iPhone independence – what if the phone dies?

The premise of Smartphones for All is that a carefully configured iPhone can support greater independence for teens and adults with cognitive disabilities (Explorers), just as an electric wheelchair supports independence for someone with a motor disability.

What happens when the wheelchair breaks? That’s when a phone is handy. Pull over and call for help. Just like when a car breaks down.

Likewise, what happens when an Explorer’s iPhone is lost, stolen, or broken? In this case an Explorer can just … umm … right. This is a hard problem, one I hadn’t considered until recently.

We haven’t had a dead iPhone crisis yet. Our Explorers are very careful with their iPhones, more careful than they are with anything else. “Bob” always carries an auxiliary power supply, he’s never close to losing power. He loses everything but his phone; we recently switched him to a wallet phone case so he won’t lose his bus pass and ID.

But even if Bob never loses his phone, it could certainly be stolen or dropped and broken. At that point his autism will intensify, he will lose language skills, he will become agitated and anxious. As an average size adult male he may make people around him fearful. He will lose memory access and be unable to recall our mobile numbers. He could draw police attention — and even though St Paul police are among the best anywhere (they do autism training!) it would be a risky situation. If he were in Minneapolis …

“Ted” wouldn’t be in quite as much trouble. If he were on his bicycle he’d simply ride home. If he didn’t have transportation he’d be happy to seek out police assistance. He’d be more comfortable asking a stranger for help; that’s a low risk option for a strong adult male and a stranger that he chooses. (It’s a riskier option for a vulnerable female if the stranger approaches them.) Even for Ted though, advance planning would be wise.

So what do we do about this? High quality, high visibility protective cases reduce the risk of loss and breakage. Replacing an older battery reduces the risk of unexpected power loss. We will have both Explorers practice reciting E’s mobile number from memory.

We’re also developing a script that goes something like this:

  1. If your iPhone is stolen or lost don’t try to recover it. We will replace it. (Bob will be particularly anxious about being blamed for the loss or breakage.)
  2. Find somewhere quiet to sit or walk alone and practice calming. This may take 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. If you are at work or school you can ask for help from an official. If you are in a retail store or restaurant ask for help from the manager. In other spaces look for help from a police officer or other official. If you approach a stranger choose a larger male rather than a smaller woman, they will be less nervous.
  4. Explain that you have autism, have lost your phone, and are in trouble. Ask if the person helping you can make a call for you to your mother.
  5. If you can’t reach Mom take a break and try again in 15 minutes. If you approached a stranger let them go, you’ll work with someone else for the second try.
  6. If you still can’t reach Mom or an official then ask a stranger to call 911 for police emergency and explain that you have autism to the dispatcher. Then wait for the police to arrive.

This is a complicated script. My current thought is to print a modified version on one side of a business card. The other side would explain about our Explorer’s disability and have more extensive contact information. We’d print hundreds of these and regularly put them into pants pockets.

We could also buy a device that would print/label clothing and put E’s contact number onto clothing — along with a TinyURL for more information.

Perhaps one day our Explorers may carry a backup phone in the form of a smartwatch with SIM card. That’s a relatively expensive option for now but I’m considering it.

I’m going to have to work this into a book chapter.

Smartphones for All chapter excerpt: Music for iPhone Explorers

From Smartphones for All (draft):

In our family music has been problem-free entertainment. I think this is a general rule — music doesn’t show up on anyone’s list of smartphone concerns. Fifty years ago elders feared the corrupting influence of rock-and-roll, now that seems quaint. Music we can handle.

There are broadly speaking, 3 ways of getting music to an Explorer’s iPhone: iTunes sync, buying music from Apple Music, or using a streaming service. I’ll review each briefly with a focus on Guide support and costs, then I’ll briefly review Restrictions for music consumption.

