MacBook Air Update Features Magic Keyboard, iPad Pro Gets a Trackpad
In a widely expected update, Apple has introduced a new MacBook Air that replaces the much-maligned butterfly keyboard with the new Magic Keyboard. The MacBook Air also gains faster processors, enhanced graphics, and more storage options, all for $200 less than before.
Apple also threw back the curtains on an updated iPad Pro that will be compatible with a new iPad Pro-specific Magic Keyboard that includes a trackpad. The iPad Pro is available now, but the Magic Keyboard won’t ship until May.
MacBook Air Gains Magic Keyboard, Faster Performance, and Other Enhancements
In an effort to eliminate the hated butterfly keyboard from the Mac line, Apple has released an updated MacBook Air that features the scissor-key Magic Keyboard introduced last year in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. That keyboard has received highly positive reviews, and we’re happy to see it appear in the MacBook Air. (Look for a new model to replace the current 13-inch MacBook Pro soon as well.) The Magic Keyboard includes 12 function keys as well as a Touch ID sensor, but no Touch Bar.
Apple significantly improved the MacBook Air’s performance by providing a choice of 10th-generation Intel Core processors, including the model’s first quad-core processor option. The base level 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 is probably pretty slow, but upgrading to a 1.1 GHz quad-core i5 is only $100 and a 1.2 GHz quad-core i7 is just $250.
Graphics should be noticeably speedier as well, thanks to the switch to Intel Iris Plus Graphics. The MacBook Air can now drive a 6K display too if you have a Pro Display XDR.
Apple also doubled the base level of storage to 256 GB, and you can increase that to 512 GB ($200), 1 TB ($400), or 2 TB ($800).
Minor enhancements include True Tone technology for more natural images on the 13-inch Retina display, “wide stereo sound” for the speakers and support for Bluetooth 5.0.
As welcome as all these changes are, the best news is that Apple simultaneously dropped the MacBook Air’s price. The entry-level model now starts at $999, and it’s available to the education market for just $899.
We were waiting for the Magic Keyboard to come to the MacBook Air, but we had no inkling that Apple was going to add a trackpad option to the iPad Pro. It will come in the form of the new Magic Keyboard, due in May, and will require iPadOS 13.4, slated for late March. Apple says it will be easy to use, with the pointer transforming to highlight user elements appropriately as the user moves their finger across the trackpad. What it won’t be is cheap, at $299 for the 11-inch model and $349 for the 12.9-inch model. (The second-generation Apple Pencil and an updated Smart Keyboard Folio remain available.)
The other unexpected change in the new iPad Pro is the addition of the new LiDAR Scanner. LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is a way of measuring distance with reflected laser light. It’s commonly used in self-driving cars, but Apple is instead using it to beef up the iPad Pro’s augmented reality (AR) capabilities. It offers existing ARKit apps instant AR placement, improved motion capture, and people occlusion. Apple also uses it to improve the Measure app. We can’t help but think Apple is testing the technology for future AR goggles.
Less surprising improvements include a new processor—Apple’s custom A12Z Bionic chip—and a dual-camera system that combines a 12-megapixel wide camera and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide camera that zooms out two times to capture a much wider field of view. The iPad Pro also now boasts five microphones for capturing audio and four speakers that automatically adjust to any orientation.
Pricing for the iPad Pro itself hasn’t changed. The 11-inch model starts at $799, with the 12.9-inch model at $999. Both come with 128 GB of flash storage, up from 64 GB in the previous models, and you can buy more storage: 256 GB (add $100), 512 GB ($300), or 1 TB ($500). Cellular connectivity costs an extra $150.
Last and but not least, Apple announced that the standard configurations of the Mac mini now have twice as much storage as before. That means the $799 configuration comes with 256 GB and the $1099 configuration comes with 512 GB. 1 TB and 2TB configurations remain available, and there are no other changes.
For some Mac users, macOS 10.15 Catalina is no longer a choice. That’s because the new 16-inch MacBook Pro and the 2019 Mac Pro that Apple released late last year ship with Catalina installed and can’t run any previous version of macOS.
But for most people, it’s time to consider an upgrade to Catalina. Most backup software now works with Catalina’s bifurcated drive approach that puts the system on a separate, read-only volume from your data and apps. We’ve all had several months to come to terms with the fact that old 32-bit apps won’t even launch in Catalina. And Apple has shipped several updates that bring Catalina to version 10.15.3, addressing most of the complaints users had with the initial release.
If you are ready to try Catalina but still want to use 10.14 Mojave, we have some advice for how to make that happen. This could be the case for someone who has purchased a new Mac that does support Mojave but came with Catalina installed, for someone who wants to test Catalina while still using Mojave, or for someone who wants to move on to Catalina but has a 32-bit app that they aren’t ready to say good-bye to.
Downgrade from Catalina to Mojave on Some New Macs
Apple has started installing Catalina on new Macs other than the 16-inch MacBook Pro and 2019 Mac Pro, but since these older Macs can still run Mojave, it’s possible—if a bit tricky—to downgrade them to Mojave.
System engineer Armin Briegel has worked out a way of downgrading new Macs to Mojave. First, you create a Mojave Installer USB drive. To use that drive to boot a Mac with a T2 security chip, you must allow external booting from the Security Utility on the Recovery partition. Once you’ve booted from your Mojave Installer drive, use Disk Utility to erase the entire internal drive. Then install Mojave.
Use Virtualization to Keep 32-bit Apps Running
For some people, what’s keeping them on Mojave is a single 32-bit app that will never be updated in an appropriate fashion. Quicken 2007 falls into this category, as does the ScanSnap Manager app for the ScanSnap S1300, S1500, and S1500M scanners. Sure, you can get a current version of Quicken, but it may not do precisely what you want, and Fujitsu would be happy to sell you a new ScanSnap scanner that does come with 64-bit software, but then you’ll have to figure out what to do with your old scanner.
So if you’re ready to upgrade to Catalina in general but need to maintain access to one or two apps, one solution is virtualization software: either Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. Both apps let you run nearly any operating system—including older versions of macOS like Mojave—in a virtual machine. In essence, they fool the guest operating system, whether it’s Mojave or Windows, into thinking it’s running normally on a computer when it’s actually running in a virtual environment.
These apps cost about $80, and while there’s a bit of work in setting them up (the screenshot below shows the option for installing Mojave in Parallels Desktop during setup), once you have them configured, it’s easy to run older apps alongside newer ones with little or no performance hit. This approach is also perfect for a 16-inch MacBook Pro or Mac Pro that can’t run Mojave in any other way.
Install Catalina and Mojave on Separate APFS Volumes and Switch Boot
Finally, there’s one other option that lets you switch back and forth between Mojave and Catalina, assuming your Mac supports Mojave. You can create an APFS volume on your internal drive and install another version of macOS on that. It’s easy, and Apple provides full instructions. The only problem with this approach is that you’ll have to restart to switch operating systems, whereas both are available simultaneously with the virtualization solution.
First, make sure you have at least one current backup of your Mac, since it’s foolhardy to adjust your drive structure without one. Next, in Disk Utility, select your internal drive, choose Edit > Add APFS Volume, and click Add. We recommend naming the drive such that it will be clear what’s on it.
Command-R reinstalls the latest version of macOS that was installed on your Mac.
Command-Option-R upgrades to the latest version of macOS that’s compatible with your Mac.
Command-Shift-Option-R reinstalls the version of macOS that came with your Mac, or the closest version still available.
Choose Reinstall macOS from the macOS Utilities window and proceed from there.
Once the installation is complete, to switch from one version of macOS to another, open System Preferences > Startup Disk, choose the desired volume to boot from, and then click Restart. Or, press Option at startup and select the desired volume from the Startup Manager screen.
Needless to say, the decision about when and how to upgrade to Catalina isn’t a trivial one, so feel free to contact us to discuss your particular situation or to get help with any of the procedures that we’ve described in this article.
It’s that time of year again, when an Apple user’s thoughts drift to new versions of macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Apple announced the new versions in June, and public betas have been available since. But once Apple makes macOS 10.14 Mojave, iOS 12, watchOS 5, and tvOS 12 available for free download, you’ll need to decide when to install each.
(Note that we say when and not if. There’s no harm in delaying major operating system upgrades until Apple has had a chance to squash early bugs. But waiting too long puts you at risk from security vulnerabilities and prevents you from taking advantage of new features. Plus, should you have to replace an Apple device unexpectedly, you will likely have to use the current operating system, which could be awkward if you weren’t ready.)
The hardest upgrade decision comes with macOS 10.14 Mojave. Whereas the last version of macOS—High Sierra—was a refinement upgrade that added few new features, Mojave introduces lots. Some people’s eyes will appreciate Dark mode, and the Dynamic Desktop changes subtly throughout the day. More practically, Stacks help organize files on cluttered Desktops, the Finder’s new Gallery view makes browsing images easier, and Quick Actions in the Finder’s Preview pane and in Quick Look let you work on files without even opening them. Apple significantly enhanced macOS’s screenshot and screen recording capabilities as well. And apps like Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos make the jump from iOS.
However, these features are bound to come with quirks and bugs, and Mojave’s new privacy and security controls may cause problems for older software. So we recommend waiting until at least version 10.14.1 or even 10.14.2 before upgrading. That gives you time to make sure your key apps are compatible with Mojave and for Apple to resolve any unanticipated problems.
iOS 12 is a different story, particularly if you have an older iPhone or iPad. That’s because Apple has focused on improving performance for such devices. If your device is bogging down, iOS 12 may give it a new lease on life. Also compelling is Screen Time, which helps you track your usage and set limits if you’re unhappy about how much time you spend giving Facebook your personal data. Screen Time even works for your entire family, so it could make dinner less device-intensive. A beefed-up Do Not Disturb lets you keep your iPhone from nagging you so much, and new features let you tamp down excessive notifications more easily. Finally, if you do the same things repeatedly, Siri Shortcuts can help you create your own Siri voice commands.
