Public Beta Testing is Here to Stay

Today’s computing environment is making everyone a test pilot. IT support specialists are accustomed to getting early versions of new software, such as the new Windows 10 and Apple’s El Capitan operating systems, and putting it through its paces. It helps us learn about issues we can expect to affect our clients while offering feedback to the publishers. But now, we have testing partners: you, the user.

Here’s why it’s better for everyone.

IT specialists, developers and high-level power users all know enough to see some problems and sometimes work around them. We also know how to explain the problems to a software publisher’s tech staff to help them better pinpoint the issue and find the solution.

The vast majority of users, however, just know something isn’t working properly – as we’ve seen in the releases of Windows 10 and El Capitan. You likely don’t know why, and it’s even less likely that you care about why. You just want it to work so you can do what you need to do.

To me, that makes you highly valuable to software publishers. When a large number of you point out a problem with the software, it gets somebody’s attention. In our data-driven world, a manager can see the size and scope of a problem and set a priority for its solution.

Your public pressure on software publishers, too, moves them to publish the patch or update in a timelier manner. While some of us professionals can grouse in our various forums, the publishers know that thousands and thousands of paying customers can add a sense of urgency to solving the problem. Then, they can push out the fix as soon as it’s ready – or ready enough – to make sure it works or see what else they need to do.

In that respect, this is a benefit of our on-demand way of life – especially when our need for instant gratification or using software and devices in ways not intended create other problems. Regardless of fault, a software publisher’s reputation relies on its product being functional and safe. The faster the fix is delivered, the better it is for the publisher and its users.

That, in part, is one reason why Microsoft eliminated Patch Tuesday in favor of sending and installing updates as soon as they’re ready. You make huge investments in technology. If you make them for your business, you can lose a lot of money if your apps and drivers don’t work right. If you make them at home, you can get awfully upset when you can’t play with your newest toy.

IT support specialists like immediate updates, too. When you call with a problem that ultimately relates to a glitch, we either suffer the pain of not being able to fix it or we provide some sort of temporary fix that may require us to come back again – which also doesn’t make us happy.

Every new product in any industry goes through a shakeout period before it runs smoothly. But if you join the beta brigade and provide feedback, you do yourself and fellow users – and their service providers – a big favor. We check the discussion groups and forums and learn about problems and fixes so we can serve you better. You see faster improvements. That’s why public beta testing is here to stay.

Of course, if you have a problem with your technology, don’t sit back and wait. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have a problem. We likely have the solution because people like you helped us find it faster.

iOS 8 Family Affair

With iOS 8, Apple made great strides in helping families manage iCloud accounts and Family Share. Now, you can have separate accounts for up to six family members with parents able to control what their children buy and download.

Sharing music, apps, photos, movies and other iTunes purchases was a pain in the neck before Apple got all of its bugs out of iOS 8. We always found the biggest problems involved tracking what individuals bought in the iTunes store and then keeping adults’ and kids’ content separate. This had little to do with what’s appropriate; it was more a matter of neither wanting the other’s content.

Now, all you need to do is get iOS 8 on all devices – iPhones, iPads – and the Yosemite operating system on Apple computers. You can go to Settings on each device and enable Family Sharing and then go to iCloud settings. The set-up can be a little complicated. One person, designated as the Family Organizer, needs to go to Settings > iCloud > Set up Family Sharing… and follow the instructions, which include entering an iTunes ID and agreeing to paying for anything downloaded by the family members.

Here’s where it can get a little tricky – and there are some things we are still testing out as a family. While I am our Family Organizer, my wife and I have Approval Rights for any purchases made by our children. However, we also have it set up so that if someone – like a doting grandparent – gives them Apple gift cards, any charges for their downloaded material is drawn from their accounts before their parents pay.

We have helped a number of clients set up Apple Family Sharing, and we can help customize your set-up for your family’s needs. Just give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or send us an email for an appointment. And remember, we are available without any holiday surcharges to help you set up any electronics during this festive time of the year.

New iPhone Worth the All-Nighter

As you know, we waited on line all night at our local UPS depot to claim our new iPhone 6+ at 7:30 in the morning. Now that we’ve had the chance to use our new phone, we’re happy to say it was worth the effort to get it as soon as humanly possible. Here’s our report.

We like the new phone and the new iOS 8 features, especially the My Health app. We believe it can be a life saver. When you set up the data, it asks for your date of birth, blood type and other information about your medical condition as well as people to call in the case of an emergency. Anyone can use your phone without unlocking the screen to make an emergency call on your behalf, and whoever receives the call will have all of that vital information. You’ll also have your information handy whenever you visit a healthcare provider.

We also like the iPhone 6’s capability that allows you to add widgets to your home screen, and we’re anticipating Apple Pay’s rollout.

