At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: apple

3 Holiday Gifts to Buy a Tween Boy

Our son is eleven, and It’s unavoidable that technology is at the center of what he’s asked to receive. Here’s how I handled this complicated gifting terrain.

It’s that time of year again, and I must admit it’s been hard to figure out which gifts to get our eleven-year-old boy this holiday season. He’s simply aging out of traditional kids toys. (Time really flies!)

Of course, now he’s on the cusp of wanting major technology like an iPhone. But my wife and I are waiting as long as we can on that one. He does have access to the ‘family’ iPad, which he now dominates. (He loves playing Minecraft.)

But the iPad is not enough. His growing interest in traditional consumer tech is unavoidable. And I know he’s not alone in his age group. For better or worse, it’s today’s perceived path to growing up.

If you have a similar shopping dilemma for your tween, here are three gifting decisions I made for our six grader that might be helpful to hear about.

Casio Watch
Recently, our son has become enamored with my Apple Watch. So much so that he’s hesitantly suggested that it would be really cool to have one. But it’s clear he knows it’s a stretch request.

I like the idea of my son having some kind of smart watch, but an Apple Watch is just too fragile (and expensive) to survive on his wrist for long. And there isn’t another option out there for tweens.

That said, he definitely needs a new watch. The band on his cheapo ticker that I bought him two years ago broke recently. He still loves that watch, but it can barely count off a minute without losing a couple seconds. My boy would often call me over to resync the time on his watch with my Apple Watch.

It was clearly time to move him to an adult-level timepiece.

I grew up wearing Casio watches. I got my first one when I was in high school. Though I haven’t bought one in over a decade, I’m still sweet on the brand. Plus, many models are relatively inexpensive.

I think Casios are a smart choice for any age group, and many models contain interesting features behind the standard alarm, timer and stopwatch (though still nowhere near what a smartwatch can do).

After doing a little research, I identified this Casio which sports a digital thermometer and compass.

  • Casio Men’s SGW-100-2BCF Twin Sensor Digital Display Quartz Black Watch
    $41.99 on Amazon

My boy loves figuring out technology settings, and I expect this watch will be a perfect time keeper for him.

Click.

Apple HomePod Mini
Let’s recap which Apple products we’re not getting our son:

  • No iPhone
  • No Apple Watch
  • And no AirPods… He’s still absolutely fine with wired headsets.

But I wanted to find another way to give him his own access to a piece of the Apple ecosystem.

He loves talking to Siri and Alexa on my devices. So I thought about smart speakers and an Apple HomePod Mini ($99)

A voice-operated speaker for his bedroom seemed like a reasonable bite into Apple for our tween. Plus, I can give the HomePod Mini access to my new Apple Music subscription (six months free with my new AirPods 3).

Click.

Nintendo Switch OLED
Our sixth grader’s main ask for a holiday gift this year was a Nintendo Switch. (No, he doesn’t have a video game system yet.)

It’s a huge request, and he knew it. (He’s familiar with the Switch, because a close friend has one.)

Actually, he didn’t really know how big an ask he made. He understood that a Nintendo Switch is expensive, but he seemed unconvinced when I told him that they’re mostly out of stock. (I think he may feel that our broken global supply chain is just an excuse I used.)

Plus, there’s the new Nintendo Switch OLED model out there, which is even harder to find and costs $50 more. Our son wasn’t aware of the newer model, and when I brought that detail to his attention, he said he didn’t care which model he might get. He was more focused on the when as opposed to the what.

That said, this daddy is inclined to impose his own technology purchasing strategies on this decision… Newer tech usually lasts longer.

Against all odds, I did spot the Nintendo Switch OLED in stock online at GameStop on Thanksgiving morning at 6am. But there was a catch. The system cost more, because it was packaged with a few items I might not otherwise have bought (including a screen protector and case).

Well, at least I was getting something for the added cost, as opposed to paying over list price for the base system. (Sadly, Walmart has been offering that terrible option.)

Click.

At Home with Expensive Tech
There’s no way around the fact that this is an expensive group of gifts. And I need to admit that I drove the forward momentum on these choices, not my wife. Of course, I’ve tried to rationalize these purchases.

  • Every kid needs a decent watch. So, the Casio was an easy decision.
  • Yes, there are less expensive smart speakers out there, but I like taking advantage of my Apple Music subscription.
  • As for the Nintendo Switch OLED, you could say that a video game console is unavoidable for this generation.

