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Sort Your Lists Differently in Reminders in iOS 14 and Big Sur

For many years, Apple’s Reminders app let you sort your lists, but in just one way that applied to all lists equally. That was a problem if you had a to-do list that you wanted to sort by Due Date and a list of foods in your freezer that you wanted to sort by Creation Date (to see which were older) or Title (for a simple alphabetical sort). Happily, in iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple finally addressed this limitation, letting you sort each list independently. Your choices even sync across all your devices! So if you had given up on sorting, or given up on Reminders entirely because of this limitation, on the Mac, check out the View > Sort By menu, and in iOS and iPadOS, tap the ••• button and then Sort By.

(Featured image by iStock.com/fizkes)

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:

Choose Your Preferred Default Web Browser and Email App in iOS and iPadOS 14

Since the earliest days of the iPhone, Apple’s Safari and Mail have been the default Web and email apps for iOS and, later, iPadOS. There was no way to choose alternatives that would be used whenever an app wanted to open a Web page or create an email message. That has now changed with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. To switch to a different Web browser (such as Brave, DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Opera Touch) or a different email app (such as Boomerang, Chuck, Hey, Gmail, Outlook, Polymail, or Spark), follow these directions. In Settings, tap the name of the browser or email app you want to set as the default. Then tap Default Browser App or Default Mail App and select the desired app.

(Featured image based on an original by Sotiris Gkolias from Pexels)

What Are Those Orange and Green Dots in Your iPhone’s Status Bar?

In iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, Apple added two new status indicators to the right side of the status bar at the top of the screen. They’re designed to give you feedback about what an app is doing. An orange dot indicates that an app is using the microphone, and a green dot means that an app is using the camera (and possibly the microphone as well). They’re subtle and shouldn’t be distracting, but if you ever notice them when you don’t think the camera or microphone should be in use, look for apps that might be using them in the background.

(Featured image by Bruno Massao from Pexels)

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.

Did You Know That Your iPhone Can “Name That Tune”?

Several years ago, Apple bought a company called Shazam, which made an app that identified songs by listening to the music playing nearby. Since then, Apple has built Shazam into Siri in iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS. Most recently, Apple added it to Control Center in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 as well, so you can invoke it without speaking. To use Shazam, whenever you want to identify a song that’s playing nearby, just ask Siri, “What’s playing?” or tell it “Name that tune” or have some fun and say “Shazam!” To add Shazam to Control Center, navigate to Settings > Control Center, and tap the green + button next to Music Recognition. Then, from Control Center, tap the button to start it listening—you can return to whatever you were doing. When the song is identified, a notification appears with its name. Tap the notification to open the song in the Music app.

(Featured image by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

Pinch to Zoom in All Photos View in iOS 14

Photos in iOS 14 provides four views of your library: Years, Months, Days, and All Photos. For the first three, Photos picks representative images that may not include particular shots you’re looking for. The All Photos view shows everything, but it can be overwhelming. What’s not apparent is that you can navigate All Photos more easily by pinching in to shrink the thumbnails and then pinching out to make them larger again. At the largest size, a single photo takes up the entire width of the screen.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

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.

What We Can Expect from macOS 11.0 Big Sur, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7

Every year at its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple lays out its roadmap for the next releases of each of its operating systems. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Apple to record its keynote presentation ahead of time rather than having it live, but the company doesn’t seem to have tempered its ambitions for macOS 11.0 Big Sur, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7.

Apple never promises ship dates this early in the process, but it’s a good bet that we’ll see these operating system updates in September or October, given past release dates.

Here’s what to look forward to!

macOS 11.0 Big Sur

Yes, you read that right—the macOS version number finally goes to 11, and it’s named after the Big Sur region of California. Its changes fall into three main categories: design, updates to essential apps, and support for Apple silicon (see our other article about that).

Apple says that macOS 11.0 Big Sur embodies the biggest change in design since the release of Mac OS X in 2001. It still looks familiar but changes nearly every aspect of the visual interface. Window frames are gone, title bars have shrunk and been joined by icon-focused toolbars, and visual complexity has been reduced. Windows and icons are both more rounded than before, and the Dock now sits slightly above the bottom of the screen, much like in iPadOS.

Big Sur also gains a Control Center along the lines of the one in iOS and watchOS, with the twist that you can pin your most-used controls to the top of the menu bar. Apple also revamped Notification Center with features from iOS, making notifications more interactive, grouping them by thread or app, and letting you do more with widgets.

Apple rewrote all its apps to ensure that they’d run natively on Macs with Apple silicon, but some received more substantial changes as well. Messages allows threading in group conversations, lets you @mention people like in Slack or Twitter, and allows you to pin conversations to the top of your list.

Safari exposes more of its privacy-protecting features, allowing you to view a privacy report that shows trackers blocked in the last 30 days, warns you if your account passwords may have been compromised in a data breach, and can translate pages from a number of languages.

Maps provides cycling directions, can include charging stations when routing electric car owners, and provides Apple Guides with travel suggestions. Many other apps, including Photos, Music, Podcasts, Reminders, and Voice Memos receive smaller enhancements.

Remember that new Macs with Apple silicon will require Big Sur, both to support the new Apple processors and for its Rosetta 2 translation environment that makes it possible to run existing Intel-based apps on Macs that lack Intel processors.

macOS 11.0 Big Sur officially supports the following Macs. A few Catalina-capable models from 2012 and 2013 have been dropped.

