Reset iPhone for Mom?

Mom is getting hand-me-down phone. Should she get hand-me-down apps?

PIcture from an Iphone of the screen where you reset it to erase all contents
Here’s where you rest the iPhone to factory settings.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is reset necessary? My son has offered to give me his iPhone since he is getting a new one this week. His phone is two or three years old and I notice it has a lot of apps and programs on the home page. He wants to give me the phone as is, with all these apps and programs because he says they are useful and can help me. I would prefer to have none of them and just a clean screen. What do you think? Trish, Richmond

Dear Trish: What a thoughtful son and what a good idea. If the phone is just two or three years old, it should serve you well. But, whether or not you do a reset, make sure that the operating system is updated to its latest version. That will make the phone less vulnerable to hacks, and probably improve the battery life and performance. 

As for wiping out the apps your son has installed and starting afresh, I would say ‘go for it.’ That way you can find new apps that matter to you, check their security settings, and have a home screen that is personalized to your needs and interests. Imagine that you moved into someone’s house and they had a bookcase filled with records and books. You might enjoy looking through them, but they might not reflect what you prefer to be surrounded with. BTW, ‘app’ is short for application, and it refers to software that runs on your mobile device. When you ‘tap the app’, it will link you to an outside website.

Pass on the Password

The other reason I would start with a fresh restart is that many times there are passwords and user names associated with the apps and  logins. When I teach the ridehail class, I see older people frustrated by their phones because they need to know the codes that their children set up, but forgot to share. Likewise, there may be a credit card on file, say for Uber or Lyft, that is not yours. 

It isn’t clear whether this hand-me down phone is going to be billed to your own phone plan or to your son’s family plan. If the latter, you might want to look into the Apple Watch I mentioned in last week’s column. The newest version will not require you to carry your iPhone with you when you go out! But, your movements and phone log might be visible to your son!

Apps We Need in Bay Area!

But, back to the phone you are setting up. It might be a good idea, at least for a week or two , to browse the App Store every day and see the variety of apps you can download. I am linking here to a useful set of phone numbers and apps for safety and emergencies here in the Bay Area from the SF Chronicle.  (make sure to scroll down the page)

On a lighter note,  you might enjoy the games, the brain exercises, the cooking classes, or more. Other ones,  like  iHealth or Compass are baked into the phone and can’t be deleted. When you browse new apps, most of them will be free, but if you see one that costs money, you can use a pre-paid Itunes card if you don’t want to put your credit card on file.

You can find the controls to wipe your phone clean under Setting>General >Reset. You’ll note when you do this that you have to initialize the change by entering the phone’s passcode. So you are not going to enable this without having a full discussion with your son and getting his passcode for the  hand-me-down phone! Meanwhile, since you will probably be donating the phone you use today, or putting it in the sock drawer, make sure to wipe that one clean too.

Apple Watch for Seniors?

The apple watch, series 6.0. The watch screen displays the date, time, weather, and a cartoon icon of a boy. It has a blue watch band.
Seniors and the Apple Watch, Series 6

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Saw your post about the Apple watch and raising free-range kids. Great idea if my kids were younger. But I have a Dad who is a free-range elder! He lives alone in a big house, it’s nearby. He is fairly healthy and still drives, but I worry. What if he takes a fall when he climbs up the ladder to clean the leaves or sweep the pool? He is used to carrying a smartphone, so should I get him the watch? Fernando, Ross

Dear Fernando: You Dad sounds like an independent spirit so he may not see the need for this new gizmo. Up to now, older people have not been sold on these Dick Tracy watches, and research finds that they discontinue use (it goes back in the box) within three to six months.

However, if you can impress on your Dad that the watch will let him stay independent and healthy, then he might keep it on for good. The pandemic has accelerated technology and services that were always on the horizon for older people. Make sure that he has the digital skills and is not afraid to ask questions about privacy and Family Setup settings.

Not a Dongle!

You mentioned ladders and falls. I’ve noticed that when old people go out, and this holds more for women than men, they clutch their purse and keep checking to make sure it’s there. This tends to throw them off balance, and makes them less stable on their feet. Anything that eliminates the need to tote bags and paraphernalia seems like a good idea.

