It’s Thanksgiving in the United States, and many of us are getting ready to spend time with family, watch some American football, relax, and get ready to hunt for Black Friday deals ahead of the Christmas shopping season. One of the timeless traditions for a lot of us Apple fans around the holidays is a technology tune-up for the family and friends you only see once a year. You’ll get the random questions about iCloud storage, contact syncing, sharing calendars, and iOS updates. As we kick off the holiday season, here is a list of things I do for Thanksgiving tech support when spending time with family.
Check iOS, macOS, and watchOS updates
If you have a family member running iOS 12 or older versions of macOS, Thanksgiving is a great time to go ahead and update them. They will receive all the latest features of iOS 13, watchOS 5, and macOS Catalina, and will likely stay up to date all through 2020 thanks to automatic updates.
We can debate the stability of iOS 13 and Catalina all day long, but it doesn’t change the fact they are important for security updates. Before updating to macOS Catalina, make sure they have a backup of their system (more on that later). If you only do one thing for Thanksgiving tech support, checking for updates is the most crucial.
Check iCloud settings
When you are looking over family members’ devices, you will want to make sure they are signed in to iCloud. I know it may seem crazy that in 2019, someone could use iOS without iCloud, but stranger things have happened. Go to Settings > iCloud to verify they are signed in. While you are in that section, scroll down to Backups and make sure they’ve completed a backup recently. If not, trigger a manual backup and make sure it completes.
Next, go back to the main iCloud screen and verify that iCloud Photos is enabled. If it’s not, check to see if they will have enough iCloud space to start using it. Losing photos due to a damaged device is one of the worst things that can happen, and it’s a preventable problem.
You’ll want to do the same thing on macOS as well. Check to make sure iCloud is enabled (Apple Logo > System Preferences > iCloud). You’ll also want to open the Photos app to make sure it’s syncing correctly.
Time Machine and offsite backups
While they may not have their external drive with them, you should make sure they are at least backing up their Mac regularly. If they aren’t, Amazon carries multiple hard drives that are incredibly inexpensive. I recommend getting at least double the size of the built-in drive. You can verify Time Machine is working by going to System Preferences > Time Machine. If they don’t have a drive, talk to them about ordering one and setting it up over Christmas.
If they don’t want to use Time Machine, you may mention a service like Backblaze as an option for only $6 per month. I have a few co-workers who didn’t want to deal with having to remember to plug in an external drive to make backups, so they just opted for Backblaze. Backblaze will automatically back up a Mac or PC offsite. Offsite backups are especially crucial in case of fire, flood, or theft. Once it’s installed, there is nothing left else to do.
Check Chrome extensions
Chrome is a popular browser for Mac users thanks to its easy syncing to PCs and robust extension ecosystem. I run across a lot of instances of Chrome that have a decent amount of malware installed, though. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to clean up.
Go to Window > Extensions. Look for anything that looks abnormal (PDF converters, etc.), and remove them. Also, double-check to make sure their homepage and default search engine are Google, DuckDuckGo, or Yahoo. A lot of rogue extensions install their own search function as a way to make revenue. If your family is complaining about Chrome pop-ups at the dinner table, it’s likely due to extensions, so make it part of your Thanksgiving tech support.
Check for macOS malware
While macOS is very secure, you can still get malware by clicking on a random pop-up ad that tells you to download a new flash player, etc. My favorite tool for cleaning up malware is Malwarebytes. It’s a free download, and there are paid options for automatic scanning in the future. If you want to run a quick scan and remove it, you can do that for free.
Discuss Wi-Fi upgrades
One of the many things I am getting asked about now is how to improve the performance of home Wi-Fi connections. Long gone are the days of spending $30 on a cheap router. In my house, we have 35 devices on the network at any given time. That is mainly due to HomeKit compatible smart plugs but also includes Apple TVs, iPhones, and iPads. I use Google Wifi, but Eero is also a great choice. While Wi-Fi 6 is available, I am not ready to recommend it for home users just yet until the cost comes down. If someone asks, you can mention the need to have a mesh network with multiple access points to handle the capacity their devices likely demand.
Wrap-up on Thanksgiving tech support
It’s always fun to get your friends and family members set up for 2020 by making sure their devices are backed up, up to date, and clean from malware. Enjoy the holidays, and avoid controversial topics like iPhone vs Android and Chromebooks vs iPads, and we will all have a Merry Christmas!
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