Managed IT Services & Why It’s 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: Outsourced or Managed IT Services with device-management software.

In essence, with Managed IT Services, 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 Services model can help your business.

Advantages of Managed IT Services

Faster and More Accurate Setup

With Managed IT Services 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 Services 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 Services 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.

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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 Services 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 Services 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.

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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 Managed IT Services, 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 Services 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.


Four Ways to Reduce Zoom Fatigue

After a long day of video calls, you might feel like your brain has been wrung out like a wet washcloth—we certainly do. It’s exhausting to stare into a computer for hours every day while participating in meetings or classes. This condition is called Zoom fatigue, and it’s a recent affliction for most of us because the pandemic has dramatically increased the popularity of video calls. We don’t mean to beat on Zoom here—this condition plagues people who use Cisco WebEx, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and other videoconferencing software too.

But there are techniques you can employ to reduce Zoom fatigue. Researchers at Stanford University have identified four reasons why video calls are so tiring and offer suggestions on making them less so. They include:

  • Close-up eye contact is overwhelming. You usually sit about an arm’s length from your computer display, and if one person is on screen at a time, their head may be close to life-size. You’d never be that near someone’s face in real life unless they were a close family member, and even then, you wouldn’t hold that position for long. Shrink your window or switch to gallery view so you’re talking to postage stamps rather than feeling like someone is up in your face.
  • Looking at yourself is psychologically harmful. We all have mirrors, but can you imagine staring into one for hours every day? Only a pathological narcissist would do that. Worse, constantly seeing your own image can make you worry about your appearance and what others think of you. Once you’ve verified that you’re properly framed and don’t have salad in your teeth, hide your preview or switch to a view that doesn’t include you.
  • Sitting perfectly still is difficult. This is hardest on kids, but even adults have trouble staying sufficiently still to remain perfectly framed in a video window. When you’re on a standard phone call or in an in-person meeting, you might pace around the room or at least adjust your position in your chair. Try turning off your camera when possible—most calls work just as well without video—or position it so you can fidget or pace in person. Another solution is Apple’s Center Stage technology on the new M1-based iPad Pros, which automatically pans and zooms to keep you in the picture as you move around.
  • Video calls make you constantly think about call mechanics. There’s nothing natural about interacting with multiple people on a screen, so we’ve all come up with behaviors (some of which we just recommended!) to smooth over the cracks in the system. For instance, your brain has to expend extra effort to help you stay framed in the video window, worry about how you look, use exaggerated facial expressions so people know you’re paying attention, and use techniques like a thumbs-up to indicate approval without unmuting. The solution is to turn off your camera and hide the video window so your brain can take a break and focus on just the audio content of the call.

You’ll notice that most of the recommendations for reducing the mental strain of video calls come down to eliminating video. It shouldn’t be surprising because talking on the phone isn’t nearly as tiring, even when you’re on a conference call with a couple of people. There’s no question that video can help convey information that would be lost in a phone call, and it’s nice to see far-flung friends and family, but there’s no rule that video calls are the best form of communication for all situations.

We’ve started to put these recommendations into practice ourselves, and we encourage you to do so as well. And if you need support for why you’re turning off your camera or asking for audio-only calls, send people a link to this article.

(Featured image by Anna Shvets from Pexels)


Use Messages to Share Your Current Location Quickly

We’ve all gotten that panicked “Where are you?!?” text message at some point. Sometimes it’s an easy question to answer, but at other times, the answer is “Well, right here, wherever that is.” That’s unsatisfying, of course, but using Messages on your iPhone, you can do better. Tap the person’s name at the top of the conversation, tap the Info button, and in the screen that appears, tap Send My Current Location. Messages immediately sends a little thumbnail map showing where you are, and if the recipient taps it, they can see a larger map, get directions, or open it in Maps. It’s a brilliant little feature!

