|October 2020 Newsletter
Apple's new operating systems. Upgrade yes or no?
Apple released a slew of new operating system updates in September, and we've been testing them out (so you don't have to). Why listen to an independent Apple consultancy like us? Because we'll tell you the unvarnished truth, and the truth is that some of these updates have problems.
Let's take a look:
Apple usually releases new iPhones simultaneously with a new version of iOS. The new iPhones are a little late this year—expect an announcement in a couple weeks. The company wants to make sure the new version of iOS works well for those who buy new hardware. iOS 14 runs on the same devices that can run iOS 13; basically the iPhone 6s and later.
iOS 14 brings some of the most significant changes to the user experience that Apple has made in years. You can now embed widgets—in different sizes—on your Home screen, so you can see your calendar, weather, or headlines at a glance. A new App Library automatically organizes your apps and provides a full list. Plus, you can hide Home screens that hold seldom-used apps. Apple also shrunk the interfaces for phone calls, Siri, and searching, so they no longer take over the entire screen.
Messages gets pinned conversations, threaded conversations, and mentions of specific people. Maps gains cycling directions, alerts for speed cameras, routing for electric vehicles, and guides for the best places to visit in cities. The Camera app can take photos more quickly; you can put FaceTime calls into thumbnails using Picture in Picture; and Music now lets you search for songs by genre, mood, and activity.
There are new features too. App Clips are small parts of an app that let you accomplish a task—renting a scooter, ordering from a coffee shop while waiting in line, getting more info about a museum exhibit—by scanning an NFC tag or a QR code. A new Translate app lets you converse with someone in one of 11 languages with real-time translation. With new cars that support it, Car Keys lets you unlock and start your car using your iPhone. AirPods switch automatically between your devices, and the AirPods Pro gain “spatial audio” that provides a movie theater experience by placing sound within a space.
No single feature of iOS 14 may be life-changing, but we anticipate that lots of people will appreciate its enhancements. In our limited testing, we think it’s a good upgrade. Yes, there are some graphical glitches here and there. We still can't figure out why the Mail icon keeps showing we have email to read when the Inbox is empty. And sometimes the keyboard appears at the wrong time or the screen orientation for an app is incorrect and we have to restart the app. But it's been pretty stable. Apple's issued the bug-fix update of iOS 14.0.1 and we're going to say that it's okay to upgrade for most people.
The Exception: If you use your iPhone and AppleWatch to track Health and Workout data, there is a massive problem with this combo under iOS 14 and watchOS 7. That data is getting lost somewhere between the two devices, and the only solution thus far is to erase your iPhone and restore from a backup. If you use your iPhone and AppleWatch in this way, you should wait to upgrade.
We'll tackle this next since it ties into the above warning about iOS 14.
As with previous upgrades, it’s not huge, but you might like some of the new capabilities. Chief among them is sleep tracking for those who either need help getting a good night’s sleep or are curious about how they’re sleeping. watchOS can now tell if you’re washing your hands for the requisite 20 seconds and even remind you to do so upon arriving home.
Apple has renamed the Activity app to Fitness and turned it into a streamlined fitness dashboard. The Workout app can now track core training, dance, functional strength training, and cooldowns. And finally, a new hearing-related feature can tell you how loudly you’re listening to audio through headphones and when such levels could cause harm.
watchOS 7 has worked well for us on an AppleWatch Series 4. We recommend watchOS 7 for Series 4 or Series 5.
We do NOT recommend it for AppleWatch Series 3 owners. S3 owners are complaining of random reboots and other bugs under watchOS 7.
Unlike iOS 14 for the iPhone, iPadOS 14 does not feature the App Library or Home screen widgets, but it offers new capabilities for the Apple Pencil, such as the Scribble handwriting recognition feature, and many redesigned apps. See Apple’s iPadOS 14 feature list
. In particular if you use or want to use an Apple Pencil, we think you might find iPadOS 14 amazing.
It has worked fine in our testing, though again with some of the same graphical glitches as iOS 14. Nonetheless, it's worked well enough that we recommend iPadOS 14 for those iPads that can run it.
iPadOS 14 runs on the fifth-generation iPad, iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, and later, plus all versions of the iPad Pro.
The update clocked in at 3.58 GB on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro and 2.16 GB on an iPad Air 2. You can install the update by going to Settings > General > Software Update in iPadOS, through iTunes on Macs running versions of macOS prior to 10.15 Catalina, or through the Finder in 10.15 Catalina.
