Tag Archives: iOS

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.

Apps to Download Before a Family Flight

By Tracey Dowdy

There’s a great debate at my house. As far as I’m concerned, vacation starts the minute I turn on my auto-reply and walk out of my office. For my husband, vacation starts once we’re at our destination and bags are unpacked. That’s probably because he does most of the driving if it’s a road trip, or arranges the tickets if we’re flying. That naturally makes me chief baby wrangler and child entertainer, no small task depending on the length of the trip.

Flying can be especially challenging with little ones, as the anticipation of the trip coupled with long wait times at ticketing, security, the gate, and then the flight itself – all while surrounded by strangers – can be overwhelming.

These apps can keep your kids entertained or distract them when they’re getting restless, so no matter when you think vacation starts, it gets off on the right foot.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

caterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar app bundle (ages 2+) gives kids the opportunity to interact with Eric Carle’s classic – and very hungry – caterpillar. The bundle includes four apps that allow kids to create their very own hungry caterpillar, feed him, learn about colors, shapes and counting, and learn to recognize simple words, plus many other fun adventures all through non-competitive, imaginative play.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows
Price: $6.99


Tiny Airport

airportTiny Airport (ages 3-6) takes kids through three different scenes starting with their arrival by taxi and check-in through boarding and getting to fly the plane themselves. With over 100 separate animations, kids will sort bags, go through a check list and start the plane and discover what a dog is doing on the runway. Tiny Airport includes some timed activities and challenges for older kids.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99


Toca Vacation

vacationToca Vacation is part of the Toca Life series of apps designed with free and imaginative play in mind. Kids can interact with a host of characters as they decide where to vacation, where to stay and what to do when they arrive. Options are exactly what kids would enjoy in real life – jumping on the hotel bed, digging for shells and buried treasure at the beach, or enjoying an ice cream with their friends.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99


Eli Explorer

eliEli Explorer (ages 5 and under) teaches kids age appropriate words and short phrases in 10 different languages, spoken by native speakers. Kids join Eli as he travels the world, exploring caves, jungles, forests and mountaintops. Order a glass of milk at a monkey tree bar, or dive into an undersea cave and listen to a monster band. The animation is simple yet engaging and very user friendly as kids need only tap and drag to interact with the game.

Platform: iOS
Price: $1.99


Plum’s Creaturizer

creaturizerPlum’s Creaturizer (ages 4+) is based on the PBS KIDS web-original PLUM LANDING, a show dedicated to helping kids develop a love for and an appreciation of nature. The app allows kids to create their own wild creature by choosing from over 100 body parts and then take their creature outdoors and “photobomb” them into a scene. Kids can complete missions for their creature, answer questions about its life, diet and habitat, or watch a slideshow capturing “a day in the life” of their creation. All their creatures are saved in your device’s camera roll and to the in-app gallery.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, Nook
Price: Free

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.

6 Must-Have Photo Editing Apps

By Tracey Dowdy

Remember picking up your photos from the drug store and out of a roll of 24 you’d end up with maybe 12-15 decent photos worthy of being framed or put in your album? Then along came digital cameras and we said goodbye to paying for blurry heads-cropped-out eyes-closed photos.

The photo gods have smiled upon us once again, gifting us with photo editing, so those, ahem, once-in-a-lifetime snaps can be so airbrushed and filtered that we look like we’re in a spread for People Magazine.

Whether you’re new to editing or an old pro, you’re trying to get that perfect selfie for Instagram, or you want to frame your holiday memories, these apps can help you make the most of your photos.

