We all have things we do regularly on our iPhones, whether it’s checking the weather, searching Google, or invoking the magnifier. Apple has long provided ways of making your most common actions easier to access. You might put an app on your Dock, open Control Center, or take advantage of the triple-press Accessibility shortcut. With iOS 14, Apple has opened up a new and customizable way of triggering actions: Back Tap.
With a double or triple tap on the back of any iPhone 8 or newer running iOS 14, you can invoke any one of a variety of actions, including custom Shortcuts. Sorry, Back Tap isn’t available in iPadOS 14.
Enabling Back Tap is easy, although you might not stumble upon it on your own. That’s because it’s technically an accessibility feature for those who have trouble interacting with the iPhone physically. But just as curb cuts help both those in wheelchairs and stroller-pushing parents, the Back Tap feature is a boon for everyone.
Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap (it’s way down at the bottom), where you can attach actions to both double tap and a triple tap.
Apple provides a broad set of actions, but most of them are focused on helping people who can’t use other iPhone gestures. So yes, you could make a double tap open Spotlight for searching, but unless that’s somehow a lot easier than swiping down on the Home screen, it’s not worth one of your two triggers. Actions fall into four categories:
System: Most of the System choices mimic easy Home screen gestures or button presses. Most interesting are Mute, which toggles the ringer volume without forcing you to press the Volume Down button repeatedly, and Screenshot, which takes a picture of your screen without making you press two buttons at once.
Accessibility: For those who need these Accessibility options, having them easily accessible via Back Tap will be welcome. The most compelling actions for the general public are Magnifier, Speak Screen, and Voice Control. (Voice Control provides much more capable dictation than Siri.)
Scroll Gestures: These options scroll a vertically oriented page or screen. Sadly, they don’t work for horizontally driven page flipping in book reading apps like Libby.
Shortcuts: Here’s where Back Tap becomes ultimately useful, at least if you can find or build the necessary shortcuts. Anything Shortcuts can do, you can invoke with a double or triple tap.
Wait, what’s Shortcuts? It’s an automation app that Apple includes with every iPhone. With it, you can chain together multiple actions derived from iOS capabilities or provided by your apps to create custom shortcuts. Other systems call similar collections of commands macros or automations or workflows.
Explaining how to build your own shortcuts is a topic for another day, but you can also download sample shortcuts from Apple’s gallery, both to see how it’s done and to use them. For instance, if you tap the Gallery button in Shortcuts ➊, tap Starter Shortcuts ➋, tap Take a Break ➌, and tap Add Shortcut ➍, you’ll copy the Take a Break shortcut to My Shortcuts. Then you can assign a double tap in Back Tap to invoke Take a Break, which sets an alarm for a specified number of minutes and turns on Do Not Disturb until the alarm goes off.
If you want to learn more about Shortcuts right away, check out Take Control of Shortcuts, a 122-page ebook by Rosemary Orchard.
Give it a try! Back Tap might turn out to be the iOS 14 feature you use more frequently than any other.
For those who work in organizations, regardless of size, you know how much effort is involved with coordinating a group’s technology. It can take quite some time to set up a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone with all the right apps, settings, and logins. And that’s just to get started—on an everyday basis, maintaining solid security practices is essential, and support requests are inevitable.
The solution to all this is MDM, or mobile device management, which is a way of centrally administering computers, tablets, and smartphones to simplify setup and ensure peace of mind for both employers and employees. Apple strongly encourages the use of MDM; the company continually enhances the core capabilities that MDM systems expose for IT administrators. If the benefits we outline here interest you, contact us to talk about your needs.
Benefits to the Organization
MDM is a big win for organizations, including businesses, non-profits, schools, government agencies, and more. It’s just too hard—and too insecure—to deal with every device individually. With MDM, organizations benefit in the following ways.
Quick, consistent setup: With MDM, organizations can create profiles—collections of settings and account information—and install them automatically as part of a deployment strategy. In the best case, users have to do little more than power on the device and sign in; it automatically checks with the MDM server and downloads the necessary information. MDM solutions also let organizations install and configure approved sets of apps to ensure that every employee has the tools they need at their fingertips.
Improved security: A great deal of digital security comes down to policies: requiring a strong passcode, ensuring secure settings for things like screensavers, requiring that backups be encrypted, and more. All these options are easily set and enforced by MDM profiles. Plus, MDM can separate personal and business accounts and data and even ensure encryption of on-device data. And perhaps most important, MDM enables remote locating, locking, and wiping of lost devices.
