Use Spotlight on the Mac to Convert Units, Track Flights, Find Movies, and More!

Most Mac users probably think of searching on the Mac in relation to finding files on their drives. That may be the most common use of Apple’s Spotlight search technology, but over the years, Apple has continually enhanced Spotlight’s capabilities, turning it into a veritable Swiss Army Knife that you can invoke with a quick press of Command-Space bar or a click on the magnifying glass at the right side of the menu bar.

Here are a few of our favorite uses for Spotlight that you may not have been aware of.

Launch Apps and Open System Preference Panes

We recommend putting apps you use all the time in the Dock for quick access, but what about apps you need only occasionally? You can always root around in the Applications folder for them, but for quicker access, invoke Spotlight and type the first few characters of the app’s name (Spotlight will guess at what you want; if it’s wrong, keep typing). Then double-click the app in the results list or if it’s already selected, press Return. It’s a great way to bring up Activity Monitor to see what’s happening when your Mac feels slow. This trick also works wonders for opening panes in System Preferences.

Activity-Monitor

For apps and preference panes whose names have multiple words, you can also try typing the first letter of each word, like ug to find and open the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences.

Convert Units and Currency

Need to figure out what 72º F is in Celsius? Or precisely how many quarts are in a 2-liter bottle? Spotlight can do all sorts of conversions for you. Just start typing your starting number, like 72, and then follow it with something that indicates your starting unit, such as “F” or “degrees.” Spotlight displays the conversion instantly, so you can tell if you’ve guessed wrong about the unit (K is degrees Kelvin, so you’d use km to figure out how many miles in a 24-kilometer race).

Particularly useful is Spotlight’s capability to do real-time currency conversions, since exchange rates fluctuate. It can’t do every currency on the planet, so you’re on your own if you need to check on Burundi francs, but you’ll find all the major currencies. The trick is knowing their abbreviations: the British pound is abbreviated GBP, the Canadian dollar is CAD, the Japanese yen is JPY, and so on. To convert from US dollars into another currency add the phrase “in GBP” or the like after the dollar amount.

Currency-conversion

Perform Calculations

We’ve come a long way from thinking that calculator watches are the height of geek chic, but a calculator is still handy now and then. When you want to perform a simple calculation for which a spreadsheet would be overkill, you could use Spotlight to launch the Calculator app, but it’s faster to type your calculation into Spotlight itself. It even supports parentheses for specifying an order of operations. The screenshot is just for illustration; we mostly use this feature to add up a series of numbers.

Calculations

Look Up Words

Can’t remember the difference between “affect” and “effect”? macOS’s Dictionary app has all the help you need, but as with Calculator, Spotlight is a fast substitute. Type the word and click the entry under Definition to see the dictionary entry over on the side. If you want to look for synonyms in the thesaurus or explore other aspects of the word, press Return to open the word in the Dictionary app.

Definitions

Track Airline Flights

Need to pick your relatives up at the airport? Rather than hoping that their flight will be on time, check to see if it is, with Spotlight. You can usually type the airline name and flight number, but it’s safest if you know the airline’s two-letter code, like DL for Delta, UA for United Airlines, and so on.

Flight-tracking

Find Movie Info and Show Times

Spotlight can even prove useful at the end of the day when you’re trying to figure out if a particular movie is playing at the local cineplex. Enter the title of a current movie and click its entry in the results under Movies to see all sorts of details, including its Rotten Tomatoes rating, when and where it’s playing, and if you can instead get it on iTunes.

Movies

Stocks, Sports Scores, and Weather

Wait, there’s more! Type a ticker symbol, like AAPL, into Spotlight to see the stock’s current price and activity for the day. Enter the name of a professional sports team to see the score of the team’s latest game (assuming they’re in season) and upcoming schedule. And type “weather” and a city name to check the climate conditions for that location and get an extended forecast.

Customize Spotlight

You’ve probably noticed all sorts of other odd items in the results list. That’s because there’s no telling what old email messages or documents might also contain your search term. But you can trim the results somewhat by turning certain items off. To do this, open System Preferences > Spotlight and deselect any categories that aren’t helpful.

Spotlight-prefs

If you never knew or have forgotten how useful Spotlight can be, give it a try!

