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In cybercriminal circles, ransomware is all the rage. Once it has infected a computer, it encrypts all the files and then presents a ransom demand—pay up to get the decryption software necessary to recover the data.
Ransomware has been in the news all year, with the Colonial Pipeline attack in particular spending weeks in the headlines. Attacks rose 485% in 2020 and show no signs of abating. The amounts demanded by the attackers are increasing, too, with PC manufacturer Acer and Apple supplier Quanta both hit with $50 million demands. Worse, some ransomware attackers are adding an extortion component where they threaten to reveal confidential data if the victim doesn’t pay. It’s scary, we know.
First, the good news. Although there are several examples of ransomware that target the Mac, none of them have been particularly well done or (as far as we know) successful. Right now, the chances of Macs falling prey to ransomware are very low, and there’s no reason to panic.
However, complacency is dangerous. There’s a trend toward “ransomware as a service” (RaaS). The RaaS operators maintain the ransomware malware, offer a payment portal for victims, and provide “customer service” for victims who don’t know how to pay with Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Affiliates spread the ransomware and split the revenues with the operators. It’s a tidy little cybercriminal enterprise, and separating the malware development and network penetration tasks has made it significantly easier for more criminals to leverage ransomware. It’s only a matter of time before they turn their attention to Macs.
For the most part, protecting your Macs from ransomware is no different than protecting against any number of other security problems. Follow this core advice:
- Keep Macs and apps up to date: Always install macOS and security updates, and keep other apps up to date. With every update, Apple addresses numerous security vulnerabilities, fixing the vast majority of them before attackers can exploit them with malware. Every so often, however, Apple’s security notes include this sentence: “Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.” That means there may be malware that targets that vulnerability; install such updates immediately!
- Use strong passwords with a password manager: You’ve heard it from us before, and you’ll hear it again, but it’s essential that everyone in your organization use strong, unique passwords through a password manager like 1Password, LastPass, or even Apple’s iCloud Keychain. Just one weak password could allow attackers to infiltrate a computer or server and install ransomware.
- Be suspicious of links and attachments: Ensure that everyone in your organization is careful about opening attachments or clicking links in email messages from unknown people or that seem off in some way. Phishing attacks are one of the primary ways of distributing malware. (If your group needs training in phishing awareness, contact us.)
- Never download pirated software! Even aside from the fact that it’s ethically problematic, the most recent piece of Mac ransomware—ThiefQuest—was initially found in a malicious installer purporting to be for the LittleSnitch network security utility (ironic, eh?). Get apps only from the developers’ official sites or the Mac App Store.
- Make frequent backups: Backups are essential so, even if you do fall prey to ransomware, you can restore data from before the infection point. The caveat is that some of your backups must be isolated from the Macs in question—some ransomware intentionally tries to encrypt or delete connected backups.
- Monitor for ransomware: Although ransomware usually tries to stay below the radar while it’s encrypting files, the free RansomWhere utility can identify processes that quickly create encrypted files. It will likely incorrectly flag some legitimate behavior too (like in the screenshot below), but it’s still a helpful tool.
- Have anti-malware software: For the most part, if you’re careful about following the advice above, you’ll be fine. But it’s a good idea to have a current anti-malware app around and run it occasionally—if you don’t already have one, try the free version of Malwarebytes. You can also purchase a subscription to have the scans run and malware removed automatically. If you—or your users—aren’t good about the basic precautions, you might want to run anti-malware software all the time or set up broader network protections.
- Have a disaster management plan: Every business should think about how it would react to a fire, flood, earthquake, or other disaster. When building a disaster management plan, be sure to include ransomware. How would you shut down infected systems, rebuild them from scratch, and restore uninfected files?
Setting up a backup strategy that protects against ransomware requires a little more thought. As noted, ransomware often tries to render backups useless in one way or another. You need to have versioned backups that allow you to restore from before the ransomware infection, and those backups need to be isolated from the computers and network being backed up. Techniques that help include:
- Isolate backup drives: Rotate multiple Time Machine drives, with at least one that’s always disconnected. However, this strategy assumes you’ll detect a ransomware infection before you’ve rotated all the drives. Ransomware could lie undetected for weeks or months before activating. Manually run current anti-malware software before connecting any backup drive.
- Use Internet backup: Set up an Internet backup system that will maintain versions of backed-up files, such as Backblaze with its Extended Version History feature. Retrospect 18 also supports object locking on cloud storage systems, which provides immutable storage. It ensures that no one—even someone who acquires root credentials—can delete the backups during the retention period.
- Consider tape backups: Long ago, tape backups were the go-to solution for network backups, but as the price-per-gigabyte of hard drives dropped precipitously and Internet backups became feasible, tape has largely fallen by the wayside. But tape backups are still an option. They can hold a lot of data and are easily kept offline in a separate location. Plus, some tape drives can even operate in a write-once, read-many (WORM) mode that guarantees data can’t be erased or overwritten. Tape requires more human interaction than other backup methods, but it’s still a cost-effective way to protect hundreds of terabytes of data against ransomware.
Again, there’s no reason to panic about ransomware, but if it could significantly damage your business, you should take steps to reduce the chance of getting hit and ensure that you could restore your data if your computers were to get infected. There is no single approach that’s ideal for everyone, but we can help you think about what’s involved and develop a strategy that balances protection, cost, and effort.
(Featured image by iStock.com/chainatp)
Social Media: The scourge of ransomware isn’t yet common on the Mac, but it makes sense to prepare for the possibility—before your organization is hit with a ransom demand. Read on for our advice on how to protect your systems:
Along with a new version of Safari in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Apple has released Safari 15 for macOS 11 Big Sur and macOS 10.15 Catalina. Why do this before macOS 12 Monterey ships? Some of the browser’s new capabilities—notably the Tab Groups feature—integrate it more deeply into your Apple device experience by syncing across devices. So, assuming you have Safari 15 on at least some of your devices, what’s new, and is it any good?