(Featured image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Nine Reasons to Put Your Mac’s Pointer in a Corner

If your Mac is like ours, it’s a busy place, with oodles of open windows and lots of icons lying around. If you want to display the Desktop or see a single app’s windows, you may find yourself clicking around or using keyboard shortcuts, but did you know that you can access many of the Mac’s special views with just a flick of your wrist—no click necessary?

A long-standing but little-known feature called Hot Corners makes this possible. The key to unlocking Hot Corners is in System Preferences, in either the Desktop & Screen Saver or Mission Control pane. In either one, click the Hot Corners button to set up your hot corners.

The Hot Corners dialog displays a pop-up menu for each of the four corners of your screen. Choose an action in one of those menus, and that’s what happens when you move your pointer to that corner. A hyphen, the default, means nothing happens.

Here’s the scoop on each action. To exit these special views, switch to another app, press the Escape key, put the pointer back in the hot corner again, or just move the mouse.

Mission Control

Use a hot corner to enter this bird’s-eye view of all your Mac’s open windows. Once you’re in Mission Control, you can switch to any window by clicking it. (Preview a window by hovering over it and pressing the Space bar.) You can also set up spaces in Mission Control—a space is a view that contains only windows from the apps assigned to that space. Click the plus sign in the top-left corner and then drag windows up into the new space. Switch to a space by clicking it in the top bar.

Application Windows

For an overview of all open windows for a particular app (Safari, in this case), use a hot corner to invoke Application Windows. This view displays thumbnails of all open windows in the current app. For some apps, like Pages, you’ll also see thumbnails of recently opened documents at the bottom of the view. Click any thumbnail to switch to it.

Desktop

If you like storing documents for in-progress projects on your Desktop, you’ll love the hot corner that invokes Desktop view. It moves all open windows aside, letting you focus on the icons on the Desktop. The windows return when you switch to an app.

Notification Center

Since you can so easily open Notification Center by clicking the date and time (in macOS 11 Big Sur; in earlier versions of macOS, click the Notification Center icon) in the upper-right corner of your menu bar, it may not be worth wasting a hot corner on it. In Big Sur, Notification Center combines the Today and Notifications views from previous versions of macOS, with iOS-like widgets underneath the most recent notifications. You can control which apps can display notifications in System Preferences > Notifications. To add, remove, or rearrange widgets, click the Edit Widgets button at the bottom of Notification Center.

Start Screen Saver

Screen savers are more than just eye-candy you can use to personalize your Mac—they also serve to conceal the contents of your screen from people who might walk by when you’re not there. The Start Screen Saver hot corner shows the screen saver immediately, overriding the setting for how long the Mac must sit idle before the screen saver turns on (in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Screen Saver). It’s helpful if you’re working on something sensitive that you don’t want anyone to see, but you need to leave your desk to chat with a co-worker or use the bathroom. Depending on your setting for “Require password after sleep or screen saver begins” in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General, you may have to enter your password to turn off the screen saver.

Disable Screen Saver

If you usually have your screen saver set to turn on automatically after just a minute or two, it may come on when you would prefer it didn’t. This could happen, for example, while you are pondering a complex idea or thinking about what to write. To disable the screen saver temporarily, use a Disable Screen Saver hot corner.

Launchpad

If you like using iOS, giving Launchpad a hot corner might make opening apps on your Mac easier. Apple designed Launchpad to look and work like the Home screen on an iPad or iPhone—just click an app to launch it. To see more apps, scroll horizontally—with a trackpad, swipe with two fingers; with an Apple Magic Mouse, swipe with one finger on the mouse surface. Just like in iOS, you can drag the apps around to put them in the order that works best for you.

Put Display to Sleep

Those who are concerned about energy usage might like this option. Toss your pointer in the associated hot corner, and your screen goes to sleep immediately, consuming less power than a screen saver. It lets you override the “Turn display off after” slider in System Preferences > Energy Saver. As with the screen saver, you may have to enter your password to wake the display when you come back.

