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What is iCloud+ (and why should you use it)?


If you received an Apple email letting you know you’ve been upgraded to iCloud+ at no additional charge, you’re not alone. So, what is iCloud+? What do you get, and why should you use it?

What is iCloud+?

Announced at WWDC 2021, iCloud+ is a suite of additional services designed to supplement the existing features of Apple’s online iCloud service. Despite its name, it doesn’t cost any more than before but is only available to those on paid plans. The free 5GB tier doesn’t get these additional features. The upgraded service adds useful security enhancements, including iCloud Private Relay (still in beta), Hide My email, and improved support for HomeKit Secure Video.

Announcing the upgrade to paid users, Apple said:

“Great news! We’ve automatically upgraded your iCloud storage plan to iCloud+ at no additional charge. iCloud+ combines everything you already love about iCloud with new features including iCloud Private Relay, Hide My Email, and more HomeKit Secure Video support.”

Why should you use iCloud+?

These new features are designed to help keep users secure. That security extends from protecting Safari browsing sessions all the way to ensuring marketers can’t easily gather information about you. If you care about your privacy, these features should be helpful. They may also have implications for enterprises, while the iCloud Custom domain tool should come in handy for small business users.

So, what do you get? Let’s dive into each component.

What is iCloud Private Relay?

Currently available in beta, iCloud Private Relay is a VPN-like service that protects you when you use Safari to browse online. It uses a dual-hop architecture. That means the service encrypts Safari traffic as it leaves your device, protecting it from being read by others. It encrypts the URL so no one, not your ISP or Apple, can see what site you are visiting. Your IP and the destination are then accessed using an intermediate relay station run by a “third-party trusted partner,” according to Apple.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

What’s not coming (yet) in iOS 15/iPadOS 15


Apple ships the latest iteration of its operating systems for iPads and iPhones today, but some (though not all) of the most enterprise-friendly features won’t be ready on day one.

What you get with iOS 15/iPadOS 15

Despite the extent of this list, you will still be gaining a slew of new features when you do upgrade your operating system(s). Focus, for example, will help you keep your head down to get things done, while the new design of Safari at present seems like great news to anyone else creating browsers for iOS. Maps gives new views, including 3D views, and you’ll get much better sound during FaceTime calls. Photos gets much better at identifying and sharing memories selected from your collection. Live Text, a slew of privacy protecting features, and excellent improvements to Contacts, Notes and Reminders — including support for tags — should give most iPhone and iPad users plenty of useful new tools.

Enterprises will also benefit from a far more powerful MDM system.

What you won’t get with 15

What follows are features that are slated to be made available in a later software update.

One additional caveat is that some features, particularly those that make use of AI, will only be supported on iPhone XS or newer. These include such tools Live Text in photos, for instance. There are also a small number of features that require you have a very recent iPhone.

Universal Control

Perhaps the most exciting improvement we’ll be left waiting for pending introduction of macOS Monterey, Universal Control lets you use a single mouse and keyboard to control up to three devices, so long as they are all logged in to the same Apple ID. You can move your cursor between all the screens and drag-&-drop items between devices, making it far easier to work with multiple devices.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Apple’s big reveal — the iPhone 13 — seems lucky for most


At its big September event Tuesday, Apple showed us how powerful chips boosted by software and hardware integration and bespoke machine intelligence can deliver real value to every user.

What Apple introduced

The company seemingly confirmed all the pre-event rumors, introducing iPhones with all-day battery life, accompanied by an unexpected star in the form of an A15-powered iPad mini powerful enough to use for any mobile productivity task.

The company told us iOS 15 will be available on Monday, Sept. 20. The company also introduced a new Apple Watch and a much-improved entry-level iPad.

What Apple said

About the iPhone, Apple said:

“Our customers rely on iPhone every day, which is why we’ve made iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini more powerful, more capable, and more fun to use,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

“Both phones have beautiful designs, industry-leading performance, and advanced camera systems with impressive computational photography features, all with incredible durability, water resistance, and a big jump in battery life to ensure customers can depend on their iPhone when they need it. All of this, tightly integrated with iOS 15 and with privacy built in, make iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini an unbeatable choice.”

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Should the brilliant new iPad mini go Pro?


I imagine the A15 processor inside the iPad mini may deliver similar performance to what it can achieve inside the smaller iPhone. We don’t have the benchmark data to prove this assumption yet, but it’s possible — assuming Apple hasn’t downclocked the chip.

The iPad mini basics

Apple told us the new A15 processor in the iPad mini delivers “a 40% jump in performance, and the 5-core GPU delivers an 80% leap in graphics performance compared to the previous generation of iPad mini.”

The previous model used an A12 Bionic chip about as powerful as the entry-level iPad 8, which has also been replaced. A little creative thinking based on adding 40% to existing single-core and multi-core iPad mini benchmarks means the new iPad mini should be just about as capable as the current iPad Air, which was last year’s best Apple tablet.