(Featured image by Nathan Andersonon Unsplash)

MacTLC: Tip of the week

The Secret Trick That Lets You Paste Phone Numbers into the Phone App

Most iOS apps and many Web sites make phone numbers “hot” so you can tap them to call. But it’s not uncommon to run across a number that’s formatted oddly or broken across a line of text such that it can’t be recognized. Just because iOS can’t recognize it doesn’t mean you have to memorize the number temporarily or flip back and forth to the Phone app to type it in it. Here’s a workaround. Double-tap the start of the phone number to select it, and then drag the rightmost blue handle to extend the selection to the entire number. Tap Copy in the popover that appears to copy it. Then switch to the Phone app, tap Keypad at the bottom, and then tap in the blank white area at the top where typed numbers would appear. When a Paste button appears, tap it, and if the Phone app recognizes the number correctly, tap the green Call button to place the call.

Paste-phone-numbers

 

(Featured image by Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels)

Did You Know You Can Make a Video of Anything on Your iPhone or iPad Screen?

You know how to use the Camera app on your iPhone or iPad to take a video, but did you know that you can also record a video of what happens on the screen of your device? That’s useful if you’re trying to explain the steps of some technical process to a friend or show a tech support rep what’s going wrong in an app or Web site. You could also use a screen recording to copy a video from Facebook, for instance, that you want to send to a social media–averse friend.

First, to get set up, go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls and tap the green + button next to Screen Recording to add it to the list of controls that appear in Control Center. Drag it in the list to rearrange where its round Record button will show up in Control Center. Here’s a screen recording showing those steps:

Screen-Recording

Making your first screen recording is simple. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Control Center. (Swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen, or, if you’re using an iPhone X or later, or an iPad running iOS 12, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen.)
  2. Press deeply on the Screen Recording button to open a menu. If you want to record your voice via the microphone as well, tap the Microphone button to turn it on.Screen-Recording-settings
  3. Tap Start Recording, and then wait for the 3-second countdown.
  4. Perform the actions that you want to be recorded.
  5. To stop the recording, either enter Control Center again and tap the red Record button or tap the red status icon at the upper left of the screen and tap Stop. A notification appears, telling you that your screen recording

Screen-Recording-stopping

In fact, if you want to keep your options for the destination app and microphone at their current settings, making a screen recording is even easier:

  1. Open Control Center.
  2. Tap the Record button instead of pressing deeply.
  3. Perform your actions.
  4. Stop the recording via Control Center or the red status bar.

Told you it was simple. But we bet you have questions, so let’s provide some answers.

Where did my screen recording go?

As the notification informs you, screen recordings end up in the Photos app, just like any other photo or video. You’ll see them both in the Photos view and in Albums > Media Types > Videos.

What are Messenger and Skype doing in the screenshot earlier?

Instead of recording your screen to a video file, you can instead broadcast it to a Facebook Messenger or Skype chat. That might be useful for a quick show-and-tell while having a conversation.

Can I edit the screen recording?

Yes, although the Photos app limits you to trimming frames from the start and end of the video (which actually creates a new video with your selection rather than editing the original). For more significant editing, tap the ••• button in the Photos edit interface and send the video to iMovie.

Is there any way to show my taps and drags in the screen recording?

Yes, but it’s not easy. There’s a trick that relies on iOS’s Accessibility features, but it’s way too clumsy and leaves the Assistive Touch button on the screen the entire time. A better approach would be to use a dedicated app like ScreenFlow(which is what we used above) to insert circles where your fingers touch down, but that’s worthwhile only for videos where you need higher production values.

For the most part, though, the point of screen recordings is not to make the perfect movie—it’s to create and share a video of something that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to convey.

(Featured image by Lisa Fotios from Pexels)

Buy Quality Cables to Avoid Possible Device Damage or Even Fires

Apple’s prices for Lightning, USB-C, and Thunderbolt 3 cables often seem high—$19 for a USB-C to Lightning cableor $29 if you want a 2-meter version? Unfortunately, when it comes to cables, you often get what you pay for. Happily, other reputable hardware manufacturers like Ankerand Belkinmake quality cables and often charge less than Apple.

Anker-page

Stay away from the bargain basement prices from no-name Chinese manufacturers, and if you see a supposedly genuine Apple cable selling for a too-good-to-be-true price, consider the possibility that it’s counterfeit. Apple has even created a detailed page that explains how to identify counterfeit or uncertified Lightning accessories.

counterfeit-cables

The problem with cheap cables is not just that they might break or wear out sooner, but that many modern cables carry power as well as data. When there’s sufficient juice flowing down those tiny wires, a short-circuit can fry hardware or in the worst cases, generate sparks, smoke, or even fire. Don’t misunderstand—fires aren’t likely, but over the years, there have been numerous headlines about fires caused by charging iPhonesand Android smartphones. In fact, Target just recalled 90,000 Lightning to USB cablesafter 14 reports of the cables smoking, sparking, and igniting.

