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.
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.
Apple recently released iOS 13.5, incorporating a new Exposure Notification API in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve seen a few people freaking out about this, but seriously, calm down, folks. At best, the Exposure Notification API could lower contact tracing costs, reduce the spread of COVID-19, prevent life-changing health consequences, and save lives. At worst, it won’t prove particularly effective. In neither case does it pose any threat to personal privacy.
Why have Apple and Google—two companies that normally compete tooth and nail—formed this unprecedented partnership? Contact tracing is one of the key techniques employed by public health authorities in slowing the spread of COVID-19. It involves gathering information from an infected person about those they’ve been in contact with, enabling authorities to learn who might have been the source of the infection and who they may have infected. It’s a slow, laborious, and error-prone process—do you know or even remember all the people you’ve come in contact with over the past few weeks?—but it’s helpful nonetheless.
To speed up this process and make it more accurate, Apple and Google are building exposure notification capabilities into their respective smartphone operating systems. A large percentage of the population carries a smartphone running either iOS or Android, and since these phones have the capability to detect when other phones are in their vicinity via Bluetooth, Apple and Google realized they could use technology to alert people when they had been exposed to a person who later tests positive for COVID-19.
Their solution comes in two phases. In the first phase, Apple and Google are releasing the Exposure Notification API, and that’s what just happened with iOS 13.5. This API, or application programming interface, allows apps written by public health authorities to work across both iOS and Android devices, something that’s never been possible before. The first key fact to understand is that only public health authorities will be allowed to write apps that leverage the Exposure Notification API. It cannot be incorporated into sketchy social media apps.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that many people will never learn about or download those apps. So in the second phase, Apple and Google will build the exposure notification technology directly into iOS and Android, so it can work without a public health authority app being installed.
The second key fact to understand is the entire system is opt-in. You must explicitly consent to the terms and conditions of the program before it becomes active on your phone. That’s true whether you get an app in the first phase or rely on the integration in the second phase. And, of course, if you change your mind, you can always turn it off in the app or the operating system settings.
How does it work? Apple and Google have developed an ingenious approach that ensures that those who opt-in to the technology can use it without worrying about privacy violations.
Your phone creates a Bluetooth beacon with a unique ID derived from a randomly generated diagnosis encryption key. The system generates a fresh diagnosis key every 24 hours and stores it on your phone for 14 days, deleting all older keys. Plus, the unique Bluetooth beacon ID that your phone broadcasts to other phones in your vicinity changes every 15 minutes. Similarly, your phone reads the unique IDs from nearby phones and stores them locally. This approach ensures privacy in three important ways:
No personal information is shared. The ID is based on a random encryption key and changes constantly, so there’s no way it could be traced back to your phone, much less to you personally.
No location information is stored. The only data that’s generated and transferred between the phones are these unique IDs. The system does not record or share location information, and Apple and Google have said they won’t approve any public health authority app that uses this system and also records location separately.
No data is uploaded unless you test positive. As long as you remain uninfected by COVID-19, no data from your phone is uploaded to the Apple- and Google-controlled servers.
What happens if you test positive for COVID-19? (Sorry!) In that case, you would need to use a public health authority app to report your test results. You’ll likely have to enter a code or other piece of information to validate the diagnosis—a requirement necessary to prevent fake reporting.
When the app confirms your diagnosis, it triggers your phone to upload up to the last 14 days of diagnosis encryption keys—remember, these are just the keys from which the IDs are derived, not the IDs themselves—to the servers. Fewer days might be uploaded depending on when the exposure could have occurred.
All the phones enrolled in the system constantly download these diagnosis keys from devices of infected people. Then they perform cryptographic operations to see if those keys match any of the locally stored Bluetooth IDs captured during the period covered by the key. If there’s a match, that means you were in proximity to an infected person, and the system generates a notification with information about the day the exposure happened, how long it lasted, and the Bluetooth signal strength (which can indicate how close you were). A public health authority app will provide detailed instructions on how to proceed; if someone doesn’t have the app yet, the smartphone operating system will explain how to get it. Additional privacy protections are built into these steps:
No one is forced to report a positive diagnosis. Just as you have to opt-in to the proximity ID sharing, you must explicitly choose to share your positive diagnosis. Not sharing puts others, including your loved ones, at risk, but that’s your decision to make.
