Want to Push Some Buttons? Make the Most of Control Center in iOS

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.

Interesting Buttons

Apple has a full list of all the controls in Control Center, but here are a few of our favorite optional buttons, and what to expect from them:

  • 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.

(Featured image by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash)

How to Ask for Tech Support So You Get Good Answers Quickly

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

 

(Featured image by Christina Morillo from Pexels)

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

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

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

Initiate the Connection

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

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

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

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

Accept the Connection

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

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

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

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

Use the Connection

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

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

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

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

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

(Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What to Do If You Run out of iCloud Storage Space

By default, Apple gives every iCloud user 5 GB of storage space. That disappears quickly, given how it’s shared between iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive, iCloud Photos, Messages, and iCloud-enabled apps.

Apple will, of course, sell you more iCloud space. $0.99 per month gets you 50 GB, $2.99 per month provides 200 GB, and for $9.99 per month, you can use a whopping 2 TB. The latter two plans can even be shared with others in your Family Sharing group.

As we’ve noted elsewhere, using iCloud Photos almost certainly requires you to pay for extra storage. But if you’re paying $2.99 per month and nudge up against the 200 GB limit, you may not be enthused about increasing your payment to $9.99 per month when you’re unlikely to need anywhere near 2 TB.

That said, you don’t want to run out of storage space. Email to your iCloud email address will be rejected, photos won’t upload from your iPhone, and app data will fail to sync. Happily, Apple alerts you when you’re running low on space, before things get bad.

It’s often easy to recover space that’s not being used in a helpful way. First, check how much space you have and how much you’re using. In macOS 10.14 Mojave, look at the graph at the bottom of System Preferences > iCloud. In 10.15 Catalina, the graph is in System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud. In iOS, you’ll find a similar graph at Settings > Your Name > iCloud.

Then, to clear space, work through these five approaches.

1. Remove Unnecessary iCloud Device Backups

The biggest win comes from deleting iCloud device backups for devices you no longer use. It’s common for these to stick around, so if you recently upgraded from an iPhone X to an iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone X backup is probably still consuming gigabytes.

Navigate to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups to see what you have. If you find backups for a previous iPhone or iPad, tap it and then tap Delete Backup.

2. Delete Unnecessary Data from iOS Apps

While you’re in the iCloud Storage screen (the leftmost screenshot above), look through the other apps at the top of the list. The Photos app will likely be using the most storage, but all you can do to minimize its space usage is delete unnecessary screenshots, duplicate photos, and accidental videos from Photos. That will likely require lots of manual effort.

However, some other apps—think about third-party camera or video apps—may be using space unnecessarily. Investigate any apps reporting a lot of usage in the iCloud Storage screen, and if possible, clear out the unnecessary data.

Finally, consider Messages. If you regularly trade photos and videos in chats, it could be another place you can save significant space. In the iCloud Storage screen, tap Messages > Top Conversations to see which conversations are the largest. Tap one to switch to Messages, tap the person’s avatar at the top of the conversation, tap the Info button, scroll down to see the photos, and tap See All Photos. Tap Select, tap photos you have no desire to keep within that Messages conversation, and then tap Delete at the bottom-right of the screen.

3. Avoid Backing Up Apps with Massive iCloud Data Stores

If one of your apps is storing a lot of data that you don’t want to delete, but that you don’t care if it were to be lost, you can prevent it from being backed up by iCloud Backup and reduce the size of your backups.

To find such apps, navigate to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups and tap the name of the device you’re on. That screen shows which apps consume the most space in your backup. Tap the toggle switch next to an app to stop backing it up and delete its data from your backup.

4. Scan for and Delete Large Files in iCloud Drive

It’s hard to know if you’re likely to be using lots of space in iCloud Drive—it all depends on what iCloud-savvy apps you use and if you store other files in iCloud Drive via the Mac’s Finder or the Files app in iOS.

There’s no need to guess, however, thanks to free Mac apps that help you identify especially large files and folders. Our favorites are GrandPerspective and OmniDiskSweeper. GrandPerspective uses a graphical view so you can see at a glance where your space is going, whereas OmniDiskSweeper opts for a classic text-based approach that gives you hard numbers. In GrandPerspective, choose File > Scan Folder and select iCloud Drive in the sidebar of the Open dialog. For OmniDiskSweeper, choose File > Size Folder.

