Make a Backup before Upgrading to Catalina or iOS 13!

Confession time. If there’s one topic we can’t stop talking about, it’s backups. Backups are essential, since no one can guarantee that your Mac or iPhone won’t be lost or stolen, be caught in a flood from a broken pipe, or just fail silently. It happens.

You should have a good backup strategy that ensures backups happen regularly, but it’s not paranoid to make double extra sure when you’re doing something that’s more likely to cause problems than everyday activity. And by that we’re thinking about upgrading to a major new operating system, such as macOS 10.15 Catalina or iOS 13.

The reason is simple. As much as Apple tests the heck out of these upgrades, so many files are in play that all it takes is one unexpected glitch to render the entire Mac or iPhone non-functional. Wouldn’t you like to be able to revert instantly if something does go wrong?

Mac Backups before Upgrading

On the Mac side, most people should be using Time Machine. It ensures that you can not only restore your entire drive if necessary, but also easily recover a previous version of a corrupted file. The other advantage of having Time Machine backups (and a bootable duplicate, discussed next) is that you can use either to migrate all your apps, data, and settings back to a new installation of macOS, should that become necessary.

As useful as Time Machine is, a bootable duplicate made with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner is the best insurance right before you upgrade to Catalina. If an installation goes south, you can also boot from your duplicate and get back to work right away.

Finally, although it’s not directly related to backing up before upgrading, we always recommend an offsite backup made via an Internet backup service like Backblaze. This is because a fire or flood would likely destroy your backup drive along with your Mac.

So please, back up your Mac before something goes wrong. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive to get started, and we’re happy to help.

iOS Backups before Upgrading

Although upgrade-related problems are less common with iPhones and iPads, they can still happen. It’s more likely that you’d drop your little friend accidentally while juggling groceries or forget it after your workout at the gym, but regardless, a backup ensures that you don’t lose precious photos if you’re not using iCloud Photos or My Photo Stream, and backups make migrating to a new device like a fancy new iPhone as painless as possible.

With iOS, though, you don’t need extra software or hardware to make a backup. Apple provides two ways of backing up your iPhone or iPad: iTunes and iCloud. We generally recommend backing up to iCloud if your backups will fit in the free 5 GB of space Apple provides or if you’re already paying for more iCloud space. If you’re not a fan of the cloud or don’t have space, there’s nothing wrong with iTunes backups, though they’re a bit fussier to set up and manage.

There’s also no harm in using both, with iCloud for nightly automatic backups and iTunes for an extra backup just before upgrading to iOS 13 or to a new iPhone or iPad. A second backup can be useful—we’ve seen situations where an iPhone would refuse to restore its files from iTunes but would from iCloud.

To back up to iCloud, go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup, turn the switch on, and tap Back Up Now. For backups to happen automatically in the future, you must have sufficient space in your iCloud account (you can buy more), and your device must be on a Wi-Fi network, connected to power, and have its screen locked.

To back up to iTunes, connect your device to your Mac via a Lightning-to-USB cable, launch iTunes, and click the device icon to the right of the media menu.

Then, in the Backups section, click the Back Up Now button. If you’re prompted to encrypt your backups, we encourage you to agree since otherwise your backup won’t include passwords, Health information, or HomeKit data. For automatic backups via iTunes, select This Computer. After that, every time you plug into your Mac, it will back up.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we’re not talking about how to restore if something goes wrong during an upgrade. That’s because it’s impossible to predict exactly what might happen or what state your device will end up in. So if you’re unfortunate enough to have such problems—or to have some other catastrophic failure—get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

(Featured image based on an original by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash)

Six Tips for Writing Better Email

Apple has put a lot of effort into Mail, providing lots of features you can employ to get through your email more quickly. But one of the most effective ways to improve your email productivity has nothing to do with an app. Instead, train yourself to write better email and you’ll cut down on a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth and confusion. Remember, email is not chat—you say things in an interactive conversation that could take days to untangle in an email thread. Here are some of the top ways to ensure that your email achieves your goals.

1. Write a good Subject line

Everyone receives too much email, and as a result, most people scan email Subject lines and open only those messages that seem relevant. Good Subject lines should be direct and specific, and ideally have key words at the front to catch the recipient’s attention.

Bad: Finishing off reviews…
Good: Discuss performance reviews at lunch on Thursday at 12:30 PM?

2. Keep it short and focused

Even if your recipient opens your message, if it rambles on, they will likely set it aside to deal with later, and later may never happen. Plus, if it includes multiple unrelated topics, replying to everything may seem overwhelming. And if they don’t know how to respond to even one point, the entire message may go unanswered.