The iTunes sync method of getting music to an iPhone is the oldest and potentially the least expensive — but it is now almost forgotten. It a Windows or Mac computer. With this approach a Guide assembles music files in Apple’s iTunes app, then the music can be copied (“synced”) to the iPhone, usually with a physical cable[1]. The music can from a CD (by “ripping” in iTunes) or from a file collection that is not copy protected.

This iTunes method has three disadvantages. It requires a personal computer — and those are slowly going away. It requires an Explorer’s iPhone be physically connected. Lastly “ripping” large number of CDs is pretty time consuming.

iTunes sync has advantages though. If a Guide already has the music files, and is willing to disregard copyright laws or to buy and rip used CDs, the music is inexpensive. Listening to this music doesn’t use up expensive cellular data since it’s already on the iPhone.

There’s a variation on iTunes sync that eliminates the need for access to the Explorer’s iPhone. For $25 a year Apple’s iTunes Match[2] service will provide internet access to an iTunes music library. In theory a Guide could use this to manage Explorer music without access to an Explorer’s iPhone. This is method may use up an Explorer’s cellular data though, and it’s more troublesome and complicated. If an Explorer is using iTunes Match a Guide will usually want to disable cellular data for Music.app, an Explorer will download the music over WiFi.

The second way to get music on an Explorer’s iPhone is to buy it from Apple using the Apple store. At $1.30 a tune this can be an expensive way to build a music collection[3]. The music may be available to other users by a shared Apple Store ID or “family sharing”. This method will use cellular data unless initial downloading is done over WiFi. Some Explorers do enjoy making purchases this way and Apple Store purchases can be combined with iTunes sync. I reviewed how to manage iTunes store dollars in Smartphone choice and managing costs. In my family we share one App Store account and track credits and debits in a spreadsheet.

The third way to get music to an Explorer’s iPhone is through a “streaming service” like Spotify or Apple Music. These services typically cost $100 to $120 a year for the non-student and about $60 for students. Shared “family” plans can be more economical, Spotify makes it easy for up to 6 people to share streaming costs. Spotify also has a “free” ad-supported service, but it burns cellular data quickly. I don’t recommend it for most Explorers.

Streaming services will use up expensive cellular data unless music is downloaded over WiFi. WiFi downloading is easier to understand with Apple Music but Spotify supports it as well. If cellular data use is disabled in iOS restrictions most Explorers will quickly learn how to download over WiFi.
Spotify’s paid version (Premium) with cellular data disabled is the easiest and most economical solution for most Explorers — particularly if they can share an account with friends or family. Apple Music streaming is a bit simpler to use, but cost sharing is more restrictive. It’s a good alternative to Spotify.

[1] Or by local WiFi, but that method can be quirky.
[2] iTunes Match is also bundled with Apple Music for $120 a year. Apple Music can be shared with family for a higher fee, but iTunes Match doesn’t do family sharing. It’s complicated! Also, I think Apple is eventually going to discontinue iTunes Match.
[3] Historically building a music library was expensive, but many people bought used CDs or records for less

iOS 12: Restrictions becomes Screen Time with “family” support, definition of “child” is a concern for vulnerable users

Two years ago Apple’s iOS had better family restriction options than Google’s Android. In the past year Google has forged ahead and Apple has stood still. In my testing third party apps that claim to manage iPhone use fail badly — due to lack of Apple support.

With iOS 12 Apple is redoing “restrictions” as “Screen Time”. Reports claim support for remote management of “child” users.

This could be real progress for special needs iPhone users — or it could be a disappointment. It all depends how Apple defines “child”. I’m afraid Apple will arbitrarily set “child” as someone under age 18.

I say that because there’s a worrisome precedent in iOS 11 family sharing. In iOS 11 a family sharing manager can require purchase authorization for family members — but only for family members under age 18.

If Apple adopts this same rule, without consideration of vulnerable adults, Screen Time won’t be as useful as it could be. A month ago, for what it’s worth, I wrote Tim Cook about this — though I think it’s too late now to make changes for iOS 12. There might be a chance to make changes for iOS 13.

