Apple did a good job rethinking some aspects of credit card use with the Apple Card, but one omission was the inability to share it with other family members. With the new Apple Card Family, once everyone has upgraded to iOS 14.6, you can add members of your Family Sharing group to your Apple Card account as either Co-Owners or Participants. Co-Owners can merge their credit lines, manage the account together, and build credit as equals. You can also invite children over 13 and young adults as Participants. For their accounts, you can set spending limits and receive real-time notifications. Participants over 18 can build their own credit, something that can be difficult for young people. To get started, go to the Wallet app on your iPhone, open the Apple Card, tap the ••• button, tap Share My Card, follow any prompts, for the person you want to share with, and select either Co-Owner or Participant.
Home screen widgets are one of the coolest features of iOS 14. They enable apps to offer quick access to features or at-a-glance previews of changing information, such as the Weather app’s widget providing a quick look at upcoming weather. What you may not realize, however, is that an app’s widgets become available for adding to your Home screen only if you have launched the app since upgrading to iOS 14. (To see the list, press and hold on an empty part of the Home screen and then tap the + button in a top corner.) For instance, if you haven’t traveled since the pandemic started, you might not realize that the Kayak app has a handy price alert widget. Just launch the app once, and you’ll see its widgets the next time you look through the complete widget list.
Over the last decade, and particularly during the last year of pandemic life, documents have become more likely to arrive in email or as downloads than on paper. If you need to return a signed document on paper, it’s easy to print and sign it before popping it in the mailbox. But what if you need to send it back via email or another online method? You could print, sign, scan, and return the scanned document, but that’s both tedious and wasteful.
Happily, Apple has made it easy to digitize your signature such that you can quickly apply it to digital documents without them ever hitting paper. It’s not difficult to set up, and once your signature is in the system, it remains available for repeated use. Even better, it syncs automatically to all your other Apple devices signed in to the same iCloud account, so it’s available wherever you need it. The process varies a little depending on which Apple devices you have available.
Create Your Signature on an iPad or iPhone
You can create a signature on an iPad or iPhone with your finger or a rubber-tipped stylus, but you’ll get the best results with an Apple Pencil on an iPad. Follow these steps:
Tap the share icon and tap Markup in the share sheet.
In the Markup toolbar, tap + and then Signature.
Tap Add or Remove Signature and then tap + to add a signature.
In the New Signature panel, sign your name. (You can rotate an iPhone to landscape orientation if that’s easier.)
If you don’t like your signature, tap Clear and try again.
When you have a good signature, tap Done.
Close the PDF—there’s no need to save it.
Create Your Signature on a Mac
On a Mac, you create signatures in Preview in one of several different ways. You’ll get the best results from using the camera to scan your signature on a piece of paper, with an iPad and Apple Pencil as the next best. The trackpad approach is the least successful.
Open any PDF in Preview, such as the aforementioned IRS Form 1040.
Choose Tools > Annotate > Signature > Manage Signatures. (You can also click the Signatures button on the Markup toolbar.)
Click Create Signature.
Click Trackpad, Camera, or iPhone or iPad to create your signature:
Trackpad: Click the Click Here to Begin button and sign your name with your finger or a rubber-tipped stylus—after you click, lift your finger or stylus and start writing your signature at the left side of the trackpad. Press any key on the keyboard when you’re done, or click Clear and try again if necessary. (Tip: press any key to start and clear too.)
Camera: Sign your name with a black pen on a white piece of paper. Hold it up to the camera, just above the blue line, for automatic recognition. If necessary, click Clear and try again. For best results, use a full-size piece of paper and a fairly thick pen, like a Sharpie.
iPhone or iPad: Click Select Device and pick an available iPhone or iPad. The entire screen of the device becomes a signing surface—you can use whichever orientation is easier. Sign your name using your finger, a rubber-tipped stylus, or for best results, an Apple Pencil on an iPad. Tap Clear if you need to try again.
When you’re finished, click Done.
Close the PDF.
Although most of us have only one signature, Apple lets you create and sync as many signatures as you like. That could be useful if you have to sign documents for your boss or a member of your family (with their permission, of course).
