Help a non-Apple person troubleshoot and grandparent-proof an iPhone
May 25, 2021 12:02 PM   Subscribe

TLDR: I need some kind of guide or primer that can help a reasonably technically adept person get up to speed on iOS enough to be The Tech Grandchild on a platform I haven't touched since 2016.

My grandmother is 88 years old and lives alone, about 180 miles from her closest relative. Her children bought her an iPhone so she can look at pictures of the (younger, more photogenic than me) grandkids, and she has quickly run into trouble. And it's up to me to help, because I'm the one who will see her next -- on Memorial Day, specifically.

The catch, of course, is that I'm an Android/Windows user; I've never owned an iPhone/Pad and last used a borrowed one five years ago, which is several geological ages in OS updates. I'm technically capable but have no knowledge of the landscape here and would rather not try to pick up everything from trial and error or frantic Googling (or at least get the Googling out of the way before I get to her house). Is there a resource that can run me through common pitfalls and ways to route around them?

In general, the goal is to make it so she can easily make/answer phone calls, receive and look at photos, and jump between one and the other with minimal friction. If it rings any bells, the description of the most recent error that I got from my aunt is that when she tried to look at pictures she was sent (through text message, I believe) "it got into a state that I couldn't get her out of." Sadly I have no more detail available to me than that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish to Technology (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'm an iPhone user, and I have similar issues with my mom.

If she gets an image in a text message, she can just see it in the text window. If she wants to blow it up to make it bigger, she'll tap on it, and it'll fill the screen. To get out of that, she'll click on the blue "Done" text in the upper lefthand corner.

The home button on the bottom of the phone will always take her to the Home Screen. She'd probably benefit from having that customized to be simpler. If you click and hold on any of the icons you can delete them or drag them to move them to another screen. Some of the apps aren't removable, but you can move them to another screen.
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:13 PM on May 25, 2021 [1 favorite]


Well, I'd suggest starting with the official iPhone User Guide site. It has a search function and a collapsible table of contents.

But the truth is, even for those of us who have only ever lived in the Apple/iOS environment, it can be confusing. I have an iPhone 6S upgraded to the highest possible iOS level (14.6, I think?) while my 85yo mom, many states away, has a 5 that's many upgrades behind, but she has an iPad that's more modern than mine. Sometimes, I know how to fix things because I previously experienced the problem; sometimes, I can't even visualize what she's seeing without her sending me a screen shot. (Yes, asking my 85yo mom to take a screen shot, share it, and send it via text (no, mom, not Facebook messages) can be an adventure. Why do you ask?)

For this specific problem: if your aunt is like my mom, she got sent the text, she clicked on it, but was looking at the text in preview mode (like, she could see it on the right side of the screen, but wasn't actually "in" the text, so she couldn't do anything. Or, she clicked on it, enlarged it, and got stuck. Once she gets into the text, taps on it and enlarges it, she'll need to "get out" of that enlarged photo view by clicking "Done."
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2021


I did two things under the circumstances. One, I got a used iPhone from one of my friend's kids. I called my mom and asked her to email me what she wanted her phone to do. Anything. Fantasy level requests. I knew she would say something like get my email, send a text, answer a phone call and look at pictures. So I took my used phone and wiped it. Updated all the iOS. And I tried to do what she wanted. What was not obvious or intuitive, I looked up. So, when I saw my mom, while I was no expert, it was not the first time I had done it and sort of knew what to do.

Two, I got my mom a Google hub thing that can be setup to stream pictures and depending on the model, make and receive duo video calls. Mostly, it sits in her kitchen and streams whatever I put in the folder I set up to do that. New pictures can be added anytime from anywhere.
posted by AugustWest at 12:26 PM on May 25, 2021


Long-time iPhone user here.

From a practical stand point I would make the home screen have three, maybe four things on it:

Phone Call
Contacts (maybe, if it seems like it will be useful to her)
Text Messages
Photos

I would put literally everything else in a folder and push it to the second screen, and turn off notifications of all types for literally everything that was not one of the 3-4 things on her home screen.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:42 PM on May 25, 2021 [5 favorites]


Apple shortcuts can be really useful if you can define what she tends to do-- then you can add those shortcuts directly to her home-screen, so she has direct access rather then having to get deeper into the individual apps.

