When To Upgrade to the newest macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS

As we are well into October Apple has pushed out the next major versions of macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS, along with the new iPadOS, which is iOS with iPad-specific tweaks. Apple previewed these new versions back in June, and they’ve been in public beta since. Since Apple has made macOS 10.15 Catalina, iOS 13, iPadOS 13, watchOS 6, and tvOS 13 available, the question looms large—when should you install them?

(Note that we say when and not if. There’s no harm in delaying major operating system upgrades until Apple has squashed early bugs. But waiting too long puts you at risk from security vulnerabilities and prevents you from taking advantage of compelling new features. Plus, should you have to replace one of your Apple devices unexpectedly, you will likely have to use the current operating system, which could be awkward if you weren’t prepared.)

macOS 10.15 Catalina

We’ll start with the hardest decision—when should you upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina? Two features might make you want to upgrade soon: Screen Time and Voice Control. With Catalina, Macs get the same usage monitoring and limit setting that Apple introduced in iOS 12, which will make Catalina a must-have for parents trying to help Mac-using kids focus on what’s important. Voice Control makes it vastly easier to control your Mac—and dictate!—with just your voice, so if that’s compelling, look into upgrading soon.

Other new features are also attractive, such as dedicated Music, TV, and Podcasts apps that replace iTunes; using an iPad as a second screen or graphics tablet; and improved versions of Reminders, Notes, and Photos. They won’t drive most immediate upgrades, though.

Catalina has one big gotcha—it won’t run old 32-bit apps. If you rely on apps you haven’t updated in the last few years, hold off on Catalina until you’ve figured out how to update or replace them.

Regardless, we recommend waiting until at least version 10.15.1 or even 10.15.2 before upgrading. That gives you time to make sure your key apps are fully compatible with Catalina and for Apple to resolve any unanticipated problems. When you’re ready, check out the ebook Take Control of Upgrading to Catalina if you want detailed advice on how to do it right.

iOS 13

While we urge caution with macOS updates, iOS updates are an easier decision. Apple boasts that iOS 13 improves performance, particularly with Face ID unlocking and app launches, which many people will appreciate. iOS 13 also now offers a Dark mode like macOS that may be easier on the eyes in dark rooms, though light-on-dark text is generally harder to read than traditional dark-on-light text.

Photos in iOS 13 significantly improves photo editing, with portrait lighting control, a high-key mono effect, and individual adjustment and filter controls. Nearly all these editing tools work with videos too! Apple completely rewrote Reminders, adding smart lists and integrations that let Siri suggest reminders, as well as a quick toolbar to add times, dates, locations, and more to your reminders. iOS 13 also enhances Maps with Look Around, a Google Maps Street View competitor that gives you a 360º view of supported areas. Maps also features a rebuilt map with more detail, favorites, and collections of places to see.

iOS 13 may not be life-changing unless you plan to rely on its addition of Voice Control instead of touch, but we think it’s a good upgrade. Give it a week or two to make sure there isn’t a major gotcha that Apple missed, but after that, install when you have some time to play with the new features.

iPadOS 13

iPadOS 13 is “new,” but it’s not an entirely new operating system to learn. Instead, it’s a superset of iOS 13 with iPad-specific features. The Home screen can hold more icons, and you can pin Today View widgets to the side for quick access. Safari in iPadOS is now a desktop-class browser that lets you use complex Web apps like Google Docs, Squarespace, and WordPress much as if you were on a Mac. Apple also extended the iPad’s multitasking features so you can switch between multiple apps in SlideOver, open multiple “windows” for a single app in Split View, and use App Exposé to navigate among app combinations.

