The Apple Pips

Inside All Apple Products

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Parents’ guide to social media for kids

If your child hasn't created an account on at least one social network by now, chances are the question has come up.

Besides being easier to connect with entire groups of friends and classmates through these services, schools are becoming increasingly involved in sharing group accomplishments on social media for all of the parents to see at once. Combine that with the relatively recent appearance of social network celebrities, regardless of inspirational or aspirational interest, and you've got plenty of reasons for your child to want into this world they are currently denied access to.

Truth be told, social media is almost exactly as great as it is terrible. It only gets weirder if you're not an active user yourself, and that can raise a lot of perfectly valid concerns you may have before allowing your child access to these apps and websites. To help you better understand how to talk with your kids about the potential pitfalls and to help you understand exactly what is going on and how to ensure your child is as safe as possible, we've assembled this little guide to help!

The basics

It may seem like social media is its own special language with complex concepts you'd need a textbook to figure out, but these apps and websites have more in common than you might know. There are some basic rules of the internet as a whole that are important to demonstrate to your children before they start playing with friends in these new digital playgrounds.

First things first: There is no such thing as deleting something on the internet

When you post something on the internet, regardless of whether it's a selfie on Snapchat or a screenshot of an embarrassing conversation to a friend on Facebook, it exists forever. It doesn't matter if you delete the post or if the app you're using promises the thing you shared will "go away" after an hour; a record of that post and its contents exists somewhere and that information is stored forever with your username stamped on it.

It's also important to remember that your username is almost always connected to you in some way. Some social networks ask for your phone number, and some some ask for an email address, but everything on the internet records your IP address when you access a website or app to do something. In some small way, everything you do and say on the internet is captured and cannot be deleted simply by removing a post or closing an account.

You do have some control over how much information you share

Just because you're sharing a little bit of information with Twitter or Instagram when you use those apps doesn't mean you have to also share it with everyone else. These apps have features built in that allow you to share your location and mood and whatever music you're currently listening to, but it's all optional. A great way to stay safe when you're using these social apps is to disable the ability to share your location when you share a photo.

This information isn't just available in the apps you use. Location information can also be shared with people through your camera app, depending on the app you use. You can also disable location services on your camera, which will remove the information that includes the exact location of the app when you're taking the photo.

It's also a good idea to make sure there's nothing obviously identifying about the photos you're taking and sharing publicly. Avoid including the name of your school or the name of your street in your photos, and it's instantly much more difficult for a stranger to randomly discover your location by your photos.

Hashtags are amazing and terrible at the same time

Everything has a hashtag nowadays. Just about every show on every channel on television has some kind of hashtag for adding to your posts, and for a good reason. Hashtags make it easy to pick a topic and see what everyone is saying about that thing. It's instant feedback for any live event or a fun way for friends to share an inside joke across the vastness of the internet.

But it's also the easiest way to discover new people, which means it's something that can be easily abused. Bullies can use hashtags to find people to shame or easy targets to trick into doing something they normally wouldn't. Combine a hashtag with photos that have location data on them, and it becomes easy to track down a group of people in the real world.

Like anything, hashtags need to be used responsibly. Don't engage with strangers who are out to pick a fight, and avoid sharing anything too personal with an easy-to-search hashtag in the post.

Keeping kids as safe as possible

Now that I've finished scaring the hell out of you with some of the big dangers that could be lurking behind every corner, it's important to know there are plenty of tools built into apps and websites to keep your kids safe well before they make their first post.

Make that account private

The easiest way to avoid a random stranger stumbling across your child's account is to control how many people can see it in the first place. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and almost every other social network allow you to make your account private. This feature makes it so only people you have confirmed should be on the friends list can see the posts made by your child, as well as limit the amount of information visible on the profile itself.

This is a great first step, but it's also important to teach your child when it is appropriate to confirm people on the Internet as friends. It's fun to see you have lots of people on your friends list, but it's important to know who those people are in some way. This level of control lets you and your child choose between only having friends that you've met in person or only friends from school, as an example.

