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Universal Control Arrives in macOS 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4

With the recent release of macOS 12.3 Monterey and iPadOS 15.4, Apple shipped Universal Control, the last major technology promised in its 2021 operating system upgrades. Universal Control enables you to use the keyboard and mouse or trackpad attached to one Mac to control up to three other Macs or iPads—you can even copy and paste or drag items between devices. It’s a great way to make more of your Apple devices while staying on task—no longer do you need to stop using your Mac to accomplish something on your iPad, and if you have both an iMac and a MacBook Air, it becomes trivially easy to use them simultaneously.

Universal Control can simplify grabbing a file from your MacBook Air while using your iMac, or it might make it easy to check something in an iPad-only app without switching from your familiar Mac keyboard and trackpad. For those who would benefit from more screen space, Universal Control simplifies keeping a Web browser window open on one Mac while you’re writing about it on another.

First, make sure all the Macs and iPads you want to use with Universal Control meet its system requirements. macOS 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4 are essential, and most (but not all) Macs and iPads that can run those versions are compatible. All the devices must be signed in to the same iCloud account, that account’s Apple ID must have two-factor authentication enabled, and no device can be sharing its Internet or cellular connection. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi must be turned on, and Handoff must be ​​enabled in System Preferences > General on the Mac and in Settings > General > AirPlay & Handoff on the iPad. That may sound like a lot, but most of those are defaults.

Apple says everything must be within 30 feet (10 meters), but in nearly all cases, you’ll want the devices to sit next to one another so you can easily see what you are doing on all the screens.

The only trick with setting up Universal Control is that it must be initiated from a Mac. Open System Preferences > Displays, click the Universal Control button, and in the dialog that appears, enable all three switches. Only the first one is necessary; the other two make connecting in the future easier.

After you click Done, you’ll return to the Displays preference pane, where any available Macs and iPads should appear, much like they were external monitors. If they don’t show up, click the Add Display pop-up menu and select the device you want to control under “Link Keyboard and Mouse.” You can also select them in Control Center, after clicking Displays. As long as you’ve selected “Automatically reconnect to any nearby Mac or iPad,” you shouldn’t have to repeat this step.

(The “Mirror or Extend to” section of the Add Display pop-up menu is where you select devices to use as external displays for your Mac. Macs running Monterey appear here courtesy of AirPlay, as do Apple TVs; iPads appear thanks to Apple’s Sidecar technology.)

Drag the device screen icons to match where they sit on your desk. The screenshot above indicates that you’d move the pointer from the double-screen iMac to the right to control the MacBook Air and down from the middle of the iMac screens to control the iPad.

When your pointer moves to another device’s screen, everything you do from then on will affect apps on that Mac or iPad, with one caveat. After the pointer moves to another device, you usually need to click once to create “focus,” which means specifying which window should receive subsequent clicks and keystrokes. If you forget to do this (it will become second nature quickly) and start typing, keystrokes will go to the previous device.

To help you move data between your devices, Universal Control offers two additional features beyond clicking and typing:

  • Copy and paste: As you might expect, you can copy data on one device with Command-C, move the pointer to another device, and paste it into an app on the second device with Command-V.
  • Drag and drop: Alternatively, you can drag files and other types of data from one device to another. This works well between Macs, and you can also move data between Macs and iPads in many situations, such as dragging an Apple Pencil sketch from an iPad and dropping it in a graphics app on the Mac. If a drag doesn’t work, try copy and paste or fall back on sharing the data via AirDrop or iCloud Drive.

Keep in mind that once you’ve turned it on, Universal Control has no concept of primary and secondary devices. In practice, you’ll probably use one keyboard and pointing device to control everything, but that’s not necessary. You can use a trackpad and keyboard connected to any device to control any other device, switching whenever you’d like.

Since Apple labels Universal Control as a beta, you may experience occasional dropouts or rough edges. If it loses track of a device, try putting the device to sleep and waking it again, and if that doesn’t work, open the Displays preference pane and select the device from Add Displays again.

Controlling one Mac from another is extremely fluid because the pointer and keyboard act exactly as expected. However, if you haven’t previously used a trackpad and hardware keyboard with an iPad, you may find its approach somewhat surprising. It’s a hybrid between a traditional pointer and a touchscreen, so the pointer is attracted to Home screen icons and many other controls, transforming it into a selection highlight. Either way, Universal Control just works. Give it a try!

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: With macOS 12.3 Monterey and iPadOS 15.4, you can now use your Mac’s keyboard and pointing device to control up to three other Macs or iPads with Apple’s new Universal Control. Learn more at:

If Your Internet Connection Is Slow, Research These Three Numbers

As pandemic-related restrictions ebb and flow, many people continue to work from home at least some of the time. A key requirement for successful remote work is a fast, solid Internet connection. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for Internet connections to degrade over time as cables endure a variety of insults ranging from water seeping into connectors to squirrels gnawing through insulation. You might be surprised at how variable such problems can be—we once saw an Internet connection that dropped out infrequently; it turned out that squirrels had damaged just one pair of wires in the cable, and the Internet provider’s system hopped between pairs depending on other neighborhood traffic.

How do you know if something in your Internet connection needs fixing? If the entire connection goes offline periodically, even if it comes back on its own, that’s a hint. Videoconferencing apps and streaming video services can also provide useful warnings—if the picture often pixelates or pauses, or if the audio falls out of sync with the video, that’s another indication that something may be wrong. Finally, if you use a VPN, Internet connectivity issues can cause all sorts of weird problems.