New Tab Bar Interface
For Safari 15, Apple tried to minimize the tab bar interface to occupy less screen real estate and stand out less from the content of Web pages by co-opting the color of each page. Early betas were met with a litany of complaints from testers, and Apple pulled back in the eventual releases, offering settings that let you retain the old interface. How that plays out varies between the iPhone, iPad, and Mac:
- iPhone: Apple combined the address bar and tab bar into a single set of controls at the bottom of the screen, where they’re easier to reach with your thumb while working one-handed and where you can swipe left and right to switch tabs. Plus, the status bar area at the top of the screen takes on the color from the current site, which isn’t necessarily a visual win. This is a huge change from the controls appearing at the top, so if you don’t like it, go to Settings > Safari and switch from Tab Bar (below left) to Single Tab (below right). Turn off Allow Website Tinting (also below right) if you don’t like the colorizing.
- iPad: Displays on the iPad are relatively small, so saving some vertical space with the new Compact Tab Bar could be helpful. However, since the tab bar automatically minimizes when you scroll down a page, reducing its size when it’s visible isn’t as much of a win as it might seem. And the colorized tab bar can be shockingly bright. In Settings > Safari, you can choose between Compact Tab Bar (below top) and Separate Tab Bar (below bottom); either way, consider disabling Show Color in Tab Bar.
- Mac: Laptop screens aren’t huge, and Safari doesn’t minimize its tab bar when you scroll, as it does on the iPhone and iPad, so saving some vertical space might be welcome on a smaller screen. But the way the Compact layout embeds the address field inside a tab and reduces the number of buttons you can see may perturb you (below top). Once again, the colorized tab bar can be glaring. To revert to something closer to the old look, in Safari > Preferences > Tabs, select Separate for the tab layout (below bottom), and disable Show Color in Tab Bar to keep the controls gray regardless of the site color.
For many searches, it’s easier to speak than type, and Apple has made doing that even faster with Voice Search on the iPhone and iPad. Tap the current tab to display the address field, tap the microphone button, and speak instead of typing. As soon as you stop, Safari performs the search. You can even navigate directly to a site by speaking its URL, like “apple dot com.” Sadly, Apple didn’t extend this feature to the Mac version of Safari 15.
In iOS 14 and earlier, Safari used a card stack metaphor for its tab switcher (below left), which could make it hard to see what each tab contained. In Safari in iOS 15, Apple took a cue from the iPad and Mac versions of the app and moved to a grid interface for the tab switcher (below right). You can drag the tab thumbnails around to organize them and remove them by tapping an X button (weirdly located in the upper-right corner) or swiping them left off-screen. You can also bring up the option to close all open tabs by pressing and holding Done at the lower right corner of the screen.
If you struggle under the cognitive load of dozens of unrelated tabs, the new Tab Groups feature might help. With it, you can collect tabs into as many groups as you like and switch among them. You work with tab groups in either the tab switcher interface (iPhone and iPad with the Separate Tab Bar) or the sidebar (Mac and iPad with the Compact Tab Bar).
To open the tab switcher on the iPhone, tap the tab button in the lower-right corner of the screen; on the iPad, tap the different-looking tab button in the upper-right corner. Once you have the tab switcher open, tap X Tabs to reveal the Tab Groups menu. To show the sidebar on either the iPad or the Mac, tap or click the sidebar button in the upper-left corner of the tab bar.
Once you have the Tab Groups menu or sidebar showing:
- To create a new tab group on the iPhone’s or iPad’s Tab Groups menu, tap New Empty Tab Group, name it, and tap Save. In the sidebar on a Mac or iPad, use the New Tab Group button at the top (or choose File > New Empty Tab Group on the Mac). You can also use New Tab Group from X Tabs to create a tab group from currently open tabs.
- To switch to a different tab group, tap it in the Tab Groups menu on an iPhone or iPad, or access it from the sidebar on a Mac or iPad.
- To delete a tab group, swipe left on it in the Tab Groups menu or sidebar to reveal a delete icon on an iPhone or iPad; on the Mac, Control-click it and choose Delete.
Shared with You
Ever gone spelunking through Messages to find a link someone sent you? Safari 15’s new Shared with You feature should help. It automatically collects all Web pages you receive in Messages into a new Shared with You section of the Safari start page. On the iPad and Mac, there’s also a Shared with You item in the sidebar.
Customizable Start Page
Speaking of the start page, if you want to customize which headings appear and in what order, you can now do that on the iPhone and iPad. (Choosing which headings appear has long been possible on the Mac by clicking the little settings button in the lower-right corner, but reordering isn’t possible there.)
Create a new tab to view the start page, scroll to the bottom, and tap Edit. Then disable any headings you don’t want to see and drag the remaining ones into your desired order. You can also choose among several Apple-provided background images and have your start page settings sync to your other devices.
Two final new features may be welcome but probably won’t rock your world:
- Pull to refresh: If you need to reload a Web page on the iPhone or iPad, either you can tap the reload button in the address field if it’s visible with your tab bar settings, or you can now just pull down with your finger from the top of a page.
- HTTPS upgrade: If you visit a website that supports encrypted HTTPS but is also loading insecure content over unencrypted HTTP, Safari will now ensure that you connect to it over HTTPS so your entire connection is secure.
There you have it! Check out the new features in Safari 15 and let them improve your browsing experience.
For a closer look at this and other features coming to Monterey, check out “Intro to macOS Monterey” and all our classes at mymacmentor.com!
