IT Support in LA: What Is a “Managed IT Department” Model and Why Is It Important for Your Business?

You’ve chosen the devices to run your business. That’s great, but are you still dealing with each of those devices individually? If you hire a new employee, do you go to the Apple Store to buy a new Mac, bring it back to the office, spend a few hours installing the right software, and then sit down with the employee to get them started with email accounts and other logins?

That self-support approach can work when your company has only a few users, but as your business grows, how much of your time can you afford to spend on IT? You might enjoy it, but it distracts you from what you need to do to make your company thrive. Sure, you might think you’re saving money by doing this work yourself instead of hiring an IT professional, but that amount may pale in comparison to the amount you could make in your primary role. There’s a better way: a managed IT department with device-management software.

In essence, with a managed IT department, we become part of your team, creating systems that simplify and speed up the process of onboarding new devices, monitoring their usage, ensuring their security, and providing ongoing support. Here are some of the ways a managed IT department model can help your business.

Faster and More Accurate Setup

With a managed IT department and properly configured device-management software, you can order a Mac or iOS device from Apple (through an Apple Business Manager account) and when it arrives, your employee can take it out of the box, log in, and have the entire device automatically configured over the network with required apps, server settings, security policies, and more.

If you’ve spent several hours configuring devices manually, it’s magical to watch a device pick up apps and settings automatically. And it’s not just for new devices. If an employee leaves or you need to repurpose a Mac or iOS device, device-management software can automatically wipe it and set it up for its new role with minimal effort.

Increased Security

An important aspect of switching to a managed IT department model that relies on device-management software is requiring security policies. If you’ve ever worried about an employee losing a company device containing confidential data, device-management software can eliminate those concerns by automatically enabling FileVault for Macs or enforcing non-trivial passcodes on iOS devices. Lost devices can even be locked or wiped remotely from a central management console.

Also, device-management software can restrict what apps users may install, so you don’t have to worry about apps that could leak confidential information or malware that could be stealing passwords.

Proactive Monitoring

A managed IT department support model lets your users focus on their work, rather than on their Macs. Monitoring software can report if Mac hard drives start to fail, when laptop batteries start to go, if RAM is faulty, and more. It’s better to know that a drive is dying before you lose data.

Monitoring software can also check on important events, making sure that backups are happening regularly, warning if a user has downloaded a potentially problematic operating system update, and making sure anti-malware software is up to date.

Proactive Maintenance

Monitoring helps identify issues early on, but perhaps the most important aspect of a managed IT department solution is how it combines proactive monitoring with proactive maintenance. It uses software and services that go beyond identifying problems to fixing them—blocking undesirable software upgrades, automatically deploying essential security updates, and removing malware—before they impact your workflow. This saves your users downtime and frustration, and lets you focus on your work rather than troubleshooting problems.

Improved Reporting

It may not be difficult to keep track of a handful of Macs and iPhones, but as your business grows, inventory can become daunting. A managed IT department solution helps you know exactly what devices you have, who is using them, and more. It can also report on installed software to make sure you’re in compliance with your software licenses.

Predictable Pricing

If your company pays for support on an hourly billing model, there’s no way to budget accurately for expenses, since no one can predict what will go wrong. Plus, it takes longer to investigate and resolve problems because of the time necessary to figure out the status of the device in question. Solving complex or recurring problems can get expensive in such a scenario.

With a managed IT department, we instead charge a flat monthly fee based on how many devices you have. Thanks to proactive monitoring and device management, we can fix many problems before the user even notices. And if a user does need in-person support, it’s faster and easier to help them when we know exactly what device they’re using, what version of the operating system it’s using, what software they have installed, and more.

A managed IT department model isn’t for every situation, but if your business has more than a handful of Macs, iPhones, and iPads in use by your employees, it could reduce downtime, save you money, and increase security.


The Best Apple-Related Gifts for 2020 – IT Support in LA

The holiday shopping season is fast approaching! Given the significant stresses placed on society’s fulfillment, distribution, and delivery systems by the pandemic, we recommend you start thinking about your holiday gift-giving sooner rather than later. Even Apple, which generally does an excellent job predicting demand and shipping products quickly, has been suffering from delays this year. But if you order in time, Apple has a wide variety of products that would make great gifts for your Apple-using loved ones.

