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Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Peer-to-peer sharing of experiences could transform health care.

By Susannah Fox in Iodine

2. A technological and analytical arms race is producing the best athletes in history. Can those advances be applied to education?

By James Surowiecki in the New Yorker

3. In South Bronx, startups are ‘onshoring’ technology jobs and trying to spark a revolution.

By Issie Lapowsky in Wired

4. ‘Sister City’ relationships foster cross-border collaboration and spur economic development.

By Nehemiah Rolle in Next City

5. Colleges and universities should focus on student success beyond graduation.

By Karen Gross and Ivan Figueroa at Inside Higher Ed

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Apps & Web

The Best Browser Privacy Tools (That Don’t Make Life More Difficult)

Privacy
Getty Images

In a year when social media giants and governments alike have made headlines for tracking users online without their consent, battening down the virtual hatches has become a vital part of Internet hygiene.

Blocking tracking technologies, however, also disables those handy auto-fill log-ins and web personalization features, preventing you from easily shopping online and making your web experience feel as if you’re back in 1999.

So we went in search of privacy tools that don’t impact your browsing experience. We tested browser tools ranging from the basic Private Mode on all browsers to full-featured ad blockers. We looked at the four most-used browsers in the United States: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. Here’s what we found to be most helpful for safeguarding your privacy and anonymity — and what measures of convenience you might have to give up if you use them.

The lowdown on cookies

Cookies are small text files that contain one or more bits of information about your computer, most commonly a user ID a website assigns you in order to keep track of your movements through the site. Cookies are often essential to using a site successfully, enabling you to check out from shopping sites or click around Facebook without having to repeatedly re-enter your password.

These first-party cookies come from the website you’re on and exist mostly to offer you a personalized web experience. Benefits include greeting you by name, giving you weather data relevant to your home location and keeping track of your achievements in a game.

It’s the third-party cookies from ads on the websites you visit that track you as you move between websites. Advertisers place these cookies in their advertisements, allowing them to follow your movements among the network of sites where they advertise.

Information about your surfing patterns goes toward compiling a profile of preferences and basic personal data — things like location, age and gender — that is used to create targeted advertising. If you’ve clicked on a lot of gardening sites, for example, targeted ad placements could even show you ads for tools or plants on non-gardening sites. If that bothers you, you can disable third-party cookies in your browser settings.

Browse in private mode

Seeing targeted advertising probably doesn’t bother most people if all they’re surfing for is news, cute cat pictures or a new iPhone. But for looking up information about something like health concerns, privacy mode allows you to browse without associating the search with your existing profile.

To open a private window in your browser:

  • Firefox: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P
  • Chrome: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+N
  • Safari: Safari/Private Browsing
  • Internet Explorer: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P

This turns off your web history and enables the cookies necessary for the site to work but blocks third-party cookies. At the end of the session, all cookies are deleted.

The downside

Browsing in private mode does not stop the website from recording that you were there based on your IP address, which can still be tracked. And, crucially, private mode doesn’t stop social networks from tracking you. It’s best used for hiding activity on a shared computer rather than actually remaining invisible online.

Block third-party cookies

Third-party cookies aren’t the only way to track people around the Internet, but disabling them in your browser’s settings means advertisers can no longer store files on your browser to track your web surfing.

Here’s how to block third-party cookies, assuming you’re running the most recent versions of the browsers (a good idea from a security point of view):

  • Chrome: Preferences > Show Advanced Options (at the bottom) > Privacy > Content settings > Check “block third party cookies and site data.”
  • Internet Explorer: Tools > Internet Options > Privacy > Move the slider to the level of cookies you want blocked
  • Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > History > Select “Use custom settings for history,” then set “Accept third-party cookies” to Never.
  • Safari: Preferences > Privacy > Select to block cookies “from third parties and advertisers.”

The downside

Some websites require third-party cookies to work; for example, Microsoft asks you to accept cookies when downloading an update. In these cases, head into your browser settings and add the sites as exceptions.

Block the Flash super cookie

Sites may store Flash cookies on your computer regardless of whether you have allowed third-party cookies. Flash cookies can’t be easily deleted, and they may be downloaded to your computer from any website running Adobe Flash (such as sites with video or an interactive application). Designed to locally store your settings for the rich web apps that Flash enables, the capability for the Flash plug-in to allow other sites to store files in a user’s computer can also be hijacked by advertisers wanting a new way to track Internet users.

Flash cookies can identify you across different browsers on the same device and, in some cases, have been found to regenerate deleted browser cookies. Because they have far more storage (up to 100KB) than other cookies, they can contain more complex information about your habits. Like browser cookies, Flash cookies are used by websites to deliver a customized experience as well as give advertisers extra data.

Cookie cleaners and Flash player settings

Blocking Flash entirely could be an option with script-blockers such as NoScript (Firefox) or ScriptNo (Chrome). However, such plug-ins stop all Flash and Java on all pages, breaking the sites in many cases, until you can customize the settings so that trusted objects and pages can run freely. This can take a long time and represent a pain for the less technically minded.

If you use Firefox, you can download the BetterPrivacy, which automatically deletes Flash cookies as they crop up (as well as clearing cookies already there). You can also whitelist necessary Flash cookies, such as cookies used when playing a game.