It’s not all bad of course. Screen Time will be an improvement for Explorers under age 18, and maybe Apple will provide better support for third parties to extend Screen Time.

There’s an important context to this problem. In our culture there’s some popular support for persons with disabilities that fall within the scope of the ADA. Apple, for example, has often done a good job, particularly in iOS, of supporting limitations in vision and hearing. That support doesn’t extend to persons with cognitive disabilities. There is no cognitive disability section in iOS Accessibility settings. If Apple thought about cognitive disabilities the way they thought about visual limitations, there would be a “vulnerable adult” toggle that would eliminate the “over 18” rule. There would be a “simplify interaction” toggle that would support one-tap activation of the dozens of simplifications I describe in “Smartphones for All”. There would be explicit support for a “Guide” user that managed two-factor authentication issues.

I haven’t seen any signs of either Apple or Google engaging with the cognitive disability community. These are corporations that value intellect; perhaps they find cognitive disability distasteful. Government regulation and/or ADA litigation may be needed.

Chapter Excerpt: Maps and Transit

I was surprised that these apps haven’t been more useful for our Explorers. I’d love to hear of different stories. Email me at jf@sphone4all.com and share!

Location tracking has been a big win for our Explorers. To my surprise the map and transit apps we’ve tried have been less valuable … so far! I’ll try to explain why.

First, a little background. There are exactly two 1 map and navigation apps for the iPhone, Apple Maps.app and Google Maps.app. They are both very good at managing auto navigation, but most Explorer’s don’t drive cars 2. Aside from auto navigation they can be used for walking, transit (bus, light rail, etc), bicycling, and sharing a location. I’ll discuss each of these — and my guess on why we’ve seen limited use over the past 5 years.

Our Explorers walk of course, but they don’t walk alone to unfamiliar places. When they walk in familiar locations their needs vary. One Explorer is exceptionally good at navigating a location after even one visit — so he has no need of walking directions. Another could benefit from walking directions, but smartphone pedestrian navigation is not a great experience. Google Maps.app walking navigation is particularly weak, 3 but both Apple maps.app and Google Maps.app are limited by today’s location tracking technology. It’s just not well suited to a slow moving person. I think walking directions will be more important in the future. Today I’d suggest using Apple Maps.app for walking rather than Google Maps.app

Transit (bus, light rail, etc) directions have also been less useful than I’d once expected. In practice transit directions are complex to plan and follow; they require careful attention to time. One Explorer regularly uses public transit, but he uses only a few routes he knows well.  If an Explorer needs a Transit app I’d recommend Apple Maps.app if it covers your region, otherwise consider either Google Map.app or Transit.app 4.

Some Explorers ride bicycles in urban areas, but our bicycling Explorer doesn’t use Google Maps. He only travels routes he knows from prior rides. In my own bicycle riding I have found Google Maps better for route planning than for turn-by-turn directions, and even then I’ve gotten some ill-advise route directions. This is another area where there’s room for improvement.

Lastly there’s the option of an Explorer using Apple or Google maps to identify their current location and share it by text message or a phone call. In practice however we’ve never needed that, we know where our Explorers are using location tracking.

Map and Transit apps turned out to be less useful than I’d expected. It’s an area we’re continuing to work on.


1 There used to be more but most have been abandoned. These two are both excellent.

2 Our Explorer #1 does watch my Google Maps.app when I drive. He warns me when it looks like I’m going to ignore a map prompt.

3 When I use Google Maps walking directions I lock the map so the compass icon doesn’t rotate, then I lock the phone screen so the phone doesn’t rotate, then I find North using Compass.app and orient the Map arrow to point north. Then it’s useable. I really wonder what Google was thinking.

4 I’m not sure how this app stays in business though.



Two factor authentication and managing a dependent’s iPhone (technical!)

