You’ve long had text messages forwarding from your iPhone to your Mac and iPad, but after you get a new device, it might be a while before you realize that it’s not receiving texts sent to your iPhone. It turns out that, when you get a new Apple device, you must manually enable it to receive forwarded texts from your iPhone—the setting is off by default. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Messages > Text Message Forwarding, and flip the switches for the new devices.
We’re big fans of column view in Finder windows (choose View > as Columns). You never have to worry about missing icons that are outside the window, everything is sorted alphabetically, and selecting a file shows a preview. But the column widths can be too thin, such that they cut off file and folder names, or too wide, forcing you to scroll unnecessarily. You probably know you can drag the handles at the bottom of the column dividers, but that’s fussy when you have lots of columns. Instead, double-click a column handle to expand or shrink the column so the longest name fits perfectly. Option-double-click a column handle to do that for all the columns showing. If you forget, Control-click a handle to see commands for Right Size This Column, Right Size All Columns Individually, and Right Size All Columns Equally.
In 2016, Apple introduced the Touch Bar with the MacBook Pro. It’s a long, thin display above the number keys on the keyboard that shows a variety of buttons and controls. By default, it changes depending on which app you’re in, and it also displays the Control Strip, a collection of controls that roughly mimics the functions accessible from the F-keys that traditionally live in that position. Finally, it includes the Touch ID sensor that brings fingerprint authentication to the Mac.
Since its launch, however, the Touch Bar hasn’t migrated to any other Macs or keyboards, although the MacBook Air picked up a Touch ID sensor without the rest of the Touch Bar. As a result, developers haven’t been as enthusiastic about supporting the Touch Bar as they might have been. Nevertheless, it provides useful shortcuts in many apps, and you can customize it more to your liking. (Plus, although we’re not going into those details here, Apple is making the Touch Bar even more useful and customizable in macOS 11 Big Sur.)
Choose What the Touch Bar Shows
You may never have noticed the Touch Bar’s settings because Apple has hidden them in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences. Logical, but perhaps not where you might have looked first if you were thinking of the Touch Bar as an extension of the trackpad.
You have two choices here, what appears in the Touch Bar normally, and how it changes if you press the Fn key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard. Your options include:
App Controls: The controls that appear when you choose this option vary by app. This option is the most generally useful, though how much so depends on whether the apps you use support the Touch Bar in helpful ways.
Expanded Control Strip: The Control Strip, which appears by default on the right side of the Touch Bar, lets you adjust common settings like brightness and volume. The Expanded Control Strip option fills the rest of the Touch Bar with more buttons.
F1, F2, etc. Keys: Aimed at keyboard traditionalists, this option mimics the F-keys that occupy the Touch Bar’s position on every other keyboard in the universe. People often use these keys as hot keys with macro programs like Keyboard Maestro.
Quick Actions: Want to create your own custom buttons for the Touch Bar? In Apple’s Automator app, you can create workflows as Quick Actions, which then appear on the Touch Bar when you choose this option.
Spaces: Those who are big users of Spaces in Mission Control might appreciate this option, which lets you switch between different full-screen apps and Split View spaces.
In the Touch Bar Shows pop-up menu, you should choose the set of Touch Bar buttons that you’ll find the most useful most of the time. That’s probably either App Controls or F-keys for most people, unless you do a lot of your own automation (choose Quick Actions) or regularly use full-screen apps (choose Spaces).
The Press Fn Key To menu basically gives you a second choice—press that key, and you can display whatever set of buttons you’d find next most useful.
Finally, notice that there’s a checkbox for Show Control Strip. If you want to take over its space on the right side of the Touch Bar for other buttons, deselect the checkbox. One useful approach is to disable the Control Strip in general use, but show the expanded Control Strip when you press Fn.
Customize App Controls
App controls are in many ways the most interesting because they change not just when you switch between apps, but also based on what you’re doing in an app. Take Pages, for instance. If you’re working with text, Pages configures the Touch Bar to show buttons that let you switch between paragraph styles, apply character formatting, and tweak horizontal and vertical justification. That button on the far right displays auto-complete options for the word you’re typing. But if you have a text box selected, Pages instead provides buttons for opacity, various colors, and line strokes. Select a table, and Pages immediately offers options for adding and removing columns and rows.