If you already use your iPad for productivity, we think iPadOS 13 will be a no-brainer upgrade. As with iOS 13, though, it’s probably best to wait a week or so to install, or until you’re certain that your key apps have been updated to be compatible.

watchOS 6

Once you’ve updated your iPhone to iOS 13, there’s no reason not to update to watchOS 6. It’s not a huge update, but it has some nice features. Most interesting are the health-related improvements, a Cycle Tracking app for women and a Hearing Health app that warns you when the ambient noise in your environment has risen to dangerous levels. Apple has also introduced new watch faces that may float your boat, Siri can identify songs playing nearby and return Web search results to your wrist, a new Audiobooks app lets you listen anywhere, and Activity Trends help you track your workout progress over time.

tvOS 13

tvOS 13 is the easiest to agree to install, and it has some welcome new features. Apple redesigned the Home screen a bit and allows the apps in your top row to play video previews of their content (but you can shut those off if you don’t like them). More compelling is the addition of Control Center, which lets you put the Apple TV to sleep, control background audio playback, choose audio output, search, and switch between users.

That’s right, tvOS 13 introduces multi-user support that changes the content within apps based on the current user. (Speaking of multi-user support, iOS 13 on the HomePod also now differentiates based on who’s speaking—finally!) tvOS 13 can also display lyrics in the Music app and supports Xbox One and PlayStation 4 wireless gaming controllers for Apple’s upcoming Apple Arcade service. And it boasts a new collection of gorgeous underwater screen savers.

Change can be hard, but we’re excited about these new operating systems. Like you, we won’t use all the new features, but we’re confident that some of them will radically enhance the experience of being an Apple user.

(Featured image by Apple)

What Does Having a T2 Chip in Your Mac Mean to You?

If you own an iMac Pro, or a Mac mini, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro model introduced in 2018 or later, your Mac has one of Apple’s T2 security chips inside. On the whole, having a T2 chip in your Mac is a good thing, thanks to significantly increased security and other benefits, but there are some ramifications that you may not realize.

What Is a T2 Chip?

Let’s step back briefly. In late 2016, Apple introduced the T2’s predecessor, the T1, in the first Touch Bar–equipped MacBook Pros. The T1 offered three primary capabilities:

  • Management of the Touch Bar’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor and storage of sensitive biometric information
  • Integration of the System Management Controller, which is responsible for heat and power management, battery charging, and sleeping and waking the Mac
  • Detection of non-Apple hardware

The T2 builds on the T1’s foundation, adding four more important capabilities:

  • Real-time encryption and decryption of data on built-in SSDs
  • Support for invoking Siri with “Hey Siri”
  • Image enhancement for built-in FaceTime HD cameras
  • Optional protection of the Mac’s boot process to prevent it from starting up with an external drive

All these functions become possible because the T1 and T2 are essentially separate computers inside your Mac, much like the A-series chips that power iOS devices. They have their own memory and storage, and run an operating system called bridgeOS that’s based on watchOS.

Some of these features enhance performance by offloading processing (like enhancing FaceTime HD and listening for Siri) to a separate chip. Others increase security by ensuring that they can’t be compromised by an attack, even if macOS itself has been infiltrated.

How Does a T2 Chip Increase Your Security?

There are four basic ways that the T2 chip increases security, two of which apply only to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models.

Secure Boot

The T2 chip ensures that all the components involved in the Mac’s boot process, including things like firmware, the macOS kernel, and kernel extensions—can be cryptographically verified by Apple as trusted. That prevents an attacker from somehow inserting malicious code at boot and taking over the Mac.

There are two gotchas, however. First, Secure Boot trusts only code that’s signed by Apple, with one exception: a specific bootloader signed by Microsoft to enable Windows 10 to work with Apple’s Boot Camp technology for running Windows on a Mac. That means you can’t boot from Linux in Boot Camp, for instance.

Second, with Secure Boot in its default settings, you can’t boot from an external drive at all. That’s great for security but can make troubleshooting internal drive problems tricky. To control these settings, Macs with T2 chips have a Startup Security Utility available in macOS Recovery (boot while holding down Command-R). You can use it to allow booting from an external drive for troubleshooting reasons and to turn down security if you need to install an older version of macOS or install macOS without an Internet connection available.

Encrypted Storage

Because the T2 contains both a crypto engine and the SSD controller, it enables on-the-fly encryption and decryption of all data stored on the internal SSD. It uses the same technology as FileVault and requires a password at startup. Macs with internal hard drives and external hard drives don’t receive the T2’s protection but can still be encrypted via FileVault.

