MacTLC: Tip of the week

iCloud Services Being Wonky? Check Apple’s System Status Page

Many Apple users rely on mac.com, me.com, or icloud.com email addresses, along with plenty of other iCloud-related services. So if you can’t send or receive email, if photos aren’t transferring via iCloud Photo Library, or if some other iCloud-related service isn’t responding, the first thing to do is check Apple’s System Status page. It’s updated every minute, and if it shows that the associated Apple service is having problems, you know to sit tight until things come back up. If everything is green, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a solution—or get in touch with us.

Apple-System-Status-page

 

What Is a “Managed IT Services” Model and Why Is It Important for Your Business?

You’ve chosen Apple devices to run your business. That’s great, but are you still dealing with each of those devices individually? If you hire a new employee, do you go to the Apple Store to buy a new Mac, bring it back to the office, spend a few hours installing the right software, and then sit down with the employee to get them started with email accounts and other logins?

That self-support approach can work when your company has only a few users, but as your business grows, how much of your time can you afford to spend on IT? You might enjoy it, but it distracts you from what you need to do to make your company thrive. Sure, you might think you’re saving money by doing this work yourself instead of hiring an IT professional, but that amount may pale in comparison to the amount you could make in your primary role. There’s a better way: managed IT services with device-management software.

In essence, with managed IT services, we become part of your team, creating systems that simplify and speed up the process of onboarding new devices, monitoring their usage, ensuring their security, and providing ongoing support. Here are some of the ways managed services can help your business.

Faster and More Accurate Setup

With managed IT services and properly configured device-management software, you can order a Mac or iOS device from Apple (through an Apple Business Manager account) and when it arrives, your employee can take it out of the box, log in, and have the entire device automatically configured over the network with required apps, server settings, security policies, and more.

If you’ve spent several hours configuring devices manually, it’s magical to watch a device pick up apps and settings automatically. And it’s not just for new devices. If an employee leaves or you need to repurpose a Mac or iOS device, device-management software can automatically wipe it and set it up for its new role with minimal effort.

Increased Security

An important aspect of switching to a managed IT services model that relies on device-management software is requiring security policies. If you’ve ever worried about an employee losing a company device containing confidential data, device-management software can eliminate those concerns by automatically enabling FileVault for Macs or enforcing non-trivial passcodes on iOS devices. Lost devices can even be locked or wiped remotely from a central management console.

Also, device-management software can restrict what apps users may install, so you don’t have to worry about apps that could leak confidential information or malware that could be stealing passwords.

Proactive Monitoring

A managed IT services support model lets your users focus on their work, rather than on their Macs. Monitoring software can report if Mac hard drives start to fail, when laptop batteries start to go, if RAM is faulty, and more. It’s better to know that a drive is dying beforeyou lose data.

Watchman-Report

Monitoring software can also check on important events, making sure that backups are happening regularly, warning if a user has downloaded a potentially problematic operating system update, and making sure anti-malware software is up to date.

Proactive Maintenance

Monitoring helps identify issues early on, but perhaps the most important aspect of a managed IT services solution is how it combines proactive monitoring with proactive maintenance. It uses software and services that go beyond identifying problems to fixing them—blocking undesirable software upgrades, automatically deploying essential security updates, and removing malware—before they impact your workflow. This saves your users downtime and frustration, and lets you focus on your work rather than troubleshooting problems.

Improved Reporting

It may not be difficult to keep track of a handful of Macs and iPhones, but as your business grows, inventory can become daunting. A managed IT services solution helps you know exactly what devices you have, who is using them, and more. It can also report on installed software to make sure you’re in compliance with your software licenses.

Jamf-dashboard

Predictable Pricing

If your company pays for support on an hourly billing model, there’s no way to budget accurately for expenses, since no one can predict what will go wrong. Plus, it takes longer to investigate and resolve problems because of the time necessary to figure out the status of the device in question. Solving complex or recurring problems can get expensive in such a scenario.

With managed IT services, we instead charge a flat monthly fee based on how many devices you have. Thanks to proactive monitoring and device management, we can fix many problems before the user even notices. And if a user does need in-person support, it’s faster and easier to help them when we know exactly what device they’re using, what version of the operating system it’s using, what software they have installed, and more.

A managed IT services model isn’t for every situation, but if your business has more than a handful of Macs, iPhones, and iPads in use by your employees, it could reduce downtime, save you money, and increase security.

