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Frequently Asked Questions Surrounding Apple’s Expanded Protections for Children

Apple’s recent announcement that it would soon be releasing two new technologies aimed at protecting children has generated a firestorm of media coverage and questions from customers. Unfortunately, much of the media coverage has been based on misconceptions about how the technology works, abetted by uncharacteristically bungled communications from Apple. It’s not inconceivable that Apple will modify or even drop these technologies in the official release of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey, but in the meantime, we can provide answers to the common questions we’ve been hearing.

What exactly did Apple announce?

Two unrelated technologies:

  • Messages will gain features that warn children and their parents when sexually explicit photos are received or sent. Such content will be blurred, the child will be warned and given the option to avoid viewing the image, and parents may be alerted (depending on the age of the child and settings).
  • Photos uploaded by US users to iCloud Photos will be matched—using a complex, privacy-protecting method that Apple has developed—against known illegal photos considered Child Sexual Abuse Material, or CSAM. If a sufficient number of images match, they’re verified by a human reviewer at Apple to be CSAM and then reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which works with law enforcement in the US.

Does this mean Apple is scanning all my iPhone photos?

Yes and no. Messages will use machine learning to identify sexually explicit content in received and sent images. That scanning takes place entirely on the iPhone—Apple knows nothing about it, and no data is ever transmitted to or from Apple as a result. It’s much like the kind of scanning that Photos does to identify images that contain cats so you can find them with a search. So scanning is taking place with this Messages feature, but Apple isn’t doing it.

The CSAM detection feature operates only on images uploaded to iCloud Photos. (People who don’t use iCloud Photos aren’t affected by the system at all.) On the device, an algorithm called NeuralHash creates a hash and matches it against an on-device database of hashes for known illegal CSAM. (A hash is a one-way numeric representation that identifies an image—it’s much like how a person’s fingerprint identifies them but can’t be used to re-create that person.) NeuralHash knows nothing about the content of any image—it’s just trying to match one hash against another. In this case, it’s matching against existing image hashes, not scanning for a type of content, and Apple is notified only after enough image hashes match.

It’s also important to note that this is different from how companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft scan your photos now. They use machine learning to scan all uploaded photos for CSAM, and if they detect it, they’re legally required to report it to the NCMEC’s CyberTipline, which received 21.7 million CSAM reports from tech companies in 2020, over 20 million from Facebook alone. Because Apple does not scan iCloud Photos in the US like other companies scan their photo services, it made only 265 reports in 2020.

What happens if the CSAM detection feature makes a mistake?

This is called a false positive, and while vanishingly improbable, it’s not mathematically impossible. Apple tested 100,000,000 images against NeuralHash and its CSAM hash database and found 3 false positives. In another test using 500,000 adult pornography images, NeuralHash found no false positives.

Even if NeuralHash does match an image hash with one in the known CSAM hash database, nothing happens. And nothing continues to happen until NeuralHash has matched 30 images. Apple says that the chances of there being 30 false positives for the same account are 1 in 1 trillion.

I have terrible luck. What if that happens with my account?

Once at least 30 images have matched, the system enables Apple to decrypt the low-resolution previews of those images so a human can review them to see if they are CSAM. Assuming they are all false positives—remember that possession of CSAM is illegal in the US—the reviewer sends them to Apple engineers to improve the NeuralHash algorithm.

Could non-CSAM images end up in Apple’s CSAM hash database?

It’s extremely unlikely. Apple is constructing its database with NCMEC and other child-safety organizations in other countries. Apple’s database contains image hashes (not the actual images; it’s illegal for Apple to possess them) for known illegal CSAM images that exist both in the NCMEC database and at least one other similar database. So multiple international organizations would have to be subverted for such image hashes to end up in Apple’s database. Each source database will have its own hash, and Apple said it would provide ways for users and independent auditors to verify that Apple’s database wasn’t tampered with after creation.

Plus, even if a non-CSAM image hash were somehow added to Apple’s database and matched by NeuralHash, nothing would happen until there were 30 such images from the same account. And if those images weren’t CSAM, Apple’s human reviewers would do nothing other than pass the images to engineering for evaluation, which would likely enable Apple to determine how the database was tampered with.

Couldn’t a government require Apple to modify the system to spy on users?

This is where much of the criticism of Apple’s CSAM detection system originates, even though Apple says the system will be active only in the US. On the one hand, Apple has said it would resist any such requests from governments, as it did when the FBI asked Apple to create a version of iOS that would enable it to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. On the other hand, Apple has to obey local laws wherever it does business. In China, that already means that iCloud is run by a Chinese company that presumably has the right to scan iCloud Photos uploaded by Chinese users.

It’s conceivable that some country could legally require Apple to add non-CSAM images to a database, instruct its human reviewers to look for images the country finds objectionable, and report them to law enforcement in that country. But if a country could successfully require that of Apple, it could presumably force Apple to do much more, which hasn’t happened so far. Plus, the CSAM detection system identifies only known images—it’s not useful for identifying unknown images.

Is Apple heading down a slippery slope?

There’s no way to know. Apple believes this CSAM detection system protects the privacy of its users more than scanning iCloud Photos in the cloud would, as other companies do. But it’s highly unusual for a technology that runs on consumer-level devices to have the capacity to detect criminal activity.

(Featured image by iStock.com/metamorworks)


Social Media: Apple’s recently announced expanded protections for child safety have generated a firestorm of criticism and confusion. We attempt to answer some of the most common questions we’ve received.

Reopening Your Office? Now’s a Great Time to Evaluate Your IT Infrastructure

As vaccination rates climb, many businesses are starting to think about reopening their offices and bringing back employees who have been working from home for the last year. That’s a big decision that will undoubtedly vary from company to company, but we’d like to suggest a few things to consider. Please contact us early in such deliberations so we can provide guidance before problems crop up.