(Featured image based on an original by iStock.com/Evgenii Mitroshin)
It’s tempting to think that most external storage devices—whether simple hard drives or more complicated network-attached storage (NAS) units—are relatively similar because they all do roughly the same thing. However, a recent problem with older Western Digital My Book Live NAS devices highlighted that there can be large differences. In that case, hackers figured out how to cause a factory reset that wiped the entire drive of all files. (If you have one, note that Western Digital recommends disconnecting it from the Internet immediately.) Two tips: Although no one could have anticipated this particular problem, ask us before buying external storage because we may be able to recommend known good products or warn you away from sketchy manufacturers. * See our recommended storage and backup drives on our Products page. Also, if you store unique data on an external drive, you must back up that drive just like your Mac’s internal drive or risk losing everything, like these My Book Live owners did. Backup, backup, backup! Back up your Mac AND your external storage drives to the cloud with our recommended service, Backblaze.
(Featured image by Western Digital)
Many security breaches—even high-profile ones—stem from simple oversight. There’s one spot in macOS that has long been particularly susceptible to such lapse: the Sharing pane of System Preferences. In it, you can enable a wide variety of sharing services, some of which could allow another user to access your Mac remotely. They all let you limit access to particular users, but passwords can be stolen, accounts can be compromised, and server software can have bugs. For safety’s sake, if you’re not actively using a sharing service, turn it off. The most important ones to disable when not in use are Screen Sharing, File Sharing, Remote Login, Remote Management, and Remote Apple Events. We also caution against leaving Printer Sharing and Internet Sharing on unnecessarily.
If you’d like a review of your computer’s security, book an appointment with us at www.mymacmentor.com/!
September is traditionally when new iPhones are ripe for the picking, and this year’s crop is no exception. At its California Streaming event on September 14th, Apple unveiled four iPhone 13 models. Apple also announced the expected Apple Watch Series 7, but entirely unanticipated were an upgrade to the iPad and a redesigned iPad mini.
Left to the fine print in Apple’s press releases was the fact that iOS 15, iPadOS 16, and watchOS 8 will become available for download on September 20th. As we’ve said before, you should wait at least a week or two before installing them on essential devices, just in case some unpleasant bug manifests itself. Regardless of when you upgrade, make a backup right beforehand, just in case something goes wrong and you need to erase and restore.
Let’s look at each of the new products.
iPhone 13 Models Evolve from Their iPhone 12 Equivalents
Some new iPhones are revolutionary, others are evolutionary. The iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max fall into the latter category, improving on their iPhone 12 equivalents in numerous ways while maintaining the same industrial design (albeit with a smaller front notch) and core capabilities. There’s no shame in that, and these are without a doubt the best iPhones Apple has ever made. So what’s new?
Most of Apple’s attention went into improving the cameras and photo- and video-related functionality. The rear-facing dual-camera systems in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have larger pixels and the sensor-shift optical image stabilization that was previously available only in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, providing better images in low-light photos and videos. The triple-camera systems in the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max receive new sensors and lenses that also improve low-light performance and enable 3x zoom (up from 2x and 2.5x in the iPhone 12 equivalents). The new ultra-wide camera in the Pro models also significantly improves macro photography, capturing tiny subjects with a minimum focus distance of 2 centimeters.
All the iPhone 13 models offer three new and improved computational photography features: Photographic Styles, Smart HDR 4, and Cinematic mode. With Photographic Styles, the camera system automatically applies your photographic preferences (a bit like custom filters) to photos in real-time. Smart HDR 4 provides improved color, contrast, and lighting for each subject in group photos.
Cinematic mode brings to iPhone videos a cinematic technique called rack focus that emphasizes people or objects in a shot by focusing on them while blurring the rest of the scene. When enabled, Cinematic mode makes focus changes automatically during shots, for example in response to a person looking in a different direction or someone walking into the scene. You can also manually change the focus during or after capture.
Beyond the cameras, Apple put effort into several other important iPhone subsystems:
- A15 Bionic: Apple says the new A15 Bionic chip is the fastest smartphone chip ever, though it never said how much faster it is than last year’s A14 Bionic. Nevertheless, the A15 Bionic provides stellar performance that enables the near-magical computational photography features like Cinematic mode.
- Improved displays: The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have a brighter Super Retina XDR display with a higher contrast ratio for true blacks, all while being more power-efficient. The display in the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max is brighter yet and supports Apple’s ProMotion technology that dynamically changes the screen refresh rate as needed from 10 Hz to 120 Hz, either preserving battery life or offering smooth video for games and movies.
- Longer battery life: Apple improved battery life with more power-efficient components, larger batteries, and technologies like ProMotion and Smart Data mode (which switches to LTE when 5G isn’t needed). The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 Pro offer 1.5 hours more battery life than their predecessors, while the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max provide 2.5 hours more than theirs.
- 5G in more countries: The iPhone 13 models support more 5G bands for broader coverage and faster performance. Apple says that 5G support on the iPhone 13 will include 200 carriers in 60 countries and regions by the end of the year.
All four iPhone 13 models now start at 128 GB of storage, and the Pro models offer a new 1 TB tier for those shooting a lot of video. Here are the 128 GB prices; add $100 for 256 GB, $300 for 512 GB, and $500 for 1 TB:
- iPhone 13 mini: $699
- iPhone 13: $799
- iPhone 13 Pro: $999
- iPhone 13 Pro Max: $1099
You can pre-order starting at 5 AM Pacific on September 17th, with delivery and in-store availability on September 24th. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini come in five colors: pink, blue, midnight, starlight, and (PRODUCT)RED. In contrast, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max come in graphite, gold, silver, and sierra blue. The second-generation iPhone SE ($399), iPhone 11 ($499), and iPhone 12 ($599) remain for sale as well.
Generally speaking, we wouldn’t recommend upgrading from an iPhone 12 model unless you’re switching to the iPhone 13 mini to get a smaller form factor or to one of the Pro models for the ultimate camera capabilities. It’s easier to recommend an upgrade from an iPhone 11 model or earlier, given the easier-to-hold squared-off industrial design and innovations like 5G and MagSafe that debuted with the iPhone 12 and continue in the iPhone 13.
Apple Watch Series 7 Is Bigger, Brighter, and Incrementally Better
Much as with the iPhone 13, the new Apple Watch Series 7 doesn’t offer any new sensors or surprising new features. Instead, it improves on last year’s Series 6 in subtle yet welcome ways. Most notably, it boasts a larger display with nearly 20% more screen area than the Series 6 and over 50% more than the Series 3.
The larger screen can display about 50% more text than on the Series 6, making it easier to read text messages or emails with less scrolling. Apple also took advantage of the extra real-estate to add a full keyboard in watchOS 8, enabling you to enter text by either tapping or sliding your finger from letter to letter using Apple’s QuickPath technology.
A couple of new watch faces take advantage of the larger display. The dynamic Contour face animates throughout the day, pushing the dial to the edge of the display and emphasizing the current hour. Plus, a new Modular Duo face leverages the extra space to provide a pair of large, data-rich complications.
A physical consequence of the larger display is that the Series 7 comes in 41 mm and 45 mm sizes, replacing the 40 mm and 44 mm Series 6 models. However, existing bands remain compatible. The front crystal has a stronger and more robust geometry that’s over 50% thicker than on the Series 6, making it more crack-resistant. It’s also now IP6X dust-resistant for dirty environments, and it retains its WR50 water-resistance rating for swimming (but not scuba diving).
When your wrist is down, the Series 7’s always-on display is 70% brighter indoors, making it easier to check the time discreetly. Despite this, it continues to provide 18-hour battery life, and it charges 33% faster than the Series 6, thanks to a new charging architecture and Magnetic Fast Charger USB-C Cable. Charging for 45 minutes will get you an 80% charge, and 8 minutes of juicing up before bed is enough for 8 hours of sleep tracking.
There are a few new fitness-related features, such as automatic detection of Outdoor Cycle workouts and better fall detection algorithms during workouts—including cycling—but most of them come with watchOS 8 and will work on older Apple Watch models as well.
Pricing for the Apple Watch Series 7 will start at $399, although it’s easy to spend a lot more on different case materials, bands, and Hermès models. The aluminum models will come in five colors: midnight, starlight, green, a new blue, and (PRODUCT)RED; the stainless steel and Apple Watch Edition models continue in existing colors. There will also be new band colors. Apple hasn’t provided a date when you can order a Series 7, saying only “later this fall.”
We can’t recommend an upgrade from the Apple Watch Series 6 or Series 5, but if you’re limping along with an older watch whose battery is getting weak, the Series 7 will be a compelling upgrade.
Upgraded iPad Gets Better Camera, True Tone, and More Storage
The base-model iPad has long been Apple’s best value, and with the changes the company brought to the ninth-generation iPad, it’s even more so. Apple improved the ninth-generation iPad in four ways:
- New front-facing FaceTime HD camera: This is the big one. Apple replaced the anemic 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime HD camera with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera that supports the Center Stage technology previously available only on the iPad Pro. Center Stage zooms and pans to keep whoever is on camera centered and in focus. And yes, the front-facing camera is now nominally better than the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, which is a little weird.
- A13 Bionic chip: It’s not the latest and greatest, but the A13 Bionic is a generation newer than the previous iPad’s A12 Bionic, and it should provide plenty of performance.
- True Tone display: Another feature swiped from the iPad Pro, True Tone automatically adjusts the display’s color temperature based on the ambient lighting conditions, making the screen easier to read in different environments.
- Double the storage: Previously, the iPad started at 32 GB of storage, which wasn’t enough to do much. Apple has now doubled the base storage level to 64 GB and the next level to 256 GB.
Despite these improvements, the price for the basic iPad remains $329 ($299 for education) in silver and space gray. It jumps to $479 for 256 GB of storage, and another $130 gives you 4G LTE connectivity at either storage level. Overall, the ninth-generation iPad is a better value than ever, and if you’re buying an iPad for anyone who doesn’t need lots of power, it’s a no-brainer. It’s available now.
Redesigned iPad mini Mimics iPad Air
Even more surprising than the upgraded iPad was the redesigned sixth-generation iPad mini. It resembles nothing so much as a smaller iPad Air, with the same squared-off case design, an edge-to-edge 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, Touch ID in the top button, and USB-C charging and connectivity. It’s powered by the same new A15 Bionic chip that’s in the iPhone 13 Pro.
Apple also significantly improved the iPad mini’s cameras, outfitting it with a pair of 12-megapixel cameras. The rear-facing camera can now shoot video in 4K resolution, and the front-facing camera supports Center Stage. For ultimate portable connectivity, you can now get the iPad mini with optional 5G wireless connectivity.
The main place where the sixth-generation iPad mini falls behind the iPad Air is in accessories. It does support the second-generation Apple Pencil, which sticks magnetically to the side, but it lacks the Smart Connector that enables Apple’s well-regarded keyboards. You can still use Bluetooth keyboards, but they don’t provide as integrated an experience.
Storage options remain the same, but Apple dropped the price by $30, making it $499 for a 64 GB configuration and $649 for 256 GB. Add $150 to either configuration for 5G wireless connectivity. The iPad mini comes in space gray, pink, purple, and starlight, and it’s available now.
Realistically, you’re buying an iPad mini only if you value its diminutive size over all else. It may not be worth upgrading from a fifth-generation iPad mini unless it no longer meets your needs in some way, but anyone who wants full iPad power in a small form factor will appreciate the redesigned sixth-generation iPad mini.