Lock Screen

The Lock Screen option has roughly the same effect as Start Screen Saver and Put Display to Sleep in that it instantly displays the Mac’s login screen, preventing anyone from seeing what’s on your Desktop and requiring your password again.

Add Modifier Keys

If you find yourself triggering a hot corner accidentally, try adding a modifier key so its action activates only when the pointer is in the corner and the key is pressed. To set this up, open the Hot Corners dialog, open the corner’s pop-up menu, and press a key (Shift, Control, Option, or Command). The key’s symbol appears in the menu. Keep the key down and choose the desired action.

The best way to set up your hot corners depends on how you use your Mac, of course. Our favorites are Start Screen Saver because it’s a quick override of the screen saver settings and Desktop because it removes screen clutter that gets in the way of using the Desktop.

(Featured image by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash)


Intuit Has Stopped Updating the QuickBooks Online Mac App

If you’re using QuickBooks Online with the service’s Mac app to manage your business’s accounting, you may have seen a message like the one below announcing that Intuit has stopped updating the QuickBooks Online app. This doesn’t affect your QuickBooks Online account, which you can and should use via a Web browser at qbo.intuit.com now. Even if the QuickBooks Online Mac app continues to work, which it likely will for some time, we recommend that you delete it and switch entirely to a Web browser. It’s not safe to use an unsupported app for financial records because Intuit won’t be fixing any security vulnerabilities going forward.

(Featured image based on an original by RODNAE Productions from Pexels)

Paste Text So Its Style Matches the Surrounding Text

When you copy text from a Web page, PDF, or word processing document, macOS usually includes the associated formatting, so the words you paste may end up in 68-point blue italic if that was what the source text looked like. That’s often undesirable. More commonly, you want the text to take on the styling of the text where you’ve pasted it. In most Mac apps, there’s a quick trick to achieve this goal. Look on the Edit menu for the Paste and Match Style command (sometimes called Paste and Match Formatting, Paste Text Only, or Paste without Formatting) to paste the text such that it matches the style of the surrounding words in the destination. Apple’s standard keyboard shortcut for this is Command-Shift-Option-V, though some apps use Command-Shift-V. If you regularly need this capability in an app that lacks native support for it, consider using a clipboard utility app, like Keyboard Maestro, to make your own universal Paste Text Only hotkey.

(Featured image based on an original from Pixabay)

Avoid Technical Debt by Staying Current

Have you heard the term technical debt? It’s what you incur whenever you delay upgrading software and hardware for too long. It’s like forgetting to brush your teeth regularly and putting off dental checkups. There may be no immediate downside, but the ongoing maintenance and low cost of regular cleanings will likely save you from painful and expensive fillings and root canals.

It’s easy to start down the path toward technical debt. Perhaps you rely on an out-of-date productivity package, an industry-specific program that gets infrequent updates, or an accounting package that isn’t being developed for the Mac anymore. There’s no reason you have to act as soon as you realize you’ve been painted into a technical corner, but the longer you put off the upgrade, the faster the technical debt meter increases.

Here’s what happens. Because of the old app you need, you can’t upgrade to a new version of macOS. No problem, except that prevents you from running the app on a new Mac, since new Macs seldom support older versions of macOS. That’s not a problem either, until the old Mac dies and you need to replace it. Or, perhaps the Mac doesn’t fail, but it becomes clear that it’s far slower than any Mac you could purchase today. Worse, when you are forced to replace that Mac due to poor performance or hardware failure, you’re suddenly faced with an additional expense for new software on top of the new hardware. Old software is a ticking time bomb.

There’s another aspect to technical debt that you have to keep in mind. The older your systems are, the more work it will take to keep them running. That work may come out of time you could spend on other projects or with your family, or it could end up generating consulting expenses. Is it sensible to avoid the monthly cost of Adobe Creative Cloud if it means that you’re paying a consultant regularly to solve the kinds of problems that become ever more common with an older Mac that can still run the ancient Adobe Creative Suite 6?

