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In this issue: macOS Big Sur; App Tracking Transparency; Looking for more iOS 14 Widgets? Launch seldom-used apps; Pin your chats in Messages; Two tricks for fixing a Mac that's restarting unexpectedly; Reaching out to MacAtoZ; Software recommendations; Hardware recommendations; Security Recommendations.
June 2021 Newsletter

macOS Big Sur

We are not full-throated in our enthusiasm of Big Sur 11.4. But time waits for no one, and that's never been more true than when we're talking about Apple software updates. We are now recommending that Macs running macOS 10.15 Catalina be upgraded to Big Sur. (Note that some older Macs cannot be upgraded to Big Sur. If this is your Mac, you should be budgeting for a replacement Mac—something you'll need by Fall of 2022.)

Our rational in recommending Big Sur for Catalina Macs is simply this: We believe Big Sur 11.4 is now better than Catalina. Even this incarnation of Big Sur isn't without warts, but it now appears more attractive to our eyes than Catalina ever did. To upgrade, go to System Preferences > Software Update. [Sentinel+ and Sentinel Ultra members need to click the Details link on the left side of the Software Update pane then click "Restore Defaults" to make Big Sur available.]

For Mojave-based Macs, our advice is a little more cautious. Big Sur is not as stable or reliable as Mojave, and Mojave users will lose the ability to run 32-bit applications. (Catalina also will not run 32-bit applications.) For security reasons, we all have to migrate off of Mojave by this fall when macOS Monterey is released. But maybe we wait until Big Sur 11.5—when presumably more bugs are squashed—first? This is not an easy call. 

If you decide to upgrade from Mojave, before doing so be sure to check that any mission critical software you use is compatible. You can do that on this helpful web site: https://roaringapps.com/apps?platform=osx 

As always, if you'd like our assistance with any of this, we remain ready to help.
 

App Tracking Transparency

You may have seen mention of the dispute between Apple and Facebook. It revolves around App Tracking Transparency (ATT), a technology Apple released in iOS 14.5.

The goal of ATT is to give iPhone and iPad users more control over the extent to which app makers can track their data and activities across apps and websites owned by other companies. Before App Tracking Transparency, nothing prevented companies from sucking a vast amount of data about your everyday activities and connecting it to other data to build an insanely detailed picture of who you are and what you do. Apple has written A Day in the Life of Your Data white paper and released the Tracked TV ad to give you a sense of how apps track you. We like to think of app tracking as a fleet of tiny drones constantly hovering over your head, recording your every waking moment for their corporate masters.

Facebook is particularly perturbed by the introduction of App Tracking Transparency, to which I say, "Good." Facebook makes billions of dollars every year by gleaning as much as it can about you and then selling advertising access to you to companies that want to target people like you. For instance, Facebook knows if you’re a New York City lawyer and divorced mother of two who loves dogs, donates to the Sierra Club, and has Crohn’s disease. Although App Tracking Transparency won’t prevent Facebook from tracking your behavior across its own apps, at least it won’t be able to track you across other companies’ apps and websites.

Once you upgrade to the latest version of iOS and iPadOS, App Tracking Transparency requires that apps ask for permission to track you. However, depending on your current privacy settings, you may never see those requests. In Settings > Privacy > Tracking, if Allow Apps to Request to Track is turned off, you won’t receive any permission requests, and apps won’t be able to track you. Turn that setting on, and you’ll start getting alerts that ask for permission.

Put bluntly, there is absolutely no reason to allow any app to track you. Apple explicitly says that apps may not withhold features from those who opt out of tracking. So if you turn on the Allow Apps to Request to Track setting, tap Ask App Not to Track whenever you’re prompted. If you accidentally tap Allow, you can always go back to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and turn off the switch to rescind permission.

You might want to enable Allow Apps to Request to Track to see which apps were likely violating your privacy before and are still willing to do so even after App Tracking Transparency has exposed their sleazy business practices. Frankly, we’d encourage you to think about whether you want to use apps from such companies—perhaps the best reason to allow the requests is to identify privacy-abusing apps that you’ll then delete.