When that version of the Air shipped, it was faster than the second-generation 11-in. iPad Pro and the 12.9-in. A12Z Bionic iPad Pro.

Stop with the numbers already

I’m going to interrupt this stream of statistics to make a point: The newly-introduced iPad mini is probably as powerful as 2020’s high-end iPad Pro, but weighs less than half as much. (It weighs 0.65 pounds in contrast to the pro, which weighed 1.41 pounds.)

You also get less display (8.3 inches v 12.3 inches), though higher pixel density (326ppi vs 264ppi). But the real compromise is on storage, with a miserly 64GB in the entry-level model. If you do serious work, you will want the 256GB version, which starts at $649.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

A handy hidden shortcut for taking control in Chrome on Android


One of the absolute worst parts about browsing this dusty ol’ web of ours is when you innocently open up some site — maybe, say, a tech news publication — and a video you didn’t ask for suddenly starts blaring annoying audio into your unexpecting ears. It’s especially obnoxious on a phone, where you’re frequently scrolling on your screen in a semipublic area or whilst someone else slumbers nearby.

We’ve all been there. We all loathe it. And yet, we continue to experience it, with no obvious fix or easy way to avoid the annoyance. (Insert awkward eye-darting here.)

Well, my fellow Android adorer, I’ve got good news for you. Google’s Chrome Android browser actually has an incredibly effective system for sending overly aggressive websites a signal that you don’t appreciate their unprompted audio invasions. In fact, with a single tap of your greasy fingeroo, you can stop a site from making sounds on your phone ever again. And you can take control of all sorts of other site-specific permissions while you’re at it.

Get ready for an illuminating “aha!” moment, ’cause you’re about to meet a convenient Chrome feature that you probably never knew existed.

The on-demand Chrome Android control panel

All right — ready? Here ’tis: Anytime you’re viewing a site within Chrome on Android, you can tap the padlock icon at the top of the screen, to the left of the site’s address, to pop up a power-packed panel that lets you view and adjust all sorts of info about that specific site’s permissions and what it’s able to do.


Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s been a big week for patches


This week brought updates that I consider critical for the “Big Three” — my operating system (Windows), my browser (Google Chrome) and my phone (from Apple). All three releases patch major zero-day vulnerabilities on all three platforms.

While I strongly recommend that you patch Chrome and your iPhone as soon as possible, I always recommend that you hold back on updating Windows. That remains true — at least until we see whether there are any trending side effects from the Patch Tuesday updates.

Let’s break down the patching to do right away.

First, prioritize patching Apple devices. Among this week’s patches is one for Pegasus spyware, which can open up access to the camera and microphone as well as text messages, phone calls, and emails.  iPhones, in particular, have been targeted. Apple typically pushes these updates overnight if your phone is plugged in and charging (and connected to the Internet). If you want to make sure your iPhone has received the update, click on Settings, then General, then tap Software Update. Typically, after my iPhone updates, some apps may need passwords again. I personally try to save critical ones in the iCloud keychain. Look for patches for iOS 14.8 and iPad OS 14.8, and Security Update 2021-005 for macOS Catalina and Big Sur 11.6.

The Chrome browser update fixes two in-the-wild exploits patched in version 93.0.4577.82 for Windows, Mac and Linux. (For those using the Chrome OS, Bleeping computer reports that some devices have been reporting black screens after trying to log into their Chrome OS accounts.)

And finally, we come to Microsoft. For anyone hoping this month’s updates would “fix” an issue involving the use of group policy to deal with printers for your domain/business users (I wrote about this earlier), welcome to your new normal: The way you used to deploy printers isn’t fixed. What is fixed is yet another remote attack that utilized the print spooler to gain more access to your machines. So we’re going to have to redeploy print drivers using different means.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

What the iPhone 13 and iPad mini mean for the enterprise


Apple’s 77-minute iPhone 13 event wasn’t the longest such launch in recent memory – the iPhone 7 reveal  took 119 minutes. But the company’s executives still had quite a lot to get through on Tuesday. Here’s what should matter most to enterprise users.

We all want the same things

To be fair, the division between enterprise and consumer expectations for technology continues to erode: Workers want to use the same tools at work as they do at home – and these days most employers feel the same way. Software and hardware are expected to put users first and provide well thought-through user interfaces that reduce, rather than increase, user friction.

The days when enterprise solutions could get away with being unwieldy or hard to use are quickly disappearing in the rear-view mirror. And that means to some extent even the consumer-focused features Apple highlighted have some bearing on enterprise IT. Some items particularly stood out.

Those carrier promotions

Take carrier promotions, for example. I noted them here, but these are emerging globally in a promising arrangement that should see telcos reap more benefit from their 5G infrastructure investments while giving the 95% of existing iPhone users who don’t yet have a 5G device a really good reason to upgrade.