Warning: This is geekier than most of my Smartphones for All posts. I wrote it to help me think through some chapter revisions.

The short version

Two factor authentication is inevitable (see below for why), but by design it makes it harder for a Guide to support an Explorer’s (dependent person’s) independence through ethical identity assumption (surrogacy).

The potentially good news is that as of May 2018 Apple’s 2FA supports a “trusted browser” option for access to iCloud.com. If an Explorer’s iPhone has enabled 2FA, a Guide can use the Explorer’s iPhone to “authenticate” the browser they are using [5] to manage the Explorer’s iCloud.com data.

To authenticate a browser (really, a “browser-identity” or “user” in Chrome-speak) the Guide will need the Explorer’s iPhone at hand. In my testing I first enabled 2FA on my test device. Using Chrome on my MacBook I then switched to the Chrome User assigned to my test iPhone, accessed iCloud.com, and entered my test device (“Explorer”) credentials. The iPhone responded with a verification query and provided a passcode. Once I entered the passcode into an iCloud.com dialog I was able to “Trust this browser”.

Trust this browser chrome

After enabling this Trust relationship I could connect to the “Explorer” iCloud account without providing any credentials.

Behind the scenes a token (“cookie”) was stored on my local browser-managed storage area (more on that below). I believe the cookie is X-APPLE-WEBAUTH-HSA-TRUST [6]:

Webauth cookie

I set this cookie on 5/25/2018 and the expiration date is shown as 8/22/2018 — three months from now. So three months is likely the upper limit on how long a browser identity can be “trusted”; physical access to an Explorer device will be needed at least every 3 months to reenable Trust.

I suspect there are other ways a browser identity can become “untrusted” but none of this seems to be documented. I’ll update this post as I experiment and learn more. 

For now life is easier if you avoid 2FA for Explorers. After all, Explorers don’t need to know or type their strong password iCloud credentials, so they can’t accidentally expose them! If 2FA has been implemented you can disable it. 2FA is probably inevitable though, so it’s good to know there might be a practical way to continue identity assumption and digital life support.

Some (optional)background on how we got here, and the problems ahead

Two factor authentication (2FA, also known as two factor verification), practically speaking, is the use of something besides a password to prove someone’s identity. We need it because humans are bad at creating and managing passwords [3], because even secure passwords are often harvested by malware, and because the typical secure password is impossible to tap or type reliably.

Given the failure of passwords the alternative to 2FA has been the (not) “Secret Question”. The Secret Question is known among security specialists as “security theater” or “Potemkin protection”. The less said about the “Secret Question” the better.

So it’s easy to see why 2FA is being aggressively promoted by Apple and Google. 2FA has problems, however. Different vendors have different standards for 2FA, and the approaches are changing quickly. For a while some used SMS messages [4], until some genius discovered that mobile numbers get reused (yes, this was obvious). Then we seemed to have a standards based approach, but Apple never adopted it and even Google seems to be moving to a proprietary solution [1].

The differing standards have consequences. Every vendor has a different approach to 2FA recovery when a device (typically a smartphone) is lost or unavailable, or a user is disabled or dead, or a device is replaced. Not one person in a thousand can keep track of all the options (ex: one-use bypass passwords) for all their services, and fewer still can manage it for all their family devices. Just imagine the directions that need to be written for one’s estate!

These consequences are going to be felt by everyone, but there are unique issues for Guides and Explorers (vulnerable persons with cognitive disabilities). Recovery options setup for children may not be available to vulnerable adults, even for Guardians. Most of all, two factor authentication is specifically designed to defeat identity assumption (aka identity assignation or surrogacy). So 2FA defeats the ethical identity assumption Guides use to manage an Explorer’s digital life.

