Last-minute holiday gift ideas for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users

Still scrambling to find a holiday gift for someone who uses a Mac, an iPhone or an iPad?

MacVoices TV’s latest online episode has recommendations from a MacJury convened by “Judge” Chuck Joiner.

Steve Sande (of The Unofficial Apple Weblog), Tim Verpoorten (of Surfbits.com), and I offer suggestions for everything from a clever (and free) tech support solution for a friend or relative (LogMeIn) to expensive cases and covers for your devices.

You’ll find a complete list of our recommendations, with links for your shopping convenience, on the MacVoices page — also a link to an audio-only version of the episode.

Posted in iPad, iPhone (General) | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to get ready for the iPhone 5

If you are currently using an iPhone and plan to upgrade to the iPhone 5 right away, here are a few suggestions that’ll keep you busy until they roll out the new phone September 12:

  1. Make sure you’re backing up your iPhone to iCloud. A modest-capacity iCloud account is free. Take advantage of it. When you have an iCloud account and set your phone to back up automatically to that cloud, setting up a new iPhone is painless. All you need to do is log into your iCloud account and your data will flow down to your new phone. Here’s how to set up an iCloud account.
  2. Make sure you know what your Apple ID (a.k.a. your ID and password for iTunes Store and the App Store) is. Just yesterday I dealt with a gentleman who wanted to buy an app for his iPhone but couldn’t remember his Apple ID. So, try buying a 99-cent track from the iTunes Store  to test your ID. If it turns out you can’t remember your ID/password, it’s a lot easier to find it, recover it, or change it, this week than it will be next week when you’re all excited about getting a new phone and thousands of other similarly excited people are trying to get someone at Apple to help them recover their forgotten passwords.
  3. Have a plan for what you will do with your old iPhone. Prices for old phones peak just as the new ones come out, and  drop shortly afterwards. Also, check with friends and family to see if someone wants your phone. While I’ve sold iPads and iPods to Gazelle, I’ve never sold them one of my iPhones. A friend always wants it.
  4. Get ready to shop the phone companies. The rumors are that there’ll be quite a variety of plans for the iPhone 5. Take your time and look for one that has good service in the areas where you work, live, and travel. If you travel or commute with a laptop, consider getting a plan with tethering (I use mine all the time). Note that the new iPhone 5 has 4G LTE features that take advantage of Verizon’s robust LTE network. AT&T offers the faster LTE service in only a few areas, and its network may take years to catch up. On the other hand, Verizon is likely to be charging premium prices for its speed.

See you on the 12th!

Posted in iCloud, iPhone (General), iPhone 5 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Get ready for iOS 6, sans Google

I’ve been ignoring vague speculation about what the iPhone 5 will look like and waiting for something substantive about iOS 6 software features. Now we have it, in the form of this article by Daniel Ionescu of PC World, republished in Macworld.

Much of the change can be summed up as: Goodbye, Google.

Google built-in-to-the-iOS apps, including Google Maps, will be replaced by Apple variants that Ionescu describes. YouTube (owned by Google) has already vanished. However, Google may release these for the iPhone as standalone apps.

Posted in iPhone (General), iPhone apps | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mobile versions of websites may tempt hackers

(This post on the hacking of mobile versions of websites falls squarely between WriterWay.com and iPhone4Tips.wordpress.com. Therefore, I’m posting it on both blogs.)

A few weeks back I wrote about the increasing proportion of website users who are using mobile devices (Where are the Smartphone-friendly websites?).  While researching that story, I tripped over a far uglier one: Hackers who go under the radar to redirect websites — but just their mobile pages. Let me start at the beginning of this topic and work up to the rather complex explanation behind it all.

While writing the story on the need for mobile-friendly web pages, I checked to see if the organizations I work with are walking the talk. Did they have mobile-friendly pages?

I got distracted almost immediately because the second group whose site I checked had all the mobile versions of its pages redirected to a website in Russia that urged visitors to download something that claimed to be “Adobe Flash.” (Yeah, right.)

When I checked the same site from a desktop computer, it looked just fine. I was puzzled, so I called two friends and asked them to check both desktop and mobile versions of the site. They confirmed what I was seeing — but we discovered along the way that iPhones and Androids were being redirected to different Russian download pages.

I alerted the two volunteers who act as sysops for the website. Both are experienced programmers and website designers, and neither had come across this before.

The bottom line is that someone had obtained our not-very-secure password, compromised our .htaccess file, and inserted their redirect rules in our code. Fortunately, we were able to correct it by filing a ticket with the ISP to get this the .htaccess file corrected. A far more secure password is now in place.

