Use This New Setting to Prevent iOS Updates from Consuming Precious Space

People whose iPhones or iPads have relatively little free space have long struggled with the fact that iOS likes to download updates so they’ll be ready for installation. “Who wants to wait for a long download?” Apple thought. Unfortunately, lots of people do. The problem is that if you don’t want to update right away, that download consumes precious gigabytes of your free space in the meantime. In iOS 13.6 and iPadOS 13.6, Apple has finally provided a setting you can disable to prevent iOS from downloading updates ahead of time. Find it in Settings > General > Software Update > Customize Automatic Updates, where you can turn off Download iOS Updates to be sure an update won’t chew up your free space. But yes, you do have to update to 13.6 to get it.

(Featured image by Julia Joppien on Unsplash)

Where Did Your Scroll Bars Go? Use This Setting to Ensure They Show

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.

(Featured image by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash)

Two Quick Tricks You Can Use with the iOS Space Bar

Sure, you know that the Space bar in the iOS virtual keyboard types a space character. But did you realize that if you tap it twice, it inserts a period? (Probably, but if not, now you do.) That’s to make it easier to provide proper punctuation, which will have the added benefit of irritating your kids when you text them. Even better, if you touch and hold the Space bar in iOS 12 or later, that invokes the trackpad mode that lets you move the insertion point around in your text. It’s way easier than previous methods of navigating in text and makes it so you can more easily edit what you write. Which, as a bonus, will also bug your kids.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Rearrange Icons on Your iPhone or iPad Home Screens More Easily

If you have lots of apps on your iPhone or iPad, rearranging their icons on your Home screens by dragging from page to page is tedious. Although the new App Library promised for iOS 14 later this year will help you find apps, rearranging them will still be a manual process. To make organizing your Home screens easier, try using the Dock as a temporary shelf. Touch and hold on any icon and then tap Edit Home Screen (or just start dragging) to start all the icons wiggling. Then, navigate to your rightmost Home screen and drag one icon off the Dock temporarily. Now, for other icons you want to move between screens, drag the icon to the Dock, swipe quickly to view the desired screen, and then drag the icon off the Dock into the position you want. When you’re done, put your original Dock icon back and swipe up (on Face ID devices) or press the Home button (on Touch ID devices) to stop the icons from wiggling.

(Featured image by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels)

Do You Know What the Scroller in a Scroll Bar Tells You?

Whenever you view a document that’s longer than will fit onscreen, a scroll bar appears (often only if you’re actively scrolling). That’s true whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Inside the scroll bar is a control called a scroller that you can drag to scroll more quickly than by swiping or using keyboard keys. But did you know its size and position are useful for orienting yourself within the page? First, the scroller position within the scroll bar reflects how far down the page you are. Second, the size of the scroller indicates what percentage of the page appears onscreen. When you see a large scroller, most of the page is showing. With a small scroller, what you see is only a portion of a longer page. Combine the size and position of the scroller, and you can tell at a glance where in a page you are, and how much is left to read.

(Featured image by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash)

Prevent Unsightly Tab Buildup in Safari on Your iPhone and iPad

Whenever you tap a link to open a Web page on your iPhone or iPad, it automatically opens a new tab. Having hundreds of tabs open won’t cause any problems but can make working with tabs clumsy. You can close all tabs—touch and hold the tab button and then tap Close All X Tabs—but you might prefer to prevent them from building up in the first place. To do that in iOS 13, navigate to Settings > Safari > Close Tabs and choose from Manually, After One Day, After One Week, or After One Month.

(Featured image by StartaĂŞ Team on Unsplash)

Use This Trick to Find a Missing App Window

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.

(Featured image by Jeff Hendricks on Unsplash)

Three Connectivity Problems Remote Workers Are Having During the Pandemic

The pandemic has forced large numbers of those who are still employed—nearly half the American workforce, by some estimates—to work from home. And while that has actually improved productivity for many people, partly due to eliminating time-consuming commutes, remote work comes with its own challenges. Here are three of the top problems we’ve been helping our clients solve. Get in touch if you’re suffering from these or other tech issues that are preventing you from working as effectively as you would in your office.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all these issues revolve around connectivity, which can make them difficult to troubleshoot. For the average user, the problem might seem to be video calls dropping out or email not working reliably, when the real culprit is an overloaded AirPort Express Wi-Fi gateway or a too-slow Internet connection.