When it comes to damaging hardware, USB-C was a problem early on but is less so now, thanks to the efforts of Google engineer Benson Leung in 2015 and 2016. After a bad USB-C cable fried his Chromebook, he embarked on a one-man crusade to identify which USB-C cables were good and which were bad. He has moved on from that now, but in part due to his efforts, Amazon started prohibiting listings of USB-C cables and adapters that weren’t compliant with the USB-C specs. You might still run across bad cables that Amazon hasn’t yet identified, or dodgy cables sold through other retailers, but the danger is lower than it used to be, particularly with cables from name brands.

Lightning cables are incredibly common these days—you can buy them in gas stations and drugstores—and as with USB-C cables, you’ll do best if you stick with cables from brand name companies. You’ll pay more, but do you really trust electronics sold next to Twinkies and Slim Jims? It might be worth buying one in a pinch, but don’t rely on it.

Of course, even the best cables will fray and fail if you mistreat them. Follow this advice to ensure a long life for even heavily used cables:

  • Don’t create sharp bends in the cable, especially near the connector. Sharp bends can eventually break the insulation and reveal the wires inside.
  • When unplugging your device, pull from the plug instead of further down on the cord. That avoids stress near the connector.pulling-from-end
  • When coiling your cables, avoid wrapping them tightly around something that’s not round. A tight wrap can cause kinks that will degrade the wires inside.
  • Don’t put heavy objects on cables, or sandwich them between a desk and the wall. Anything that compresses the cable can cause damage.
  • iPhones may be fairly water resistant these days, but try to keep both the Lighting port and the cable’s pins clean and away from liquids because crud or a droplet could cause a short circuit. USB-C cables are less susceptible to such problems because of their metal jackets, but it’s still worth being careful.
  • If a cable’s insulation ever breaks so you can see the wires inside, wrap it with electrical tape right away, and replace it as soon as you can.fraying-cable

 

In the end, the advice is pretty simple. Spend a little more on quality products from reputable manufacturers so you don’t have to worry about your $1000 iPhone XS being damaged by a $3 counterfeit Lightning cable.

(Featured image by Matthias Zomer from Pexels)

Apple Issues Voluntary Recall for Certain 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro Units

Heads up! If you’re using an older 15-inch MacBook Pro—the version with lots of ports that predates the current Thunderbolt 3 models—Apple has started a recall program to replace batteries that could explode and catch on fire. (We’re not kidding.) The affected MacBook Pro models were sold primarily between September 2015 and February 2017. To find out if your 15-inch MacBook Pro is affected, enter its serial number into Apple’s recall page. If it is included in the recall, shut it down and stop using it immediately! Contact Apple for a free battery replacement, and if you need any assistance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

(Image courtesy of Apple)

Have a Recent Apple Laptop? Here’s What You Need to Know about the Butterfly Keyboard

When Apple introduced the 12-inch MacBook in April 2015, the machine was the thinnest Mac ever, with a tapered design that starts at a mere 3.5 mm and grows only to 13.1 mm. A change from previous laptop models that made such an incredibly thin design possible was a new keyboard that swapped a scissor-style switch under each key for a new “butterfly mechanism” that’s 40 percent thinner.

In October 2016, Apple started using a second generation of the so-called “butterfly” keyboard in the MacBook Pro line. Then, in July 2018, Apple updated the keyboard to a third-generation design that added a thin silicone membrane under each key to protect from dust and other foreign objects. That third-generation keyboard made its way into the MacBook Air released in October 2018. Then, in May 2019, Apple once again updated the keyboard in the latest models of the MacBook Pro, telling journalists that the fourth-generation design has a “materials change” in the mechanism.

Why has Apple kept tinkering with the butterfly keyboard? Put frankly, because it has had problems. Although there are no independent estimates of what percentage of Macs equipped with butterfly keyboards are afflicted, many users have complained about keys sticking or feeling crunchy, keys failing to fire at all (so no letter is typed when the key is pressed), and keys repeating (so multiple letters are typed per keypress).

