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.
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.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
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.
Apple did a good job rethinking some aspects of credit card use with the Apple Card, but one omission was the inability to share it with other family members. With the new Apple Card Family, once everyone has upgraded to iOS 14.6, you can add members of your Family Sharing group to your Apple Card account as either Co-Owners or Participants. Co-Owners can merge their credit lines, manage the account together, and build credit as equals. You can also invite children over 13 and young adults as Participants. For their accounts, you can set spending limits and receive real-time notifications. Participants over 18 can build their own credit, something that can be difficult for young people. To get started, go to the Wallet app on your iPhone, open the Apple Card, tap the ••• button, tap Share My Card, follow any prompts, for the person you want to share with, and select either Co-Owner or Participant.
(Featured image by Apple)
So you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccination. Congratulations, and thank you for nudging the planet closer to the herd immunity needed for life to return to normal! It’s a good idea to take a photo of your card as a backup before filing it with your other important papers, just in case. (If you lose the original, you may be able to get a new one from the site where you got the vaccine or through your state’s Immunization Information System.) However, we do want to offer a note of caution. Resist the urge to post that photo—or one of you gleefully brandishing your card—on social media. The cards include your name, date of birth, vaccine location, and other personal information that could be used to steal your identity, and any digital miscreant worth their salt is already trawling through your social media feeds for as much personal information as they can find.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
When you copy text from a Web page, PDF, or word processing document, macOS usually includes the associated formatting, so the words you paste may end up in 68-point blue italic if that was what the source text looked like. That’s often undesirable. More commonly, you want the text to take on the styling of the text where you’ve pasted it. In most Mac apps, there’s a quick trick to achieve this goal. Look on the Edit menu for the Paste and Match Style command (sometimes called Paste and Match Formatting, Paste Text Only, or Paste without Formatting) to paste the text such that it matches the style of the surrounding words in the destination. Apple’s standard keyboard shortcut for this is Command-Shift-Option-V, though some apps use Command-Shift-V. If you regularly need this capability in an app that lacks native support for it, consider using a clipboard utility app, like Keyboard Maestro, to make your own universal Paste Text Only hotkey.
(Featured image based on an original from Pixabay)
If you’re using QuickBooks Online with the service’s Mac app to manage your business’s accounting, you may have seen a message like the one below announcing that Intuit has stopped updating the QuickBooks Online app. This doesn’t affect your QuickBooks Online account, which you can and should use via a Web browser at qbo.intuit.com now. Even if the QuickBooks Online Mac app continues to work, which it likely will for some time, we recommend that you delete it and switch entirely to a Web browser. It’s not safe to use an unsupported app for financial records because Intuit won’t be fixing any security vulnerabilities going forward.
We’ve all gotten that panicked “Where are you?!?” text message at some point. Sometimes it’s an easy question to answer, but at other times, the answer is “Well, right here, wherever that is.” That’s unsatisfying, of course, but using Messages on your iPhone, you can do better. Tap the person’s name at the top of the conversation, tap the Info button, and in the screen that appears, tap Send My Current Location. Messages immediately sends a little thumbnail map showing where you are, and if the recipient taps it, they can see a larger map, get directions, or open it in Maps. It’s a brilliant little feature!
You have to feel for Apple sometimes. The company’s engineers put an astonishing amount of work into the hardware and software necessary for Face ID to recognize your face nearly instantly and unlock your iPhone or iPad. Regardless of whether you’re wearing a hat and glasses. Even in the dark. It’s one of those pieces of technology that’s so advanced that it’s indistinguishable from magic.
But the one thing that stymies Face ID every time is also the most important factor in curbing the spread of the coronavirus: the humble face mask. We’ve all been wearing masks for the past year, so if you have an iPhone X or later with Face ID, you’ve undoubtedly been annoyed by having to tap in your passcode repeatedly while masked. Early in the pandemic, Apple tweaked iOS 13 so you could enter a passcode without waiting for Face ID to fail. That was a help, but with the just-released iOS 14.5, Apple has now made the problem go away entirely, at least if you have an Apple Watch.