If you’re not on Firefox, you’ll have to dig into your computer. First, disable future Flash cookies from being left on the machine. If you’re on a PC, open Control Panel and click on Flash player > Local Storage settings by site. You’ll find the default is “Allow All Websites to Store Data”; change it to “Block All Websites from Storing Data.” Then you can easily delete the Flash cookies by hitting the neighboring Delete All button, followed by “Delete All Site Data and Settings.”

If you’re on a Mac, change your Flash settings online at Macromedia by clicking on Global Storage Settings in the (pretty clunky) Flash-based settings manager. Uncheck the box for allowing third-party Flash content to store data on your computer. Then pull the slider for how much data third-party companies can store on your machine to None (far left).

Finally, to delete sites that have already left cookies on your computer, grab the free download CCleaner (Mac/PC), which deletes both Flash and browser cookies.

The downside

Sites including eBay use Flash cookies to verify your identity, so deleting them across the board can mean needing to re-enter passwords more frequently.

Dodge tracking you never signed up for

Microsoft recently announced it would not scan any of the content in its Outlook.com inboxes to use in targeted advertising, but Google makes no such promise with Gmail — quite the opposite.

As for the social networks, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn track users even after they’ve signed out — and even if you don’t click on a social media sharing button. The very act of landing on a page with a social-share button means it relays back to the social network. Sophos’ security blog has a straightforward account of how Twitter does it and how you can opt out. (Remember that opting out doesn’t stop ads or the collecting of information.)

In addition, Facebook uses an alternative to tracking cookies called a conversion pixel, which advertisers affix to their ads to see how many clicks they get. So a website doesn’t need a Facebook button to let Facebook know you’ve been there.

Anti-tracker plug-in Do Not Track Me (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer) stops a website from sending information back to Facebook or Google unless you actually click one of the +1 or Like buttons. It also blocks other trackers and boasts a clean, intuitive interface for customizing blocking options. The Mask My Email and Make Me A Strong Password features help deter spam and hackers. When you’re signing up for a new account, masking your email address stops potentially dodgy sites from selling your real email address, while the password option creates a hard-to-guess password (that, crucially, isn’t the same as one you already use), then saves it in the plug-in’s encrypted password manager.

On the toolbar, clicking the Do Not Track Me icon shows how many trackers it has blocked — for me, 666 in under 24 hours.

Disconnect (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Opera) is a similar plug-in that offers the additional benefit of dividing trackers into social, analytic and advertising categories. A graph shows the time and bandwidth saved by blocking trackers requesting information, and you get the option of adding trusted sites (and their cookies) to a whitelist.

The downside

There’s little downside to taking any of these anti-tracking measures. The only thing these scrappy little guys don’t do is block ads; you’ll still see them, but they won’t be targeted based on your previous clicks.

Kill most ads

Many companies (including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon) promise to honor opt-outs for “interest-based” advertising. But while opting out stops companies from delivering targeted ads based on what you’ve clicked on, it does not stop ads based on general information such as your location or other details you may have volunteered while signing up for the account. Crucially, it doesn’t stop companies tracking you and collecting your data.

To prevent ads from showing at all, thus thwarting the purpose of tracking via third-party cookies or other means, try a plug-in such as AdBlock Plus (for Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer), which blocks “annoying” ads: video ads, Facebook ads, pop-ups and the like. By default, a whitelist of ads that fall under the developer’s guidelines for acceptability is allowed, but you can change this setting to disable all ads.

You can also add different filters to block more or different types of ads. For example, the anti-social filter blocks social media buttons from transmitting back to the mother ship that you were there, neatly avoiding the all-seeing Facebook eye.

AdBlock Plus also blocks trackers and websites known to deliver malware.

The downside

Blocking ads deprives sites of revenue, and many websites rely on ad revenue to stay afloat. Unless you tinker with the settings for which ads should be allowed at different sites (a process that may take a long time to complete), you may end up depriving your favorite sites of those caching clicks.

Search securely

Two-thirds of U.S. search traffic is made through Google, distantly followed by Microsoft’s Bing (19%) and Yahoo (10%). While Google’s search algorithms turn up highly relevant results for most of us (in May, 31% of all Internet traffic came from Google, versus less than 2% for Bing and Yahoo combined), there’s an additional trade-off: Search results are also personalized based on what you’ve clicked on in the past.

That may not seem like such a big deal until you consider that Google also combines your search history with other information from your Google accounts, such as YouTube and Gmail, for use in targeted ad campaigns. Search histories can reveal highly personal information such as your interests, religion or health issues, substantially filling out the information already compiled from your YouTube clicks and Gmail messages.

Instead of switching to another Big Three search engine, try DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t log your searches so that all users get the same results. In our test, searches for subjects including current events (“Hong Kong protests”), general knowledge (“why is the sky blue”) and straightforward subjects (Halloween costumes), helpful links turned up in the first half of the page. However, when we typed the more ambiguous phrase “Tuscany fall cuisine,” only Google noted that we wanted autumnal food in Italy, not the town called Tuscany Falls.

DuckDuckGo also offers many of the same convenience features as Google, including a good range of “zero-click info.” For example, type “weather in California,” “650 USD in EUR” or any calculator function such as “square root of 60,” and the answer is displayed above a list of link results.