Early statistics from analytics company Flurry suggest that 94%–96% of users in the United States have opted out of app tracking, either by tapping Ask App Not to Track or by disabling the Allow Apps to Request to Track. We’re surprised the number is so low.

 

Looking for more iOS 14 Widgets? Launch seldom-used apps

Home screen widgets are one of the coolest features of iOS 14. They enable apps to offer quick access to features or at-a-glance previews of changing information, such as the Weather app’s widget providing a quick look at upcoming weather.

What you may not realize, however, is that an app’s widgets become available for adding to your Home screen only if you have launched the app since upgrading to iOS 14. (To see the list, press and hold on an empty part of the Home screen and then tap the + button in a top corner.)

For instance, if you haven’t traveled since the pandemic started, you might not realize that the Kayak app has a handy price alert widget. Just launch the app once, and you’ll see its widgets the next time you look through the complete widget list.
 

Pin your chats in Messages

A new feature of Messages in both iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur is the option to pin up to nine conversations at the top of the conversation list for easy access. No longer do you have to worry about them scrolling out of sight.

On an iPhone or iPad, touch and hold a conversation and tap Pin in the menu that appears; on a Mac, Control-click the conversation and choose Pin. (Remove them by repeating the action and choosing Unpin.) Each of your devices can have different conversations pinned.

If you are used to scanning the left side of Messages for blue new-message indicators, also be sure to look for those blue dots amongst your pinned icons at the top of the screen. Also, note that on the Mac, it can be a little too easy to see a notification banner about a new message, switch to Messages, and type in the currently selected (but wrong) conversation.


Two tricks for fixing a Mac that's restarting unexpectedly

Although extremely uncommon, it’s not unheard of for a Mac, particularly an older model, to restart unexpectedly. If it happens once, chalk it up to cosmic rays and move on. But if it happens multiple times, try these two things right off.

First, use compressed air to remove dust from cooling vents or the inside of the Mac, if you can open it up. Dust can cause heat buildup, which can in turn cause restarts.

Second, try plugging the Mac into a different electric circuit or, ideally, into an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Dirty power can provoke all sorts of undesirable behavior—including unexpected restarts—and shorten the lifespan of the Mac’s electronic components. Remember, clean air and clean power make for a happy Mac.
 


Reaching out to MacAtoZ

As a company we communicate through phone calls and email.

Our main phone line (503-507-0410) is staffed during regular business hours. Please call if you need help or information. If our main team is unavailable when you call we will return your call by the end of the next business day. Importantly, we do not offer emergency or same-day service

We also use email. If you're a client and have a question or problem, support@macatoz.com is your friend. This pops your email into our support ticketing system. Because we serve hundreds of clients, using this system allows us to handle incoming requests efficiently. Clients can also email with quick questions about an issue. We're happen to provide a free, quick answer if we can. 

Potential new clients can email us at info@macatoz.com

Support or information request emails to specific MacAtoZ employees are likely to delay service. (That said if you have comments for a specific staff member that are not time-sensitive, you're absolutely welcome to email them.)

Unless otherwise instructed, please do not call or text MacAtoZ employees directly

We help people with Apple technology. Thank you for working with us to maximize our ability to do this. 

 


Software Recommendations

macOS 11.4 Big Sur. We recommend Big Sur for any Mac currently running macOS 10.15 Catalina. Any Mac already running Big Sur should be upgraded immediately to version 11.4 for security reasons. Upgrade by going to System Preferences > Software Update. [Sentinel+ and Sentinel Ultra members need to click the Details link on the left side of the Software Update pane then click "Restore Defaults" to make Big Sur available.]

macOS 10.14.6 Mojave. Mojave remains secure and we prefer it to macOS 10.15.7 Catalina. If you choose to upgrade from Mojave to either Catalina or Big Sur, you should check that your important apps will run. (Apple apps are fine.) You may need to upgrade. You can check your apps here: https://roaringapps.com/apps?platform=osx 

