Thanksgiving Tech Support: Essential tips to assist friends and family during the holidays

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 hunt for Black Friday deals ahead of the Christmas shopping season. If you’re the “tech person” in the family, you’ll likely get asked to help with someone’s iPhone, iPad, or Mac, so here are some tips to help those devices run better.

Check iOS, macOS, and watchOS updates

If you have a family member running iOS 14 or a really old version of macOS, Thanksgiving is a great time to go ahead and update them. They will receive all the latest features of iOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey, and will likely stay up to date all through 2022 thanks to automatic updates. All of Apple’s fall OS updates have been out long enough that you should feel safe upgrading them. Keep in mind – the current versions are the most secure ones on the market, so it’s a great idea to keep your family up to date.

Before updating to macOS Monterey, make sure they have a local 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

iCloud Photos

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 2021 someone could use iOS without iCloud, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Go to Settings > iCloud to verify they are signed in. While you are in that section, please scroll down to Backups and make sure they’ve completed a backup recently. If not, trigger a manual backup and make sure it completes before upgrading.

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 your photo library due to a damaged device is one of the worst things that can happen, and it’s a preventable problem with iCloud Photos.

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 $7 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’s nothing else to do.

Check Chrome extensions

Chrome is a popular browser for Mac users thanks to its easy syncing with PCs and robust extension ecosystem. I run across many instances of Chrome that have a decent amount of bloatware installed, though. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to clean up.

Go to Window > Extensions. Look for anything abnormal (PDF converters, etc.), and remove them. Also, double-check to ensure 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.

If you need to do general maintenance, delete large files to free up space, or uninstall applications, check out CleanMyMac X. It’s the best macOS maintenance tool.

Discuss Wi-Fi upgrades

One of the many things I am getting asked about now is how to improve home Wi-Fi connections. Long gone are the days of spending $30 on a cheap router. In my house, we have 50 devices on the network at any given time. That is mainly due to HomeKit devices but also includes Apple TVs, iPhones, and iPads.

I am using the eero Pro 6 in my house since I work from home, but for someone with less demanding needs, the normal eero 6 model will be a fantastic upgrade. Here’s my complete review. If you’re family is complaining about poor Wi-Fi in their home for remote work, you can feel safe recommending eero.

Wrap-up on Thanksgiving tech support

It’s always fun to get your friends and family members set up for the new year by ensuring their devices are backed up, up to date, and clean from malware. Enjoy the holidays, and avoid controversial topics like web apps vs. native apps and if Apple should allow sideloading on iOS.

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