The big win from the T2 encrypting all stored data is that there’s no way to decrypt the data without the password—as long as your password can’t be guessed, there’s no reason to worry about your data if your MacBook Pro disappears. The potential downside here is that it’s impossible to recover data from a damaged Mac without the password.

The T2 chip also controls what happens with failed password attempts. Fourteen tries are allowed without delays, and then tries 15 through 30 are permitted with increasingly long delays (1 hour between tries for the last three). After that, more attempts are possible, but after 220 total attempts through various approaches, the T2 chip will refuse to process any requests to decrypt data, rendering it unrecoverable. In short, back up your data!

Touch ID

The T2 chip manages the Touch Bar’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor that lets you log in to your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro without entering your password. Even so, the password is required after turning the Mac on or restarting, and the Mac also requires the password if you haven’t unlocked it in 48 hours, if you haven’t provided the password in the last 156 hours and used your fingerprint over the previous 4 hours, or if the fingerprint read fails five times.

Mic Drop

This isn’t exactly related to the T2 chip, but all T2-equipped MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models feature a hardware disconnect that disables the microphone whenever the lid is closed. That prevents any software from turning on the mic and eavesdropping on you. No disconnect is necessary for the FaceTime HD camera when the lid is closed because its field of view is completely obstructed in that position.

So there you have it. The T2 chip significantly increases the security of your Mac, but it comes with tradeoffs that make it harder to boot from external drives or run other operating systems.

(Featured image modified from an original by ahobbit from Pixabay)

Go Beyond External Hard Drives with Network-Attached Storage

If you’ve filled up your external hard drives or become frustrated by their limitations, it’s time to look into a network-attached storage (NAS) device. What’s a NAS? It’s an intelligent storage device that can accept one or more hard drives or SSDs and connects to your network via Ethernet.

NAS Benefits

A NAS is a good choice for anyone who needs access to lots of storage, but small businesses will particularly appreciate the benefits of a NAS. They include:

  • More storage: Most NAS devices provide multiple drive bays, so you can pop in a few large hard drives or even attach expansion units for a vast amount of available storage.
  • Expandable storage: A NAS is perfect if you anticipate your storage needs growing over time. You could start with 3 TB drives today and swap them out for 6 TB drives in a year or two.
  • Data protection: Drives fail, but some NAS devices can ensure that you don’t lose data if that happens by combining multiple drives into RAID arrays.
  • Network backups: Because a NAS is always available on your network and provides lots of storage, it can work well for on-site backups.
  • Laptop access: It’s fussy for mobile users to attach external hard drives to laptop Macs. An always-available NAS eliminates that annoyance.
  • Remote access and cloud storage: You can usually configure your NAS so it’s available over the Internet from outside your network. That means it can work like a private version of Dropbox that’s entirely within your control and has no monthly fees.
  • Streaming media: Home users with massive movie libraries can take advantage of NAS features that make it easy to stream video to computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones.

NAS Features

Quite a few manufacturers make NAS devices, including WD, QNAP, Drobo, and my personal favorite: Synology. Prices vary widely depending on the feature set. Things to consider include: We are a Synology Authorized Partner and can help you with all of your Network Attached Storage needs from the basic to the most complex.

  • Number of drive bays: The most important decision to make when choosing a NAS is the number of drive bays. It may be tempting to start with a less-expensive two-bay model, but particularly if you want to use RAID to protect your data, that limits your storage significantly.
  • RAID support: RAID works well for preventing data loss if a drive dies. RAID 1 constantly mirrors the data from one drive to another so if one fails, all the data is on the other. RAID 5 uses data striping techniques with at least three drives to preserve data even if one drive fails. Proprietary technologies may be more flexible in terms of the number and size of the required drives. Synology’s RAID Calculator is helpful for figuring out how much space you get with different collections of drives.
  • Ethernet speed and ports: Most NAS devices have Gigabit Ethernet, but you can pay more to get 10 Gigabit Ethernet. That’s helpful only if you have an iMac Pro or a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. Also, some NAS devices have a feature called link aggregation that uses multiple Ethernet ports and an LACP-enabled Ethernet switch to balance traffic across ports for higher performance in multi-user setups.
  • Hardware encryption: For additional security, some NAS devices offer hardware encryption. It requires more CPU power but ensures that a stolen NAS won’t reveal your data.
  • Hardware transcoding: Those who host media libraries on a NAS may find this feature useful. It automatically converts high-resolution video files to versions that are optimized for the destination—there’s no reason to send 4K video to a 1080p TV.
  • CPU and RAM: Since a NAS is a full-fledged computer, it has a CPU and needs RAM to accomplish its tasks. If all you’re doing is serving files, the CPU doesn’t matter much, but for hardware encryption and transcoding, a faster CPU will be helpful. Similarly, those functions, or support for lots of users, may benefit from more RAM, so look for a NAS whose RAM is expandable.
  • Physical factors: Since a NAS runs all the time, pay attention to how much power it draws and how much noise it makes. In general, the less of each, the better.