Similarly privacy-centric search providers include Ixquick, which doesn’t store your IP address or search data (and consequently doesn’t sell any of your information), delivering results based on what the five major search engines are saying. Two or more stars indicate multiple search engines have relayed the same result. However, Ixquick lacks the uber-convenient zero-click search.

Finally, the Disconnect anti-tracker plug-in also has a separate search extension that anonymizes your searches in any of the Big Three search engines as well as DuckDuckGo itself.

The downside

Auto-complete in Google Search has been a godsend when it comes to typing searches for news and factoids you can’t quite recall. Not having a search history also means not having those purpled-out links that indicate at a glance which sites you’ve previously visited (handy when you’ve forgotten to bookmark a great source).

The all-in-one option

Not up to fine-tuning settings, cherry-picking plug-ins and switching to a new search engine?

Get a whole new browser. The Epic Browser offers privacy mode as the default and only option. Epic doesn’t store web histories, search queries or cookies. Clicking on a plug icon in the URL bar turns on a proxy feature that anonymizes your computer by routing your traffic through a U.S.-based proxy network.

Epic also blocks trackers with a handy pop-up telling you exactly how many it’s blocked — and just to rub its success in competitors’ noses, it shows how many trackers exist on the other browsers you’re using. On my computer, Firefox had 143 data-collecting trackers (including Amazon, Experian, all the social networks and a ton of ad providers); Safari had 56 (including BuzzFeed, LinkedIn and Tumblr); and my Chrome browser with Do Not Track Me Plus running let through just two (eBay and ad provider Double Click).

The downside

It’s back to the caveman days of manually typing everything in, from passwords to URLs. There’s no auto-fill feature for log-ins or website addresses, because Epic doesn’t store any history. Nor does Epic save passwords, and it doesn’t yet work with password managers, so you’ll either have to remember all your log-ins or save them on your hard drive.

Browsing completely anonymously (mostly)

All of the options we’ve discussed prevent third parties from tracking you within and across websites. However, the website can still see where you came from through your IP address, and that address could be used as an alternate means of tracking your activities. For example, a person or company who disagreed with your comments on a site could use your IP information to track you down and sue you for libel.

To hide your IP address from being uncovered, you will need to use either an anonymous web proxy or virtual private network (VPN) service. Both not only mask your IP address from the website you’re visiting, but will also prevent anyone who monitors your network (e.g., your employer) from monitoring the sites you’re visiting.

The downside

Some of these services have stronger privacy options than others, and many are still susceptible to disclosure if they receive a legal subpoena from the jurisdiction where they’re located. Read our article on VPNs and web proxies for more details.

Future tracking options

What we do online has value to companies now because of what we may buy if we’re shown the relevant advertising. Down the line, we might be the ones negotiating the worth of our web habits.

Encrypt your own web behavior

The Meeco app for iOS recently launched with the ability to log your web visits — where you visited and for how long — and save the traffic into an encrypted cloud accessible only by you. Websites can only see what you click on while you’re on them, not what you do after and before, preventing the site from building a profile of you. The software also analyzes your usage patterns so you can glean insight into your habits — the same insight brands buy from data brokers now. Eventually, the idea is to create a data framework where users can offer such data to brands in exchange for loyalty points, discounts or other incentives.

Founder and CEO Katryna Dow says an aim is to help people understand that the value of their data is invaluable — and, at the moment, immeasurable.

A Meeco browser extension for Chrome and Firefox is available in beta; currently, users must manually add favorite sites to the dashboard, then click them in order to launch the site in the browser’s (natively available) private window.

The downside

Right now, the browser extension does not save the traffic to your Meeco encrypted account (as the iOS app does), but Dow says the company is looking at including the feature in future updates.

Where to draw the privacy line

Being tracked and advertised to by the websites we use is the trade-off for a free Internet. In fact, there are some really good reasons for why you may want to be tracked online,

But not drawing our own line at how much privacy we are willing to give up could mean some companies will cross that line when it comes to where they scrape information about us. Your likes, dislikes and identifying details taken from email, private messages or personal notes could then be linked (as Google already does) to information from other facets of your online life, and companies or the government may eventually make assumptions about who you are before offering you a service. Whether you find that convenient or creepy, it’s something everyone should have control over, not default into.

What do you think? Have you downloaded browser plug-ins to control your privacy, or do you believe that targeted advertising is what makes the Internet go?

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Gadgets

Android 5.0 Lollipop: What’s New and When Can You Get It?

Android 5.0 Lollipop started rolling out Monday

The next sweeping overhaul of Android — Android 5.0 Lollipop — is rolling out starting Monday, Nov. 3. Here’s a look at some of its most notable additions, along with some insight as to when you might be able to get your hands on it.

What’s New?

Android 5 Lollipop
Google

The most noticeable difference is the overall look and feel of the operating system. Google’s using what it calls “Material Design,” making extensive use of animations and layered elements to deliver what the company promises is a more intuitive experience.

In layman’s terms, let’s just say there’s more swooping and sliding. And you’ll notice a more uniform design across Android devices in general — phones, tablets, watches, TV gadgets, car audio systems and more. If you have multiple Android gadgets, they’ll work together more harmoniously than before.

You can see a bit of how Material Design looks up until about the 30-second mark of this video:

Battery life should be an improvement. Developers will be able to better fine-tune their apps so they don’t use as much juice, and there’s a new power-saving mode that lets you squeeze up to 90 extra minutes out of your phone if you can’t find an outlet. When you get around to charging your phone, it’ll tell you how long it’ll be until it’s at 100%.

