A Few Pointers for Surviving Holiday Tech Support

Me, over at the Sweet Setup:

The Christmas season is a magical time of the year for our families. This is the time of year when we get to provide in home technical support for all of their products. They’ve got you as a captive audience for a few hours, and they’ve been waiting all year to ask you a number of questions. We decided to make a list of things you need to do to be proactive in taking care of your family members’ iOS devices and Macs.

They've been waiting for us since last year.

The Post-Mobile Era

Fraser Speirs:

When you work in educational technology, you have to be a little like the Roman god Janus and look both forward and backward. You look backward because everyone else is behind you: pupils, parents, colleagues, administrators, regulators, government. These are the people you have to take with you into the new.

At the same time, we have to periodically make very clear judgment calls about what is happening right now - without reference to the past or the future. This is what happens in your summer refresh: it doesn't matter what's coming out in October or at CES and it doesn't much matter what you've deployed in the past - you have to sign your PO in June and the trucks roll up in August with whatever is the best possible decision at the time. Such are the hard scheduling realities of school life.

This is what I call "real talk".

Taking Control of My iPhone

My first iPhone was the iPhone 3G. I then went to the iPhone 4, 4s, 5, and now the iPhone 6. The iPhone is a magical device. Let's list all the practical things it can do:

  1. GPS enabled maps
  2. An incredible camera that is always available
  3. Mobile media player with access to a lifetime of content (music, book, movies, etc)

That's just the three I came up with in ten seconds of brainstorming. It can do a ton more. It's literally a portable computer in your pocket. It's more powerful than the PC I had in college in 2002. Do you know what the problem is with a portable computer in your pocket? You have a portable computer in your pocket. It's begging to be fed. It wants your attention. With every notifications and vibration, it's an opportunity to be distracted. Up until a few weeks ago, I was all in on notifications. This included Twitter, Email, Slack, etc. It was too much.

The problem with notifications is we are thinking there is going to be something we are going to miss. "I've got to check that email. It might be Tim Cook emailing me to get some advice on Apple's latest product". Let's be honest: how many notification have you gotten in the past year that required immediate action? I'd bet that for 99% of us, it's 0.

Here is what I've done to take control of my iPhone:

  • Email doesn't show badges and only downloads new messages when I open the app. Not only has this resulted in better battery life, but I've not missed out on anything important. If something is urgent, I will get a phone call or a text message.
  • No social media notifications (Twitter, Instagram, etc)
  • Slack is set to only push @replies
  • Do Not Disturb runs from 5:00 PM to 7:00 AM, but allows phone calls. This makes my iPhone act like an actual phone.

These small changes have resulted in me feeling less attached to my phone. It can stay in my pocket for hours without a single vibration. I can pull it out to take a photo without seeing pages of notifications. I check in with email and social media when it's convenient for me. Technology is supposed to be an enabler. For many of us, it has become a chain. This is my attempt to reverse that.

My Favorite Way to Easily Share Files, Images, and Links

Me Over at The Sweet Setup:

The Apple ecosystem has no shortage of ways to share files. There are countless apps and services that aim to make this as easy as possible. With a lot of the articles we write here at The Sweet Setup, we are comparing apps and services that are virtually identical outside of user interface. With this category, that is not the case. These apps, while appearing similar, all have a different focus.

Spoiler: it's Droplr

iOS 8 and Yosemite Wi-Fi Issues Explained

Mario Ciabarra:

There are many internet forums with thousands of users scratching their heads, wondering if the reason their WiFi performance is severely degraded on iOS 8 is because of their router, their DNS settings (please help these folks the most), that they need to reset their network settings, and more.

I’ve narrowed down the issue to the use of Apple’s Wireless Direct Link (AWDL) that is used for AirDrop, AirPlay, and Gaming connections.

I’ll go out on a limb and say the WiFi issues are because of Apple’s choice of using Bonjour over AWDL and that, given the constraints of the WiFi hardware, this will be difficult to get right. But perhaps I’m crazy, and this is just a bug that can be fixed by Apple.

A long read, but worth the time.

My Favorite App For Tracking Packages

The Sweet Setup:

Buying items online has completely overtaken the amount of items I buy in-store. With 2 kids and a full-time job, the less time I can spend driving to and from stores, the better. Amazon Prime and other services like it makes purchasing easier, but tracking packages can become tedious the more you order.

Over at The Sweet Setup, I pick my favorite app to track packages.

Cutting the Cord

Me over at Tools and Toys:

With the growth of social media, video games, and streaming services, many people are finding they don’t use their cable subscription enough to justify the continued expense. We get our news, entertainment, movies, and TV shows through other channels now. This guide is about getting the right gear to make a smooth transition away from cable or satellite into cheaper alternatives.

“Cord cutting” is the term people use when they refer to cutting off their cable or satellite subscription. Most do it to save money—TV subscription pricing alone has continued to tick higher year after year.

4,000 words on saving nearly $1,000 per year.

Learning to Love Google Drive is Now Available!

My latest iBook/screencast training guide is now available. It's called Learning to Love Google Drive.

If you are like me, then you've had a Google Drive account for years. Between Google Docs and Spreadsheets, we've all probably used them for collaboration, but not much else. With its recent price cuts, Google Drive is a great alternative to Dropbox. With this screencast series, you'll learn more about how I use Google Drive (along with why I think it's better than Dropbox). Get all 10 videos for $2.99

Purchase stand alone videos (DRM-free MP4 in a .zip file).

Purchase iBooks edition (iPad or Mac only)

Credit to Jared Callais for the cover design.