When you start an email message, consider the most important point you want to convey and focus on that. Summarize ruthlessly, and if you find yourself wanting to write more and more, propose a phone call or meeting to discuss the topic instead.

Carry this advice over to your words too. Aim for short, understandable sentences. Whenever the thought changes, start a new paragraph. Short, single-topic paragraphs are easier to scan and understand, which is why newspaper reporters write the way they do.

3, Provide relevant context and details

As much as it’s important to stay concise, don’t leave out essential information. To check that your message is complete, evaluate it according to the journalistic formula of the Five Ws: does your message answer the questions of Who, What, When, Where, and Why?

Consider the example above about scheduling a lunch to discuss performance reviews. The message needs to make it clear who is invited to the lunch, what the topic of discussion will be, when and where it will take place, and why you’re setting up the meeting. Although the Subject and To lines already answer Who, What, and When, be sure to repeat those facts within the message.

4. Stay polite and friendly

If you’re having a bad day, it’s all too easy to be abrupt or even abrasive in email. Resist the temptation, since it will reduce the chance that the recipient will take your words to heart or reply as you wish.

Instead, imagine that you’re speaking to the person, and don’t say anything in email that you wouldn’t say to their face. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

5. Use proper spelling and grammar

Consider email a professional communication medium, even if you’re writing to your kid’s soccer league mailing list. Before sending, look over what you’ve written and fix errors in spelling (look for red underlines) and grammar (“it’s” should always be replaceable with “it is”). It never helps if your correspondents see you as barely literate.

6. State the desired outcome at the end

Finally, never send an email message unless you know what you want it to achieve, and be clear about that goal when you close the message. If your recipient doesn’t understand what you want, getting to that result may require several additional messages. In our example about the lunch meeting, compare these alternatives:

Bad: Let me know what works for you.
Good: Can you join me for lunch on Thursday at 12:30 PM in the conference room so we can go over the performance reviews?”

And to follow our own advice, we hope you’ll keep these tips in mind while composing future email messages. That will reduce confusion and irritation on the part of your correspondents, and reduce your email load by eliminating unnecessary requests for clarification.

(Featured image by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash)

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)

Here Are Your Options to Merge Photos Libraries

If you need to merge Photos libraries there are multiple options available, we’ll show you your options so that you can make the best decision to suit your needs. Photos makes it easy to create and switch between libraries. That’s good when photos need to be kept completely separate. For instance, a real estate agent might want to keep personal photos separate from house photos taken for work. But too much separation is annoying—you have to keep switching between libraries, and it’s easy to import new photos into the wrong one.

If you struggle with multiple Photos libraries, never fear—you can merge them. Unfortunately, the process is slow, can require a lot of disk space, and may result in the loss of some metadata. You have three options: merging through iCloud Photos, using the PowerPhotos utility, and merging by exporting and importing. Each has pros and cons.

Merge through iCloud Photos

Apple’s iCloud Photos service offers the best solution for merging libraries. The trick is that whenever you designate a library as your System Photo Library, Photos automatically uploads all images that aren’t already present, adding them to the photos already in iCloud Photos. It also retains all the metadata surrounding your photos—titles, keywords, albums, facial recognition, projects, and more.

On the downside, using iCloud Photos almost certainly won’t be free unless you have so few photos that the combined library will fit within the free 5 GB of iCloud space Apple gives everyone. Almost everyone will have to pay for additional storage space ($0.99 per month for 50 GB, $2.99 for 200 GB, or $9.99 for 2 TB) for at least the month in which you’re doing the merge. iCloud Photos is a good service, so it’s likely worth paying for anyway.

More problematic is that the iCloud Photos way of merging will be very slow. If you haven’t already started using it, it could take a week or more to upload many thousands of photos. Plus, it will probably download the entire cloud-based collection of photos to each library whose photos you want to merge, so you may need a lot of local disk space too.

If you haven’t previously used iCloud Photos, go to System Preferences > iCloud and click the Options button next to Photo. In the dialog, select iCloud Photos.

Now, starting with the smallest Photos library and working up in size, follow these steps for each library you want to merge:

  1. Double-click the Photos library to open it.
  2. In Photos > Preferences > General, click Use as System Photo Library. (If it’s dimmed out, that library is already set as the System Photo Library.)
  3. Wait for photos to upload. Scroll to the bottom of the Photos view to see the progress. A Pause link will appear there during uploading—click it if you need to keep Photos from overwhelming your Internet connection. Once the photos have all uploaded, go back to Step 1 with your next Photos library.

