frequently.

Google Accounts

A Google account is probably the most popular and flexible master account, as it can be used for so many things. If you are a Gmail user, then a Google master account clearly makes the most sense. Android devices use a Google account as the primary account for keeping everything in sync. If you use Chrome as your browser, then signing in with your Google account lets you share all your bookmarks across all of your devices. Google Docs, Google Drive (cloud storage), YouTube, Blogger, Google Photos, Google+, and the Play Store are just a few of the services that you can control via a single Google account.

Microsoft Accounts

This is the one I use the most, because I access Office 365 and OneDrive multiple times every day. Your Microsoft account also gives you access to Skype, Xbox Music, Xbox Games, Outlook email, and more. All your contacts will be synced across all your devices, and you can see all your Microsoft related purchases and services in one place. If you use a Windows based device, you will automatically be logged into your profile. Similar to Chrome, you can also see bookmarks in Internet Explorer across all of your devices.

Apple ID

If you are a Mac or an iPhone user, you almost certainly have an Apple ID already. This lets you manage and purchase music, apps, and mobile content via iTunes. You can also access your iCloud account, order photos, and book One to One personal training at Apple stores.

I suggest that everyone has a Google and Microsoft account, as there are so many connected services. The Apple ID is really only needed if you are using Apple-specific services and products.

Be sure to check your account page regularly – at least once a month – to see if there are any new options or services, to update your password, and to view activity to make sure your account is stable. Having one or all of these accounts will greatly simplify using multiple devices and make sure your data is available where and when you want it.

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!

Getting Along with Siri

How to make Apple’s personal assistant your friend

By Tracey Dowdy

I have a complicated love/hate relationship with Siri. On one hand, she’s a lifesaver as I am blind as a bat without my reading glasses, so texting or emailing without them ends up being an intriguing game of deciphering autocorrect and “I wonder what that’s supposed to mean” for the recipient. On the other hand, sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth when she consistently or repeatedly misunderstands what I’m saying. It can be frustrating and, to be clear, it’s not you Siri, it’s me!

However, there are ways to improve your relationship with Siri that don’t involve couples therapy or walking away altogether. The key is to keep it simple. With a little patience and a little practice, you can get to know one another better and wonder how you ever lived without her!

Personalize your contacts

Siri had a rough time finding my daughter Ceilidh. (Go figure!) It’s pronounced Kaylee, but Siri was saying it as Kaleed. To correct Siri’s pronunciation, simply say, “That’s not how you pronounce Ceilidh.” Siri will ask you to pronounce it again for her. She’ll display 3 possible pronunciations and you can pick the correct one from this list. She’ll then pronounce the name and will pronounce it correctly going forward. Another option is to go into your Contacts>Edit>Add Field>Phonetic First Name. If a family member goes by a nickname, you have the option to add the nickname as well – Contacts>Edit>Add Field>Nickname.

Manage your calendar

Adding an appointment is as easy as saying “Siri, schedule a meeting with Paul tomorrow at 11 am.” If the individual is in your contact list, he will receive an email invitation. If you say “Schedule a meeting” but don’t include details such as a date or time, Siri will ask for clarification. If you make a mistake or need to make a change, it’s as easy as saying “Cancel my appointment with Paul tomorrow.” To review your day, you can ask Siri “What appointments do I have tomorrow?”

Hands-free texting

Use “Text” and “Tell” to have Siri send a message for you via SMS. Give simple commands like “Text Roy to meet me at Thai Orchid for dinner” or “Tell Ceilidh to pick up milk on the way home.” If you get a text while driving, you can have Siri read it aloud and respond without ever taking your eyes off the road.

Location-based instructions

One feature I recently became aware of is Location-Aware Reminders. Working via your phone’s GPS, Siri can send reminders as long as there is an address tied to the message. For example, if you need to pick up bagels on the way home, make sure the address for the deli is in your contacts. Tell Siri “Remind me to pick up bagels at Locke Street” and when you’re out running errands, a reminder will pop up. You will need to ensure Location Services is enabled – Settings > Privacy Location Services.

Check your voice mail

My husband insists on leaving voice mails, a source of never-ending frustration for me and our children. Just send a text! This isn’t 1987! Sorry – hit a nerve there. Discovering that Siri can retrieve and playback my voicemail may or may not have saved my marriage. Say, “Siri, play my voicemail” and she’ll put your phone on speaker and read it aloud to you.

Apple has a convenient user guide that will help you get started and walk you through how to use Siri. It includes a section on Frequently Asked Questions and list of apps that Siri works with worldwide.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. 

Apple Unveils OS X Yosemite

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple has done it again – showed me something I have to have that I didn’t know existed an hour ago!

At last week’s World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple didn’t introduce any new devices but they did unveil Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. Coming this fall, there’s a host of new features that will make you wish summer was over already. Well, maybe not that excited, but it will help ease the transition!

First up is a group of features they refer to as “Continuity.” Apple devices within Bluetooth range will be able to communicate seamlessly with one another. You can start writing an email on your iPad, switch to your iPhone and follow the prompt to pick up exactly where you left off.

With Yosemite, you’ll have caller ID and the ability to respond to a call on your iPhone by answering on your Mac as long as both devices are using the same Wi-Fi network. Similar to Google Voice, Yosemite will allow you to use your Mac as a speaker phone and dial directly from any web page.

Apple is finally going head to head with Dropbox and Google Drive in the cloud storage game. Instead of simply using the cloud for storage, you’ll be able to organize and tag your files, which for someone like me, who color codes and tags every email and has folders within my folders, is a dream come true. I’m getting a little emotional just thinking about it.

For those looking for 5GB of storage or less, iCloud will be free. If you need more storage, prices are reasonable – 20GB is $0.99 a month and 200GB will be $3.99 a month. There is talk of a 1TB plan, but those prices have not been revealed.

The Hotspot feature on the iPhone is getting a boost as well. Instead of having to go through your settings to enable it, Hotspot will automatically show up in your Mac’s Wi-Fi menu. Click on it for a secure (no password required) connection. If you aren’t using Hotspot, it automatically shuts off to prevent running down the battery.

One of the most anticipated features is Markup which will allow you to draw directly on attached PDF’s that need to be edited or proofed. If you’ve ever received a PDF attachment that needs a signature or an image of a document that needs to be edited, you know what a magical feature this will be.

Seriously, why has this taken so long? The gods of the internet have heard my cries and my muttered curses and have created this just for me. You won’t need to open the image in another app – just make the changes, hit Reply, and the new and improved image is sent back to the sender. It’s a beautiful thing my friends.

Personally, I’m excited about the new features. There are many that appeal to the average Mac user like me, but plenty to dazzle the real Mac nerds as well. Remember, OS X Yosemite is free and will be compatible with Mac products that are currently running OS X Mavericks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some folders to organize.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.