No?

Okay… I spent a lot of money. That’s what happened. I acknowledge that I didn’t need to do it. But I did. For now, let’s leave it at that.

Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas.

And a big thank you to the greater universe that my family is safe and healthy, and that we have the means to afford this tech for our ‘not-so-little’ boy.

Why I Must Put the Wireless White Sticks in my Ears

I wouldn’t describe my recent AirPods purchase as a joyous moment. Not exactly. It was more a feeling of satisfaction when you check a box on a decision you’ve long delayed. Here’s why.

The morning after Apple’s latest event, I powered up my iMac at 5:30am with my strong cup of Joe and calmly ordered a pair of the newly released third generation AirPods. Usually, my tech purchasing process is more labored with detailed research and spec comparisons. But this experience felt oddly straight forward, probably because my decision to finally buy a pair of wireless earbuds had been simmering for the past five years.

A Sea of Little White Sticks
Over that time, I’ve watched a major percentage of humanity on the streets of New York City grow little white sticks out of their ears. There were so many modified ears out there, it began to feel like my own were lacking. (Talk about herd mentality.) But as I considered augmenting my own ears’ capabilities, I also worried that a precious AirPod could drop out as I hurried about, crossing a street to beat a light.

The Wrong Fit
Of course the AirPods Pro were released to address this specific concern (among many other upgrades). I did visit the Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal a couple years back to try on a pair, eager to finally join the world of wireless earbud users.

But the AirPods Pro simply weren’t comfortable. I know it may take time to get used to the fit, or perhaps I needed a different-sized ear tip. But I turned around and walked down the stairs, empty handed, disappointed and uncertain about what to do next.

I started researching other options from different manufacturers. I went down the rabbit hole of reviews and price comparisons. I procrastinated some more.

Then, Covid hit. My focus shifted. And the next 18 months evaporated.

Better Late than Never
But the patterns of my former life have recently reemerged, and like many commuters, I have finally come out of forced hibernation. I’m back on my Metro North commuter train and walking on the streets of New York.

Immediately, I saw it all again. The sea of little white sticks.

And I wanted to swim in this ocean that surrounded me. I wanted to taste this experience.

So, I decided it was finally time. Time to get a pair of the white sticks. I’d go with the regular AirPods that wouldn’t squeeze into my ears like a Borg attachment. And if one dropped out and escaped forever, that’s life, baby.

I knew an updated model of AirPods were due. So, I just had to wait a little longer for the announcement. Soon, I would finally answer the question of what life would be like without the complexity of wires running into my ears.

An Upgrade to my Experience
The AirPods 3 have spatial audio. That’s great. And they’re water resistant. Excellent. They’re supposed to fit better. I like that.

Sure, I’m pleased that I’ll have the latest and greatest model, but I know I’m hardly an early adopter.

I do expect a better audio experience as I wirelessly tether to my iPhone, though I must admit I’m not an audiophile who must stream the best quality audio into my brain.

What I’m really hoping for is an upgrade to my physical experience as I move through my day and interface with my iPhone. No more messy wires to untangle and plug in.

Wireless is Inevitable
But are wires really so bad? Sure, they eventually fray and need to be replaced. I can’t tell you how many wired Apple EarPods I’ve had to buy over the years… but they’re just twenty bucks a pop. The rechargeable batteries in my new AirPods won’t last forever, and AirPods have an extra zero in their price point.

Today… everything is going wireless. Sure, it’s convenient, offering a clutter-free feng shui in your home. But it’s more expensive. And wireless tech needs to be recharged… and then eventually replaced.

Do you see the clever business cycle here?

A Case for Wires
We’re living in a world that increasingly distains wires. But wired connections, though messy, do tend to be more reliable.

I’m not saying that I don’t expect my new AirPods to perform perfectly. They simply fall outside of the ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ technical mindset.

I know my little AirPods come with a nifty charging case that can juice them up three times. After some use, I’ll need to figure out a charging schedule for the case so it doesn’t run dry when I’m on the go.

Last Man on Earth
My AirPods arrive next week, and once I join the crowd, I’d hate it if my AirPods pooped out (while still popped in). Sure, I’d still look good, but someone would figure it out.

Donald Sutherland would walk up to me and point. And then I’d hear his alien shriek.

What would I do? Perhaps pull out my retired Bose noise-cancelling wired headsets (with the wrong connector) from my Road Warrior 1.0 days.