 

MacTLC: Tip of the week

Ignore Unsolicited Calls and Texts from Apple and Other Tech Companies

We don’t want to belabor the point, but multinational tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google will nevercall or text you personally out of the blue. So if you get a call or text purporting to be from such a company, it’s 99.9% likely to be a scam, and you should ignore it regardless of whether the caller ID seems legitimate. If you’re still worried, look up the company’s tech support phone number separately—never respond directly to such a call or tap a link in a text—and discuss the situation with the support reps. Or contact us, and we’ll talk it through with you.

Apple-text-scam

 

Winter Weather Warning: Keep Your Tech Toasty!

When it’s cold out, you can always throw on a sweater to stay warm. But your electronics are more reptilian—they can get sluggish or even fail to work in freezing weather. (No, that’s not what iPod Socks were designed to fix.) Worse, charging batteries at low temperatures or moving tech gear between extreme temperature ranges can cause damage.

There’s a difference between temperatures your devices can withstand when you’re actively using them and when they’re just being stored. Manufacturers usually publish the environmental requirements for devices, though it may take a little searching to find the details. Here are the ranges for the devices you’re most likely to care about:

  • iPhone/iPad: Operating temperatures from 32° to 95° F (0° to 35° C) and nonoperating temperatures from −4° to 113° F (−20° to 45° C)
  • MacBook (Air/Pro): Operating temperatures from 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C) and storage temperatures from −13° to 113° F (−25° to 45° C)

 

It’s easy to imagine wanting to use an iPhone in temperatures below freezing or a MacBook outdoors on a crisp autumn day. And in fact, they probably won’t stop working entirely. After all, putting your iPhone in your pocket next to your body will keep it warmer than the outside air, and it will take a while to cool down. But you shouldn’t be surprised by crashes, shutdowns, or other unusual behavior if you do use your device below its recommended operating temperature for a while.

Batteries Hate Working in the Cold

The main problem is that batteries prefer to be used in moderate temperatures (they hate heat even more than cold). When batteries get cold, they appear to discharge more quickly. That’s because the chemical reactions that generate electricity proceed more slowly at lower temperatures, and thus produce less current. The weak discharge fools the device’s power management circuitry into thinking that the battery is nearly dead; hence the shutdowns. Once your device has had a chance to warm up, the battery should revive.

However, don’t charge batteries when it’s very cold, as in −4° F (−20° C). Doing so can cause plating of the graphite anode in the battery, which will reduce battery performance.

Other Technologies That Dislike Cold

Two other standard bits of technology don’t like operating in the cold either: hard drives and LCD screens.

Hard drives aren’t nearly as common as they used to be, particularly in laptops that are likely to be left outside in cold cars. Most have a minimum operating temperature of 32° F (0° C), and you’re unlikely to want to use a laptop in temperatures lower than that. In very cold temperatures, the lubricant inside the drive can become too viscous to allow the motor to spin up the platters. Although solid-state drives have no moving parts, most are rated for the same minimum operating temperature, oddly enough.

LCD screens can also have problems. Extreme cold can slow their response times, leading to slow or jerky screen drawing. OLED displays, such as in the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, withstand cold significantly better—some OLED displays are rated for temperatures as low as −40º (which—trivia tip!—is the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius).

Avoid Temperature Swings

Regardless of whether you want to use your devices in cold weather, you’ll extend their lifespans if you don’t regularly expose them to significant temperature swings. There are two reasons for this: condensation and thermal expansion.

Those who wear glasses know that when you come into a warm house from the cold, your glasses immediately fog up with condensation. That’s true even though most houses are quite dry in the winter. Wait a few minutes and the condensation evaporates back into the air. The same can happen with any electronic device that’s open to the air, and moisture inside electronics is never good. It’s thus best to let electronics warm up slowly (and in their cases or boxes) to reduce the impact of condensation.

Finally, as you remember from high school science, objects expand when heated and contract when cooled. The amount they expand and contract may be very small, but the tolerances inside electronics are often extremely tight, and even the tiniest changes can cause mechanical failures, particularly with repeated cycles of expanding and contracting. Try to avoid subjecting devices to significant temperature swings on a regular basis or you may find yourself replacing them more frequently than you’d like.