Lots of well-meaning sons and daughters sign their parents up for wireless dongles that older people are meant to wear like a necklace. Should they take a fall, or have an emergency, there’s one button to press that connects to 911. The problem is that older people pleasantly “forget” to wear these things- it’s an acknowledgement of frailness.

So, the watch has an advantage. Dad will not have to wear the dongle and with the Series 6 , he will not even to carry a phone, assuming it is connected to your plan. He can sport a device that is equally coveted by an athletic runner, a busy Mom, or a gadget-geek.

Whose Well-Being?

If you have a recent iPhone you will notice an app you can’t delete called Apple Health. The new watch was designed so that Apple did not need to get FDA approval as a medical device but it does many of the functions like monitor blood oxygen levels and take an ECG. It will also do some level of fall detection. These measures are not completely accurate though- so they should not substitute for trips to the doctor. Still, the watch can help your Dad’s well being…if he allows it. But, the best medicine for an older person is reaching out and staying in relationships, so if this watch helps you and Dad maintain that over the years, it’s a fine timepiece.

Phones & Disaster

twitter posts from California fires (Sept. 30).

Dear Ms. Smartphone: It’s a disaster. My wife and I had to evacuate our home this week because of nearby fires. Now I am getting inundated with texts and calls from far-away friends and distant relatives who want updates. I know that we should be grateful, but we are getting worn down responding to each message and reliving the trauma. It’s just so emotionally draining. Can’t these people just wait? Moira and Myron, Sonoma

Dear M & M: The primary thing is safety, and as you said, you are thankful you made it out. It is stressful wondering what you left behind and if you can go back. It is hard to settle in a temporary locale and pick up the pieces.  And then there is your social network, reverberating. There is no digital etiquette here and no rules of response.

Inflamed Media

The people who are calling mean well but they  are probably “inflamed” by social media. It’s hard for someone far away and without information to not react to what they see and hear on social medial. See the picture (above). It got reposted 73 times and there were 186 people who “liked it”. Perhaps someone who called you viewed these pics- what they saw is unfiltered and unedited.  ‘Citizen- journalism’ as this is called is useful but it lacks the perspective, distance, and context we get from a professional newscast. 

This type of reporting is enabled by our smartphones, as they allow us to take “on the spot” photos and send “in the moment” texts. The speed of the citizen journalist has to be balanced with the slower, but more comprehensive reporting of traditional news media. But, that’s not for your friends and family to sort out. It’s a larger societal issue about how we use media and the sources we find trustworthy and useful.

For now, consider using your smartphone to take a quick picture of your safe relocation, maybe with family or pets?  Then attach the picture to an email or text with a canned greeting that says, “ As you can see, we safely evacuated on (date) and are now back in (location). Not to worry. We will get back in touch when the dust settles and the ashes subside.” Or, post it to your Facebook page. It’s a digital reaction to a digital blowup.

Confront DIgital With Digital

While you may feel like silencing your phone, remember that these devices are incredibly useful during a natural disaster. You probably received the alert to evacuate over your phone, not from a public address system or a neighbor knocking on the door. You probably found the safest, least congested route to leave by consulting the GPS enabled traffic map. Note in the image (above) there is useful information for evacuees needing meals. Consumer Reports (CR) recently published a list of digital tips for electronic devices during an emergency. Among them are keeping your devices fully charged- with public safety alerts turned on, having a car- charging cable, stashing an extra power strip, and abstaining from power hungry apps and settings that drain the battery, such as WiFi on the road.

CR goes on to say that if you need to call 911, don’t hang up. During a disaster, the phone queue can be long. In some locations you can text to 911, but emergency officials caution that a conventional call from a 911 call from a cell phone or a landline should be your first move, not the Facebook plea for assistance. The end-run to Facebook brings us right back to the original question you posed. 


In closing, note that many people are not aware that the phone network and electrical power are interconnected. When the electricity gets knocked out, many landlines work not operate because the  backup batteries fail, or more centrally, the fiber-optics are compromised. Placing a call from any device may depend on connecting to a  cell phone tower but it could be damaged too. The telephone companies and cable crews are the new first-responders.  God bless in the coming days.