Every year at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), 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)
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.
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.
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.
It’s taken as gospel that Macs are more expensive than PCs. A quick look at the Dell Web site reveals laptops for as low as $300. Sure, we can say that the configurations aren’t comparable, that macOS is better than Windows, or that Apple’s hardware quality is superior. Still, our friendly local bean counters have trouble getting past those low upfront prices.
However, unless you’re Rancho Gordo, the goal isn’t to count beans, it’s to get work done, and that’s a different scenario. Let’s look at a few ways that Macs are not just worth the money but can also be cheaper than comparable systems. We’ll start with a Forrester Research study commissioned by Apple that compared the total economic impact of Macs and PCs in large companies with employee-choice programs. In such programs, every employee gets to choose between a Mac and a PC, providing a sizable group across which to compare numbers, but the conclusions apply to large and small organizations alike.
Deeper Cost Analysis
Although the Forrester Research study found that the upfront acquisition cost of Macs was indeed $500 higher than comparable PCs, when additional factors were taken into account, Macs ended up costing about $50 less.
That’s in part because Macs have a higher residual value after 3 years, meaning that you can resell a 3-year-old Mac for more than a 3-year-old PC. Pay more up front, but get more back later on.
Macs also don’t need operating system licenses, and the Mac’s better security eliminates the need for additional licenses for security software.
Reduced IT Support Costs
It has long been thought that Macs required less support than PCs, but only in the past few years have there been organizations with enough Macs and PCs to compare. At IBM, one of the largest Apple-using companies with 290,000 Apple devices, a 2016 study found that the company was saving up to $543 per Mac compared to PCs over a 4-year lifespan. Forrester Research came up with an even higher number, showing that Macs cost $628 less over a 3-year lifespan.
What accounts for these reduced support costs? It takes less time to set up a new Mac, Macs are easier to manage, Macs users open fewer service tickets, and many fewer IT staff are needed. All that adds up to paying for fewer support resources. In another 2018 study, IBM found that it needed just 7 support engineers per 200,000 Macs, compared to 20 support engineers per 200,000 Windows machines.
Improved Employee Productivity and Engagement
Beyond reduced support costs, Mac users turn out to be more productive, more engaged, and more likely to stay with the company than PC users. Forrester Research found that over 3 years, Mac-using employees posted 48 hours more productivity (in part due to reduced downtime). That’s likely thousands of dollars more benefit to the company, per employee.
Even still, it can be hard to quantify that benefit, which is why Forrester Research compared users in sales positions. In its study, Forrester found that Mac-using employees showed a 5% increase in sales performance. That’s nothing compared to IBM, which found that its Mac-based salespeople closed deals worth 16% more than their Windows-using counterparts.
Finally, both Forrester Research and IBM discovered that Mac users were less likely to leave the company—20% less likely in Forrester’s study and 17% less likely in IBM’s research. That’s not just an indication of loyalty. There are significant costs to replacing employees who leave, so the higher the retention rate, the better it is for the bottom line.
Improved Overall Security
Few would argue with the belief that Macs are more secure than PCs. In Forrester’s research, the interviewed organizations said that the Mac has a fundamentally more secure architecture than Windows. In today’s world, criminals employ malware to steal information. Data breaches are costly, with a 2019 study by IBM Security and the Ponemon Institute pegging the average cost of a data breach at $3.9 million. The amounts vary by industry and the size of the breach, of course, but the average cost per data record was nearly $150.
Security breaches can have other costs as well. With a compromised account, attackers have often been able to pose as executives and get accounting departments to wire money to offshore accounts. Plus, when news of a data breach hits, it can result in the loss of customers. In the IBM Security study, healthcare companies suffered from a 7% customer turnover after a breach.
So yes, Macs do have higher upfront costs than PCs. But savvy managers know to look past such simplistic comparisons to the bigger picture, where equipping employees with Macs both saves far more than the difference in cost between a Mac and a PC and enables employees to produce more for the organization.
