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How to Declutter Your Home Screen

How to Declutter Your Home Screen

If you still want easy access to apps but find that you just have too many icons on your home screens, folders can help. To create a folder, drag an icon on top of another icon—it can be an app shortcut or a shortcut to something else, like a contact or a website. The folder will be created, and you can drag more shortcuts into it if needed. To rename a folder, tap on it to open it and then tap its name.

For example, you could create a folder of social media apps, or a folder of apps you need for work, or a folder of your most used contacts. Tap and hold, then drag individual icons to take them out of the folder or remove them from the home screen—you can also tap, hold, and drag a folder in its entirety up to the Remove button to get it off the home screen without installing the apps or shortcuts inside it.

Screenshot of Android app settings menu.

You can stop new apps from adding home screen shortcuts.

Google via David Nield

When it comes to widgets, remember that many of them can be resized: You might want to make certain widgets smaller to free up some room, or even make them larger to keep your home screens simpler. To see whether a widget can be resized, tap and hold on it—if you can adjust the height and width of it on the screen, you’ll see handles appear at the sides.

Head to Settings and choose Wallpaper and style then App grid, and you can set how tightly spaced the icons are on your home screen, which can help with decluttering. You can also long press on a home screen, choose Customize, and turn off the Add app icons to home screen toggle switch. This way, when you install new apps, they won’t automatically get a shortcut on the home screen.

iPhone

Open up the Settings screen on iOS, and select Home Screen to decide where to put new apps: Pick App Library Only to add them to the final home screen, or Add to Home Screen to create another shortcut on a standard home screen as well. The former option is the one to go for to keep your home screens as uncluttered as possible (you can easily add app shortcuts manually, if you need to).

If there’s an app shortcut on a home screen that you want to get rid of, tap and hold, then slightly drag it to bring up the small (minus) symbol next to it. Tap on this to remove the shortcut without deleting the app. Any website shortcuts you might have created in Safari can be removed in the same way.

How to Use Apple Pay or Google Pay Instead of Plastic Cards

How to Use Apple Pay or Google Pay Instead of Plastic Cards

The proliferation of contactless payment options shifts how businesses interact with customers at the moment of purchase, from international retailers to local pop-up shops. But there’s no need to fret just yet if you enjoy buying stuff with cold, hard cash. Plastic cards are first on the chopping block.

“I’d suggest that the time is ripe to plan for plastic (and metal) cards to be sent to Shady Pines Retirement Home for the Tragically Overstayed Welcome,” wrote Nick Holland, global head of insights and networks at Money 20/20. During the group’s 2022 conference in October in Las Vegas, financial technology companies touting efficiency and seamless experiences were front and center, as plastic cards faded into the background.

Anyone who is on the fence about using their smartphone for contactless payments should check out Whitson Gordon’s case for adopting the technology. Convinced and need guidance setting up Apple Pay or Google Wallet? Apple and Google offer step-by-step instructions to guide you through that initial setup. After you link your cards to the mobile device and practice the necessary steps to complete purchases, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of smartphone wallets.

Don’t Forget About Phone-to-Phone Payments

You may be comfortable tapping your phone against a checkout terminal, but it might feel like a surprise the first time a business asks you to tap your phone to their phone. Smaller merchants, delivery companies, and take-out restaurants may continue to forgo traditional card terminals altogether as companies like Mastercard and Visa introduce features that use near-field communication chip technology to enable phone-to-phone payments. Similar to the lightning port on the iPhone, the era of credit card readers plugged into smartphones is likely to come to an end.

Make Use of Virtual Card Numbers

Always look to see what your options are when it comes to virtual card numbers. For example, if you choose to get an Apple Card on your iPhone and the number leaks, it can be changed with just a couple of taps. Open your Wallet and tap on the Apple Card. In the top-right corner, select the card icon and choose the button that reads Request New Card Number. Virtual card numbers are not only useful for smartphone payments. Google added the option to use the security feature easily in your web browser.

Add More Than Just Payment Methods

Your debit card and credit card are likely the very first items you connect to your digital wallet. It doesn’t need to stop there! From boarding passes to proof-of-vaccine cards, digital wallets can hold so much more than just payments. It’s even possible to connect your health insurance card for easy access. (The main aspect of a physical wallet that a digital one can never replicate is providing me with a secret receptacle to hoard ancient receipts and scraps of paper.)

Keep a Little Cash on Hand

Even if you choose to use your mobile device instead of a plastic card for most in-person transactions, it still makes sense to keep a few dollar bills in your wallet. Just in case. Your smartphone might get wet and stop functioning. Also, not every store is set up to accept Apple Pay or Google Wallet. Some retailers even offer a small discount to customers who pay with cash.

How to Get Slack’s Paid Features for Free

How to Get Slack’s Paid Features for Free

Slack is worth paying for … if you’re a company. If you’re using Slack for an online community, though, you should probably just stick with the free version.