Shared diagnosis keys cannot identify you. The information that your phone uploads in the case of a positive diagnosis is limited to—at most—14 encryption keys. Those keys, which are then shared with others’ phones, contain no personal or location information.
The matching process takes place only on users’ phones. Since the diagnosis keys and the derived IDs only meet on individual phones, there’s no way Apple, Google, or any government agency could match them up to establish a relationship.
The notification information is too general to identify individuals. In most cases, there will be no way to connect an exposure notification back to an individual. Obviously, if you were in contact with only one or two people on a relevant day, that’s less true, but in such a situation, they’re likely known to you anyway.
Finally, Apple and Google have said they’ll disable the exposure notification system on a regional basis when it is no longer needed.
We apologize if that sounds complicated. It is, and necessarily so, because Apple and Google have put a tremendous amount of thought and technical and cryptographic experience into developing this exposure notification system. They are the preeminent technology companies on the planet, and their knowledge, skills, and expertise are as good as it gets. A simpler system—and, unfortunately, we’ll probably see plenty of other apps that won’t be as well designed—would likely have loopholes or could be exploited in unanticipated ways.
Our take? We’ll be installing the necessary app and participating in this exposure notification system. It’s the least we can do to help keep our loved ones and others in our communities safe. In a pandemic, we all have to work to help others.
MacBook Air Update Features Magic Keyboard, iPad Pro Gets a Trackpad
In a widely expected update, Apple has introduced a new MacBook Air that replaces the much-maligned butterfly keyboard with the new Magic Keyboard. The MacBook Air also gains faster processors, enhanced graphics, and more storage options, all for $200 less than before.
Apple also threw back the curtains on an updated iPad Pro that will be compatible with a new iPad Pro-specific Magic Keyboard that includes a trackpad. The iPad Pro is available now, but the Magic Keyboard won’t ship until May.
MacBook Air Gains Magic Keyboard, Faster Performance, and Other Enhancements
In an effort to eliminate the hated butterfly keyboard from the Mac line, Apple has released an updated MacBook Air that features the scissor-key Magic Keyboard introduced last year in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. That keyboard has received highly positive reviews, and we’re happy to see it appear in the MacBook Air. (Look for a new model to replace the current 13-inch MacBook Pro soon as well.) The Magic Keyboard includes 12 function keys as well as a Touch ID sensor, but no Touch Bar.
Apple significantly improved the MacBook Air’s performance by providing a choice of 10th-generation Intel Core processors, including the model’s first quad-core processor option. The base level 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 is probably pretty slow, but upgrading to a 1.1 GHz quad-core i5 is only $100 and a 1.2 GHz quad-core i7 is just $250.
Graphics should be noticeably speedier as well, thanks to the switch to Intel Iris Plus Graphics. The MacBook Air can now drive a 6K display too if you have a Pro Display XDR.
Apple also doubled the base level of storage to 256 GB, and you can increase that to 512 GB ($200), 1 TB ($400), or 2 TB ($800).
Minor enhancements include True Tone technology for more natural images on the 13-inch Retina display, “wide stereo sound” for the speakers and support for Bluetooth 5.0.
As welcome as all these changes are, the best news is that Apple simultaneously dropped the MacBook Air’s price. The entry-level model now starts at $999, and it’s available to the education market for just $899.
We were waiting for the Magic Keyboard to come to the MacBook Air, but we had no inkling that Apple was going to add a trackpad option to the iPad Pro. It will come in the form of the new Magic Keyboard, due in May, and will require iPadOS 13.4, slated for late March. Apple says it will be easy to use, with the pointer transforming to highlight user elements appropriately as the user moves their finger across the trackpad. What it won’t be is cheap, at $299 for the 11-inch model and $349 for the 12.9-inch model. (The second-generation Apple Pencil and an updated Smart Keyboard Folio remain available.)