At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, the company dropped a bombshell: in the future, Macs will no longer be powered by Intel chips but will instead rely on custom-designed Apple chips. As surprising as this is, the company has made such massive transitions twice before: first in 1994 with the move from Motorola’s 68000 chips to IBM’s PowerPC platform, and again in 2006 with the jump to processors from Intel. Here are answers to the main questions we’ve been hearing.
What is “Apple silicon”?
For many years now, Apple has created its own chips to power the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV. These chips, the A series, are based on a platform called ARM, though Apple took pains to avoid saying that during the keynote. Of all Apple’s products, only the Mac continues to use processors from Intel.
Apple said it would be creating chips specifically to power Macs, although they’ll be part of the same chip family used in iOS devices. That makes sense since macOS and iOS share a great deal of code under the hood.
Why is Apple making this transition?
There are three main reasons:
Performance: With its ARM-based A series of chips, Apple has achieved high levels of performance per watt. When chips run faster, they consume a lot more power, which cuts into battery life and produces a lot of heat. By creating its own chips, Apple can tweak the designs to the sweet spot of performance and power consumption for any given Mac—laptops trade processing power for longer battery life, whereas desktops have fewer tradeoffs. Plus, Apple can build special technologies, like advanced power management and high-performance video editing, into its chips to enhance those capabilities in macOS.
Profit: Apple didn’t mention this in the keynote, but it’s a big deal. Intel processors have high profit margins, and Apple would prefer to keep that money instead of paying it to Intel.
Control: Apple CEO Tim Cook has famously said, “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.” With Apple making its own chips, its product roadmaps are within its control, rather than being subject to Intel’s schedule, capabilities, and whims.
When will the first Macs with Apple silicon appear?
Apple said that we’d see the first Mac with Apple silicon by the end of 2020. If past performance is any indication, expect it in December.
The company did not say what type of Mac it would be, although the Developer Transition Kit hardware that developers can rent from Apple is a Mac mini with the same A12Z chip that runs the latest iPad Pro models. Other likely possibilities include the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac.
Is it better to wait for Macs with Apple silicon or buy Intel-based Macs while I can?
There are two schools of thought here. Some recommend buying the first models that appear after a major chip change because Macs with the previous chips may have a shorter effective lifespan once the transition is complete. Others prefer to buy the last models with the earlier chips under the assumption that the first new Macs might have unanticipated problems.
For the longest lifespan, wait for new Macs with Apple silicon. But if you’re worried that the first models out will have teething pains, invest in the last Intel-based Macs.
How long will Apple keep selling Intel-based Macs?
The company said that it anticipates releasing new Intel-based Macs for roughly 2 years and that it has some exciting new models in the pipeline.
How long will Apple continue to support Intel-based Macs?
Apple didn’t commit to a specific length of time but said it would be releasing new software and supporting Intel-based Macs “for years to come.” In the previous processor transition from PowerPC to Intel, Apple maintained the Rosetta translation environment for over 5 years.
In other words, if you buy an Intel-based Mac today, it should have an effective lifespan of at least 3–5 years. Businesses often refresh their Macs on such a cycle, so that’s not unreasonable.
Will my existing software run on a Mac with Apple silicon?
Happily, yes! Apple announced Rosetta 2, which will ship with macOS before Macs with Apple silicon appear. Rosetta 2 automatically translates existing Intel-based apps and can even dynamically translate apps with just-in-time code. If that all sounds like mumbo-jumbo, don’t worry—Apple said that Rosetta 2 will be completely transparent to the user.
We hope that’s true, but Rosetta 2 will probably work only with 64-bit apps that work in 10.15 Catalina. Old 32-bit apps that don’t run in Catalina are unlikely to be supported, nor will low-level software like kernel extensions. Plus, with translated software, performance is always a question.
Will I have to upgrade my apps for Macs with Apple silicon?