In fact, in June 2018, just before the third-generation design appeared in the MacBook Pro, Apple acknowledged that “a small percentage” of first- and second-generation butterfly keyboards were affected and launched a repair program to fix them for free, even if they were out of warranty. (The fact that a class-action suit surrounding the butterfly keyboards was filed against Apple in May 2018 might have been related.)

Alas, the silicone membrane didn’t resolve all the issues, and after the E and R keys on her MacBook Pro failed, influential tech journalist Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal wrote a hilarious column entitled “Appl Still Hasn’t Fixd Its MacBook Kyboad Problm,” complete with interactive switches so you could read it with or without the various missing and duplicated letters. Plus, a repair technician tore down a MacBook Pro keyboardto show why he didn’t think dust was an issue. Apple apologized to the Wall Street Journal, saying:

We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry. The vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard.

So when Apple released the fourth-generation butterfly keyboard with the current MacBook Pro models, the company also extended the Keyboard Service Program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Proto cover the third-generation keyboards. The repair program lists the exact models that are covered, but it basically comes down to any 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air models released in late 2018, and MacBook Pro models starting in 2016 and up to 2019.

What’s the practical upshot of all this for you?

  • If you have a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro with one of these butterfly keyboards, and it’s working properly, that’s great! Do nothing—hopefully it will keep tip, tap, typing away.
  • If you have one of those Macs and are having problems, contact Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for a repair. Before you hand over any Mac for repair, make sure you have at least one and preferably two backups of your data, since Apple sometimes replaces storage devices while doing seemingly unrelated repairs.
  • If you already paid Apple to have your butterfly keyboard repaired, contact Apple to request a refund.

It’s too soon to know if the fourth-generation butterfly keyboard will resolve all the complaints, but whenever we’re not typing, our fingers are crossed!

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Here’s What’s Coming from Apple in 2019

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on June 3rd, the company unveiled the next versions of all its operating systems—macOS 10.15 Catalina, iOS 13 (and a new iPadOS), watchOS 6, and tvOS 13–along with the much-anticipated new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR. 

Nothing that was announced will ship until later this year—probably September—but we wanted to give you a quick overview of what’s coming down the pike.

macOS 10.15 Catalina

With macOS 10.15, which Apple is calling “Catalina,” the company is working to bring macOS and iOS ever closer while preserving what makes the Mac special. 

For instance, Catalina replaces the increasingly overloaded iTunes with three new apps that mimic those in iOS: Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV. Reminders, Notes, and Photos also see significant enhancements that are mirrored on the iOS side, and a new Find My app on both platforms combines the capabilities of Find My iPhone and Find My Friends. Apple is even bringing Screen Time from iOS to the Mac to help you track and control your usage—and that of your kids—across all your Apple devices.

Some of these apps exist on the Mac thanks to Project Catalyst, an Apple technology that makes it easy for developers to convert iOS apps to the Mac. Apple used Catalyst internally last year to bring Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos to macOS 10.14 Mojave. This year, Apple is letting third-party developers use Catalyst, so once Catalina ships, we’ll see a flowering of new Mac apps coming over from iOS.

Another new technology, Sidecar, lets you use an iPad as a second screen for a Mac, either wired or wirelessly. Sidecar even enables you to use the iPad and Apple Pencil as a graphics tablet with apps that support such an input method. Two other new features will let you use a Sidecar-connected iPad to mark up any PDF or insert a sketch into a Mac document.

Catalina promises many more features, including some that will increase macOS security and others that will make the Mac much easier to use for people with disabilities. For instance, the new Voice Control capability lets you run a Mac (or an iOS device) entirely with your voice—it’s amazing.

If you’re running Mojave now, you’ll be able to run Catalina too since the system requirements remain the same.

iOS 13

With iOS 13, Apple appears to be focusing once again on performance and refinements. The company claimed we’ll see faster Face ID recognition, smaller app downloads and updates, and quicker app launches.

The most apparent new feature will be Dark Mode, which Apple is bringing over from Mojave. It displays light text on a dark background, which can be welcome when using an iOS device in a dark room without bothering others. It also may increase battery life on OLED-based iPhones like the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max. But keep in mind that research shows the human eye and brain prefer dark text on light backgrounds, so you may read more slowly and with less recall in Dark Mode.

Along with the apps mentioned previously that also improve in iOS, Apple said it has rebuilt Maps and its underlying database from the ground up, so you’ll see far more detailed maps, and you can zoom in for a street-level photographic view called Look Around. 