The other unexpected change in the new iPad Pro is the addition of the new LiDAR Scanner. LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is a way of measuring distance with reflected laser light. It’s commonly used in self-driving cars, but Apple is instead using it to beef up the iPad Pro’s augmented reality (AR) capabilities. It offers existing ARKit apps instant AR placement, improved motion capture, and people occlusion. Apple also uses it to improve the Measure app. We can’t help but think Apple is testing the technology for future AR goggles.
Less surprising improvements include a new processor—Apple’s custom A12Z Bionic chip—and a dual-camera system that combines a 12-megapixel wide camera and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide camera that zooms out two times to capture a much wider field of view. The iPad Pro also now boasts five microphones for capturing audio and four speakers that automatically adjust to any orientation.
Pricing for the iPad Pro itself hasn’t changed. The 11-inch model starts at $799, with the 12.9-inch model at $999. Both come with 128 GB of flash storage, up from 64 GB in the previous models, and you can buy more storage: 256 GB (add $100), 512 GB ($300), or 1 TB ($500). Cellular connectivity costs an extra $150.
Last and but not least, Apple announced that the standard configurations of the Mac mini now have twice as much storage as before. That means the $799 configuration comes with 256 GB and the $1099 configuration comes with 512 GB. 1 TB and 2TB configurations remain available, and there are no other changes.
Email has been around for decades, but there are no hard-and-fast rules for how you should close a message with either the signoff or the signature block. If you’ve always wondered about the best ways to finish off a message or are uncomfortable with what you’ve been doing, here’s our advice on how to create an email signature.
Use the form of your name that you want the recipient to use. If your given name is Mohammed, but everyone calls you Mo, use that for signing most of your messages. Otherwise, they’ll have no idea you prefer the shorter version. (The reverse is true too; if you’re not sure how to address someone, look at their signoff for a hint.)
However, for formal correspondence with people or organizations who would usually refer to you as Ms. So-and-so, stick with Elizabeth instead of Betty.
Match the formality of your closing to that of your recipient. When writing business email to someone you don’t know, it’s best to stay formal at first with closings like “Sincerely” or “Yours truly.” Once you know the person a little better, you could move on to “Kind regards” or “Best wishes.”
With friends, family, and people you know well, try “Cheers,” “Talk soon” (if you mean it), or even a quick “Later.” Finally, it’s never inappropriate to use “Thanks!” if you truly are thanking them for something.
Create context-specific signature blocks. We all wear many different hats in today’s world. Your email signature should match the role you’re in for the particular email message. For instance:
Work email should probably include at least your title, department, and formal organization name. If you work for a large organization, you may have been provided with a template for your signature. If much of your communication takes place outside of email, include your phone number and postal address.
If you serve on a nonprofit board or have a side gig—like as an author or musician—messages you send in those contexts need their own focused signatures with appropriate links.
For email to friends and family, there’s no need for a signature at all.
Avoid clever sayings and inspirational quotes. Although it’s tempting to instill some personality into your signature with a quote, don’t do it. The quote might be entertaining the first time someone sees it, but after that, it’s just one more thing to ignore. Part of combatting email overload is to keep messages short and to the point, so you want your signature to have less text than the message itself.
No fancy formatting or pictures. Along the same lines of avoiding quotes, keep your signature simple. Stick to plain text and links, and don’t insert your company’s logo or a picture of your pony just because you can. Just imagine how awkward it would be if someone were to look at a long email thread and see your signature repeated ad infinitum, taking up more space than your actual messages.
Don’t assume anyone will read your signature. Keep in mind that some email apps automatically hide signatures so your recipients may not see it at all. There’s usually a way to view a hidden signature, but never assume that everyone will see it.
Consider automation tools for inserting signoffs and signatures. Many email programs, including Mail on the Mac, let you create multiple signatures and attach them to messages you send from specific email addresses. For even more flexibility, think about using a macro utility like Keyboard Maestro or a text expansion tool like TextExpander to insert custom signoff and signature combinations. Such options are commonplace on the Mac but much less so in iOS or iPadOS.
