Buy Now, Buy Smart

Now is a good time to buy a new computer. Between upcoming holiday gifts and companies making end-of-the-year purchases, there’s a lot of demand – and supply. Sellers will throw the word “bargain” around very freely and tempt you at every turn. Shop smart to get your true value.

Let’s start with the “five-year rule.” It’s nothing like the “five-second rule,” and therefore, it has nothing to do with your computer falling to the floor. (Whether your computer is still usable depends less on picking it up within five seconds than it does on how far it falls and how cushioned the floor is.)

Five years is about the length of a computer’s useful service life. After five years, your total system can be woefully out-of-date. The computer itself slows down in many cases because your hard drive has less room to write and rewrite the data in the files you use – even if you faithfully run defragging programs to manage the space. If you have an old computer, you are likely to have old software and connection ports, such as older USB, that are all too slow to support newer, faster, more robust systems. That holds true whether your computer is for business or home use.

If you have a computer approaching five years old, it really doesn’t pay to upgrade the software. Your old computer won’t have the processing power to run the software effectively, and your connection ports may not support functions such as Skype or streaming video. If you have kids who are into any of the many popular online gaming activities, such as Minecraft, they won’t be able to keep up, and they won’t be able to maximize learning experiences online.

We’re not telling you to go out and buy the fastest computer on the market. But we are telling you to consider this:

  • Figure on your computer lasting five years.
  • Give a lot of thought to how you plan to use your computer.
    • Are you just surfing the Internet and answering email?
    • Do you plan to use processing-heavy applications such as
      • Complex spreadsheets?
      • Photo editing?
      • Art and graphic design?
      • Skype or other videoconferencing?
      • Online collaboration with large files?
    • Do the applications you depend on require you to upgrade frequently?
    • Will you need speed, video and sound for streaming movies, TV and games?
    • Will you be integrating your new computer with wireless devices over a Wi-Fi network?

Once you know what you expect from your computer, you can better assess what’s on the market. You can look at whether a Windows-based or Mac system is better and whether a desktop or laptop is better. You might also want to consider one of the newer tablets that use the cloud to provide a full range of computing capabilities with the convenience of a tablet.

Nothing beats going to a few stores to try out the computers to see what feels comfortable for you. You can also ask questions, but be prepared for the possibility that the sales person may be trying to steer you to a specific brand or model or may not know any more than you. Give yourself a budget. While you may go over it or find something less expensive than you planned, a budget will give you a guideline for evaluating the apples and oranges you’ll come across.

At the same time, don’t concentrate on just the hardware. Here are key considerations:

  • If you are going to use your existing software, make sure you have your original disks and product keys. You can generally download Internet browsers, programs such as Adobe Reader and drivers for peripherals such as printers – but you can’t do it with application software.
  • Have all of your passwords for your Wi-Fi system, email, cloud storage, etc.
  • Have all of your data files – word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, pictures, etc. – backed up on a portable hard drive, the cloud or CDs and DVDs. There are systems to transfer data files from one computer to another, but you should have it all backed up anyway.
  • Be prepared to buy new software or migrate to cloud-based subscription services. Your software may be so out of date that it won’t run on a new computer.

Finally, make us your first and last stop. We can talk about what you have now, how you’d like to use your new computer system, how long you plan to keep it and how much you’d like to spend. We can help you evaluate the most viable options, and then you can go out and see some things for yourself. Then, come back to us. We can help you choose the best package for your needs, and we may be able to get you a better price.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up a time to talk. We want to help you find a system you can.

Armor for Your Mobile Wallet

The battle between Apple Pay and Current C is about to intensify as more shoppers start to use the mobile wallet functions in their smartphones and devices. We believe Apple Pay has better security, giving you more armor for your iPhone’s commercial capabilities.

The heavy-duty armor, as far as we are concerned, is the two-factor authentication that’s part of the Apple Pay system. The system keeps your credit card information separate from the transaction, and you need a fingerprint to complete the transaction. So, if somebody steals your iPhone, they’ll also need to cut off the finger with the print you’ve registered as your “signature.”