Camera and Photos received attention as well, giving you faster access to effects and letting you apply effects to videos as well. You can even crop and rotate videos taken in the wrong orientation—finally!

Other improvements include a new Sign In with Apple option for signing in to apps using your Apple ID, full text formatting in Mail, shared folders in Notes, SMB sharing in Files, iCloud Drive folder sharing, and support for USB thumb drives.

In terms of system requirements, iOS 13 drops support for some older devices, leaving the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, and SE as the oldest iPhones supported, along with just the newest iPod touch. 

iPadOS

Joining Apple’s other operating systems this year is iPadOS, a superset of iOS 13 that provides additional iPad-only features. In some ways, it’s nothing new, since the iPad has always had unique features, but it shows how Apple wants to differentiate the iPad from the iPhone.

In iPadOS, the Home screen holds more icons in a tighter grid, and you can pin the Today View widgets on the side of the screen. Safari will be able to support complex Web apps like Google Docs, Squarespace, and WordPress, and it gains a download manager that lets you download files into the Files app.

Apple enhanced iPad multitasking so you can switch between apps in a Slide Over view, open multiple windows from the same app in Split View, and use App Exposé to navigate among your app combinations. Plus, text editing improves significantly, with direct access to the cursor and easier text selection, as well as new three-finger gestures for cut, copy, paste, and undo. The iPad even gets full-featured font management, and you’ll be able to buy fonts from the App Store.

iPadOS won’t work on many older iPad models, though it is compatible with all iPad Pro models, the fifth- and sixth-generation iPad, the iPad mini 4 and fifth-generation iPad mini, and the iPad Air 2 and third-generation iPad Air.

watchOS 6

With watchOS 6, Apple is working hard on health and fitness capabilities for the Apple Watch. The company has added a Noise app that can warn you when sounds approach dangerous levels and a Cycle Tracking app that helps women monitor their periods and predict windows of optimal fertility. And, the Activity app has picked up trending features so you can see how you’re doing across time in a number of health metrics.

Apple has also untethered the Apple Watch from the iPhone to an extent, allowing developers to create standalone watch apps that don’t require a companion iPhone app and opening an App Store for such apps that you can browse and search from your wrist.

Other new watchOS 6 apps include Audiobooks, Calculator, and Voice Memos. Plus, once you upgrade to watchOS 6, you’ll be able to choose from more faces and additional complications.

As with watchOS 5, watchOS 6 will work on all Apple Watch models other than the original unit, but not all features are available on all models.

tvOS 13

The big news for tvOS 13 is that it finally gets multi-user support, so everyone in a household will be able to have their own personalized experience. (Speaking of which, the HomePod will also support multiple users with iOS 13.) 

Apple has redesigned the tvOS Home screen to show previews, added a slide-in Control Center like in iOS and watchOS, and updated the Music app to show lyrics in sync with the currently playing song. The screensaver also goes under the ocean so your cat can be entertained by all the fish.

Finally, in a move that will significantly enhance the forthcoming Apple Arcade game subscription service, both tvOS and iOS will support the Xbox One S and PlayStation DualShock 4 game controllers.

Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR

Although the Worldwide Developer Conference is mostly about Apple’s operating systems, the company took advantage of the keynote to show off the completely redesigned Mac Proand its companion screen, the Pro Display XDR. The technical specs of both are astonishing—Apple has done what looks like a fabulous job of designing the most modular, flexible, and powerful Mac ever, combined with a display that competes against reference monitors costing tens of thousands of dollars.

The Mac Pro will rely on Intel Xeon W processors with 8 to 28 cores, and you’ll be able to configure it with up to 1.5 TB (that’s terabytes!) of RAM. It has eight PCI Express expansion slots, into which you can install MPX modules that contain up to four AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards for massive number crunching performance. Another slot can hold Apple’s new Afterburner accelerator card for ProRes and ProRes RAW video acceleration, and a half-length slot contains Apple’s I/O card with two USB-3 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and to 10 Gb Ethernet ports; there are two more Thunderbolt 3 ports on the top of the case. Storage starts at 256 GB of SSD and goes up to 4 TB.

All this fits into a stainless steel frame with an aluminum case that lifts off to provide access to all sides of the Mac Pro. It has a massive 1.4-kilowatt power supply and relies on three fans and a blower to keep the unit cool. It even has handles on the top and optional wheels in case you need to move it around regularly.