When you’re done, the last Photos library becomes the one you’ll keep, and you can delete the others. Needless to say, make sure you have good backups first!

Merge with PowerPhotos

The $30 PowerPhotos from Fat Cat Software provides a variety of extra capabilities when working with Photos. It helps you to create and manage multiple libraries, copy photos between libraries, find duplicates, and—most important for this topic—merge libraries. This is my personal favorite method and have used PowerPhotos for years.

Because PowerPhotos is working entirely on your Mac’s drive, it’s fast and it doesn’t require huge amounts of extra disk space. Unfortunately, unlike the iCloud Photos approach, which brings in both originals and any edits to those photos, PowerPhotos can import only your original photos or the versions that you’ve edited, not both. Plus, it can’t merge facial recognition data, smart albums, or print projects.

PowerPhotos provides an actual interface for merging too—choose Library > Merge Libraries to start.

In the window that appears, you have four tasks:

  1. Choose source libraries. You aren’t limited to merging just two libraries; you can pick multiple sources.
  2. Choose the destination library. This is the library you want to receive all the photos. If you want, you can create a new one.
  3. Configure duplicate handling. PowerPhotos can import just one of several copies of duplicate photos, or you can bring in all the duplicates if that’s important.
  4. Choose options. PowerPhotos can merge album contents, create an album from each source library, and create a backup before merging. Most important, though, is the choice of whether to merge your original photos or the edited versions.

Merge by Exporting and Importing

This final option is conceptually simple. You export all the photos from one library and then import them into another. It’s even what Apple recommends. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s free, and it will be faster than the iCloud Photos approach. It could also be useful if you want to copy a subset of photos between libraries, rather than merging all photos.

However, as with PowerPhotos, you have to choose between original and edited photos, and you’ll need a lot of extra disk space. Even worse, you’ll lose even more metadata, including albums, faces, and print projects. And if you export as JPEG, your photos may also suffer a slight quality drop as they’re recompressed.

For those who want to use this approach, Apple provides detailed instructions. In essence, you’ll click Photos in the sidebar to see everything, and then choose Edit > Select All. Then you’ll choose File > Export and either Export X Photos (to get the edited versions of images) or Export Unmodified Original for X Photos (to get the original images). Once everything has exported, you’ll switch libraries in Photos and then drag the folder of exported images back into Photos to import it.

Our nod goes to the iCloud Photos technique, but PowerPhotos is a fine utility for those who aren’t perturbed by its limitations. Of course, don’t start any merging without making backups first, and if you need help, don’t hesitate to come in and see us.

Easier Ways to Move the Cursor When Editing Text on an iPad or iPhone

In theory, it should be easy to move the cursor in text on an iPad or iPhone—just tap where you want the cursor to go, or press and hold until the magnifying circle appears over the cursor and then slide it around. In reality, it’s often fussy and annoying because our fingers are a lot wider than the cursor itself. Starting in iOS 9, Apple came up with a better solution—trackpad mode—and in iOS 12, the company extended it to devices that lack 3D Touch.

In trackpad mode, you turn the onscreen keyboard into a virtual trackpad. Just as on a Mac laptop, moving your finger around the virtual trackpad moves the cursor in the text above. How you invoke trackpad mode differs slightly between the iPad and iPhone.

Trackpad Mode on the iPad

On an iPad, open any app that allows text input, like Notes, and bring up the keyboard. Touch the keyboard with two fingers, and you see the letters disappear from the keyboard as it switches to trackpad mode. Immediately swipe your fingers (or just one, you can lift the other up) around to move the cursor within the text. Or, for the new approach, touch the Spacebar and pause briefly to switch to trackpad mode.

You can also select text in trackpad mode. If you start with two fingers, instead of swiping immediately after entering trackpad mode, pause with your two fingers down briefly, which causes iOS to switch to selecting text. Then move your fingers around to change the colored selection. If you start with one finger on the Spacebar, position the cursor where you want it and then tap anywhere on the grayed-out keyboard to start selecting.

For easier selection of chunks of text, put the cursor in a word, let up, and then tap once with two fingers to select the word around the cursor, twice to select the sentence, and three times to select the entire paragraph. To expand or contract the selection, keep your fingers down and drag the selection cursor. To deselect text, tap once on the keyboard with two fingers.

You can use trackpad mode even if you have an external keyboard attached. Tap in a text input area, place two fingers anywhere in it to engage trackpad mode, and then move your fingers to reposition the cursor (again, you can lift one finger up after you start). To select text, put the cursor inside a word, release your fingers, and tap once to select the word, twice for the sentence, and three times for the paragraph.