Yes, Houston, we have a problem. Passwords are no longer sufficient [2], but 2FA defeats ethical identity surrogacy. In theory vendors could build in a surrogacy solution, but it’s easy to understand why they don’t want to do this. It’s a complex problem [2], though there is some hope. It’s not only the relatively powerless Explorer community that’s impacted, the children of aging adults are going to start running into the same problem with managing their parent’s digital life. Sooner or later vendors will have to come up with solutions for this bigger population. Unfortunately that is going to take a while.

– fn –

[1] Facebook, weirdly enough, might give the standard new life. Years ago there was serious discussion about using the Post Office as part of identity management, that could have helped with a standards approach. I’m sympathetic to that idea, but it seems unlikely these days.
[2] Problems like this are part of the reason my “Smartphones for All” book is taking so long to publish. I keep running into major landscape changes.
[3] Apple’s keychain approach to password management deserves more credit than it gets. It almost works as a password manager and it’s much more likely to be used than geek-centric products like 1Password. This is one area where on-device “AI” may help.
[4] Apple, worryingly, still uses SMS during part of their authentication. They also still use Secret Questions. Given where we are in managing validation this might be a necessary compromise.
[5] Chrome’s multi-user identity switching support is essential for managing an Explorer’s digital data. Safari doesn’t have native identity switching.
[6] Chrome’s browser dev tool inspectors are amazing. Incidentally, a search for X-APPLE-WEBAUTH-HSA-TRUST turned up very few references today.

Chapter excerpt: Location Sharing for Explorers – techniques

Location sharing is one of the most important benefits of iPhone use for our Explorers. I previously posted an excerpt about the ethics of location sharing, this is about methods.

We use Apple location sharing to track the locations of our Explore’s phones. It’s enabled one to ride his bicycle across a large metropolitan area and another to travel by bus to and from school. We rely on it.

There are two ways to track the location of an Explorer’s phone — and, indirectly, to track an Explorer’s location 1. I’ll review the two options and why to use one or another, then I’ll say something about privacy and independence.

The simplest way to track an Explorer’s iPhone is to use Apple’s “Find iPhone” service. You can use it on an iPhone or use the iCloud web version of Find iPhone.  Either way a Guide will need to know the Explorer’s iCloud credentials, but most Guides will have these so they can manage an Explorer’s iCloud data 2. The iCloud web method is the easy to use; just login to the Explorer’s account and click on Find iPhone. You’ll see a map with the iPhone’s location.

The other way to track an Explorer’s iPhone is to use “Find Friends”. If you have setup Family Sharing 3 on your iPhone there’s a shortcut to share locations with other members of the Family, but typically a Guide would use an Explorer’s iPhone to setup Find Friends. (The Find Friends web app can show Friends, but it cannot add them.) Launch Find Friends.app on the Explorer’s iPhone then tap Add Friends, enter your Guide email address, and specify “indefinitely”. The Guide’s iPhone will receive an invitation to likewise share the Guide’s location with the Explorer, your choice won’t affect the Explorer’s location sharing.

Once location sharing is setup a Guide can launch Find Friends.app on their personal iPhone and see the Explorer’s location (and the Guide’s location as well as anyone else who has shared their location). A Guide can also ask to be notified when your Explorer leaves or arrives at a location and can ask for directions to reach an Explorer’s location.

An Explorer can turn off location sharing in Find Friends.app unless you enable a Restriction setting that blocks changes. An Explorer can’t disable Find iPhone location sharing unless they know their iCloud credentials. Putting an iPhone in Airplane mode with WiFi off, or turning off the iPhone 4, will always prevent location sharing.

Location sharing isn’t perfect. In our experience it works better if an Explorer is using a high quality mobile carrier with good signal strength. The Find Friends location alerts (“geofencing”) don’t always work for unclear reasons. Despite these limits location sharing has been a huge benefit to our Explorers; for our family it justifies iPhone use all by itself.

– fn –

1 It’s easy to forget the aren’t the same thing — we track the location of the Explorer’s iPhone, not the location of the Explorer.