Once you’ve digitized your signature, you can add it to any PDF form that you receive, either using Markup from an iPhone or iPad share sheet, or in Preview or the Markup tools on a Mac.
Apple’s new AirTag tracking device is an amazing bit of technology—it’s an elegant disc about the size of a stack of four US quarters that communicates its location with other Apple devices using Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband. Pair an AirTag with your iPhone and put it in your laptop bag, and from then on, you can use the Find My app to find your bag no matter where you’ve left it.
The key to the system is Apple’s Find My network of hundreds of millions of Apple devices, which detect nearby AirTags and report their location to Apple’s servers. It’s all completely private and secure, so only the owner of an AirTag can see where it is. All the devices in the Find My network are anonymous, and location data is encrypted at every step of the way. Not even Apple can locate an AirTag or determine the identity of the device that helps find it.
Plus, if you have an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 with support for Ultra Wideband, the Find My app can use Precision Finding to give you the direction and distance of your nearby items. (“You’re getting warmer!”) If you need more help to locate an AirTag that’s out of sight, you can make it play a sound.
At $29 for one or $99 for a pack of four, AirTags are an inexpensive way to keep track of keys, purses, suitcases, kids’ backpacks, and more. You could even attach one to your dog’s collar, but it would likely be helpful only in urban areas where people with iPhones would come close enough to your rambling pet.
With great power comes great responsibility, though. There are always those who will attempt to use AirTags to track other people’s movements surreptitiously, perhaps a jealous spouse, a vindictive ex, or someone with a creepy crush. It wouldn’t be hard to hide an AirTag in someone’s car, in a seldom-used purse pocket, or in the lining of a coat.
Apple is fully aware of these possibilities and has built three safeguards into the AirTags and the Find My network. Given the potential for abuse, it’s essential that everyone knows what an AirTag is (done!) and how to determine if someone may be using one to track another person (read on!).
Safety Alerts: If you get an “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert on your iPhone, you know that there’s an AirTag separated from its owner that’s traveling with you. Most likely, it’s in something you’re borrowing or attached to an item that someone left in your car. If you can’t easily find the AirTag, you may be able to make it play a sound. (That won’t work if the owner is in range or if it has been with you overnight such that its identifier has changed since the alert.) If you know why it’s there, you can pause the safety alerts for a day or disable them permanently for those in your Family Sharing group. If the owner has marked it as lost, you can tap Learn About This AirTag to discover its serial number and contact information for the owner. If there’s no good explanation for why the AirTag is with you, you can remove its battery to prevent it from reporting your location.
Safety Sounds: If an AirTag is separated from its owner for 3 days, it will make a sound the next time it moves. There is some concern that 3 days may be too long and that the sound starts only after the AirTag moves. Apple has said it may change the time or tweak the system if the sound isn’t achieving its goal of tattling on maliciously placed AirTags.
NFC identification: Let’s say you find an AirTag after a safety alert or sound. Hold an iPhone or other NFC-capable smartphone to the white side of the AirTag and tap the notification to load a website with the AirTag’s serial number and the last four digits of the owner’s phone number (which may help you or the police identify them). If the owner has marked it as lost, you’ll also see their phone number or email address.
The safety alerts appear only on iPhones, of course, but there are two other requirements that must be true as well. First, the iPhone must be running iOS 14.5 or later to display the alerts, so make sure you update. Second, in Settings > YourName > Find My > Find My iPhone, the Find My network option must be enabled. If you don’t want your iPhone to participate in the Find My network, you can turn that option off, but doing so means you’ll never receive a safety alert either.
(A quick aside: the Find My iPhone option in that screen is necessary to locate your iPhone if it’s lost or stolen. It also enables Activation Lock, which prevents a thief from erasing and reactivating your iPhone unless they can find your Apple ID password. Always leave Find My iPhone enabled. The Find My network can also help locate iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple Watches that are offline and can’t report their location to Find My on their own.)
The ultimate takeaway is that if you ever get a safety alert, hear an AirTag making a sound, or find an unexpected AirTag, hold your iPhone or an NFC-capable Android phone to the white side of the AirTag to load a Web page with more information. If you have reason to believe you’re being stalked, contact local law enforcement and give them the AirTag’s serial number, which they can use, with Apple’s help, to identify the AirTag’s owner.