Trackpad Mode on the iPhone

Before iOS 12, trackpad mode on the iPhone worked only on models that supported 3D Touch, which eliminated the iPhone 5s and earlier and the iPhone SE. iOS 12 added another approach, which is good because 2018’s iPhone XR also lacks 3D Touch.

To engage trackpad mode on an iPhone that supports 3D Touch, press firmly on the keyboard with one finger—you’ll feel the iPhone’s Taptic Engine simulate the feel of a click. Keep your finger down to move the cursor around. Apple’s new approach to invoking trackpad mode works on all iPhone models—touch the Spacebar and pause briefly to switch to trackpad mode. In either case, if you need more room, you can move your finger off the keyboard image right onto the text.

On 3D Touch iPhones, to select a word, relax your finger pressure slightly without removing it from the screen, and then press again. It’s quite similar to the feel of clicking on a MacBook trackpad. You can even double-press—again, with a slight relaxing of the finger first—to select the current sentence and triple-press to select the entire paragraph. Keep dragging after selecting to select more text by the word, sentence, or paragraph.

When using the Spacebar approach to invoking trackpad mode, you can still select text. As on the iPad, position the cursor where you want it and then tap anywhere on the grayed-out keyboard to start selecting. The two-fingered tapping on the normal keyboard that works on the iPad doesn’t work on the iPhone, unfortunately.

Trackpad mode takes a little getting used to, but it’s so much better than the previous selection methods that it’s worth making yourself practice until it becomes second nature.

How Free Up Space with iOS 12 on an iPhone or iPad

Little is more frustrating than running out of space your iPhone or iPad. In this article, I’ll explain how to free up space on your iPhone and iPad in iOS 12. You can’t take new photos, you can’t download new apps, some things may not work at all, and iOS will nag you repeatedly about how you can “manage” your storage in Settings. Luckily, over the past few versions of iOS, Apple has significantly improved the options for clearing unnecessary data from your device.

Storage Graph

To get started clearing space, go to Settings > iPhone/iPad Storage. At the top of the screen, a graph reveals where your space is going, such as Apps, Photos, Media, Messages, Mail, Books, iCloud Drive, and Other. You can’t do anything with the graph, but it will likely reveal the main culprits.

Recommendations

Next, iOS shows recommendations for quick ways to recover space. These vary based on how you use your device, so you will likely see other options here.

Some of the possibilities include:

  • Offload Unused Apps: This choice is particularly helpful if you download a lot of apps that you later stop using. Enable it, and iOS automatically recovers space from unused apps when you’re low on storage. Each of these apps remains on your Home screen with a little cloud icon next to it, and when you next tap the app to open it, iOS re-downloads the app from the App Store. You won’t lose any documents, data, or settings associated with an offloaded app.
  • Review Downloaded Videos: Some apps, like Netflix, can download videos for offline watching. That’s great for when you’re on a long flight, but if you forget to delete the videos, they can consume a lot of space. This option shows them to you and lets you swipe left on any one to delete it.
  • Review Large Attachments: Photos, videos, and other files sent to you in Messages can take up a lot of space. This recommendation reveals them and lets you swipe left to delete those you don’t need to keep.
  • “Recently Deleted” Album: When you delete photos in the Photos app, they go into the Recently Deleted album, where they’ll be deleted automatically after up to 40 days. This recommendation lets you remove those images right away.
  • Review Personal Videos: Shooting videos with your iPhone or iPad can guzzle storage, so this recommendation shows you the videos you’ve taken in case you don’t want to keep them.

iOS’s recommendations are quite good and may be all you need to clear space quickly. However, if you need to dig deeper, you can look at the usage of individual apps.

Individual App Usage

The third and final section of the iPhone/iPad Storage screen lists every app on your device, sorted by how much space it takes up. Along with the app’s name and how much space it consumes, iOS helpfully tells you the last time you used the app. You may even see “Never Used” for older apps that you’ve carried over from previous devices but haven’t opened on this one.

When you tap an app, iOS shows more information about how much space the app and its documents occupy, and lets you tap Offload App or Delete App to recover its space. For some apps, mostly those from Apple, like Music and Podcasts, iOS also shows the data stored by the app and lets you delete any individual item (swipe left).

Focus on the apps at the top of the list—the list is sorted by size—since it will be a lot easier to realize, for instance, that you’ve never used GarageBand and recover its 1.59 GB of space than to sort through a long list of apps and their data.

With all these the tools from Apple, you should have no trouble making space on your device for more photos, videos, and apps that you actually want to use.