Every time I come home for Christmas, my folks ask me to fix something technology-related in their home. They're very intelligent people and generally good with Macs, but somehow I always end up having to troubleshoot something. (This Christmas: controlling the Nest thermostat through their iOS devices.)
Whether your family members are tech-savvy or not, everyone appreciates a little holiday help now and then. In that spirit, here are ten of my favorite no-brainer tips to pass along this season. (I recommend printing, framing, or otherwise stickying the first five.)
1. Quit and restart
Program slow? App freeze? iPad misbehaving? When in doubt, quitting and restarting is your friend. Most of the time, a simple File > Quit on the Mac or closing the app on iOS will do the trick, but here are a few other ways to shut down apps if you're running into issues:
Force Quit on the Mac: Command-Option-Escape. This forcefully shuts down the app in question — even if that app doesn't necessarily want to quit.
Force Quit on iOS: Open the multitasking bar by double-pressing the Home button, then swipe up on the app window in question.
Force Restart your Mac: Command-Control-Power button. Same idea as a force-quit for an app, only system-wide.
Force Restart your iOS device: Hold down the On/Off Switch and the Home button until you see the Apple logo.
2. Check your free space
If your iOS device or Mac is acting particularly sluggish, check and see how much free space you have left on your hard drive. On the Mac, go to the Apple menu > About this Mac > Storage; on iOS, go to Settings > General > Usage.
If you have 5GB or fewer remaining, you might want to consider freeing up some disk space. If you aren't sure what to get rid of, here are two guides on freeing up space on the Mac and on iOS, respectively.
3. Update your software
Do your parents and family members a solid this holiday and make sure their iOS devices and Macs are up to date. By doing so, you're not only keeping their devices secure, but also saving yourself a phone call when they can't use Continuity, or their app won't download.
You can also encourage them to keep their own Macs up to date by turning on automatic system updates for your Mac (System Preferences > App Store) and letting them know how check for system updates on their iOS devices (Settings > General > Software Update).
4. Five Command shortcuts to get you whizzing around like a pro
Despite the fact that they save time, it's easy to be wary of shortcuts. I heard "I don't want to press the wrong thing!" many a time when I was still working for Apple's retail stores, and I understand that fear. But even if your family member isn't ready to jump on-board with TextExpander, there are a few excellent shortcuts that are dead-simple to learn and remember.
Command-Tab: Switch between open applications on your Mac.
Command-C: Copy text.
Command-P: Paste text.
Command-S: Save your current document.
Command-Q: Quit the currently open program.
5. Get a password manager
I may not insist my family members pick up TextExpander, but this Christmas I did make my dad get 1Password. With all the hullaballoo about hackers, weak passwords, and the like in the news, it's silly at this point not to have a password manager and use strong passwords. Two-factor authentication might be too much this Christmas, but you can get your family boarded on the password safety train with apps like 1Password or LastPass or another manager of your choice.
6. Back up, back up, back up
Along those lines, if your family currently isn't backing up their data, they need to start. There are few things worse than a complete post-Christmas hard drive meltdown because Aunt Amy had a little too much bourbon in her glass and her MacBook got soaked; as embarrassing as those digital holiday photos probably were, everyone will be sad if there aren't more copies floating around the cloud.
Many a time when I've run into a slow machine, it's because Safari has been chugging along in the background, slowly grinding the rest of the system to a halt. Quitting Safari can dump the terrible drain on system resources known as Safari Web Content in your Activity Monitor and free up memory to use on other, more important tasks.
8. iOS 101: Use Spotlight!
If you're looking for a single great tip to impart to your iOS-wielding family this holiday, I recommend Spotlight — not only does iOS 8 bring extra search options, but it's a great way to quickly launch applications that aren't on your first Home screen.
9. Manuals and how-to sites are your friends.
If you want to avoid panicked January tech support calls, I suggest a few well-placed bookmarks in Safari to Apple's support site, iMore.com, and any other tech help and how-to websites of choice.
(For the more tech-savvy family: Show them how to use "site:imore.com" and the like in Google.)
10. When in doubt, visit the Apple Store
If they've run into a strange hardware or software problem they can't diagnose and you want to avoid trying to do it over the phone, the Apple Store is just a car ride away for many folks across the U.S. and elsewhere. Their staff can suggest answers for simpler problems or get you hooked up with a Genius Bar appointment for more serious tech support.