Whoa! Then, I’d really be in trouble.

This Mistake will Doom your iPad’s Photos and Videos

Are you backing up the media files you want to iCloud? I wasn’t, and I didn’t know it. And then the unthinkable happened. Here’s how to avoid my iPad’s fate.

Once upon a time, backing up the content on my iPhone and iPad used to mean regularly tethering them to my iMac. It was something of a laborious process, but necessary. Then iCloud showed up, and everything started to back up magically on its own. It was easy.

Set it and forget it. That’s progress, right?

But removing the chore of physically backing up my digital life also eroded my awareness of the details needed to ensure that my precious data was being properly backed up in the background.

Over the past couple of years, I must admit I haven’t thought about this much. And during the same period, my 11-year-old son effectively became the primary user of the family iPad.
(Minecraft, photo taking, videos of our cat)

How I Lost all of my Son’s Photos and Videos
Everything was working great, until it wasn’t, and the family IT guy was called in to help the iPad out. I quickly realized the iPad needed some real support and brought my iPad’s problems to the experts. It was decided to wipe the iPad, give it a fresh start… and then reload all of its data that was safely backed up in iCloud.

Easy.

Except all of the iPad’s data wasn’t being backed up. When my iPad completed its restore, all of my son’s photos and videos from the past few years were gone.

You might imagine I was a tad disturbed by this. And I may have become slightly catatonic when it was determined that the little setting to back up the iPad’s Photo Library to iCloud had not been activated.

It’s a rookie mistake. And while a huge part of me wanted to push blame elsewhere, it was ultimately my responsibility.

My son handled the loss much better than me. (He immediately began shooting new photos and videos of our cat.) He was also especially relieved that his many Minecraft worlds survived the iPad’s wipe.

Simplicity and Complacency
So, life goes on in the Lester home. My son hasn’t complained about his lost photos and videos. All seems normal.

I tell myself that this cautionary tale is a good lesson for my son to help him understand the importance of properly backing up his future digital files.

And it’s a painful reminder for me how simplicity can create complacency.

On the positive side, I’ve got better backup systems for the content in the remainder of my Apple hardware.

All this said, it’s probably a good idea to occasionally check any device’s settings for its iCloud backup plan. (Don’t just set it and forget it.)

Here’s how to do that.

How to Back Up Correctly to iCloud
To create a full backup of what’s on your iPad via iCloud, you first need to pay for enough iCloud storage to handle it. My family’s Apple devices are collecting sharing the 200 GB iCloud+ storage plan. ($2.99/month)

Then, you’ve got to tell your iPad what to back up. This is how to find the right setting for your Photo Library:

  • Tap “Settings”
  • Tap your name and face on top
  • Go to “iCloud”
  • Tap “Manage Storage”
  • Tap “Backups”
  • Tap your device’s backup
  • Tap “Choose Data to Back Up”
  • Look for “Photo Library” on top…
  • Slide the digital switch to the green setting!

Then, do the same for everything else you want to back up to iCloud.

Easy, right? But, you’ve got to do it.

Finding Peace with my Mistake
It’s been a few weeks since the ‘Lester iPad Incident’, and I’ve remained unsettled. Sure, I can attribute my error to the flaws of humanity and this human in particular. But I know I would feel better if it made more sense.

And then I figured it out…

A couple years back, I wasn’t paying for an iCloud storage plan. So, of course, the free 5 GBs of iCloud storage wouldn’t be enough for my son’s photos and videos. And so they sat there in the iPad, unprotected.
(Bad daddy)

When I finally upgraded to the 200 GB storage plan, I didn’t consider my son’s media on the iPad, and I didn’t update its iCloud storage settings to finally include the iPad’s Photo Library. (Forgetful daddy)

I had also chosen not to activate iCloud Photos, which would sync the photos to mirror images in iCloud as opposed to generating a backup file. That’s because I had wanted to keep my son’s digital media in a separate ecosystem from my own.
(Shortsighted daddy)

Looking to the Future
I think it’s time to properly recognize my son’s digital media creation and generate a child account for my son to use on the iPad. He needs his own digital space.
(Better daddy)

Yes, my son is growing up, and I need to keep up with all of his developing interests.
(More present daddy)

But it’s not only about flicking a couple of digital switches and paying for cloud storage. You’ve really got to own, organize and properly back up your digital content.

It’s a life-long endeavor and an important reminder for children of all ages.

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