Almost everything wants to know your location

This is one of those things that can't be repeated enough. With rare exception, the answer to the question "Would you like to share location data with this app" should be a firm "no" for your child. Social networks in particular offer the ability to share your location along with your posts, which tells anyone reading those posts almost exactly where you are.

Facebook is perhaps the most egregious offender here, with a feature that will also pop up a frequently visited location to let anyone on your friends list know if you've recently been to that store or restaurant. This data adds up quickly and can paint a very clear picture of what your child is doing as well as where and when.

Selfies and other things cameras can do

There's no shame in taking a great selfie, especially with friends, but if your child is using their phone out near the house or in front of the school, it could reveal more information than intended. The background of that selfie might reveal the name of the school they go to or the name of the street you live on. Its easy to accidentally set a photo with that kind of information as your profile photo, effectively broadcasting to the world where your child lives or goes to school.

It's also important to remember you aren't the only person with a camera on your phone, and we live in a world where videos and photos of people doing embarrassing things are celebrated by certain segments of the web. Your best tool against this kind of exposition is awareness. If your child sees someone with a phone out in a place they should have a phone out, make sure they know to tell someone in charge as well as come talk to you about it.

Being prepared and informed is not the same as being afraid

It's easy to read all of this and be concerned about your child having a phone at all. There are stories everywhere of terrible things happening to children and access to the internet being one of the things that helped make that child a target. It's easy to become concerned to the point of isolation, but it's also important to know how to teach your child how to use the internet as a positive force in their lives.

These tips are a beginner's guide to awareness, and that alone is a powerful tool to have for anyone of any age. It's easy to see these phones as little boxes of magic with apps your kids use that you don't understand. It's also easy to become involved and explore these experiences with your kid. Together, you're both better informed and better able to make the best choices for staying safe and having fun.

What suggestions do you have for parents who are new to social networks with a young kid? Share your tips in the comments and we'll add the best to the article!

Charge your phone and keep it in place for $36

Plugging your phone in to charge it is fine for most folks, but if you're out and about our simply don't want to sit by an outlet all day, you need an alternative solution. An external battery pack is great, but then it's a separate piece you have to worry about carrying around and some of them can be as big as the phone itself or bigger. A battery case is fine, but that does nothing to hold up your phone if you want to watch Netflix or read.

Charge your phone and watch video hands-free Learn more

The Podium-style Charging Stand is the key to being able to keep your iPhone charged up while you're out while propping it up in either portrait or landscape orientation so that you can watch videos and read hands-free. This stand/charger regularly retails for $159.95, but at iMore Digital Offers, it's only $35.99, a savings of 77%. This isn't just a way to watch video without having to hold your phone; there's a built-in 10,500mAh battery, so you can charge your phone up via a USB port. Got another device that needs charging? The second USB port lets you charge both simultaneously.

When you're not charging your phone with the Podium-style Charging Stand, it folds down into a 4-inch square that makes it perfect for toting around in your backpack or purse. You'll probably get two to three full iPhone charges from this stand, and you can adjust it to the viewing angle you prefer, making it the perfect travel accessory. You can even charge and dock your iPad.

If you know you'll be away from a power source for a while and relying on your phone or tablet for entertainment, grab the Podium-style Charging Pad from iMore Digital Offers for only $35.99 and save 77%. Comes in blue or black.

Charge your phone and watch video hands-free Learn more

How to Save Money Without Sacrificing Quality when Buying Lightning Cables

You don't have to buy an Apple-branded Lightning cable, but you shouldn't buy uncertified knockoffs.

Apple sells replacement Lightning to USB cables at its online and physical retail stores for $19 - $29, depending on the length you want. You don't have to get your replacement from Apple, though. To get a good quality Lightning cable for your iPhone and iPad, you don't need to spend a fortune, you just need to make sure it's MFi certified.

Here are the best low-cost MFi certified Lightning cables for iPhone and iPad.