AirPods and AirPods Pro

Apple makes two models of its insanely popular wireless earbuds: the original AirPods and the noise-canceling AirPods Pro. Although it’s tempting to assume that the AirPods Pro are simply better than the AirPods, the decision isn’t that simple. The AirPods are cheaper ($159, or $199 with a wireless charging case) and don’t block the ear canal. The AirPods Pro are smaller and cost $249, and you also get active noise cancellation, a customizable fit, a wireless charging case, and sweat and water resistance. However, the AirPods Pro block the ear canal, which many people dislike, and don’t stay in as well for some.

HomePod and HomePod mini

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker lags behind Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home devices in large part because of its price, which started at $349 and later dropped to $299. But the sound that the HomePod puts out is top-notch, and Apple has done a good job of integrating the HomePod into the overall ecosystem of Apple devices, so you can use it as a speaker for an Apple TV. It also works well for controlling HomeKit-compatible lights and plugs.

Cognizant of the price problem, Apple has just introduced a new HomePod mini that enters the market at $99. It’s also a lot smaller than the original HomePod, and while its sound probably isn’t as good due to fewer bits of audio hardware, we’re betting that it’s still excellent. A HomePod mini can do nearly anything a HomePod can do, including creating a stereo pair with another HomePod mini (but not with a HomePod). It’s a cheaper introduction to having a Siri-enabled smart speaker and a nice way to bring audio into other parts of a home or office.

iPad

Apple’s iPad line is stronger than ever. At the top, the iPad Pro comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch models, and while they’re bursting with power, they’re also on the high end of the price spectrum (starting at $799 and $999), which makes them less attractive as gifts. Plus, they might be due for updates soon.

Instead, for a demanding iPad user, look at the new fourth-generation iPad Air ($699), which combines the flat-edged industrial design of the iPad Pro with Apple’s latest chip. It’s compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil ($129) and the Magic Keyboard for iPad ($299).

For kids or those who want an iPad for simpler purposes like browsing the Web, reading books, watching TV, and playing casual games, you won’t go wrong with the new eighth-generation iPad, which combines thoroughly respectable specs with a low price starting at $329. For additional input options, it works with the first-generation Apple Pencil ($99) and the Smart Keyboard ($159).

Finally, don’t count the fifth-generation iPad mini out. At $399, it’s a little more expensive than the 10.2-inch iPad, but its 7.9-inch screen makes it a lot smaller, which many people like. It too is compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil, and although Apple doesn’t make any keyboards for it, it will work with any Bluetooth keyboard. If you’re having trouble deciding between the iPad and the iPad mini, check out Apple’s comparison tool.

Apple Watch gift certificate

Finally, we love the Apple Watch, and it would seem to make a great gift. However, we urge caution when considering it as a present. The problem is Apple provides a dizzying number of options, and everyone has their own preferences, so it’s difficult to know what to get. You can choose from the new Apple Watch Series 6 (starting at $399), the equally new but less expensive Apple Watch SE (starting at $279), or the older Apple Watch Series 3 (starting at $199). Get the Series 6 if you want an Always-On Display, blood oxygen sensor, and ECG capabilities. The Apple Watch SE lacks those three options but has the same screen size as the Series 6, along with its compass, altimeter, and fall detection feature. And the Series 3 has a slightly smaller screen and just the core Apple Watch features. Apple has a helpful comparison tool.

Within each model, you have to choose between larger and smaller case sizes, pick a case material (aluminum for all, or stainless steel or titanium for the Series 6), a case color, a band type, and a band color. And then there’s the question of whether Wi-Fi–only is sufficient or if a cellular-capable model makes more sense.

So unless you think you know exactly what the recipient would like, we’d encourage giving a certificate that’s good for a conversation about what would be most appreciated. Then sit down with the Apple Watch Studio to run through all the aesthetic decisions.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)


Home Screen Widgets Take Center Stage in iOS 14 – Los Angeles IT Services

A significant new feature in iOS 14 is Home screen widgets, information-rich tiles that share space on a Home screen with app icons. iPhone users familiar with Google’s Android smartphone operating system have long clamored for widgets because they provide quick information at a glance, without having to launch an app or swipe right on the Home screen for Today view.

In fact, you could think of iOS 14’s Home screen widgets as having escaped Today view—which is still there and provides access to a scrolling list of widgets that you choose. Widgets do need to be updated for iOS 14 to live on the Home screen and appear at the top of the Today view list. Older widgets remain accessible at the bottom of Today view, and you can add and remove them by tapping Edit at the very bottom of the Today view screen.