Security gets beefed up as well, with encryption turned on by default to prevent data from being accessed on lost or stolen devices. (Authorities aren’t too happy about this.) Note that you can turn encryption on yourself if you’re running an earlier version of Android. Here’s how (follow up until the part about resetting your phone). For an extra layer of security, you’ll be able to unlock your phone or tablet only when it’s in proximity to your Android smartwatch.

There are also some cool new multi-user features, like being able to use a friend’s phone in guest mode. And if you log in with your Google credentials, you’ll be able to make calls and access your messages, photos and other data as though you were using your own phone.

Notifications also get a much-needed overhaul. They’ll now be ranked and presented based on priority. Ideally, messages from people you want to hear from will be most prominent, while some obscure app telling you it’s been updated won’t get as much screen time. You’ll be able to finesse how often you’re notified with a new “priority” mode that’ll only let certain people contact you or will let you turn off notifications altogether between certain hours.

On newer phones, you’ll enjoy fewer button presses. If the hardware supports it, you’ll be able to say “Okay, Google” to wake the phone up to help you search for something or set reminders without touching it. Some phones will simply wake up when you pick them up or double-tap the screen.

You can see a more complete list of features here; scroll down to the bottom and click the “See All Features” link.

When Can I Get It?

Google said Monday that Android 5.0 Lollipop has just started rolling out, but the exact time you’ll get it depends on your device and your carrier. Google’s “Nexus”-branded devices (Nexus 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10) will have access to Android 5.0 sometime in November. Certain “Google Play edition” devices (the HTC One M8 and the Moto G, almost certainly) should see the update around the same time. The new Nexus 9 tablet is the only device with a firm date — November 3; the big-screen Nexus 6 smartphone is due “in stores in November,” says Google.

The official word is as follows:

Android 5.0 Lollipop, which comes on Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player, will also be available on Nexus 4, 5, 7, 10 and Google Play edition devices in the coming weeks.

After that, things get even murkier. Dan Graziano over at CNET has a roundup of moving-targets HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony, so keep an eye on that post as it’s to be updated as things progress.

As for whether or not your device is eligible to get Android 5.0, there’s a loose 18-month window for certain Android devices. Google’s official word: “Devices may not receive the latest version of Android if they fall outside of the update window, traditionally around 18 months after a device release.” And that’s only for Nexus and Google Play devices; check with your carrier to see if they can shed any light on your situation. If you’ve had your phone for more than a year, you might be on the fence depending when the phone was initially released.

MONEY Tech

Why the Hewlett-Packard Break-up Could Be the Most Important Tech Story of 2014

HP Sign
Boris Roessler—AP

The Hewlett-Packard break-up should hopefully, and finally, put an end to its years of mismanagement and poor results.

As the song goes, breaking up is hard to do. But in the case of American tech icon Hewlett-Packard HEWLETT-PACKARD CO. HPQ 0.8936% , its recently announced corporate separation has been years in the making.

After pledging to keep Hewlett-Packard together when she joined HP in 2011, CEO Meg Whitman reversed course earlier this week by announcing the historic separation. This storyline has so many angles, it will take months to digest let alone actually playout.

But between the billions of shareholder dollars, not to mention the hundred of thousands of jobs, hanging in the balance as part of the storyline, this deal is automatically in the running with the Apple iPhone 6 for the most important tech story of 2014. Let’s dive in.

Hewlett-Packard’s new halves

HP’s monumental split will divide its various divisions into two new companies: HP and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. From high-level perspective, HP’s self-division is split along their respective long-term prospects. As the company with more questions as to its future growth trajectory, HP’s personal computer and printer divisions will be spun out into a company that will go by the moniker HP. Here’s a quick snapshot as to what would have been HP financial performance in FY 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 1.56.47 PM

If there had to be a “bad business” created from this split, as is so often the case in such moves, HP would probably be it. After several brutal years, PC growth is relatively stagnant and is becoming increasingly commoditized. Likewise, few expect view the overall growth outlook for the global printer industry to remain robust as the digital age advances, although many argue 3D printing offers a glimmer of hope as a new growth market. In terms of leadership, Dion Weisler, the current head of HP’s PC and printer businesses, will step into the CEO role at HP, and Meg Whitman will serve as its nonexecutive chairman.

The second company, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, will incorporate HP’s current server, storage, networking, software, services, and financing operating segments. Here’s how Hewlett-Packard Enterprise would have fared in 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 1.57.08 PM

Although not without its share of problems, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has by far the more attractive set of core businesses and represents the key division Meg Whitman has sought to expand in her tenure at Hewlett-Packard. She isn’t alone. IBM made the shift away from low-end hardware like PCs years ago, favoring the more favorable economics and margin profile the kinds of businesses Hewlett-Packard Enterprise will hold. However, although the financial structure of these businesses is clearly more favorable, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise will face plenty of competition from a host of large and established competitors. Meg Whitman will remain in the CEO spot at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and current board member and former Alcatel-Lucent CEO Patricia Russo will serves as the board’s nonexecutive chairman.

The end of an era

Splitting Hewlett-Packard into two new organizations is hugely symbolic in terms of HP’s long-term place in the annals of U.S. technology history and its more recent troubles.