When you notice such problems, you can perform a simple test that may shed some light on the situation. First, make sure to stop any audio or video streaming or large downloads. Then go to speedtest.net and click the Go button. Speedtest will run some tests to come up with three numbers:

  • Download: Your download performance, generally measured in megabits per second (Mbps), is the most important and determines how quickly your computer can receive data from the Internet for downloads and streaming video.
  • Upload: Conversely, your upload performance, also measured in megabits per second, determines how fast you can send data to the Internet. It’s almost always much lower than download performance, but sufficient upload bandwidth is essential for your audio and video to be clear and smooth in a videoconference.
  • Latency: This number, which Speedtest calls “ping,” measures the amount of time in milliseconds to send a single packet to the destination server and receive it back again. The lower the latency, the more responsive communications will be, which is all-important for online gaming. Very long latencies can also cause problems for VPNs.

(You can also use other similar services, such as Netflix’s fast.com or Google’s built-in tester. Apple even built a networkQuality tool into macOS 12 Monterey—run it at the command line in Terminal—though it has an unusual Apple Network Responsiveness test that replaces the latency test.)

What should these numbers be? When you signed up for a plan with your Internet service provider (ISP), you should have been quoted download and upload numbers, such as 200 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up. If you don’t know what those numbers should be, ask your ISP. It’s not uncommon for download and upload speeds to vary somewhat from what you were promised, but they should generally be close.

Latency is trickier, and ISPs won’t promise anything specific. The lower the latency number, the better. Speedtest suggests that times under 59 milliseconds are good for gaming, times between 60 and 129 milliseconds are acceptable, a range of 130–199 milliseconds is problematic, and 200-plus milliseconds won’t be usable. There’s no way to know what latency numbers might cause other problems, but we’d pay attention to anything over 100 milliseconds.

Let’s assume your numbers aren’t what they should be—or at least what you’d like them to be. Don’t complain to your ISP right away. Instead, try these steps:

  • Run the test a few more times, preferably at different times of the day. (If you create an account with Speedtest, it will track your tests so you can see how they change.) You may discover that performance is slow only during peak usage hours.
  • Run more tests using different Speedtest servers or even different testing services. You’re testing the performance between you and a particular server, and it’s possible that server is having problems that others won’t share.
  • If you have other devices, run tests from those as well. Don’t assume you’ll get identical results because different devices may have varying capabilities. If you notice differences between devices that use Wi-Fi and those connected via Ethernet, that might point to your Wi-Fi router as a bottleneck. That’s not common with modern Wi-Fi routers, but if you’re still relying on an old AirPort Express, it could be slowing you down.
  • Restart your devices, and if that doesn’t make a difference, restart or power cycle your router and modem as well.

If your performance problems persist through all those troubleshooting tests, the problem is likely in the physical connection, and only your ISP can address that. When you call, be sure to share the testing numbers and any commonalities—times of day, for instance—that you observed. With luck, they’ll be able to confirm your issues and dispatch a technician to evaluate the physical connection for problems.

(Featured image by iStock.com/gorodenkoff)


Social Media: Slow or unreliable Internet connection? It could be your ISP—read on to find out how to test your connection and evaluate the results.

Plan for the Future by Establishing a Legacy Contact

Have you heard the expression “hit by a bus”? It’s a somewhat macabre attempt to inject a little levity into planning for the unthinkable event of dying without warning. No one expects to be hit by a bus, but people do die unexpectedly in all sorts of ways. That’s terrible, of course, but it’s also incredibly hard on that person’s family, who suddenly must deal with an overwhelming number of details. Many of those details revolve around the deceased’s digital life—devices, accounts, passwords, subscriptions, and more.

We strongly encourage everyone, regardless of age or infirmity, to think about what your family would want and need to do with your digital presence in the event of your death. The ultimate guide to this topic is Joe Kissell’s book Take Control of Your Digital Legacy, although the current version is a little out of date and is slated for updating in 2022.

The next edition of that book will undoubtedly discuss Apple’s new Legacy Contact feature, introduced in iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, and macOS 12.1 Monterey. It enables you to specify one or more people as a Legacy Contact. Should you die unexpectedly, those people can use an access key along with your death certificate to access much of your Apple content and remove Activation Lock from your devices. (If you have time to prepare for your passing, it’s easier to share all your passwords and passcodes explicitly.) The person or people you set as Legacy Contacts don’t have to be running Apple’s latest operating systems or even be Apple users, though it’s easier if they are. (Like so many other things in life.)

Don’t put off specifying someone as a Legacy Contact, whether it’s a family member or close friend. The entire point of the “hit by a bus” scenario is that it’s both unexpected and could happen at any time. (It’s possible to get access without being a Legacy Contact, but it requires a court order and will undoubtedly be significantly more work.)

Apple provides good directions for the Legacy Contact feature, and while we’ll summarize the steps below, read Apple’s documentation to get the word from the horse’s mouth. Apple’s support pages include:

What Data Can a Legacy Contact Access?

Apple has the full list at the link above, but in short, a Legacy Contact can access anything stored in iCloud, including photos, email, contacts, calendars, messages, files, and more, as well as the contents of iCloud Backup. Not included are licensed media (music, movies, and books), in-app purchases (upgrades, subscriptions, and game currency), payment information (Apple ID payment info or Apple Pay cards), and anything stored in the account holder’s keychain (usernames and passwords, credit card details, and more). A Legacy Contact cannot access the deceased’s devices—Apple is incapable of sharing passcodes. However, Apple can remove Activation Lock so those devices can be erased and reused.