Even better, some apps, like Safari, let you pick which buttons appear in the Touch Bar, just as you can pick the controls that appear in window toolbars. In apps that allow this, choose View > Customize Touch Bar. A selection of available buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. Drag one of the buttons off the bottom of the screen and—really!—onto the Touch Bar, where you can drag it into different spots. When you’re done, click the Done button.
While you’re customizing the Touch Bar for an app, you can also rearrange buttons by dragging them left or right (with either the pointer or your finger) and remove buttons by dragging them (with the pointer) from the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro’s screen.
Note that the Touch Bar is only so big, and the Mac won’t let you populate it with more buttons than it has room for. If you try, the new button will replace one of the current buttons.
Customize the Control Strip
You’re not limited to choosing which app controls you’d like to see in the Touch Bar. In System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard, click Customize Control Strip to bring up a similar collection of controls that you can add to the Control Strip. Plus, you can rearrange and remove buttons from the Touch Bar’s Control Strip just as with the app controls.
Try Third-Party Utilities
As you might expect, clever Mac programmers have extended the ways you can use the Touch Bar beyond what Apple provides. Here are a few of our favorites:
BetterTouchTool: For $8.50, this general-purpose customization utility gives you control over various input devices on your Mac, including the Touch Bar. It lets you completely customize the Touch Bar, add and customize the appearance of buttons for all sorts of built-in actions, create dynamic widgets using AppleScript and other languages, and download ready-to-use presets.
Pock: Want to recover the screen real-estate occupied by the Dock? The free Pock puts your Dock items in the Touch Bar for fast app switching. Plus, it provides useful widgets, including a handy Now Playing widget that can show the title of the current song.
Haptic Touch Bar: Although Apple built the Touch Bar so it could provide haptic feedback—making it feel like you’ve pressed a key down when all you’ve done is touched a flat glass surface—most controls don’t provide it. The $4.99 Haptic Touch Bar utility makes all Touch Bar buttons pretend to be physical buttons, with haptic and audio feedback.
If you’ve been ignoring the Touch Bar because it didn’t work the way you wanted, or if you’ve liked using it but wished it could do more, give these customization options a try!
Over the last few releases of macOS, Apple has been beefing up the Mac’s privacy controls so they more closely resemble what the company has done in iOS. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that when you first launch a new app on your iPhone or iPad, it often prompts for access to your contacts or your photos, the camera or microphone, and so on. The idea behind those prompts is that you should always be aware of how a particular app can access your personal data or features of your device. You might not want to let some new game thumb through your photos or record your voice.
macOS has been heading in this direction too, with macOS 10.14 Mojave upping the stakes and 10.15 Catalina forcing apps to play this “Mother, May I?” game in even more ways. As a result, particularly after you first upgrade and whenever you install a new app, you may be bombarded with dialogs asking for various permissions. For instance, the Loom app that helps you make quick video recordings of your screen requires lots of permissions. Grant them and Loom won’t have to ask again.
Loom’s requests are entirely reasonable—it wouldn’t be able to do its job without such access. That applies more generally, too. In most cases, apps will ask for access for a good reason, and if you want the app to function properly, you should give it access.
However, be wary if a permission dialog appears and you don’t recognize the name of the app making the request or if you aren’t doing anything related to the request. Apple’s hope is that you’ll deny access to requests from malicious apps.
The problem in Catalina is that apps have to ask for permission for so many basic capabilities that users become overwhelmed by all the dialogs. A good app, like Loom, will walk the user through accepting them on its first launch, but even still, answering four or more requests can be confusing.
You might be tempted to deny access categorically. That’s fine from a privacy standpoint, but not when it comes to functionality—when you deny a permission request, you prevent that app from working as you anticipate. Fortunately, you can always grant (or revoke) permission later. And remember, once you’ve granted permission, you won’t have to do it again for that app—it’s a per-app request, not a per-session request.
To see which permissions you’ve granted or denied, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. A list of categories appears on the left; click one to see which apps have requested access. If you’ve granted access, the checkbox next to the app will be selected; otherwise it will be empty.