Lower costs: Although MDM solutions usually come with a monthly cost, research shows that organizations save money overall in two main ways. Initially, MDM reduces setup costs by replacing an hour or two of hands-on effort with remotely pushed deployment. Over time, the consistency of setup and app availability dramatically reduces ongoing support costs.
Asset tracking: An MDM solution enables information-rich asset tracking, making it easy for an organization to see exactly what devices it owns, which employees have them, and where they’re located. Such a system enables more efficient use of existing resources and easier lifecycle management.
Benefits to the User
Although it might seem as though MDM is primarily aimed at helping and protecting the organization, individual users benefit as well.
Personal/work separation: MDM makes it possible to separate personal and work accounts and data, which can eliminate the need to carry both personal and work phones at all times. In some cases, MDM can also make it so employees can securely use their own devices—which might be newer or more powerful—with organizational data and accounts.
Faster, easier setup: Most people don’t look forward to setting up and configuring devices, particularly when typing in usernames and passwords for numerous accounts. MDM does much of that, so employees can focus on their actual jobs.
Peace of mind: With the security policies enforced by MDM, users can have confidence that they haven’t inadvertently done anything to expose confidential data. Plus, mistakes happen, and devices are lost or stolen. An MDM solution might be able to locate a lost device, and if not, it can ensure that the device is both worthless and unable to reveal anything damaging.
As helpful as MDM is once your organization is using it, we won’t pretend that choosing and setting up an MDM solution is trivial. Unless you have significant IT staff and resources, it makes sense to work with people who already have considerable MDM experience. We do, and we’d be happy to discuss a custom approach that fits your needs.
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.
Harvest season is here again, and Apple has deemed iOS 14 (along with iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14) ready for the picking. Although the betas have been pretty stable and no major problems have appeared in the first few days, we still recommend waiting at least a few weeks before installing via Settings > General > Software Update. In large part, that’s because many developers were taken by surprise by Apple’s release, so they’re working hard to release updates that work properly with iOS 14 and take advantage of its new features.
When you decide to take the leap and install—be sure to make a backup first, just in case—here are four features we recommend you check out right away.
If you’re like us, your first Home screen or two are well-organized, and after that…where did all those apps come from? We find ourselves searching for little-used apps (swipe down on a Home screen) but wish we could see a list of all installed apps. With iOS 14’s new App Library, we can.
A new screen to the right of your last Home screen, the App Library collects all your apps into folders. At the top, Suggestions includes four suggested apps based on time, location, or activity, and Recently Added shows the apps you’ve downloaded lately. The rest of the folders, which, unfortunately, you can’t rename or rearrange, organize apps by category. In a folder grid, tapping a large icon opens that app, while tapping the group of four small icons in the lower-right corner opens the folder. To see an alphabetical list of every app, tap the search field at the top. You can type to narrow the list.
The App Library is tremendously useful because it contains every app and is always in the same place. That enables you to more easily find apps that you’ve removed from your Home screen. It also works well if you choose to hide entire Home screens, another new iOS 14 feature. Note that you can copy apps from the App Library to a Home screen, which can aid in creating your own organizational scheme.
You might even find that you like having just a couple of Home screens and leaving everything else in the App Library.
Home Screen Widgets
Nothing prevents you from whittling your set of Home screens down to just one, but another new iOS 14 feature might encourage you to have a few more. For some years now, apps have had widgets. Widgets are little summary interfaces accessible in Today View, which you access by swiping right on the first Home screen. In iOS 14, you can now place some of those widgets directly on a Home screen.
Widgets come in three sizes: a small square that occupies the space of four normal app icons, a horizontal rectangle that’s the size of two rows of apps, and a large square that takes up the space of four rows of apps.
To add a widget, touch and hold any empty spot on a Home screen, tap the + button in the upper-left corner, and drag the desired widget out to the Home screen, where you can continue to drag it to your desired position. When viewing the widget collection, tap a widget to see all its available sizes.
Right now, most widgets are from Apple apps, but we anticipate many developers adding widgets for their apps in the coming months. You can have as many widgets on a Home screen as will fit, and there’s no problem mixing widgets and apps within the available space. Think about what information you like to get from your iPhone, and then go nuts creating custom Home screens that show what you want at a glance.