Full Return or Hybrid Model?

Perhaps the biggest question firms will have to answer is if they’ll require all employees to return or if some can continue to work remotely. Many organizations have discovered that physical presence isn’t as important as they thought it was. In a post-pandemic world, many employees may prefer to continue working from home if they can, at least for a while.

If you decide on a hybrid model, you’ll want to put some thought into what technology you’ll need to enable hybrid meetings, with some people connecting remotely via videoconferencing software and others gathering in person. Large screens, specially mounted cameras, and dedicated speakerphone hardware may be necessary to conduct a hybrid meeting effectively.

With some workers remaining at home, it will also be important to ensure that everyone has appropriate access to on-premises servers. Obviously, that has been a problem for the last year as well, but it may be tempting to revert to old approaches upon reopening an office. That may not be effective in a new hybrid workplace, so check with us on cloud-based alternatives that could work better in the new world order.

Consider Your Physical Space

Particularly if you do decide on a hybrid model, it’s worth evaluating whether you need the same amount and type of space as you did before. There’s no single answer here. You don’t want to downsize your physical space only to discover in a few months that some of those employees who swore that they never wanted to come back feel that they’re missing out. Simultaneously, if your offices are a warren of small, poorly ventilated rooms, employees may be even more hesitant about returning.

Plus, your physical space is inherently related to your IT infrastructure, so don’t ignore the costs surrounding an office move. A new space might require pulling new Ethernet cables, testing Wi-Fi signal strength to ensure sufficient coverage, evaluating the cleanliness of the electrical power, and more.

We don’t mean to dissuade you from moving offices if that’s what makes the most sense for the future of your company, but talk to us before signing any new leases so we can help identify and head off any technical problems with the physical plant.

Finally, this isn’t related to IT, but if your existing office space has been entirely vacant for the last year, it’s worth reading the information that the Centers for Disease Control puts out to help employers create safe and healthy workplaces. Buildings don’t do well with prolonged shutdowns.

Does Network Infrastructure Need Updating?

Before you bring employees back, at least en masse, it’s also worth touching base with us about your IT infrastructure. If you’ve been limping along with sketchy Ethernet cabling, or if you have dirty power that could be damaging your Macs and peripherals, it’s a great time to consider addressing such problems. Pre-pandemic, attempting to install new electrical circuits or pull new network cabling might have been too disruptive, but with an office that’s empty or nearly so, such work can be done more quickly and cheaply.

Similarly, this could be a good time to replace aging computers, printers, or even phone systems. Such infrastructure upgrades and transitions can cause interruptions in normal times, but if you’re bringing people back, wouldn’t it be nice to have the office provide a better IT experience than it did before?

(Featured image by Shuki Harel from Pexels)


Social Media: If you’re having discussions about when and how to reopen your organization’s office, it’s worth thinking—and talking to us—about the role your IT infrastructure plays in such discussions. Learn more at:

What Is This “App Tracking Transparency” Apple Added to iOS 14.5?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Featured image by Glen Carrie on Unsplash)


Social Media: New in iOS 14.5 is a privacy-protecting feature called App Tracking Transparency, which forces apps to ask you for permission to track your activities across other apps and websites. Learn more about why you should never allow tracking here:

It’s Time to Consider Upgrading to macOS 11 Big Sur

We’re cautious when it comes to recommending upgrades to new versions of macOS. Apple makes the upgrade process easy—though it can be time-consuming—but upgrading can create workflow interruptions, render favorite apps inoperable, and have other consequences. At the same time, it’s important to stay in sight of the cutting edge for security reasons and to take advantage of advances from Apple and other developers. Upgrading is not an if question; it’s a when question.

We’re not saying that everyone needs to upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur now, but if you want to, it should be safe now that Apple has released several bug-fix updates. However, there are still a few caveats, and preparation is essential.

Reasons Not to Upgrade

Some people should continue to delay upgrades to Big Sur due to software incompatibilities. Most software under steady development will have been updated for Big Sur by now, but some workflows rely on older versions of apps where an upgrade isn’t practical or possible (ancient versions of Adobe Creative Suite, for instance), or on obsolete apps that will never be updated. You may be able to learn more at RoaringApps, but those who haven’t yet upgraded past 10.14 Mojave may have to upgrade or replace 32-bit apps that ceased working starting with 10.15 Catalina.

The other app category that continues to have trouble with Big Sur are backup apps that make bootable duplicates. Catalina moved macOS to its own read-only volume, and Big Sur goes a step further by applying cryptographic signatures that make it even harder for an attacker to compromise the operating system. Unfortunately, that also makes creating a bootable duplicate difficult. Carbon Copy Cloner and ChronoSync have developed workarounds; SuperDuper remains incompatible at this point, although an older version can create data-only backups. If you rely on one of these apps for critical backups, make sure you know what you’re getting into before upgrading or reassess your backup strategy.

Before You Upgrade

Once you’ve decided to upgrade to Big Sur, you have three main tasks:

  • Update apps: Make sure all your apps are as up-to-date as possible. If you regularly put off updates, now’s the time to let them complete so you have Big Sur-compatible versions.
  • Clear space: Big Sur needs a minimum of 35.5 GB to upgrade, and as of macOS 11.2.1, the installer won’t proceed unless there’s enough space. Don’t cut this close—you should always have at least 10–20% free space for virtual memory, cache files, and breathing room.
  • Make a backup: Never, ever install a major upgrade to macOS without ensuring that you have at least one current backup first. In an ideal world, you’d have an updated Time Machine backup, a bootable duplicate, and an Internet backup. That way, if something goes wrong as thousands of files are moved around on your drive, you can easily restore.