Here’s how it works. Once you’ve updated your Face ID–enabled iPhone to iOS 14.5 and your Apple Watch Series 3 or later to watchOS 7.4, you can enable the Unlock with Apple Watch setting. From then on, if your mask prevents Face ID from unlocking your iPhone, iOS will check to see if your watch is nearby, on your wrist, protected by a passcode, and unlocked. If so, your iPhone unlocks immediately, just as though it had scanned your face successfully. Your Apple Watch also taps your wrist to alert you and give you the option of locking the iPhone again, just in case someone has surreptitiously snagged your iPhone and is using the feature to unlock it in your presence.
To enable this feature, go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode on your iPhone, scroll down to Unlock with Apple Watch, and turn on the switch next to your Apple Watch. If you don’t have a passcode enabled for your Apple Watch, turn that on in the Watch app, in My Watch > Passcode. (While you’re on that screen, be sure to enable Unlock with iPhone too, since that prevents you from having to type the Apple Watch passcode in nearly all situations.)
That’s all there is to it—it’s brilliant! Apple undoubtedly put a great deal of thought into architecting this feature so it’s easy to use without compromising the iPhone’s security. If you haven’t yet updated to iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4, we encourage you to do so right away to take advantage of this feature. And if you don’t yet have an Apple Watch, this might be reason enough to get one.
Given their integration into the Mac’s Finder, it can be easy to forget that online file sharing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive can be accessed using a Web browser by anyone with your username and password. Obviously, you should always have strong, unique passwords, but to be safe, it’s best not to use services designed for public file sharing to store unencrypted files containing sensitive information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passport scans, privileged legal documents, financial data, and so on. Keep such data secure on your Mac—outside of any synced folders—where accessing it requires physical access to the machine.
In macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple went back to a design direction from the earliest days of Mac OS X: a translucent menu bar. Since its color changes depending on the desktop picture, many people aren’t enamored of it (left, below). Luckily, reverting to the traditional opaque menu bar is simple. Open System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and select Reduce Transparency. That will turn the menu bar gray again and make other windows and menus opaque, too (right, below). Simple gray might not be as whizzy as fancy transparency, but it’s more predictable and easier to see.
If you’ve turned on automatic App Updates in Settings > App Store on your iPhone or iPad, you might wonder how you’d know if an app was updated or what changed. To find that information, open the App Store app and tap your avatar icon in the upper-right corner. Scroll down and you’ll see an Updated Recently list. If you pull down on the screen, that will force it to refresh, and you may see a list called Upcoming Automatic Updates at the top. For any downloaded update, you can tap Open to open it. If it hasn’t yet been downloaded, you can tap Update to update it right away rather than waiting for the automatic update. Tap More to see the full release notes. Finally, here’s a hidden tip: swipe left on any app to delete it.
This is a twofer tip. You may not have known that every document window in macOS has long had a proxy icon in the title bar, next to the filename. The proxy icon is not just cosmetic. You can drag it to Mail to attach the document to a message, to a Web browser to upload it, or to any other location you can drag a document’s icon in the Finder (top screenshot, below, showing Preview in Catalina). You can also drag proxy icons from Finder windows to Open and Save dialogs to navigate to the location of the proxy icon and even pre-fill the filename when saving. Alas, in macOS 11 Big Sur, in at least the Finder and Preview, Apple chose to hide the proxy icon and the drop-down menu that lets you rename, tag, or move files using controls on the title bar (middle screenshot, below). Plus, the new title bar design tends to truncate file names. Happily, mousing over the filename expands the name and reveals both the proxy icon and the drop-down menu (bottom screenshot, below). Apple’s desire to reduce onscreen clutter makes usage more cumbersome than before, but all the functionality is still present.