Does it seem like that red badge on the Settings app indicating that there’s a new iOS 13 or iPadOS 13 update pops up at least once per week? You’re not imagining things—Apple has been frantically squashing bugs in its mobile operating systems since its release in mid-September.
If you haven’t yet upgraded from iOS 12, there’s no harm in waiting until the new year to see if things have settled down. (Well, no harm as long as you don’t receive a pair of Apple’s snazzy new AirPods Pro as a holiday gift since they work only with devices running at least iOS 13.2, iPadOS 13.2, watchOS 6.1, tvOS 13.2, and macOS Catalina 10.15.1.)
That said, given Apple’s generally reliable record with major iOS updates, many people have upgraded to iOS 13. You shouldn’t feel bad if you have done so, either. Despite Apple’s flurry of bug fix updates, the overall user experience with iOS 13 has been generally acceptable.
Even if you haven’t noticed problems with iOS 13, it is important that you keep installing all these smaller updates, because they fix problems that could be serious. More important yet, if you do have trouble with your iPhone or iPad, and you’re not running the latest version of iOS or iPadOS, updating is the first fix to try.
To hammer home why you should stay up-to-date with iOS releases, here’s a brief timeline of Apple’s fixes so far:
iOS 13.0 (September 19): This was the initial release of iOS 13 for the iPhone, with oodles of new features… and lots of bugs. Apple promised iOS 13.1 and the first release of iPadOS 13.1 for September 29th, with additional features and bug fixes.
iOS 13.1 (September 24): After iOS 13.0 received scathing reviews in early iPhone 11 reviews, Apple moved the release date of iOS 13.1 up by five days. It added more features and addressed numerous bugs with Mail, Messages, Reminders, Notes, Apple ID sign-in, the Lock screen, and more.
iOS 13.1.1 (September 27): This quick Friday release the same week as iOS 13.1 fixed bugs that could prevent an iPhone from restoring from backup, cause batteries to drain too quickly, reduce Siri recognition accuracy, bog down Reminders syncing, and allow third-party keyboard apps to access the Internet without your permission.
iOS 13.1.2 (September 30): The next Monday brought iOS 13.1.2, which ensured that the progress bar for iCloud backups would disappear after a successful backup, addressed bugs that caused the Camera app and flashlight to fail, and improved the reliability of Bluetooth connections in some vehicles.
iOS 13.1.3 (October 15): After a two-week breather, this update addressed bugs that could prevent incoming calls from ringing, block meeting invites from opening in Mail, cause incorrect data in Health after daylight saving time changes, prevent apps and voice memos recordings from downloading after restoring from iCloud Backup, stop an Apple Watch from pairing successfully, and cause Bluetooth connection problems with vehicles (again) and hearing aids.
iOS 13.2 (October 28): With this update, Apple delivered additional promised features, including support for the HomePod, Siri privacy options, HomeKit Secure Video, new emoji, Deep Fusion in the iPhone 11 Camera app, and AirPods Pro support. It also fixed a bug with password autofill in third-party apps, resolved an issue that prevented swipe to go home from working on the iPhone X and later, eliminated a problem that caused saved notes to disappear temporarily, and ensured that manual iCloud backups completed successfully.
iOS 13.2.1 (October 30): As it turned out, iOS 13.2 could brick HomePods during installation or after a reset. This HomePod-exclusive update fixed that bug.
iOS 13.2.2 (November 7): This update stomped a big bug that could cause apps to quit unexpectedly in the background, potentially causing data loss and draining the battery more quickly. It also addressed two bugs that could cause an iPhone to lose cellular service.
iOS 13.2.3 (November 18): This release resolved one bug that could cause searches in Mail, Files, and Notes to fail and another that prevented photos, links, and other attachments from displaying in the Messages detail view. It also addressed problems that could prevent apps from downloading content in the background and prevent Mail from fetching new messages and including and quoting original content when replying.
With luck, you never ran into any of these bugs—they weren’t universal. But the problems were real, and they inconvenienced plenty of people. Just like with vaccinations, staying current with your iOS updates is the best way to keep the bugs at bay.