You’ll notice that the lock in the lower-left corner of the System Preferences window is closed. To make changes, click it and sign in as an administrator when prompted.
Most of these categories are self-explanatory, but it might not always be obvious why an app wants permission. In the screenshot above, for instance, Slack has been granted access to the Mac’s camera. Why? So its video call feature can work.
Annoyingly, giving access often requires that you quit the app in question before the permission takes effect. That’s awkward on the first launch of a new app, since you launch it, respond to a bunch of dialogs, and then have to quit and relaunch before you can use it.
There are some categories (including some not showing above) that could use additional explanation:
Accessibility: Apps that request accessibility access want to control your Mac. In essence, they want to be able to pretend to click the mouse, type on the keyboard, and generally act like a user. Utility and automation software often needs such access.
Full Disk Access: This category is a catch-all for access to areas on your drive that aren’t normally available to apps, such as data in Mail, Messages, Safari, Home, and more, including Time Machine backups and some admin settings. Backup and synchronization utilities need full disk access, in particular. An app can’t request full disk access in the normal way; you must add it manually by dragging its icon into the list or clicking the + button under the list and selecting the app in the Applications folder.
Automation: The Mac has long had a way for apps to communicate with and control one another: Apple events. An app could theoretically steal information from another via Apple events, so the Automation category lets you specify which apps can control which other apps. You’ll see normal permission requests, but they’ll explain both sides of the communication. (System Events is a behind-the-scenes macOS utility that helps with scripting and automation.)
So if you’ve been seeing repeated requests for permission in Mojave and especially in Catalina, now you know why these dialogs keep popping up. They’re a bit irritating at first, but the added privacy is worthwhile, and once you’ve granted permission to an app, you shouldn’t hear from it again.
Here’s the solution to a problem that clients have run into on occasion. In a workgroup that relies on Adobe Creative Cloud apps, one person might upgrade to the latest versions of Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, whereas others don’t. Suddenly, if that person opens and re-saves a file in the new version, those using the old version may not be able to open it, or certain aspects of the file may disappear.
Upgrading isn’t always possible—some people may have too-old Macs or not be running a new enough version of macOS. More commonly, however, the rest of the group is deep in a major project and quite reasonably doesn’t want to introduce potential problems by changing their software in mid-stream. What to do?
Luckily, Adobe makes it easy to download previous versions of all the Creative Cloud apps, allowing the person who upgraded to rejoin the rest of the team on the older version.
Open the Creative Cloud app, click the ••• button to the right of the desired app, and choose Other Versions from the pop-up menu.
In the list that appears, find the older version you want to install—likely the version that the rest of the team is using—and click Install. Creative Cloud warns you that the app will have its auto-update setting disabled so the newly installed old version won’t be overwritten during a future update.
You can ensure that you don’t lose access to older versions during updates by disabling a Creative Cloud setting that automatically removes previous versions of apps when you update. In the Creative Cloud app, choose Creative Cloud > Preferences > Apps. Then click Advanced Options to the right of the desired app’s name, and in the dialog that appears, deselect Remove Older Versions. When you’re finished, click Done.
That’s it—a potentially project-stopping problem eliminated quickly and easily. Just don’t let your Creative Cloud apps get too far out of date, since you can go back only so far when downloading previous versions.
On the Mac, scroll bars are essential for both orienting yourself and navigating within a Web page or document window. But they may not appear unless you hover the pointer over the right spot or start scrolling with a gesture on a trackpad or a turn of a mouse scroll wheel. If that bothers you, go to System Preferences > General and under Show Scroll Bars, select Always. That way, scroll bars will always be visible without you having to guess where they are or perform some incantation to reveal them.
Apple’s workhorse desktop Mac, the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display, hasn’t seen an update since March 2019—nearly a year and a half ago. Happily, the company has finally released a new version of the popular iMac, outfitting it with 10th-generation Intel processors, increasing its RAM and storage capacities, and improving its audio and video capabilities. Prices haven’t changed, with the low-end model starting at $1799, the mid-range model at $1999, and the high-end configuration at $2299.