VSCO

VSCO is a good option for those just starting out with mobile photo editing. It’s tool kit is great for adjusting the exposure, sharpness and color of your photos, and all edits are non-destructive making it a very forgiving option for beginning editors. There are online tutorials (not accessible from the app) that offer tips and support. Users can share photos to social media and options vary depending whether you’re using an iOS or Android device.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free with in-app purchases available


Facetune

Facetune is specifically designed as a portrait editor. Editing tools allow you to whiten teeth, erase wrinkles, blemishes, or dark circles, and even add hair so you too can have a hairline that moves forward with age just like Jude Law. You can even blur the background to make sure you’re the center of attention, just as you should be.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $3.99


Darkroom

Darkroom balances ease of use with more advanced editing tools, making it very user friendly. You can edit photos without importing and there’s no stress with its infinite “undo” history. Use the Curves editor to create the perfect tone for your photo by adjusting the hue, saturation, and luminance of the images. If you upgrade to the Pro-Kit you can even create, edit, and share your own filters.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free


Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom includes its own in-app camera. More than just portraits, Lightroom offers a full spectrum of editing tools and allows you to carry your favorite edits across photos. Seamlessly share your photos on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr, and even jump back to the original photo with one click.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free


PicsArt

PicsArt is a great option for those who really want to get creative. Packed with hundreds of tools, users can use their imagination for editing, creating camera shots, collages and digital drawings. PicsArt is collaborative so you can share your work with others for editing help or compete in photography, photo editing, drawing, and graphic design contests.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free


Autodesk Pixlr Mobile

Autodesk Pixlr Mobile offers an excellent array of features including stickers, borders, filters, and overlays alongside basic editing tools like exposure and sharpness. Users can create collages and caption images with a variety of fonts and share photos to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or through email. The free version includes ads.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free, upgrade to ad-free paid version for $1.99

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.

How To Extend the Battery Life of an iPhone or iPad

By Tracey Dowdy

There’s few things that strike fear in my heart more than the dreaded “10% Battery Remaining” notification popping up on my iPhone. Despite the fact I work from home most days and spent the first 30 years of my life without a cell phone, that message gives my heart a little flutter.

Every time Apple releases an iOS update they tweak usage a little, so it’s a good idea to review your settings to make sure you’re getting the most out of your battery. There are a few simple fixes you can make from your Home Screen: disabling Bluetooth and Air Drop, lowering the brightness of your display, turning off Wi-Fi or switching to Airplane mode if you’re travelling. Your phone’s antenna is constantly looking for Wi-Fi service and switching to flight mode can save significant battery power.

Here are few other tips to get the most life out of your iPhone and iPad battery charge.

Switch to Low Power Mode. When your phone reaches 20% power you automatically get a pop up giving you the option to switch to Low Power Mode. Apple says it will provide up to 3 hours of additional battery life. When it’s active you don’t have access to Hey Siri, Mail fetch, background refresh, automatic downloads and some visual effects but you can easily switch in and out of Low Power Mode if you need any of those features. You can switch to Low Power Mode even if your battery isn’t at 20% or lower if you know it will be a while before you can charge again.

Delete the Facebook app. Facebook got into some hot water last year when it was reported they had apps running in the background even when the app wasn’t in use or Background Refresh had been disabled. They reportedly fixed what they called a “glitch” but there still seems to be issues. A report in The Guardian states that deleting the app and accessing Facebook through Safari can add 15% to your battery life. To see how much power it uses, go to Settings>Battery and check the Battery Usage. The app used a whopping 38% of my battery in the past 24 hours. That’s a big number.

Review Your Notifications. Every time your phone gets a Notification it wakes your phone for 5-10 seconds. That can add up if you have Notifications enabled for a lot of your apps or even one or two apps that send frequent Notifications. Go to Settings>Notifications and then select which apps you want Notifications from.

Turn Off Location Services. Many apps use location services and while it makes sense for Maps to know where I am, it doesn’t make sense for IMDB. Go to Settings>Privacy>Location Services and toggle off for each app that doesn’t need to know where you are.

Turn Off Auto-Updates. One handy new feature in iOS 7 was an auto-update so that your apps are always current when you open them. Again, this means your phone is pulling battery power for them even when those apps aren’t in use which means draining your power. Go to Settings> iTunes & App Store>Automatic Updates and select what needs auto-updating and which you prefer to update manually.