2 As discussed in earlier chapters most Explorers do not need to know their iCloud passwords.

3 See User Guide or https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201088

4 One of our Explorer is very protective of his iPhone power reserve. He turns off his iPhone when he’s not using it. This was a problem for his bike rides, so leaving the iPhone powered on became a prerequisite for independent riding.

Chapter excerpt: The ethics of location sharing

From the book chapter on navigation – covers maps, transit, and location tracking. This is about the privacy implications of location tracking …

We use Apple location sharing to track the locations of our Explorers’ phones. It’s enabled one to ride his bicycle across a large metropolitan area and another to travel by bus to and from school. We rely on it.

There are privacy concerns of course. These vary somewhat by years of life, but more by the development of judgment and independence. When our Explorers were early teens we had no privacy concerns at all. We configured their phones so they could not disable location tracking — though they quickly learned they could turn off their phone and block it.[1]

Now that our Explorers are young adults there is a calculated balance between the benefits of location tracking and the loss of privacy and autonomy. An adult Explorer with a legal Guardian, for example, has a different set of personal and social expectations than an independent adult. Similarly, an adult Explorer who gets easily lost, or who is especially vulnerable to dangerous exploitation, will benefit more from location tracking than a cautious Explorer with good navigation skills.

At this time our Explorers are comfortable with location tracking. I think there are three reasons they don’t object. One is that they’ve grown up in an always-connected, always-aware world. Another is that our location tracking goes both ways; they can track us as we track them. Knowing where we are relieves some anxieties. Most of all, I think they appreciate the times that location tracking has helped manage risks and challenges they face.

They are becoming more independent, however. We are coming to a time when their location tracking will change to “opt-in” rather than “always-on”. That transition can be a challenge for anxious Guides.

There are two ways to track the location of an Explorer’s phone — and, indirectly, to track an Explorer’s location or to find a lost phone. I’l review the two options and why to use one or another.

[1] This happens quickly. “You need to leave your phone on when you ride your bike.”
“Because we can’t see where you are when you turn it off …”

Chapter excerpt: managing phone spam for special needs iPhone users

From chapter on using an iPhone as a … telephone.


When telephone calls migrated from mechanical switches to digital networks they picked up an unexpected problem. It’s now quite easy for someone outside of the US legal system to phone someone in the US with a fake phone number. These calls are used for everything from advertising to scams to stealing people’s identity and money. An unlisted number is of little help, digital dialers call phone numbers randomly 1 as well as lists of known active numbers. Many of us no longer answer any calls with an unrecognized Caller ID 2.

Explorers may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation of course. So it’s a good idea to consider defensive options.

To start with an Explorer’s number should be added to Federal Do Not Call registries at https://www.donotcall.gov/register/reg.asp. This has only a small effect on modern spam but It’s a reasonable start.

Some mobile carriers are implementing defenses against spam calls. They use proprietary rules to try to distinguish good and bad calls 3. If your Explorer’s carrier provides phone filtering I recommend enabling this feature 4. I’ve used AT&T Call Protect with good results. As of the time I write this AT&T and Tmobile provide call blocking for free, Sprite and Verizon charge for it.

The iPhone also supports “Call Blocking & Identification” either by adding Blocked Contacts 5 or using a Call Blocking & Authentication service 6.

The Do Not Disturb feature is another option to consider. An iPhone can be setup to silence all incoming calls and messages unless they match a Contact. In Settings:Do Not Disturb set Silence to “Always” and Allow Calls From to “All Contacts”. I have seen problems with this setting however, in some versions of iOS it blocks Message.app notifications even for people in Contacts. This is a bug that may be fixed by the time you read this.

The best defense against phone spam at this time is a Carrier service and Explorer education. Using Call Blocking & Identification or Do Not Disturb features can work for some but are tricky to manage.


1 In any given US area code there are at most 9,999,999 phone numbers and many mobile numbers are reused.

2 In theory a spam call’s fake number might, by chance, match a number in Contacts. I have thousands of Contacts though, and I’ve never seen this happen. Ignoring unrecognized calls isn’t an option for everyone unfortunately.