What does MFi mean?

In order to meet the strict standards it has for making accessories that are compatible with its hardware and software, Apple provides certification to those companies that meet the standards as part of the MFi program, or "Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod," but it covers all Apple-built hardware. If a product is MFi certified, it basically means that it will continue to work with Apple products, even when the company pushes out software updates that change things.

It doesn't mean that non-certified products aren't just as good as certified products, but it does mean you're guaranteed to have an accessory or peripheral that meets Apple's standards. And that's what you should be looking for when buying a low-cost Lightning cable.

My suggestion: Don't buy into those multipacks of Lightning cables on sale at one-sale-a-day type websites. Those are rarely MFi certified and you'll inevitably hit that "This accessory is not supported..." notification. Blech.

MFi cables can be pricy, like Belkin's 3-meter Lightning cable for $20. But they can also be significantly less expensive if you know where to look.

Best low-cost MFi certified Lightning cables for iPhone and iPad

AmazonBasics Nylon Braided Lightning cable

Probably because of its ability to order massive amounts of units from manufacturers, Amazon is able to keep the cost of its MFi certified Lightning cables very low. You can get a standard AmazonBasics Lightning cable for around $6, but I prefer the nylon braided version because it's a little more sturdy and a lot easier to tell apart from everyone else's. Cables have been put through the ringer for durability. They are bend-tested 4,000 times.

The connector caps have a bit of extra flexibility to reduce fraying (which is fairly common with Apple's branded Lightning cables) and the nylon fiber coating helps keep the cable itself from splitting or breaking.

Interestingly, the 6-foot cable is just about the same price as the 3-foot cable. You can get twice the length without paying any extra. It comes in gold, silver, dark gray, and rose gold and ranges in price from $10 - $13, depending on the color.

See at Amazon

Syncwire UNBREAKcable Lightning cable

Syncwire makes a solid and durable 3.3-foot MFi Lightning cable that it claims can withstand 30,000 90-degree bends. It's also been tested to support up to 275 pounds of weight. It's got an additional layer of mesh protection around the inner wires, which is also covered with a TPE jacket. The connectors are "laser welded" to keep them from breaking off.

If you discover, after roughing up your Syncwire, that you've actually managed to break it, you can exchange it for a brand new one thanks to the company's lifetime warranty.

The Syncwire UNBREAKcable series comes in black, gray, rose gold, and white for between $8 and $11.

See at Amazon

Anker PowerLine II Lightning cable

Anker makes a super durable MFi Lightning cable that can seriously withstand a lot of abuse. It's bend-tested 12,000 times and can support more than 175 pounds of weight. It's made from bulletproof fiber weaving. You know, so you can protect yourself from getting shot with your ... Lightning cable? Hey, it could happen. The rounded TPE-coated connector caps add an extra bit of durability because the connections aren't separated from the cable. The best part, it's got a lifetime warranty, so you can exchange a damaged cable without any questions.

Wirecutter considers it the best Lightning cable you can buy.

The MFi-licensed Anker PowerLine Lightning cable offers everything we look for in a cable at a great price. It can charge every Lightning-equipped device except the iPad Pro at full speed, and it is built to be sturdy. Plus, Anker stands behind its products more than most companies do.

The 6-foot Anker PowerLine II comes in black, white, blue, and red for $13.

See at Amazon

iXCC Element II Lightning Cable

The Element II 3-foot MFi certified Lightning cable from iXCC caught my attention because it's got nearly 30,000 reviews on Amazon with a 75% five-star rating average. It's fairly standard in terms of the features of an MFi certified Lightning cable, but it's got a couple of things going for it. First, it's got a slim design at the connector, which means it's more likely than not to actually work with special cases. Other non-Apple Lightning cables tend not to fit as well with some of the more popular rugged cases.

Second, it comes with a two-year warranty. If something goes wrong — if it frays or breaks — iXCC will replace it.