After those tasks are complete, make sure you don’t need your Mac for a few hours. There’s no telling exactly how long the upgrade will take, especially if it has to convert your drive to APFS, so never start an upgrade if you need the Mac soon.

Initiating the upgrade is just a matter of opening System Preferences > Software Update, clicking the Upgrade Now button, and following the instructions.

After You Upgrade

Part of the reason to set aside plenty of time for your Big Sur upgrade is that there are always clean-up tasks afterward. We can’t predict precisely what you’ll run into, but here are a few situations we’ve noticed:

  • macOS will probably need to update its authentication situation by asking for your Apple ID password, your Mac’s password, and if you have another Mac, its password too. Don’t worry that this is a security breach—it’s fine.
  • Some apps may have to ask for permission to access your contacts and calendar even though you previously granted permission. Again, that’s fine.
  • If you use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac and apps (and you should, it’s great!), you’ll need to re-enable that in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General.
  • If you use Gmail or Google Calendar or other Google services, you may need to log in to your Google account again.
  • Websites that usually remember your login state will likely require that you log in again. If you’re using a password manager like 1Password, that’s easy.
  • You may have to re-enable text-message forwarding to your Mac on your iPhone in Settings > Messages > Text Message Forwarding.
  • Those who use Backblaze for Internet backups will find their backups have been “safety frozen.” Follow these instructions for thawing your account.

Finally, Time Machine in Big Sur now supports and prefers APFS-formatted drives, and all of Apple’s development is going in that direction now. You can keep using your existing Time Machine backup in Big Sur, but after you’re confident that everything is working well—and you have another backup—it’s worth removing your Time Machine backup drive in System Preferences > Time Machine > Select Disk, reformatting the drive as APFS in Disk Utility, and restarting the backup in the Time Machine preference pane.

With all that housekeeping done, it’s time to check out all the new features in Big Sur!

(Featured image based on originals by Apple)


Social Media: Should you upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur? There’s no need to do so yet, but it should be safe for most people, so if you’re excited about the new look and the new features, this is a good time to upgrade. Read on for our pre- and post-upgrade tasks.

8 Ways Apple Improved the Camera App in iOS 14

It’s difficult for most of us to imagine that a camera—something that still feels like it’s a standalone object—could be improved significantly with a software update. But now that cameras are part of our phones, code is king. With iOS 14, the camera in your iPhone becomes all the more capable. You’d be excused for not discovering the new features, though, so here’s a rundown.

Apple ProRAW

For professional and committed amateur photographers using an iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max, perhaps the most important new feature of iOS 14 is the Apple ProRAW image format. Standard RAW images provide raw information from the camera sensor, which can be tweaked in editing to achieve results that the camera’s standard processing can’t. Alas, RAW images can’t take advantage of the iPhone’s computational photography capabilities, such as stitching together many images to produce a single image with good exposure even in low light conditions.

The Apple ProRAW format gives you the best of both worlds: the iPhone’s computational photography plus the added flexibility of working with raw data to adjust exposure, color, and white balance. It’s far too complex to get into here, so if you’re interested, check out these articles by photographers Ben Sandofsky, Austin Mann, Nick Heer, and Om Malik, all of which feature copious visual examples.

Faster Performance

We’ve all missed shots because we couldn’t get the Camera app open in time. That may still happen, but Apple is doing its best to help. The company says that the Camera app now opens faster and the time to the first shot is 25% faster. When taking a series of Portrait shots, the time between shots is 15% faster. Overall, Apple says, the Camera app is 90% faster, taking up to 4 frames per second.

Prioritize Faster Shooting

Want still more shooting speed? If you take a lot of action shots, iOS 14 offers a new Prioritize Faster Shooting option that reduces the amount of processing (probably reducing image quality slightly) when you press the shutter button rapidly. Turn that on in Settings > Camera.

Use Volume Buttons for Burst Photos or QuickTake

Burst mode is the best way to make sure you get the photo when shooting fast-moving subjects. Historically, you invoked burst mode by pressing and holding the shutter button. Unfortunately, in iOS 13 on the iPhone 11 models, Apple assigned that action to the QuickTake feature, which automatically starts taking a 1080p video regardless of the current mode. Burst mode required pressing the shutter button and dragging to the left, which is tricky to perform correctly under pressure.

Happily, iOS 14 gives us additional options. When in the Camera app, press and hold the physical Volume Up button to invoke burst mode—let up to stop taking photos. Pressing and holding the Volume Down button invokes QuickTake and records video as long as you press the button.

QuickTake Comes to iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max

QuickTake was initially available only on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max from 2019. When Apple released the second-generation iPhone SE in 2020, it too featured QuickTake. With iOS 14, the QuickTake feature also comes to 2018’s iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max. So if you have one of those models, try pressing and holding the shutter button to take a video, or use the Volume Down button.

Change Video Mode in the Camera App

Most people will probably want to set the resolution and frames-per-second for videos once and then forget it. That’s what you do in Settings > Camera > Record Video and Record Slo-mo. But if you do want to change the settings, getting back to that screen quickly is difficult. In iOS 14, Apple added a pair of tiny indicators to the upper-right corner of the Camera app when you’re in Video or Slo-mo. They tell you what resolution and frames-per-second you’re using, and tapping either one cycles you through the other options.

Preserve Exposure Adjustment

Sometimes, when you’re taking photos in challenging lighting conditions, you want to override the automatic exposure settings and keep those settings across multiple shots. In Settings > Camera > Preserve Settings, you can now enable Exposure Adjustment ➊, which maintains your settings across shots and shows the exposure adjustment indicator ➋ near the upper left at all times. Tap that indicator to display the exposure adjustment slider ➌ below.