At its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on June 7th, Apple shared details about what we can expect to see later this year in macOS 12 Monterey, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, tvOS 15, and HomePod Software 15. It was a firehose of announcements, but one thing became clear: Apple wants to spread its technologies across its entire ecosystem of devices. Although each platform—Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePod—retains its unique qualities, nearly every feature that the company announced works across as many platforms as make sense.
Before we get into the ten features that we think you’ll most like when everything ships in September or October, we should note that Apple was surprisingly silent on one topic: future Apple silicon chips. Many observers had expected Apple to announce an M1X or M2 chip that would power professional laptop and desktop Macs. We’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the impressive performance of the M1-based Macs we have now and wait a little longer for whatever comes next.
On to the hot new features!
Account Recovery and Legacy Contacts Simplify Recovering Account Data
It’s all too common that people forget their Apple ID passwords and can’t access their accounts. Apple hopes to make that a little less stressful with Account Recovery Contacts. Specify someone as your Account Recovery Contact, and they’ll be able to help you reset your password and regain access to your account, with no need to call us or Apple for assistance.
Also welcome will be the addition of Legacy Contacts. Once this feature is available, everyone should make sure they have appropriate family members or friends set as Legacy Contacts. Then, in the event of your untimely death, your Legacy Contacts can access your account and personal information. Using Legacy Contacts will be far easier than having to provide the legal paperwork to Apple to request access to a deceased family member’s accounts.
FaceTime Gains Features That Make It Competitive with Zoom
During the last year, we’ve all spent vastly more time in videoconferencing apps for work, school, and socializing. Alas, Apple’s FaceTime has been a weak entry in that market. With the features Apple is now promising, however, it should compete well with the likes of Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet. FaceTime will finally get a standard grid view, blur your backgrounds with Portrait mode, and offer two microphone modes: Voice Isolation to cut down on background noise (for standard meetings) and Wide Spectrum to leave ambient sound unfiltered (for performances, say). FaceTime will even be able to alert you when you’re talking but muted.
More important yet is the fact that you’ll finally be able to invite Windows and Android users to FaceTime calls using standard Web links. Non-Apple users will have to use a Chrome-based browser like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Brave. Plus, when you create an event in Calendar, you’ll be able to make a Web link for the call that you can share. And when it’s time for the call, a Join button makes it easy to get in.
Universal Control Lets Macs and iPads Share a Keyboard and Pointing Device
With Sidecar in macOS 10.15 Catalina and iOS 13, Apple made it so you could use an iPad as a secondary screen for a Mac. In macOS 12 Monterey and iPadOS 15, Apple is taking that concept further. With Universal Control, if you merely set a Mac and an iPad next to each other, you’ll be able to use the Mac’s keyboard and mouse or trackpad to work between the two devices (in fact, Universal Control supports up to three). No setup is required—just move your pointer to the edge of the Mac screen and push it “through” the edge to move it to the iPad screen. You can even drag and drop content between devices.
Live Text Lets You Work with Text in Images
Have you ever taken a photo of something just to capture a phone number or address? We have, for sure. Apple’s new Live Text feature treats text in images just like text you type, so you can use functions like copy and paste, lookup, and translate. Live Text will work in Photos, of course, but also in Quick Look, Safari, and Screenshot, and in live Camera previews on the iPhone. It’s an impressive use of image recognition technologies.
Along the same lines, in Photos, you’ll also be able to use the information button on any photo to highlight recognized objects and scenes and get additional information about them. Apple says you’ll be able to learn more about popular art and landmarks, plants and flowers, books, and pet breeds.
Siri Gets Faster, More Reliable, More Private, and More Useful
Thanks to the ever-increasing power of the Neural Engine in Apple devices, Apple says it will bring all processing of Siri requests onto your device. That may not sound like a big deal, but it means that Siri should work faster, more reliably, and more privately. It will be faster because there’s no need to send speech to and from Apple’s servers for processing. It will make Siri work more reliably when your iPhone doesn’t have strong cell service and enable offline support for many types of requests. And Apple won’t know what you’re saying at all.
