Use the Mac’s Built-In Screen Sharing to Provide Remote Help

Are you the person your friends and family members turn to for questions about the Mac? In normal times, those questions might come over dinner or at another in-person gathering, such that you could look directly at their Mac to see what was going on. Now, however, with everyone staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, answering those questions has seemingly gotten harder. But it doesn’t have to be that way, thanks to a built-in feature of macOS that you may not have known about: screen sharing.

With the Mac’s built-in Screen Sharing app, you can either observe or control another person’s Mac, anywhere on the Internet. They don’t even need to enable Screen Sharing in System Preferences > Sharing. (Don’t worry—there are multiple ways that Apple ensures that this feature can’t be used surreptitiously.)

Initiate the Connection

There are multiple ways to connect to a remote Mac for screen sharing, but two stand out as being particularly easy.

First, if you communicate in Messages with the person whose Mac you’re trying to control, make sure your conversation with them is selected, and then choose Buddies > Ask to Share Screen. The other person can also initiate the connection with you by choosing Buddies > Invite to Share My Screen.

Second, if Messages doesn’t work for you (those commands are often dimmed), or the other person doesn’t use Messages, there’s another option. Press Command-Space to open Spotlight and type “Screen Sharing”. The Screen Sharing app should be the top hit—press Return to launch it. (For future reference, it’s stored in /System/Library/CoreServices/Applications/Screen Sharing.)

Then, in the dialog that appears, enter the person’s Apple ID, which is likely their email address, and click Connect.

Accept the Connection

Needless to say, macOS doesn’t allow anyone to connect to a Mac like this without permission. The other person needs to accept the connection request, which they do by clicking Accept in the notification that appears, likely in the upper-right corner of the screen. Obviously, clicking Decline immediately terminates the connection.

After clicking Accept, the other person gets yet another permission request, this time with additional options. They can once again choose to Accept or Decline, and choose between allowing you to control the screen or just observe them using it. And, of course, if you ever get a screen sharing request from someone you don’t know, you can always click Block This User to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Next, a little popover appears to alert the other person to the new icon on the menu bar. The blue menu bar icon constantly flashes while the connection is active so there’s no question that screen sharing is taking place.

So what’s in that menu? Commands for switching between controlling and observing (choose “Allow Name to control my screen” to toggle), mute the microphone (more on that shortly), pause screen sharing, and end the session.

Use the Connection

The Mute Microphone command in the remote Mac’s Screen Sharing menu is a hint—when you’re sharing the screen, the connection also provides full audio communication. This seems helpful, but in many cases, you’re already talking on the phone, at which point it’s helpful to mute the microphone on both sides. Or hang up the phone and stick with Screen Sharing’s audio.

For the most part, once you’re controlling someone’s Mac remotely, it’s just like using the Mac while sitting in front of it. You can move the pointer around, select icons and menus, open apps and documents, and so on. You may notice a slight lag or jitter as the screen draws, since updating it over an Internet connection is much, much slower than in person.

You do have a few special capabilities based largely on the buttons in the toolbar, however:

  • Toggle Control/Observe: When you’re controlling the remote Mac, you may find yourself competing for the pointer and keyboard with the other person. To let them “drive,” click the binoculars icon in the toolbar to switch to Observe mode. Click the arrow pointer to return to Control mode.
  • Resize the window: If you’re on a 13-inch MacBook Pro and trying to control a 27-inch iMac screen, it simply won’t fit. Luckily, Screen Sharing lets you resize the window so it does, although some interface elements may become too small to use easily. If that’s a problem, you can disable scaling by clicking the left-most Scaling button, after which everything on the remote screen will appear at normal size. You’ll have to scroll the window to see parts of the screen that are out of view.
  • Share Clipboard: By default, you’re sharing the Clipboard, so anything you cut or copy on your Mac will be transferred to the other Mac’s Clipboard, and vice versa. If that’s awkward, you can disable it and then use the commands in the Clipboard menu to get or send the Clipboard contents manually.
  • Take a screenshot: Normal screenshot controls don’t work for taking a screenshot of the remote screen, or rather, they’ll work on the remote Mac. To take a screenshot of what you see and keep it on your Mac, click the Screenshot button.
  • Transfer files: It’s not obvious, but you can move files back and forth between the two Macs merely by dragging them to and from the remote Mac’s window. You sometimes have to pause slightly for Screen Sharing to realize your pointer has left the remote Mac and is on your Mac, but as soon as you let up on the mouse button, the file copies. A File Transfers window shows progress and history.