Adding Widgets

To add a widget to a Home screen or to Today view (which, for the purposes of widget management, is just another Home screen), follow these steps:

  1. Touch and hold any empty spot on a Home screen until the icons start jiggling.
  2. Tap the + button at the top of the screen.
  3. In the Widget pop-up, scroll or search to find apps that offer widgets.
  4. Tap any widget to see its options; swipe left and right to see different sizes or types of information.
  5. Once you’ve found the widget size and content you want, tap Add Widget.
  6. Back on the Home screen, drag the widget to the desired location, which may involve dragging it to another Home screen or the Today view. Remember that you can instead swipe with another finger to move the screen underneath the widget while you’re dragging.
  7. After you position it as you want, tap Done in the upper-right corner (Face ID) or press the Home button (Touch ID).

One tip: Other apps and widgets will move out of the way, which can be disconcerting, and it can result in your apps being shuffled around weirdly in the end. It’s safest to add widgets to an empty or nearly empty Home screen and, once you’ve gotten them configured as you like, move them to your final destination Home screen.

Choosing Widget Sizes and Types

Widgets come in up to three sizes: a small square that occupies the space of four app icons, a horizontal rectangle that’s the size of two rows of apps, and a large square that takes up the space of four rows of apps. Plus, apps can provide multiple widgets, so the Spark email and calendar app, for instance, has nine different widgets that show recent email messages and upcoming events in a variety of layouts.

You might be thinking that widgets are cool but that they take up a lot of space. That’s true, and although nothing prevents you from having a bunch of Home screens devoted to nothing but widgets, you can also combine widgets into a stack. To do this, when you’re in jiggle mode, simply drag one widget onto another of the same size, much as you’d add an app to a folder. iOS 14 combines the two and, once you leave jiggle mode, lets you swipe up and down on the widget to move between them. You can add quite a few widgets to a stack, though at some point, it will become challenging to find the one you want.

Stacks have another trick up their sleeve: Smart Rotate. When this option is enabled, the stack automatically displays the widget it thinks you’re most likely to want to see from the available set. How it chooses is a black box, so we can’t predict how well it will work for you. Smart Rotate seems to be on by default; if you want to check or turn it off, touch and hold on a stack ➊, tap Edit Stack ➋, and then toggle the Smart Rotate switch ➌. Note that you can also rearrange the order of widgets by dragging their handles ➍ and delete one directly by swiping left on it ➎.

For an Apple-mediated taste of what this might be like, consider adding a special type of widget: the Smart Stack, which always sits at the top of the otherwise-alphabetical list of apps that provide widgets when you’re looking for one to add. The Smart Stack widget, which is available in all three sizes, automatically populates itself with widgets that it thinks you’re likely to find interesting. It too employs Smart Rotate, and you can edit the Smart Stack just like one you’ve created.

Removing Widgets

It will take some experimentation to hit upon a set of widgets that show the information you want, so don’t be shy about removing widgets or stacks that aren’t being helpful. To do so:

  1. Touch and hold any empty spot on a Home screen until the icons start jiggling.
  2. Tap the – button in the upper-left corner of a widget or stack.
  3. In the alert that appears, tap Remove. Repeat as desired.
  4. Tap Done in the upper-right corner (Face ID), or press the Home button (Touch ID).

You can also touch and hold a widget or stack and then tap Remove Widget or Remove Stack.

What’s most important about the new Home screen widgets in iOS 14 is that they’re completely individualized. No two iPhone users will even have the same widget choices, and as your favorite apps are updated for iOS 14, new widgets will appear. So take a few minutes to explore what’s available now, and be sure to check back every month or so.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)


Amazing New Tips for Rearranging Apps on Your iPhone or iPad – Los Angeles IT Consultants

You’ve likely seen our tip on using the Dock on an iPhone or iPad as a temporary holding place that makes rearranging apps easier. We’ve learned two new tips that help even more! First, you can move multiple apps at once. Start by touching an app, waiting to feel a tap, and then moving it (or just touch and hold and tap Edit Home Screen to enter jiggle mode first). Once you’ve picked up an app, drag it down to the blank spot on the right side of the Home screen just above the Dock so you can see what you’re doing while keeping your finger down. Then, with a finger on your other hand, tap other apps to “stack” them on the first app. Now move the stack to the desired location and lift your finger. Second, instead of laboriously dragging the stack to another Home screen, before you lift your finger to drop the stack, use that other finger to swipe left or right to move between Home screens—in essence, you’re moving the Home screen under the stack you’re holding. For a visual demo of these tips, see the TidBITS video.