Earlier macOS versions should be upgraded ASAP unless your Mac never goes online. You can see your Mac's operating system version by going to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and choosing "About This Mac."

iOS 14.6 Any iPhone running iOS 14 should be updated to iOS 14.6 immediately for security reasons. Note that some users have encountered a battery drain issue with 14.6, but for security reasons we need to charge (pun sort of intended) ahead anyway. If you're not sure what iOS version you have, you can see your iPhone or iPad's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version. You could also ask Siri, "Which version of iOS do I have?"

iPadOS 14.6 Similar to the iPhone, any iPad running iPadOS 14 should be immediately upgraded to 14.6. We've not seen comparable battery drain issue reports for the iPad.  

watchOS 7.5 Older versions of WatchOS acceptable if necessary; upgrade if your devices (iPhone and Apple Watch) support it. You can see your Apple Watch's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version. Generally, one does not have to worry about AppleWatch software security.  

tvOS 14.6. tvOS 13.4.8 and tvOS 12 also acceptable. Note that earlier models of Apple TV do not run tvOS and are fine for what they do; not all channels, features, or apps will be available. You can see if there's a software update available for your Apple TV by going to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software. Generally, one does not have to worry about tvOS security. 
 

Hardware Recommendations

Macintosh
  • MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid-2012 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid-2012 or later)
    • Note that 2016-2019 MacBook Pro models have a higher than usual keyboard failure rate. Used 2015 models, which use a different style keyboard, may be a more reliable option. The new 2019 MacBook Pro 16" model uses a new keyboard mechanism and should be fine.
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac Pro (all models)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013 or newer)
These are minimum hardware recommendations based on what is necessary to run a secure operating system (macOS 10.14.6 Mojave or macOS 10.15.7 Catalina). If your Mac does not meet these specifications—that is, it will not run Mojave or Catalina—it needs to be replaced soon unless you will not be using it online. macOS 10.13 High Sierra is no longer secure.

macOS 11 Big Sur was released in November 2020 and has its own set of system requirements. 

iPhone and iPad
  • iPhone 6S or newer. Older iPhones cannot run iOS 14. 
    • iPhone 7 models have a higher than normal failure rate over time. Given the choice, we would recommend iPhone SE (2020) model as a strong alternative to iPhone 7 models. 
  • iPad Air 2 or newer
  • iPad mini 4 or newer
  • iPad Pro (all models)
  • iPad 5th generation or newer
The iPad line is made confusing by the multitude of model names and types (Air, mini, Pro, and just plain iPad). Generally speaking, devices introduced in October 2014 and later will run iPadOS. iPads that will not run iPadOS and should be replaced unless they will not be used on the internet. 

Apple Watch
  • Apple Watch Series 4, 5, or 6 or SE highly recommended.
  • All versions (Series 0 through Series 6 and SE) are secure and acceptable though Apple Watch Series 0, 1, and 2 will not run the latest version of WatchOS and therefore lack both the speed and features of later Apple Watches.  
Apple TV
  • Apple TV 4K is recommended. Apple TV HD (4th generation) is fine as well.
  • The latest version of the AppleTV Remote is available for stand-alone purchase ($59). It works with Apple TV 4k (1st and 2nd generations) and Apple TV HD. It's a lot better than previous remotes. 
  • Older models of Apple TV do not support tvOS and cannot run Apple TV Store apps, though we are unaware of any major security issues. 
 

Security Recommendations

A secure operating system
See Software Recommendations for details. If you're not running a secure operating system, it will be difficult to impossible to protect your data. 

Encryption
We recommend using Apple's built-in whole disk encryption, FileVault. It can be turned on in System Preferences > Security & Privacy. 

Backups
We recommend and use Apple's built-in Time Machine backup system. You'll need an external hard drive so that the data is automatically saved to a second location. Off-site backup remains important in mitigating the risk of fire or theft. We use and recommend Backblaze. At a cost of $6 a month per Mac, Backblaze will encrypt then backup an unlimited amount of data from your Mac. Data has a 30-day retention window, though longer time periods are possible for an additional couple bucks. 