In short, the deeper your technical debt, the more you’ll eventually pay in three categories:

  • Loss of productivity: Modern Macs are vastly faster than models from years ago, and new app features can provide significant productivity boosts as well.
  • Unscheduled upgrades: Murphy’s Law ensures that an old Mac or peripheral will fail at the worst possible time, usually when you’re facing a deadline or when the expense is hard to swallow.
  • Support costs: Just as taking care of your teeth reduces the likelihood of dental surgery in the future, keeping up with upgrades eliminates the need for long hours of heroic data migration or recovery later.

We’re not saying that you have to buy the latest and greatest immediately. But you can employ some smart strategies to ensure that you never fall too deep into technical debt. Before we get into them, be aware that everything we’re going to discuss here will cost money. Sorry, but technology is essential to modern life and business—it’s not a luxury. However, follow our advice, and you will have more predictable costs and may even pay less overall.

Software

In the past, you paid for a software license once and could choose to pay a (usually discounted) upgrade fee every year or two. Licenses were typically expensive—it wasn’t uncommon for apps to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Such licenses still exist, but many apps have moved to a subscription model, where you pay monthly or annually. The overall cost is usually roughly similar to the licenses plus upgrades of yesteryear, but many people dislike subscriptions because they feel locked in.

We empathize—subscriptions add up for us too—but on the plus side, they offer a predictable cost and guarantee that you’ll always have the latest version, usually along with free technical support.

For software still sold on a license basis, we recommend assuming that you’ll upgrade at least every two or three years. Any longer than that and you’ll have to start making accommodations that will cut into productivity or increase support costs.

The worst-case scenario to avoid is depending on an app or system that’s so old that you have to buy used hardware to replace anything that fails. Bite the bullet and pay for a new app, transition consulting, and hardware, or else you’ll find yourself paying non-stop to keep an ancient system running.

Hardware

Smart businesses upgrade their Macs on a schedule rather than dealing with each computer on an individual basis. Research has shown that the sweet spot to swap out a Mac is in the 3–5 year timeframe. Hardware problems start to increase after that point, performance lags compared to current machines, and resale value drops.

If you don’t already have one, make an inventory of all your Macs, including the date they were purchased, and use it to work up a replacement schedule. Larger companies tend to do this programmatically—they pay less attention to what each employee does or what their needs are—but there’s no reason you can’t prioritize some systems over others to optimize performance and smooth out the overall expense.

It may make sense to shuffle some Macs around instead of treating each one independently. For instance, if one employee does a lot of video work, upgrading them every year to the most powerful Mac available might improve their productivity significantly, and their old Macs can be handed down to other employees.

Maintenance

Regular maintenance also plays a role in avoiding technical debt. It’s essential to keep up with Apple’s operating system and security updates, for instance, because failing to do so could result in a breach that would be costly to remediate.

Monitoring software can also be useful in providing early warning of failing drives, reporting on backup status, clarifying which of your Macs are up-to-date, and much more. Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about a service like this.

Don’t dismiss physical maintenance as a way of reducing technical debt. Keeping Macs free of dust can prevent them from running hot, which shortens the lifespan of various components. Ensuring that every Mac has at least a surge protector, if not an uninterruptible power supply, can also go a long way toward protecting sensitive electronics from damaging power surges and sags.

In the end, avoiding technical debt just means making a plan for regular upgrades and maintenance and sticking to it. Do that and you’ll both have predictable expenses and save money in the long run. And hey, make that dentist appointment too, eh?

(Featured image by Anna Shvets from Pexels)


iOS 14.5 & watchOS 7.4 – Unlock Face ID iPhones with Watch

You have to feel for Apple sometimes. The company’s engineers put an astonishing amount of work into the hardware and software necessary for Face ID to recognize your face nearly instantly and unlock your iPhone or iPad. Regardless of whether you’re wearing a hat and glasses. Even in the dark. It’s one of those pieces of technology that’s so advanced that it’s indistinguishable from magic.