Other Siri improvements will include the capability to announce reminders when you’re wearing AirPods, improved conversation context so you can refer to what you just asked, and support for controlling HomeKit devices at specific times. HomeKit developers will even be able to add Siri support to their products through a HomePod.
Improved Multitasking Controls Come to the iPad
The big problem with Apple’s multitasking options on the iPad has been remembering how to use them. With iPadOS 15, Apple hopes to solve that with a new menu that will appear at the top of apps, with buttons for entering full screen, Split View, or Slide Over.
Apple also added a new multiwindow shelf that appears at the bottom of the screen at launch and provides a Dock-like view of all the open windows in that app. If you ignore it, it fades away quickly, but it should help you remember which windows you have open and access them quickly.
The iPad Finally Gets the App Library and Home Screen Widgets
Last year, in iOS 14, Apple introduced the App Library and Home Screen widgets. The App Library holds all your apps so you can declutter your life by removing them from the Home Screen. And Home Screen widgets let you add app-specific widgets that provide at-a-glance information. Sadly, iPadOS 14 didn’t include those features.
iPadOS 15 rectifies that oversight, adding both the App Library and Home Screen widgets, complete with some larger widget sizes for the larger iPad screen. They’ll work just like on the iPhone. It’s about time!
Locate Lost AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with Find My Network Support
As it stands now, you can theoretically find AirPods using the Find My app. However, it shows only the last position of the AirPods at a general level, and you have to get within range of them to play a sound. In the future, however, the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max will support the Find My network, so other people’s devices can report their location generally, and once you get within Bluetooth range, you can play a sound to locate them.
Hopefully, that will happen less often thanks to new separation alerts that, when enabled, will alert you when you leave an Apple device, AirTag, or Find My-compatible item behind.
Private Relay Protects Safari Traffic for iCloud+ Subscribers
Apple has been adding lots of privacy-protecting features over the past few years, but Private Relay goes even further to ensure that even your ISP can’t track where you go on the Web and sell that data to advertisers. Private Relay encrypts your Safari traffic and passes it through two Internet relays. No one—not even Apple—can then use your IP address, location, and browsing activity to create a detailed profile of you. Everyone who pays for extra iCloud storage will transition to the new iCloud+ for the same cost and will get Private Relay for no additional fee.
While we’re talking about iCloud, Apple also says that you’ll be able to get custom domain names for iCloud Mail addresses and invite family members to use the same domain with their iCloud Mail accounts.
Use AirPlay to Send Audio or Video to Your Mac
Many people have discovered how neat it is to use AirPlay to display photos or videos from an iPhone or iPad on a TV attached to an Apple TV. Macs could also broadcast their displays to an Apple TV. But what you couldn’t do is use AirPlay to send audio or video from another Apple device to a Mac. With macOS 12 Monterey, that will become possible, enabling you to use a Mac’s large screen to play a video, share a Keynote presentation, and more.
Apple’s upcoming operating system releases boast many other new features, and we plan to explore more of them once everything ships in a few months. We’ll let you know when it’s time to update!
A new feature of Messages in both iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur is the option to pin up to nine conversations at the top of the conversation list for easy access. No longer do you have to worry about them scrolling out of sight. On an iPhone or iPad, touch and hold a conversation and tap Pin in the menu that appears; on a Mac, Control-click the conversation and choose Pin. (Remove them by repeating the action and choosing Unpin.) Each of your devices can have different conversations pinned. If you are used to scanning the left side of Messages for blue new-message indicators, also be sure to look for those blue dots amongst your pinned icons at the top of the screen. Also, note that on the Mac, it can be a little too easy to see a notification banner about a new message, switch to Messages, and type in the currently selected (but wrong) conversation.
People talk about “the cloud” all the time these days, but what do they really mean? There’s no agreed-on definition, which can render some conversations nearly inscrutable. We can’t pretend to have the final answer—if there will ever be such a thing—but here’s how we think of “the cloud.” (And now we’ll stop quoting it.)
At a basic level, many people seem to equate the cloud with anything that’s online or with the Internet as a whole. That’s not incorrect, since everything in the cloud does take place online and is on the Internet, but it’s also not helpful.