Although existing apps should still run, thanks to Rosetta 2, developers will be recompiling their apps to take advantage of all the capabilities of Apple silicon, so where upgrades are available, you’ll generally want to take advantage of them. Native apps running on Apple silicon should enjoy better performance.
Will I still be able to run Windows software in Boot Camp or a virtualization app?
Maybe. Apple talked about virtualization on Macs with Apple silicon and even showed off Parallels Desktop running Linux (versions of which run on ARM chips) but said nothing about Windows.
There are some ARM-based PCs, including Microsoft’s Surface Pro X, that come with Windows 10 for ARM. So our guess is that Boot Camp is history, but you’ll be able to run Windows 10 for ARM in Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. That may be sufficient if your needs are mainstream, but Windows 10 for ARM has a long list of restrictions.
Are there any other advantages to Macs with Apple silicon?
Indeed! Apple said that Macs with Apple silicon would be able to run all iPhone and iPad apps. During the keynote, the company demoed a few such apps running in their own windows on a Mac with Apple silicon. Whether this is game-changing depends on your needs, but given the millions of apps for the iPhone and iPad, it could be compelling.
Is this transition a good move?
Although there will undoubtedly be some bumps along the way, we think it is. Macs with Apple silicon should be faster and have better battery life than comparable Macs with Intel-based chips. It’s possible that Apple will lower prices too, given the savings from not buying expensive chips from Intel. And while the capability to run iPhone and iPad apps won’t float everyone’s boat, it could be useful.
And if nothing else, it’s yet another example of how we live in interesting times.
We all want Mac laptops that can run for days on a single charge and never need their batteries serviced. Sadly, we’re always going to be disappointed. Battery and power management technologies continually improve, but those improvements are matched by more powerful processors and smaller designs with less room for battery cells. And, because physics is a harsh mistress, current lithium-ion batteries are always going to age chemically, so they hold less of a charge over time.
In the just-released macOS 10.15.5 Catalina, Apple has introduced a new battery health management feature that promises to increase the effective lifespan of the batteries in recent Mac laptops. It does this by monitoring the battery’s temperature and charging patterns and, in all likelihood, reducing the maximum level to which it will charge the battery.
You see the problem. While battery health management can extend your battery’s overall lifespan, it will likely also reduce your everyday runtime before you need to charge. It’s too soon to know the full extent of this tradeoff, and we suspect that it may be impossible to determine, given that everyone uses their Macs differently.
It’s worth noting that this battery health management feature appears only for those running macOS 10.15.5 or later, and only then if the Mac in question is a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 ports. In essence, then, it’s available only on MacBook Pro models introduced in 2016 or later, and MacBook Air models introduced in 2018 and later. (The Thunderbolt 3 port requirement is merely a shorthand way for Apple to indicate “recent Mac laptops.”)
So, if you have a supported laptop and you’re running macOS 10.15.5, what should you do? We see three scenarios:
Favor lifespan: If you seldom run your laptop’s battery down to the electronic fumes because it’s easy for you to plug in whenever you need to charge, leave battery health management enabled. That will preserve the battery’s overall lifespan to the extent possible.
Favor runtime: For those who need to eke every last bit of power from their batteries, disable battery health management. You might have to replace the battery sooner, but you’ll get more runtime in everyday usage.
Switch as needed: Many people need the longest possible runtime only occasionally, such as on long flights with no under-seat power. In such situations, switch battery health management off for the flight and back on when you return to normal usage patterns.
Switching is easy, but Apple buries it deeply enough that it’s clear that the company doesn’t think most users should be disabling it regularly. Open System Preferences > Energy Saver, click the Battery Health button at the bottom, and in the dialog that appears, uncheck Battery Health Management and click OK. You’ll be prompted to make sure you know what you’re doing; click Turn Off to finish the job.