This upgrade adds Picture-in-Picture mode systemwide and a Home section in the Control Center so you can fiddle with your HomeKit devices via your AppleTV. There's also audio sharing and enhanced gaming support. Later this year, it will have Fitness+ a new paid service from Apple.
tvOS 14 has worked okay in our testing on AppleTV HDs. It has had issues with sound dropping out and some apps that freeze (both solved by restarting the AppleTV). If this level of instability is acceptable to you, we can recommend tvOS 14 for AppleTV HD and AppleTV 4k. (Apple has just issued tvOS 14.0.2 which may fix these issues; the release notes are not specific.)
macOS 10.15.7 Catalina
NOTE: There are apparently problems with AppleTV (3rd Generation) and Software Update 7.6. The AppleTV (Gen 3) will not run tvOS; it uses an older operating system. Apple just released version 7.6 of this system, and it is not going well. Specifically, there are reports of crashes when pausing YouTube videos, intermittent AirPlay problems, and more.
(If you're not sure which AppleTV you have, the HD and 4k models come with a black remote that has a Siri microphone button on it.)
Apparently 10.15.7 is a bug-fix update attempting to squash the Mail disappearance issue that has hampered Catalina from the beginning. Early reports are that it did not work and the bug is still there. For most users, we continue to recommend macOS 10.14.6 Mojave.
If you've already upgraded to Catalina or if you have a newer Mac that came with it, upgrading to 10.15.7 Catalina seems fine, though there's nothing wrong with waiting a couple more weeks to make sure, and that's what we recommend.
We don't know who might need to hear this because we say it every time there's a new Mac operating system, but as a reminder, when macOS 11 Big Sur is released—presumably in the next month or so—we strongly recommend against installing it.
Improving column view on your Mac
We’re big fans of column view in Finder windows (choose View > as Columns). You never have to worry about missing icons that are outside the window, everything is sorted alphabetically, and selecting a file shows a preview.
But the column widths can be too thin, such that they cut off file and folder names, or too wide, forcing you to scroll unnecessarily. You probably know you can drag the handles at the bottom of the column dividers, but that’s fussy when you have lots of columns.
Instead, double-click a column handle to expand or shrink the column so the longest name fits perfectly. Option-double-click a column handle to do that for all the columns showing. If you forget, Control-click a handle to see commands for Right Size This Column, Right Size All Columns Individually, and Right Size All Columns Equally.
Life is instantly better.
Stopping web browser snoops
With so many of us working at home these days, it’s worth remembering that spouses, children, and housemates may have easy physical access to your Mac. And, particularly if you share a Mac with them, you might want to consider how you protect your browsing privacy. Even if you wouldn’t be embarrassed if your spouse were to see what sites you visited, you might not want a nosy pre-teen or housemate’s snoopy friend scrolling through your browser history. Or you may just want to keep research into someone’s birthday present a secret.
All major Web browsers provide two features to help you protect your privacy from people who can access your Mac: private browsing and clearing your browsing history.
After you invoke private browsing, the browser doesn’t store the URLs of visited pages in your browsing history. This makes it so others can’t go back through to see where you’ve been. Private browsing also avoids recording your searches so they don’t pop up for future search suggestions, doesn’t store the names of downloaded files, and more—the specifics vary a little by browser. In short, if you ever anticipate visiting a website that you wouldn’t want someone else with access to your Mac to know you had visited or don’t want to be embarrassed by a search suggestion when someone is peering over your shoulder, use private browsing.
What if you forget, or realize only after you’re done that your browsing history might reveal something you’d prefer stayed private? In that case, you’ll want to clear your browsing history, a feature that all browsers provide.
You should keep two important facts in mind when using these features:
Invoke Private Browsing
- Both of these features are focused on reducing privacy worries related to someone accessing your Mac. They do not, for the most part, keep your activities private from your ISP, the organizations whose websites you access, or advertisers (through ad trackers).
- Neither of these features is meant to protect state secrets, sensitive journalistic research, or important business plans. If you’re interested in that level of security, contact us for personalized advice about what apps and devices to use.
The hardest part of invoking private browsing is merely remembering to do so. In Safari, Firefox, and Brave, simply choose File > New Private Window to get a new browser window with private browsing enabled. Slightly different are Google Chrome, where you choose File > New Incognito Window, and Microsoft Edge, where the command is File > New InPrivate Window.
In all cases, the browser alerts you that you’ve enabled private browsing, are in a private window, or have gone incognito. Safari is the most subtle (top left, below), whereas Firefox (bottom left, below), and Chrome (right, below) make it painfully obvious and provide links to additional information about precisely what is protected and what’s not.