But the one thing that stymies Face ID every time is also the most important factor in curbing the spread of the coronavirus: the humble face mask. We’ve all been wearing masks for the past year, so if you have an iPhone X or later with Face ID, you’ve undoubtedly been annoyed by having to tap in your passcode repeatedly while masked. Early in the pandemic, Apple tweaked iOS 13 so you could enter a passcode without waiting for Face ID to fail. That was a help, but with the just-released iOS 14.5, Apple has now made the problem go away entirely, at least if you have an Apple Watch.

Here’s how it works. Once you’ve updated your Face ID–enabled iPhone to iOS 14.5 and your Apple Watch Series 3 or later to watchOS 7.4, you can enable the Unlock with Apple Watch setting. From then on, if your mask prevents Face ID from unlocking your iPhone, iOS will check to see if your watch is nearby, on your wrist, protected by a passcode, and unlocked. If so, your iPhone unlocks immediately, just as though it had scanned your face successfully. Your Apple Watch also taps your wrist to alert you and give you the option of locking the iPhone again, just in case someone has surreptitiously snagged your iPhone and is using the feature to unlock it in your presence.

To enable this feature, go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode on your iPhone, scroll down to Unlock with Apple Watch, and turn on the switch next to your Apple Watch. If you don’t have a passcode enabled for your Apple Watch, turn that on in the Watch app, in My Watch > Passcode. (While you’re on that screen, be sure to enable Unlock with iPhone too, since that prevents you from having to type the Apple Watch passcode in nearly all situations.)

That’s all there is to it—it’s brilliant! Apple undoubtedly put a great deal of thought into architecting this feature so it’s easy to use without compromising the iPhone’s security. If you haven’t yet updated to iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4, we encourage you to do so right away to take advantage of this feature. And if you don’t yet have an Apple Watch, this might be reason enough to get one.

(Featured image by Uriel Mont from Pexels)

Apple New M1-Based iMac, iPad Pro, AirTag, Apple TV & More

On April 20th, Apple took to the Internet to stream its “Spring Loaded” event. Pundits had been unable to figure out a theme based on the name, but Apple was being blunt: the event was taking place in the spring, and it was loaded with announcements.

With Apple CEO Tim Cook bookending the presentation—and doing a cameo as a master thief at 37:26 into the presentation—the company announced an M1-based 24-inch iMac, M1-based iPad Pro models, the long-rumored AirTag item tracker, and an enhanced Apple TV 4K with a redesigned Siri Remote. All these items can be ordered on Friday, April 30th, but some won’t ship until the second half of May.

More on these shortly, but briefly, Apple also unveiled the new Apple Card Family program, which allows two people to co-own an Apple Card and share it with their children, complete with spending limits. And for those still looking for a colorful iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini, it now comes in purple.

M1-Based 24-inch iMac Comes in Spring Colors

Apple has continued replacing Macs at the lower end of the product line with new models featuring the company’s homegrown M1 chip. While the first Macs to get the M1—the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini—didn’t receive any design changes, Apple radically overhauled things for the new M1-based 24-inch iMac.

At 11.5 mm thick, the 24-inch iMac is thinner than the original iPhone. It comes in seven colors: green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver. The back of the iMac—which is often visible, such as on a receptionist’s desk—is a bold, vibrant color, whereas the front uses a muted version of the color and a light gray bezel. It looks like a 24-inch iPad clipped to an aluminum stand. It’s so thin that there’s no room for a standard power jack, so it comes with an external power adapter that includes an optional Ethernet jack.

Behind the iMac’s “chin” is the guts of the computer, most notably the same M1 chip as in other M1-based Macs. Overall performance will be stellar thanks to the M1’s 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, but you can tweak the price/performance curve slightly by choosing a 7-core GPU instead and by picking either 8 GB or 16 GB of unified memory.

