Credit where it’s due: Thanksgiving tech support has gotten easier

I spend a lot of time venting about tech being a pain in the neck, but I will take a break from that to confirm that my annual Thanksgiving-weekend routine of providing technical support has gotten a lot easier over the last 10 years.

The single biggest upgrade has been the emergence of the iPad as something usable as the only computer in the house. It took a few years for Apple to make that happen–remember when you had to connect an iPad to a computer for its setup and backups?–but Web-first users can now enjoy a tablet with near zero risk of malware and that updates its apps automatically.

As a result, when I gave my mom’s iPad a checkup Wednesday afternoon, the worst I had to do was install the iOS 12.1 update.

That left me free to spend my tech-support time rearranging that tablet’s apps to keep the ones she uses most often on the first home screen.

Things have gotten easier on “real” computers too. Apple and Microsoft ship their desktop operating systems with sane security defaults and deliver security patches and other bug fixes automatically. The Mac and Windows app stores offer the same seamless updates for installed programs as iOS and Android’s. And while Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox aren’t in those software shops, they update themselves just as easily.

But the openness of those operating systems makes it easier for people to get into trouble. For example, a few weeks ago, I had to talk a relative through resetting Chrome’s settings to get rid of an extension that was redirecting searches.

Other computing tasks remain a mess. On a desktop, laptop or tablet, clearing out storage to make room for an operating-system upgrade is as tedious as ever, and it doesn’t help when companies like Apple continue to sell laptops with 128-gigabyte SSDs. Password management continues to be a chore unless (duh) you install a password manager.

Social media looks worst of all. Facebook alone has become its own gravity well of maintenance–notifications to disable to curb its attention-hogging behavior, privacy settings to tend, and propaganda-spewing pages to avoid. There’s a reason I devoted this year’s version of my USA Today Thanksgiving tech-support column to Facebook, and I don’t see that topic going out of style anytime soon.

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Weekly output: Android backups, iOS app subscriptions, WWDC, net neutrality, Comcast vs. Verizon

For weeks now, I’ve been besieged with PR pitches about the right Father’s Day tech gift to get. You know what makes a great Father’s Day present? Letting Dad sleep in and/or get a nap. (That’s also a good Mother’s Day gift; I was glad to do my part to make it happen for my wife.)

USAT Android-backup post6/13/2016: Get back your data after resetting an Android phone, USA Today

I had to try to get a column out of my in-retrospect hilariously-stupid accidental resetting of my own phone at the end of a long notetaking session on the differences between Android’s standard interface and the one Samsung puts on its phones. You may have read it under a different headline; USAT reposted the piece under a new one a day or so after its debut in the midst of news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

6/13/2016: Apple is doing something generous for app developers — but it may cost you, Yahoo Finance

Apple announced some important changes to subscription-based apps in advance of WWDC. They seem good on the surface, but some details remained unclear when I wrote this–and there’s a history of Apple exercising its App Store oversight in developer-hostile ways that it didn’t think to document upfront.

6/13/2016: 5 previous WWDC debuts Apple might want to forget, Yahoo Finance

Apple is just like Google in one way: Its attempts to tell the technological future don’t always make reality bend in response.

6/14/2016: Big Telecom lost in court, but an open internet won. So did you., Yahoo Finance

I should have had this story written in advance, but I guess I couldn’t convince myself that the D.C. Circuit would ever hand down a net-neutrality ruling. Reader comments appear to be polarized between people who despise Comcast/Verizon/AT&T/Time Warner Cable and those equally upset over the Obama administration.

6/19/2016: How to choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet service, USA Today

I’m not totally happy with how this came out: As one reader called out in the comments, I didn’t get into upload speeds. Given Comcast’s habit of staying mysterious about them–and the odds of other Internet providers being as cagey–I may need to devote a separate column to that angle. Should I?

Weekly output: WWDC

This embarrassingly short list of stories doesn’t include one post I wrote for Yahoo Finance about changes to Apple’s treatment of subscription-based iOS apps and my USA Today Q&A column on the state of Android backup, both of which should go up Monday morning.

CR WWDC 2016 preview6/10/2016: Apple WWDC 2016: What to Expect From the App Store, Siri, and More, Consumer Reports

CR asked me to write a preview of the Apple event I still haven’t attended (I thought I could in 2012, but Apple PR had other ideas). You’ll be able to see how accurate I was in this forecast starting at 1 p.m. Eastern on Monday, when the keynote opening Apple’s developer conference kicks off.

 

Weekly output: e-mail hijacking, orphaned apps

Thursday’s delightful snowfall took a chunk out of my productivity this week, like that bothered me all that much. Except it kind of does–Saturday evening, I start my journey to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. Which means Monday can’t be much of a holiday for me.

2/10/2014: Why the Bad Guys Want Your Email, Yahoo Tech

This was originally going to explain the business models behind e-mail hijacking (I felt vaguely insulted to be told that in most cases, a hijacked e-mail gets used for nothing more ambitious than sending spam) and then critique the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But my editor said the CFAA parts read like a separate column, and I had to admit he was right. I’ll get back to that, but not next week: There’s a certain gigantic proposed cable merger that calls for my attention first.

USAT orphaned-app column2/16/2014: How to hang on to an orphaned app, USA Today

This was a somewhat shameless case of my taking advantage of the fuss over Flappy Bird (sorry, I don’t care about that game) to address a reader query I’d received months earlier about a different app. But Apple’s decision to boot a Bitcoin-wallet app from the App Store also factored into the timing here. The tip here about how developers keep less of the price of an app sold at the Mac App Store revisits a topic I’d last addressed in a January 2011 Post blog post.

At Sulia, I shared two sets of quotes from a great panel discussion among teenage social-media users led by my Yahoo Tech colleague Dan Tynan, recounted a tech startup’s testimony about its experience beating a patent troll in court, listed two questions left up in the air about Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable, complained about NBC Washington’s reportedly strong but now-unwatchable over-the-air signal, and provided an update about the fake Facebook account I’d set up when writing a privacy cheat sheet about the social network for Yahoo.