- "Message GrandKid A"
- "Message Daughter"
- "GrandKid Shared Album"

That way the main lesson you need to instill is "If you're ever lost or confused just swipe up to get back to home"
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:47 PM on May 25, 2021 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Follow-up questions:

1) Where do I go to turn off notifications? I recall being frustrated with how iOS arranges its setting last time I played with it.

2) I was about to ask if I can put shortcuts to call/text certain people on the home screen! How do I make that happen?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:49 PM on May 25, 2021


I'm technically capable but have no knowledge of the landscape here and would rather not try to pick up everything from trial and error or frantic Googling

Seriously, in your shoes I'd absolutely be relying on my practised ability to stitch together a correct solution to any presenting problem from rapidly gathered Googled clues. And I'd use my own Android phone to do the Googling, because fuck iOS. Getting "up to speed" with that particular ever-shifting fashion weathervane is something that only those who have given themselves no choice but to use it every day are ever going to have time for.

Half of what you end up patiently walking her through is going to get broken in unpredictable ways by accidentally triggering useless-to-her new features that come with the next iOS update anyway.

Medieval Maven's advice is basically sound except for the part about the tidied-away folder being on the second screen. In my experience working with seniors, the main thing that throws them is when the phone does something they totally didn't expect it to as a result of its having misinterpreted an attempt at a control gesture.

If the stuff she knows she doesn't need is tucked away on a second screen, that means there is a second screen, and the single most likely consequence of that is that it will accidentally slide in to replace the main screen when she's not expecting it to and you'll get sad reports of "all the buttons disappearing".

Better, I think, to content yourself with a folder she can see, with all the useless-to-her stuff tucked inside, and a careful demonstration of what happens if she touches that and how to make it close itself up again.
posted by flabdablet at 12:52 PM on May 25, 2021 [2 favorites]


- Open the shortcuts app, click '+' to add a new one.
- Add an action of 'Send Message' and pick whoever you care to- Click Next.
- Name it something sane and/pick an icon and colour.

You'll get returned to the main shortcut 'library'-- click the one you just created-- then click the share button (the box with the arrow pointing out) and choose 'Add to Home Screen'.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:53 PM on May 25, 2021 [1 favorite]


And oh god yes turn off every notification you possibly can. Incoming text message and incoming phone call should be pretty much it.
posted by flabdablet at 12:54 PM on May 25, 2021


"Getting "up to speed" with that particular ever-shifting fashion weathervane is something that only those who have given themselves no choice but to use it every day are ever going to have time for."

Oh, please.
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:00 PM on May 25, 2021 [5 favorites]


First vital skill for any easily confused iOS user: work out how to make the phone not be doing anything.

So, the double-tap on the button if it has one, or on the floating soft button if it doesn't, then the flick-to-dismiss on each of the running things until nothing's left and all you can see is the home screen.

It's way easier to wrap your head around what an iOS device is doing when it's only just been explicitly told do stop doing all the things before you start a new thing.
posted by flabdablet at 1:00 PM on May 25, 2021


"I would put literally everything else in a folder and push it to the second screen"

This is really important. Apple has steadily been increasing the number of default apps they include with the phone, so she probably has more than one home screen even if she's never downloaded a third party app. They do, however, let you delete them now, which is nice. Not sure if you'd want to go that route or not. I did for most of them, though, because I really couldn't care less about Stocks.

Theoretically, iPhones are designed to be intuitive for people who are already computer literate, as they used to say. In practice, this hasn't been true for a while, but if you're familiar with the basics of smartphones, the basic vocabulary of how to use the phone should already be there for you: things like scrolling, pinching and reverse pinching, swiping left and right, etc. If you do an action but don't release your finger, it's kind of like right-clicking on a Windows computer: a menu will often appear to list your actions. So, like, if you press a home screen icon and don't release, you'll get options to Edit Home Screen, Share App, or Remove App. In Mail, if you swipe left and hold it, you'll get options to Trash, Flag, and a More option. If you're truly having trouble figuring out how to do what you want to do, try doing a few common gestures and holding them to see if a menu comes up. Have her practice these as well.