Mirror Front Camera

By default, when you’re taking a selfie with the iPhone’s front-facing camera, the preview shows you what you’d see in a mirror, but the eventual photo instead displays what someone looking at you would see. This is most noticeable when there’s text in the shot. Some people want the photo to look exactly like the mirrored version without having to edit the photo and flip it. iOS 14 now makes that possible with a Mirror Front Camera switch in Settings > Camera. It affects only the photo you take, not the preview, so you won’t see any change while composing the shot. In the examples below, the left-hand image shows the Camera app’s default behavior, and the right-hand image shows what you get if you enable Mirror Front Camera.

If any of these new features sound compelling, take a few minutes to see if you can work them into your regular shooting.

(Featured image based on an original by Element5 Digital from Pexels)


Social Media: Our phones may seem to be cameras, but they’re really computers, and software updates like iOS 14 can provide new camera capabilities, even with existing iPhone hardware. Here’s what to look for:

New Features You May Have Missed in the iOS 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 Updates

We’ve published overviews of the major features in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, along with detailed looks at our favorite features. But Apple keeps releasing updates with new features, and we wanted to take a moment to catch you up on what Apple has added in versions 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3. (If you’re running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, you should update to the latest version, which is 14.3 as of this writing. There’s no benefit to staying at an interim version.)

Here’s what you may have missed.

Apple Fitness+

The highest-profile change in Apple’s recent updates is support for Apple Fitness+. It provides studio-style streamed video workouts that you can participate in using an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. The linchpin of the system is the Apple Watch, which tracks your fitness metrics and progress and stores them in the Fitness app (previously called Activity).

Apple Fitness+, which can be shared by up to six family members through Family Sharing, costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. All current owners of an Apple Watch Series 3 or later get a free month to try it out, and if you buy a new Apple Watch, Apple will give you 3 months for free.

If you have an Apple Watch and more exercise figured in your New Year’s resolutions, give Apple Fitness+ a try and see if you find it fun and worthwhile.

Intercom

Tired of yelling to get the attention of other members of your household? If you have two more HomePod speakers, you can use the new Intercom feature to send and receive messages through the HomePods. You can also send and receive messages through an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, or in your car with CarPlay.

To enable Intercom, open the Home app, tap the house icon at the upper left ➊, and tap Home Settings. In the Settings screen, tap Intercom ➋ and set when you want to receive notifications, who should be allowed to send and receive them when away from home, and which HomePods to use.

Once you’ve enabled Intercom, you can most easily invoke it with Siri on any of your devices using trigger words like “intercom,” “tell,” “announce,” or “ask.” You can also send messages solely to a HomePod in a specific room or zone by specifying its name in the message. For example:

“Hey Siri, announce ‘It’s time to leave now!’”
“Hey Siri, ask upstairs ‘Did anyone feed the fish?’”

You can also access Intercom from within the Home app. Tap the waveform button in the upper-right corner of the screen (➌ above), record your message, and tap the Done button to send it.

When you hear an Intercom message, you can reply. If the message went to the entire Home, your reply will as well. However, if the message was sent to your specific room, your response will go only to the device that sent the message. And you can always direct a reply to a particular speaker. For example:

“Hey Siri, reply ‘I’m almost ready to go, honest!’”
“Hey Siri, reply downstairs ‘Yes, I fed Goldie.’”

Loud Headphone Alerts

If you’re worried about damaging your hearing with too-loud headphone volumes (and you should be), go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Headphone Safety. There you can enable a notification that will tell you if you exceed the recommended limit for noise exposure (volume and time) as set by the World Health Organization.

That’s nice from a retrospective point of view, but more useful are the controls below, which let your iPhone actively protect your hearing by reducing the volume of sounds over a certain decibel level.

Optimized AirPods Pro Charging

Apple says that it has now tweaked AirPods Pro charging to increase the lifespan of the battery. It does this by delaying charging past 80% to reduce the amount of time the batteries stay fully charged. Apple previously did this with the iPhone and Apple Watch. Given that there’s no way to replace the battery in the AirPods Pro, anything that extends their useful life is welcome. Sadly, this feature isn’t available for the standard AirPods. If you find that the feature regularly prevents your AirPods Pro from having a full charge, you can turn it off in Settings > Bluetooth (make sure the AirPods Pro case is open or they’re in your ears). Tap the i button next to your AirPods Pro and turn off Optimized Battery Charging.

Launch Shortcuts on the Home Screen Directly

In iOS 14, the Shortcuts app lets users assign custom icons to shortcuts, which has led some to become obsessed with customizing their Home screens with shortcuts that launch their favorite apps. Dedicated designers have created all sorts of Home screen looks, ranging from the minimalist to the wacky. The only problem was that these shortcuts first launched the Shortcuts app and then switched to the desired destination app. As of iOS 14.3, shortcuts now launch directly from the Home screen without passing through the Shortcuts app.

Use Ecosia as Safari’s Default Search Engine

Want to move away from Google as your default search engine? iOS has long provided other options, including Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing, and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. Apple has now added Ecosia, which is privacy-friendly and donates 80% or more of its profits to non-profit organizations that focus on reforestation. It’s a small way you can help fight climate change. It’s worth keeping in mind that Yahoo is a rebadged version of Bing, DuckDuckGo relies heavily on Bing, and Ecosia delivers results from Bing, enhanced by its own algorithms. In other words, when it comes to the quality of the search results, your choices are really between Google and Bing.

New Privacy Labels in the App Store

In Apple’s latest salvo against privacy-abusing apps and services, the company now requires all developers to provide information in App Store listings about what data collected by the app is linked to you personally and what data will be used to track your online movements. Apple doesn’t verify the information, and there’s no way to know if the developer is being truthful. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Apple pushing developers to be more transparent about their privacy practices. In the screenshot below, compare the ten screens of App Privacy details for what Facebook hoovers up with what is collected by the privacy-focused messaging app Signal: just your phone number, which is necessary for others to contact you.