Looking to the its more immediate history, the Hewlett-Packard break-up should hopefully, and finally, put an end to its years of mismanagement and poor results, little of which falls at the hands of Whitman. After pursuing a litany of misguided or pricey acquisitions, HP appeared to many a company that had attempted to solve its innovation or growth issues by patching on other companies’ operations. To give some color, HP spent a combined $53.8 billion alone to acquire the likes of Palm, 3Com, Compaq, Autonomy, and Electronic Data Systems. This doesn’t even reflect the bulk of HP’s sprawling appetite for acquisitions. The combined weight of these moves has left Hewlett-Packard’s balance sheet bloated. Consider this: Roughly one-third of HP’s total assets consisted of Goodwill alone during its most recent quarterly report. It’s a company that has simply become too large, too complex, and too reliant on unsustainable growth strategies to go without the kind of drastic overhaul we saw this week.

And although the right move in my mind, HP’s breakup story marks a defeat of sorts for one of Silicon Valley’s most original and innovative companies. HP had lost the kind of innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard sought to imbue in their organization long ago, the kind of corporate culture that would serve to inspire countless technology executives such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, among many others. That Hewlett-Packard died years ago.

At the end of the day, seeing an iconoclast of any genre suffer and fade into decay is never easy or comfortable. However, as we technology enthusiasts know all too well, time stands still for no company. So as this move officially signals the end of Hewlett-Packard’s long rise and subsequent fall, the decision to breakup HP’s IT empire is one that should serve the combined company well as it attempts to carve out its place in tech’s new world order.

TIME Software

Forget Windows 9, Microsoft Just Announced Windows 10

Microsoft says the next version of Windows won't be "one UI to rule them all," but a single product family with an interface specially tuned for each device.

How do you get everyone’s attention if you’re not the world’s most sought-after smartphone or tablet maker, but still the world’s largest operating system manufacturer by miles?

You do something a little weird, say formally skip a version of your operating system, chronologically speaking. If your company name happens to be Microsoft, that means you leap (instead of hop) from Windows 8 right over the wondering heads of pundits proclaiming the imminent arrival of “9″ and on to something dubbed “Windows 10.”

What happened to 9? Who knows. Call it a very public sacrifice to the gods of predictability.

Microsoft made the announcement today during an offline press event, then on its Windows blog, where it said Windows was “at a threshold,” and that it was “time for a new Windows … built from the ground-up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world.”

We know a little bit about Windows 10 already, but only a little bit. The Start Menu is coming back (not a surprise). Everything will now run in a window, including Windows Store apps. Snapping now supports up to four simultaneous apps (and you’ll be able to see other apps available for snapping). You can have multiple desktops, and there’s a new “task-view” button on the taskbar will let you switch between open files as well as alternative desktops. And File Explorer will now display your most recent files and frequently visited folders.

The number you slap behind your iconic IP, of course, means nothing when it comes to actually delivering on promises made at press events. It’s simply the marketing cap and sequential delimiter companies like Microsoft and Apple use to establish that this is what this thing does as opposed to that one.

But find your mainline product sporting a lower number than a competitor’s, and all marketing bets are off. Microsoft’s been in the single digits with Windows forever, whereas Apple’s been on the 10th iteration of its Mac-based OS X (technically pronounced “oh-ess-ten”) for well over a decade, simply adding a “dot” (and codename) to signify major releases.

It’s not clear whether Windows 8′s potentially behind-looking proximity to Apple’s ten-based naming scheme forced Microsoft’s hand (or galvanized its marketing team), but let’s just say the theory’s at least of passing interest.

TIME How-To

Mobile Payments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We use our smartphones in place of maps, health trackers and cameras, so why not use them to replace our credit cards, too? It’s not like Americans don’t already choose their smartphones when it’s time to shop and bank online.

Yet a 2013 survey from financial services company TSYS (PDF) found that just 6% of Americans valued being able to use their card or cash via a smartphone virtual wallet.

Consumers seem comfortable with credit cards, whether they’re signing a receipt, entering a PIN or waving the card at a contactless payment terminal, and they see little perceived extra value in using smartphones to pay in stores, asserts Rajesh Kandaswamy, an analyst at information technology research and advisory firm Gartner. “Consumers need an incentive to move to mobile payments,” he says. And Softcard mobile payment app (formerly Isis) does that, offering a dollar off every purchase you make with an American Express Serve card (up to 50 transactions).

The upcoming launch of Apple Pay will also help. The app will download automatically in October as part of an update to iOS 8 for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and it works with American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards.

“Given that Apple already stores millions of customers’ financial info in iTunes, Apple Pay is likely to be a catalyst for higher adoption of the smartphone wallet because it reduces the efforts of millions to even try mobile payments,” Kandaswamy says.

Apple Pay is also supported by major banks, including Bank of America, Chase and Citi. These big banks are unlikely to spike the cost of processing Apple Pay transactions versus credit card transactions, giving more merchants more incentive to make the service available to their customers.

Why switch to a smartphone wallet

A mobile wallet app offers a better way to manage payment cards, from debit and credit cards to discount vouchers and loyalty vouchers, Kandaswamy says. “A mobile wallet app can also offer better control over finances, in the sense that you have a single place to examine and analyze your purchases,” he says.