(Featured image by ammiel jr on Unsplash)

Apple Unveils New M1-Powered MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini – Los Angeles IT Support

Continuing its pandemic-driven approach of short, focused announcements, Apple once again took to the Internet to stream its “One More Thing” event. On center stage this time was the Mac, or specifically, three Macs, all of which replace the longstanding Intel chip with Apple’s new M1 chip. All three Macs can be ordered now and will be available within a week or so.

What Is the M1 and Why Should You Care?

Before we talk about the Macs that are now based on Apple’s custom-designed M1 chip, let’s explain what it is and why it’s important.

First, the M1 is what’s called a “System on a Chip” or “SoC.” Instead of having a separate CPU (main processor), GPU (graphics processor), and RAM (memory, which both the CPU and GPU need), the M1 combines those components onto a single chip. The M1 also has a special 16-core processor, called the Neural Engine, that helps with machine-learning tasks, along with a custom storage controller, image signal processor, and Secure Enclave.

Within the 8-core CPU, Apple has four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. When you need maximum processing power to edit a video, for instance, macOS dynamically brings the high-performance cores into play. However, if you’re just reading email, macOS switches to the high-efficiency cores to avoid wasting power and draining laptop batteries. Another way the M1 achieves its performance gains is through “unified memory.” By putting the RAM on the chip and sharing it among the CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine, those processors can access it more quickly than when it’s elsewhere on the motherboard. The downside is that the M1 chip comes with only 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM; there’s no option for more.

Second, since 2006, Macs have been powered by CPUs from Intel. Switching to its own M1 chip benefits Apple in three ways:

  • Performance: When Apple moved the Mac to Intel chips, it did so because IBM’s PowerPC chips couldn’t compete in performance per watt. That measurement is key for battery-powered laptops and has come home to roost again. With the M1, Apple has customized the design in many ways to provide up to three times the performance per watt.
  • Control: By designing its own chip, Apple can optimize performance in all sorts of small ways that integrate perfectly with macOS. Previously, Apple had to work with whatever Intel shipped, forcing Apple to make trade-offs in macOS. Plus, Intel’s roadmap and production schedule often conflicted with Apple’s.
  • Profit: Apple won’t say this, but Intel processors have high profit margins, and Apple would far prefer to keep that money rather than giving it to Intel.

In essence, the M1 will enable Apple to make Macs that are faster and cheaper, and that have better battery life. It will also allow Macs to run all iPhone and iPad apps, since the M1 is similar to the A-series chips that power those devices.

The first three Macs to take advantage of the M1 are the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. Apart from a few small exceptions, the main thing that has changed about these Macs is the M1 chip. They look the same, feel the same, and work the same, although they do all come with—and require—macOS 11 Big Sur.

MacBook Air

The new M1-based MacBook Air confidently replaces the previous Intel-based model that Apple released in March 2020. It does so thanks to massive M1-powered performance improvements: up to 3.5x faster processing, up to 5x faster graphics, and up to 9x faster machine-learning workloads. The M1’s integrated storage controller and the latest solid-state storage technology also combine for up to 2x speedier SSD performance.

Because the M1 is so much more efficient than Intel chips, the MacBook Air no longer needs a fan to keep its cool. It’s now silent. Apple significantly improved battery life as well, promising up to 15 hours of “wireless web” and up to 18 hours of video playback, up from 11 and 12 hours for the previous model. More relevant is that videoconferencing should last twice as long on a single charge.

There are a few other small improvements:

  • Support for P3 wide color on the 13-inch Retina display
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support the new USB 4
  • 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 networking, up from 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5
  • Better image quality on the (unchanged) 720p FaceTime HD camera, thanks to the M1’s dedicated image signal processor
  • Instant wake from sleep

Note that the MacBook Air lacks the Touch Bar of the MacBook Pro—which may be a pro or a con—but its Magic Keyboard does include traditional F-keys and a Touch ID sensor for login and authentication.

The MacBook Air comes in two configurations: a low-end model whose M1 chip has an 8-core CPU and a 7-core GPU, plus 8 GB of unified memory and 256 GB of storage for $999. The high-end model switches to an 8-core GPU and 512 GB of storage for $1249—that’s $50 cheaper than the previous high-end model. You can bump the RAM to 16 GB for $200, and the storage levels include 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB.

