Stuck at home and need help with your iPhone, iPad, or Mac? Here’s what to do

From support forums to mailing your device to Apple, there are multiple ways to get help for your Apple device without leaving the house.

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With concerns about the novel coronavirus outbreak in full swing, many employers (including Apple itself) are advising their employees to work from home to minimize the risk of transmitting COVID-19. But even with a world-spanning crisis to worry about, personal tech devices still break down and need attention.

Fortunately, as we live in the age of the internet, there are multiple ways to seek help for fixing devices like iPhones, Macs, or Apple Watches before deciding to venture into crowded public spaces. If you’re working remotely or just don’t want to take the risk, here are the options you should try out first.

Try common ‘home remedies’ for resetting and repair

Before we venture online, here are a few things you should always try before assuming the worst. Let’s start with the most obvious one: Restart your device. Here’s how to restart an iPhone. On most Mac models, you can force a restart by holding down the power button. (As always, make sure you’ve saved everything first.)

Sometimes, though, even a simple restart won’t fix problems like a Mac with faulty display resolution, sound, or even a startup disk. (If the latter happens, you’ll usually see a scary question mark blinking when you try to turn on your Mac.) Resetting your NVRAM (on Intel-based Macs) or PRAM (on Power PC-based Macs) on a Mac will often resolve the issue.

Here’s Apple dedicated support page for NVRAM or PRAM resets, but it’s the same process regardless of which device you’re using. After you shut down your Mac and immediately after pressing the power button to restart it, press Option, Command, P, and R all at the same time and hold them down for several seconds.

As for iPhones, you can restore your iPhone to an earlier profile if you've been saving backups to either iCloud, a Mac, or a PC, thereby eliminating the (presumably new) problem affecting your Mac. Here’s how to do it.

Check for software updates

Often, simply upgrading your device to the latest version of iOS, iPadOS, or macOS will clear up problems plaguing either the entire system or a third-party app. There are valid reasons for avoiding this, such as the way macOS Catalina dropped support for some beloved 32-bit apps that formerly worked in macOS Mojave. Still, this is a smart option if you see no other conflicts (especially on iOS).

On an iPhone or iPad, you can check to see if an update is available by going to the Settings app and then pressing General and then tapping Software Update. Follow the instructions from there. On the Mac, go to the Apple menu, select About This Mac and then in the Overview section, click the Software Update button.

Use Apple’s own support library and forums

Apple itself is one of the best places to go for text-based support resources. For one, its Apple Support page has a staggeringly large library of dedicated how-tos and related articles—including a relevant one on how to clean and disinfect your Apple devices—and it comes with an iOS app that’s more easily navigable than the browser-based version. Apple also maintains a comprehensive library of manuals for everything from watchOS 6 to the Mac Pro.

But Apple also boasts the thriving user-based Apple Support Communities site. Unlike a lot of official forums, it’s actually useful. If you can’t find a solution for your issue by using the search tool at the top of the Apple Support page or browsing existing topics on the Apple Support Communities, you can post your own question and you’ll often get a helpful response within 24 hours. So-called “Community Specialists” will often respond with proper Apple Support articles you might have missed in your initial search.

apple support communities site Leif Johnson/IDG

And sometimes the responses aren’t so helpful. I’m pretty sure this user was asking how to force a restart, and sometimes simply pressing the power button isn’t going to do that.

If Apple’s resources don’t do it for you, then you should check out the forums over at MacRumors. They’re probably the busiest spot for Apple chatter outside of Apple’s community pages, and there’s a good chance you’ll find what you need in its many sections devoted to specific Apple products.

Take advantage of social media

Just as we live in an age that allows many of us to work from home, we can also get quick, detailed answers on how to fix problems through social media.

Outside of simply asking knowledgable friends how to fix something through a Facebook post, I recommend using one of the many subreddits dedicated to Apple products on Reddit. The most obvious one is r/applehelp, which serves as the Reddit counterpart of Apple’s Support Communities page. Elsewhere, some of the more common subreddits for specific Apple products include those for the iPhone and Mac, but keep in mind that the iPhone subreddit prohibits support questions unless they’re in the "Daily Tech Support Thread" at the top of the feed. If you’re on any of the other subreddits, run a search out of courtesy to make sure your question hasn’t already been asked and answered before.

applehelp subreddit reddit Leif Johnson/IDG

A glimpse at what you can expect to find on the r/applehelp subreddit.

Twitter is also helpful—especially if you use Advanced Search—but to a lesser degree. Typically when I’m looking for possible leads for a solution to a tech-related problem, I’ll just plunk a few words into the search bar and then sort the results by “latest” if I don’t see what I need at first. The problem with Twitter compared to Reddit or the Apple Support Communities, though, is that you’ll often see questions from folks having the same issues as you—but with no answers.

Find fixes on YouTube

Sometimes just seeing a fix in action is more helpful than reading the most detailed text-based how-to, and that’s where YouTube comes in handy. We have our own library of helpful how-tos and support videos on the Macworld YouTube channel, but there’s also a good chance you’ll find a helpful video for your issue through a simple search of the whole site.

Just keep in mind that the quality varies. Some otherwise helpful videos have unnecessarily long introductions that drag on for minutes before giving you the information you’re after. Some videos leave out crucial steps, and some of the best videos are based on outdated builds of iOS or macOS—so be sure to check when the video was posted. Unlike with a text article, you can’t simply update a video on YouTube with the new information.

If all else fails, ship your product to Apple

As helpful as the internet is, it can’t fix everything. Sometimes your iPhone’s volume buttons won’t work, and sometimes your MacBook is just dead. That means your next-best option will be to set up an appointment at the local Apple Store, and I can confirm that the one in Union Square here in San Francisco is at least scrubbing down surfaces and providing hand sanitizer.

apple store union square san francisco Leif Johnson/IDG

Apple Stores tend to be crowded places.

If you don’t want to take that risk, though, Apple will often let you mail your defective product to an Apple Repair Center, even if you live in a place like the Bay Area where it’s easy to find either an Apple Store or an Authorized Service Provider. According to an Apple representative I spoke to, this option is usually available depending on the nature of the problem and your location.

To see if you qualify, start the process through the Apple Repair site by clicking Start a repair request toward the bottom of the page.

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