Jefferies analyst Kyle McNealy notes:

“One of the most important elements of the iPhone 13 launch from our perspective is the carrier promotions (and effective subsidies) that are coming through even bigger than the strong promotions last year.” He observed “promotions as more aggressive than last year – they’re either a higher dollar value or don’t require a net-new line.”

That’s serendipitous, of course, given analyst Morgan Stanley’s belief that 5G is and remains the thing consumers most wanted from the iPhone, followed by improved cameras and better battery life. Apple met all three wishes.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Apple hits the alarm with multi-OS emergency update to patch zero-click flaw


Apple on Monday issued emergency security updates for iOS, macOS and its other operating systems to plug a hole that Canadian researchers claimed had been planted on a Saudi political activist’s device by NSO Group, an Israeli seller of spyware and surveillance software to governments and their security agencies.

Updates to patch the under-active-exploit vulnerability were released for iOS 14; macOS 11 and 10, aka Big Sur and Catalina, respectively; iPad OS 14; and watchOS 7.

According to Apple, the vulnerability can be exploited by “processing a maliciously crafted PDF,” which “may lead to arbitrary code execution.” The phrase “arbitrary code execution” is Apple’s way of saying that the bug was of the most serious nature; Apple does not rank threat level of vulnerabilities, unlike operating system rivals such as Microsoft and Google.

Apple credited The Citizen Lab for reporting the flaw.

Also on Monday, Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization that operates from the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto, released a report outlining what it found. “While analyzing the phone of a Saudi activist infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, we discovered a zero-day zero-click exploit against iMessage,” Citizen Lab researchers wrote.

The exploit, which Citizen Lab dubbed “FORCEDENTRY,” had been used to infect the phone of the activist — and possibly others as far back as February 2021 — with the NGO Group’s “Pegasus” surveillance suite. It, in turn, consists largely of spyware that can document texts and emails sent to and from the device as well as switch on its camera and microphone for secret recording.

Citizen Lab was confident that FORCEDENTRY was associated with Pegasus and thus, NGO Group. According to researchers, the spyware loaded by the zero-click exploit contained coding characteristics, including ones never made public, that Citizen Lab had come across in previous analysis of NGO Group and Pegasus.

“Despite promising their customers the utmost secrecy and confidentiality, NSO Group’s business model contains the seeds of their ongoing unmasking,” Citizen Labs’ researcher wrote in their Monday report. “Selling technology to governments that will use the technology recklessly in violation of international human rights law ultimately facilitates discovery of the spyware by investigatory watchdog organizations.”

Apple device owners can download and install the security-only updates issued Monday by triggering a software update through the device’s OS.

Copyright © 2021 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

3 new time-saving Assistant tricks to try on Android


Attention, my fellow Android-owning hominids: Your favorite virtual assistant is learning a few new skills.

Google Assistant is in the midst of getting some significant upgrades on Android — small-seeming features that could have a supersized impact on your workday efficiency. They’re exactly the types of productivity-boosting tidbits I love to uncover on Android, as they’ll make your phone instantly smarter and your life immediately easier.

So what’s the catch, you might be wondering? Well, my curious comrade, there’s just one — and it’s deliciously easy to overcome: These new Assistant abilities are arriving mostly unannounced. (A familiar-feeling tale at this point, wouldn’t ya say?) They oughta be available on any reasonably recent Android phone by now, though. It’s just up to you to find ’em and then figure out how they fit into your personal productivity picture.

So enough with the vague yammering: Let’s break down exactly what these new Android Assistant features are all about and how they could be helpful for you.

New Android Assistant feature No. 1: The delayed action

Our first Android Assistant addition is a welcome new way to automate any type of Assistant-connected action imaginable and then add a delay into that equation.

Sounds a little strange, right? Let me put it into more practical terms. With this new capability in tow, you could do things like:

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Apple’s App Store payments loss isn’t Epic enough


The first 185-page Apple-v-Epic judgment didn’t please anybody when it arrived on Friday. Apple will be required to permit people to pay for apps and in-app purchases using third party payment services that  developers will be entitled to link to.

Epic is appealing the decision, but it’s interesting that while it sued Apple and Google over the 30% fee, it has not started litigation against Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony — all three of which charge the same fee at their online stores.

What does the ruling mean?

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’ ruling means that when you pay for a Spotify subscription or some in-app power up you may be given a link that lets you pay through payment systems other than Apple.

I guess developers will get to choose which payment systems to use, but I imagine Apple will still be able to insist on its payment systems being a choice. Developers will have a choice. Some will offer their apps/services at up to 30% less than the equivalent cost via the store; others will try to keep the extra change. Some will not bother offering alternative payment systems; others can’t wait to do so.

What this means in practice

What the judgement has done is set in motion a new kind of competition at the App Store, and if it happens there, it will happen elsewhere. After all, if Apple is required to open for payments competition (even a little), so logically should every other app store provider. Basically, app store payment systems just became a new competitive space, and while that’s bad for Apple’s bottom line in the short-term, it may be able to turn that challenge around.

What can Apple do?