Frankly, it’s a great machine.

13-inch MacBook Pro

Things get a little more confusing with the M1-based 13-inch MacBook Pro. Previously, there were four configurations, priced at $1299, $1499, $1799, and $1999. Apple replaced the bottom two with M1 configurations but left the top two with Intel chips. Why? Probably because the higher-end Intel models can take up to 32 GB of RAM. They also have four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 4 TB storage option.

Apple doesn’t say if or by how much the new M1 MacBook Pro is faster than the Intel models, but it does say that it’s up to 2.8x faster overall than what it replaces, has up to 5x faster graphics, and is up to 11x quicker for machine-learning tasks. It should outperform the M1 MacBook Air, even though they share the same chip, because the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a fan that lets the M1 chip run faster and thus hotter than in the MacBook Air. Nonetheless, battery life is excellent, with up to 17 hours of “wireless web” and up to 20 hours of video playback—the longest battery life ever for a Mac.

The M1 MacBook Pro shares most of the small improvements in the MacBook Air, including the two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports, 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, better image quality from the 720p FaceTime HD camera, and instant wake. New is a “studio-quality three-mic array” that promises better audio for videoconferencing. It already supported P3 wide color, and the Retina display remains gorgeous.

The M1-based 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1299 with an M1 chip that has an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8 GB of memory, and 256 GB of storage. Going to 16 GB of RAM costs $200, and you can upgrade the storage to 512 GB ($200), 1 TB ($400), or 2 TB ($800).

It can be hard to choose between the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Our take? Pick the MacBook Air for its lower price, fanless design, and F-keys, or go with the MacBook Pro if you’re willing to pay for more performance and a Touch Bar.

Mac mini

The third Mac model to switch to the M1 chip is the Mac mini. Like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, not all models make the jump, however. Previously, there were two Mac mini models, one starting at $799 and the other at $1099. The M1 Mac mini replaces the low-end model and drops the price to $699.

As with the other two M1-based Macs, the M1 Mac mini boasts impressive performance improvements. Apple says its CPU performance is 3x faster than the model it replaces, it has up to 6x faster graphics, and machine-learning tasks complete up to 15x faster.

Although Apple made no comparisons with the remaining Intel-based Mac mini, we suspect the M1 model will be faster, and it has the new 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6. So why is that Intel Mac mini sticking around?

  • The M1 Mac mini offers only 8 GB or 16 GB ($200) of RAM, whereas the Intel Mac mini is configurable to 32 GB ($600) or 64 GB ($1000) as well.
  • The Intel Mac mini can drive up to three displays, whereas the M1 Mac mini supports only two. On the plus side, the M1 Mac mini can drive Apple’s 6K Pro Display XDR at full resolution, which the Intel Mac mini can’t.
  • The M1 Mac mini has only two Thunderbolt ports, whereas the Intel Mac mini has four.
  • The Intel Mac mini has a $100 option for 10 Gigabit Ethernet, whereas the M1 Mac mini is limited to Gigabit Ethernet.

Our feeling is that, at $200 cheaper, a comparable M1 Mac mini is a better deal unless you need any of the hardware options that exist solely on the Intel Mac mini.

macOS Big Sur on November 12th

Finally, Apple said that it would release macOS 11 Big Sur on November 12th. The new Macs require it, but put bluntly, we strongly recommend that you do not upgrade any other production Macs to Big Sur yet. Along with a complete user interface overhaul, it has significant under-the-hood changes that could pose compatibility problems for many workflows in the near term. We’ll be evaluating Big Sur with common productivity apps shortly and will update our advice about when it’s safe to upgrade as we learn more.

(Featured image by Apple)


How to Make Sure Your iPhone Doesn’t Make Noise in the Night – IT Consultants in Los Angeles

You likely know that you can use Do Not Disturb to prevent random notifications on your iPhone from waking you at night—it’s easy to set a Do Not Disturb schedule for your usual sleeping hours. Another setting in there is important but often overlooked. If you ever use your iPhone during those Do Not Disturb hours—perhaps to read a book while a partner or roommate is asleep—you don’t want it to make any noise. To prevent that, in Settings > Do Not Disturb, make sure to set Silence to Always instead of While iPhone Is Locked.