Separately, although Apple didn’t update either the 21.5-inch iMac or the iMac Pro, it tweaked both of their configurations. The company finally stopped selling the small, inexpensive 21.5-inch iMac with a performance-robbing hard drive. It now comes with SSDs standard across the line, with a 1 TB Fusion Drive as an alternative. For the iMac Pro, Apple dropped the 8-core Intel Xeon W processor configuration, making the base model a 10-core processor configuration.
There are no industrial design changes this time around, unsurprisingly, but the rest of the enhancements will be extremely welcome to anyone who has been holding out for a new iMac.
For those who are concerned about performance but don’t want to spend thousands more on an iMac Pro or Mac Pro, Apple increased the 27-inch iMac’s specs in noteworthy ways. You have choices of four of the latest 10th-generation Intel Core processors: a 3.1 GHz 6-core i5, a 3.3 GHz 6-core i5, a 3.8 GHz 8-core i7, and a 3.6 GHz 10-core i9. Performance and cost both rise through that list.
Higher Performance Graphics Chips
Apple also moved to the next-generation AMD Radeon Pro graphics chips, with the Radeon Pro 5300 with 4 GB of memory in the low-end and mid-range models. The high-end model starts with a Radeon Pro 5500 XT with 8 GB of memory, and you can upgrade to a Radeon Pro 5700 with 8 GB for $300 or a Radeon Pro 5700 XT with 16 GB for $500. The more expensive options would be useful for graphics-intensive workflows, complex video editing, or developing 3D content.
Higher RAM Ceiling
All configurations of the 27-inch iMac start with 8 GB, but you can expand that to 16 GB ($200), 32 GB ($600), 64 GB ($1000) or, for the first time in the iMac line, 128 GB ($2600). Unlike on most other Macs, RAM is user-accessible through a panel on the back, so you’d be smart to buy RAM separately, where it will be far cheaper—perhaps as much as two-thirds less.
Increased SSD Storage
Storage is locked at 256 GB for the low-end model, whereas the mid-range model starts at 512 GB and lets you upgrade to 1 TB ($200) or 2 TB ($600). The high-end model also starts at 512 GB, offering the same 1 TB and 2 TB upgrades and adding 4 TB ($1200) and 8 TB ($2400) options. The Fusion Drive is no longer an option for the 27-inch iMac.
Stronger Security and Processing with the T2 Security Chip
New to the 27-inch iMac is Apple’s T2 security chip. Along with encrypting all data on the SSD and ensuring that macOS hasn’t been tampered with at boot, the T2 chip includes custom processors that provide computational improvements for both audio and video. On the downside, the T2 chip’s added security makes certain kinds of troubleshooting and hardware repair difficult or impossible, so it’s extra important to have reliable backups.
Improved Glare and Ambient Light Handling
For those who have problems with screen glare, the 27-inch iMac now offers a $500 option for “nano-texture glass,” which Apple says provides “better viewing under various lighting conditions, such as a bright room or indirect sunlight.” Previously, nano-texture glass was available only for Apple’s Pro Display XDR screen. The iMac’s Retina display also now supports True Tone, enabling it to adjust its color temperature automatically for ambient light conditions.
Better Video and Audio for Videoconferencing
Those who spend their days on video calls will appreciate the new 1080p FaceTime HD camera, a notable improvement on the previous 720p camera. Apple also says the 27-inch iMac now features higher-fidelity speakers and a studio-quality three-mic array for better audio output and input.
Finally, if you need the ultimate networking performance, a $100 option gets you 10 Gigabit Ethernet.
Overall, if you need a powerful desktop Mac with a gorgeous display, you can’t go wrong with the new 27-inch iMac. It’s significantly cheaper than the iMac Pro and more powerful than both the Mac mini and the 21.5-inch iMac. Just remember that some of the options are available only if you start with the high-end configuration.
It’s inevitable—your Time Machine backup drive is going to fill up. Time Machine is smart about backing up only files that have changed, but after months or years of usage, the drive will run out of space. What happens then?
Before we explain, some background. On its first backup, Time Machine copies everything on your startup drive to the backup drive. After that, Time Machine keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. If you modify the same file multiple times per day, every day, you’ll have numerous versions of it in your backup set so that you can go back to any particular version.