That’s partly because most of Slack’s paid features aren’t really necessary if you’re just using it as a group text platform, but also because the paid options get expensive quickly. Plans start at $7.25 per user per month, which means a community with two dozen people will cost $174 monthly, or over $2,000 annually. That’s likely more than you want to pay for the privilege of bantering with friends (charming as they are, I’m sure).

Still, a few of those paid Slack features are pretty nice, especially having access to your archive of old messages. And it actually is possible, if you’re willing to put in a little effort, to get that and a few other extra features without paying. Here’s how:

Get Unlimited Slack Message History for Free

The free version of Slack only lets users scroll up to or search for messages from the past 90 days—anything older can’t be found. Those messages aren’t gone, though—if you start paying they will all show up.

And there’s another loophole. Slack allows admins to export all data, including a complete backlog of all messages. Just head to Settings & Administration > Workspace Settings in Slack’s menu. The settings will open in your browser—there’s an Import/Export Data button in the top-right corner. Click that and you can choose a date range and export all messages. Note that free users cannot export Direct Messages (DMs) or private channels—only public channels. The actual archives come in a ZIP file full of JSON files, which aren’t the easiest thing in the world to read. Still, it’s all there.

A free tool called Slack Export Viewer can help by converting those files and loading them in your web browser, complete with a Slack-style sidebar for browsing channels. It works—I tested it—but you’ll need to be comfortable with the command line in order to set it up. Another option is JSON Translator, which can convert your ZIP file into an easier-to-read CSV file that you can download and open using Excel or Google Sheets. (CSV files contain data records separated by commas—hence the name.)

If you want a public archive, check out Slack Saver. You can upload the ZIP file you exported from Slack and, when the conversion is done, share a link to the complete archive with your entire community. You’ll need to update it occasionally to include more recent posts, but it works. Just keep in mind, with web-based services, that you’re uploading a complete archive of conversations people might have thought of as semi-private. Make sure your community is OK with that before proceeding.

Get Slack Huddles for Free

Slack’s Huddle feature is different from an audio call because there’s no ringing—you can just turn on the Huddle for any channel and people can show up if they want to. There’s no video, just audio and screen sharing, which makes them perfect for quick improvised conversations.

But Slack’s Huddles aren’t the only tool for the job. You could create a room in Gather, which makes virtual parties actually fun using pixel avatars that can move toward and away from each other. It’s perfect for the kind of drop-in/drop-out conversations that make Huddles so great. You can even link to a Gather room in the Topic of your Slack channels.

Here’s What the ‘Matter’ Smart Home Standard Is All About

Here’s What the ‘Matter’ Smart Home Standard Is All About

The ideal smart home seamlessly anticipates your needs and instantly responds to commands. You shouldn’t have to open a specific app for each appliance or remember the precise voice command and voice assistant combination that starts the latest episode of your favorite podcast on the nearest speaker. Competing smart home standards make operating your devices needlessly complicated. It’s just not very … well, smart.

Tech giants try to straddle standards by offering their voice assistants as a controlling layer on top, but Alexa can’t talk to Google Assistant or Siri or control Google or Apple devices, and vice versa. (And so far, no single ecosystem has created all the best devices.) But these interoperability woes may soon be remedied. Formerly called Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), the open source interoperability standard known as Matter is finally here. Some of the biggest tech names have signed on, like Amazon, Apple, and Google, which means that seamless integration may finally be within reach.

Updated October 2022: Added news of the Matter 1.0 specification release, the certification program, and some additional details.

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Table of Contents

What Is Matter?

Matter promises to enable different devices and ecosystems to play nicely. Device manufacturers need to comply with the Matter standard to ensure their devices are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others. For folks building a smart home, Matter theoretically lets you buy any device and use the voice assistant or platform you prefer to control it (yes, you should be able to use different voice assistants to talk to the same product).

For example, you’ll be able to buy a Matter-supported smart bulb and set it up with Apple Homekit, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa—without having to worry about compatibility. Right now, some devices already support multiple platforms (like Alexa or Google Assistant), but Matter will expand that platform support and make setting up your new devices faster and easier. 

The first protocol runs on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers and uses Bluetooth Low Energy for device setup. While it will support various platforms, you’ll have to choose the voice assistants and apps you want to use—there is no central Matter app or assistant. Overall, you can expect your smart home devices to be more responsive to you. 

What Makes Matter Different?

The Connectivity Standards Alliance (or CSA, formerly the Zigbee Alliance) maintains the Matter standard. What sets it apart is the breadth of its membership (more than 550 tech companies), the willingness to adopt and merge disparate technologies, and the fact that it is an open source project. Now that the software development kit (SDK) is ready, interested companies can use it royalty-free to incorporate their devices into the Matter ecosystem.