App Clip Codes

In non-pandemic times, the new App Clips feature of iOS 14 might have gotten more attention. App Clips are lightweight versions of an app that let people perform quick tasks—ordering a latte, renting a scooter—without downloading and configuring the full app. Apple encourages developers using App Clips to advertise their presence with App Clip Codes, which look a little like QR codes but are dedicated to launching App Clips. Now that iOS 14.3 has added support for App Clip Codes, if you notice one while you’re out and about, try scanning it with your camera to see what App Clip pops up.

iOS 14’s updates have added plenty of smaller features as well, such as over 100 new emojis, an Apple TV+ tab in the Apple TV app, additional data options in the Health app’s Cycle Tracking feature, air quality data and recommendations in more countries, and detection of people in Magnifier (which is helpful for users who are blind or who have low vision).

So if you have kept your iPhone or iPad up to date but haven’t noticed these new features, give them a try!

(Featured image based on an original Web page by Apple)


Social Media: iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 came out a few months ago, but Apple has been busy since with feature-laden updates. Here’s what you may have missed in the 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 updates.

So, Are Apple’s New M1-Based Macs Any Good?

In November, Apple unveiled its new M1 chip and three new Macs that use it: the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. The M1-based MacBook Air replaces the previous Intel-based MacBook Air, but with the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac mini, Apple continues to sell some Intel-based models with beefier specs—most notably a higher memory ceiling.

Even though Apple makes impressive performance claims for the new Macs, the community was still somewhat skeptical. Were these new Macs as fast as Apple said? Would they be limited in some other way? And the biggest question of all, should we be buying untested M1-based Macs or tried-and-true Intel-based models? Now that these new Macs are shipping and people have had a chance to try them, let’s address these and other questions so you can plan your future Mac purchases appropriately.

Are these new Macs fast?

It’s hard to overstate just how astonishing the performance benchmarks for these new Macs are. In single-core GeekBench 5 tests, the M1-based Macs beat every existing Mac by a lot: the most recent 27-inch iMac clocked in at a benchmark score of 1250, whereas the M1 Macs hovered around 1700. (The Mac Pro and iMac Pro are tweaked for faster multi-core performance instead, so they fare even worse on the GeekBench 5 single-core benchmarks.) For many everyday apps, single-core performance is what you’ll notice.

Of course, the top-of-the-line 28-core Mac Pro and its siblings outperform the 8-core M1-based Macs in the GeekBench 5 multi-core benchmarks, but if you focus on the new M1 Macs in the multi-core rankings below, you can see that they’re just behind the fastest 27-inch iMacs and low-end Pro models. That’s doubly impressive when you remember that the Mac Pro in the screenshot below costs $6000, compared to $700 for the Mac mini.

Benchmarks don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole story. These new Macs feel fast. Apps launch with only a bounce or two of the icon on the Dock. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro wake from sleep and unlock with an Apple Watch so quickly that they’re ready to use by the time you’ve finished opening the screen. We can’t promise you’ll never see the spinning beachball wait cursor, but we haven’t so far. In some ways, using these new Macs feels more like using a fast iPad or iPhone, where everything happens nearly instantly.

Finally, note that only apps that have been rewritten to support the M1 chip receive the full speed boost. Older apps must be “translated” by Apple’s Rosetta 2, which converts apps from Intel instructions to the Arm instructions needed by the M1. That happens at launch, after which macOS launches the translated app. The first launch might be slow, but subsequent launches are faster. Although emulation environments are generally quite slow, early tests show apps translated by Rosetta 2 as running at about 80% of native speed. The upshot of that is that even translated apps might run faster than the equivalent app running on an Intel-based Mac.

What’s the deal with the new M1-based Macs having only 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM?

With the new M1-based Macs, you can choose between 8 GB and 16 GB of RAM, and that’s it. In contrast, the current Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro lets you go up to 32 GB, and the Intel-based Mac mini can take up to 64 GB.

Although 16 GB of RAM sounds limiting, that doesn’t seem to be nearly as concerning as one might think. The reason is that the M1 chips use what Apple calls “unified memory,” which is built onto the M1 chip itself and shared by the CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine. A significant performance bottleneck in modern computers is moving data around in memory. Benchmarks suggest that the memory bandwidth on the M1 chip is about 3x faster than on a 16-inch MacBook Pro. The faster that data can be moved around in memory and shared between the processing cores, the less memory is needed.

The speed of their SSDs also lets the M1-based Macs get away with less memory. When macOS uses all its physical RAM, it falls back on virtual memory, which effectively involves moving data on and off the SSD as needed. When Macs used hard drives, swapping memory to and from disk was very slow, but modern SSDs are fast enough to hide swapping delays.

To be fair, there are still memory-intensive tasks that will run better on Macs with lots of physical RAM. That’s a big reason Apple kept the Intel versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini for sale. On the very high end, you can put a whopping 1.5 TB of RAM in a Mac Pro, and if you need that kind of RAM for your work, you’ll need to stick with Intel-based Macs for now.

How will the M1-based Macs fit into a workflow?

Here’s where things get tricky. If you have an office full of Macs, there are some good reasons why you might want to stick with Intel-based Macs for a while.

  • Big Sur: The M1-based Macs require macOS 11 Big Sur. In general, we recommend that people hold off on upgrading to Big Sur until Apple has released maintenance updates to solidify stability and compatibility. Plus, mixing versions of operating systems and apps can lead to interoperability problems.
  • Apps: Although Rosetta 2 appears to do a good job translating older apps, there may still be quirks or performance hits, particularly for complex apps.
  • Memory: As mentioned above, there are some tasks where lots of physical RAM is essential, and there’s currently no way to go above 16 GB on an M1-based Mac.