  • MacBook (early 2015 and later)
  • MacBook Air (mid 2013 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (mid 2013 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac (2014 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)

iOS 14

Just as macOS Big Sur is the most significant design refresh since Mac OS X, iOS 14 brings a huge change to the look and feel of iOS, thanks to a revamped Home screen. Apple has finally acknowledged that most people know what’s on the first Home screen page and maybe the second, and everything after that is a jumbled mess.

To address that problem, iOS 14 introduces the App Library, which is the rightmost Home screen page. It collects all your apps (below left). It groups apps by Suggestions, Recently Added, and curated categories like Creativity, Entertainment, and Social. Inside each group, all your apps appear alphabetically for easy access. With the App Library, it’s easy to add apps to the Home screen and remove Home screen pages you don’t need anymore.

Even more radical is how iOS 14 lets you break widgets out of Today view and embed them on the Home screen in a variety of sizes (above right). No more opening a weather app just to see the temperature—a widget can give you a quick overview of the conditions and forecast. Or a stock widget can show you just how much AAPL has gone up since the announcement.

You’ll also notice instantly that Siri no longer takes over the entire screen, instead showing you an icon that indicates it’s listening and putting the results in panels on top of whatever app you’re using (below left). Similarly, call notifications will be presented as a standard notification banner rather than obscuring the app you were using (below right). Voice dictation now happens on the device, which should improve responsiveness and privacy. Siri can do translations now, and a new Translate app makes it possible to have a conversation with someone in an unfamiliar language.

Needless to say, there are many other smaller changes. Both Messages and Maps gain the features mentioned previously for macOS. New “App Clips” let you use a tiny bit of an app without installing the whole thing, which is ideal for renting a scooter without having its app, for instance. For those who watch video on an iPhone, iOS 14 now supports picture-in-picture. And for some people, the most welcome change will be the option to specify your own default Web and email apps.

iOS 14 works with the iPhone 6s and first-generation iPhone SE and later, and with the seventh-generation iPod touch.

iPadOS 14

As you’d expect, iPadOS 14 gains all the iOS 14 changes. But Apple has also spent some time making iPadOS work more like macOS, redesigning and adding sidebars to many apps, putting toolbars at the top of the screen, and adding pull-down menus to apps like Files. Apple also overhauled the iPadOS search experience, trading the previous full screen look for a simple gray bar that—you guessed it—looks a lot like the macOS Spotlight search interface.

The other massive change for iPadOS is Scribble, Apple’s marketing name for its new handwriting recognition feature. Anywhere you can enter text, you’ll be able to write with your Apple Pencil and have your writing converted to typed text (in English or Chinese, at least). All transcription happens on the device for performance and privacy reasons. You can also select handwritten words by circling them, scratch words to delete them, touch and hold between words to add a space, and more.

In Notes and other apps that support handwriting, you’ll be able to select words or sentences with double and triple taps. A shortcut palette lets you perform common actions without using the onscreen keyboard, including Copy As Text, which lets you copy handwritten text and paste as typed text. Other Apple Pencil gestures include dragging to select and adding or deleting space between sentences or paragraphs. Finally, shape recognition lets you sketch a rough shape and have it automatically converted to a perfectly drawn version.

iPadOS 14 works with the fifth-generation iPad and later, the iPad Air 2 and later, the iPad mini 4 and later, and all models of the iPad Pro.

watchOS 7

Unsurprisingly, watchOS 7 doesn’t deliver as major changes as in Apple’s other operating systems—there simply isn’t room to do as much. Nonetheless, it offers some nice enhancements, starting with new watch faces. For instance, Chronograph Pro has a tachymeter with room for customization, and X‑Large lets you show a single rich complication. You can also add multiple complications from the same app to a face. Once you’ve created the perfect face, you can share it with friends by texting it, emailing it, or posting a link online.

The most notable change in watchOS 7, though, is sleep tracking. Wear your Apple Watch while you sleep, and it will automatically go into sleep mode, turning on Do Not Disturb and preventing the screen from lighting up (but a tap shows a dim time display). watchOS 7 then uses the Apple Watch’s accelerometer to detect sleep states and reports on them when it wakes you up in the morning, either with gentle sounds or taps on your wrist. It will even ask you to charge your Apple Watch before bed if it needs more juice to get through the night, and prompts you to put it on the charger when you wake up so it can get through the day.

The most timely addition to watchOS is handwashing detection and encouragement. When the Apple Watch’s motion sensors and microphone detect that you’re washing your hands, it starts a 20-second timer and encourages you to keep washing through to the end. Plus, when you arrive home after being out, the Apple Watch reminds you to wash your hands. Stay safe out there!

To acknowledge the level that people use the Apple Watch for fitness, Apple has renamed the Activity app to Fitness and added additional workouts for core training, functional strength training, and dance. Plus, you can now use Maps to get on-wrist cycling directions. Siri can translate into ten languages, and watchOS 7 now does on-device dictation for faster and more reliable requests.

watchOS 7 requires at least an iPhone 6s running iOS 14 and an Apple Watch Series 3 or later.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: At its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple showed off the next versions of its major operating systems: macOS 11.0 Big Sur, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7. Here’s what you can expect this fall.