How Do You Add a Legacy Contact?

Adding someone as a Legacy Contact is easy. You must be running iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, or macOS 12.1 Monterey to initiate the process, and two-factor authentication must be turned on for your Apple ID (this is a very good idea anyway).

On an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Your Name > Password & Security > Legacy Contact > Add Legacy Contact. On a Mac, use System Preferences > Apple ID > Password & Security > Legacy Contact > Manage. You can choose a group member if you’re in a Family Sharing group or pick someone from your contacts list.

As part of the process of picking someone, Apple allows you to share the access key via Messages if they’re running iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, or macOS 12.1 Monterey. If they accept, a copy of the access key will automatically be stored in their Apple ID settings. If they’re not running a necessary operating system or don’t use an Apple device, you can instead print out an access key QR code and give that to them. You might also want to print a copy to store with your will and other important documents.

It may often be appropriate to act as a Legacy Contact for the people you’re asking to be your Legacy Contacts, particularly with spouses or adult children.

How Does a Legacy Contact Request Account Access?

Let’s assume the worst and pretend ​​that someone who has added you as a Legacy Contact has passed away. To request access to their Apple ID, you need the access key that the person shared with you and a copy of their death certificate. You can find the access key on an iPhone or iPad in Settings > Your Name > Password & Security > Legacy Contact > Contact’s Name, and on the Mac in System Preferences > Apple ID > Password & Security, where you click Manage next to Legacy Contact settings and then Details next to the person’s name. It’s also possible that the person shared the access key as a document stored with their estate planning documents.

The screens that provide the access key also have a Request Access link. Tap or click that and follow the instructions to upload the death certificate. If you don’t have an appropriate Apple device, you can also do this on the Web at Apple’s Digital Legacy – Request Access page.

Apple evaluates all access requests to make sure they’re legitimate, and once approved, sends you an email with more details and instructions. That email will also include a special Legacy Contact Apple ID that replaces the deceased’s previous Apple ID. You can use that Apple ID to log in to iCloud.com or download data at privacy.apple.com, sign in to an Apple device, or restore an iCloud backup to another Apple device. Having an access request approved also removes Activation Lock from the deceased’s Apple devices so you can restore them to factory settings and set them up again, either fresh or with the Legacy Contact’s Apple ID’s data.

The main limitation is that the Legacy Contact Apple ID is good only for 3 years, after which the legacy account is permanently deleted. So be sure to download everything important fairly quickly—don’t just keep using the Legacy Contact Apple ID or assume that you’ll be able to go back to it at any time.

We sincerely hope that you never have to act as Legacy Contact for a loved one, but we can say from experience that this new feature can only help make an already stressful time more manageable.

(Featured image by iStock.com/Olga Serba)


Social Media: Apple’s new Legacy Contact feature makes it simpler for you to give a family member access to your iCloud data after your death. Read on to learn how to make someone a Legacy Contact or what to do if you are a Legacy Contact.

FaceTime Gains Cool New Features in Apple’s Latest Operating Systems

It’s no exaggeration to say that videoconferencing went mainstream during the pandemic. However, Apple’s FaceTime didn’t stack up well against Zoom and others due to its emulation of the telephone call experience, questionable interface decisions, and lack of cross-platform compatibility. However, with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey, Apple has nearly brought FaceTime into feature parity with Zoom and others and it has even added a few features that break new ground.

FaceTime Links

One of the smallest new features in FaceTime may be the most important. No longer do you have to call others via FaceTime, an awkward approach left over from the days of landlines. That’s still possible, but it’s easier and more considerate to make and share a FaceTime link instead, which lets others join your call when they’re ready. FaceTime links make it effortless to rejoin a call if you have to drop off or if something goes wrong, and they simplify switching from one device to another. You can share FaceTime links like any other Web link, through Messages, email, discussion systems like Slack, or posting on a Web page.

To create a FaceTime link, launch the FaceTime app and use the Create Link button in the upper left. If you’re creating it in iOS 15 or iPadOS 15, you can add a name before copying or sharing the link in the share sheet. In Monterey, clicking the button presents a sharing menu with similar appropriate options.

To join a call, all a recipient of the link has to do is tap or click the link. If they’re running one of Apple’s latest operating systems, the call will also appear in the FaceTime app, under Upcoming.

Either way, people joining the call get a preview window in which they can adjust their video and mic settings. After they hit the Join button, the organizer is notified that they’re waiting and can add them to the call. (That may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but it ensures random trolls can’t join FaceTime calls whose links have been shared publicly.)

If you’re scheduling a call, you can create a FaceTime link within an event in Calendar. That’s handy to make sure you have the link available at the right time, to make it available on all your devices, and to let others access it via a shared calendar. Use the Location or Video Call field, and select FaceTime when it’s offered. The event then gets a Join button that makes it easy to access the call. (If you’re sharing the calendar with someone who isn’t using one of Apple’s latest operating systems, they’ll just see a link they can click.)

Despite being associated with an event, such FaceTime links aren’t time-specific. You can start the call any time you want, and anyone else can attempt to join it at any time, but they’ll be able to get in only if you as the organizer let them in. So it won’t do them any good to join before or after the scheduled time.