There’s plenty online about attacks through .htaccess file rewrites, but I’ve found very little written about the hacking of the mobile pages of otherwise unscathed websites. It’s quite clever. Many sysops, such as ours, interact with sites only using desktop machines, and would be unlike to spot malicious hacking activity that affected only mobile pages and mobile users. Thus the hackers get to work under the radar — until a mobile user feels inconvenienced enough that he or she goes to the trouble to report that the pages have been redirected.

For those of you with a technical background, I asked our sysop to share what we did to troubleshoot and solve the problem. He writes:

I verified that the redirect was only happening on mobile browsers and not desktop.  Suspecting the behavior was user-agent-string based, I switched my desktop’s user-agent to spoof an Android browser and, sure enough, got redirected.  It was likely to be either a cross-origin scripting vulnerability (where malicious JavaScript is injected into the content of our page), or a redirect at the HTTP level which would mean our Apache configuration was compromised.
I couldn’t see any malicious code in the content of our page, but just to be sure, I used the UNIX “curl” tool to manually look at the response coming back from a request by a mobile browser.  Sure enough, it was an HTTP 301 redirect, saying the requested page had been moved to a new location on a malware site in Russia.  Unfortunately most browsers will “helpfully” perform that redirect automatically, so you need a fairly low-level tool to diagnose when it is happening.
Having identified it as an Apache configuration issue, I contacted [ISP], and they confirmed that our .htaccess file had been compromised and the new redirect rules had been inserted there.  They fixed the offending file, and the problem went away.  I then immediately changed our passwords to prevent the same attacker from continuing to have access.
I can’t be sure how the compromise happened, however our old password was pretty insecure. It may have just been guessed, or somebody who knew the password might have been infected with a keylogger. I doubt it was a targeted attack, because our site is unlikely to have a very large Russian readership who would actually be vulnerable. More likely it was an exploit of opportunity.
It doesn’t appear that we suffered anything beyond some embarrassment from being hacked. It could have been much worse. Take a look at your mobile pages — today!
Posted in Smartphone use, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to get ready for Apple’s Mountain Lion

Upgrading to Mountain Lion (book)Apple’s new operating system, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, is slated to be released later this month. Mountain Lion is going to make using a Mac a lot more like using an iPhone. If you’re already using an iPhone, an iPad, or a MacBook with a trackpad, or you’ve purchased a trackpad for your desktop machine, you’re in good shape. If not, you might want to get a trackpad now and start practicing.

The upgrade path will be even smoother if you get Joe Kissell’s new ebook “Take Control of Upgrading to Mountain Lion.” The $15 price is reduced to $10 for the next few weeks before Mountain Lion is released. Buy now to get a head start on the upgrade. You’ll get a free download of a longer version of the same book that will become available when Mountain Lion goes live (and Kissell’s non-disclosure agreement with Apple is lifted).

The ebook is ideal if you’re worried that your older Mac or older software might not be able to handle the upgrade to Mountain Lion. It includes step-by-step directions for doing a pre-upgrade check for software and hardware compatibility, plus advice on how to clean up your hard drive before installing the upgrade.

Posted in iPhone news | Tagged | 3 Comments

Where are the smartphone-friendly websites?

Why do so many business websites slam their doors in the faces of mobile users?

Reached from a smartphone, the interfaces are horrible, with wide blocks of text that don’t resize into phone-friendly columns. On some sites there are so many tiny links that touching any part of the screen jumps you to another page (usually one that takes ages to load).

According to the new report “Cell Internet Use 2012″ from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 17% of cell phone owners do most of their web browsing from their phones. Now what business would want to turn away 17% of its potential customers? To say nothing of all the folks like me who use both computers and phones to access webpages.

When I travel, the hotels, restaurants, cab services, drugstores, and museums with mobile-friendly sites are the ones getting my business. No matter how much someone is raving about a restaurant, if I can’t find the restaurant’s phone number via Siri or Google, or I can’t click a hyperlinked number to call, I’m likely to make my reservation elsewhere. Particularly if the Elsewhere Cafe also has an online menu and a (phone-friendly) map.

Bad, better, and best mobile screens

Bad, better, and….best.

The rise of mobile browsing is yet another reason why I urge small businesses that want a simple-to-maintain, low-cost “brochure-style” website to use WordPress Pages. Many WordPress templates will automatically create a phone-friendly version of your content and serve it up whenever a mobile user reaches your site.

Posted in iPhone (General), Smartphone use | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments