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Use Reduce Transparency for a Consistently Colored macOS Interface

For years now, Apple has made transparency a part of the macOS interface, which has the effect of blending the menu bar into the background and making menus and some windows take on the background hue, as you can see on the left side of the illustration below. For many people, transparency blurs the interface, making it harder to differentiate interface elements from the wallpaper. It also causes problems for screenshots meant for publication because the images end up with unrepresentative color levels. To prevent that from happening, open System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and select Reduce Transparency. It can be a significant difference, as you can see on the right side of the illustration below.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Change Your Pointer Color in macOS 12 Monterey

Some people find it hard to find the mouse pointer at times, particularly on a large screen or when working in Dark Mode or in apps with dark interfaces. You’ve long been able to increase the size of the pointer generally and also zoom it temporarily by shaking it, but in macOS 12 Monterey, Apple now lets you change the color of the pointer. That could be a boon to those who have trouble seeing it otherwise. Go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display > Pointer, click the Pointer Fill Color box, and choose a different color in the color picker. You can also choose a different Pointer Outline Color if that’s helpful. After customizing it, if you decide you prefer the old black-and-white version, click the Reset button.

(Featured image by iStock.com/tahir_duran)

Set Custom Text Sizes on a Per-App Basis in iOS 15

In previous versions of iOS, you could change the systemwide text size to make all apps—at least those that support Dynamic Type—display text at larger or smaller sizes. (Most people who use this feature want the text larger so it’s easier to read with aging eyes.) In iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, however, Apple lets you adjust the text size on a per-app basis, so you can increase it only for those apps where it really makes a difference for you. First, make sure Text Size is showing in Control Center by going to Settings > Control Center, and if it’s not in Included Controls, tap the green + button for it under More Controls. Then, while in an app where you want bigger text, invoke Control Center, tap the Text Size button, move the vertical slider to the desired setting, and then tap the App Only button so the setting affects only that app, not all apps.

(Featured image by iStock.com/SandraMatic)

Not a Fan of Big Sur’s Translucent Menu Bar? Here’s How to Disable It

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.

(Featured image by aung nyi on Unsplash)

New Back Tap Feature in iOS 14 Provides Two Customizable Shortcuts

We all have things we do regularly on our iPhones, whether it’s checking the weather, searching Google, or invoking the magnifier. Apple has long provided ways of making your most common actions easier to access. You might put an app on your Dock, open Control Center, or take advantage of the triple-press Accessibility shortcut. With iOS 14, Apple has opened up a new and customizable way of triggering actions: Back Tap.

With a double or triple tap on the back of any iPhone 8 or newer running iOS 14, you can invoke any one of a variety of actions, including custom Shortcuts. Sorry, Back Tap isn’t available in iPadOS 14.

Enabling Back Tap is easy, although you might not stumble upon it on your own. That’s because it’s technically an accessibility feature for those who have trouble interacting with the iPhone physically. But just as curb cuts help both those in wheelchairs and stroller-pushing parents, the Back Tap feature is a boon for everyone.

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap (it’s way down at the bottom), where you can attach actions to both double tap and a triple tap.

Apple provides a broad set of actions, but most of them are focused on helping people who can’t use other iPhone gestures. So yes, you could make a double tap open Spotlight for searching, but unless that’s somehow a lot easier than swiping down on the Home screen, it’s not worth one of your two triggers. Actions fall into four categories:

  • System: Most of the System choices mimic easy Home screen gestures or button presses. Most interesting are Mute, which toggles the ringer volume without forcing you to press the Volume Down button repeatedly, and Screenshot, which takes a picture of your screen without making you press two buttons at once.
  • Accessibility: For those who need these Accessibility options, having them easily accessible via Back Tap will be welcome. The most compelling actions for the general public are Magnifier, Speak Screen, and Voice Control. (Voice Control provides much more capable dictation than Siri.)
  • Scroll Gestures: These options scroll a vertically oriented page or screen. Sadly, they don’t work for horizontally driven page flipping in book reading apps like Libby.
  • Shortcuts: Here’s where Back Tap becomes ultimately useful, at least if you can find or build the necessary shortcuts. Anything Shortcuts can do, you can invoke with a double or triple tap.

Wait, what’s Shortcuts? It’s an automation app that Apple includes with every iPhone. With it, you can chain together multiple actions derived from iOS capabilities or provided by your apps to create custom shortcuts. Other systems call similar collections of commands macros or automations or workflows.

Explaining how to build your own shortcuts is a topic for another day, but you can also download sample shortcuts from Apple’s gallery, both to see how it’s done and to use them. For instance, if you tap the Gallery button in Shortcuts ➊, tap Starter Shortcuts ➋, tap Take a Break ➌, and tap Add Shortcut ➍, you’ll copy the Take a Break shortcut to My Shortcuts. Then you can assign a double tap in Back Tap to invoke Take a Break, which sets an alarm for a specified number of minutes and turns on Do Not Disturb until the alarm goes off.

If you want to learn more about Shortcuts right away, check out Take Control of Shortcuts, a 122-page ebook by Rosemary Orchard.

Give it a try! Back Tap might turn out to be the iOS 14 feature you use more frequently than any other.

(Featured image by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels)


Social Media: One of the most useful features of iOS 14 is Back Tap, which lets you invoke custom actions with a double or triple tap on the back of your iPhone. Learn more at: