If you’re like many of our clients who use Dropbox intensively, you have a desktop Mac with a large drive and a MacBook with much less drive space. How do you prevent your large Dropbox account from overwhelming the laptop Mac’s available storage? The answer is Dropbox’s Selective Sync feature. On the MacBook, click the Dropbox icon in the menu bar, click your avatar in the upper-right corner, and choose Preferences. In the Preferences window, click Sync and then click the Choose Folders to Sync button. Deselect the folders you want to prevent from syncing to the MacBook and click Update. If you need to access any files in those folders from the MacBook, go to dropbox.com in your Web browser instead, or adjust your Sync preferences to bring in the needed folder.
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.
When Apple introduced the 12-inch MacBook in April 2015, the machine was the thinnest Mac ever, with a tapered design that starts at a mere 3.5 mm and grows only to 13.1 mm. A change from previous laptop models that made such an incredibly thin design possible was a new keyboard that swapped a scissor-style switch under each key for a new “butterfly mechanism” that’s 40 percent thinner.
In October 2016, Apple started using a second generation of the so-called “butterfly” keyboard in the MacBook Pro line. Then, in July 2018, Apple updated the keyboard to a third-generation design that added a thin silicone membrane under each key to protect from dust and other foreign objects. That third-generation keyboard made its way into the MacBook Air released in October 2018. Then, in May 2019, Apple once again updated the keyboard in the latest models of the MacBook Pro, telling journalists that the fourth-generation design has a “materials change” in the mechanism.
Why has Apple kept tinkering with the butterfly keyboard? Put frankly, because it has had problems. Although there are no independent estimates of what percentage of Macs equipped with butterfly keyboards are afflicted, many users have complained about keys sticking or feeling crunchy, keys failing to fire at all (so no letter is typed when the key is pressed), and keys repeating (so multiple letters are typed per keypress).
In fact, in June 2018, just before the third-generation design appeared in the MacBook Pro, Apple acknowledged that “a small percentage” of first- and second-generation butterfly keyboards were affected and launched a repair program to fix them for free, even if they were out of warranty. (The fact that a class-action suit surrounding the butterfly keyboards was filed against Apple in May 2018 might have been related.)
Alas, the silicone membrane didn’t resolve all the issues, and after the E and R keys on her MacBook Pro failed, influential tech journalist Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal wrote a hilarious column entitled “Appl Still Hasn’t Fixd Its MacBook Kyboad Problm,” complete with interactive switches so you could read it with or without the various missing and duplicated letters. Plus, a repair technician tore down a MacBook Pro keyboard to show why he didn’t think dust was an issue. Apple apologized to the Wall Street Journal, saying:
We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry. The vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard.
So when Apple released the fourth-generation butterfly keyboard with the current MacBook Pro models, the company also extended the Keyboard Service Program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro to cover the third-generation keyboards. The repair program lists the exact models that are covered, but it basically comes down to any 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air models released in late 2018, and MacBook Pro models starting in 2016 and up to 2019.
What’s the practical upshot of all this for you?
- If you have a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro with one of these butterfly keyboards, and it’s working properly, that’s great! Do nothing—hopefully it will keep tip, tap, typing away.
- If you have one of those Macs and are having problems, contact Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for a repair. Before you hand over any Mac for repair, make sure you have at least one and preferably two backups of your data, since Apple sometimes replaces storage devices while doing seemingly unrelated repairs.
- If you already paid Apple to have your butterfly keyboard repaired, contact Apple to request a refund.
It’s too soon to know if the fourth-generation butterfly keyboard will resolve all the complaints, but whenever we’re not typing, our fingers are crossed!
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
With luck, you should never need to check your iPhone’s or iPad’s warranty status. But bad things do happen to good devices. In iOS 12.2, Apple has just made it easier to figure out if your device is still under warranty or covered by AppleCare+. Go to Settings > General > About, where you’ll find a new entry that’s either called Limited Warranty (the basic Apple warranty) or AppleCare+ (the extended warranty you can buy). The entry shows the expiration date, and tapping it provides more details on the Coverage screen. If your iPhone or iPad doesn’t have AppleCare+ but is eligible for it, you can even buy it from this screen. You won’t see anything if your device is out of warranty and no longer eligible for AppleCare+.
Is your Apple Watch failing to turn on its screen when you raise it, display notifications from your iPhone, or even update the time zone? watchOS has four modes accessible from Control Center (swipe up from the bottom of the screen) that are useful but can cause confusion if you forget to turn them off:
- Silent Mode: In Silent mode, your Apple Watch won’t make any sounds, but will provide haptic feedback you can feel on your wrist.
- Theater Mode: When in Theater mode, your Apple Watch not only turns on Silent mode, it also keeps the screen dark unless you tap the screen or press a button.
- Do Not Disturb: As with Theater mode, enabling Do Not Disturb turns on Silent mode and prevents notifications from lighting up the screen.
- Airplane Mode: Invoking Airplane mode turns off the Apple Watch’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and the cellular radio if your watch supports that. Without Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the watch can’t communicate with your iPhone and will thus miss notifications and time zone changes.
iCloud Photos (which Apple previously called iCloud Photo Library) is wonderful when it’s working. Take some photos on your iPhone, and they appear on your Mac and iPad a minute later. Delete unnecessary shots and edit the others on your Mac, and your iPhone and iPad reflect those changes almost immediately. But what if changes aren’t syncing? Photos in iOS and macOS can pause syncing for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it doesn’t restart when it should. To see if this is happening, go to the very bottom of the Photos view in Photos, where it lists the number of photos and videos you have stored. Below that number is the sync status. If it has a reason and a Resume link, click or tap Resume to start it again.