While many people will claim that Android phones have had these new iPhone capabilities, iPhone remains the dominant device in the cellular world. Most people who traded iPhones for Android phones did so because of the screen size. Apple addressed that marketplace demand, and the company sold 10 million phones in one weekend – and that’s without the Chinese market. The new phones will be released there Oct. 17, and two million reservations were made in the first hour they were made available.

The major bug we found right away was synching the Bluetooth capability with our car. The system dropped a lot of calls, and that is a pain. We’re confident Apple will fix this problem and the others that are sure to pop up as more new iPhones are in the field.

And now for a word of caution: As we continue to make more use of smartphones and devices, we’re loading more and more sensitive information on them. It’s more important than ever to protect that data because device hacking is on the rise. Just as with your computer, if you start to see a lot of new error messages or pop-ups, it could be a sign that something is happening.

Here are some safeguards you can take for all devices and computers:

  • Be very, very careful on public Wi-Fi networks. Don’t do any online banking, for example, or any other activities that involve sensitive information with passwords.
  • Make sure firewalls are in place.
  • Download and install reputable anti-virus, malware and spyware software
  • If you have a computer on a Wi-Fi network, disconnect it from the network when you’re not using it

While we are getting into our new iPhones and all of our new connectivity possibilities, we’re still keeping any eye on the horizon for new phones from Samsung and the major Android-powered devices. And, we’re also starting to think – just a little bit – about an iPhone 7. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned about technology, it gets better and – in terms of performance for the money you spend – cheaper.

We can help you decide on your next device purchase and help you get it set up and integrated with your existing technology. We’re a phone call away at 973-433-6676, and you can email us to set up a time to talk.


Security and Convenience

Major retailers have been vulnerable to security breaches because we want convenience. New credit card systems that rely on chips instead of magnetic strips will help solve the security issue and so will Apple’s new ApplePay, which uses NFC (Near Field Communications) technology.

There won’t be any need to open an app or even wake your display because of the combination of NFC and the antenna in iPhone 6. To pay, just hold your iPhone near the contactless reader with your finger on Touch ID. You don’t even have to look at the screen to know your payment information was successfully sent. A subtle vibration and beep lets you know.

Instead of using your actual credit and debit card numbers the system assigns a unique Device Account Number that is encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element, a dedicated chip in iPhone. These numbers are never stored on Apple servers. When you make a purchase, the Device Account Number, along with a transaction-specific dynamic security code, is used to process your payment. So your actual credit or debit card numbers are never shared by Apple with merchants or transmitted with payment.

If your iPhone is ever lost or stolen, you can use Find My iPhone to quickly put your device in Lost Mode so nothing is accessible, or you can wipe your iPhone clean completely.

This is a major step toward convenience and security. Another step will be the replacement of that magnetic strip on your credit with chip technology already in use in most of the world. Again, it will separate your credit and debit card info from the info stored by retailers.

Retailers’ storage of your transactions and credit and debit card info has given you the convenience of being able to return merchandise without a receipt. It also presented a plump, juicy target for hackers. Banks, which bear the liability of covering the cost of fraud, are behind efforts to speed up the conversion to this new technology. Their goal, of course, is to minimize their risk, and they’ll minimize ours, too.

New credit and debit cards will be better for those of us who still carry them around in our wallets. Apple Pay and evolving technologies will help us get rid of our wallets all together – and probably our keys, too.

Millennials are driving device technology. They don’t like to bother with carrying wallets and keys and anything else they deem bulky. The changes are likely to trickle down to the rest of us, especially as we find them to be secure and convenient.

While the new technology looks great, there are other steps you can take now to protect your data. We’ve discussed these measures before:

  • Strengthen your password. The greater the combination you can use of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters, the longer it will take for hackers to crack your password.
  • Use two-factor authentication for Internet access to your data. It’s a second password, a reference to a graphic symbol or an answer to a question. Dropbox now offers it, and you can click here to learn more.
  • Look before you click. Use common sense when clicking on websites or opening attachments to email. If something doesn’t look right or feel right, leave it alone.
  • Make sure your protection is up to date and running. Anti-virus programs, malware programs and firewalls for home and office systems can prevent unwanted problems and intrusions. Make sure you have all systems up to date and turned on.

Now you can buy your new iPhone 6 or 6+ and enjoy the benefits of Apple Pay and NFC – whenever the technology is activated, most likely in October.

What your thoughts on this? How willing are you to embrace this new technology? Share your thoughts with us. And if you have any questions about buying an iPhone 6 or 6+ or any other phone, tablet or computer and getting them all to work together, drop us an email or give us a call at 973-433-6676.

New iPhone Puts More Tech in Play

Apple’s new iPhone has raised the bar for the device industry and for you, the business owner and consumer. You should consider upgrading to a smartphone and upgrading your tablet because more and more of everyday living will require it.