3 These products can help reduce attacks but won’t get everything.

Carriers are also looking into next-generation communication systems that authenticate callers and can use the same approaches that manage email spam. This may be 5-10 years away though.

4 Alas, I need to make some privacy warnings here. This product gives AT&T access to user Contacts. I don’t know what privacy policies are in place.

AT&T Call Connect is based on a product called HiYa. It’s “free” because the vendor sells user information to marketers. It would be funny if robocallers were buyers!

5 One trick: Create a Contact called “Bad People” add add numbers to it. Then block “Bad People”.

6 See Apple support: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207099. I can’t recommend a specific service however.

Voice and Video options for iPhone Explorers

I’m writing a chapter on the least appreciated feature of an iPhone — voice communication. Had to throw in Video as well. I make a plug for using FaceTime audio to initiate calls to an Explorer — I think the better quality audio can help.

There are many ways to do voice and video “calls” in 2018. All of the big tech vendors have their own products and they don’t talk to one another. You can’t, for example, call a Microsoft Skype user with the iPhone’s FaceTime app. It’s like 19th century railroads, when every company used a different track design.

Not only do tech companies have their own proprietary technologies, they change them often. Nobody is sure what Facebook is going to do, and Google seems to have a different video call strategy every few months.

Happily Apple has been consistent and predictable. Apple supports “plain old telephone service” (POTS) and FaceTime Audio and Video. For most Guides and Explorers the practical approach is to stay with Apple’s options. 1 

There are many ways to make these connections on an iPhone. Phone.app handles telephone calls, FaceTime.app has a Video tab and an Audio tab. Contacts.app can be used to start a phone call, FaceTime Video call, or FaceTime audio call. The Phone.app Favorites list 2 has shortcuts for telephone audio, FaceTime Audio, and FaceTime Video.

Handling an incoming call is pretty much the same for all three; they all have the same default ringtone sound.

Most Explorers will need to learn to make and receive a standard telephone call. Some Explorers may find communication easier with FaceTime Video than with audio only, the video image provides additional communication cues 3.

FaceTime Audio is a special case. Few neurotypicals use it; most Explorers won’t need to deal with the added complexity. Still, it does does have some advantages. FaceTime Audio sound quality is much better than a traditional phone audio. There are no charges for international FaceTime Audio calls other than possible cellular data use — and it uses very little data. FaceTime Audio may be useful when phoning an Explorer, it will seem like a standard incoming phone call but the audio quality will be much better.


– fn –

1 It’s largely outside the scope of this book, but if an Explorer needed to do video calls to a relative with an Android smartphone or Windows computer you could install either Google Hangout or Facebook Messenger on the Explorer’s iPhone. I talk about Facebook Messenger in the Facebook chapter. In 2017 there were rumors Facebook would drop video call support however.

2 You might ask why does the Favorites list, which is a part of Phones.app, also support video calls? That’s a good question that I think Apple would prefer not to dwell on.

3 Our Explorers have little interest in FaceTime Video, but my elderly father did much better on Video calls than on plain voice calls. I suspect this was at least partly due to hearing impairment.

Teaching iPhone Voice Call and FaceTime use to Explorers

Smartphones for All book subchapter: Teaching Voice Call and FaceTime use. It was interesting how caller ID spoofing has changed how everyone manages voice calls.

What’s the best way for an Explorer to use the iPhone’s phone feature? How should they use voicemail? How should an Explorer respond to a phone call they don’t recognize? When is it appropriate to do a FaceTime video call? What about FaceTime audio?

The answer to these questions is going to vary for every Explorer. For example, I have had older Explorers phone me without texting first. That’s a social faux pas now, but it’s something older neurotypicals expect. It’s may be hard for some Explorers to understand that it’s okay to phone Grandma without texting first, but socially incorrect to “cold call” a coach or friend. Likewise some Explorers may find phone calls easier than texting and some will actually check voicemail⁠1. Phone management training and setup should be personalized.