But here’s the thing. Apple very intentionally focused its initial M1-based Mac models on the low end of the Mac product line. These Macs are ideal for students and individuals, or as auxiliary or traveling Macs for office workers, particularly given the startlingly good battery life in the laptops. They won’t be replacing a Mac Pro or even a 27-inch iMac right now, but no one would have replaced such a machine with a MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, or Mac mini before either.

In the end, we’re bullish on these new M1-based Macs. They’ve redefined what the most inexpensive Macs can do, making them compelling for those who don’t require more than 16 GB of physical RAM or need to slot them into highly specific workflows.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: Apple’s new M1-based Macs are getting rave reviews for their stunning performance and battery life. Should you buy one for your next Mac or stick with a tried-and-true Intel-based Mac? We look into that question in this piece.

How to Choose the Best Uninterruptible Power Supply for Your Needs

With so many people working from home, lots of attention has been dedicated to making sure everyone has a functional computer, a reasonably ergonomic workspace, and a decent videoconferencing setup. One thing that many have overlooked, however, is the need for a reliable uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Particularly for those using desktop Macs or external hard drives, a UPS is essential because it protects your work—and your devices—against surges, brownouts, and outright power failures. That’s especially helpful as we head into the summer thunderstorm and fall hurricane season.

What is a UPS?

Put simply, a UPS is a big battery into which you plug your Mac and other peripherals. It then plugs into a wall outlet and monitors the incoming power. If the normal power fails, or surges or falls below a certain threshold, the UPS notices and switches the power source to its internal battery. This happens so quickly that your Mac never even notices.

How does a UPS help?

For desktop Macs, a power failure means an immediate and ungraceful shutdown. You’ll lose all unsaved work and, depending on what was happening when the power went out, your drive might be corrupted. Smaller power surges and brownouts may not cause the Mac to shut down, but they put stress on electronic components that can cause a shorter overall lifespan.

When your gear is plugged into a UPS, you get some time to save your work and shut down gracefully, ensuring that you don’t lose data or flirt with drive corruption. And by having the UPS filter out power spikes and drops, your Mac and peripherals will last longer.

What sort of UPS should I look for?

There are three types of UPS: standby, line interactive, and double conversion. The names that different manufacturers use vary slightly, but here are the differences:

  • Standby UPS: This simple type of UPS, also called an offline UPS, monitors the incoming power, and if it rises or falls beyond predetermined levels, it switches to using battery power. That happens within 5–12 milliseconds, but the computer still sees some power fluctuations. The incoming power isn’t conditioned as long as it remains within the predetermined levels. A standby UPS is most appropriate in environments where the power is clean—you don’t notice lights flickering—and goes off infrequently.
  • Line Interactive UPS: This type of UPS goes a bit further, using automatic voltage regulation to correct abnormal voltages without switching to battery. In the event of an outage, it still switches to battery, but more quickly, within 2–4 milliseconds. If you lose power more often, are near industrial machinery, or notice occasional brownouts when it’s hot out, go for a line interactive UPS. They’re the most popular.
  • Double Conversion UPS: The most advanced form of UPS, a double conversion or online UPS, always runs connected devices from the battery, and the incoming power serves only to keep the battery charged. It has no transfer time in the event of an outage and provides the cleanest power. If you’re considering a backup generator or Tesla Powerwall to deal with frequent power outages or it’s clear that you have really dirty power, you should probably get a double conversion UPS.

As you would expect, standby models are the cheapest, and double conversion models are the most expensive.

How big of a UPS do I need?

You’ll need to do some research and math to determine the capacity of your ideal UPS. The first step is to find the size of the load you’re going to connect to it. To do that, look on the back of devices or in their technical specs for a rating in watts (W) or volt-amps (VA). Theoretically, the two are equivalent—watts equals volts multiplied by amps. In reality, you also have to take into account something called power factor along with runtime—how long you want the UPS to power your system before its battery dies.

Apple publishes power consumption numbers for most recent models of the Mac mini, iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro. For the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, look at tech specs to find the wattage rating of the charger, which will be between 30W and 96W. Then add in any peripherals you’re planning to plug into the UPS, such as an external hard drive, Wi-Fi router, and the like. You may need to read the tiny print on power adapters and multiply volts by amps to get the wattage rating.

For instance, for a system comprising a 27-inch iMac from 2019, a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, and an external hard drive, you’d add up the following numbers:

That gives you a total of 402W maximum, although it’s likely to be lower in normal usage. Nonetheless, to convert watts to volt-amps and account for the power factor, we divide the maximum wattage rating by power factor—a safe power factor is 0.8. So 402W / 0.8 = 503VA. So at a bare minimum, you’d want a UPS rated for 500VA. For some wiggle room on adding devices, it’s worth increasing the capacity by 50–100%, bringing us up to 750VA to 1000VA.

Here’s where things get fuzzy. The next step is to take that number and plug it into a UPS selector. Major manufacturers like APC (shown below), CyberPower, and Tripp Lite provide tools along these lines.

They’ll probably recommend a UPS with a higher capacity than is necessary—they are trying to upsell you, and the calculations will be based on the maximum loads you entered. If your Mac is running flat out, you’re likely sitting there and can shut it down quickly, so a long runtime isn’t necessary. If you’re not at the Mac, it should be sleeping, leading to a much longer runtime. CyberPower provides a nice runtime calculator that lets you see how long different models will last based on the actual load.

Are there other UPS features to look for?