One final note. The reduced maximum capacity with battery health management enabled may have an undesirable side effect—a recommendation from the Battery Status menu’s health indicator that you need to replace your battery. To check your battery’s health, hold the Option key down and click the Battery Status icon on the menu bar. At the top of the menu, next to Condition, you’ll see either Normal or Service Recommended. (In previous versions of macOS, it could have said Replace Soon, Replace Now, or Service Battery.)
Regardless of the term, anything but Normal indicates that your battery is holding less of a charge than when it was new. If you see that message and you aren’t getting enough runtime for your needs, get the battery evaluated at an Apple-authorized service provider or Apple Store.
Starting back in iOS 11, Apple made Control Center significantly more useful by letting you customize it more to your liking by adding and rearranging buttons. You can even remove a few of the default buttons if they’re just taking up space.
Opening and Closing Control Center
To open Control Center in iOS 11 and later on an iPhone X or later (the models with Face ID), swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen. For iPhones with a Home button that use Touch ID (including the just-released iPhone SE and the iPod touch), swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen.
On an iPad, you’ll swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen if it’s running iOS 12 or iPadOS 13; if it’s still running iOS 11, swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen.
If you swipe down to invoke Control Center, you can close it by tapping a blank area of the screen or by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. If you swipe up to show Control Center, close it either by tapping the top of the screen or pressing the Home button.
Interacting with Controls
In Control Center, you can interact with the various controls in two ways: tap or press and hold. Unfortunately, the interface provides no clues to alert you to how you should interact with any given item.
Start with a tap, but it’s always worth pressing and holding to see what options Apple might have hidden behind that button. Some buttons, like Camera, Do Not Disturb, and Flashlight, even react to both a tap (launching the app or turning on) and a press-and-hold (providing extra useful options).
What happens when you tap a button varies, but here are some guidelines:
Apps: A number of buttons, like Camera, Magnifier, and Stopwatch, open other apps instantly. Alas, you can’t pick just any apps to open in this way.
Toggles: Some Control Center buttons, like Screen Lock and Low Power Mode, are simple on/off toggles. Tap the button once to turn it on; tap it again to turn it off.
Sliders: Drag the sliders for Brightness and Volume to adjust the intensity of the setting.
Option screens: With a few of the buttons, like Screen Mirroring and Text Size, a tap opens another screen with more options.
What happens when you press and hold is more predictable. If you press and hold a button that has more options (or if you press and hold a “card,” which is what Apple calls the collection of buttons for networking and audio controls), another screen opens, showing controls for those settings. Some of those screens provide even more options—press and hold the networking card to expand it from four buttons to six, and then press and hold the Wi-Fi, AirDrop, or Bluetooth button to switch Wi-Fi networks, choose who can send you files via AirDrop, or connect to Bluetooth devices.
Customizing the Controls
To change which buttons are available in Control Center, go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls. The Customize screen is split into two sections: Include lists controls that are showing in Control Center, and More Controls contains inactive controls you can add.
Here’s how to switch things up:
Add a button: Tap its green plus button. It moves to the Include list. You can add as many buttons as you like. If you add so many that they don’t fit on the screen, you’ll have to swipe in Control Center to see the extras.
Remove a button: Tap its red minus button, and tap Remove. The button moves to More Controls.
Arrange buttons: For any button in the Include list, drag the grab handle on the right side up or down.
Pay attention to which buttons you find yourself actually using in Control Center and how often you use them. Then you can adjust which ones appear and where they’re located, so you can find them quickly whenever you open Control Center.
Apple TV: This button opens an Apple TV remote control that can replace your Siri Remote. It’s especially useful when you need to type a search string or password into the Apple TV.
Clock Options: Need to keep track of the time? Three buttons—Alarm, Timer, and Stopwatch—each open their corresponding screen in the Clock app so you can complete a timing task quickly. Timer is the most useful because it has a press-and-hold option that lets you start a timer without switching to the Clock app.
Magnifier: Tapping the Magnifier button takes you to a camera-like app designed to zoom in on something in the physical world so you can see it better. It’s helpful for seeing tiny type, such as serial numbers on electronic devices.