A final tip, Apple recommends draining the battery to zero every once in awhile such as every 4-6 weeks. Calibrating your battery allows the device to estimate its battery life more accurately and though it won’t make your charge last longer if you’re down to 5%, it will extend the lifespan of the battery.

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.

7 Apps for New Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

I once had a friend compare being a new parent to his job as a firefighter. There are times when you’re sitting around and things are relatively peaceful but you know it won’t last; sooner or later the siren will go off and it’s complete chaos for the next few hours.

Fortunately, it’s not all chaos and disaster. These apps can help manage your time, track baby’s needs and milestones, and make every sure you capture every precious moment.

Eat Sleep: Simple Baby Tracking does exactly what it says: it tracks your baby’s sleep, eating, and diaper habits. Recommended by moms of multiples, the app is very straightforward with information entered by a single tap. There’s a handy Notes feature but no alarms, alerts or scheduling and the clean interface means you can access information at a glance. For an additional cost you can purchase BabySync, which allows you to backup information and share it with family ad friends. (iOS – Free)


Latchme was developed by doctors and lactation consultants and is loaded with valuable tips and videos. The app is community supported, so you can connect with other moms to ask questions and find resources in your area like nursing areas with clean facilities, comfortable chairs, change tables, sinks, and outlets. (iOS, Android – Free)


The Wonder Weeks is based on the book of the same name, backed by 35 years of experience and is designed to help you track your baby’s mental development for the first 20 months. The app lets you know when your baby is about to make a developmental leap, what they can comprehend and learn after this mental growth spurt, as well as behavioral differences to be aware of like interrupted sleep patterns and mood changes. (iOS, Android – $1.99)


Baby Connect is a comprehensive app that can help you stay on top of everything, including feedings, diaper changes, sleep, baby’s mood, medications, and even photos. Information is easily shared making it especially valuable for parents and caregivers who share childcare responsibilities. (iOS, Android – $4.99)


Sprout Baby is another comprehensive app that allows you to track milestones, feedings, diaper changes and doctor appointments. Information is easily shared across devices and between caregivers as well as healthcare providers ensuring everyone is up to date on baby’s needs. The app can be purchased as a standalone or is available as part of a 3 app bundle. (iOS, Android – $4.99; or Sprout Fertility and Period Tracker, Sprout Pregnancy, and Sprout Baby for $9.99)


Cozi is consistently on lists of go-to apps for getting organized, something that may be more of a challenge with a newborn. Or a toddler. Or a Tween. Or Twins. You see where I’m going with this? More than just a way to track baby’s needs, it enables you to track and share doctor’s appointments, shopping lists, and much more for the whole family. (iOS, Android – Free)


WebMD Baby can be a lifesaver both literally and figuratively. The app provides easy to access and understand doctor approved medical information from birth to two years. It includes illness and emergency symptoms and weekly content that is specific to your baby’s age and developmental stage. (iOS, Android – Free)

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.

Verizon Introduces go90 Streaming App for Mobile Devices

The video choices available to mobile users just got a big boost this month with the launch of Verizon’s go90 app for iOS and Android devices. Go90, which is ad-supported but subscription free, is aimed at younger users who spend more time watching video on their smartphones and tablets than watching traditional TV. The go90 name comes from the way users flip their phones 90 degrees to watch videos.

Rather than fighting the trend away from the traditional cable TV subscription model, Verizon has instead embraced the movement, first offering CustomTV packages and now over-the-top content strictly for mobile devices.

Go90 is launching with 8,000 titles and over 35 original series, which will grow rapidly in the coming months. The lineup includes networks like Comedy Central, The Food Network, ESPN, Discovery Channel, MTV, VH1, Spike and HGTV. Going forward, go90 will also add live sporting events and concerts. Although the service is available to everyone, no matter which wireless carrier you use, there is also some exclusive content just for Verizon customers.