(Featured image by Apple)
Social Media: At its California Streaming event, Apple introduced the new iPhone 13 lineup, the Apple Watch Series 7, a redesigned iPad mini, and an upgraded iPad. Read on for details and our upgrade recommendations:
September is here, which means that Apple will soon start releasing major upgrades for all its operating systems. Apple previewed these releases at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and many people have been testing the public betas since. Once Apple judges macOS 12 Monterey, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 to be ready for prime time, the question arises—when should you install them?
(Note that we say when and not if. There’s no harm in delaying a major operating system upgrade until Apple has sanded off rough edges that slipped through testing. But waiting too long puts you at risk from security vulnerabilities, increases compatibility annoyances, and prevents you from taking advantage of new features. Plus, when you buy a new Mac, iPhone, or iPad after these operating systems have shipped, you’ll get the latest version, which could pose problems for your existing apps. It’s best to be prepared if you have to replace a device unexpectedly.)
In the past, we’ve offered separate takes on when you should install each of Apple’s operating systems, but many of this year’s new features are spread across multiple operating systems. For instance, the marquee feature of this season’s releases is SharePlay, which promises to let users watch videos, listen to audio, share screens, and more, all while on a FaceTime call that could involve an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. SharePlay sounds technically impressive—we’ll let you decide if it interests you—but it’s not a reason to upgrade right away. Apple has already announced that SharePlay is delayed and won’t ship until later in the year.
So here’s the general upgrade order that we suggest, starting with the iPad. Remember, always make a backup* before upgrading a Mac, iPhone, or iPad so you can revert right away if necessary.
Upgrade your iPad to iPadOS 15 first. For the most part, iPadOS is a superset of iOS, so why should you upgrade your iPad before your iPhone? The big reason is that Apple has again taken a swing at improving iPad multitasking, and the changes are worth investigating. People who rely heavily on iPads will likely appreciate the new multitasking features, and those for whom the iPad is less important have nothing to lose by upgrading shortly after release.
Particularly welcome is a Multitasking menu at the top center of every window that lets you create a full screen, Split View, Slide Over, and in some cases (like Mail), a center window. There’s also a shelf at the bottom of the screen that shows open windows within an app. You can create Split View spaces by dragging one app from the App Switcher onto another. Finally, a list of keyboard shortcuts appears when you press and hold the Command key on an external keyboard. At long last, discoverability comes to multitasking!
Apple migrated some iOS 14 improvements to iPadOS 15. Widgets can now appear anywhere on the Home screen, and a new larger widget size lets apps display more information. Also coming to iPadOS 15 is the App Library, which automatically organizes all your apps into categories and enables you to avoid cluttered Home screens.
If you’re a Notes user, you’ll appreciate the new Quick Note feature, which lets you create a note with a swipe up from the corner of the screen using your finger or an Apple Pencil. Quick Note can automatically pull in highlighted text or links to a website or app, and it’s easy to add more with the Apple Pencil or keyboard.
Other welcome changes include a Focus mode that reduces distractions; voice searching and tab groups in Safari; FaceTime improvements; Live Text that allows you to search for, select, copy, and translate text in photos (on iPads with an A12 Bionic chip or later); and increased city detail in Maps.
It’s usually safe to upgrade iOS fairly quickly because Apple puts significant effort into ensuring that the new iOS version is a good experience for those who buy the new iPhones that come with it. However, because iPhones are so crucial to our everyday lives, it’s probably worth delaying the upgrade to iOS 15 for a few weeks, just in case. After that, you can install it and enjoy the new features.
Although SharePlay won’t arrive on day one, FaceTime still gets welcome improvements inspired by competing videoconferencing systems. There’s finally a grid view, Portrait mode for blurring the background, different mic modes for focusing on your voice or on sound in the room, the capability to include Windows and Android users, and FaceTime Web links for scheduling and sharing calls.
Messages will collect links, images, and other content that your friends have sent you in a new Shared with You section, which you’ll also find in other Apple apps like Photos, Safari, Apple News, Music, and Podcasts. Plus, when someone sends you multiple photos in Messages, they appear as either a collage or a stack that you can swipe through. There are also new Memoji options to try if you’re into that.
Other new features are similar to those in iPadOS 15, including Focus mode, voice searches and tab groups in Safari, Live Text in Camera and Photos, and improved city detail in Maps, which also gains immersive walking instructions.
Once you upgrade your iPhone to iOS 15, go ahead and upgrade your Apple Watch to watchOS 8 right away. You may not even notice the difference since none of the changes will force changes in your existing usage patterns.
New features include Portrait mode photos on your watch face, Memories from Photos pushed to your watch, the capability to share photos via Messages and Mail, integration with HomeKit security cameras, more control over scenes and devices in the Home app, digital keys for HomeKit locks, a new Mindfulness app that replaces the Breathe app, a Pilates option in the Workout app, tracking of your sleeping respiratory rate, and a Find Devices app for locating lost devices from your wrist.
Why put tvOS ahead of macOS? The decision to upgrade to tvOS 15 is easy for most people. It’s unlikely to cause problems for your Apple TV, and the new features won’t get in the way of basic TV watching. Plus, if you have automatic updates turned on in Settings > Software Updates, it will install automatically at some point after release.
You might not want to wait for the automatic update, though. There are plenty of small but welcome improvements, such as the capability to sign in to Apple TV apps using Face ID or Touch ID on your iPhone. The playback interface has a redesigned scrubber that displays more information. The Apple TV will automatically detect nearby AirPods and show a notification to connect them, saving you a manual step. If you have AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, you can listen to Apple TV audio with dynamic head tracking. The TV app will include a “For All of You” row based on the interests of everyone in the house (via Family Sharing). Finally, you can ask a HomePod to play a particular show on the Apple TV and even use one or two HomePod mini speakers as the default audio output.
macOS 12 Monterey
The hardest upgrade decision revolves around your Mac, as always. For the most part, macOS 11 Big Sur has been relatively solid, with fewer complaints than plagued macOS 10.15 Catalina. Some beta testers believe that macOS 12 Monterey is more of a refinement upgrade without the major architectural changes that marked Big Sur and Catalina. That would suggest more stability and the possibility of an easier and earlier upgrade.