Paying with your smartphone can speed up the checkout process. Instead of rifling through your wallet (and possibly realizing you forgot to bring a card at all), simply tap your smartphone on a payment terminal to authorize a transaction and simultaneously apply discounts or loyalty points.

How the money moves

Most current smartphone wallet apps with a tap-to-pay feature require a phone with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip to work. For iPhones, that means the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Most Android phones that run Android 4.0 or newer are NFC-compatible, although some apps require a special, extra-secure SIM for storing financial information. Check with your carrier to see if your Android phone is e-wallet-friendly.

If you use a Windows Phone or BlackBerry device, you’re facing a wait. Microsoft recently announced Wallet for Windows Phone for storing credit cards, loyalty cards, vouchers and tickets, but the app’s tap-to-pay functionality isn’t yet supported by any Windows Phone devices. And although Visa approved the BlackBerry mobile payment framework last year, we have yet to see any official launch of a wallet app.

But the mobile payments game is heating up. Retail giant Wal-Mart has announced that it’s piloting its own mobile payments system, along with several other large brands. Current C, which will work on any smartphone, won’t launch until next year.

The apps to consider

For now, Android and iPhone owners can turn their smartphones into lean, mean paying machines with one of these apps:

apple-iphone-6-apple-pay-510px
Apple

Apple Pay

Apple Pay will be available in October for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as well as for the Apple Watch when it launches next year. Apple Pay holds credit and debit cards, and iTunes users can automatically link the credit card they already have on file. Once you’ve activated Apple Pay, you can use it for secure one-tap purchases in shopping apps as well as services such as Uber and Panera Bread, without having to fill out billing and shipping information.

Tap to pay: Touch the front of your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to a contactless payment terminal while holding your finger over the TouchID fingerprint sensor. You get a gentle vibration when the transaction is complete.

Security: Instead of storing and sending credit card numbers, Apple Pay allocates a device-specific account number encrypted on a dedicated chip in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. This number is sent with a one-use transaction ID called a token. “The consumer’s credit card is never exposed during the transaction, and merchants are no longer storing giant databases of credit cards, waiting for some hacker to come along and compromise them,” says Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at mobile security company Lookout. “However, whether [this is more secure] depends on how the token itself is protected and if it is securely stored, neither of which are clear at this point.”

Why you want it: It’s fast. Using the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner to tap and pay beats signing a receipt or entering a PIN code. And with the support of every major U.S. bank, the number of shops that accept Apple Pay could skyrocket very quickly.

Where you can use it: Use it at about 220,000 shops over about a dozen retailer chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Bloomingdales and Walgreens.

Which phones support it: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet holds credit and debit card information as well as loyalty cards and discount coupons. You can transfer money into a prepaid card called the Wallet Balance. If you’re using an NFC-enabled Android 4.4 phone, you can pay for purchases in-store. Tap-to-pay won’t work on iPhones or on Android phones running Android 2.3 or older; however, these can access the Wallet’s other features, such as sending or requesting money, one-click checkout at online retailers and tracking orders made with linked payment cards.

Tap to pay: Open the Google Wallet app on your phone, then enter a PIN before holding it against the terminal.

Security: Google encrypts and stores users’ financial details on its servers, and use of the app is protected by a PIN. If someone should manage to pilfer your phone and guess your PIN, Google claims its fraud protection covers 100% of “verified unauthorized transactions.”

Why you want it: Google Wallet supports dozens of loyalty programs and coupon sites. Adding points and receiving discounts when you purchase something is hassle free, even if you’ve forgotten which vouchers and cards you have.

Where you can use it: Use it at any store where contactless payments are accepted.

Which phones support it: Android 2.3; 4.4 and higher required for tap-to-pay; iOS 6 or newer, but does not support tap-to-pay.

softcard-paying-at-kiosk-510px
Softcard

Softcard

Softcard was created by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, so (you guessed it) you’ll need to be on one of these carriers to use it. You’ll also need an NFC-compatible Android phone. The app supports American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo credit cards plus a handful of loyalty and discount cards. You can set up an American Express Serve account and use it to make payments with any debit card, credit card or U.S. bank account.

Tap to pay: As with Google Wallet, open the app, enter your PIN, then hold your NFC smartphone against the payment terminal.

Security: To use Softcard, you need a secure SIM card that can store your financial information so that only the Softcard app can access it. (You can request one from your carrier, assuming your phone is Softcard-compatible.) For each transaction, a one-use token is created so that your card details are not sent to the merchant. Like Google Wallet, a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: Softcard also scans nearby merchants for offers or discounts available to Softcard users, which you can then use at checkout.

Where you can use it: Use it at dozens of chains including Urban Outfitters, Subway and Walgreens. Check the full list at paywiththis.com.

Which phones support it: Android 4.0 and higher.

LoopPay

LoopPay, a Kickstarter success, works via a smartphone app combined with a Loop device — either a fob ($39, pairable with iPhone or Android phones) or a ChargeCase for iPhone 5/5S ($99). Credit and debit cards, loyalty and rewards cards and your driver’s license can be scanned into the Loop app. Most Android phones running Android 4.2 or newer work with Loop, but some have compatibility issues; check to see if yours works at LoopPay’s compatibility page.

Tap to pay: Hold your fob (or ChargeCase-sheathed iPhone) by the credit card terminal, then swipe your phone screen or press the fob button to pay. If you need to show ID (say, for an alcohol purchase), hit the ID icon on the phone screen and display a scan of any identification you’ve loaded.