For the most part, Spotlight works well. Press Command-Space or use the Search field in a Finder window, and it finds everything that matches your search term. Sometimes, however, Spotlight fails to turn up a file that you know is present, likely due to index corruption. To fix the problem, you can force Spotlight to rebuild its index. (Don’t do this unless it’s necessary since reindexing can take a long time and may impact the performance of your Mac while it’s happening.) Open System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy, and then drag your drive (or the drive on which Spotlight isn’t finding files) into the list of locations that Spotlight shouldn’t search. That deletes the old Spotlight index. Still working in the Spotlight Privacy list, select the drive and click the – button below the list. Spotlight now reindexes the contents of the drive and should find your files properly in the future.
Sadly, email is not an entirely reliable communications medium, thanks to spam filters, addressing errors, and server failures. With certain types of email, it’s worth double-checking that a message was seen. One example of that we see is with reports of phishing email, which miscreants use to try to trick you into revealing passwords, credit card info, or other sensitive information. Phishing messages can be tricky to identify—that’s their goal. If you’re forwarding a possible phishing email to us or another trusted technical contact for evaluation, remember that spam filters often catch such messages, so they may go unseen. To work around this awkwardness, send a separate message saying you’ve forwarded what you think might be a phishing message so the recipient knows to check their Junk mailbox if need be. It’s helpful if you can include the Subject line of the suspect message.
Since the earliest days of the iPhone, Apple’s Safari and Mail have been the default Web and email apps for iOS and, later, iPadOS. There was no way to choose alternatives that would be used whenever an app wanted to open a Web page or create an email message. That has now changed with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. To switch to a different Web browser (such as Brave, DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Opera Touch) or a different email app (such as Boomerang, Chuck, Hey, Gmail, Outlook, Polymail, or Spark), follow these directions. In Settings, tap the name of the browser or email app you want to set as the default. Then tap Default Browser App or Default Mail App and select the desired app.
For those who cook, the Apple Watch provides a helpful Timer app that ensures we don’t forget whatever’s in the oven until it’s burnt to a crisp. Setting the timer is easy from the app’s interface, but even easier is using Siri: just hold the Digital Crown and say, “Set a timer for 8 minutes.” When the timer goes off, the watch makes a sound or vibrates and presents you with Stop and Repeat buttons. But often, when a timer goes off, you’re wearing oven mitts or moving quickly, making it hard to look at the watch and tap the Stop button. There’s a no-look alternative you may not have known about—just press the Digital Crown once (if the display is active) or twice (if the display is dimmed) to stop the timer.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
Remember when we had to keep magnets away from floppy disks to avoid scrambling them? Modern storage is no longer vulnerable, but magnets and electromagnetic fields from consumer electronics can interfere with medical devices, like implanted pacemakers and defibrillators. Although iPhone 12 models contain more magnets than prior models, Apple says they’re not expected to pose a greater risk of magnetic interference. However, after a study found that one pacemaker could be deactivated by holding an iPhone 12 near it, Apple issued a support document recommending that you keep your iPhone 12 and MagSafe accessories more than 6 inches (15 cm) away from your medical device or more than 12 inches (30 cm) away while wirelessly charging. Better safe than sorry—if you have a pacemaker, don’t put your iPhone or any other consumer electronics in a breast pocket.
With iCloud Drive, Apple provides an Optimize Mac Storage checkbox that, when checked, stores the full contents of iCloud Drive on the Mac only if there’s enough space. However, you may wish to recover local storage space without selecting that option—luckily, that’s easy to do. Open iCloud Drive in the Finder, Control-click a file, and choose Remove Download. The file remains in iCloud Drive, and if you need it locally, you can click the cloud icon next to its name to download it. If you’re not sure which files in the iCloud Drive window occupy the most space, choose View > As List, and then click the Size column so the largest files sort to the top (click again if they’re sorting to the bottom).
In iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, Apple added two new status indicators to the right side of the status bar at the top of the screen. They’re designed to give you feedback about what an app is doing. An orange dot indicates that an app is using the microphone, and a green dot means that an app is using the camera (and possibly the microphone as well). They’re subtle and shouldn’t be distracting, but if you ever notice them when you don’t think the camera or microphone should be in use, look for apps that might be using them in the background.