The banks and financial companies who back various credit cards have bought into Apple Pay, too, and it would likely behoove many merchants to go along with the idea. Banks and credit card companies are moving to the EMV (EuroPay, MasterCard, Visa) system that replaces the magnetic stripe with a chip, and they are shedding their responsibility for covering fraudulent charges. That responsibility will shift to the merchants.

The security benefits are enhanced by Apple Pay’s ease of use with Near Field Communication (NFC). A post on Tech Radar gives you a simple explanation, but we’ll simplify it a little more for those who don’t want to click through.

It’s a short-range, low power wireless link that essentially uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology (think EZ Pass) to transfer small amounts of data between two devices just a few inches apart. It doesn’t need any pairing code as with Bluetooth, and it’s so low-power, it doesn’t need a battery in the device being read. Tapping your phone on a contactless payment terminal in a shop, train station or coffee shop identifies your account and takes payment through the app on your phone.

Your phone’s SIM card is a smart card that identified your phone to a network, and phones besides iPhones have NFC capability.

We have some issues with one of Apple Pay’s major competitors, Current C. I don’t think it’s as easy to use, but more important, the system collects a lot of personal information, and it has been hacked. Current C, as we understand it, is linked to a consumer’s checking account, and we don’t use debit cards because of the risk associated with debit card security issues.

We also don’t like the customer-data collection aspects of Current C. It functions like a loyalty program, and we should all have the choice of deciding if we want to be part of any merchant’s loyalty program.

Finally, Current C is more cumbersome to use. You need to log in and pull up a QR code that the store reads. With Apple Pay, you just hold your phone close enough to the reader for it to read your fingerprint.

We think the finger is just scratching the surface. Because fingerprints are unique – even with identical twins – mobile wallets using the Apple Pay principles can spread to boarding passes, door locks or anything else requiring accurate identification.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and start a conversation. And if you have any questions about setting up an Apple Pay account on your iPhone, we’d be happy to help. A phone call – 973-433-6676 – or an email will get it started.


Shedding Light on the Flashlight App

A cable-based news network reported that flashlight apps on Android-based phones can steal data. It created a stir in the general and technical news media. Yes, somebody could write an app that can track some of your activity (and sell it to marketers) or could launch a virus. But there’s a bigger-picture lesson to be learned: Use common sense.

Let’s start with a few of “givens.”

First, there’s always someone out there trying to get your data and resell it – whether it’s your sensitive personal information or just some data to help a marketer target you. Ultimately, you have the responsibility to protect your data – though we can help you put systems in place.

Second, you have control over what gets installed on your device. You need to take time and care when you download and install apps to make sure they are safe and secure.

Third, if you have an iPhone or an iPad with a camera, you have no reason to download a third-party app for your flashlight. It’s been there since the release of iOS 7.

With that being said, what’s going on with the flashlight apps? You can dig into some of this yourself, starting with a report from Fast Company about the app Brightest Flash sharing location and device ID information. (Please note, most of you allow this information to be used with many other apps, such as those that provide directions while you drive somewhere.) The app’s developer was automatically sharing location and device information with advertisers and other third parties–even when users opted out. In fact, before they could accept or refuse the app’s terms, it was already collecting and sending information.

That got scaled up in a special report on a cable news channel, in which viewers were told this could be bigger than Ebola. What further rankles me is that the report on the How-To Geek website made specific references to the iPhone flashlight app, which is built into your device. It made a mountain out of a molehill.

However, the report noted: “The fact is that Android app permissions are a mess and you have very little control over what apps can do once you’ve agreed to install the application other than just trusting Google. Your best bet is to avoid installing apps that have permissions that look suspect, or only install apps from really reputable companies.”

All of this brings us back to why I like the iPhone and Apple apps. Apple may come across as control freaks, but the company vets all of its apps and app developers to give you better protection. Some device users find that restrictive; I find it comforting.

To be sure, hackers and virus writers are looking to invade Apple computers and devices, and it’s only a matter of time until they succeed often enough to create problems. For now, our advice is – as always – to look before you click and decline if you’re not sure. Also, as always, never hesitate to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about any apps you’d like to download.