Plus, Monterey has some unique features. Most notable is Universal Control, which lets you work seamlessly between multiple Macs and your iPad, connected wirelessly or via USB. You can move the pointer from a Mac to the iPad, type into iPad apps with your Mac’s keyboard, and even drag and drop content from one Mac to another. Another welcome addition is the option to use AirPlay to display video, play audio, or present content from another Apple device to a Mac, something that has previously been possible only in the other direction. Finally, Monterey brings the Shortcuts automation app to the Mac, making it easier to automate repetitive tasks without learning AppleScript or using the aging Automator.
Apart from those features, you’ve already read about most of the changes. They include FaceTime improvements, support for Focus mode, Shared with You collections in Apple apps, tab groups (but not voice searching, sadly) in Safari, a Quick Note hot corner activation option, Live Text, and Maps enhancements.
You may find some of these features compelling, but we recommend waiting to upgrade to Monterey for at least a few months. App compatibility isn’t usually a big problem with the other operating systems, but most of us rely on specific Mac apps—sometimes older versions—to get our work done. Even once you’re confident your apps will work properly in Monterey, there may be workflow or intra-office compatibility concerns if some people upgrade and others don’t. And, of course, unanticipated bugs could crop up at professionally inconvenient times—important work takes place on Macs! So please, do not upgrade to Monterey without checking with us first. With luck, the start of the new year will have brought both the bug fixes and app updates necessary to give the green light.
(Featured image by Apple)
Social Media: Apple is gearing up to release macOS 12 Monterey, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15. We take a brief look at the features worth upgrading for and suggest when to upgrade each of your Apple devices.
It’s common to want to share files, photos, and other data between your devices—or with friends and family. When the desired person or device isn’t nearby, it’s easiest to use Messages or Mail. But what if you want to move a file between two of your Macs, from your iPhone to your Mac, or to your friend who’s across the table? For transfers within immediate proximity, Apple provides AirDrop, a quick and easy way to move data between devices.
Make Sure AirDrop Is Ready to Go
First off, AirDrop requires both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so make sure both are enabled. If you use wired Ethernet on your Mac, enable Wi-Fi as well, but put the Wi-Fi service beneath the Ethernet service in System Preferences > Network (click the down-pointing arrow under the list and choose Set Service Order).
Next, make sure other devices can discover you. On the Mac, choose Go > AirDrop and, near the bottom of the Finder window that appears, choose Everyone from the pop-up menu. (If you’re out in public and random people keep trying to send you files, which would be weird, choose Contacts Only instead.) On an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > General > AirDrop and select Everyone.
Send a File or Photo via AirDrop
Apple has integrated AirDrop into the standard sharing mechanism in macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, so sharing via AirDrop works the same as sharing via most other apps.
In the Finder on the Mac, the easiest approach may be to select AirDrop in a Finder window’s sidebar and then drag files to the icon representing the destination device (below left). You can also select one or more files and choose File > Share > AirDrop or Control-click them and choose Share > AirDrop, both of which present a dialog from which you can select the destination (below right). The right-hand dialog is also what you’ll see if you use the Share option in Photos or any other app.
On an iPhone or iPad, when you’re viewing the item you want to share, tap the Share button to bring up the Share sheet. You may be able to tap the AirDrop icon for the desired destination directly in the top row, but if it doesn’t show what you want, tap the general AirDrop icon in the second row to display the AirDrop screen with icons for all available destinations. Either way, tap the destination to send the file.
Receive Data via AirDrop
On the receiving side, AirDrop is utterly simple, particularly when transferring files between your devices, though the experience varies a little depending on the direction and file type.
- Receiving on a Mac: If you’re transferring between your own devices, you don’t need to do anything; the file will appear in the Downloads folder of the destination Mac. Files sent from other people will appear there too, but you’ll get a prompt asking you to accept or decline the file, and if you accept, an option to open it in the appropriate app.
- Receiving on an iPhone/iPad: Receiving on an iPhone or iPad is similar, with one additional step. Unless iOS/iPadOS knows where the file should go (images always import into Photos automatically, for instance), it prompts you with a list of apps that can open the file. Files you transfer between your own devices are accepted automatically; for files from other people, you must tap the Accept button first.
AirDrop has been around since Mac OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011 and has seen significant updates since then. So if you had trouble getting AirDrop to work years ago, it’s worth revisiting the feature. That said, problems can still crop up:
- If a Mac doesn’t appear as an AirDrop destination, make sure it has Wi-Fi active. Ethernet is not sufficient. Also, if the Mac’s firewall is active, check that it allows incoming connections. Open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall > Firewall Options and deselect “Block all incoming connections.”
- If an iPhone doesn’t appear as an AirDrop destination, make sure Personal Hotspot is turned off in Settings > Personal Hotspot.
- Because AirDrop relies on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, interference with either, or a separation between devices of more than 30 feet (9 meters), can cause performance and reliability to suffer.
- For best results, make sure you’re using recent Apple hardware running the latest versions of macOS, iOS, and iPadOS. Apple has improved AirDrop over the years, and it works significantly better than it did years ago. Technically, AirDrop requires a Mac introduced in 2012 (excluding the 2012 Mac Pro) or later running OS X 10.10 Yosemite or later. On the mobile device side, the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch must be running at least iOS 7.
- If you’re prompted to accept transfers between your own devices, that’s an indication that the devices aren’t logged in to the same iCloud account.