Shrunken Siri and Phone Call Interfaces
In previous versions of iOS, when you invoked Siri, the interface completely took over the iPhone screen. It turns out there was no need for that, so in iOS 14, Apple shrunk the Siri interface so it appears at the bottom of the screen, on top of whatever app you’re using. If Siri’s response requires giving you feedback, that appears on top of the current app as well.
Plus, when you receive a phone call, instead of the call taking over the entire screen, you see a dark banner at the top of the screen with red Decline and green Accept buttons. Tap either of those buttons, or tap or swipe down the banner to reveal the full-screen call interface, where you can also tap to answer. Want to delay? Swipe up on the banner to shrink it to a button in the top-left corner of the screen.
These small changes make using Siri or answering phone calls feel much more fluid than the approach of taking over the entire screen.
Pinned Messages Conversations
We all have individuals and groups that we converse with regularly in Messages. It’s frustrating to hunt through the list of conversations to find them, so iOS 14 adds the concept of “pinned” conversations. Touch and hold on any conversation in the list to bring up a preview of the last few messages and some commands. Then tap Pin to add the conversation to the top of the Messages screen as a circular icon. From then on, tap that icon to enter the conversation quickly.
iOS 14 sports many other features as well, and we’ll be sharing more about them in future articles. Remember, it’s worth waiting a bit to install, and note that iOS 14 is compatible with the iPhone 6s or later, including the first-generation iPhone SE, and the current seventh-generation iPod touch.
We wanted to make sure that those of you who work on a Mac laptop with an external display know that you can close your laptop’s screen and keep working. Apple calls this closed-clamshell or closed-display mode. Of course, it requires that you connect an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad, via either USB or Bluetooth, and the laptop should be connected to power as well. Apple also recommends putting the Mac to sleep before disconnecting the external display. Why would you want to use closed-display mode? Mostly to conserve desk space when you have another preferred keyboard and pointing device, although it might also help graphics performance by allowing the Mac to focus on driving only the external display. There are lots of stands that hold a MacBook in a vertical orientation so it takes up less desk space.
About a year ago, Fujitsu informed owners of older models of the company’s ScanSnap scanners that it wouldn’t be updating the necessary ScanSnap Manager app to be 64-bit, effectively preventing those people from using their scanners in macOS 10.15 Catalina. Unexpectedly, Fujitsu has now reversed course, releasing ScanSnap Manager V7 with support for the previously orphaned ScanSnap S1500, S1500M, S1300, and S1100 models. Even though they’re not listed as being compatible, ScanSnap Manager V7 also reportedly works with the S300M and S510M, so if you have any older ScanSnap scanner, it’s worth trying the S1500M download.
This post from Microsoft’s leadership team details their commitment to customers during the COVID-19 crisis. It outlines how Microsoft’s top priority is the health and safety of employees, customers, partners, and communities. It also explains how Teams is available for EVERYONE and what Microsoft is doing to keep the application running smoothly.
Whether you’re working from home or just stuck at home, it can be tough to communicate with colleagues, friends, or family. Sure, there’s email, but that gets hard to manage quickly, and it can be difficult to stay focused with so much news rolling in. For friends and family, Facebook might seem to be the digital town square. However, many people avoid Facebook due to its impressive record of abusing its users’ privacy, failure to protect that user data from hackers, and exploitation by foreign governments. And it’s wildly inappropriate for most business communications.
For an alternative that doesn’t involve relying on overloaded email inboxes or handing everything about your online life over to a corporate Big Brother, consider the group messaging tool Slack, which has become popular with small and large firms, non-profits, academic departments, student project teams, and government agencies. Although it’s aimed at organizations that pay a monthly fee for every active user, Slack offers a free tier with all the features you would need to create your own online community for your workgroup, family, or friends. Everyone can join in since Slack has apps for macOS, iOS, Windows, and Android, and it can be used in any desktop Web browser.
Conceptually, Slack is similar to Apple’s Messages, in that you can communicate with others by typing short messages and sharing graphics and other files. You can even have one-on-one voice calls (group calls, screen sharing, and videoconferencing are limited to the paid plans).
What sets Slack apart from Messages, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and the like is that it lets you segment discussions into “channels,” which can either be public, such that everyone in the group can see them, or private, so only invitees can participate. Plus, you can have “direct message” conversations with one or more individuals.
The beauty of Slack channels is that they’re easy to create, and they bring together all communications relevant to a particular group, project, client, or topic. Channels help focus discussions, so those who are interested in only certain channels aren’t overwhelmed by irrelevant chatter.