The new iPhone 6 and 6+ are going to improve your convenience and online security when Apple Pay and NFC (near field communications) technology kick in. As the technology expands, it will be possible to use it in more stores and for other payments such as electricians, plumbers, appliance repairs, landscaping, taxi cabs, etc. Train and bus riders with monthly passes may be able to use their cell phones more and more, eliminating the need to carry separate cards.

You might also find it possible to enter your home or place of work with your cell phone – and for owners to quickly reset access codes.

At home, smartphones and tablets can be integrated with computers to control home entertainment systems, lighting systems and your kids’ access to the internet. You can use your cell and home phones almost interchangeably to start a conversation on one device or system and continue it on another.

The possibilities to do more with smartphones and mobile devices seem to be unlimited. The only limiting factor may be the phone or device itself.

If you’re carrying a flip phone, for example, you likely don’t have access to the Internet for doing any kind of research, getting directions, making purchases or accessing email. You likely have SMS or texting capability, but it’s cumbersome. If all you want phone for is to talk, that’s fine.

If you have an older smartphone, you can still do the basics: find a nearby restaurant or gas station, purchase goods and services online, get your email and maybe watch streaming content. But your options will always be limited, and you’ll never get the performance that is driving so much of our online traffic.

Concurrent with the new iPhones, for example, Apple has released iOS 8, but it will only work with an iPhone 4S or newer model or with an iPad 2 or newer.

Apple is not alone. Samsung is already taking preorders for its new Galaxy Note 4, and you can bet that will raise the bar for performance and features.

On top of that, the major device manufacturers and OS developers will be keeping pace. Why? Because we not only want to be able to do more things online, we want to be able to do more of the things we already do, such as watch movies, play sophisticated games and make even more use of our Internet applications.

Within all of this, you will need to choose a device manufacturer, a cellular carrier and a phone and data plan. In addition to making technological choices, you’ll need to make financial choices and decide how long you actually want to keep your phone or tablet. Depending on what you need and what you want, you may need to replace your technology more often, and that will affect the device and carrier you choose.

Whether you’re a business with 20 computers and devices or a family, we can help. Once you get past the “ah” factor or the “OMG” moment, we can help you choose a technology that matches your needs and your budget as best as possible. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for answers to your questions and to set up an appointment.

The OS Outlook

Operating System updates are a way of life, but some of them can offer the means to change your technology life.

Apple’s iOS 8 is getting all the attention now because it coincides with the introduction of the iPhone 6 models and the Apple Watch. In our home, we’re using the new OS to monitor and control our kids’ use of their phones and devices, and we’re taking advantage of cool features, such as integrating with our iPads and computers.

Yosemite, the next OS for Apple computers will have similar ties. The net effect will be to put more pieces of the integration puzzle together.

Similarly, Google is looking for more integration with its Android OS for mobile devices and Chrome for laptop and desktop computers. Reports indicate that Android ???L devices will able to tell a Chromebook the user is nearby and have the laptop automatically login — doing away with the password once again. Chrome will also be able to display SMS messages and call details on a Chromebook and warn that your nearby phone is running low on battery.

On the Microsoft side, we’re working hard to get past our issues with Windows 8, which we believe fell short of integrating the tablet look and feel with laptop and desktop computers. We are looking forward to hearing about changes or seeing previews of the next Windows OS – hopefully a new Windows 9.

To counter the problems of Windows 8, we have encouraged clients to buy new computers capable of running Windows 7. We are now hearing rumors that Microsoft will end its support of Windows 7 in January 2015. What that means is that support options will change.

We believe Windows 7 will remain a strong OS. Many companies are still rolling out Windows 7 systems, and we still see more XP operating systems than we care to acknowledge. We continue to recommend migrating from XP to Windows 7 to get better performance and tighter security.

We can help you select and manage devices, computers and operating systems. Drop us an email or call us at 973-433-6676 to discuss your needs.

The Apple of Our ‘i’

With Apple’s announcements of new operating systems and products, the summer of anticipation begins. The word we like to sum up some of the new possibilities is “continuity.” Here’s why.

One of the new capabilities you’ll have with the new iOS 8 operating system for the iPhone is the ability to start writing an email on your iPhone and continue writing it on your Mac, which may be able to run OSX 10.10 – to be known as Yosemite. In many ways, it’s Apple’s attempt to succeed where Microsoft hasn’t in enabling users to work across multiple platforms.

Apple is also offering the capability to send text or instant messages to contacts with non-Apple devices. It will end a major headache for many who have contacts with Android devices (see New Devices and the Texting Blues). Apple also announced several new apps for the new OS.

Naturally, Apple will want you to use that capability on their new iPhone 6, due to hit the market in September. The new iOS 8 will run on the iPhone 4S and all iPhone 5 devices, and it will work with iPad 2 and later.

A lot will be happening this summer as developers start working with the new operating systems. You can read more about Apple’s new features on the company’s iOS 8 Preview page. We’ll keep you posted as news unfolds.