FaceTime Web App

FaceTime links are also essential for allowing FaceTime calls to include those who aren’t running Apple’s latest operating systems. If you’re still on macOS 11 Big Sur or iOS 14, opening a FaceTime link switches to Safari and opens the FaceTime Web app. That also works for those using Android, Windows, or Linux, as long as they have a compatible Web browser, which means Google Chrome or another Chrome-based browser like Brave or Microsoft Edge. Firefox won’t work.

For the most part, the FaceTime Web app works just like the native FaceTime app, with the ability to change basic camera and microphone settings and support for grid view. There are two notable limitations:

  • FaceTime Web app users can only join calls, not initiate them.
  • Advanced options like the mic modes and video effects aren’t available.

Mic Modes and Video Effects

In an effort to catch up with the likes of Zoom, Apple added several audio and video features to FaceTime. There are now three mic modes that you can enable in Control Center during a call:

  • Standard: FaceTime does nothing special to the audio.
  • Voice Isolation: FaceTime focuses on your voice, working to eliminate non-vocal sounds and other background noise.
  • Wide Spectrum: FaceTime expands its attention to all the sounds in the room, which is essential for things like music lessons.

Although the equivalent Control Center button is labeled Video Effects, there’s only one at the moment: Portrait mode. It works exactly as it does in the Camera app for photos, keeping you in focus and blurring the background. Perhaps Apple will add other video effects in the future, much like Zoom’s virtual backgrounds and immersive sets. You can also toggle Portrait mode by tapping the Video Effects button in your FaceTime tile.

The Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum mic modes, and the Portrait mode video effect, are available only on iPhones and iPads that have an A12 Bionic chip or later, or an M1 chip. Similarly, they work only on M1-based Macs, not older Intel-based Macs.

Grid View

When Apple first introduced FaceTime group calls, participants’ tiles would swim around on the screen, moving and expanding to indicate who was speaking. It was dizzying. Happily, Apple finally listened to annoyed users and has now introduced a simple grid view like every other videoconferencing app on the planet.

Once there are four or more participants in a call on an iPhone or iPad, a Grid button appears when you tap the screen to reveal the FaceTime controls. Tap it to switch into or out of grid view. In Monterey, there’s an always-visible Grid button in the upper-right corner.

Screen Sharing for iPhones and iPads

As helpful as FaceTime links are, our favorite new feature of FaceTime is screen sharing for those using an iPhone or iPad. (Macs can’t currently participate in FaceTime screen sharing but have their own screen sharing capabilities, accessed through the Conversations menu in Messages.) With a couple of taps, you can share your screen with someone else, or they can share their screen with you, all while maintaining the video call. For many remote workers, this feature is essential, whether you are collaborating on a project or showing your work to your boss. Another obvious use is remote tech support. If someone is having trouble accomplishing something on their iPhone or iPad, you can see what’s going wrong live on a FaceTime call. And kids, no doubt, will find many fun things to do together.

To share your screen during a FaceTime call, tap anywhere on the screen to reveal the FaceTime controls, tap the screen sharing button on the right, and tap the Share My Screen confirmation prompt. After a 3-second countdown, others on the call can see your screen, even as you switch away from the FaceTime app and use your iPhone or iPad however you want.

While you’re sharing your screen, a purple status icon reminds you that others can see what you’re doing. To stop sharing your screen, tap someone’s video tile to switch back to the FaceTime app and tap the screen sharing button again.

When someone shares their screen with you, a Picture-in-Picture (PiP) window of their screen appears. Tap it to expand it to the entire screen, moving the FaceTime call video to its own PiP window. Tap that FaceTime PiP window to return to the call. If you switch to another app, as shown below, the shared screen returns to being a PiP window. If any PiP window is in your way, you can drag it to another corner or swipe it off the screen to the left or right to hide it entirely. A tab appears to indicate the hidden PiP window; tap it to bring the window back.

SharePlay

People will either love SharePlay or ignore it entirely. It enables everyone on a FaceTime call to watch the same video or listen to the same audio while continuing the conversation. The big caveat is that everyone must have legal access to the content, which generally means a subscription to whatever service is being used, whether that’s Apple Music, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO MAX, or Paramount+. Currently, SharePlay works only in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 and on the Apple TV running tvOS 15. It’s slated to appear in a future version of Monterey, perhaps 12.1.

Initiating a SharePlay session is easy: simply navigate to Apple’s TV or Music app, or another app that supports SharePlay, and start playing something. You may be asked if you want to play it for everyone or just for yourself, or you may be told the content will play automatically. Assuming everyone on the call has the necessary subscription, the audio or video starts playing instantly.

What’s a little freaky about SharePlay is that, with one minor exception, everyone is an equal participant. If you start playing something, someone else can pause it or rewind it, say, and the video will pause or rewind for everyone. The exception is that only the person who started playing a video can stop it (tap the screen to reveal the controls), although anyone can start playing something else to replace it.

If you have an Apple TV, you can initiate video playback from the Apple TV or move something that’s already playing to the Apple TV. While you’re on a FaceTime call on your iPhone or iPad, press and hold the TV button on the Apple TV’s remote to open Control Center, and then select the SharePlay button that appears there to get started.

With all these new features, it’s time to rethink how you use FaceTime, and that’s especially true if you haven’t been using FaceTime because it lacked the features in some other videoconferencing app.

(Featured image by iStock.com/jacoblund)


Social Media: FaceTime has joined the big leagues in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey. Read on to learn about FaceTime links, its cross-platform Web app, special mic modes and video effects, grid view, screen sharing, and SharePlay.

Four Ways to Reduce Zoom Fatigue

After a long day of video calls, you might feel like your brain has been wrung out like a wet washcloth—we certainly do. It’s exhausting to stare into a computer for hours every day while participating in meetings or classes. This condition is called Zoom fatigue, and it’s a recent affliction for most of us because the pandemic has dramatically increased the popularity of video calls. We don’t mean to beat on Zoom here—this condition plagues people who use Cisco WebEx, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and other videoconferencing software too.

But there are techniques you can employ to reduce Zoom fatigue. Researchers at Stanford University have identified four reasons why video calls are so tiring and offer suggestions on making them less so. They include:

  • Close-up eye contact is overwhelming. You usually sit about an arm’s length from your computer display, and if one person is on screen at a time, their head may be close to life-size. You’d never be that near someone’s face in real life unless they were a close family member, and even then, you wouldn’t hold that position for long. Shrink your window or switch to gallery view so you’re talking to postage stamps rather than feeling like someone is up in your face.
  • Looking at yourself is psychologically harmful. We all have mirrors, but can you imagine staring into one for hours every day? Only a pathological narcissist would do that. Worse, constantly seeing your own image can make you worry about your appearance and what others think of you. Once you’ve verified that you’re properly framed and don’t have salad in your teeth, hide your preview or switch to a view that doesn’t include you.
  • Sitting perfectly still is difficult. This is hardest on kids, but even adults have trouble staying sufficiently still to remain perfectly framed in a video window. When you’re on a standard phone call or in an in-person meeting, you might pace around the room or at least adjust your position in your chair. Try turning off your camera when possible—most calls work just as well without video—or position it so you can fidget or pace in person. Another solution is Apple’s Center Stage technology on the new M1-based iPad Pros, which automatically pans and zooms to keep you in the picture as you move around.
  • Video calls make you constantly think about call mechanics. There’s nothing natural about interacting with multiple people on a screen, so we’ve all come up with behaviors (some of which we just recommended!) to smooth over the cracks in the system. For instance, your brain has to expend extra effort to help you stay framed in the video window, worry about how you look, use exaggerated facial expressions so people know you’re paying attention, and use techniques like a thumbs-up to indicate approval without unmuting. The solution is to turn off your camera and hide the video window so your brain can take a break and focus on just the audio content of the call.

You’ll notice that most of the recommendations for reducing the mental strain of video calls come down to eliminating video. It shouldn’t be surprising because talking on the phone isn’t nearly as tiring, even when you’re on a conference call with a couple of people. There’s no question that video can help convey information that would be lost in a phone call, and it’s nice to see far-flung friends and family, but there’s no rule that video calls are the best form of communication for all situations.

We’ve started to put these recommendations into practice ourselves, and we encourage you to do so as well. And if you need support for why you’re turning off your camera or asking for audio-only calls, send people a link to this article.

(Featured image by Anna Shvets from Pexels)


Social Media: Why are video calls so exhausting when all you’re doing is sitting around and talking? Here’s the word from Stanford University researchers, along with advice on making those non-stop calls less tiring.

How to Avoid Embarrassment During Online Presentations or Screen Sharing

Along with the now-ubiquitous videoconferencing, screen sharing and online presentations have become vastly more common during the pandemic. This isn’t yet another article about how to give a better presentation or feel more confident. (Although those might happen too.) The goal of this article is to help you avoid situations that could embarrass you in front of clients, colleagues, or bosses. Follow this advice and you could avoid an unfortunate happenstance that might even cause you to be fired.

Here’s the problem. Even more so than before the pandemic, our Macs feel like personal spaces. Just as you’d add a houseplant and a special photo to your desk at work, you’ve probably personalized your Mac in a variety of ways. Custom desktop wallpaper, for instance, or a screensaver that displays favorite photos. Plus, you may carry on personal conversations, possibly even intimate ones, if you catch our drift, using the same Mac that you use for communicating with those aforementioned clients, colleagues, and bosses.

We’re not here to admonish you or nag about inappropriate behavior. (Though we will encourage you to consider some sage advice from a friend’s mother, who noted drily that you should never put anything on the Internet that you don’t want to appear on the front page of the New York Times. And that was before Twitter.)

No, as we said, the goal here is to help you avoid the embarrassment caused by people who are viewing your screen seeing things they shouldn’t see, something that the New York Times has also covered. Some areas of concern include:

  • Desktop & Screen Saver: Jobs have been lost by inappropriate selections for desktop wallpaper and photo screen savers. Make sure, if you’re ever going to share your screen, that randomly chosen desktop pictures and folders of screen saver photos don’t contain anything that could be problematic. To be safe, choose an Apple-provided desktop picture and a pattern-based screen saver in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver.
  • Icons on the Desktop: We all toss files on the desktop, but if preview icons or even filenames could cause trouble—you might not want your boss seeing Resumé.doc—corral them in another folder before you share your screen. Also note that many videoconferencing apps can limit their screen sharing to particular windows rather than the entire screen, which prevents people from seeing your desktop.
  • Web browser tabs: Limiting screen sharing to a particular window won’t help if it’s a Web browser window with multiple tabs. Even if you avoid accidentally navigating to a tab with NSFW content, its title alone might be problematic. For safety, always start a new browser window when sharing Web content.
  • Open apps and documents: As with icons on the desktop when sharing your entire screen, you may not want just anyone seeing what other apps and documents you have open. Again, stick to sharing a specific window. To avoid mistakes when selecting the window to share, we recommend hiding or quitting all unrelated apps before sharing your screen.
  • Document comments: When collaborating on a document, some people are less than politic with their in-document comments. If comments are visible when you’re sharing a document with people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, hard feelings could ensue. Make sure to hide or resolve such comments before sharing.
  • Notifications: Even if you have hidden or quit Calendar, Messages, Mail, and similar apps, their notifications could still appear at an inopportune time. You might not want colleagues to know about an ob-gyn appointment, meeting with a potential employer, or racy conversations with a coworker. The solution is Do Not Disturb, easily enabled from Control Center in macOS 11 Big Sur and by scrolling up in Today view in Notification Center in earlier versions of macOS. Also, although it won’t help with online screen sharing, it’s a good idea to enable the “When mirroring to TVs and projectors” option in System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb.