Accompanying the Mac Pro will be Apple’s first monitor in years, the Pro Display XDR. It’s a 32-inch 6K screen that supports P3 wide and 10-bit colorthat can display more than 1 billion colors accurately. It’s also incredibly bright and can sustain 1000 nits of full-screen brightness or peak at up to 1600 nits.

If your eyes glazed over reading those specs, this new hardware isn’t for you. Apple is aiming it at high-end professionals, the sort of people who happily spend many thousands of dollars on new hardware to enable faster video editing, data processing, or other performance-intensive tasks. The base-level Mac Pro will start at $6000, and the Pro Display adds another $5000. Even the Pro Stand (which provides tilt and height adjustment, plus rotates to portrait orientation) for the Pro Display costs $1000, so a tricked-out Mac Pro setup could easily exceed $20,000. So no, this is not a Mac for “the rest of us,” but it’s great to see Apple ensuring that the most demanding Mac users can stay on the platform.

(All images courtesy of Apple)

MacTLC: Tip of the week

Beware Microsoft Office 365 Phishing Attacks!

We’re seeing an uptick in email phishing attacks purporting to come from Microsoft about Office 365. They’re quite convincing messages that tell users that their credit card payment has failed, that an account needs renewing, or that a password needs to be confirmed. Needless to say, they’re all complete scams, and clicking a link in them takes you to a malicious Web page that will try to steal your password or credit card details. As we noted in “Gone Phishing: Five Signs That Identify Scam Email Messages,” large companies neversend email asking you to click a link in order to log in to your account, update your credit card information, or the like. Hover over links to see where they go before clicking anything, and stay safe out there!

Office-365-phishing

Need to Merge Photos Libraries? Here Are Your Options

Photos makes it easy to create and switch between libraries. That’s good when photos need to be kept completely separate. For instance, a real estate agent might want to keep personal photos separate from house photos taken for work. But too much separation is annoying—you have to keep switching between libraries, and it’s easy to import new photos into the wrong one.

If you struggle with multiple Photos libraries, never fear—you can merge them. Unfortunately, the process is slow, can require a lot of disk space, and may result in the loss of some metadata. You have three options: merging through iCloud Photos, using the PowerPhotos utility, and merging by exporting and importing. Each has pros and cons.

Merge through iCloud Photos

Apple’s iCloud Photos service offers the best solution for merging libraries. The trick is that whenever you designate a library as your System Photo Library, Photos automatically uploads all images that aren’t already present, adding them to the photos already in iCloud Photos. It also retains all the metadata surrounding your photos—titles, keywords, albums, facial recognition, projects, and more.

On the downside, using iCloud Photos almost certainly won’t be free unless you have so few photos that the combined library will fit within the free 5 GB of iCloud space Apple gives everyone. Almost everyone will have to pay for additional storage space($0.99 per month for 50 GB, $2.99 for 200 GB, or $9.99 for 2 TB) for at least the month in which you’re doing the merge. iCloud Photos is a good service, so it’s likely worth paying for anyway.

More problematic is that the iCloud Photos way of merging will be very slow. If you haven’t already started using it, it could take a week or more to upload many thousands of photos. Plus, it will probably download the entire cloud-based collection of photos to each library whose photos you want to merge, so you may need a lot of local disk space too.

If you haven’t previously used iCloud Photos, go to System Preferences > iCloud and click the Options button next to Photo. In the dialog, select iCloud Photos.

merge-Photos-iCloud-Photos

Now, starting with the smallest Photos library and working up in size, follow these steps for each library you want to merge:

  1. Double-click the Photos library to open it.
  2. In Photos > Preferences > General, click Use as System Photo Library. (If it’s dimmed out, that library is already set as the System Photo Library.)

merge-Photos-System-Library

 

3.  Wait for photos to upload. Scroll to the bottom of the Photos view to see the progress. A Pause link will appear there during uploading—click it if you need to keep Photos from overwhelming your Internet connection. Once the photos have all uploaded, go back to Step 1 with your next Photos library.

When you’re done, the last Photos library becomes the one you’ll keep, and you can delete the others. Needless to say, make sure you have good backups first!

Merge with PowerPhotos

The $30 PowerPhotosfrom Fat Cat Software provides a variety of extra capabilities when working with Photos. It helps you to create and manage multiple libraries, copy photos between libraries, find duplicates, and—most important for this topic—merge libraries.

