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Holiday tech support: 7 tips for the iPhone

Holiday tech support: 7 tips for the iPhone


Blood is thicker than Apple Care

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You finally convinced your parents it was time to leave their beloved flip phone behind and upgrade to a more modern device. They went with the iPhone, a dependable choice we’ve recommended as the best smartphone you can buy for several years in a row. They love the new phone but of course there are some minor problems you’ll need to help troubleshoot. We’re here to help ensure that your holiday tech support sessions go quickly and smoothly, leaving you more time to fill up on stuffing and enjoy the big game.

I can’t find the apps I want

It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of a new phone and download a ton of apps. Pretty soon you’ve got four or five screens' worth and it can be tough to find the one you want quickly. Take 15 minutes to learn what apps your parents use the most. Then put those services into folders organized by themes like News, Entertainment, Messaging, and Photos. If they don’t use Apple’s native services much, get those off the home screen and organize them into a single folder where they can be found when needed. That may also allow you to free up some space in the dock on the bottom for your parents' most important apps.

My phone won’t stop beeping and buzzing

This is an easy one! Lots of apps default to aggressive notification settings, and it’s easy to opt-in without noticing while trying to set the app up for the first time. Go into settings with your parent and disable all the notifications they don’t need or didn’t even realize they had turned on. As a bonus you may end up leaving them a phone with better battery life.

I’m out of memory

Apps seem like small, lightweight services. After all, you can download most of them over your mobile data connection while walking down the street. But over time they can start to take up a lot of memory on your device, leading to performance issues and annoying warnings, especially if you buy the basic 16-gigabyte model. Unless your parents are gamers, the main culprit here is digital media: typically magazines, music, videos, and photos. That last one is usually the biggest data hog, but it’s a complicated problem too, so let's address that separately.

16GB goes by fast

If your parents download print publications to enjoy on their iPhone or iPad, that can start to eat up a lot of storage. Check out the memory usage for apps like The New Yorker and delete issues they’ve already read. The same thing goes for music they bought on iTunes and imported to their phones. They can free up some space by pruning that selection down to just the essentials. But a better option would be to help them transition to streaming music.

BUY YOUR WAY OUT: If your parents have invested heavily in iTunes the easiest streaming service for them to begin with is probably Apple Music. You can select a few of their most essential tracks for offline play, so that there will always be some music on the phone even if there is no data connection. The rest you can favorite or pull into playlists so it’s easily accessible but isn’t taking up storage space. If your parents don’t want to pay for streaming music, you can start them up with the free version of Spotify or Pandora instead, keeping a few tracks saved on the phone and these apps for the rest.


The most straightforward way to get photos off your phone is to import them to a PC with more memory. But that just pushes the problem of limited storage from one device to another. Cut the cord and help your parents set up a cloud storage account that will ensure all their photos are securely backed up and more space is always just a click away.

BUY YOUR WAY OUT: If your parents are willing to shell out for iCloud, set it up to automatically import their photos when on Wi-Fi and delete the originals on a regular basis. It’s a simple solution, but it will cost them.

Let Google manage your iPhone photos

If they are the kind of folks, like mine, who prefer to preach thrift, the best option depends on what ecosystem they live in. If they rely on Gmail, I would recommend downloading and installing Google Photos for them. Set it up to automatically upload photos over Wi-Fi. For now they will have to delete everything manually after uploading, but Google says an update is coming soon to iOS that would allow photos to be automatically deleted from local storage after they upload.

If your parents are devoted Windows users, do the same thing with the OneDrive app. If they are Dropbox users, well they don’t need your help figuring out cloud storage, although it might be a good time to sit down and have a heart to heart about what happens to data when a startup doesn’t make it.

Should I upgrade to the latest version of iOS?

Like teenagers, iPhones will reach a stage where unexplained changes arrive, often in the middle of the night. It might seem like the answer to the upgrade question is simple: get the newest OS and ensure that you get the most out of your phone’s native services, that any newly discovered security bugs have been patched, and that you’ll have access to all the latest apps and their latest features. But when you’re running tech support for your parents, it can pay to be a little more cautious.

Upgrading to the latest version of iOS can make certain beloved apps a little buggy for a while. It can change the position of buttons and services within the phone and eliminate certain features that, while antiquated to your mind, your parents have come to rely on. For this reason I would recommend that you have your parents wait at least a few months before upgrading. By that time a lot of the big bugs will have been squashed and most apps will be updated. More importantly, you’ll have had time to learn the quirks of the latest software, which will make it much easier to deal with any problems your parents encounter.

What else should I use besides Facebook?

Holidays are a time for families to come together and share stories about their lives. For the younger generations, this will likely include a lot of delightful messaging and jokes on services like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Vine. Older relatives will often ask, and occasionally demand, to be let in on all the fun.

It’s fairly simple to set your parents up on Facebook and Instagram, and those are probably the safest places to provide a peek inside your life. Beyond that it might also be worth having a chat about messaging. Not everybody uses iMessage, it turns out, and if you’re not one of them, let your parents know which of the dozens of social networks / messaging apps out there you do use. Oh and if you’re also an iPhone user, why don’t you set up your own phone to work with FaceTime, for once? You should call your parents more often. They miss you.

My phone feels old

We’ve all been there. Someone in the family is bound to show up to turkey time sporting the latest and greatest unit. It’s no fun to see the cutting edge when you’re only halfway through your two-year upgrade cycle. That’s especially true if your phone has been acting slow or buggy, freezing or shutting down without explanation. But there is a new solution, and it’s one that might benefit you and your parents.

Apple wants to sell you a new iPhone every year

BUY YOUR WAY OUT: Apple recently introduced its own purchase plan for the iPhone, joining the mobile carriers in offering the device on a monthly installment plan. Apple’s plan is actually a great deal if you’re the kind of person who wants to upgrade once a year. That pace can seem really fast for many people, but the phone you get is unlocked, meaning it will work on any carrier and the purchase plan includes Apple Care to take care of any necessary repairs.

UPDATE: The post has been changed to note that you cannot upgrade to a new model of iPhone without turning in your old phone.