Once you download the app, there is a simple sign-in screen where you set up a username and password. You are then asked to tap on a few favorite content categories, which include comedy, entertainment, and news and sports. There is also a “geek” category. The app then presents you with your custom feed of suggested shows and videos, similar to Facebook or YouTube. For now, go90 users seeking news will get a heavy diet of HuffPost Live but, as mentioned above, the app is expected to bring on additional content at a rapid pace.

You can also search out specific channels, shows, people or “crews” to follow. For example, if you search for Jennifer Lawrence, you are presented with a stream of video clips, including trailers for The Hunger Games movies, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. By following particular shows or people, you will further customize your go90 feed.

Crews represents the social media element of go90. You can either start a crew yourself or join a crew that already exists. Movie Lovers, Urban Dads, honest talk, and NFL Fantasy Players are just four of the dozens of crews that have already been set up. Conversation in these crews doesn’t appear to be moderated, although there is a button to report inappropriate content.

Go90 looks to be a strong addition to the world of streaming media for mobile devices and has obvious appeal to a younger audience. A promotional offer of an extra 1GB of data per month for 3 months gives Verizon customers an added incentive to jump on board!

The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional campaign for Verizon.

5 Apps That Teach Critical Thinking Skills

By Tracey Dowdy

Has the phrase “Don’t believe everything you read” ever been truer than it is today? I don’t think so. Whether it’s a post gone viral about the life saving power of coconut oil or a spiteful comment on an Instagram photo, the power of words is as great, if not greater, than ever.

The amount of information available online is staggering and many people lack the judgement to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. My friend Todd is a university professor and the number of students that cite Wikipedia articles as their source material falls somewhere between disappointing and frightening.

As parents raising 21st century kids, we need to start teaching critical thinking skills from an early age. Not only will this help our children to discern fact from fiction online, but these skills will transfer to real-life situations and enable them to problem solve in all areas of their lives.

The following apps teach critical thinking skills from a number of different approaches:

Busy Shapes

busyshapes1Busy Shapes is far more than an app designed to recognize shapes and name them, it teaches spatial relations and how the shapes relate to one another and the space around them. The focus isn’t on rote memorization – toddlers must use early critical thinking skills to manipulate shapes and move them through puzzles. Play difficulty increases at each level and moves quickly to keep kids engaged.

Platform: iOS
Price: $1.99


Clockwork Brain

clockworkbrainClockwork Brain is a series of brain-building puzzles aimed at improving cognitive abilities in six specific areas: memory, perception, language, logic, reflexes and calculation. Games are fast-paced to keep kids engaged and, because play is fun and energetic, kids will want to play often creating a habit of daily brain-training.

Platform: iOS, Kindle Fire
Price: Free download, in-app purchases


Winky Think Logic Puzzles

winkythinkWinky Think Logic Puzzles is a series of games and challenges that provide kids with problem solving, logic, memory, eye-hand coordination and other skills. With over 180 puzzles that gradually increase in difficulty, kids will develop their logic and reasoning skills and, because no reading is required, games are user-friendly for kids as young as six.

Platform: iOS
Price: $2.99


Brain Jump Pro

brainjumpBrain Jump Pro was developed by teachers and neuroscientists to show kids our brains can get stronger by constantly challenging them. Ned the Neuron will guide kids through three different games with 54 different levels of challenges that develop concentration and memory skills. Plus, the app includes a Brain Science section that parents and kids can explore together.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99


Brainbean

brainbeanBrainbean challenges kids through puzzles, memory and other educational games. Each game intuitively adapts to match users’ creative capabilities and offers a fun challenge to build confidence, test memory, improve resourcefulness, and boost critical thinking. Because challenges are designed to stretch cognitive and creative skills, no matter what  learning style works best for your child there’s bound to be a game or puzzle that stimulates their brain and ultimately improves their critical thinking skills.

Platform: iOS
Price: $0.99

Apps are merely a tool and nothing works better than making those critical thinking skills part of everyday life. Teach your kids to be critical thinkers with what they see, make sure they check their source, and remember, if something appears too good to be true, it very likely is. As Abraham Lincoln might have said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet!”

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.