- Although AirDrop has no explicit size limit, very large files (over 500 MB) will take a long time to transfer and are more likely to fail due to network issues during the transfer.
- If you can’t find a transferred file in the destination Mac’s Downloads folder, remember that it retains its original creation and modification dates, so it might be sorting differently than you expect.
Next time you need to move data between nearby Apple devices, give AirDrop a try!
(Featured image by iStock.com/jroballo)
We constantly say, “Use a password manager!” for good reason. Password managers make it easy to generate, store, and enter strong passwords. You don’t have to decide whether or not your password is strong or weak, remember it, and type it accurately every time you log in to a website. Seriously, just get 1Password or LastPass, or you could use Apple’s iCloud Keychain.
But what about those passwords you have to enter regularly, like your Mac’s login password, your Apple ID password, and the master password for your password manager? And the passcodes for your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch? Plus, it may also be helpful to be able to remember and type passwords for a few services that require you to enter the password into an app instead of a Web browser. (Of course, you can copy and paste the password from your password manager, but that’s fussy if you have to do it frequently.)
For such passcodes and passwords, you’ll want to come up with options that are strong, memorable, and easily entered. Here’s what we recommend for most people. (If you’re a target of a nation-state or regularly deal in highly confidential government or corporate information, you’ll need an even higher level of security.)
It’s essential that your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch have a passcode that can’t easily be guessed. Once someone can get into an iPhone or iPad, they could read all your email, look at all your photos, make purchases via Apple Pay, and impersonate you in conversations with others. And yet, many people use worthless passcodes like 111111 or 123456. Don’t do that! Also, don’t worry about making a passcode that’s easy to type—with Touch ID, Face ID, and Apple Watch unlocking, you don’t have to type your passcode all that frequently.
Since we’re talking about physical objects that can’t be accessed remotely and are most likely to be compromised by someone who knows you personally, the key is to think about what six digits you can remember but that even people who know you well couldn’t guess.
For instance, you might think of using 081995 if you were born in August 1995, but your birthdate is both widely known and easily discovered. A better pattern would be the dates of the month associated with the birthdays of your best friend from high school, your favorite cousin, and your late grandmother—132408 if they were born on May 13th, July 24th, and November 8th. No one will ever guess that.
You get the idea. Think of dates associated with people or events important to you but that even close friends or family members wouldn’t necessarily know. Then combine those days, months, or years in a way that makes sense to you. You’ll end up with a strong passcode that you’ll never forget.
One last point. Given the level to which data syncs between your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, we don’t see any significant benefit in creating different passcodes for each. Come up with a secure passcode and use it on all three.
Mac Login Passwords
Much like an iPhone’s passcode, the primary vulnerability for your Mac’s login password is someone who has physical access. You don’t have to worry about remote brute force attacks (as long as you don’t have remote access enabled in System Preferences > Sharing) or password files being stolen, suggesting that the password doesn’t need to be insanely strong and equivalently hard to type.
That’s especially true for an M1-based Mac or Intel-based Mac with a T2 security chip, and even more so if you have enabled FileVault (which we recommend). But if it’s an older Intel-based Mac without a T2 chip, it’s conceivable that a thief could image the drive and use brute force attacks to find the password. A stronger password might make sense for such an older Mac.
Considering all this, we recommend coming up with a password that’s easy to type, memorable, and difficult to guess for even those who know you well. It doesn’t have to be strong enough to protect against serious cracking software unless you live in a Spy-vs.-Spy world. Consider taking a few words from a song lyric or movie quote you’ll never forget and jamming them together, such as “ettubrute” or “goestoeleven.”
If you unlock your Mac and apps using an Apple Watch or Touch ID most of the time, you can make the login password a bit stronger without the annoyance of having to type it so frequently.
Apple ID and Password Manager Passwords
When it comes to your Apple ID password, the master password for your password manager, and other passwords to online services you need to type, attacks will take place either remotely or be directed against a stolen password file. Plus, your Apple ID password and master password to your password manager literally hold the keys to your kingdom, so they must be extremely strong and resistant to automated cracking. It’s also essential that you won’t forget them and that you be able to enter them—on both a Mac keyboard and an iPhone keyboard—reasonably easily. What to do?
One possible solution is to create a long passphrase of random but easily remembered words, as suggested in the classic xkcd cartoon. Current advice suggests that a passphrase of five words—with at least 32 characters—is now necessary to resist modern cracking methods.
Passphrases are highly secure, but they can be tedious to type and may not work well for an Apple ID password. Apple requires that Apple ID passwords have upper and lowercase letters and include at least one number. But don’t make it longer than 32 characters; some have reported problems with longer passwords.
For a compromise approach, consider a password built using the following rules:
- It starts with an uppercase letter. That satisfies Apple’s requirement and means you don’t have to switch between upper and lowercase keyboards on an iPhone more than once.
- That letter and subsequent lowercase letters come from the initials of unrelated people, movie titles, the first few letters of a saying or product name, or something similar that you’ll have no trouble remembering.
- It includes several punctuation characters accessible from the iPhone’s numeric keyboard that don’t require the use of the Shift key on the Mac keyboard.
- It ends with digits developed along the lines of the passcode above—this keeps you on the iPhone’s numeric keyboard. (You could also swap the order of the punctuation and digits.)
- Overall, it has at least 13 characters, preferably more.
(As an aside, does having two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for any account where you’re creating a memorable password let you make a weaker password? Yes, in the sense that your overall security is much higher with 2FA because someone would have to hack your password and compromise the 2FA system in some way. But no, if your password is so weak that it’s trivially crackable, such that 2FA becomes the only protection. Don’t overthink it—stick with strong passwords.)
As an example, consider this possibility for a LastPass master password: Tpmbialas/.19851955. It’s not entirely random, but it’s close and doesn’t use obvious patterns that cracking software could exploit. Let’s break it down:
- Tpmbialas comes from the first letter of the words in the movie The Phantom Menace and the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms, plus the first three letters of LastPass.