Apple can compete. The judge noted the 70% profit margin generated by App Store sales right now, which is incredibly high and shows why Apple’s existing 30% margin should change. At the same time, Apple’s payment systems are relatively robust and some of the benefits of using them somewhat unsung. That’s going to change.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Facebook smart glasses and some lessons for Apple


On the road to AR, Facebook snagged some attention this week with the arrival of its first smart glasses. As Apple inches toward the introduction of its own augmented spectacles, are there lessons here about what these things do and how they should work?

What Facebook’s glasses do

First, let’s take a glance at Facebook’s smart glasses. They offer a pair of cameras to take photos and videos, boast a microphone and a speaker, and are controlled using a voice assistant.

Most observers describe these things as similar to Snapchat spectacles. Facebook has called them Stories, so now you know what the Story feature in Facebook most of us never use is for. The glasses are manufactured with Ray-Ban and look like Wayfarers. They cost $299 and Facebook says it wants them to “create a sense of social presence.”

They aren’t AR glasses. Instead, they will let you film everything that happens around you, presumably so Facebook can analyze your habits and pump you up with advertising, which appears to be the social media company’s basic business plan.

The glasses look cool, the touch controls seem cool, but all you’re getting really is music on the move, a voice assistant that also takes calls, and the chance to take photos/videos on demand. These are accessories at best and are designed to work with an app on a smartphone. These smart glasses seem a little dumb.

What can Apple learn from all this? Here’s a few suggestions.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

A business user’s guide to Apple’s upgrade season


We’ve hit that time of year when enterprise IT prepares to support teams as they upgrade all their Apple operating systems across smartphones, tablets, and Macs.

The need for a stress-free upgrade process is accompanied by refreshed demand for hardware upgrades, as new models of iPhones, iPads, the Apple Watch, and Macs appear. Are your employees prepared for the season? Is IT?

When do the new operating systems ship?

Apple will introduce its new iPhone 13 at a special event on Tuesday at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET). The new devices will likely be available for pre-order three days later, on Sept. 17, with the hardware expected to ship and arrive in retail stores on Sept. 24.

Apple will publish its new iOS 15/iPad OS 15 operating systems for iPhones and iPads at around the same time, usually just before the products ship. History is your guide: iOS 14 and iPad OS 14 were released on Sept. 16, 2020 with new iPads. The iPhones followed (along with the iOS 14.1 release) on Oct. 13. iOS 13 shipped Sept. 19, 2019, one day before the iPhone 11 reached stores.

Up next, I imagine macOS Monterey will ship in time to support Apple’s next anticipated Mac event in October.

IT should test the betas immediately

It is reasonable to anticipate that many employees will update (or want to update) their Apple devices when the operating systems ship. Hopefully, your IT department has been working with the beta versions of these installations (they are available here) to identify any potential problems or conflicts with your existing enterprise security protocols or systems. If not, then time is short, and they should expedite such research.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

12 ways to reduce data use on your Mac


Remote workers using Macs on high-cost capped data plans or in the field using a smartphone to get online may need to reduce the data they use. Here are some ideas to help you achieve that.  

Disable automatic macOS updates

For the purposes of this piece, I’ll assume you’ve already updated your Mac to the latest version of macOS. That’s the right thing to do, but it can devour your remaining data, which is why your should disable automatic macOS updates. Your Mac will automatically download and install macOS updates. That’s good most of the time, but as you come to the end of your monthly data allowance or when using a Mac to work from the middle of nowhere, it’s a potential no-no. This is how to disable automatic downloads on your Mac:

  • Open System Preferences>Software Updates
  • Choose Advanced and uncheck Download new updates when available.
  • Click on OK.

What this means is that you’ll need to manually download and install Mac software updates when they are made available using System Preferences>Software Update, which gives you the chance to do it at a time more convenient to you.

Disable automatic app updates

Apps you download via the App Store do get updated and by default will be updated automatically. You can put a stop to this.

  • Open the App Store on your Mac
  • Open App Store Preferences (Command-,) in the app menu.
  • Uncheck Automatic Updates.
  • If you think you may be exploring the App Store while dealing with constrained bandwidth, you may also want to disable Video Autoplay.

Open Activity Monitor and Force Quit apps

Tap Command-Space and search for “Activity Monitor,” or find the application tucked away inside Utilities in your Applications folder. When Activity Monitor opens, go to the Network tab and quickly scan the list of apps in the Process Name list. If you see any application names you recognize that you know you have already quit, select the app name and then tap the X button up top, to the left of the circled i. This will quit that process.

It’s quite possible you’ll see no recognized application name that you are not actively using, but at times you might find an app you have quit that continues working in a suspended state in the background. Don’t spend too much time on this; just review the software that is consuming large amounts of data.

You should also be certain to quit any applications you are not using, as many of these now send and receive small quantities of data during use.

NB: Activity Monitor is also a useful tool to monitor Network usage across all the Applications on your Mac. Just click on Sent and/or Rcvd Bytes to identify which applications are devouring data.