Notes: Tap to start a new note in the Notes app. Or press and hold to bring up a menu of choices for starting a new note with a checklist, a photo, or a scanned document.
Screen Recording: Want to make a movie of something you see on your iPhone or iPad’s screen? Tap the Screen Recording button to start a recording, then tap the red button in the upper-left corner of the screen to stop.
Text Size: This button brings up a slider for adjusting the size of the system font—this is the text in places like the Messages and Settings apps.
Voice Memos: This button opens the Voice Memos app when you tap it, but if you press and hold instead, you can start a new recording immediately or access recent recordings. If your yoga instructor doesn’t mind, recording a class is a handy way to recap workout instructions.
Only Apple can provide new controls for Control Center right now, so you won’t find any options for working with independent apps. But who knows—as with Siri, perhaps Apple will open Control Center up to developers in the future too.
Need help with something? On occasion, we all need tech support. Speaking as the people who are sometimes on the other end of those requests for help, we have some suggestions on how to get the support you need as quickly as possible.
For instance, think about what we have to do if we receive an email message along the lines of “I keep getting a note that my backups aren’t working.” All we can tell from that message is that something may be wrong with the user’s backups. But without knowing what app they’re using and what the specific error is, we can’t even begin to recommend a solution. We’ll have to go back and forth to figure out what we need to learn to address the problem. By the end of the (possibly lengthy) process, the user and we may be quite frustrated.
So here’s a simple set of steps you can use to get to the heart of a troubleshooting problem whenever you’re communicating with tech support.
Describe your setup as it relates to the problem. Whenever possible, be specific about what apps you’re using and include screenshots or videos. In our example above, this might involve saying, “I back up with Time Machine to an external hard drive. It has been working fine, but now I’m getting this error.” (Obviously, if you’re talking on the phone, it might not be possible to share a screenshot, but you can read it to the support rep.)
Next, explain how you’ve tried to resolve the problem so tech support doesn’t automatically tell you to repeat the same actions. (They may anyway, just to confirm that you did everything properly, but it’s still a help.) You might say, “I clicked OK and let Time Machine try again, but I got the error on the next backup too. Then I launched Disk Utility, selected my Time Machine drive, and clicked First Aid.”
Finally, explain what happened (or failed to happen) when you took the actions in the previous step. For instance, “First Aid also reported an error.”
At this point, you may need to repeat Step 2 and 3 for each thing you tried, but you’ve given the support person enough for them to start recommending other courses of action. (In this case, we’d have you erase the drive using Disk Utility and see if that eliminated the error. Even if it did, we’d recommend that you get a new backup drive since you don’t want to depend on a potentially flaky drive for important backup data.)
The steps are a little different if you’re trying and failing to figure out how to accomplish some task. Try this script:
I want to _____. State what you’re trying to achieve, and as before, make sure to say what apps you’re using. For instance, “I’m using Preview to read a PDF, and I want to print it with four pages per sheet of paper to avoid wasting hundreds of pieces of paper.”
I tried ____. As before, explain what you’ve already attempted, as in: “In Preview’s Print dialog, I tried choosing 4 from the Copies Per Page menu.”
What happened was _____. Finally, explain what happened after what you tried, and why it was wrong. “That caused me to get four copies of the same page in the preview, rather than four different pages.”
Again, you may need to repeat Steps 2 and 3 for everything you tried, but in this case, we have all we need to explain that you need to click the Preview menu in the middle of the Print dialog, choose Layout, and then choose 4 from the Pages Per Sheet menu.
One last thing. It’s always important to explain your overall goal, rather than just ask a specific question. In the example above, for instance, saying that your goal was to reduce paper usage was helpful because we could then suggest that you select the Two-Sided checkbox near the top to print on both sides of the paper, cutting your paper usage in half.
So next time you need to contact tech support, make sure to use these tips, and you’ll likely get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.