Additional tabs you create in that private browsing window are also private, so you don’t have to keep making new windows as you browse, although there’s no problem with opening multiple private windows at once. The main annoyance of using private browsing is that websites won’t recognize you or know you’re logged in.
To leave private browsing, simply close that window.
Clear Browsing History
How you clear browsing history varies by browser. Although they all let you choose how far back to go, only some give you choices about what type of data to clear.
- Safari: In Safari, choose History > Clear History. A pop-up menu lets you clear your history from the last hour, today, today and yesterday, or all time. Happily, Safari also clears your history from other devices signed into your iCloud account.
- Firefox: In Firefox, choose History > Clear Recent History and select the information to remove. You can clear data from the last hour, two hours, four hours, within the last day, or everything.
- Google Chrome: With Chrome, choose Chrome > Clear Browsing Data. You can switch between two modes: Basic and Advanced, the latter of which gives you more control over exactly what you’re removing. Chrome provides the most flexible time periods from which to remove data: the last hour, the last 24 hours, the last 7 days, the 4 weeks, or all time.
The history clearing interfaces in Brave and Microsoft Edge are similar to Chrome since those browsers are based on the same underpinnings. However, both add an On Exit mode that removes the specified types of data every time you quit. Firefox also offers the option to clear cookies and site data every time you quit, but remember that doing so will sign you out of all websites.
In the end, don’t get too caught up in a Spy vs. Spy scenario with your browsing history. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your birthday present research private or working to avoid an embarrassing situation with a search suggestion, but it’s better to have and build trusting relationships than to worry constantly about someone discovering what you’re doing.
Introducing Abby Carter
We are so proud to introduce to you Abby Carter, our new Administrative Assistant. Although Abby's work experience is in banking and human resources, she's a big Apple fan and deeply invested in developing personal relationships—two factors among many that impressed us. A long-time Salemite, Abby comes to MacAtoZ after several years as a stay-at-home mom.
In her new role at MacAtoZ, Abby is responsible for client contact, scheduling, and administration. If you get a call from us to schedule an appointment, it'll probably be Abby you talk with. We are thrilled to have her join the team!
macOS 10.14.6 Mojave
. macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra is acceptable until Fall 2020 when macOS 11 Big Sur is released. Earlier versions should be upgraded ASAP. 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." macOS 10.15 Catalina continues to be bug-laden. If you have already upgraded to Catalina (or if it came on a new Mac), you should update to the latest possible version, which contains bug-fixes.
Seems okay in limited testing. So far a scattering of problem reports, but nothing significant. Exception: If you use an iPhone and AppleWatch to track Health and Workout data you should not yet upgrade to iOS 14. There is a data-loss bug.
iOS 13.7 or 12.4.1 (or 12.4.2 for some models) acceptable. Any device that can run iOS 11 should be upgraded to 12.4.2. You can see your iPhone or iPad's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version.
iPadOS 13.7 or 12.4.1 (12.4.2 for some models) also acceptable.
. 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.
. 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.
- iMac: iMac10,1 (Late 2009) or newer
- Mac mini: Macmini4,1 (Mid 2010) or newer
- Mac Pro: MacPro5,1 (Mid 2010) or newer
- MacBook: MacBook6,1 (Late 2009) or newer
- MacBook Air: MacBookAir3,1 (Late 2010) or newer
- MacBook Pro: MacBookPro7,1 (Mid 2010) or newer
- 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.
These are minimum
hardware recommendations based on what is necessary to run a secure operating system (macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra).
The following are the macOS 10.14 Mojave/10.15 Catalina system requirements. If your Mac does not meet these specifications, it will need to be replaced by fall of 2020, when High Sierra will no longer be secure.
macOS 10.14 Mojave/10.15 Catalina system requirements
- MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
- MacBook Air (Mid-2012 or later)
- MacBook Pro (Mid-2012 or later)
- Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
- iMac (Late 2012 or later)
- iMac Pro (all models)
- Mac Pro (Late 2013 or newer)
macOS 10.15 Catalina was released in October 2019 and has the same system requirements as Mojave.
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 Series 4, 5, or 6 or SE highly recommended.
- All versions are secure and acceptable though Apple Watch Series 0, 1, and 2 will not run the latest version of WatchOS and therefore lacks both the speed and features of later Apple Watches.
- Apple TV 4K is recommended. Apple TV HD (4th generation) is fine as well.
- 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.
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.
We recommend using Apple's built-in whole disk encryption, FileVault. It can be turned on in System Preferences > Security & Privacy.
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
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.
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.