Growing out of the Zigbee Alliance gives Matter a firm foundation. Bringing the main smart home platforms (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings) to the same table is an achievement. It is optimistic to imagine a seamless adoption of Matter across the board, but it has enjoyed a rush of enthusiasm with a range of smart home brands already signed up, including August, Schlage, and Yale in smart locks; Belkin, Cync, GE Lighting, Sengled, Signify (Philips Hue), and Nanoleaf in smart lighting; and others like Arlo, Comcast, Eve, TP-Link, and LG. There are more than 280 member companies in Matter.

When Will Matter Arrive?

Matter has been in the works for years. The first release was due in late 2020, but it was delayed to the following year, rebranded as Matter, and then touted for a summer release. After another delay, the Matter 1.0 specification and certification program is now finally ready. The SDK, tools, and test cases are available, and eight authorized test labs are open for product certification. That essentially means you can expect to see Matter-supported smart home gadgets going on sale as early as October 2022 after they’re certified. 

The CSA says the last delay was to accommodate more devices and platforms and ensure they all work smoothly with one another before release. More than 130 devices and sensors across 16 development platforms (operating systems and chipsets) are working through certification, and you can expect many more soon.

What About Other Smart Home Standards?

The road to smart home nirvana is paved with different standards, like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Samsung SmartThings, Wi-Fi HaLow, and Insteon, to name a few. These protocols and others will continue to exist and operate. Google has merged its Thread and Weave technologies into Matter. The new standard also employs Wi-Fi and Ethernet standards and uses Bluetooth LE for device setup.

Matter is not a single technology and should evolve and improve over time. It won’t cover every possible use case for every device and scenario, so other standards will continue to develop. The more platforms and standards merge with Matter, the greater its potential to succeed, but the challenge of making it all work seamlessly also grows.

Will Matter Work With Existing Devices?

Some devices will work with Matter after a firmware update. Others won’t ever be compatible. There’s no simple answer here. Many devices that currently work with Thread, Z-Wave, or Zigbee should be able to work with Matter, but it’s not a given that they will get upgrades. It is best to check in with manufacturers about specific devices and future support.

The first specification, or Matter 1.0, covers only certain categories of devices, including:

  • Light bulbs and switches
  • Smart plugs
  • Smart locks
  • Safety and security sensors
  • Media devices including TVs
  • Smart blinds and shades
  • Garage door controllers
  • Thermostats
  • HVAC controllers
How to Back Up Your Digital Life

How to Back Up Your Digital Life

The hardest thing about this step is figuring out which hard drive to buy. If you want something small, see our guide to portable hard drives (which don’t require external power). Backblaze, a backup company that currently stores more than 1 exabyte of data, and therefore has considerable experience with hard drives, periodically publishes its drive statistics, which have some helpful numbers to consider.

Unfortunately, what really jumps out of that data is that longevity varies more by model than by manufacturer. That said, I suggest sticking with known names like Seagate, Western Digital, and Hitachi. Still, even brand-name drives fail. I had a big brand-name drive fail on me recently, and it was only four months old. What you get by sticking with the brand names is good customer service. In my case, the company replaced the drive without question.

Even within brand names, though, some drives are better than others. Several of us here on the Gear team have had good luck with Western Digital hard drives. I like this 5-terabyte model ($108 at Amazon, $108 at Best Buy), which will back up this very article later tonight (it’s backed up to the cloud as I type, more on that in a minute). If you don’t mind a larger form factor, there’s a Western Digital 6-terabyte “desktop” version that’s not much more ($140 at Amazon). 

One nice thing about buying a drive for backing up your data is that you don’t need to worry about drive speed. Even a slow 5,400-rpm drive is fine. These slower drives are cheaper, and since the backup software runs in the background, you probably won’t notice the slower speed.

Get the largest backup drive you can afford. Incremental backups—which is how all good backup software works—save disk space by backing up only the files that have changed since the last backup. But even so, you need a larger drive for backups than whatever is on your PC. A good rule of thumb is to get a backup drive that’s two, or even three, times the size of the drive in your computer.

Set It and Forget It

A good backup system runs without you needing to do a thing. If you have to make a backup, you probably won’t. These days there is software that can automate all of your backup tasks.

Mac users should use Time Machine. It’s a wonderfully simple piece of software and possibly the best reason to buy a Mac. Apple has good instructions on how to set up Time Machine so it will make daily backups to your external hard drive. Time Machine is smart too; it will only back up files that have changed, so it won’t eat up all your disk space.

Windows 11 offers Windows backup, which will back up most of your personal data to your Microsoft account, but it isn’t intended to fully restore your system, should a hard drive fail. A WIRED reader tipped me off to the File History features in Windows, which performs automatic incremental backups on any folder you designate. While File History works quite well in my testing, and can take the place of something like Time Machine if you go through and set it up for every folder you need to back up, Windows still doesn’t really have a utility like Time Machine.