Security: All payment information is encrypted and stored in a secure chip inside the Loop fob or ChargeCase, and a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: LoopPay works at 90% of retailers around the world — far more shops than any of the other apps.

Where you can use it: Use it anywhere there’s a credit card reader.

Which phones support it: iPhone, Android 4.2 and up.

More than an app, not quite a wallet

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Starbucks

Starbucks

This iPhone app combines your loyalty card and prepaid card balance into one handy app for tap-and-pay, keeping track of rewards you’re due and seeing how much more coffee you need to buy before you hit the next reward. Starbucks got this right — the app is used for $6 million in transactions every week.

PayPal

If you’re in a shop that accepts PayPal, log in to the app (iPhone and Android) and check in to your location. You can then take your purchases to the register, tell the cashier you’re paying by PayPal and simply approve the payment on the phone screen. It’s not quite a wallet replacement, but it is handy if you forget your real-world wallet. The app can scan your vicinity for PayPal-friendly merchants.

Keep your information secure

Using a mobile wallet app can be more secure than using a credit card because wallet apps don’t send as much sensitive information (such as your credit card number and expiration date) in the course of a transaction. To maintain security with a mobile payment app on your phone, follow these suggestions from Lookout’s Rogers:

  • Set a password on your phone.
  • Download an app for finding your phone if it’s lost. When your phone becomes your wallet, loss or theft becomes even more inconvenient.
  • Only download mobile payment apps (or, indeed, any apps) from sites you trust. Check the app’s ratings and permissions and read reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected before you download.
  • Turn off your device’s NFC connection when you’re not using it.
  • Use NFC payment stations with caution; you might end up paying for someone else’s purchases.

Will you be replacing your wallet with an app? If so, which one? Let us know in the comments.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Software

How to Fix iOS 8′s Most Annoying Features

Whether you’ve got a new iPhone 6 or you’re happy holding on to your iPhone 5 or 5S, Apple’s mobile operating system update iOS 8 is great. There are a ton of useful new features like family sharing, swipe-to-respond notifications and the data-aggregating health app. But not everything about the update is sunshine and gumdrops – there are some annoying new features, too.

Thankfully, many of these annoyances are just new default settings. You can switch a lot of these defaults back to the way they were in iOS 7, and without much effort. Here are five of the most common complaints people have with Apple’s mobile operating system update, and the five best ways to fix or work around them.

Turn Off Handoffs

If you have an Apple iPad, iPod Touch or MacBook that uses your Apple ID, you may start to automatically get phone calls on all these devices. You can easily turn this off on some or all of them if you choose. Just enter into each individual gadget’s Settings menu, tap FaceTime and then turn off iPhone Cellular Calls.

Hide Recent Contacts

Personally, I like the upper row of friends and family pictures that come up when I double tap my home button. It provides easy access to your Favorites and those you’ve contacted recently. But if you don’t want people snooping on whom you’ve been calling and texting recently or you prefer the old iOS 7 version without those circular pictures, you can shut it off from the Settings menu. Just tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars, then tap Show in App Switcher (under Contacts). Turn off both toggles.

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Apple

Deleting Your Photos No Longer Actually Deletes Them

The Photos app in iOS 8 now comes with a Recently Deleted folder, which houses the snapshots you’ve chosen to delete for 30 days before they’re completely deleted from your device. This is nice to save you from accidentally deleting important photos, but terrible if there’s a photo you want deleted completely and immediately. Once you delete a snapshot from your main folder, be sure you also go into the Recently Deleted folder to select it and then delete it for good.

Stop Voice and Video Messages from Self Destructing

Sending and receiving short audio messages via iMessage is a lot of fun, but due to file size restraints, those items are quickly auto-deleted from your phone. You can change this to save those messages indefinitely by default if you’d like. Enter your phone’s Settings, tap Messages and then tap Settings. Tap Keep Messages, then change the Audio Messages and Video Expiration time to never.

But before you do, I’d urge you to strongly consider signing up for free cloud storage from a secondary provider to iCloud. I like the 30 GB free allotment currently offered by Microsoft OneDrive. It’s the best way to keep all that media, plus your own personal photos and videos, saved indefinitely without needing to pay for more iCloud storage or pay more for a phone with a larger drive.

Turn Off Predictive Text

I found the new Predictive Text feature to be a lot of fun in the first few hours of iOS 8, but its novelty wore off quickly when it proved more distracting than useful. Thankfully, it’s easily turned off. Enter your settings app, tap General, then tap Keyboard. Toggle Predictive off, and the deed is done.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME How-To

iOS 8 Guide: 10 Cool Tips and Tricks

Whether you just picked up an iPhone 6 or you're looking to squeeze a little life out of an older iPhone, here's a handful of tricks to try once you're using iOS 8.

Say “Hey Siri” for No-Touch Assistance

If your phone is plugged in, you can get Siri to do your bidding just by saying, “Hey Siri.”

You’ll need to enable the feature first by going to Settings > General > Siri and then toggling the Allow “Hey Siri” switch.

Again, your phone has to be plugged in for this to work, but it could be useful when paired with a car charger or while you’re at your desk.