The screen, which actually measures 23.5 inches diagonally, offers 4480-by-2520 resolution, making it a 4.5K Retina display, between the 4K display on the now-discontinued 21.5-inch iMac and the 5K display on the 27-inch iMac. It’s topped by a 1080p FaceTime HD camera that, with help from the M1 chip’s image signal processor—and advanced microphones and speakers—should offer excellent out-of-the-box videoconferencing quality.

Apple introduced three new color-matched versions of the Magic Keyboard as well. One adds dedicated keys for Spotlight, Dictation, Do Not Disturb, Lock, and Emoji; the second trades the Lock key for the first Touch ID sensor on a standalone keyboard; and the third includes both Touch ID and a numeric keypad. They come with color-matched models of the Magic Mouse, or you can upgrade to a color-matched Magic Trackpad instead.

Two models of the 24-inch iMac are available:

  • $1299 gets you that 7-core GPU, two Thunderbolt ports, 256 GB of storage that’s upgradable to 1 TB, optional Gigabit Ethernet, and a standard Magic Keyboard. It’s available in only blue, green, pink, and silver.
  • $1499 gets you the 8-core GPU, 256 GB of storage upgradeable to 2 TB, two Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3 ports, standard Gigabit Ethernet, and a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. And you can pick from all seven colors.

Our take is that the new 24-inch iMac is a fabulous Mac for a family, student, or front-office worker where everyone will appreciate its striking color and design. It may not offer everything a pro wants, but the Intel-based 27-inch iMac remains available, and Apple will be releasing even more powerful Macs based on Apple silicon for professionals, likely later this year.

M1-based iPad Pro Gains Thunderbolt and Liquid Retina XDR Display

Unlike the 24-inch iMac, there are no major industrial design changes in either iPad Pro model, but Apple has made significant upgrades under the hood, most notably switching from the previous A12Z Bionic chip to the M1 chip that now powers an increasing number of Macs. The M1 chip offers roughly 50% greater performance, significantly differentiating the 11-inch iPad Pro from the highly capable fourth-generation iPad Air introduced late last year.

Apple also updated the iPad Pro’s port from USB-C to Thunderbolt/USB 4, allowing users to take advantage of higher-performance hardware, such as external storage devices and high-resolution external displays. You can even connect Apple’s Pro Display XDR at its full 6K resolution. As welcome as Thunderbolt is, iPadOS could use enhancements to enable users to take full advantage of it.

For those who need constant connectivity while out and about, the cellular models of the iPad Pro now support 5G wireless networking, including the millimeter-wave version that offers the greatest throughput. Although 5G coverage is still extremely spotty, it’s only getting better, and supporting it will help future-proof these iPad Pro models.

Both iPad Pro models also receive a new 12-megapixel Ultra Wide TrueDepth camera on the front. Along with help from the M1 chip’s machine-learning capabilities, it enables a new feature called Center Stage that recognizes you in video calls and pans and zooms to keep you in the frame as you move around. It will work with FaceTime, of course, and Apple says third-party services will also be able to support it.

Last but far from least is a new display for just the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Based on the technology behind Apple’s $5000 Pro Display XDR, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s Liquid Retina Display XDR is lit by more than 10,000 miniature LEDs, combined into nearly 2600 dimming zones. (The previous model’s screen had 72 LEDs.) The result is a display that’s brighter and offers more contrast than before, making it ideal for photo or video editing. If you think screen quality is the deciding factor between the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros, we encourage you to compare them in person with the same images or videos.

Pricing has changed a little for the iPad Pros. The 11-inch model continues to start at $799 with 128 GB of storage. However, the 12.9-inch model is $100 more expensive than previously, thanks to the Liquid Retina XDR display, starting at $1099 for 128 GB. Both are upgradeable to 256 GB ($100), 512 GB ($300), 1 TB ($700), or 2 TB ($1100), and note that the models with 512 GB and less come with 8 GB of unified memory, whereas the 1 TB and 2 TB models have 16 GB of memory. Adding 5G cellular now costs $200, up $50, although special deals with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon may reduce or erase that cost.