(Featured image by Kristina Flour on Unsplash)

Don’t Worry about an Occasional “Not Charging” Message on Your MacBook – IT Support in Los Angeles

Starting with macOS 10.15.5 Catalina, Apple introduced a battery health management feature that improves your battery’s lifespan by adjusting charging patterns to reduce the rate at which the battery chemically ages. (Find it in System Preferences > Energy Saver > Battery Health.) One thing to be aware of with battery health management is that it might cause your MacBook to display “Battery Is Not Charging” in the battery status menu even when it’s plugged in. That’s normal, and it’s nothing to worry about. Of course, if you regularly see that message, it’s a hint that you may not be using the proper power adapter and cable or that the power source isn’t delivering enough juice.

(Featured image created with originals by cottonbro from Pexels and OpenIcons from Pixabay)

New Back Tap Feature in iOS 14 Provides Two Customizable Shortcuts – IT Consultants in Los Angeles

We all have things we do regularly on our iPhones, whether it’s checking the weather, searching Google, or invoking the magnifier. Apple has long provided ways of making your most common actions easier to access. You might put an app on your Dock, open Control Center, or take advantage of the triple-press Accessibility shortcut. With iOS 14, Apple has opened up a new and customizable way of triggering actions: Back Tap.

With a double or triple tap on the back of any iPhone 8 or newer running iOS 14, you can invoke any one of a variety of actions, including custom Shortcuts. Sorry, Back Tap isn’t available in iPadOS 14.

Enabling Back Tap is easy, although you might not stumble upon it on your own. That’s because it’s technically an accessibility feature for those who have trouble interacting with the iPhone physically. But just as curb cuts help both those in wheelchairs and stroller-pushing parents, the Back Tap feature is a boon for everyone.

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap (it’s way down at the bottom), where you can attach actions to both double tap and a triple tap.

Apple provides a broad set of actions, but most of them are focused on helping people who can’t use other iPhone gestures. So yes, you could make a double tap open Spotlight for searching, but unless that’s somehow a lot easier than swiping down on the Home screen, it’s not worth one of your two triggers. Actions fall into four categories:

  • System: Most of the System choices mimic easy Home screen gestures or button presses. Most interesting are Mute, which toggles the ringer volume without forcing you to press the Volume Down button repeatedly, and Screenshot, which takes a picture of your screen without making you press two buttons at once.
  • Accessibility: For those who need these Accessibility options, having them easily accessible via Back Tap will be welcome. The most compelling actions for the general public are Magnifier, Speak Screen, and Voice Control. (Voice Control provides much more capable dictation than Siri.)
  • Scroll Gestures: These options scroll a vertically oriented page or screen. Sadly, they don’t work for horizontally driven page flipping in book reading apps like Libby.
  • Shortcuts: Here’s where Back Tap becomes ultimately useful, at least if you can find or build the necessary shortcuts. Anything Shortcuts can do, you can invoke with a double or triple tap.

Wait, what’s Shortcuts? It’s an automation app that Apple includes with every iPhone. With it, you can chain together multiple actions derived from iOS capabilities or provided by your apps to create custom shortcuts. Other systems call similar collections of commands macros or automations or workflows.

Explaining how to build your own shortcuts is a topic for another day, but you can also download sample shortcuts from Apple’s gallery, both to see how it’s done and to use them. For instance, if you tap the Gallery button in Shortcuts ➊, tap Starter Shortcuts ➋, tap Take a Break ➌, and tap Add Shortcut ➍, you’ll copy the Take a Break shortcut to My Shortcuts. Then you can assign a double tap in Back Tap to invoke Take a Break, which sets an alarm for a specified number of minutes and turns on Do Not Disturb until the alarm goes off.

If you want to learn more about Shortcuts right away, check out Take Control of Shortcuts, a 122-page ebook by Rosemary Orchard.

Give it a try! Back Tap might turn out to be the iOS 14 feature you use more frequently than any other.

(Featured image by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels)


Use These Settings to Show or Hide Filename Extensions: LA IT Support

On the Mac, nearly every file has an extension, a set of characters after a period that indicates what type of file it is and determines which app opens it. So, .png indicates a PNG graphic that opens in Preview by default, .pages denotes a Pages document, and .docx identifies a file as belonging to and opening in Microsoft Word. Plus, the extension for all applications is .app. Depending on what you do, how often you exchange files with people on other platforms, and your personal preference, you may wish to see more or fewer extensions. You control that in Finder > Preferences > Advanced, with the “Show all filename extensions” checkbox. Individual files can override the setting, so if an extension isn’t doing what you want, select the file, choose File > Get Info, and check or uncheck the Hide Extension checkbox in the Info window.