- /. plays on the name of the tech news site Slashdot to be memorable, and the characters are easily typed on both the iPhone and Mac keyboards.
- 19851955 will be easily remembered by fans of the movie Back to the Future, whose characters travel in time from 1985 back to 1955.
It’s highly secure—the How Secure Is My Password? site says it would take 1 quintillion years to crack, and there’s no way that even someone who knew your taste in movies and music could guess it (as long as you don’t tell them about your pattern).
One last thing to consider: is your password fun to type? Some key combinations probably roll off your fingers, whereas others will be prone to typos. Test your proposed password on both a Mac keyboard and your iPhone. If you hate typing it, tweak the characters until it’s better.
When you’re developing your own unique passwords that you must be able to remember and type, a strategy along these lines should serve you well. Just make sure to avoid dictionary words, repeated characters, and any password under 13 characters in length, all of which make passwords easier for cracking software to guess.
(Featured image by iStock.com/peshkov)
Do you have a child heading off to college soon? As you’re undoubtedly aware from high school, a computer is essential for a college student. If you haven’t been paying close attention to Apple’s Mac lineup, you might wonder which model makes the most sense.
First, don’t buy anything without first checking with the college. Many college departments have specific requirements based on the software that students have to use in their classes. Generally, these revolve around processor type, amount of RAM, and storage space. Luckily, current Macs should meet the requirements.
Colleges often specify—and students usually prefer—laptops instead of desktop machines. Although the iMac is an excellent machine with a gorgeous screen, it’s too big and unwieldy for the transient lifestyle of the typical college student. The same is true of a Mac mini and external display. A laptop is much easier to pack during moves, and it can travel to class every day. A student who’s accustomed to taking notes on an iPad with a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that along with a desktop Mac, but most people should focus on Apple’s laptops.
In the past, it was harder to decide which model was best for a given student, but with Apple’s move to the M1 chip, which significantly outperforms the Intel processors used in previous models, the decision is easier. We see three primary scenarios:
- Most students: Buy Apple’s M1-based MacBook Air. It’s Apple’s smallest, lightest, and least expensive laptop, but thanks to its M1 processor, it has nearly identical performance to the heavier and more costly M1-based MacBook Pro. It also has the same lovely 13.3-inch Retina display. It starts at $999, and an education discount may be available.
- Slightly better specs: If cost is of little concern, the M1-based MacBook Pro offers just a bit more performance due to fans that keep its M1 chip cool. It also has a Touch Bar (which some people like, but others don’t), somewhat longer battery life, and nominally better speakers and microphones. It starts at $1299, and again, education pricing may be available.
- Windows compatibility: The only reason to buy an older Intel-based MacBook Pro— available in either 13.3-inch ($1799) and 16-inch ($2399) models—is if Windows compatibility is essential. All Intel-based Macs can run Windows with no problems, either by restarting in Apple’s Boot Camp or using virtualization software like VMware Fusion (free for students) or Parallels Desktop. (On M1-based Macs, it’s possible to run Parallels Desktop and Windows for ARM Insider Preview, but we can’t recommend that anyone rely on that combination yet.)
Regardless of which laptop you decide on, you’ll have to pick a processor, an amount of RAM, and storage capacity:
- Processor: With the M1-based MacBook Air, you have a choice between two CPUs that are identical apart from one having a 7-core GPU and the other an 8-core GPU. No one is likely to notice the difference for everyday software, but the price difference is only $50 if you’re also getting at least 512 GB of storage. (The M1-based MacBook Pro offers only the 8-core GPU chip.) For Intel-based Mac laptops, there are various options based on clock speed and number of cores. They’re all fine, but you pay for performance, so buy what fits your budget and needs.
- RAM: With the M1-based Macs, you can choose between 8 GB and 16 GB of RAM. 8 GB may be acceptable, but we recommend 16 GB. Intel-based Mac laptops start at 16 GB, which is a decent base level, and you can go up to 32 GB or 64 GB (16-inch only). Generally speaking, go beyond 16 GB only if you know you need it.
- Storage: For the M1-based Macs, 256 GB is the lowest storage level, whereas the Intel-based Macs usually start higher. Either way, you can upgrade to a maximum of 2 TB. Choose the amount of storage based on budget and anticipated usage—video takes a lot of space, as can large numbers of photos, but most other uses don’t.
To our thinking, the most obvious choice for a Mac that’s likely to last for four years of college would be the M1-based MacBook Air with the 8-core GPU, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage. Be sure to budget for AppleCare+, too; it’s almost guaranteed that some mishap will befall a student laptop, and AppleCare+ covers up to two incidents of accidental damage every year.
Still thinking about your options? Download our comprehensive Apple Product Buying Guide to answer more of your questions!
You’ll need to have some conversations with your child to find out what they think they’ll need—and be sure to double-check that against the college’s recommendations—but if you have any questions after that, don’t hesitate to contact us.
(Featured image by Apple)
Don’t you hate it when a familiar song is playing but you can’t think of what it’s called? Or worse, when you hear a new track you really like but have no one to ask what it is? Never worry about that again, thanks to your iPhone or iPad. Back in 2018, Apple bought the music identification app Shazam and has since integrated it into iOS.
You can still use Shazam, but it’s easier to ask Siri, “What’s playing?” or tap the Music Recognition button in Control Center (add it in Settings > Control Center) and then let your iPhone listen to the music for a few seconds. Siri is easiest, but the Control Center button is perfect in situations where you’d prefer to keep your question quiet.
The music recognition feature recognizes only recorded music—no high school glee club versions, sorry—and while not perfect, is often helpful. Tap the notification that appears to open the song in Apple Music.