Amazon Announces Unlimited Prime Photos

Sarah Perez:

Amazon says Prime Photos will not have any file or upload limits. Customers can upload photos from any device, in their original file size. But Amazon’s problem is that unlike companies like Apple and Google, it has very few smartphone customers of its own, so is at the mercy of app store dynamics in terms of getting its mobile app in the hands of new users. And unlike Flickr and Facebook, it’s not considered a “social” company where photo-sharing is the norm.

It looks like a Mac app is in the works. This is an interesting turn of events for Apple. They are facing competition from Yahoo, Google, Dropbox, PictureLife, and Amazon.

Learning to Love Google Drive is Available for Pre-Order

I'm thrilled to announce that Learning to Love Google Drive is now available for pre-order. I'm selling it as DRM free videos or on iBooks (iPad or Mac only).

If you are like me, then you've had a Google Drive account for years. Between Google Docs and Spreadsheets, we've all probably used them for collaboration, but not much else. With its recent price cuts, Google Drive is a great alternative to Dropbox. With this screencast series, you'll learn more about how I use Google Drive (along with why I think it's better than Dropbox).

Get the entire set of videos for only $2.99. It will be out on 11/11/14.

iPad at a Crossroads

Khoi Vinh:

What will it take to get there? The short answer is a new commitment from Apple to this product line, and a willingness to reexamine the company’s entire approach to date. For instance, I’m not entirely sure it’s in the best interest of the iPad to be tied so closely to the iPhone. Ultimately, a more aggressive branching of the iPad’s operating system away from the iPhone’s operating system may be necessary. Doing so may be the only way that Apple starts to answer the critical questions at the heart of the line: “What, exactly, is unique about the iPad? What can it do better than any other device? And why can’t customers live without it?”

The question that Fraser Speirs and I keep having over iMessage is why is the iPad Air 2 so powerful? There has to be something else coming from a software perspective.

Here's Why Public Wi-Fi is a Public Health Hazard

Maurits Martijn:

Wouter removes his laptop from his backpack, puts the black device on the table, and hides it under a menu. A waitress passes by and we ask for two coffees and the password for the WiFi network. Meanwhile, Wouter switches on his laptop and device, launches some programs, and soon the screen starts to fill with green text lines. It gradually becomes clear that Wouter’s device is connecting to the laptops, smartphones, and tablets of cafe visitors.

This is why I recommend Cloak. Link via @fraserspeirs.

The Department of Ungrateful Users

Fraser Speirs:

As iOS evolves, I keep using the same question to gauge its progress: what is it that keeps me going back to the Mac? The list is shorter now than it's ever been. Clipping to Evernote is now easy in iOS 8 with their Safari extension. Using 1Password is now as slick and integrated on iOS as it is on OS X. There remain a few stumbling blocks, but not many.

I ask myself what it would take for me to completely eschew owning a Mac. I'm not there yet and I'm not even all that close to it in practical terms. Like your pal that doesn't have a car but who can only do so because you give him a lift, I could possibly do without my own personal Mac only because I have access to Macs at school.

Well said.

LA-USD's Student Information System Becomes a Technological Disaster

Abby Sewell:

Instead, the Los Angeles Unified School District's student information system, which has cost more than $130 million, has become a technological disaster. The system made its debut this semester and promptly overloaded the district's database servers, requiring an emergency re-engineering. In the days and weeks that followed, many teachers were unable to enter grades or attendance or even figure out which students were enrolled in class.

Because of scheduling blunders partly stemming from the new system, students at Jefferson High School sat in the auditorium for weeks waiting to be assigned classes. A judge became so alarmed he ordered state education officials to intervene.

What a mess. Can this district do anything right?

The App That Holds iOS Back

When the iPhone was released in 2007 with a "desktop class" web browser, it was widely praised. You could view entire websites on a mobile device. Coming from the days of WAP optimized sites on my Motorola Q, this was incredible. If we fast forward to 2014, Mobile Safari has become the app that is holding the iPad back from becoming a fully featured laptop replacement for a lot of people. While Mobile Safari is fast and loads website reasonably well, it cannot upload and download files. It can upload pictures, but that is it. Mobile Safari needs a way to upload and download any type of file into iCloud Drive (a mirrored from the Mac downloads folder).

Last week, I had to upload 2 PDF files to a WordPress powered website. This is something that iOS should be able to handle. I should be able to save the PDFs from my email to iCloud Drive. Mobile Safari should then let me upload those files into a browser upload window. iCab Mobile can upload files reasonably well, why can't Mobile Safari? For iOS to mature as a platform, these are the type tasks that it must be able to do.

Until then, I'll use this app.

Making Instapaper Free

Brian Donohue:

What’s interesting to me from the above chart is the orange line, which represents Instapaper app updates. While the blue line shows a steep and steady decline of growth in app downloads, the orange line shows the size of Instapaper’s install base, which is significant. Unfortunately, there’s no great path to a paid upgrade if an app developer launches an update with a bunch of great features.

The only options for monetizing an existing install base are advertising (i.e. Facebook), creating a “new” app and converting your existing install base to purchase the “new” app (i.e. Tweetbot), or offering some type of subscription or consumable via in-app purchase (i.e. Evernote).

In-app purchases can be great for customers and developers. I still despise the way a lot of games do it, though.

Family Sharing and Apple IDs for Kids

Apple Support:

To participate in Family Sharing, all family members must have their own Apple ID. Children under 13* can't create an Apple ID on their own. However, as a parent or legal guardian, the family organizer can provide verified parental consent for a child to have their own Apple ID, then create it on the child’s behalf.

When you create an Apple ID for a child, it will be added to your family group automatically.

One of the nice things that Apple has done is made it possible for kids to transfer their account to another group once they are 13.