So the first thing that Time Machine does when your backup drive fills up is start deleting those older versions, beginning with the oldest ones. It warns you when this starts happening and tells you what your oldest remaining backup is. In general, this approach works well, since you probably don’t need all the older versions of changed files as long as Time Machine always retains the most recent version in the backup.
Eventually, however, even this technique runs into the wall of hard drives having only so much capacity. When that happens, backups will start failing, and this notification will appear after every backup attempt.
Click the Details button in that notification to open the Time Machine pane of System Preferences, and you’ll learn more.
You have four options at this point, but two of them may not be all that helpful.
Delete Old Backups
One possible solution—albeit likely a short term one—is to delete old backups. You might be tempted to look in the Backups.backupdb folder on your Time Machine drive and delete some of the dated folders inside. Don’t. You have no idea what you’ll be deleting, and you’ll likely corrupt the entire Time Machine backup, rendering it useless.
Instead, use a utility like GrandPerspective or OmniDiskSweeper to identify folders or files that are both large and unnecessary. Navigate to one of those items in the Finder, select it, and then choose Enter Time Machine from the Time Machine menu bar icon. Once in Time Machine, click the Action menu (the gear icon) in the toolbar and choose Delete All Backups of Item.
Alas, this approach may not have much of an effect, since it’s difficult to know how many backups Time Machine has stored.
Exclude Large Folders from the Backup
Another approach that Apple mentions is excluding items from the Time Machine backup. To do this, open System Preferences > Time Machine and click the Options button. Then drag the desired file or folder into the “Exclude these items from backups” list and click Save.
The only problem with this advice is that it’s helpful only before your backup drive fills up. Time Machine won’t reclaim space used by newly excluded items that already exist in your backup.
Start Over, Either on a New Drive or after Erasing Your Existing Backup Drive
One of the great features of Time Machine is that it stores previous versions of files, as we’ve discussed. But you probably know if you’re the sort of person who needs to go back to such previous versions, or if you just use Time Machine so you can restore all your data in the event of a drive failure. If the latter is true and you don’t much care about previous versions of files, a good solution is just to start over, either on a new drive or after erasing your current drive.
Obviously, erasing your current drive means that you won’t have any Time Machine backup at all until a new one completes, which is a risk. And, of course, if that drive filled up once, it will do so again, potentially fairly quickly unless you exclude some large folders. But, if you want to go down that path, open Disk Utility, select your Time Machine drive in the sidebar, and click Erase. Then go into the Time Machine preferences again, click Select Disk, and pick your newly erased drive. You may have to select it under Backup Disks and click Remove Disk first.
Getting a new, larger backup drive and starting over with it is easier and more sensible, though more expensive. Once you’ve connected the new drive, just open the Time Machine preferences, click Select Disk, and select the new drive.
Or, rather, in an ideal world that would be true. You need to make sure that the new backup drive is formatted properly for Time Machine. Choose About This Mac from the Apple menu, and then click System Report to open the System Information app. In its sidebar, click Storage, select the drive at the top, and make sure File System is Journaled HFS+ and Partition Map Type is GPT (GUID Partition Table).
If the drive isn’t formatted correctly for Time Machine, open Disk Utility, select the drive in the sidebar, click Erase, and choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the Format pop-up menu and GUID Partition Map from the Scheme pop-up menu. Then click Erase to ready it for Time Machine use. (This will, of course, delete all the data on the drive, so make sure that’s OK first!)
Finally, make sure the permissions on the new drive are set correctly. Select the drive icon in the Finder, choose File > Get Info, click the triangle next to Sharing & Permissions, and make sure the “Ignore ownership on this volume” checkbox is unselected. You may need to click the lock icon and enter an administrator username and password.
Copy Your Existing Backup to a New, Larger Drive
What if you want to retain all those old backups? That’s entirely possible, though it will take a long time to copy. Follow these steps:
Connect both the old and the new backup drive to your Mac via Thunderbolt, USB, or Firewire.