Cloud Services Replace Local Hardware and Software
It’s more useful to think of the cloud as a way of referring to services made available over the Internet as a replacement for hardware or software on your Mac. These services largely fall into three broad categories: storage and backup, data syncing, and apps.
Storage and backup: To add storage directly to your Mac, you’d connect an external hard drive or SSD. Cloud-based services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and OneDrive all provide the same basic function—more space to store data. Of course, they also go further, providing syncing between your devices and sharing with other people. Plus, just as you probably use Time Machine to back up to an external drive, you can use Backblaze to back up to the cloud.
Data syncing: Before the cloud was a thing, syncing your contacts, calendar, and email between two Macs generally required either special software (like ChronoSync) or going through the export/import dance. Cloud-based services for such bits of data—including Apple’s iCloud syncing for Calendar and Contacts and Google Calendar—make it so the same information is available on all your devices all the time. They often provide a Web-based interface as well so you can access your data from someone else’s computer.
Apps: An app like TextEdit runs on your Mac, but cloud-based apps like Google Docs provide app-like functionality while running in a Web browser. These days, many things that can be done directly on a computer can be done in a Web browser: word processing, spreadsheets, image editing, video streaming, video chat, and more.
Cloud Services Rely on “Cloud Computing”
Apps on your Mac use its processor and memory. You might also have used a network server; you use the apps on the server over the network, but they’re running on that particular server. In contrast, cloud services run on massive clusters of computer resources spread across many computers and even multiple data centers. When you’re typing into Google Docs, the processing resources that make that possible don’t come from a single computer dedicated to you—they’re provided to you and millions of others simultaneously by Google’s worldwide computer clusters.
Pros of the Cloud
There’s a lot to like about the cloud and what it makes possible:
It’s accessible from nearly anywhere: As long as you have a high-speed Internet connection, you can access cloud-based services from anywhere in the world. And while not everywhere in the world has high-speed Internet access, it’s becoming more widely available all the time. Heck, you can now use the Internet on many commercial airplanes.
It’s somebody else’s problem: That’s not entirely true, of course, but using a cloud-based service means the staff of the data center deals with failing computers or hard drives, network problems, and other maintenance. You just need a functional computer and Internet connection.
It’s easy to switch devices and even platforms: Moving to a new iPhone or iPad is nearly trivial these days, thanks to being able to restore from an automatically created iCloud backup. And if you use Gmail, for instance, it would work just the same if you wanted to switch from an Android phone to an iPhone.
It’s more flexible: If you decide to try a cloud service, it’s usually just a matter of setting up an account or signing in with an existing one. There’s no need to download and install software, or to clean up after the installer. Plus, if you need more storage space or additional features, it’s usually just a matter of upgrading an account and paying more—you don’t have to buy another hard drive or a whole new app.
Costs are lower and more predictable: Many cloud services are entirely free, like Gmail and Google Docs, whereas others rely on monthly or annual subscriptions. Generally speaking, such subscriptions cost less than buying equivalent desktop software and all their upgrades. Whether or not a cloud app is cheaper, it’s a predictable expense you can build into a budget.
Cons of the Cloud
Of course, not everything about the cloud falls into the silver lining category. Some problems include:
You can’t control when apps are upgraded: With desktop software, you can pick and choose when to upgrade, at least to some extent. Cloud apps, on the other hand, are upgraded whenever the developer wants, sometimes at inconvenient times or in major ways that might be hard for you to use. On the other side of the equation, you don’t have to spend time downloading and installing upgrades, or even thinking about whether to install them.
You have limited control over your data: Although well-run cloud services are significantly less vulnerable to failure, damage, or theft than your Mac is, there’s no avoiding the fact that you can’t do much to prevent such problems. Backing up cloud-based data can be challenging, as can exporting it for use elsewhere.
Subscriptions can add up: Any one cloud service may be reasonably priced, but if you end up with 10–15 subscriptions, the total annual cost may seem exorbitant. To be fair, major software packages used to cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and we all use many more apps and services than we did in the past.
Security is a concern: While cloud providers may do a better job than you could of guaranteeing uptime and even backing up data, the fact remains that everything on the cloud is protected by passwords. If you reuse passwords or rely on weak ones, you could be in for a world of hurt. That’s why we always bang the drum for relying on a password manager for strong, unique passwords and turning on two-factor authentication whenever possible.