Find Your Keys, Purse, or Backpack with an AirTag

The long-rumored AirTag has finally appeared, promising to help us all stop misplacing our keys, purses, backpacks, and more. An AirTag is a small disc that you put inside or attach to something you might need help finding. Should that item go missing, you use the Find My app on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad, or in iCloud to locate the associated AirTag, just as you can use Find My to locate missing Apple devices or find family members. The Find My network leverages nearly 1 billion Apple devices to relay the location of lost items back to you, all without compromising anyone’s privacy. Plus, Apple has built in alerts if someone tries to track you with an AirTag.

AirTags are 1.26 inches in diameter and .31 inches high—roughly the size of four half-dollar coins—and run on a standard user-replaceable CR2032 battery. They communicate with nearby Apple devices via Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband, the latter of which works with an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 to provide Precision Finding that directs you to the exact location of the AirTag. (“You’re getting warmer…”)

To make it easier to attach an AirTag to your keys or backpack, Apple offers a variety of key rings and loops, including some pricey Hermès versions. We anticipate third-party manufacturers will offer numerous alternatives.

A single AirTag costs $29, or you can buy a four-pack for $99. Apple offers free engraving, although the company limits the emoji available to prevent pictographic rudeness. We’re looking forward to giving an AirTag a try, assuming we can still find our keys when it ships on April 30th.

Apple TV 4K Offers Enhanced Video and Redesigned Siri Remote

After four years, Apple has finally updated the hardware inside the Apple TV 4K, giving its second-generation model a faster A12 Bionic processor, HDMI 2.1, and 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking. The speedier processor enables playback of HDR and Dolby Vision video at 60 frames per second, and the other hardware changes could enable new capabilities in the future, like 4K video at 120 fps.

In software, Apple added a new color calibration feature that lets you use any Face ID-enabled iPhone running iOS 14.5 or later to calibrate the colors on your TV; it will also be available to the Apple TV HD and first-generation Apple TV 4K. Also new is support for Thread, a cross-platform mesh networking protocol for home automation devices, which could play a role in the future of HomeKit.

But the big news is that Apple redesigned the much-reviled Siri Remote, adding more buttons and reducing the emphasis on the touchpad surface. The new Siri Remote features a circular clickpad controller with five-way navigation, a touch-sensitive surface for swiping in the middle, and a touch-sensitive outer ring that works as a jog control for navigating within a video. It also features dedicated power and mute—at last!—buttons for your TV. Finally, there’s a new side button for invoking Siri so you don’t accidentally press it in the dark. It has a rechargeable battery that should last for months. The only thing lacking? The necessary hardware so you can use the Find My app to ferret it out from inside the couch.

Apple is bundling the new Siri Remote with the new Apple TV 4K ($179 for 32 GB or $199 for 64 GB) and the old Apple TV HD ($149), and if you already have an Apple TV HD or 4K, you can buy the new Siri Remote by itself for $59.

(Featured image by Apple)


Make Better Documents and Edit More Easily with Show Invisibles

Some of the trickiest editing and proofreading problems are related to characters you can’t typically see on the screen: spaces, tabs, and returns. Just because they’re invisible doesn’t mean they don’t affect the look of a document, often in negative ways. For instance:

  • An extra space can cause an awkward jump from one word to the next, or it could push punctuation away from the final word in a clause or sentence. And yes, current convention among professional publishers and typographers calls for one space after a period, not two.
  • The wrong number of tabs might not be obvious until you add or remove text from the line, at which point having too many or too few tabs will suddenly mess up the formatting.
  • An extra return causes a line break, something that you might overlook if the return falls naturally where the line would break on its own, but as you add or remove text, the line break could become embarrassing.

These and similar errors are easy to make or to encounter in copied and pasted text. They’re equally easy to fix, but only if you know why they’re happening. To help you identify them, most Mac word processors, page layout programs, and text editors have a command or option called something like “Show Invisibles.”