Make sure the drive is formatted properly for Time Machine, and if it’s not, reformat it in Disk Utility as noted above. Also, verify that the permissions are set correctly, as above.
Turn off Time Machine so it doesn’t try to back up while you’re copying its data. In the Time Machine preference pane, deselect Back Up Automatically, or click the Off/On switch, depending on what version of macOS you’re running.
Drag the Backups.backupdb folder from the old drive to the new one to copy it. You may be prompted for your administrator name and password.
When it finishes, a day or two later, follow the instructions above to select the new drive in the Time Machine preferences and make sure to turn Time Machine back on.
One final note. It may be tempting to use an alternative method of copying the Backups.backupdb folder, but resist the urge. Time Machine uses special drive structures to work its magic, and only the Finder is guaranteed to copy them correctly.
Every so often, we hear from a Mac user with a seemingly impossible problem: a document window in some app is opening somewhere outside of the screen so it’s effectively invisible and they can’t work with it in any way. Just closing (with File > Close) and reopening the window, or quitting and relaunching the app, or even restarting the Mac won’t usually help because the app will reopen the window in the same off-screen position. The solution is to try various commands in the app’s Window menu, such as Tile, Move, or Zoom. (You may need to choose View > Show All Tabs to get the tab-related commands.) What’s there will vary by app, but with luck, one of them will bring your errant window back on screen.
We all want Mac laptops that can run for days on a single charge and never need their batteries serviced. Sadly, we’re always going to be disappointed. Battery and power management technologies continually improve, but those improvements are matched by more powerful processors and smaller designs with less room for battery cells. And, because physics is a harsh mistress, current lithium-ion batteries are always going to age chemically, so they hold less of a charge over time.
In macOS 10.15.5 Catalina, Apple introduced a new battery health management feature that promises to increase the effective lifespan of the batteries in recent Mac laptops. It does this by monitoring the battery’s temperature and charging patterns and, in all likelihood, reducing the maximum level to which it will charge the battery.
You see the problem. While battery health management can extend your battery’s overall lifespan, it will likely also reduce your everyday runtime before you need to charge. It’s too soon to know the full extent of this tradeoff, and we suspect that it may be impossible to determine, given that everyone uses their Macs differently.
It’s worth noting that this battery health management feature appears only for those running macOS 10.15.5 or later, and only then if the Mac in question is a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 ports. In essence, then, it’s available only on MacBook Pro models introduced in 2016 or later, and MacBook Air models introduced in 2018 and later. (The Thunderbolt 3 port requirement is merely a shorthand way for Apple to indicate “recent Mac laptops.”)
So, if you have a supported laptop and you’re running macOS 10.15.5, what should you do? We see three scenarios:
Favor lifespan: If you seldom run your laptop’s battery down to the electronic fumes because it’s easy for you to plug in whenever you need to charge, leave battery health management enabled. That will preserve the battery’s overall lifespan to the extent possible.
Favor runtime: For those who need to eke every last bit of power from their batteries, disable battery health management. You might have to replace the battery sooner, but you’ll get more runtime in everyday usage.
Switch as needed: Many people need the longest possible runtime only occasionally, such as on long flights with no under-seat power. In such situations, switch battery health management off for the flight and back on when you return to normal usage patterns.
Switching is easy, but Apple buries it deeply enough that it’s clear that the company doesn’t think most users should be disabling it regularly. Open System Preferences > Energy Saver, click the Battery Health button at the bottom, and in the dialog that appears, uncheck Battery Health Management and click OK. You’ll be prompted to make sure you know what you’re doing; click Turn Off to finish the job.
One final note. The reduced maximum capacity with battery health management enabled may have an undesirable side effect—a recommendation from the Battery Status menu’s health indicator that you need to replace your battery. To check your battery’s health, hold the Option key down and click the Battery Status icon on the menu bar. At the top of the menu, next to Condition, you’ll see either Normal or Service Recommended. (In previous versions of macOS, it could have said Replace Soon, Replace Now, or Service Battery.)
Regardless of the term, anything but Normal indicates that your battery is holding less of a charge than when it was new. If you see that message and you aren’t getting enough runtime for your needs, get the battery evaluated at an Apple-authorized service provider or Apple Store.