I noticed within the Amazon reviews there were a few folk that complained of issues with their cables. It appears that there are fakes being sold on Amazon. Be careful to buy an Element II from iXCC and not a third-party seller. If you do get an official cable and it breaks, iXCC will replace it anyway.

The Element II is the lowest-price MFi certified cable on this list starting at $6.50. You can get them in 1ft, 3ft, 6ft, or 10ft lengths and they come in single, two, or three packs. Prices range from $6.50 for a single 3ft cable to $17 for a three-pack of 10ft cables.

See at Amazon

Your thoughts?

Do you buy non-MFi certified Lightning cables? Do you think the only way is Apple brand?

This $24 50-mile TV antenna gets you local channels without a monthly fee

Our friends at Thrifter are back again, this time with a deal on an over-the-air antenna!

This AmazonBasics ultra thin HDTV Antenna is down to $23.99. This antenna dropped to $28 in early February and has sold steadily at that price ever since. This is the first drop below $28 and its lowest price ever.

Features for this antenna include:

  • 50 Mile range to access from broadcast tower; receives free HD channels including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, Univision and more
  • Reversible with black or white sides to match your home's decoration; antenna can be painted over to achieve a more personal touch
  • Supports 1080 HD and includes 16 foot coaxial cable
  • Multi-Directional and Reversible: No "pointing" needed

Like the product page notes, the success of the antenna varies a lot depending on where you live, what's being broadcast near you, how far away you are, and other variables like that. If you want to know how to take full advantage of over-the-air antennas like this, check out our article.

See at Amazon

More from Thrifter:

For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

Cat Quest Review: A wildly entertaining RPG that is nearly ‘purr-fect’!

Cat Quest puts its best paw forward and falls just short of brilliance.

It's been a while since I have been this excited about a new game on the App Store, and it's been a while since I have been able to write a review for a game. Lucky for me, Cat Quest not only exceeded my expectations, but it was also nearly purr-fect, giving me plenty of reasons to share my thoughts with you.

I was drawn to the game by the colorful and cartoonish art style, the cat-tastic puns, and the fact that I love action adventure RPGs probably more than any other genre. Needless to say, I went into Cat Quest with some pretty high expectations, and I came out the other side ready for more cat-ventures!

Play Cat Quest today!

Story & Setting

Let's talk about the big fat elephant in the room — or cat in this case — Cat Quest doesn't have the most original story. In fact, take a look at the screenshots below and let me know if they seem familiar.

Yes, it's pretty obvious that Cat Quest is paying a little too much homage to Skyrim in the opening credits of the game; however, it was pretty easy to overlook this flaw once you carry on and discover there's a method to the madness.

You play as an unnamed cat, who is by all accounts minding his own business when an evil white-furred cat comes along, steals his sister, destroys his boat, and leaves the nameless cat for dead. You're awoken on the shore by a cat spirit, aptly named Spirry, who decides to help you out.

This tiny blue cat spirit may also look familiar to gamers out there as Spirry is eerily similar to Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was right about here in the story where I realized a pattern was emerging; Cat Quest has plenty of other references, callbacks, homages, or whatever you feel like calling them to many popularly adventure and RPG games in video game history. Now you understand when the Skyrim-like plotline is not only forgivable but rather charming in retrospect.

Lots of interesting NPCs with mysterious motives always seem to be sending you on wacky quests.

In case this still isn't enough to satisfy you, the game itself points out just how generic the villain of Cat Quest seems to be written. The developers have clearly gone out of their way to produce not only a ton of cat puns but a healthy dose of satire into their game. I would be lying if I said the punchline lands every time; however, I found myself chuckling a fair amount at the absurdity of it all.

While the main story may not be the most original thing since sliced bread, the sheer number of unique side quests available in Cat Quest had me excited. Lots of interesting NPCs with mysterious motives always seem to be sending you on wacky quests, so much so that after about four or five hours of playing Cat Quest, I realized I had only completed about two main story quests. Just like a true RPG, Cat Quest lets you blaze your own trail and will reward you with loot, gold, and extra experience for exploring.

