2020 New Year’s resolutions for iPhone users

The self-improvement promises we make to ourselves at the start of the year should absolutely include how we use our iPhones.

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As each new year begins, it is tradition to take some time to reflect on our lives and our habits. We take stock of our lives, our behavior, and our habits, and we resolve to make some changes in the new year.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t resolve to eat better, quit smoking or vaping, get more exercise, keep your house cleaner, or whatever else you have on your list, but don’t leave out your iPhone! We spend hours a day with these little glass rectangles. They contain a stunning amount of information about our lives, and are increasingly an integral part of them. It only makes sense to make New Year’s resolutions that center around our iPhones.

Here are a few suggestions for positive changes you can resolve to make as we begin the new decade. Some may be specific to the iPhone, others to your use of Apple products or your broader digital life, but all are worth your consideration.

Get your notifications under control

We probably all use our phones too much. Of course, having a surprisingly powerful computer with a nonstop internet connection, a good camera, and tons of sensors in your pocket all the time is bound to be compelling—and useful! But the never-ending dopamine drip of social media and freemium gaming is downright unhealthy.

notifications IDG

For every app, choose how intrusive notifications will be. For most of them, you should seriously consider disabling notifications entirely.

The best way to reduce your phone use, without reducing your phone usefulness, is to severely limit your notifications. When your iPhone isn’t buzzing and chirping every 20 minutes, you’re far less likely to just pick it up for one unimportant thing only to get sucked into staring at unimportant things for half an hour.

Start by going into the notifications settings and examining the settings for nearly every app on your phone. No, seriously, every app—it won’t take as long as you think! Our notifications guide shows you how the settings work.

Consider adhering to these principles:

  1. If you actually need to take immediate action on an app’s notifications right away (as with a smart doorbell, home security app, or Messages) then leave on banners and sounds.

  2. If you only need notifications to tell that something happened but don’t need to take action, then turn off sounds and banners, and maybe even lock screen notifications and badges, too. You’ll see those notifications in the Notification Center. Nearly all of your social media apps should be set this way.

  3. Finally, for apps you only rarely use or those where you open the app several times a day anyway, just turn off notifications entirely. Games are a great example. Play when you want to, not when the game says, “Hey! Play me now!”

When it doubt, err on the side of fewer and less intrusive notifications. You can always go back in Settings later and make them more permissive if you find you’re missing important stuff.

After digging into the Settings menu, you want to change the in-app settings for those apps on which you left notifications enabled. Go into apps where you do need notifications, and limit the sorts of things you get them for. You’ll have to do this in each app’s settings, and every app is different. Take Twitter, for example: You may want to leave notifications enabled only for Direct Messages. (You don’t really need a notification popping up to tell you that someone retweeted you, do you?)

Even if you don’t feel like your notifications are a problem, you’ll be surprised how much more you enjoy using your phone when you only see a fraction of the notifications.

Set up a password manager and two-factor authentication

The most common password in 2019 was “123456.” The second most popular was “123456789” followed by “qwerty” and “password.”

And people wonder why their Ring security cameras were broken into (they weren’t “hacked,” customers just used bad passwords or reused passwords from other accounts).

By now you’ve heard it a hundred times: It’s extremely important to use different password for every site and service, and for those passwords to be complex and hard to guess.

The best way to make that happen is to use a good password manager. For your most important sites and services, you should also use two-factor authentication (2FA). That means popular social media accounts, banks, email, and large “ecosystem” accounts like your Microsoft, Amazon, or Google accounts.

2fa apple Apple

You should definitely have 2FA enabled on your Apple ID, and other important accounts, too.

Fortunately, iOS has a fairly good built-in password manager that even warns you about re-using passwords. If you want to use a third-party password manager (a great idea if you use non-Mac computers, browsers other than Safari, or share passwords with family members for things like your Netflix account), iOS will offer up login info from them for sites and apps. The best password managers even let you fill in your login and password with Touch ID or Face ID, so it’s both secure and easy.

Don’t know where to start? We suggest either 1Password or LastPass for password managers, and Authy is a great app for generating codes for two-factor authentication. Using an authentication app like Authy is more secure than relying on SMS messages for 2FA.

At the very least, you should set up 2FA for your Apple ID!

Oh, and make sure your six-digit numeric passcode to unlock your iPhone is different from the PIN you use anywhere else. If it’s not, it’s time to change that, too.

Set up Family Sharing

If you have an iPhone, odds are at least some of your family members do, too. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider setting up Family Sharing. In prior years, you could take it or leave it. But with all the new subscription services Apple offers, it’s way more useful now. With the exception of Apple Music, they all offer Family Sharing at no extra charge (Apple Music costs $5 more per month to enable Family Sharing).

With it, you and up to five others can share all sorts of things. App store purchases (for supporting apps—there are lots!), iCloud storage, location, and subscription accounts like Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, and Apple News+. Suddenly, all these subscriptions that seemed too expensive start to look like a bargain.

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This year, Apple made Family Sharing far more valuable.

It’s really easy to do, too. You just open Settings, tap on your Apple ID at the top of the screen, then tap on Family Sharing. Select Add Family Member and enter the the family member you want to share with—they’ll get the invite in an iMessage.

Importantly, adding family members does not mean you have to share everything with them. You’ll see a “Shared Features” section at the bottom of the Family Sharing menu that allows you to choose which features you want to share with your Family. Share Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade but not iCloud Storage or Purchase Sharing, if that’s what you want.

In particular, Purchase Sharing is thorny. If that is enabled, then every purchase made on the app store, iTunes (movies, music, TV), and Books will be processed through your master account. The family Organizer will literally pay for every app and in-app purchase, every movie on bought in the TV app, every eBook. You may want to leave that disabled, but share subscription services like Apple Arcade.

The best part is that other users in your Family sharing group don’t have to set up new profiles or anything. If you share Apple Music, it will be as if each family member has their own Apple Music subscription, with their own playlists and play history and unique suggestions and so on. Same with Apple TV+, Apple News+, Apple Arcade. And sharing iCloud storage doesn’t mean that all your family members can access the data that you store there; it only means that the storage you all use counts against the same storage limit.

Start making regular backups

Should anything happen to your phone—if it’s lost forever or damaged beyond repair—would you be able to get back everything on it? All those photos you can never re-take? Your painstakingly created playlists? Those saved games with hours and hours of progress?

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Make sure you have iCloud Backup enabled, but don’t reply on on that!

This is the perfect time to make sure you always have a fairly recent backup. To start, turn on iCloud backup. Open the Settings app and then tap your Apple ID at the top of the screen. Then tap iCloud, and scroll down past your list of apps to tap on iCloud Backup. Make sure that is enabled, and just for good measure tap “Back Up Now.”

itunes backup iphone encrypted Susie Ochs/IDG

An encrypted backup is the best way to save everything on your iPhone. Do it once a month.

But your iCloud backup doesn’t store everything on your phone. To do that, you want to make an encrypted backup to your computer. Connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC, launch iTunes, select your iPhone by clicking the little phone icon in the toolbar, and under Backups, choose This Computer. Check Encrypt iPhone backup, so your account passwords and Health data gets backed up—just be sure to use a password you won’t forget. Click the button to Back up now.

If you have a Mac with macOS Catalina or later, you’ll find your iPhone in the sidebar of Finder instead of in iTunes, but the rest of the backup process is the same.

It’s not necessary to do an encrypted iTunes backup all the time. Once a month should suffice. Want an easy way to remember? Just say, “Hey Siri, remind me every month to back up my iPhone.” Siri will set up a monthly recurring reminder for you.

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