This may all sound a little overwhelming, but there is one trick that will help you avoid most of these problems at once. In System Preferences > Users & Groups, create a new user account dedicated to screen sharing and presentations. In that user account, you can be sure to have innocuous desktop pictures, screen savers, clean Web browser windows, and permanent Do Not Disturb. The hardest part will be figuring out the best way to share documents you use in presentations between your accounts (try the /Users/Shared folder or an online file sharing solution like Dropbox). Then, before you start a call when you’ll need to share your screen, choose your new account from the Fast User Switching menu from the right side of the menu bar (set up that menu in System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Options).

One final piece of advice. When you’ve accomplished what you need to by sharing your screen, stop sharing it and switch back to video. That way, you can’t accidentally do something in the shared window that might be embarrassing. Similarly, when a meeting is over or you’re dropping off for a while, it’s best to leave the call. Stopping video and muting audio are good tools, but it’s easy to click in the wrong spot accidentally and think you’re safe when, in fact, your mic or camera is still live.

(Featured image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)


Social Media: When sharing your screen online, would you be embarrassed if your clients, colleagues, or bosses saw what’s on your Mac—your desktop picture, screen saver, browser tabs, email notifications, or Messages conversations? Here’s what to watch out for.

M1-Based Macs Have New Startup Modes: Here’s What You Need to Know

For many years, Macs have relied on sets of keys held at startup to enable specific modes. Most notably, pressing Option displays the Startup Manager and lets you pick a boot drive, Command-R starts up from macOS Recovery, Command-Option-P-R resets the NVRAM, Shift starts up in Safe mode, D opens Apple Diagnostics to check the hardware, and T starts up in Target Disk Mode. Needless to say, obscure key combinations aren’t the friendliest way to help someone who may already be stressed out about their Mac not working, so Apple improved things for the new M1-based Macs.

The most important part is that you no longer have to press a key combination during startup. Instead, press and hold the power button until the screen shows “Loading startup options…” and displays the Startup Manager.

Unfortunately, Apple is still a little fast and loose with terms, so we’ve tried to list all of the ones you might see.

Startup Manager / Startup Disk

If you have multiple boot drives and wish to switch among them, you’ll want to use Startup Manager. Immediately after you see “Loading startup options…,” the Mac displays the new Startup Manager, which shows icons for all the bootable drives, along with buttons for Options, Shut Down, and Restart. To boot from a particular drive, select it and click Continue under it.

If you work your way into macOS Recovery but then want to back out in order to select a startup drive, look in the Apple menu for a Startup Disk command, which provides similar functionality with a slightly different look.

Startup Manager (but not Startup Disk) also lets you start up in Safe mode and set a drive as the default to use for booting. First, select a drive. Then, for Safe mode, press the Shift key and click the Continue in Safe Mode button below it. To set a selected drive as the default, press the Control or Option key and click the Always Use button underneath it.

Note that M1-based Macs can’t boot from just any external drive. We’re all still learning about the new platform, but it seems that you need a Thunderbolt 3 SSD that has been freshly formatted with APFS and set up with a new installation of macOS 11.1 Big Sur. See Howard Oakley’s writeup for details.

macOS Recovery / Recovery

When you need to reinstall macOS or restore from a Time Machine backup, head to macOS Recovery. From the Startup Manager screen, select Options and click Continue underneath it. After you choose a language, an initial macOS Recovery screen appears. Note that you have access to the Apple menu, which lets you choose Startup Disk, Restart, or Shut Down, and to the Recovery Assistant menu, which includes a potentially useful Erase Mac command.

macOS Recovery presents you with a list of users. Select one for which you know the login password, click Next, and enter the password when prompted. Now, in the Recovery app, you can restore from Time Machine, reinstall Big Sur, launch Safari to browse the Web and get online help from Apple, and open Disk Utility to manage drives.

The Recovery app has a full set of menus, and notice Utilities in particular. It lets you launch the Startup Security Utility, to reduce the macOS security level, or Terminal, if you want to run command-line tools before startup. (The old macOS single-user mode accessible by holding down S at startup has disappeared.) To return to the Recovery app from any other app, quit the current app. Finally, note that the Recovery app’s Window menu has an option for Recovery Log. As is often the case with logs, it may be inscrutable to all but high-level support experts.

Oddly, once you’re in macOS Recovery, there’s no way to return to the Startup Manager.

Target Disk Mode / Share Disk

If you ever want to access one Mac’s drives from another, you can connect the two Macs via a USB or Thunderbolt cable and use Target Disk Mode. On M1-based Macs, you initiate Target Disk Mode using a command in the Recovery app’s Utilities menu: Share Disk.

Choose Utilities > Share Disk to start sharing one of the M1-based Mac’s drives via Target Disk Mode. Select the drive and click Start Sharing. When you’re done using it, click Stop Sharing before disconnecting the cable.