Check for Mail manually

At home, I like to check for Mail automatically, but not when I’m working to conserve bandwidth.

  • Open Mail>Preferences (Command-,) and open the General pane.
  • Now set the “Check for new messages” drop down menu to Manually.

While you will still use bandwidth when you do check for Mail, you will at least be in control of when you need to use that data. In extremis, it makes sense to use Web-based mail systems via your browser, leaving your Mail application switched off. Webmail still uses some bandwidth, but doesn’t helpfully download document attachments until told to do so.

Take control of iCloud

iCloud sync is one of the big selling points across the Apple ecosystem. It’s what makes sure all your data remains available across all your devices. I think it’s great, but when you want to save a little bandwidth, you can turn this off for the most data-hungry functions. (If you use iCloud Drive for work, you may want to keep this on. But you must consider the data created and up-/down-loaded for anything you create on your Mac.)

Open System Preferences and select Apple ID. Select iCloud and go through the list of apps that use iCloud. You should uncheck sync for the most data hungry apps. I tend to maintain Contacts, Calendars, and Reminders as a minimum as the functionality can exceed the small cost of data.

Reduce video quality

If using your Mac for business, the advice may be water off a duck’s back, but you will reduce bandwidth by avoiding video streaming. That means turning off auto-play in the apps you are using (how to do this varies by app). It also means reducing video quality where you can.

In Music open Preferences>Playback and set Video Playback Quality to Good (smallest files).

Disable Notifications

Notifications use data, too. Disable these in System Preferences>and set Show Previews to Never. You should also Option-click the clock in your Mac’s Menu bar to put your computer into Do Not Disturb mode. It’s not a huge data-slimmer, but may help.

Disable Siri

Those Siri requests usually require data that’s uploaded and downloaded between your Mac and Apple’s Siri servers. If you want to reduce data use, you’ll want to disable Ask Siri, no matter which fantastic voice you’ve chosen. Open System Preferences>Siri and uncheck “Enable Ask Siri” under the Siri icon there.

Stop your Mac sending data home

Apple collects Diagnostics & Usage data from Macs. Apple, which recently delayed launch of its controversial CSAM protection measures, says this is perfectly safe. It also says the collection of this data is designed to help developers and Apple itself build better apps. However, the process uses bandwidth, so you may want to stop it.

  • Open System Preferences;
  • Tap the Privacy pane;
  • In the Diagnostics & Usage section uncheck Send diagnostic & usage data to Apple and also uncheck Share crash data with app developers.

Scan for malware

If you are unlucky enough to have caught one of the Mac’s ever-growing army of malware infections, you may find that the amount of data you are using seems to be spiking, despite what you do to control it. That’s why you should run a malware removal tool to detect and destroy these things. Malwarebytes, Sophos Home, and Avast Security all offer free versions of their tools which should help keep your Mac in good shape.

Avoid social media (particularly Facebook)

Social media apps love to grab data about you which they then magically transform into dollars. Facebook seems particularly keen to do this. If you must check your social media, do so. But don’t forget to quit the webpage once you’re done. Better yet, restart your browser to protect against any social media related “background processes” that may “enhance” your experience.

Advanced tip: Use Content Caching

If you have multiple devices on your bandwidth-constrained network, you may want to try using Content Caching. This reduces bandwidth use by storing software updates, apps, and other content on your Mac that can then be accessed by other Macs (and sometimes iOS devices) on the same wired or Wi-Fi network. (That Mac software update may only need to be downloaded once to share across all your families machines.) As you may expect, you’ll find this feature in System Preferences:

  • Open Sharing;
  • Check Content Caching from the list of services;
  • You’ll need to restart all your devices.

You’ll also be able to monitor how much cached content local networked devices have uploaded and downloaded over time in Activity Monitor.

Once your bandwidth recovers, don’t forget to switch all these features back on again to regain the full functionality of your computer.

Do you have additional tips to help prune data use on a Mac? Please let me know via one of the social media feeds below.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2021 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

3 smart shortcuts for a curiously hidden Chrome OS command


Hear ye, hear ye, my Chromebook-carrying comrades: Have I ever got the tasty new trick for you — er, for ye.

It’s a super-handy shortcut you can add into your Chrome OS computer to fill a curious void and make your system significantly easier to use. Intriguing, wouldn’t ye say?

Here’s the thing: For all the progress Google’s made with Chrome OS over the years — and to be sure, there’s been plenty! — some extraordinarily simple-seeming feats have remained oddly unaddressed. We’re just now getting a (still-buried) way to restore all of your apps and windows and avoid having that blasted blank browser window come up every time you restart your forkin’ Chromebook, for example, roughly a decade into the platform’s life.

And this topic of today is very much in that same category of “How Can We Possibly Not Do That Yet?!” features. The main difference is that Google still hasn’t tackled this one effectively, so it’s up to you to find or create the creative workaround.