Use NAS-specific Drives

One final piece of advice. It’s tempting to use old drives you have around, but doing so may be problematic for a few reasons:

  • Combining drives of different capacities can result in unusable disk space in some RAID configurations.
  • The likelihood of failure is higher with older drives, and even if a RAID prevents data loss, dealing with a dead drive is still stressful.
  • NAS-specific drives, as opposed to garden-variety drives, sport features designed to minimize data corruption, minimize vibration, and adjust rotation speeds for longer life.

Instead, look for NAS-specific drives, such as those in the WD Red and Seagate IronWolf lines.

Honestly, while a NAS is a great investment and effective addition to your technical infrastructure, picking the right one is a complex decision. If you need help, get in touch with us to see what we recommend for your specific situation.

(Featured image by Alex Cheung on Unsplash)

How To Make a Video of Anything on Your iPhone or iPad Screen

Screen-Recording-iOS

You know how to use the Camera app on your iPhone or iPad to take a video, but did you know that you can also record a video of what happens on the screen of your device? That’s useful if you’re trying to explain the steps of some technical process to a friend or show a tech support rep what’s going wrong in an app or Web site. You could also use a screen recording to copy a video from Facebook, for instance, that you want to send to a social media–averse friend.

First, to get set up, go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls and tap the green + button next to Screen Recording to add it to the list of controls that appear in Control Center. Drag it in the list to rearrange where its round Record button will show up in Control Center. Here’s a screen recording showing those steps:

Making your first screen recording is simple. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Control Center. (Swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen, or, if you’re using an iPhone X or later, or an iPad running iOS 12, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen.)
  2. Press deeply on the Screen Recording button to open a menu. If you want to record your voice via the microphone as well, tap the Microphone button to turn it on.
  3. Tap Start Recording, and then wait for the 3-second countdown.
  4. Perform the actions that you want to be recorded.
  5. To stop the recording, either enter Control Center again and tap the red Record button or tap the red status icon at the upper left of the screen and tap Stop. A notification appears, telling you that your screen recording was saved to Photos.

In fact, if you want to keep your options for the destination app and microphone at their current settings, making a screen recording is even easier:

  1. Open Control Center.
  2. Tap the Record button instead of pressing deeply.
  3. Perform your actions.
  4. Stop the recording via Control Center or the red status bar.

Told you it was simple. But we bet you have questions, so let’s provide some answers.

Where did my screen recording go?

As the notification informs you, screen recordings end up in the Photos app, just like any other photo or video. You’ll see them both in the Photos view and in Albums > Media Types > Videos.

What are Messenger and Skype doing in the screenshot earlier?

Instead of recording your screen to a video file, you can instead broadcast it to a Facebook Messenger or Skype chat. That might be useful for a quick show-and-tell while having a conversation.

Can I edit the screen recording?

Yes, although the Photos app limits you to trimming frames from the start and end of the video (which actually creates a new video with your selection rather than editing the original). For more significant editing, tap the ••• button in the Photos edit interface and send the video to iMovie.

Is there any way to show my taps and drags in the screen recording?