As you would expect from the name, Show Invisibles replaces previously invisible characters with something you can see. Spaces are generally replaced with a vertically centered dot, tabs with some sort of right-pointing arrow, and returns with something that’s formally known as a pilcrow but more commonly called a paragraph mark. Here’s what they look like in Pages.

Revealing invisible characters is tremendously helpful, but it can also clutter up the display and make text harder to read. So every app that lets you show invisibles also makes it easy to hide them again so you can focus on your text.

Note that even if you can see invisible characters on the screen, they will not show in a printout of the document.

Precisely where you find the Show Invisibles command—and what it’s called—varies from app to app. Here’s where to look in some popular Mac word processing, page layout, and text editing apps:

  • Pages: In Apple’s Pages, you can reveal invisible characters by choosing View > Show Invisibles. To hide them, choose View > Hide Invisibles—the command changes based on whether or not they’re showing.
  • Microsoft Word: In Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous word processor, the primary way you show and hide invisibles is by clicking the ¶ button in the Home toolbar. Click it once to show and again to hide. However, if you always want certain invisible characters to appear, you can select them individually in Word > Preferences > View > Show Non-Printing Characters.

  • Nisus Writer Pro: In this highly capable, long-standing alternative to Microsoft Word, choose View > Show Invisibles. When selected, it gains a checkmark. Choose it again to conceal the characters and remove the checkmark.
  • Scrivener: In this word processor aimed at long-form writing and screenwriting, choose View > Text Editing > Show Invisibles. Choose it again to hide them.
  • Adobe InDesign: In Adobe’s market-leading page-layout app, choose Type > Show Hidden Characters. The command changes when selected. Hide them again by choosing Type > Hide Hidden Characters.
  • Affinity Publisher: In this inexpensive but surprisingly full-featured competitor to InDesign, the command you’re looking for is Text > Show Special Characters. When you choose this command, it gains a checkmark. Choose it again to hide invisible characters and remove the checkmark.
  • BBEdit: This text-editing powerhouse aimed at developers, bloggers, and Web designers lets you show tabs and returns, spaces, or both. Either choose the Show Invisibles and Show Spaces commands in View > Text Display or click the tiny gear icon in the upper left of the window and select the appropriate checkboxes.

Not all text-focused apps offer a way of displaying these invisible characters. For instance, we know of no way of doing this in Apple’s TextEdit. Nor is it possible in the online word processor Google Docs, although you can achieve a similar effect temporarily by choosing Edit > Find and Replace, selecting Match Using Regular Expressions, and then searching (one at a time) for a space, for \t for tabs, and for \n for returns.

Even if you’re using an app not mentioned above, our descriptions of their approaches should give a sense of what to look for in the interface or the app’s documentation. Enjoy your newfound ability to see beyond the visible!

(Featured image by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels)


How to Reveal the Proxy Icon in Big Sur’s Finder

This is a twofer tip. You may not have known that every document window in macOS has long had a proxy icon in the title bar, next to the filename. The proxy icon is not just cosmetic. You can drag it to Mail to attach the document to a message, to a Web browser to upload it, or to any other location you can drag a document’s icon in the Finder (top screenshot, below, showing Preview in Catalina). You can also drag proxy icons from Finder windows to Open and Save dialogs to navigate to the location of the proxy icon and even pre-fill the filename when saving. Alas, in macOS 11 Big Sur, in at least the Finder and Preview, Apple chose to hide the proxy icon and the drop-down menu that lets you rename, tag, or move files using controls on the title bar (middle screenshot, below). Plus, the new title bar design tends to truncate file names. Happily, mousing over the filename expands the name and reveals both the proxy icon and the drop-down menu (bottom screenshot, below). Apple’s desire to reduce onscreen clutter makes usage more cumbersome than before, but all the functionality is still present.

(Featured image by Harrison Haines from Pexels)