For an extended family, you might create channels by branch (so your brother can ignore your in-laws’ conversations), parts of the country (so relatives who live elsewhere don’t have to see the local family members’ dinner plans), and events (like Hanukkah or a family reunion). Or, in a design team’s Slack group, you might want channels for each major client or project, along with channels for financial or human resources topics. There’s no one right answer—the goal is merely to keep discussions relevant and focused.
How do you keep up on discussions? Slack has flexible notifications, letting you choose at the top level to be notified about everything; just direct messages, mentions, and keywords; or nothing—at which point you can check in manually. You can also choose to be notified of replies to threads you’re in. Then you can override those defaults for any channel or conversation, which lets you ensure you’re notified only by people or topics that interest you. Plus, if you leave your Mac, Slack can repoint notifications to your iPhone automatically, with separate settings to make sure you aren’t overly nagged while at your kid’s track meet.
Slack provides tons of other features that can prove useful in groups of any size. You can share and comment on files of any type, which is far more effective than sending attachments around in email. You can create “posts” and get others to edit them collaboratively—a boon when trying to craft the perfect bit of text for some purpose. And you can integrate hundreds of Internet services into Slack so it can act as a single dashboard for many other apps, including the likes of the videoconferencing tool Zoom.
Getting started with Slack is fairly easy, and we recommend the following basic steps.
Create a Slack workspace. Slack provides instructions for basic setup.
Set up channels.Create a few channels to help people feel like they’re in the right place. You can always make more channels later.
Invite people in. You can invite users to your Slack during setup, but it’s better to wait until you’ve set up your channels. Make sure to use everyone’s preferred email address when inviting them.
Help people install Slack apps. For those who are tech-savvy, installing Slack’s client apps isn’t hard, but you might need to provide support for those who are less experienced.
Provide name advice. Slack lets each user set a full name and a display name, and you might want to recommend a particular format (first name only, or first name and last initial) that makes display names unique and easily understood and typed.
Help people configure notifications. Perhaps the hardest part of using Slack is getting notifications adjusted right for each person. Slack offers guides for desktop, email, and mobile notifications, along with additional help.
For additional advice on setting up and using Slack, consider Glenn Fleishman’s book Take Control of Slack, which goes beyond Slack’s help to provide real-world setup and configuration advice. We’re also happy to help provide setup and configuration advice—just get in touch.
Videoconferencing has gone mainstream. If you work in a sufficiently large organization, you probably have already been indoctrinated into a recommended solution, whether it’s the built-in videoconferencing features of Slack or Microsoft Teams, or a dedicated videoconferencing system like Zoom or Webex.
But what if you’re in a small workgroup, are a freelancer, need to communicate with members of a non-profit group, or just want to stay in touch with friends and family? There are numerous options, but here are a few free options we recommend.
One note: As with text chat, you often have to meet people where they are, rather than where you’d prefer. You might like Skype, but be flexible if someone else schedules a Zoom meeting or if you want to talk with an elderly relative who can only use FaceTime.
Since FaceTime is limited to users of Apple devices, it’s both the easiest and most limiting of your videoconferencing choices. If everyone you want to talk with is an Apple user, you’re all set. But if you’re going to include even one Windows or Android user, look elsewhere.
Setting up and using FaceTime is simple because every Apple user already has the FaceTime app, it ties into your contacts, and everyone already has the necessary iCloud account. FaceTime calls can include up to 32 people, and it’s entirely free.
To start a new call, either tap the + button (iOS) or start typing someone’s name (Mac). Or, if you’ve talked to that person or group recently, just select them in the list.
You can also start a FaceTime call from any Messages conversation by tapping the avatar icons at the top of Messages and then tapping the FaceTime button.
Adding someone to a call is easy, if hidden. On an iPhone, tap the screen to reveal the controls, then swipe up on them to reveal more, including Add Person. On the Mac, click the sidebar button to reveal the sidebar and the Add Person button.
FaceTime in iOS includes numerous effects that are popular largely with children, including Animoji that replace your face with a cartoon, video filters (try Comic Book with an Animoji head), shapes, activity stickers, Memoji stickers, and emoji stickers. Alas, you can’t switch to a virtual background as you can with Zoom.
The big thing that FaceTime lacks in comparison with other options is screen sharing, which lets you show others in the video call what you see on your screen. The closest you can come is to flip the camera on your iPhone or iPad and point it at your Mac’s screen. FaceTime also lacks recording, though you can use iOS’s Screen Recording or macOS’s QuickTime Player to do that.