I’m talking about the vexing lack of any simple restart command within the Chrome OS software. It’s something that came up during a conversation with one of the members of my Android Intelligence Platinum community recently, so I set out to scratch this fuzzy ol’ mammal-noggin of mine and muster up a solution.

I’d honestly never considered the fact that Chromebooks don’t have a simple on-screen restart function, but the perceptive Homo sapien asking me the question was absolutely right: If you look at the Chrome OS Quick Settings panel, you’ve got a single-click button for powering your computer down — and that’s it:

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

The best travel apps for Android


For all the ways travel is different these days, one thing hasn’t changed: Moving from one place to another can be a massive hassle. There’s plenty of room for inconvenience and error, and a journey rarely goes according to plan.

But while there’s not much you can do about the late departures, the surly gate attendants, or the smelly fella somehow always seated right next to you (a factor where your mask may come in extra handy, incidentally), there are some tech-centric steps you can take to make your next business trip a little less unpleasant.

Android’s travel app selection has really taken off over the past few years, and the Google Play Store now boasts an impressive array of genuinely useful titles for the traveling professional. After putting numerous standout candidates to the test, these are the apps I’d recommend stowing on your smartphone and keeping at arm’s reach whenever your work next has you hitting the road or flying the (allegedly) friendly skies.

(All apps are free unless otherwise specified.)

Planning and preparing

Organize your packing process

PackPoint is a travel organization genie. You simply tell it where you’re going, when, and what you’ll be doing — and the app generates a detailed checklist of suggested items for your suitcase.

You can add your own items to the list, as needed, and then use it as a guide to make sure you remember everything, every time.


PackPoint takes some of the pain out of packing for a trip.

PackPoint is free, with an optional one-time $3 upgrade that removes ads and gives you the ability to create your own custom packing templates. The paid version of the app also integrates with TripIt (more on that in a moment), which means it can import your travel plans automatically and create packing lists before you even ask.

Prepare for local navigation

Yeah, yeah, I know: You’re well aware of Google Maps. But what you might not realize — or maybe have just forgotten — is that with a teensy bit of planning, you can download all the data you need for a trip directly into Maps in advance. That way, you can navigate to your heart’s content, even in areas without strong mobile data signals, and you can avoid burning through mobile data unnecessarily on the road.

Here’s the trick: While you’re still in the comfort of your home or office, open up Maps on your phone and search for the city you’ll be visiting. Tap the city’s name within the search interface, then tap its name a second time when it appears in a box at the bottom of the screen.

At that point, you should be taken to a full-screen info page about the city — and within a row of circular icons, you should see one icon with a downward-facing arrow and the word “Download” beneath it. Tap that, then tap “Download” on the confirmation screen that appears. Once the download finishes, you’ll be able to access maps and directions within your destination without the need for an active connection.

Repeat as needed for any additional places on your agenda, then rest easy knowing your navigational guide will be there and waiting — no matter what sort of conditions you encounter.

Map out your downtime

If you’re lucky enough to have a business trip with some built-in downtime — even just an hour or two in the evening — don’t waste a precious second searching around and trying to figure out what to do. Instead, download the Guides by Lonely Planet app and get a head start on finding desirable destinations to explore.

Lonely Planet has tons of useful info about places all over the world. You’ll also find selections of “must-see” attractions for cities, along with suggested tours and activities. Once you select something you’re interested in, you’ll find all sorts of details about its location and pricing. You’ll even be given quick links to make reservations or buy tickets, if applicable.

android travel apps lonely planet 2021 Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet is a lovely way to explore what’s around you, wherever you might be.

It’s true that Google Maps does offer up some of this same sort of info, but Lonely Planet relies on its widely recognized travel experts to visit every included city and carefully review the possibilities — and that, suffice it to say, results in a much more polished and thorough sort of guide than what you’ll get from Google’s algorithm-driven recommendations and random user reviews. The app’s interface also makes it easy and fun to explore different places and find what appeals to you.

Lonely Planet is free for limited use. The app also offers a subscription that provides unlimited access, along with extras such as offline availability, on-demand Lonely Planet videos, and an actual printed guidebook for a city of your choice for five bucks a month or $40 a year.


Manage your air travel

TripIt is an all-around air travel management companion, and it’ll make your life easier in some meaningful ways — especially if you do a fair amount of flying.

At its core, TripIt allows you to forward flight itineraries and other travel-related emails to a special address — or, if you want, to grant it direct access to your inbox so it can find and process such emails on its own — and it then extracts all the relevant details and organizes them into clean and easy-to-follow master itineraries.

Where TripIt really shines, though, is with its optional $49-a-year TripIt Pro service (which you can try out via a free 30-day trial). That service gives you real-time flight updates all throughout your trip — often beating notifications by airlines’ own apps, in my experience, as well as updates to the monitors in the terminal.

android travel apps tripitJR Raphael/IDG

Once you travel with TripIt — and specifically its TripIt Pro service — you won’t want to fly without it.