Weak Wi-Fi

When we set up an office Wi-Fi network, we use commercial-quality gear, map out necessary coverage to avoid dead zones, and spec out the number of access points to support the number of expected devices that will be connecting. Needless to say, home Wi-Fi networks generally lack that attention to detail, and many people rely on the substandard Wi-Fi capabilities built into ISP-provided cable modems.

In the short term, you may be able to fix the problems by restarting your Wi-Fi router, updating its firmware, eliminating interference from a baby monitor or cordless phone, switching to an open Wi-Fi channel, using the 5 GHz frequency instead of 2.4 GHz, or relocating the access point to a more central location.

A more comprehensive fix often involves buying new Wi-Fi networking gear that supports the latest and fastest standards and provides broader coverage to more devices. A new Wi-Fi router such as the highly rated TP-Link Archer 7 or Archer 20 might cost $100–$200, or if you need coverage of a larger space, a mesh system like Eero or Netgear’s Orbi lets you add additional “beacons” or “satellites” to extend range without adding Ethernet cable or fussing with complex networking setups.

Slow Internet

Generally speaking, Wi-Fi networks have a lot more bandwidth than Internet connections—think of them as bigger pipes that can carry a lot more water. So if you’re frustrated by fuzzy video calls or large downloads taking forever, the problem may be with your Internet connection. Whenever you experience such problems, go to speedtest.net and compare your current download and upload speeds against what your ISP has promised.

Some solutions to poor Internet performance are simple. Most important is to make sure nothing else on your network is consuming a lot of bandwidth. For instance, get your kid to stop watching a 4K movie via Netflix when you need to have a Zoom call. The traffic from that movie will fill your pipe, leaving little room for the Zoom call’s data. It can also be worth restarting your cable modem, which may require power cycling it.

Other solutions might involve working with your ISP to check the wiring to your house—a slightly damaged cable can cause sporadic performance problems that are tricky to track down. The ISP can also tell you if your cable or DSL modem is current and working properly, and if not, a replacement might restore full speed. Or you may just have an old modem—ISPs usually wait for you to ask before swapping for a newer, better one.

Of course, all this assumes your Internet plan provides sufficient downstream and upstream bandwidth (the latter of which is necessary for high-quality audio and video calls). You may simply need to spend more money on faster speeds, which in turn may require a new modem or even new cabling.

VPN Connectivity

Generally speaking, we’re fans of virtual private networks (VPNs) because they provide traveling and homebound users secure access to servers and other network resources located behind a properly protected office network. However, with the pandemic forcing so many people to work remotely, some have found VPN access to their office servers to be slow and unreliable.

When the VPN works fine for most people, those who are having trouble can often fix the problems by reinstalling and reconfiguring their VPN software. Never underestimate the utility of a clean start.

For organizations where one person needs much more access to the server than everyone else, sending the server home with that person has helped. For a more general file access solution, others have had good luck trading the server for a cloud-based file sharing service like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. These services allow multiple members of a workgroup to access the same set of files.

People work on local copies of the files, and changes are synced back to the original (and down to all other copies) on every save. Because you’re working on a local copy of the file, there are no performance issues. On the downside, it’s possible for two people to modify the same file at the same time, causing a conflict.

To reduce the likelihood of conflicts, try establishing a policy whereby people work on a file only after moving it into a Checked Out folder and appending their initials to the filename. That way, everyone else knows they shouldn’t open the file and who has it. When that person is done, they move the file back out of the Checked Out folder and remove their initials—in essence, checking it back in.

At the end of the day, many of us are feeling our way into the best ways to stay productive while working from home. Although these issues are the most common we’ve seen, the solutions tend to be highly specific to each user’s situation. Good luck navigating these new waters, and feel free to get in touch if you need help.

(Featured image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay)


Got a Mac Laptop? Here’s What You Need to Know about Battery Health Management in Catalina

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 the just-released macOS 10.15.5 Catalina, Apple has 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

(Featured image by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash)


Approve App Authentication Requests with Your Apple Watch in Catalina

Tired of typing your admin account password whenever you try to install software or change security settings on your Mac? A feature in macOS 10.15 Catalina removes that requirement for Apple Watch owners. In System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General, select the checkbox for “Use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac.” Then, whenever an app asks for your account credentials, you can instead just double-press the side button on your Apple Watch. Of course, if you forgot to wear it or its battery has died, you can always fall back on entering your password.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)