Apple Diagnostics / Diagnostics Loader

If you’re worried that your M1-based Mac is suffering from a hardware failure, running Apple Diagnostics may shed some light on the problem. Oddly, getting to Apple Diagnostics still requires a hidden keystroke.

Once you’re in the Startup Manager screen, press and hold Command-D to reboot the Mac into the Diagnostics Loader app. You can choose to run the diagnostics offline or to share the information with Apple.

After you pick one, the diagnostics run right away and report back when they’re done. If you have an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, make sure to plug it in first, or you’ll get an error telling you that the power adapter couldn’t be found.

The troubleshooting approaches that no longer seem to be available in any way are to reset the NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) or the SMC (System Management Controller). Apparently, the NVRAM tests itself at startup and resets automatically if necessary. M1-based Macs reportedly don’t have an SMC in the same way as Intel-based Macs, so there’s no option to reset it.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: Apple’s M1-based Macs change how you switch drives and access troubleshooting tools at startup. Read on to learn the new techniques.

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:

Scribble: Why the Pencil Is Mightier Than the Finger in iPadOS 14

With iPadOS, you have to remember that it shares most of its capabilities with iOS. So if it seems that iPadOS 14 doesn’t have as many major new capabilities as iOS 14, that’s not quite fair—many of iOS 14’s new features also appear in iPadOS 14. You’ll get pinned conversations in Messages, cycling directions and city guides in Maps, privacy reports and translation capabilities in Safari, and much more. Sadly—and oddly—missing from iPadOS 14, however, are iOS 14’s App Library and Home screen widgets.

The must-try new feature in iPadOS 14 for those with an Apple Pencil is Scribble. In the past, the Apple Pencil has been limited mostly to particular apps, and many of them have leveraged it more for drawing and painting than writing. No more—with Scribble, anywhere you can type, you can handwrite with your Apple Pencil. That means you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between your Apple Pencil and the keyboard. When you first use your Apple Pencil with iPadOS 14, it will give you a quick Scribble tutorial, but it’s easy to ignore or dismiss accidentally. Happily, you can get it back in Settings > Apple Pencil > Try Scribble.

Scribble’s handwriting recognition is pretty good—vastly better than the days of the Newton and the Doonesbury “egg freckles” cartoon from 1997—although its accuracy does improve with the legibility of your writing, much like Siri’s recognition improves when you speak clearly. You shouldn’t have to adjust how you write too much, since Scribble accepts both printed characters and cursive writing, and even a mix of the two. Where it really shines, though, is in the ways it lets you edit your text when mistakes do happen, either due to its recognition or you changing your mind about what you’ve entered.

To try Scribble, bring up any app with a text field, such as Maps, with its search field. Instead of tapping in the search field and typing, simply write your search terms in the field with the Apple Pencil. (It’s OK to rest your hand on the screen—iPadOS is good about ignoring input from your hand when you’re using the Apple Pencil.) As you write, after you finish a word or two, Scribble will convert your words to text. (Apps do need to support Scribble, so it may not work in older apps.)

How you enter text into text-oriented apps varies a little by app. In Notes, when you tap the pencil button in the upper-left corner, and in Pages, when you tap the screen with your Apple Pencil, a toolbar appears at the bottom, and you have to tap the icon of the Apple Pencil with an A on it to enter Scribble mode.

Notice that when you’re writing, another floating toolbar appears, likely at the bottom of the screen, although you can move it. The actions available in the toolbar depend on the app you’re using, so when handwriting in a search field, the toolbar will likely contain a Search button that you can tap to execute the search, much like pressing Return on a keyboard. When handwriting in Mail, the toolbar provides formatting options, controls for inserting attachments, and more. You’ll also often see a left-pointing Undo button, which is useful if you accidentally delete or replace some text while writing.

So how can you edit text you’ve entered? Here’s what you can do:

  • Delete a word: Scratch it out with an up-and-down motion.
  • Insert text: Touch and hold where you want to create some space, and then write in the space that opens.
  • Join or separate characters: Draw a vertical line between the characters. Think of the act of drawing a vertical line as deleting a space (joining) or inserting a space (separating).
  • Select text: Either draw a circle around the text or draw a line through it. You can extend the selection by dragging from the beginning or the end of the selected text. To select just a word, you can also double-tap it, and to select a paragraph, triple-tap it.
  • Replace selected text: In case it’s not obvious, after you select some text, just write more (anywhere there’s space) to replace what you have selected.

We won’t pretend that using Scribble with the Apple Pencil will necessarily be faster than typing, particularly when using a physical keyboard. But it may be more fluid and intuitive, if you’re already using the Apple Pencil heavily, to use it for short bits of text when you would otherwise have to tap the letters in one at a time or set the Apple Pencil down to type. Of course, the converse is true too—if you’re typing on an external keyboard, you won’t want to pick up your Apple Pencil just to edit text.

If, after all this, you decide that you find Scribble intrusive, you can disable it in Settings > Apple Pencil. But do give it a try and see if it fits with how you like to use your iPad.

(Featured image by Salomé Watel on Unsplash)


Social Media: The hot new feature for Apple Pencil users in iPadOS 14 is Scribble. Find out how you can use it to recognize your handwriting as text anywhere you can type, and learn its easy gestures for editing text.

Are You Making the Most of the Touch Bar on Your MacBook Pro?