(Featured image created with originals by Patrick Ward on Unsplash and Mateusz Zdrzałek from Pixabay)

What’s MDM, and Why Is It Useful for Organizations? IT Services in Los Angeles

For those who work in organizations, regardless of size, you know how much effort is involved with coordinating a group’s technology. It can take quite some time to set up a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone with all the right apps, settings, and logins. And that’s just to get started—on an everyday basis, maintaining solid security practices is essential, and support requests are inevitable.

The solution to all this is MDM, or mobile device management, which is a way of centrally administering computers, tablets, and smartphones to simplify setup and ensure peace of mind for both employers and employees. Apple strongly encourages the use of MDM; the company continually enhances the core capabilities that MDM systems expose for IT administrators. If the benefits we outline here interest you, contact us to talk about your needs.

Benefits to the Organization

MDM is a big win for organizations, including businesses, non-profits, schools, government agencies, and more. It’s just too hard—and too insecure—to deal with every device individually. With MDM, organizations benefit in the following ways.

  • Quick, consistent setup: With MDM, organizations can create profiles—collections of settings and account information—and install them automatically as part of a deployment strategy. In the best case, users have to do little more than power on the device and sign in; it automatically checks with the MDM server and downloads the necessary information. MDM solutions also let organizations install and configure approved sets of apps to ensure that every employee has the tools they need at their fingertips.
  • Improved security: A great deal of digital security comes down to policies: requiring a strong passcode, ensuring secure settings for things like screensavers, requiring that backups be encrypted, and more. All these options are easily set and enforced by MDM profiles. Plus, MDM can separate personal and business accounts and data and even ensure encryption of on-device data. And perhaps most important, MDM enables remote locating, locking, and wiping of lost devices.
  • Lower costs: Although MDM solutions usually come with a monthly cost, research shows that organizations save money overall in two main ways. Initially, MDM reduces setup costs by replacing an hour or two of hands-on effort with remotely pushed deployment. Over time, the consistency of setup and app availability dramatically reduces ongoing support costs.
  • Asset tracking: An MDM solution enables information-rich asset tracking, making it easy for an organization to see exactly what devices it owns, which employees have them, and where they’re located. Such a system enables more efficient use of existing resources and easier lifecycle management.

Benefits to the User

Although it might seem as though MDM is primarily aimed at helping and protecting the organization, individual users benefit as well.

  • Personal/work separation: MDM makes it possible to separate personal and work accounts and data, which can eliminate the need to carry both personal and work phones at all times. In some cases, MDM can also make it so employees can securely use their own devices—which might be newer or more powerful—with organizational data and accounts.
  • Faster, easier setup: Most people don’t look forward to setting up and configuring devices, particularly when typing in usernames and passwords for numerous accounts. MDM does much of that, so employees can focus on their actual jobs.
  • Peace of mind: With the security policies enforced by MDM, users can have confidence that they haven’t inadvertently done anything to expose confidential data. Plus, mistakes happen, and devices are lost or stolen. An MDM solution might be able to locate a lost device, and if not, it can ensure that the device is both worthless and unable to reveal anything damaging.

As helpful as MDM is once your organization is using it, we won’t pretend that choosing and setting up an MDM solution is trivial. Unless you have significant IT staff and resources, it makes sense to work with people who already have considerable MDM experience. We do, and we’d be happy to discuss a custom approach that fits your needs.

(Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)


Our Four Favorite Features of watchOS 7 – LA IT Support

The small screen of the Apple Watch prevents new watchOS features from being as obvious or splashy as those in iOS and iPadOS. But watchOS 7, now available for the Apple Watch Series 3 and later when paired with an iPhone 6s or later running iOS 14, has quite a few notable changes. Here are our favorites: Family Setup, sleep tracking, handwashing reminders, and new watch faces and complications.

Family Setup

Since the original Apple Watch, Apple has required that every Apple Watch be paired with an iPhone to simplify setup, reduce the reliance on power-hungry Wi-Fi in favor of the more efficient Bluetooth, and more. However, cellular-enabled Apple Watch models can do a lot without their iPhone companion nearby. In watchOS 7, Apple has taken another step toward a standalone Apple Watch, with Family Setup.