When you’re done with your screen sharing session, you can shut it down by choosing End Screen Sharing from the remote Mac’s Screen Sharing menu or just close the window or quit the Screen Sharing app on your Mac. Remember that as soon as you do that, the audio connection will drop as well, so make sure you’ve said goodbye first!

(Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Use Your Apple Watch to Unlock Your Mac, and Apps in Catalina

If you’ve resisted requiring a password on your Mac after it wakes up or comes out of the screen saver because it’s too much work to enter repeatedly, an Apple Watch can make authentication much easier. In previous versions of macOS, just wearing an unlocked Apple Watch is enough to enter your Mac’s password; in Catalina, the Apple Watch can also enter your password when prompted by apps. First, make sure your Apple Watch has a passcode (in Watch > Passcode), is on your wrist, and is unlocked. Then, in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General, select “Use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac.” From then on, most of the time your Mac or an app wants your password, your Apple Watch will provide it automatically. (This feature requires that the Mac dates from mid-2013 or later, that all devices use the same iCloud account, and that the Apple ID uses two-factor authentication instead of two-step verification.)

(Featured image based on an original by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

The Best Apple-Related Gifts for 2017

It’s that time of year again, when many of us start wracking our brains for gift ideas for our loved ones—or for our own wish lists. If your special someone is an Apple user, we have a few suggestions.

Chargers, Cables, and Adapters, Oh My!

We know that giving someone a cable feels a bit like buying them socks, but Apple’s minimalist design and focus on USB-C and Lightning ports means that many users would appreciate extra cables or adapters. You’ll want to ask them what they find most annoying about their current cable situation—they might want an extra Lightning to headphone adapter, a USB-C to USB-A cable for connecting some peripheral, or an HDMI cable to run a big-screen TV.

Plus, giving someone a second iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch charger could reduce battery anxiety or make it less likely that they’d forget to pack one while traveling.

AirPods

Apple’s most surprising hit of 2017 was the AirPods, svelte wireless earbuds that pair quickly and seamlessly to all Apple devices logged in to the same iCloud account. They’re light, stay in the ear well, and are comfortable even for many people who couldn’t wear the wired EarPods. At $159, they’re not cheap, but they’re still less expensive than many competing wireless earbuds.

The only catch? Apple has had trouble making AirPods fast enough, so don’t assume you can buy a pair as a last-minute gift.

Apple Watch

Apple always intended the Apple Watch as an iPhone accessory, so it makes a great add-on for any iPhone user who doesn’t already have their iPhone in hand most of the day. For most people, the $249 Apple Watch Series 1 is a fine gift, although the $329 Series 3 is faster and brighter, and doesn’t need the iPhone to track a run or bike ride via GPS.

Consider the $399 Series 3 with cellular access only if you’re certain the recipient will make use of the watch while out and about without the iPhone, since its data plan costs $10 extra per month.

And, if someone on your gift list already has an Apple Watch, a new band might make a great present—Apple offers a wide variety of attractive and comfortable bands.

Apple TV

Although it’s a few years old, the $149 fourth-generation Apple TV still makes a good present for anyone who watches TV shows and movies from Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and other Internet streaming video services.

For most people, the $179 Apple TV 4K is overkill, since its support for 4K video and HDR color require a compatible 4K HDR TV purchased in the last year or so.

So stick with the previous Apple TV, and if you’re looking for a related stocking stuffer, search for silicone cases that protect the brittle Siri Remote and make it easier to orient in the dark.

iPad

Last, but far from least, if someone in your family has never tried an iPad or is limping along with one of the early models, the current fifth-generation iPad combines good performance and a gorgeous screen with a compellingly low price starting at $329.

At $399, the smaller iPad mini 4 doesn’t provide as much bang for the buck, but it could be the perfect present for a child.

Particularly when buying an iPad for a kid, a durable case is a must—perhaps suggest that as a gift idea to another family member.