Beyond that, TripIt Pro makes it dead simple to find alternate flights at any point in your adventure. If a connection is canceled or delayed, all it takes is a couple of taps to see what other flights are available — even down to the specific open seats — on your current airline or on another. That’s helped me stay a step ahead of the gate agent on multiple occasions when late departures have put connecting flights in jeopardy.

TripIt Pro comes with a few other perks, too, such as a four-month free trial of the CLEAR expedited airport access program and then a $30 discount on that service’s ongoing annual fee. But the notifications and alternate flight finder are what really make the app invaluable. And while services like App in the Air offer similar sorts of features, no other app has been as consistently helpful, reliable, and easy to use as TripIt in my real-world travel testing. It’s the gold standard of travel organization and a must-have for any frequent flier or business traveler.

Find the best flights

Forget all the clunky, upsell-infested flight-finding services and instead, open up your Chrome Android browser and navigate to Google Flights. All right — so technically, it isn’t an Android app, but Google’s flight-searching system makes it super-easy to find and book flights across all airlines. You can save or share potential itineraries, monitor flights and get notified by email as soon as a specific fare goes up or down, and then buy your tickets directly with whatever airline (or airlines) you choose.

Pro tip: If you want to make the app easier to access, tap Chrome’s three-dot menu icon while viewing the website and select “Add to home screen.” That’ll give you a more traditional mobile-app-like icon that can then pull up the tool with a single tap.

One other utility that might be worth keeping handy is Hopper — but there’s a very specific purpose and also an important asterisk involved. Hopper watches flight prices over long periods of time in order to track trends and show you how fares are likely to fluctuate based on when you fly and when you make your purchase. If you’re booking your own travel and either footing the bill yourself or trying to stay within a limited company budget, that knowledge can be incredibly helpful to have.

android travel apps hopperJR Raphael/IDG

Hopper’s airfare-tracking system can give you valuable flight price knowledge.

But Hopper’s ultimate goal is to get you to book your tickets through its service, and that doesn’t necessarily seem like the most advisable thing to do. User reviews on the Play Store mention difficulty changing itineraries once they’re booked with Hopper and challenges getting through to the company’s customer service.

So what I’d suggest is treating Hopper as a resource and not a ticket-purchasing portal: Use it to research optimal travel dates and purchasing windows, if you need to, and then take the info it gives you and plug it directly into either Google Flights or the appropriate airline’s website to buy the tickets directly from the source — and without the potentially problematic middleman.

Speed up your border entry

If you’re traveling internationally — and have a valid passport from the U.S. or Canada — the Mobile Passport app can save you precious time when you enter the U.S. by allowing you to submit your passport info and customs declaration form through the app upon landing and then skip the regular line on your way through border patrol.

Despite its name, the app does not replace your passport; you still need to carry that with you. And not to worry: It’s authorized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protections agency and totally legit.


Track your mileage

If you drive your own car for business, Microsoft’s MileIQ makes it easy as can be to keep track of all your mileage for later reimbursement. Once you set up the app on your phone and activate its “Drive Detection” feature, you don’t have to do a thing: It’ll automatically detect when you’re driving and then log all your miles in the background. It even uses current IRS-mandated reimbursement rates to calculate what you’re owed.

The app has some interesting advanced options, too, such as the ability to set specific work hours and then ignore any drives that occur outside of those times.

MileIQ is free to use for up to 40 drives per month. For unlimited access, you’ll have to pony up $6 a month or $60 for a full year of service.

Pay less for gas

Why pay top dollar for top-offs when you can drive an extra minute from the highway and save yourself (or your company) some money? GasBuddy gives you the insight you need to find fuel that won’t break the bank: You just open up the app, tap the option to find gas near you, and then either look through a list of nearby gas stations and how much they’re currently charging or switch to a map view to see prices plotted out around your present location.

android travel apps gasbuddy 2021 GasBuddy

GasBuddy relies on user reports to provide up-to-date info on gas prices in your area.

GasBuddy has a bunch of other features you probably won’t want to mess with, but the app’s price searching ability is worth every penny (particularly since the app is free and thus costs you precisely zero pennies to use).

At your destination

Track your travel expenses

When it comes to more general expense-tracking, Expensify is the app to have in your arsenal. Expensify lets you simply take photos of receipts with your phone — or forward invoices and receipts via email — and it then extracts the relevant details and organizes them into reports. The app is available on the web as well, and it offers direct-export integrations with QuickBooks, Xero, and other accounting services.

android travel apps expensify 2021 Expensify

Snap a photo of a receipt — or forward it in via email — and then forget about it with Expensify.

Expensify costs either $5 or $9 per person per month for businesses, depending on your needs. You can try the app out with a free individual plan, too, though that limits you to just 25 imports per month and lacks many of the service’s advanced expense reporting and integration options.

