LittleBITS: Temporary iCloud Backup, Screen Time Oddity, Server Swap, TidBITS News App
I enjoyed sharing various little bits last week, so here are a few more things that have come over the transom of late. Let me know what you think of these collections in the comments.
Apple Boosts iCloud Backup with Temporary iCloud Storage
Much has been made of the fact that Apple provides only 5 GB of iCloud storage space for free. That isn’t enough to back up and restore most iPhones and iPads at this point. Apple has now responded to that limitation by allowing those who are transferring their data to a new device to create a temporary iCloud backup that exceeds their available space. (Or you could use the Quick Start device-to-device transfer method that John Gruber recommends at Daring Fireball.)
I don’t have an appropriate device or a sufficiently limited iCloud account to test, but Apple says your current device must be running iOS 15 or iPadOS 15. Then go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset Device. Under Prepare for New Device, tap Get Started, and work your way through the remaining prompts to start the backup.
By default, temporary backups last 21 days, though you can request an additional 21 days (Apple says “open Settings and tap Keep My Backup Longer”). Add those up and you get 42 days, which, as you all know, is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, including temporary iCloud backup longevity. Once you restore your temporary backup, Apple waits 7 days before deleting it permanently. Thanks to David Rostenne on TidBITS Talk for tipping me off to this new service.
Screen Time Content Restrictions Inexplicably Toggled On
TidBITS reader David Marriott wrote to me recently to share a curious happenstance. For a few weeks, whenever he went to read a local news website, he’d get an error saying that he couldn’t browse the page because it was restricted. Plus, when he tried to display his COVID-19 vaccination status on a government site, he was logged off immediately. Everything worked fine on his iPad and his wife’s iPhone, so the problem was clearly related to his iPhone.
The solution turned out to be a setting deep within Screen Time. When he navigated to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Content Restrictions > Web Content and switched it from Allowed Websites Only to Unrestricted Access, both of his problems disappeared instantly. More generally, he could have just turned off Content & Privacy Restrictions in the second screenshot below.
The mysterious part is that David had never knowingly used Screen Time, and he certainly hadn’t turned on Web Content restrictions. The most likely explanation is that a recent iOS update flipped that bit. I’ve heard of similar things happening over the years, though each report seems unique, and I’ve never been able to find any commonality between them. If anyone who is familiar with the guts of iOS has an explanation for how a particular setting could occasionally get changed in the background for a small number of users, I’m all ears. Of course, it’s also possible that we’re starting to see the emergence of a modern form of iPhone somnambulism.
TidBITS Virtual Private Server Swapped
I recently moved most of our Internet services from one virtual private server at Arcustech to another. Or, rather, Arcustech support and our developer Eli Van Zoeren moved everything—I mostly set up the account and sent trying-to-remain-calm reports about things that weren’t working right.
The main rationale for the server move was that we were using a legacy version of Ubuntu and PHP, and it was time to upgrade. Arcustech’s preferred approach to such upgrades is to spin up a new server, move everything over and test, and then repoint DNS to the new server once everything seems functional. As someone with Unix 101 skills, I do as I’m told by the people supporting me.
The other benefit was a slightly reduced monthly cost because we were switching from a v2 tier of 4 CPUs, 4 GB of RAM, and 90 GB of storage for $100/month to a v3 plan of 3 CPUs, 6 GB of RAM, and 90 GB of storage for $90/month. Since Eli said that RAM was more valuable than CPUs for our situation, saving $10 per month seemed like a nice bonus. And indeed, the site might be just a bit faster.
We ran into a few hiccups along the way, in part because it was hard to test for real until we had repointed DNS and were sending email normally again. Arcustech support and Eli were able to fix most problems quickly as they cropped up. The most concerning hiccup came one Monday night when Josh and I realized that our weekly issue wasn’t sending. Eli and I went back and forth a few times on different possible solutions, none of which succeeded until he upgraded the Sendy software that manages our email distribution between WordPress and Amazon SES.
If you notice anything not working on our site, let me know.
TidBITS News App Updated
Matt Neuburg has just released version 2.5 of his free TidBITS News app, which provides a native app interface to reading TidBITS on an iPhone or iPad. Along with updating it for iOS 15, Matt made only two small changes:
- If we put an ampersand in an article title, it will now be displayed properly. Character encoding problems may be the eventual downfall of civilization.
- By default, TidBITS News displays a spinner as it loads articles if they don’t appear instantly. I found that a little disconcerting when the wait was under a second anyway, so Matt decided to add a setting for those who, like me, want to turn it off. Find it in Settings > TidBITS News.
That’s it for this week, but again, please let me know in the comments if you’re finding these informal reports interesting and useful.
Thanks for LittleBITS, @ace. Please keep ‘em coming.
@matt3 I’ve never used the app, so this may already be the case, but in addition to having an app-specific setting, the News app should also honor the operating system’s Reduce Motion setting in Accessibility > Motion. Motion in animations can cause some people to feel sick in a variety of ways. If there are other motion animations in the app, they might warrant an alternative as well.
iOS added the setting for apps in 2014 and the ability for websites to know about the state of the setting was added to Safari in 2017. Responsive Design for Motion is a good article, with examples, about implementing alternatives on the web, I think it also links to resources for native app implementations.
It isn’t something the app has to “honor”, nor can it (there is no visible setting or property that the program can check); the operating system is responsible.
An OS can’t possibly know all the possible ways an app could create the appearance of motion, that’s why properties like isReduceMotionEnabled and reduceMotionStatusDidChangeNotification exist.
If this app’s spinner is an Apple-provided component that has state detection and a non-motion appearance built-in, that would be great.
Aha, didn’t know that! I’ll definitely look into it. Thanks! I particularly like the idea that we could make the spinner depend directly on this.
@ace I love what I call the “quick and dirty” tidbits. Absolutely keep them coming, indeed.
We use Linode for our servers. I’m sure you can get a dedicated CPU instance with the latest Ubuntu, etc. for considerably less than that for that amount of storage.
I am liking LittleBITS.
We used Linode long ago for TidBITS stuff. We had no complaints about their reliability or pricing, as I remember, but they don’t basically anything for you. In contrast, Arcustech support is very hands-on and provides a lot of help with configuration and management.
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