Whichever app you use, it’s easy to select large files or folders and click Delete (GrandPerspective) or Trash (OmniDiskSweeper). You may have to set an option in GrandPerspective > Preferences to enable deletions if its Delete button is disabled.

5. Delete Old Email from iCloud Mail

All the email you store at iCloud counts against your free space, so it can be worth clearing out unwanted old messages (and their large attachments). To delete individual messages using Apple’s Mail, just select them and click the Trash button in the toolbar. Some messages are much bigger than others, however, and to find them, choose View > Sort By > Size. That puts the largest messages at the top.

Of course, deleting messages normally just moves them to the Trash mailbox; to reclaim the space they occupy on iCloud, choose Mailbox > Erase Deleted Items > AccountName. Once you do that, the messages are gone for good.

If you want to remove an entire mailbox and its contents, select it in the sidebar and choose Mailbox > Delete Mailbox. That deletes all of its messages immediately and can’t be undone.

When you put all these space-clearing techniques together, you’ll likely be able to clear enough cruft that you won’t have to pay Apple for more iCloud storage space. But if you’re uncomfortable deleting such data, there’s no shame in upgrading to a larger iCloud storage plan.

(Featured image by stokpic from Pixabay)

Use Guided Access to Let Kids and Others Temporarily Use Your iPhone

Let’s get one thing straight. You know that you should never, ever share your iPhone or iPad passcode with anyone you don’t trust implicitly, like a spouse or adult child, right? That’s because, with your iOS passcode, someone could change your Apple ID password, and if you use iCloud for email, completely steal or otherwise abuse your online identity. (Scared? Good. If you’ve given anyone your passcode, go change it right now. We’ll wait.)

So if sharing your passcode is such a terrible idea, how do you let someone else use your iPhone or iPad temporarily? Perhaps you want to let your kid play a game in the car while you focus on tricky winter driving. Or maybe you time running races with an iPhone app and want someone to do the timing without giving them full access to your iPhone. Whatever the reason you want to give someone limited access to a single app in iOS 13, the solution is Guided Access.

Enabling and Configuring Guided Access

To turn Guided Access on, navigate to Settings > Accessibility > Guided Access (it’s near the bottom), and flick the switch. While you’re here, check out the remaining settings:

  • Passcode Settings: Create a passcode for getting out of Guided Access here (it can be different than your normal one), and choose whether you can use Touch ID or Face ID to exit as well.
  • Time Limits: You don’t set time limits here, but you can set audio and spoken warnings before the time runs out.
  • Accessibility Shortcut: Enable this if you also use triple-click for another Accessibility Shortcut like Magnifier.
  • Display Auto-Lock: Choose how long the device can be inactive before the screen turns off. If the Guided Access user wakes up the device, they’ll still be in Guided Access.

With those settings configured, switch to the desired app and triple-click the side or Home button, and if necessary, tap Guided Access in the Accessibility Shortcut list. You can do five things:

  • Set session-specific options: Tap Options in the lower-right corner to access various switches. If they’re disabled:
    • Side Button or Sleep/Wake Button: The user can’t put the device to sleep.
    • Volume Buttons: The user can’t change the volume.
    • Motion: The screen doesn’t change from the orientation (portrait or landscape) it was in when you started Guided Access.
    • Touch: The user can’t do anything with the screen at all—probably most appropriate for letting a young child watch a video.
    • Dictionary Lookup: Prevents word lookups in some apps.
  • Set time limits: At the bottom of the Options list, tap Time Limit and set an amount of time after which the device can’t be used until you enter the Guided Access passcode.
  • Disable specific areas on the screen: Draw circles around parts of the screen you want to make off-limits to the user. After making a circle, you can move it by dragging it, resize it by dragging any of its handles, or remove it by tapping its X button.
  • Start/Resume Guided Access: In the upper-right corner, tap Start. If you haven’t yet set a passcode, you’ll be prompted to do that.
  • Exit the setup screen: In the upper-left corner, tap End.

Using Guided Access

Once you tap Start, iOS tells you it’s entering Guided Access and lets you use the current app with the restrictions you’ve applied. If you decide that the restrictions aren’t right, triple-click the side or Home button to return to the setup screen. When you’re done, tap Resume in the upper-right corner.