Yes, but it’s not easy. There’s a trick that relies on iOS’s Accessibility features, but it’s way too clumsy and leaves the Assistive Touch button on the screen the entire time. A better approach would be to use a dedicated app like ScreenFlow (which is what we used above) to insert circles where your fingers touch down, but that’s worthwhile only for videos where you need higher production values.

For the most part, though, the point of screen recordings is not to make the perfect movie—it’s to create and share a video of something that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to convey.

(Featured image by Lisa Fotios from Pexels)

Some May Like It Hot… But Your Technology Prefers to Stay Cool

Keep-tech-cool

When summer brings sunny days and rising temperatures, you may have ditched your business suit for shorts or skirts to stay comfortable, but your technological gear can’t do the same. And keeping your tech cool is about more than comfort—as temperatures rise, performance can suffer, charging may get slower or stop, various components might be disabled, and devices can become unreliable from the heat.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

You might be surprised by the recommended operating temperatures for Apple gear—whether you’re talking about an iPhone X or a MacBook Pro, the company recommends staying under 95° F (35° C).

Such temperatures happen regularly throughout the summer. Even in cooler climes, the temperature in a parked car in the sunshine can easily hit 130º F (54º C) in an hour and rise higher as time passes. And no, cracking the windows a couple of inches won’t make a significant difference. We hope you’re already thinking about that with regard to children and pets, but as you can see, tech gear should also be protected. Apple says its products shouldn’t even be stored—turned off—at temperatures over 113º F (45º C).

It’s not just cars you have to think about. Temperatures in homes and offices without air conditioning can also rise higher than electronics would prefer, and that’s especially true for computers that stay on most of the time and aren’t located in well-ventilated areas.

What’s the Danger?

First off, remember that all electronic devices produce their own heat on top of the ambient heat in the environment, so the temperature inside a device can be much, much hotter than outside. The CPU in an iMac can hit 212º F (100º C) under heavy loads.

Temperatures higher than what components are designed for can have the following effects:

  • Chips of all types can behave unpredictably as increased thermal noise (electrons vibrating more) causes a higher bit error rate. Because electrical resistance increases with heat, timing errors can also occur.
  • Lithium-ion batteries discharge well in high temperatures, but the increased rate of chemical reactions within the battery will result in a shorter overall lifespan.
  • As devices heat and cool, the uneven thermal expansion of different materials can cause microscopic cracks that can lead to a variety of failures over time.

Some heat-related problems are temporary, so when the device or component cools down, it will resume working correctly. But others, particularly drops in battery life—are irreversible and particularly worth avoiding.

When a Mac gets too hot, it will spin up its fans in an attempt to keep its internal components cool. If your Mac’s fans are ever running at full tilt, first quit apps you aren’t using, particularly those that might be CPU-intensive and thus creating a lot of heat. If that doesn’t make a difference, restart it to make sure the problem isn’t some rogue process. If the fans come back on at full speed quickly, shut it down and let it cool off for a bit. In the worst case, an overheated Mac will start acting unpredictably or crash.

iOS devices don’t have fans, so they employ other coping mechanisms. If your iPhone or iPad gets too hot, the device will alert you.

Apple says you might notice some of the following behaviors:

  • Charging, including wireless charging, slows or stops.
  • The display dims or goes black.
  • Cellular radios enter a low-power state. The signal might weaken during this time.
  • The camera flash is temporarily disabled.
  • Performance slows with graphics-intensive apps or features.

If you’re using Maps on an overheating iPhone for GPS navigation in the car, it may show a “Temperature: iPhone needs to cool down.” screen instead of the map. You’ll still get audible turn-by-turn directions, and the screen will wake up to guide you through turns,

How to Keep Your Tech Cool

For the most part, keeping Apple devices cool just requires common sense, since you’d do the same things for yourself.

  • As Apple’s specifications recommend, avoid using devices when the temperature is over 95º F (35º C). If you can’t avoid it entirely, keep usage to a minimum.
  • Don’t leave devices in cars parked in the sun for long periods of time. If it happens accidentally, let the device cool before using it.
  • Provide good ventilation so air can cool the device. Don’t block ventilation ports in the back of desktop Macs, and don’t use Mac laptops in bed, propped on a pillow, or under the covers. It can be worth vacuuming dust out of ventilation ports every so often.
  • Never put anything on the keyboard of an open Mac laptop.
  • Avoid stacking things on top of a Mac mini.
  • Monitor the temperature of server closets. If they get too hot, keep the door open, add a fan, or run the air conditioning.