I think most Explorers who are comfortable with texting will adopt the current social norm of using “cold calls” for urgent or emergent communication and using texting for brief communications or voice call preparation. I also think most will not use voicemail, but will instead text if a “cold call” goes unanswered.

For our Explorers this did not require formal training, it was a social norm they learned from siblings and friends. Training may be relatively easy when needed however. A somewhat older Explorer used to routinely “cold call” me. I knew he did well texting so I sent his calls to voicemail and replied by text message. After two to three repetitions he switched to texting me instead.

We also haven’t had to teach our Explorers that voicemails are usually ineffective; they don’t like to leave them. It may be useful to teach an Explorer to use text messages in place of voicemail if an urgent phone call is not answered.

Since don’t expect our Explorers to listen to voicemails we haven’t taught voicemail management. It could be helpful if an Explorer responded to an employer’s voicemail, but most employers know that voicemails are not reliable ways to communicate.  Of course individual circumstances vary, some Explorers will benefit from teaching and reinforcing voicemail management.

Spam and malicious phone calls are a problem for Explorers — as for everyone. The ability to fake caller IDs (“spoofing”) has been a boon to pests and criminals. Obsolete regulations on marketing calls to cell phones⁠2 and “do not call” registries are largely ineffective now. The first defense here is phone configuration and carrier screening apps as discussed earlier in this chapter.

The next defense is teaching suspicion. This is a lifelong learning project for Explorers across the material and immaterial worlds. I’d love to see “suspicion” as a formal curriculum in special needs education! In this book I address suspicion education in every communication method, from voice calls to texting to email to Facebook. In the case of voice calls the rule to teach is fairly simple: If you the incoming call doesn’t show the name of a Contact then tap the red disconnect icon or push the power button once⁠3. It’s helpful that many Explorers won’t answer a cold call anyway, and many won’t check voicemail. It’s also helpful that the most vulnerable Explorers don’t usually have many financial resources under their control; criminals typically prefer vulnerable elders.

The value of FaceTime video calls will vary by Explorer’s situation. They may be very helpful for an Explorer living independently as a way to help with activities of daily living or as a social connection. They may be less interesting for an Explorer living at home.

General FaceTime video (and audio) call initiation is somewhat complex, but an iPhone “Favorite⁠4” can be setup to initiate a FaceTime video (or audio) call. In this case an Explorer need only learn which “Favorites” are audio versus video calls. Most will learn this quickly on their own⁠5. Answering a FaceTime audio or video call requires a bit of practice but most Explorers will learn this quickly. As with a voice call a FaceTime call will typically be preceded by a text message — so Explorers will be prepared to respond.

FaceTime audio calls are rarely used; I think they are underused. They only work between Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac) but the sound quality is much better than cellular sound quality. They don’t incur international charges and they use very little data, a FaceTime audio call to Canada costs no more than a FaceTime audio call next door. They can be setup as a Favorite and, when preceded by a text message, they are easy to answer.

1 At least at first. As discussed below most modern voicemails are spam so Explorers will learn to ignore them.

2 These regulations were from an era when it cost money to receive a phone call and most people used landlines most of the time. So mobile phones were treated differently from landlines. They really are obsolete in an era when few people have landlines and voice call reception is typically bundled in a flat fee.

3 Tapping once makes the call ‘disappear’ but the caller spends time “ringing” before voicemail is available.

4 It is a bit odd that “Favorites” are part of Phone setup but also apply to FaceTime. A practical UI compromise! When FaceTime is used this way the FaceTime app icon can be hidden away.

5 The phone works better if a single person’s Contact holds email, sexting phone number and FaceTime information. In some cases you could consider splitting them up to be more recognizable but I don’t recommend this.