Find a place to stay on short notice

The next time you find yourself unexpectedly stuck somewhere — be it due to a cancelled flight or a road trip gone awry — don’t panic. Instead, snag the free and easy to use HotelTonight app. HotelTonight searches around your current location to find hotels with open and available rooms, but that’s not all: It also scores you legitimate savings on the rates, by way of an apparent deal wherein hotels let the service sell rooms at a discount in order to fill last-minute vacancies. I spot-checked a handful of the app’s recommendations, and the savings were absolutely real.

android travel apps hoteltonightJR Raphael/IDG

HotelTonight provides an easy way to find last-minute rooms at discounted rates.

HotelTonight has handy details and ratings for all the hotels it recommends. And once you find something suitable, all it takes is a few taps within the app to book your room and be ready to roll.

Find Wi-Fi anywhere

Why waste money on mobile data when Wi-Fi is all around you and waiting for the taking? Just open WiFi Map to see an interactive map showing available Wi-Fi networks in your area (or any other area you want to search). The app lists out speed information and even provides user-submitted passwords to secured public networks in some instances.

Just note: When you first open WiFi Map, you’ll be pressed to upgrade to a $40-a-year premium subscription. That allows you to eliminate some rather aggressive ads within the app and also gives you the ability to download information in advance for offline viewing. You don’t have to make the upgrade, though (and arguably shouldn’t bother); if you want to use the app for free, just tap the “Continue without subscription” text when the upgrade prompt appears.

Also, when searching for available networks, be sure to tap the three-line menu icon at the top of the results list and change the setting from “Show All” to “Recently Connected.” That’ll weed out old (and thus likely to be inaccurate) info from the list and show you only networks that have been confirmed to work by other users within the last 90 days.

Convert and translate anything

For your next border-crossing journey, let XE Currency Converter convert currency for you without the usual headache. Once you tell the app your home country’s currency and select which foreign currencies you want to convert into, all you have to do is type in a dollar amount to get an instant glimpse at the exact equivalent based on up-to-the-minute conversion rates.

And when language translation is what you require, the aptly named Google Translate app is the tool you want. It’s jam-packed with practical features, such as the ability to translate text instantly from an image you capture with your camera and a “conversation mode” that lets you have a (somewhat awkward) back-and-forth dialog, in real time, with someone speaking a different tongue.

Stay fit wherever you go

Who says you have to stay sedentary just because you’re traveling? Skip the underwhelming hotel “exercise facility” and turn to RunGo to find and navigate popular running trails wherever you are. It’s free to use, with an optional $2-a-month or $15-a-year premium upgrade that gives you a variety of extra features you probably won’t need (unless you really want to sync the app with a Strava activity tracker).

If you’d rather get your heart pumping from the privacy of your own room, snag the Nike Training Club app. It’s filled with easy-to-follow workouts, ranging from the intense and Crossfit-reminiscent “Bodyweight Only Benchmark” to the simple and stretch-oriented “Run Ready Yoga.”

android travel apps nike training club 2021 Nike

The Nike Training Club app has tons of workouts you can do almost anywhere.

You can find workouts for practically any amount of time you want — as little as five minutes, even! — and you can browse specifically through “no-equipment workouts,” assuming you don’t carry your entire collection of kettlebells with you every time you travel. And best of all? The app is completely free to use.

The only thing you’ll be missing is an excuse.

This article was originally published in June 2018 and most recently updated in September 2021.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Apple backs off controversial child-safety plans


In a surprise Friday announcement, Apple said it will take more time to improve its controversial child safety tools before it introduces them.

More feedback sought

The company says it plans to get more feedback and improve the system, which had three key components: iCloud photos scanning for CSAM material, on-device message scanning to protect kids, and search suggestions designed to protect children.

Ever since Apple announced the tools, it has faced a barrage of criticism from concerned individuals and rights groups from across the world. The big argument the company seemed to have a problem addressing seems to have been the potential for repressive governments to force Apple to monitor for more than CSAM.

Who watches the watchmen?

Edward Snowden, accused of leaking US intelligence and now a privacy advocate, warned on Twitter, “Make no mistake: if they can scan for kiddie porn today, they can scan for anything tomorrow.”

Critics said these tools could be exploited or extended to support censorship of ideas or otherwise threaten free thought. Apple’s response — that it would not extend the system — was seen as a little naïve.

“We have faced demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users before and have steadfastly refused those demands. We will continue to refuse them in the future. Let us be clear, this technology is limited to detecting CSAM stored in iCloud and we will not accede to any government’s request to expand it,” the company said.

“All it would take to widen the narrow backdoor that Apple is building is an expansion of the machine learning parameters to look for additional types of content,” countered the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Apple listens to its users (in a good way)

In a statement widely released to the media (on the Friday before a US holiday, when bad news is sometimes released) about the suspension, Apple said:

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Administration weighs delaying tax deadline amid outbreak

Administration weighs delaying tax deadline amid outbreak

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is working on plans to delay the April 15 federal tax deadline for some taxpayers in a bid to soften the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the U.S. economy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress on Wedne…