Because PowerPhotos is working entirely on your Mac’s drive, it’s fast and it doesn’t require huge amounts of extra disk space. Unfortunately, unlike the iCloud Photos approach, which brings in both originals and any edits to those photos, PowerPhotos can import only your original photos or the versions that you’ve edited, not both. Plus, it can’t merge facial recognition data, smart albums, or print projects.

PowerPhotos provides an actual interface for merging too—choose Library > Merge Libraries to start.

merge-Photos-PowerPhotos

In the window that appears, you have four tasks:

  1. Choose source libraries. You aren’t limited to merging just two libraries; you can pick multiple sources.
  2. Choose the destination library. This is the library you want to receive all the photos. If you want, you can create a new one.
  3. Configure duplicate handling. PowerPhotos can import just one of several copies of duplicate photos, or you can bring in all the duplicates if that’s important.
  4. Choose options. PowerPhotos can merge album contents, create an album from each source library, and create a backup before merging. Most important, though, is the choice of whether to merge your original photos or the edited versions.

Merge by Exporting and Importing

This final option is conceptually simple. You export all the photos from one library and then import them into another. It’s even what Apple recommends. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s free, and it will be faster than the iCloud Photos approach. It could also be useful if you want to copy a subset of photos between libraries, rather than merging all photos.

However, as with PowerPhotos, you have to choose between original and edited photos, and you’ll need a lot of extra disk space. Even worse, you’ll lose even more metadata, including albums, faces, and print projects. And if you export as JPEG, your photos may also suffer a slight quality drop as they’re recompressed.

For those who want to use this approach, Apple provides detailed instructions. In essence, you’ll click Photos in the sidebar to see everything, and then choose Edit > Select All. Then you’ll choose File > Export and either Export XPhotos (to get the edited versions of images) or Export Unmodified Original for XPhotos (to get the original images). Once everything has exported, you’ll switch libraries in Photos and then drag the folder of exported images back into Photos to import it.

Our nod goes to the iCloud Photos technique, but PowerPhotos is a fine utility for those who aren’t perturbed by its limitations. Of course, don’t start any merging without making backups first, and if you need help, don’t hesitate to call us.

 

What’s the Deal with AMBER and Other Emergency Alerts on Your iPhone?

Have you ever gotten an emergency alert on your iPhone, telling you about an abducted child or public safety emergency? That’s the Wireless Emergency Alerts(WEA) system, at least in the United States, although some other countries have similar systems.

The WEA system enables authorized national, state, and local government authorities to send alerts about public safety emergencies to mobile devices in the affected area. Also included in the WEA system are AMBER Alerts designed to solicit public information when law enforcement is searching for a missing child. Some US states also broadcast Silver Alerts about missing adults, particularly senior citizens with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other mental disabilities. The alerts are always meant to be useful, either to you or to law enforcement working on a case.

Silver-Alert

Unfortunately, the alerts aren’t always helpful or well targeted. Worse, they break through the Do Not Disturb cone of silence, and there’s no way to change their tones. You might not appreciate being woken up at 2 AM to be told to look for a white Ford that’s potentially associated with a missing child. Plus, although the AMBER Alerts are generally popular with the public, research suggests that they’re largely ineffective.

More concerningly, the loud noise that accompanies the alerts can be dangerous, either to your hearing if you’re wearing earbuds when the alert comes through, or to your life if you overreact while driving.

In iOS 12 in the US, you’ll see three categories of government alerts at the bottom of Settings > Notifications: AMBER Alerts, Emergency Alerts, and Public Safety Alerts.

Alert-switches

In most countries, Apple lets you turn off all three categories, but you could still receive so-called “Presidential Alerts,” which are meant to reach everyone in the country during a national emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the WEA system, tested the Presidential Alert system for the first time in October 2018.

Presidential-Alert

What should you do? It’s entirely up to you, of course, but in most situations, it’s probably best to leave all three alert types enabled. If you find yourself being annoyed by repeated AMBER Alerts or Silver Alerts, particularly if you’re unlikely to be in a location where you could be helpful, you might want to toggle the AMBER Alerts switch off. But the Emergency and Public Safety alerts could be essential, especially if you’re in an area prone to hurricanes or tornadoes.

If you’ve already disabled the alerts because of poor targeting—being notified of something of concern only to people hundreds of miles away is just an interruption—you might consider turning them back on later this year, since the FCC requires carriers to improve the geo-targeting starting November 30th, 2019.