Our take is that iOS 12 is a good upgrade. Don’t pull the trigger instantly, since Apple may discover important bugs in the first week or two, but after that, upgrade when you have time to play with the new features.
watchOS 5 is linked to iOS 12, so you can’t upgrade your Apple Watch until your iPhone is running the latest. Most of the changes revolve around the Workouts app, with automatic detection of running workouts, a new Yoga workout, activity competitions, and more. Other new features include a Walkie-Talkie app, the arrival of Apple’s Podcasts app, a smarter Siri watch face, and improved notifications. There’s no downside to watchOS 5, so as soon as iOS 12 lands on your iPhone, set your Apple Watch to upgrade that night.
tvOS 12 is the easiest to agree to install. It’s a minor upgrade, with just a few new features. The most noticeable is a new aerial screensaver of Earth from low orbit, made by the crew of the International Space Station. You can also tap the touchpad of the Siri Remote while an aerial screensaver is playing to see where it was taken. When you start trying to type a password on the Apple TV, a notification on your iPhone lets you autofill that password. And finally, the Apple TV 4K gains support for Dolby Atmos soundscapes. So yeah, install tvOS 12 when it comes out, or let your Apple TV do it automatically.
As much as change can be hard, we’re excited about Apple’s new operating systems. Like you, we probably won’t end up using all the new features, but some will enhance the experience of being an Apple user.
Although Apple’s eye-catching Desktop image of the High Sierra mountains makes it easy to confirm that your Mac is running High Sierra, the most noteworthy new features are invisible! These changes are aimed at improving your Mac’s performance. But, don’t worry that there’s nothing new in High Sierra to play with—you’ll find plenty to do in Apple’s apps, and we’ll share our favorite features below.
Apple’s invisible, under-the-hood changes modernize the Mac. The new APFS file system significantly improves how data is stored on your disk. It replaces the HFS+ file system, which dates from the previous century. You’ll notice the switch to APFS when you look up the size of a selected folder or duplicate a large file because the operation should run much more quickly. APFS also provides better FileVault encryption and reduces the chance of file corruption.
Also new is HEVC, a new video compression standard that will let videos stream better and take up less space on your drive, and HEIF, an image format that boasts significantly better compression to keep photos from overwhelming your drive. HEVC and HEIF have other advantages too, but they’re so embedded into High Sierra (and iOS 11) that all you’ll notice is more space. When you drag images and videos out of Photos, they’ll come out in familiar formats suitable for sharing.
In Photos, it’s now easier to browse your photos from the always-on sidebar on the left side of the window. Photo editing is also more streamlined, with the Edit screen now separated into three tabs: Adjust, Filters, and Crop.
You can now edit Live Photos! Look at the bottom of the Adjust tab for controls for picking any frame as the static “key” frame, trimming the video, and applying special effects. The most interesting effect blurs the Live Photo by turning the 3-second mini-movie into a single long exposure.
Those who are into tweaking photos by hand should check out the new Curves and Selective Color options on the Adjust tab. Or, if you’d prefer that your Mac do the heavy lifting, try the new filters on the Filters tab.
Our favorite new feature is more of a fix—when you train Photos to match faces with names, that training will now sync through iCloud Photo Library to your other Apple devices. About time!
Finally, for serious photographers, Apple has at long last brought back round-trip editing of a photo in an external app, like Pixelmator or Photoshop.
A new Websites tab in Safari’s preferences lets you specify Web sites that should always open in Safari’s clutter-reducing Reader View, blocks some ads and auto-play videos, lets you set the zoom level on a per-site basis, and more. We like to tweak these options for the current Web page by choosing Safari > Settings for This Website to open a popover with the necessary controls.
And in the “Thank you, Apple!” category, Safari now offers Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which limits advertisers’ cross-site tracking of where you’ve been online.
Notes now offers a capable Table feature and a handy File > Pin Note command that puts the selected note at the top of its list rather than listing it by order last edited. Neither feature is earth shattering, but we’re enjoying both already.
Behind the scenes, Mail gets a welcome change you probably won’t notice—according to Apple, message storage now takes 35% less space.
More obvious is how Mail revamped its behavior in full-screen view. Instead of the message-composition area overlapping most of the Mail window, the screen splits, and your new message appears at the right. This layout simplifies viewing an older message while drafting a new one.
A fun new FaceTime option is taking a Live Photo of your call. It’s a perfect way to record mini-movies of far-away relatives. If the person you’re chatting with allows Live Photos in FaceTime’s preferences, hover over the FaceTime window to see and then click the round Shutter button.
Spotlight isn’t exactly an app, but it lets you search for anything on or off your Mac. Click the magnifying glass icon at the right of your menu bar—or press Command-Space bar—to start, and then enter your search terms. New in High Sierra, you can enter an airline flight number to see oodles of flight-related info.
High Sierra won’t radically change how you use your Mac, but we’re in favor of anything that makes our Macs run faster and keeps our drives from filling up so fast. Should you upgrade? Yes. When? That’s another story.
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