In 2016, Apple introduced the Touch Bar with the MacBook Pro. It’s a long, thin display above the number keys on the keyboard that shows a variety of buttons and controls. By default, it changes depending on which app you’re in, and it also displays the Control Strip, a collection of controls that roughly mimics the functions accessible from the F-keys that traditionally live in that position. Finally, it includes the Touch ID sensor that brings fingerprint authentication to the Mac.

Since its launch, however, the Touch Bar hasn’t migrated to any other Macs or keyboards, although the MacBook Air picked up a Touch ID sensor without the rest of the Touch Bar. As a result, developers haven’t been as enthusiastic about supporting the Touch Bar as they might have been. Nevertheless, it provides useful shortcuts in many apps, and you can customize it more to your liking. (Plus, although we’re not going into those details here, Apple is making the Touch Bar even more useful and customizable in macOS 11 Big Sur.)

Choose What the Touch Bar Shows

You may never have noticed the Touch Bar’s settings because Apple has hidden them in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences. Logical, but perhaps not where you might have looked first if you were thinking of the Touch Bar as an extension of the trackpad.

You have two choices here, what appears in the Touch Bar normally, and how it changes if you press the Fn key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard. Your options include:

  • App Controls: The controls that appear when you choose this option vary by app. This option is the most generally useful, though how much so depends on whether the apps you use support the Touch Bar in helpful ways.
  • Expanded Control Strip: The Control Strip, which appears by default on the right side of the Touch Bar, lets you adjust common settings like brightness and volume. The Expanded Control Strip option fills the rest of the Touch Bar with more buttons.
  • F1, F2, etc. Keys: Aimed at keyboard traditionalists, this option mimics the F-keys that occupy the Touch Bar’s position on every other keyboard in the universe. People often use these keys as hot keys with macro programs like Keyboard Maestro.
  • Quick Actions: Want to create your own custom buttons for the Touch Bar? In Apple’s Automator app, you can create workflows as Quick Actions, which then appear on the Touch Bar when you choose this option.
  • Spaces: Those who are big users of Spaces in Mission Control might appreciate this option, which lets you switch between different full-screen apps and Split View spaces.

In the Touch Bar Shows pop-up menu, you should choose the set of Touch Bar buttons that you’ll find the most useful most of the time. That’s probably either App Controls or F-keys for most people, unless you do a lot of your own automation (choose Quick Actions) or regularly use full-screen apps (choose Spaces).

The Press Fn Key To menu basically gives you a second choice—press that key, and you can display whatever set of buttons you’d find next most useful.

Finally, notice that there’s a checkbox for Show Control Strip. If you want to take over its space on the right side of the Touch Bar for other buttons, deselect the checkbox. One useful approach is to disable the Control Strip in general use, but show the expanded Control Strip when you press Fn.

Customize App Controls

App controls are in many ways the most interesting because they change not just when you switch between apps, but also based on what you’re doing in an app. Take Pages, for instance. If you’re working with text, Pages configures the Touch Bar to show buttons that let you switch between paragraph styles, apply character formatting, and tweak horizontal and vertical justification. That button on the far right displays auto-complete options for the word you’re typing. But if you have a text box selected, Pages instead provides buttons for opacity, various colors, and line strokes. Select a table, and Pages immediately offers options for adding and removing columns and rows.

Even better, some apps, like Safari, let you pick which buttons appear in the Touch Bar, just as you can pick the controls that appear in window toolbars. In apps that allow this, choose View > Customize Touch Bar. A selection of available buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. Drag one of the buttons off the bottom of the screen and—really!—onto the Touch Bar, where you can drag it into different spots. When you’re done, click the Done button.

While you’re customizing the Touch Bar for an app, you can also rearrange buttons by dragging them left or right (with either the pointer or your finger) and remove buttons by dragging them (with the pointer) from the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro’s screen.

Note that the Touch Bar is only so big, and the Mac won’t let you populate it with more buttons than it has room for. If you try, the new button will replace one of the current buttons.

Customize the Control Strip

You’re not limited to choosing which app controls you’d like to see in the Touch Bar. In System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard, click Customize Control Strip to bring up a similar collection of controls that you can add to the Control Strip. Plus, you can rearrange and remove buttons from the Touch Bar’s Control Strip just as with the app controls.

Try Third-Party Utilities

As you might expect, clever Mac programmers have extended the ways you can use the Touch Bar beyond what Apple provides. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • BetterTouchTool: For $8.50, this general-purpose customization utility gives you control over various input devices on your Mac, including the Touch Bar. It lets you completely customize the Touch Bar, add and customize the appearance of buttons for all sorts of built-in actions, create dynamic widgets using AppleScript and other languages, and download ready-to-use presets.
  • Pock: Want to recover the screen real-estate occupied by the Dock? The free Pock puts your Dock items in the Touch Bar for fast app switching. Plus, it provides useful widgets, including a handy Now Playing widget that can show the title of the current song.
  • Haptic Touch Bar: Although Apple built the Touch Bar so it could provide haptic feedback—making it feel like you’ve pressed a key down when all you’ve done is touched a flat glass surface—most controls don’t provide it. The $4.99 Haptic Touch Bar utility makes all Touch Bar buttons pretend to be physical buttons, with haptic and audio feedback.

If you’ve been ignoring the Touch Bar because it didn’t work the way you wanted, or if you’ve liked using it but wished it could do more, give these customization options a try!

(Featured image by Adam Engst)


Social Media: Do you love, hate, or just ignore the Touch Bar on your MacBook Pro? Regardless, take a look at these ways of customizing it, and perhaps you’ll end up liking it more.