To leave Guided Access, triple-click the side or Home button, enter the passcode, and in the setup screen, tap End in the upper-left corner.

That’s it! Once you understand the various limitations of Guided Access, you’ll be able to turn it on and off quickly whenever you need to let someone use your iPhone or iPad for a while.

(Featured image by mohamed Abdelgaffar from Pexels)

Need to Move Lots of Data Between Macs? Try Target Disk Mode

We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of ways we can move data between Macs. You can send files via AirDrop, attach them to an email message, put them in a Messages conversation, turn on and connect via File Sharing, or use Dropbox or Google Drive as an intermediary, to name just a few of the more obvious approaches.

But what if you have a lot of data—say tens or even hundreds of gigabytes—to transfer from one Mac to another? The techniques listed above might work, but we wouldn’t bet on it. If you had an external hard drive with sufficient free space handy, you could copy all the data to it from one Mac and then copy the data back off to another Mac. To cut the copy time in half, though, try Target Disk Mode instead.

What Is Target Disk Mode?

Target Disk Mode is a special boot mode that enables nearly any Mac to behave like an external hard drive for another Mac. You can connect the Macs using Thunderbolt 3, USB-C (on the MacBook), Thunderbolt 2, or FireWire. It’s best to use the same port on both Macs if possible, but it’s usually fine to use adapters, such as Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter for connecting newer and older Thunderbolt-capable Macs.

Target Disk Mode is nearly universal, easy to set up, and one of the fastest methods of moving files between Macs. Let’s unpack that statement:

  • Nearly universal: Every Mac sold in the last decade supports Target Disk Mode, so you can be sure it will work with any modern Mac.
  • Easy setup: Because Apple has baked Target Disk Mode into the Mac firmware, the version of macOS is irrelevant. There’s no software to configure nor any permissions to worry about. Putting a Mac into Target Disk Mode merely requires holding down the T key during boot or clicking a button in the Startup Disk preference pane.
  • Speed: Because Target Disk Mode on modern Macs relies on a Thunderbolt connection, and you’re connecting one Mac directly to another, you’ll get the fastest transfer speeds in the fewest steps.

You can also use Target Disk Mode on an old Mac to set up a new Mac with Migration Assistant, repair its drive using Disk Utility, or possibly even boot another Mac with it. Booting one Mac from another in Target Disk Mode works best if the two Macs are of the same model and vintage and are running the same version of macOS, but it might work even if those facts aren’t true.

Step-by-Step Instructions

To use Target Disk Mode to copy data between Macs, follow these steps:

  1. On the source Mac, either:
    • Restart the Mac, and once it starts booting, hold down the T key until you see the Target Disk Mode screen with a bouncing Thunderbolt logo.
    • Open System Preferences > Startup Disk, click the lock button and enter your administrator credentials, click Target Disk Mode, and then click Restart.
  2. Connect the source Mac to the destination Mac with an appropriate cable. The source Mac’s drive appears on the destination Mac’s Desktop like an external hard drive. (If the source Mac is running macOS 10.15 Catalina, two drives will appear on the destination Mac’s Desktop: DriveName and DriveName – Data. The first is Catalina’s system volume; you’ll find all your files and folders on the Data volume.)
  3. Move or copy files as desired.
  4. When you’re done, press and hold the power button on the source Mac for a few seconds to shut it down.

If you have hundreds of gigabytes to transfer and either of your Macs is a notebook, it’s best to connect it to power to avoid draining the battery before the copy finishes.

Minor Gotchas

Two things can complicate putting a Mac into Target Disk Mode: FileVault and a firmware password. Both are easily worked around:

  • If the Mac is encrypted with FileVault, hold down the T key at startup like normal, but then enter the administrator password for that Mac to complete the switch to Target Disk Mode.
  • If the Mac has a firmware password, press the Option key while the Mac is starting up and enter the firmware password when prompted. Then press the T key to continue booting in Target Disk Mode.

Also, the Apple USB-C Charge Cable that comes with the power adapter for the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro models doesn’t support Target Disk Mode, so if that’s the cable you were planning to use, sorry, but you’ll need to buy a real Thunderbolt or USB-C cable.

Despite these small caveats, Target Disk Mode is one of the unsung innovations that has made Macs easier to use for decades, and it’s well worth keeping in mind whenever you need to move lots of data between machines.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

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