Although many UPS features are fairly standard, it’s worth making sure you’re getting the ones you want. They include:

  • Form factor: Some smaller UPS models look like oversized surge protectors; most larger ones are mini-towers. You’ll probably want it under your desk, so make sure it’s a form factor that works for you.
  • Power outlets: Most UPS devices have a mix of outlet types. Some are backed by the battery, whereas others merely protect against surges. You’ll want to plug most electronic gear into battery-backed outlets—make sure the UPS has enough, and in an orientation that works with wall-wart power adapters—but if you have a laser printer or a lamp that you need to plug in as well, those should go in the surge-protected outlets.
  • Display: Many UPS models have an LCD display and buttons that you can use to cycle through screens of available runtime, current load, incoming voltage, and more. We like such displays.
  • Alarm control: When the power goes out, it’s common for a UPS to activate an audible alarm to alert you of the problem. Those alarms are usually loud and piercing, so if you need to keep working briefly or leave a low-load device (like a Wi-Fi router) running during an outage, you’ll want the option of turning the alarm off.
  • Replaceable batteries: UPS batteries don’t last forever, and it usually makes sense to buy a model whose batteries you can replace after a few years when its effective runtime has dropped significantly. You can always test runtime by pulling the UPS plug from the wall. Make sure to save all your work first!
  • Software: Many UPS models can connect to your Mac via a USB cable and use either included software or the Mac’s built-in power management software to shut the Mac down gracefully if you’re not present. When the UPS is connected, look in System Preferences > Energy Saver > UPS > Shutdown Options.

Phew! There’s a lot to consider when purchasing a UPS, but feel free to ask us for help or our current manufacturer recommendations.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)


Social Media: To ensure that you don’t lose work during a power outage and that your Mac and peripherals aren’t damaged by electrical spikes or drops, you need a UPS—an uninterruptible power supply. Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t Succumb to iOS 13 Update Fatigue!

Does it seem like that red badge on the Settings app indicating that there’s a new iOS 13 or iPadOS 13 update pops up at least once per week? You’re not imagining things—Apple has been frantically squashing bugs in its mobile operating systems since their release in mid-September.

If you haven’t yet upgraded from iOS 12, there’s no harm in waiting until the new year to see if things have settled down. (Well, no harm as long as you don’t receive a pair of Apple’s snazzy new AirPods Pro as a holiday gift, since they work only with devices running at least iOS 13.2, iPadOS 13.2, watchOS 6.1, tvOS 13.2, and macOS Catalina 10.15.1.)

That said, given Apple’s generally reliable record with major iOS updates, many people have upgraded to iOS 13. You shouldn’t feel bad if you have done so, either. Despite Apple’s flurry of bug fix updates, the overall user experience with iOS 13 has been generally acceptable.

Even if you haven’t noticed problems with iOS 13, it is important that you keep installing all these smaller updates, because they fix problems that could be serious. More important yet, if you do have trouble with your iPhone or iPad, and you’re not running the latest version of iOS or iPadOS, updating is the first fix to try.

To hammer home why you should stay up-to-date with iOS releases, here’s a brief timeline of Apple’s fixes so far:

  • iOS 13.0 (September 19): This was the initial release of iOS 13 for the iPhone, with oodles of new features… and lots of bugs. Apple promised iOS 13.1 and the first release of iPadOS 13.1 for September 29th, with additional features and bug fixes.
  • iOS 13.1 (September 24): After iOS 13.0 received scathing reviews in early iPhone 11 reviews, Apple moved the release date of iOS 13.1 up by five days. It added more features and addressed numerous bugs with Mail, Messages, Reminders, Notes, Apple ID sign-in, the Lock screen, and more.
  • iOS 13.1.1 (September 27): This quick Friday release the same week as iOS 13.1 fixed bugs that could prevent an iPhone from restoring from backup, cause batteries to drain too quickly, reduce Siri recognition accuracy, bog down Reminders syncing, and allow third-party keyboard apps to access the Internet without your permission.
  • iOS 13.1.2 (September 30): The next Monday brought iOS 13.1.2, which ensured that the progress bar for iCloud backups would disappear after a successful backup, addressed bugs that caused the Camera app and flashlight to fail, and improved the reliability of Bluetooth connections in some vehicles.
  • iOS 13.1.3 (October 15): After a two-week breather, this update addressed bugs that could prevent incoming calls from ringing, block meeting invites from opening in Mail, cause incorrect data in Health after daylight saving time changes, prevent apps and voice memos recordings from downloading after restoring from iCloud Backup, stop an Apple Watch from pairing successfully, and cause Bluetooth connection problems with vehicles (again) and hearing aids.
  • iOS 13.2 (October 28): With this update, Apple delivered additional promised features, including support for the HomePod, Siri privacy options, HomeKit Secure Video, new emoji, Deep Fusion in the iPhone 11 Camera app, and AirPods Pro support. It also fixed a bug with password autofill in third-party apps, resolved an issue that prevented swipe to go home from working on the iPhone X and later, eliminated a problem that caused saved notes to disappear temporarily, and ensured that manual iCloud backups completed successfully.
  • iOS 13.2.1 (October 30): As it turned out, iOS 13.2 could brick HomePods during installation or after a reset. This HomePod-exclusive update fixed that bug.
  • iOS 13.2.2 (November 7): This update stomped a big bug that could cause apps to quit unexpectedly in the background, potentially causing data loss and draining the battery more quickly. It also addressed two bugs that could cause an iPhone to lose cellular service.
  • iOS 13.2.3 (November 18): This release resolved one bug that could cause searches in Mail, Files, and Notes to fail and another that prevented photos, links, and other attachments from displaying in the Messages detail view. It also addressed problems that could prevent apps from downloading content in the background and prevent Mail from fetching new messages and including and quoting original content when replying.

With luck, you never ran into any of these bugs—they weren’t universal. But the problems were real, and they inconvenienced plenty of people. Just like with vaccinations, staying current with your iOS updates is the best way to keep the bugs at bay.