Sentinel, Sentinel+, Sentinel Ultra, Sentinel AM [warning: we are tooting our own horn here]
Sentinel provides professional 24/7 oversight of the health of your Mac. We're monitoring all kinds of things (RAM, hard drive, Time Machine backups, battery, etc.)—150 different data points every hour.  

Sentinel+ adds maintenance and security to Sentinel's 24/7 monitoring. Sentinel+ will handle most software updates so you don't have to as well as run maintenance routines to keep things running tip-top. This is includes basic scanning and quarantine of malware. 

Sentinel Ultra is our top-of-the-line, four-in-one service that includes everything in Sentinel and Sentinel+. Ultra blocks malicious web sites, filters objectionable content, protects against email phishing threats, and even increases the speed of your web surfing. It's proactive security. Ultra represents our best effort and the best tool in our arsenal to keep clients safe on the web. 

Sentinel AM is our anti-malware offering. It's a $5/mo add-on for Sentinel+ or Sentinel Ultra services. 

A secure web browser with ad blocking
Firefox with the free open source content blocker uBlock Origin is our first choice. Safari with AdGuard (and blocking cross-site tracking turned on) is another fine option. AdGuard is no longer free, but Safari extensions are getting enhanced in macOS 11 Big Sur, so we're hopeful that getting uBlock Origin (our favorite) back on Safari is just a matter of time. 

DuckDuckGo
There's really no good reason to use Google, Bing, or any of the other search engines. Not only does DuckDuckGo return excellent search results, you can use commands in the search bar (like "!g"—that's exclamation point plus the letter g) to search Google anonymously. You can search other search engines anonymously too via DuckDuckGo, and DuckDuckGo won't track you. In the search engine preferences for either Safari or Firefox, you can set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine. 

A Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is an encrypted tunnel between your Mac (or iPhone or iPad) and another computer run by the VPN company. It protects your internet traffic so that anyone who might want to spy on your traffic locally can't. We use PIA VPN which covers multiple devices (Mac, iPad, iPhone) for about $75 a year. 

A Password Manager
We consider password managers like 1Password indispensible. Instead of having to remember lengthy passwords or reusing the handful that we can remember, we remember one password to unlock 1Password, and the program takes care of the rest. 1Password can be a little complex to set up, so we typically will help clients with that. Actual use isn't too bad though and is typically within the reach of even basic users.  

A Spam Filter
Apple's built in Junk Mail filter works for most spam assuming your email address isn't widely dispersed on the internet. If you're swamped with spam email, though, SpamSieve can rescue you.

Avoid Social Media
If you're posting to social media like Facebook, you're not just telling your friends something. You're telling Facebook, and Facebook is hardly keeping your information top secret. Want to say something privately to a friend? Use Apple Messages or Apple's FaceTime. Both are end-to-end encrypted, and not even Apple has the keys. 

MacAtoZ LLC

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Apple Consultants Network
MacAtoZ LLC provides technical support, upgrade, installation, networking, training and tutoring, and remote support services for Apple products like Macintosh computers, iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

Ty Davison and Dyneé Medlock, our Apple technicians, are the only Apple-certified, Apple Consultants Network members serving both residential and small business clients in Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley.

MacAtoZ has been providing computer services for clients in the Salem area since 2006 (and since 1999 as SiteRev.com). Our technicians are certified by Apple and carry $1 million in business liability insurance. We frequently present and are well-known at the Salem Macintosh Users Group (SMUG). You can count on us.

Our Sentinel, Sentinel+, and Sentinel Ultra services offer home users 24/7 Macintosh monitoring, maintenance, security, and web browsing protection. Join today!

Quick Links

MacAtoZ LLC: The main company web site. You can find information about products and services as well as advice here.

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Salem Mac Users Group: Salem, Oregon-area Macintosh and Apple gear enthusiasts. Now holding Zoom meetings monthly. Visitors welcome! Visit the web site for details.

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