Privacy can be a problem: Many free and ad-supported cloud services—most notably Facebook and Google—make their money by collecting data about you and using it to sell advertisers access to you. One reason to pay for a cloud service is that then you’re the customer, and as the saying goes, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product.
We’re not here to sell you on the cloud in general or scare you away from using it. In today’s world, there’s almost no way to avoid it, nor should you try to do so. Hopefully, now that you have a better idea of what the cloud really is, you can make more informed decisions about which cloud services can improve your technological life and which ones won’t.
You’ve likely seen mention of the dispute between Apple and Facebook. It revolves around App Tracking Transparency (ATT), a technology Apple released in iOS 14.5.
The goal of ATT is to give iPhone and iPad users more control over the extent to which app makers can track their data and activities across apps and websites owned by other companies. Before App Tracking Transparency, nothing prevented companies from sucking a vast amount of data about your everyday activities and connecting it to other data to build an insanely detailed picture of who you are and what you do. Apple has written A Day in the Life of Your Data white paper and released the Tracked TV ad to give you a sense of how apps track you. We like to think of app tracking as a fleet of tiny drones constantly hovering over your head, recording your every waking moment for their corporate masters.
Facebook is particularly perturbed by the introduction of App Tracking Transparency because the company makes billions of dollars every year by gleaning as much as it can about you and then selling advertising access to you to companies that want to target people like you. For instance, Facebook knows if you’re a New York City lawyer and divorced mother of two who loves dogs, donates to the Sierra Club, and has Crohn’s disease. Although App Tracking Transparency won’t prevent Facebook from tracking your behavior across its own apps, at least it won’t be able to track you across other companies’ apps and websites.
Once you upgrade to the latest version of iOS and iPadOS, App Tracking Transparency requires that apps ask for permission to track you. However, depending on your current privacy settings, you may never see those requests. In Settings > Privacy > Tracking, if Allow Apps to Request to Track is turned off, you won’t receive any permission requests, and apps won’t be able to track you. Turn that setting on, and you’ll start getting alerts that ask for permission.
Put bluntly, there is absolutely no reason to allow any app to track you. Apple explicitly says that apps may not withhold features from those who opt out of tracking. So if you turn on the Allow Apps to Request to Track setting, tap Ask App Not to Track whenever you’re prompted. If you accidentally tap Allow, you can always go back to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and turn off the switch to rescind permission.
You might want to enable Allow Apps to Request to Track to see which apps were likely violating your privacy before and are still willing to do so even after App Tracking Transparency has exposed their sleazy business practices. Frankly, we’d encourage you to think about whether you want to use apps from such companies—perhaps the best reason to allow the requests is to identify privacy-abusing apps that you’ll then delete.
Early statistics from analytics company Flurry suggest that 94%–96% of users in the United States have opted out of app tracking, either by tapping Ask App Not to Track or by disabling the Allow Apps to Request to Track. We’re surprised the number is so low.
Although extremely uncommon, it’s not unheard of for a Mac, particularly an older model, to restart unexpectedly. If it happens once, chalk it up to cosmic rays and move on. But if it happens multiple times, try these two things right off. First, use compressed air to remove dust from cooling vents or the inside of the Mac, if you can open it up. Dust can cause heat buildup, which can in turn cause restarts. Second, try plugging the Mac into a different electric circuit or, ideally, into an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Dirty power can provoke all sorts of undesirable behavior—including unexpected restarts—and shorten the lifespan of the Mac’s electronic components. Remember, clean air and clean power make for a happy Mac.
So you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccination. Congratulations, and thank you for nudging the planet closer to the herd immunity needed for life to return to normal! It’s a good idea to take a photo of your card as a backup before filing it with your other important papers, just in case. (If you lose the original, you may be able to get a new one from the site where you got the vaccine or through your state’s Immunization Information System.) However, we do want to offer a note of caution. Resist the urge to post that photo—or one of you gleefully brandishing your card—on social media. The cards include your name, date of birth, vaccine location, and other personal information that could be used to steal your identity, and any digital miscreant worth their salt is already trawling through your social media feeds for as much personal information as they can find.