Luckily, the temperatures that cause problems for Apple hardware aren’t terribly comfortable for people either, so if you’re way too hot, that’s a good sign your gear is as well.

(Featured image by Alfonso Escalante from Pexels)

Only Buy Quality Cables to Avoid Possible Device Damage or Even Fires

Apple’s prices for Lightning, USB-C, and Thunderbolt 3 cables often seem high—$19 for a USB-C to Lightning cable or $29 if you want a 2-meter version? Unfortunately, when it comes to cables, you often get what you pay for. Happily, other reputable hardware manufacturers like Moshi make quality cables and often charge less than Apple. Moshi even offers a two-year no questions asked warranty on all of their products. We will even exchange a Moshi item purchased elsewhere their warranty is so comprehensive.

Stay away from the bargain basement prices from no-name Chinese manufacturers, and if you see a supposedly genuine Apple cable selling for a too-good-to-be-true price, consider the possibility that it’s counterfeit. Apple has even created a detailed page that explains how to identify counterfeit or uncertified Lightning accessories. Here at iStore we only sell Apple OEM and Apple Certified Lightning and USB-C cables, accessories and adapters, so you can rest assured that you are buying the highest quality cables for your devices.

Moshi-Integra-Lightning

The problem with cheap cables is not just that they might break or wear out sooner, but that many modern cables carry power as well as data. When there’s sufficient juice flowing down those tiny wires, a short-circuit can fry hardware or in the worst cases, generate sparks, smoke, or even fire. Don’t misunderstand—fires aren’t likely, but over the years, there have been numerous headlines about fires caused by charging iPhones and Android smartphones. In fact, Target just recalled 90,000 Lightning to USB cables after 14 reports of the cables smoking, sparking, and igniting.

When it comes to damaging hardware, USB-C was a problem early on but is less so now, thanks to the efforts of Google engineer Benson Leung in 2015 and 2016. After a bad USB-C cable fried his Chromebook, he embarked on a one-man crusade to identify which USB-C cables were good and which were bad. He has moved on from that now, but in part due to his efforts, Amazon started prohibiting listings of USB-C cables and adapters that weren’t compliant with the USB-C specs. You might still run across bad cables that Amazon hasn’t yet identified, or dodgy cables sold through other retailers, but the danger is lower than it used to be, particularly with cables from name brands.

Lightning cables are incredibly common these days—you can buy them in gas stations and drugstores—and as with USB-C cables, you’ll do best if you stick with cables from brand name companies. You’ll pay more, but do you really trust electronics sold next to Twinkies and Slim Jims? It might be worth buying one in a pinch, but don’t rely on it.

Of course, even the best cables will fray and fail if you mistreat them. Follow this advice to ensure a long life for even heavily used cables:

  • Don’t create sharp bends in the cable, especially near the connector. Sharp bends can eventually break the insulation and reveal the wires inside.
  • When unplugging your device, pull from the plug instead of further down on the cord. That avoids stress near the connector.
  • When coiling your cables, avoid wrapping them tightly around something that’s not round. A tight wrap can cause kinks that will degrade the wires inside.
  • Don’t put heavy objects on cables, or sandwich them between a desk and the wall. Anything that compresses the cable can cause damage.
  • iPhones may be fairly water resistant these days, but try to keep both the Lighting port and the cable’s pins clean and away from liquids because crud or a droplet could cause a short circuit. USB-C cables are less susceptible to such problems because of their metal jackets, but it’s still worth being careful.
  • If a cable’s insulation ever breaks so you can see the wires inside, wrap it with electrical tape right away, and replace it as soon as you can.

In the end, the advice is pretty simple. Spend a little more on quality products from reputable manufacturers so you don’t have to worry about your $1000 iPhone XS being damaged by a $3 counterfeit Lightning cable.

(Featured image by Matthias Zomer from Pexels)