The Settings app is where you'll do most of the Setup. It's pretty user friendly, but honestly, just spend some time going through every menu item. Every iPhone I've ever had has had different factory settings, so it's the first thing I do, if only to make sure my new phone is set up like my old one. There's a separate menu for each app, in addition to more general things like Notifications or Wallpaper.

It's probably not a bad idea to show her how to save photos from the Messages app to the Camera Roll. (Press and hold > Save). It's a lot easier to browse saved photos than photos in Messages. Likewise, showing her how to do stuff with her saved photos is probably something that would interest her. When you're viewing a photo, click the box-with-up-arrow icon in the bottom left.

The state she couldn't get out of is almost certainly that she viewed a photo full screen, which is what happens if you tap the photo in your conversation history and then tap it again once it's open. To get out of it, just tap one more time, and a Done button appears in the top right.

If there's really a state she can't get out of, you can force-restart by holding the power and home buttons at the same time. Then, once it's powered down, hold the power button again to turn it back on. It's a blunt instrument, but it works.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:15 PM on May 25, 2021 [2 favorites]


As you may know, newer iphones have no home button. The equivalent gesture is a swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen. There are a couple of other gestures to be aware of, if you've got a no-home-button phone: swipe down from the top-left corner will bring up a list of notifications; swipe down from the top-right corner will bring up a control center with a few frequently-used settings (eg Volume) and gadgets (flashlight). Swiping left-to-right from the first screen can bring up a "widgets" screen (if you configure any widgets); and swiping right-to-left from the last screen will bring up a list of all apps.

You can edit the home screen by pressing an icon until it jiggles, then move it around. You can also delete the app entirely, or delete its icon from the home screen but leave it accessible in the list of all apps.

I don't know if Siri would be a curse or a blessing for her, but you can configure it either to listen for the "hey Siri" spoken cue or to wait for a specific button-push—holding down the home button if present, holding down the right-side button if not.

As far as I can tell, there's no switch that acts as a power-off switch on newer iPhones—you need to go into Settings > General and then scroll all the way down to "shut down."
posted by adamrice at 1:17 PM on May 25, 2021 [1 favorite]


What version of iPhone are you using? My tech averse mother (as a pianist, she likes to joke that a computer keyboard is not her keyboard) adapted fairly well to her iPhone 6+ with respect to texting, taking photos, using basic apps. Last week we had to replace the 6+ with an iPhone 12. No more obvious home button is a big adjustment, not just for her but for me when I was helping set it up. Part of me wonders if the home buttonless iPhones were tested on people with arthritic hands.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2021


"So, the double-tap on the button if it has one, or on the floating soft button if it doesn't, then the flick-to-dismiss on each of the running things until nothing's left and all you can see is the home screen."

You don't like Apple-- I totally get it. I support a lot of people with Apple devices from teens to retirees and I'd suggest against this-- it's extra complexity for no win. Turning on the soft-button at all is confusing (I find most people who use it have been told by other people to use it because it "stops you wearing out the home button"), the user has to learn to move it around when it gets in the way, and closing background apps?-- there's no need or reason to subject someone to that as a newbie.
posted by Static Vagabond at 1:25 PM on May 25, 2021


Best answer: I teach technology to older people for a job.

1) Where do I go to turn off notifications? I recall being frustrated with how iOS arranges its setting last time I played with it.

2) I was about to ask if I can put shortcuts to call/text certain people on the home screen! How do I make that happen?


If she is okay with reading I might actually consider getting her a print book about the iPhone in general which might help, I help older folks and tech novices manage their iDevices and a lot of information you've received here is good. I've found the teach yourself visually series to be decent because sometimes people don't like the implications of "dummies" guides' name, though they are often good.

