Clean screens, facial ID, and moving iTunes

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. What is the best way to clean the screen on a smartphone or tablet?

A. My favorite method is a microfiber towel sold under the trademark Dash Gear ( I discovered these in a local auto parts store a few years ago. I wipe yesterday’s fingerprints off my iPad and phone each morning. (Dirt on screens is much easier to see in daylight.) If it takes more than a few seconds, I drop the towel into the laundry. Once cleaned, the towel works as good as new.

Beware of the term “microfiber.” I have encountered many different products labeled microfiber, from the perfect to the perfectly dismal. The best versions are soft, lint-free, and are woven so closely together that the surface of the cloth is as smooth as silk. The Dash Gear towels have the same finish as a good eyeglass or camera lens cloth, but they are larger, sturdier and much less expensive.

Sometimes stubborn bits of unwanted gunk need help from a liquid. Usually I just put a drop of water on my finger and gently rub the gunk for a second or two, then try the cloth again. That works nearly every time.

It is very easy to over-use liquid cleaners, so I avoid them. However, when used sparingly, they come in handy. My favorite is sold under the brand name Whoosh! ( The one-ounce bottle should last many months. Adding liquid to the process also means laundering the towel more often.

Everyone has a different tolerance for dirty screens. But with the right tools and less than a minute, your device can look as fresh as the day you got it.

Q. My cellphone already has my thumbprint. Now phones are asking for my face. Where does it end? How is this a good idea?

A. Biometric identifiers like face recognition and fingerprints are the newest tools designed to confirm personal identity. In a slower era, paper documents like birth certificates did this job reasonably well. Keys still work well for expensive things like houses and cars. But the modern world is speeding up relentlessly. Paper is too slow and easy to hack. Passwords worked for a while, but they are in deep trouble for a host of reasons.

Smart phones that use biometric ID technology generally do not actually save a copy of your face or fingerprint. As with everything in technology, the truth is in the details.

The first time you use a device, a sensor measures some aspect of your person and uses that measurement to generate a password. You never see the password. It is a very big number – far larger than anyone could memorize. The circuit that manages the password is isolated from the rest of the phone, which makes it much more difficult for hackers to attack. I skipped a mountain of math, but that covers the basics.

Each subsequent time the sensor takes a measurement, it compares it to the first measurement, and if it matches, that means you are the same person who first set up the device.

The only manufacturer that has consistently delivered what I consider to be high-quality security is Apple. Unfortunately, different Android models use various techniques, making blanket statements about them impossible.

My advice is simple. No one regulates these technologies. It will be years before all the Android phones in use are as secure as iPhones are now. Passwords are increasingly unsafe. There is no such thing as perfect security. If you have an iPhone, use these features. Avoid biometrics on Android until you evaluate a specific model.

Q. My computer’s hard disk is nearly full and I would like to move my iTunes data to an external disk. Is that possible?

A. Not only is it possible, it is reasonably simple. By moving iTunes to an external disk you can free up gigabytes of available space. A Google search or two should reveal step-by-step instructions for your specific model and operating system, but the basics are the same.

Back up everything first. Next, quit iTunes. On both Mac and PC, your iTunes data is usually stored in a single folder titled “iTunes.” In your home folder, this folder is probably located in “Music” on a Mac and inside “My Music” on Windows. Copy the folder “iTunes” to a new disk. Now launch the iTunes application while holding down the Option key on the Mac keyboard or Shift on a PC. The next screen should ask you for the library’s new location. Choose the newly moved folder, and click Open. iTunes should look the same as it did before.

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be reached at

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Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at