(Featured image modified slightly from an original by energepic.com from Pexels)


Social Media: Apple has been squashing bugs in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 left and right, with numerous updates since their September release. If you’ve upgraded already, we recommend that you keep installing maintenance fixes as they come out.

When Should You Upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina, iOS 13, iPadOS 13, watchOS 6, and tvOS 13?

As we get into September, it’s a good bet that Apple will be pushing out the next major versions of macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS, along with the new iPadOS, which is iOS with iPad-specific tweaks. Apple previewed these new versions back in June, and they’ve been in public beta since. Once Apple makes macOS 10.15 Catalina, iOS 13, iPadOS 13, watchOS 6, and tvOS 13 available, the question looms large—when should you install them?

(Note that we say when and not if. There’s no harm in delaying major operating system upgrades until Apple has squashed early bugs. But waiting too long puts you at risk from security vulnerabilities and prevents you from taking advantage of compelling new features. Plus, should you have to replace one of your Apple devices unexpectedly, you will likely have to use the current operating system, which could be awkward if you weren’t prepared.)

macOS 10.15 Catalina

We’ll start with the hardest decision—when should you upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina? Two features might make you want to upgrade soon: Screen Time and Voice Control. With Catalina, Macs get the same usage monitoring and limit setting that Apple introduced in iOS 12, which will make Catalina a must-have for parents trying to help Mac-using kids focus on what’s important. Voice Control makes it vastly easier to control your Mac—and dictate!—with just your voice, so if that’s compelling, look into upgrading soon.

Other new features are also attractive, such as dedicated Music, TV, and Podcasts apps that replace iTunes; using an iPad as a second screen or graphics tablet; and improved versions of Reminders, Notes, and Photos. They won’t drive most immediate upgrades, though.

Catalina has one big gotcha—it won’t run old 32-bit apps. If you rely on apps you haven’t updated in the last few years, hold off on Catalina until you’ve figured out how to update or replace them.

Regardless, we recommend waiting until at least version 10.15.1 or even 10.15.2 before upgrading. That gives you time to make sure your key apps are fully compatible with Catalina and for Apple to resolve any unanticipated problems. When you’re ready, check out the ebook Take Control of Upgrading to Catalina if you want detailed advice on how to do it right.

iOS 13

While we urge caution with macOS updates, iOS updates are an easier decision. Apple boasts that iOS 13 improves performance, particularly with Face ID unlocking and app launches, which many people will appreciate. iOS 13 also now offers a Dark mode like macOS that may be easier on the eyes in dark rooms, though light-on-dark text is generally harder to read than traditional dark-on-light text.

Photos in iOS 13 significantly improves photo editing, with portrait lighting control, a high-key mono effect, and individual adjustment and filter controls. Nearly all these editing tools work with videos too! Apple completely rewrote Reminders, adding smart lists and integrations that let Siri suggest reminders, as well as a quick toolbar to add times, dates, locations, and more to your reminders. iOS 13 also enhances Maps with Look Around, a Google Maps Street View competitor that gives you a 360º view of supported areas. Maps also features a rebuilt map with more detail, favorites, and collections of places to see.

iOS 13 may not be life-changing unless you plan to rely on its addition of Voice Control instead of touch, but we think it’s a good upgrade. Give it a week or two to make sure there isn’t a major gotcha that Apple missed, but after that, install when you have some time to play with the new features.

iPadOS 13

iPadOS 13 is “new,” but it’s not an entirely new operating system to learn. Instead, it’s a superset of iOS 13 with iPad-specific features. The Home screen can hold more icons, and you can pin Today View widgets to the side for quick access. Safari in iPadOS is now a desktop-class browser that lets you use complex Web apps like Google Docs, Squarespace, and WordPress much as if you were on a Mac. Apple also extended the iPad’s multitasking features so you can switch between multiple apps in SlideOver, open multiple “windows” for a single app in Split View, and use App Exposé to navigate among app combinations.

If you already use your iPad for productivity, we think iPadOS 13 will be a no-brainer upgrade. As with iOS 13, though, it’s probably best to wait a week or so to install, or until you’re certain that your key apps have been updated to be compatible.

watchOS 6

Once you’ve updated your iPhone to iOS 13, there’s no reason not to update to watchOS 6. It’s not a huge update, but it has some nice features. Most interesting are the health-related improvements, a Cycle Tracking app for women and a Hearing Health app that warns you when the ambient noise in your environment has risen to dangerous levels. Apple has also introduced new watch faces that may float your boat, Siri can identify songs playing nearby and return Web search results to your wrist, a new Audiobooks app lets you listen anywhere, and Activity Trends help you track your workout progress over time.

tvOS 13

tvOS 13 is the easiest to agree to install, and it has some welcome new features. Apple redesigned the Home screen a bit and allows the apps in your top row to play video previews of their content (but you can shut those off if you don’t like them). More compelling is the addition of Control Center, which lets you put the Apple TV to sleep, control background audio playback, choose audio output, search, and switch between users.

That’s right, tvOS 13 introduces multi-user support that changes the content within apps based on the current user. (Speaking of multi-user support, iOS 13 on the HomePod also now differentiates based on who’s speaking—finally!) tvOS 13 can also display lyrics in the Music app and supports Xbox One and PlayStation 4 wireless gaming controllers for Apple’s upcoming Apple Arcade service. And it boasts a new collection of gorgeous underwater screen savers.

Change can be hard, but we’re excited about these new operating systems. Like you, we won’t use all the new features, but we’re confident that some of them will radically enhance the experience of being an Apple user.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: So many new operating systems—macOS 10.15 Catalina, iOS 13, iPadOS 13, watchOS 6, and tvOS 13! We have a brief overview of the new features and calm advice on when you should upgrade each of your Apple devices to the new hotness.