Gameplay

On the surface, Cat Quest doesn't offer anything groundbreaking to the RPG genre, but it provides an incredibly entertaining and smooth experience throughout the game, much of which the game owes to its simple, yet clever use of controls.

Cat Quest never made me yearn for a MFi controller

Usually, the use of on-screen controls (especially in the RPG genre) frustrates the living daylights out of me. The controls are often unresponsive or require too much precision for me to fully feel comfortable or immersed in the experience. I'm happy to say that Cat Quest never made me yearn for a MFi controller, and since using a MFi controller is my favorite way to game on mobile, that's saying something!

If you read various forums or other reviews of Cat Quest, you'll notice some people complain that the combat is a little dry. What others call dry, I call simple and effective. Yes, the game will auto-attack for you as you come across the various enemies in the world, and you are limited to four activated spells and three pieces of equipment at all times; however, I think the limited scope of the combat system increases the overall challenge level of the game. When you have a limited amount of equipable spells and other abilities, it forces you to focus on how you approach each battle, rather than just having the perfect skills for every enemy.

You can't expect to run into combat without a care in the world and hope to survive.

Like any good RPG, Cat Quest is nonlinear, meaning you will run into enemies that are much higher level than you at multiple points in the game. As if that wasn't difficult enough, even when the enemies are the same level as you, typically you come across multiple different enemies with different attacks and abilities at the same time. You can't expect to run into combat without a care in the world and hope to survive, in fact, you should probably expect a game over (or a few dozen) during your adventure.

That being said, the gameplay is smooth overall, and other than the occasional two- or three-second loading screen for new areas, you can play Cat Quest at a blistering high-speed pace, making the entire game feel much more energetic than other RPGs on the market.

Design & Sound

The cartoonish world of Cat Quest is quite beautiful as you wander around the extremely colorful world. Everything is vibrant, and the super-saturated colors of the world around you help stay immersed in the world the game creates. Even the many small towns, towers, shops, caves, and other places of interest you find along the way have a way of popping out from the background while remaining true to the art style of the world.

What really stood out was the design of all the special abilities and spells you collect throughout the game. Each spell has a different animation and attack pattern, and each weapon or piece of armor looks different from all the others. In a game as fast-paced as Cat Quest, it would be easy for all the magic, weapons, and other equipment to look bland and to fade into the background; however, each one stands out every time. Not only does give Cat Quest some of the more beautiful and smooth animations I have seen in a mobile game, but it also makes this particular adventure a blast to play.

The soundtrack in Cat Quest is very catchy. I would often find myself whistling or humming along to the tune when exploring the world map. The soundtrack adapts throughout your journey to fit the pace of what is going on in the game. Some of the more spooky-looking areas have more tense music, while the lush and beautiful environments have more upbeat music, allowing the soundtrack to pull you along for the ride and help you feel more immersed in the game. The game also has some pretty stellar sound effects, including several different growls, meows, and other cat-related noises.

My Verdict

Pros:

  • Smooth and fast gameplay
  • Full of great humor
  • Fantastic visual and sound design

Cons:

  • Not the most original story

Must Download!

5/5

Cat Quest is full of cat-related puns, bright and colorful surroundings, and really solid gameplay that makes it an adventure worth owning.

Although the story likes to poke fun at the RPG genre isn't the most original at times, overall, I can't say I didn't enjoy the heck out of Cat Quest. The game is incredibly fun and so easy to lose yourself in that it's impossible not to play for hours at a time. The stunning visuals and fantastic gameplay make the game stand out as one of my favorites this year.

The game costs $4.99, and with the sheer amount of side quests, main story quests, and hidden loot available to find throughout the game, Cat Quest is definitely worth the money.

Play Cat Quest today!

What's your opinion?

Have you played Cat Quest already? Will you play it in the future? I want to know! Leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter and tell me what you think!

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