Whereas Apple separates text messaging and video calling into Messages and FaceTime, Google combines those capabilities in Google Hangouts. It works in iOS and Android, and on the Web, so it can be used on any computer. Google’s Web approach means it’s easy to follow an invitation link to join a hangout on the Mac, although that’s best done in Google Chrome or Firefox, neither of which needs a plug-in. Safari does require a plug-in.
If you already have a text conversation going with one or more people, it’s easy to start a video call by clicking the video button. You can also start a video call with one person and, once you’re in the call, click the Invite People icon, click Copy Link To Share, and then send that link to people in any way you want. Every participant does need a Google account, and only ten can join a video call at once.
In comparison with the others, Google Hangouts is bare-bones. It offers no effects, virtual backgrounds, built-in recording, or other gewgaws, and the way it separates the chat in a video call from the text conversation in a hangout is confusing. But if you need to communicate with a set of people who use Hangouts regularly, it works.
Microsoft’s Skype is the granddaddy of Internet telephony apps. It’s available for free for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android, making it a good cross-platform choice. Since it uses Microsoft Live logins, it’s most easily used by those who are already deep in the Microsoft ecosystem, but you can invite someone to join a conversation as a guest without an account. Guests invited by link can even join from within Google Chrome (but not Safari) without needing the Skype app.
The easiest way to start a video call is from an existing conversation; just click the video button in a conversation. To get the link to a conversation, click the bold names at the top left of the conversation.
Skype offers extras for jazzing up the associated text chats—emoticons, stickers, and “mojis,” which are short video clips from movies. Its video calling options—for up to 50 people—are extensive. You can take a still photo of the screens in the call and share them in a gallery of images, carry on the text chat in a sidebar, and turn on “subtitles” that automatically transcribe what everyone in the call says. Skype lacks virtual backgrounds, but it can blur your background for more privacy. Screen sharing is supported, though not built-in recording.
All these options make for a somewhat convoluted interface, but Skype works well and may be the best free option overall.
In the last few months, Zoom has become the best-known entry in the videoconferencing field. It’s popular with organizations, thanks to enterprise-level features and a simple experience for joining group calls, coupled with high-quality audio and video. The main downside is that the company has been criticized for lax security and poor privacy practices.
You need a Zoom account only to host a videoconference; the people you invite don’t need to sign up. Joining a video call for the first time is easy—you merely click an invitation link, and the Web page that loads either downloads the app (on a computer) or provides a button to get it (smartphone). Subsequent connections launch the app and connect you to the meeting.
For those who don’t pay $14.99 per month for a Pro account, Zoom’s Basic account is free. With the exception of limiting calls to 40 minutes, it’s fully featured. Nothing prevents you from starting another call immediately, and there are no limits on the number of calls you can make. The Basic and Pro plans are limited to 100 participants at a time, but Pro plan subscribers can pay for more.
Along with its popular virtual backgrounds feature, which lets you upload a photo or video to put behind you in the picture (a snazzy executive office, a tropical beach, or whatever), Zoom offers a number of compelling options. It lets multiple people share screens at once, lets people display reaction emoji (handy for showing approval while staying muted), can record audio or video locally (Pro accounts can record to the cloud), and much more.
Making a Choice
If you’re videoconferencing only with Apple users, try FaceTime to start. If FaceTime doesn’t float your boat, or you need cross-platform video calls, Skype beats out Google Hangouts handily. Zoom is probably the best of the lot, though you have to decide if breaking its 40-minute limit is worth $14.99 per month. If not, fall back on Skype.
Split View on the Mac helps you focus on your work in one app—perhaps a word processor—while providing access to one other app, like a Web browser. (Make sure “Displays have separate Spaces” is selected in System Preferences > Mission Control.) Before macOS 10.15 Catalina, you had to click and hold on the green full-screen button in the upper-left corner of any window, drag that window to one side of the screen, and click a window on the other side to put them side by side. Catalina makes this easier to discover: hover over the green full-screen button briefly and then choose Tile Window to Left of Screen or Tile Window to Right of Screen before selecting a window on the other side of the screen. If you don’t want a 50-50 split, drag the black divider bar between the windows to adjust the proportions. To leave Split View, move your pointer to the top of the screen to reveal the menu bar and then click the green full-screen button.