The goal behind Family Setup is to make it possible for children or seniors to benefit from an Apple Watch without needing their own iPhones. You pair their watches to your iPhone, but they get their own phone numbers and use their own Apple ID on the watch. Family Setup works only with cellular-capable Apple Watch Series 4 models or later, and although a cellular plan isn’t required, many features won’t be useful without one.

The most compelling benefits of Family Setup are that you can easily see where the people wearing the watches are and communicate with them via text messaging and phone calls. You can also control with whom they can communicate and enforce a restricted Schooltime mode that helps kids stay focused. Apple Cash Family lets you send money to kids that they can spend via the contactless Apple Pay system. Fall detection, high and low heart rate notifications, and Emergency SOS might be welcome for seniors too.

Unfortunately, some desirable Apple Watch features aren’t available without a paired iPhone, so Family Setup members won’t be able to take advantage of irregular heart rhythm notifications, ECG, Cycle Tracking, Sleep, Blood Oxygen, Podcasts, Remote, News, Home, and Shortcuts.

Sleep Tracking

Sleep deprivation has been deemed a public health epidemic, with a third of US adults reporting that they usually get less than the recommended 7–8 hours of sleep per night. Too little sleep causes losses of work productivity and increases in motor vehicle accidents, and it’s linked to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.

watchOS 7’s new sleep tracking function helps you get on a healthy sleep schedule, tracks your sleep, and shows you sleep trends in the Health app on the iPhone. You can most easily set up the new Sleep mode in the Watch app on your iPhone (My Watch > Sleep), and an option there lets you enable charging reminders, since you can’t charge it while you sleep with it on—while you get ready for bed at night and while you’re getting dressed in the morning will be enough.

Flip over to the Sleep options in the Health app to create sleep schedules—which can be different by the day—set sleep goals, and configure a Wind Down period that enables Do Not Disturb and alerts you when it’s time to start winding down.

Of course, sleep tracking requires that you wear your Apple Watch in bed, so Sleep mode simplifies the watch face and keeps it dark until you tap it. Even then, it shows only the time at a very dim illumination level. In the morning, the watch wishes you a good morning and shows you the remaining battery life to remind you to charge it while getting dressed.

To see your sleep data, in the Health app, tap Browse > Sleep (you can tap a star under More to add it to your Favorites so it appears in the Summary screen too). It reports how much time you spend asleep versus just in bed, shows your average sleep times, and even records your heart rate while you’re sleeping.

Keep in mind that this data—however interesting—is useful only if you can leverage it to improve your sleep. Remember, the goal is 7–8 hours of sleep on a regular schedule, so you’re not messing with your circadian rhythms too much. You might also consider third-party apps that promise to apply machine learning to your data to recommend changes in behavior—look for Sleep++, SleepWatch, Sleep Cycle, and more.

Handwashing Reminders

Although current research seems to be focusing on airborne transmission of the coronavirus, those droplets and particles still fall on surfaces that we touch, ensuring that handwashing remains important. watchOS 7 includes two features designed to help you remember to wash your hands when necessary and to do so long enough that it helps.

In the Watch app, in My Watch > Handwashing, you can enable the Handwashing Timer, which detects when you’re washing your hands and starts a 20-second timer. That’s helpful, although the cooks among us may find themselves ignoring it as they rinse their hands repeatedly while preparing dinner. The Handwashing Reminders setting alerts you if you haven’t washed your hands shortly after returning home. Of course, if you were just out for a bike ride or never got out of the car, those notifications might be annoying.

More Faces, More Complications, and Face Sharing

The details here are way too varied to get into, but suffice it to say that with watchOS 7, Apple has once again increased the number of watch faces among which you can choose. New faces include Artistic, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, GMT, Memoji, Stripes, and Typograph, all shown below.

Many of these faces have slots for numerous complications, and with watchOS 7, you can now add multiple complications from the same app if you wish. If you spend a lot of time getting a watch face just right, you can now share it with an Apple Watch-using friend by tapping the Share button when customizing a face (press hard on the face of the Apple Watch to enter customization mode).

Those are our favorite features, but they’re by no means everything in watchOS 7. Other features include support for four additional workout types (Dance, Functional Strength Training, Core Training, and a post-workout Cooldown), support for cycling directions in Maps, translations in Siri, and improvements in hearing health. Once you’ve upgraded, check them all out!

(Featured image by Apple)