Speaking of paper: make sure she has her own AppleID (or is on the Family Plan if there is one) and write it down on a piece of paper along with the password. Make sure she can't make in-app purchases and, if she has decent internet at home, set the applications and OS to auto-update. A few more useful things, esp to someone coming from an Android universe

- agree with putting everything she doesn't need/use into a folder marked junk/extra and deleting the ones you can delete
- I'm not sure about a shortcut to call someone but you can have favorites listed in the phone app so it's a one-tap call
- teach her how to hit the home button to get back to the home screen, teach her how to close apps if her dexterity will allow it
- look into the accessibility options, you can "reduce motion" (helpful for a lot of people) which can cut down on useless animation, make the font a little bigger and a little bolder and (not 100% sure it's in there) enable dictation. For a lot of older people who aren't great with the tiny keyboard, just pressing the microphone to speak something and get it approximately transcribed is great.
- Speaking of horny fingers, might be good to get her a stylus thing (just one of those rubber pointers, not like an iPen or whatever) if she's got dexterity issues.

The Settings has a Search box at the top of it so that is a great way to find things like the notification center (be prepared to turn a lot of shit off at first) and bluetooth settings. If she's not using Bluetooth anything, just turn this off since it can drain battery and might accidentally pair with something. I will mention that "turning it off and on again" will work GREAT for closing all apps but a lot of people don't know the difference between putting the phone to sleep and turning it off and I might mention the latter, even though you really rarely need to do it. It's ok to offer that as a simple solution for... nearly everything.

The most important thing is to basically help her gain confidence and put a few Ws in the column while you're actually there. Help her look at a picture, maybe even take a picture, change her home screen to something she likes and help make the device her own. Offer to field phone calls (or whatever) if she has questions. Even though you don't feel like you know this territory super well, you'll know it better than she does.
posted by jessamyn at 1:58 PM on May 25, 2021 [5 favorites]


Another note, if it is an iPhone 12: not having a home button means that a lot of the things that have been mentioned upthread will be no longer valid. Also, my mother in law has dry skin that means that she sometimes has a little trouble getting the phone to register her gestures. Honestly, if it's an iPhone 12, that's probably not the best phone for someone who only wants to do a few things, and I'd see if it was returnable in favor of a different model that still has a home button.
posted by Night_owl at 6:30 PM on May 25, 2021 [1 favorite]


First vital skill for any easily confused iOS user: work out how to make the phone not be doing anything.

I’ve been using iPhones for years and have never needed or wanted to force all the apps in the background to quit. It’s practically no use at all.
posted by fabius at 5:00 AM on May 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


It is possible to get a free non-commerical license of TeamViewer, which would allow you to remotely control the iOS device and see what’s going on on the screen. Probably requires an in-person visit to actually get it set up, but after that it might be a lot easier to help out.
posted by tiamat at 7:05 AM on May 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


The home button on the bottom of the phone will always take her to the Home Screen
Like others have said, the home button is gone on more recent models, but all you have to do is swipe up to close the app that is open. Swipe left or down from the first page to get a search box.

As far as I can tell, there's no switch that acts as a power-off switch on newer iPhones—you need to go into Settings > General and then scroll all the way down to "shut down."

Press and hold a volume switch.
Now press and hold the Side button.
Your iPhone should now show you the power off slider.

turn off notifications? I recall being frustrated with how iOS arranges its setting
Once you are in settings, you can search for anything you want, including notifications.
posted by soelo at 8:36 AM on May 26, 2021


You could use Parental Controls to disable stuff like buying apps and prevent apps from showing up at all (no need to worry about a second page on the home screen).
posted by Monochrome at 6:34 PM on May 26, 2021


Great suggestions here. I'd like to 2nd installing remote viewing/control software during your visit. There's a high liklihood that there will be some other issue in the future that requires an in-person visit. This will also take some pressure off your visit as it may be unrealistic to try to think of every scenario that will require assistance. Remote control software like TeamViewer would allow you (or someone else) to help in between visits. Remote control software would also allow you to check that their iPhone is updating the latest iOS updates as there have been a few important security updates lately.
posted by mundo at 6:38 AM on May 27, 2021


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