Find Battery-Sucking Apps

Battery being run down too fast? It’s most likely an app or two that are sapping an inordinate amount of juice. You can check which ones are causing the most trouble by going to Settings > General > Usage > Battery Usage.

You’ll see a list of the apps that have used the most battery over the past 24 hours, with the option to check which ones have been the top drainers over a longer period of time as well.

Adjust Brightness in Photos

When you’re taking a photo and you tap the screen to adjust the camera’s focus, you can now also adjust the brightness. Just tap the screen as you’re taking a photo, then swipe up to make the image brighter or down to make the image darker.

Use the Camera Timer

The camera also has a timer function. Tap the little clock icon in the top menu when you’re taking a photo and it’ll let you choose between a three- or ten-second delay before firing off some snaps.

Get Notified of Email Thread Replies

If you want to keep an eye on an important email thread, you can enable notifications to pop up every time someone adds a new email message to the thread. Click on the little flag icon in the lower left corner of an email message, choose Notify Me… and then Notify Me again. Step through the same process to remove yourself from future notifications once you’ve had enough.

Minimize an Email You’re Writing

If you’re in the middle of typing an email message to someone and you realize you need to reference some information from a previous email elsewhere in your inbox, you can swipe down on the message you’re writing to minimize it to the bottom of the screen. Once you’re ready to write some more, tap the message to expand it again.

Track Your Phone’s Final Location Before the Battery Dies

You’ve misplaced your phone — or worse, it’s been stolen — and the battery is surely dead. You can find out its last known location by heading into Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone and then toggling Send Last Location on.

Minimize the QuickType Feature

If you find the keyboard’s new QuickType word-guessing feature more annoying than useful, you can minimize it by swiping down from the top of the QuickType bar. If you find that you miss the feature, swipe back up and it’ll re-assume its perch atop your keyboard.

Quickly Send an Audio Recording, Photo or Video in a Text Message

When chatting back and forth in the Messages app, hold down the microphone icon in the lower-right corner to begin recording an audio message. When it’s ready, tap the arrow above it to send it or tap the X to delete it. To send a photo or video instead, hold down the camera icon in the lower-left corner and tap the top icon to snap a photo or the right-hand icon to record a video. Note that these features require that your recipient has an iPhone as well, although you’ll be able to send photos and videos (but not audio) to non-iPhone owners by tapping the camera icon in the lower-left corner and then following a couple additional steps.

Reply to a Text Message Without Leaving Your Current App

When you receive a text message up at the top of your screen, pull down on it to access a quick-reply box. Type your reply, hit Send and go back to what you were doing — all without leaving your current app.

TIME Software

iOS 8 Release Guide

Apple

It’s Wednesday, September 17. Happy iOS 8 Day, everyone. Here’s what to expect.

When will iOS 8 be available?

Apple never sets a hard-and-fast time on when it’ll start rolling out the update, but it’s historically started rolling new iOS versions out around 1pm Eastern time. Some years, I’ve gotten the update right away; some years, it’s taken until around 3pm or so. I can’t ever remember getting it before 1pm, though.

How do I get it?

If you do nothing, you’ll eventually get a pop-up message on your phone saying that the new software is available. You can check manually in a couple ways, though.

First, from your phone, open the Settings app, select General and then Software Update. Your phone will check with Apple’s servers to see if the update is ready for you. Again, just because it’s 1pm doesn’t mean you’ll get the update right away. Be patient.

Second, connect your phone to your computer, open iTunes on your computer, and the first heading under your phone’s page in iTunes contains information about which version of iOS it’s running. Click the “Check for Update” button every once in a while to see if the new software is available for you. I actually find this method to work better than trying to get the update directly from my phone. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try if you’re near a computer when the update starts rolling out.

Will it work on my phone?

iOS 8 is compatible with the iPhone 4S and up. It’ll also be available for the iPad 2 and up, all iPad Mini models, and the fifth-generation iPod Touch.

What should I do while I’m waiting?

If you’re going the iTunes route, make sure you have the latest version (click Help, then Check for Updates). And make sure your phone has enough storage space to accommodate the new software. You’ll want to clear out five gigabytes or more if you’re updating straight from your phone, just to be on the safe side. Here’s a guide with information about how you can do that. If you’re updating from iTunes, you won’t need to have nearly as much space free.

You’ll also want the latest version of iOS 7 — version 7.1.2 — in order to quickly upgrade to iOS 8. Use the steps in the “How do I get it?” section above to make sure you’re running the latest version.

What’s new in iOS 8?

There’s a new photo album and quicker, easier photo editing; there are enhanced voice and video messages; there’s a revamped keyboard that predicts which word you’re going to type next; there’s a new health and fitness app; there’s a cloud-based hard drive; there’s app- and book-sharing between family members; there are enhanced notifications and a few other bells and whistles thrown in.

Apple’s iOS 8 site is here; we have an iOS feature guide here.

Do I need to download iOS 8 right away?

No. In fact, it could be argued that it’s a good idea to wait until the first update to iOS 8 hits — usually a couple weeks later — for all the kinks to get worked out. If you don’t install iOS 8 right away, your phone will still work just fine. Sometimes it’s best to wait at least a day or two to see what people are saying about the update online. Are they complaining about shorter battery life? Are apps crashing more often? Does the interface seem sluggish? If so, it might be a good idea to hold off for a while until everything gets smoothed out.

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