In the end, our advice is to keep your gear warm whenever possible, and if you must use it in temperatures below freezing, be aware that battery life and screen responsiveness may be reduced.

MacTLC: Tip of the week

Apple Has Disabled Group FaceTime to Prevent Pre-call Eavesdropping

A serious bug has been discovered in Apple’s Group FaceTime multi-person video chat technology. It allows someone to call you via FaceTime and then, with just a few simple steps, listen in on audio from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac while the call is ringing, before you have accepted or rejected it. To prevent the problem from being exploited, Apple says it has disabled Group FaceTime and promises a fix “later this week.”

In the meantime, if you’re still concerned (there were some reports of people being able to invoke the bug even after Apple disabled Group FaceTime), we recommend turning off FaceTime entirely in Settings > FaceTime in iOS and by launching the FaceTime app in macOS and then choosing FaceTime > Turn FaceTime Off. (Or just be quiet when a FaceTime call comes in.) Apple may be able to fix the problem without requiring users to update software; if iOS and macOS updates do prove to be necessary, we recommend that you install them sooner rather than later.

 

MacTLC: Tip of the week

So What Are All Those Stacks of Notifications in iOS 12?

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by iOS notifications, particularly if you have chatty friends or apps. In iOS 12, Apple corralled notifications by grouping them into stacks so you no longer see an endless screen of alerts. To expand a stack of notifications on either the Lock screen or in Notification Center (swipe down from the top of the screen), tap the stack. Once you’ve expanded a stack, you can tap Show Less to restack it, tap the X button to remove the entire stack, or tap any individual notification to open it. By default, iOS 12 groups notifications intelligently, which might entail separate stacks for different Messages conversations, for instance. If that’s still too much, you can go to Settings > Notifications > App Name> Notification Grouping and tap By App to collect every notification from the app into the same stack.

Grouped-Notifications

The Best Apple-Related Gifts for 2018

Black Friday and the start of the holiday shopping seasons are nearly upon us. If you’re looking for gift ideas for your Apple-using loved ones, we have a few suggestions that are guaranteed to be popular.

Apple Watch

The new Apple Watch Series 4 may be the gift hit of the season as adult gift-guide-Apple-Watch-Series-4-fallchildren buy it for aging parents. That’s happening due to the Apple Watch’s health monitoring capabilities, which include fall detection, atrial fibrillation detection, and (soon) the capability to record electrocardiograms. It may seem expensive at $399 for the Wi-Fi version or $499 for the cellular version that can call emergency services even if its companion iPhone isn’t nearby, but the cost pales in comparison with the price of any medical event.

For those who are more interested in the Apple Watch’s fitness and communication features, last year’s Apple Watch Series 3 now starts at just $279 for Wi-Fi and $379 for cellular. It lacks the health monitoring features of the Series 4, but those are overkill for most young, healthy people. The cellular version is worthwhile only if you’re certain the recipient will make use of the watch while out and about without the iPhone, since its data plan costs $10 extra per month.

And, if someone on your gift list already has an Apple Watch, a new band would make a great present—Apple offers a wide variety of attractive and comfortable bands.

HomePod

Apple’s smart speaker may not be as popular as the Amazon Echo and gift-guide-HomePod-blackGoogle Home, but it sounds way better than its cheaper competition. Apple designed it to work with the $9.99 per month Apple Music service so if your recipient doesn’t already subscribe to Apple Music, you could include a subscription as part of the gift. The HomePod is available in black or white, and it’s super simple to set up and use via Siri for music, podcasts, speakerphone calls, kitchen timers, and a whole lot more.

Stocking Stuffer Accessories

You might not get the same “Wow!” factor with these gifts, but Apple’s gift-guide-USB-C-AV-adapterfocus on minimalist design has created a situation where many users find themselves frustrated by the lack of the right cable or adapter.

iPhone users might appreciate an extra Lightning charging cable or a Lightning-to-headphone adapter to take advantage of inexpensive earbuds. And those who rely on a MacBook with USB-C or a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 are usually desperate for USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 cables and adapters. Some of the most popular convert USB-C to USB-A for many devices, USB-C to HDMI for large-screen displays, and Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 for older Thunderbolt hard drives. Ask first to find out what they find most annoying!

Plus, a second iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch charger can help reduce battery anxiety and make it easier to pack one for trips.

AirPods

One of the most popular Apple products of late has been the AirPods, gift-guide-AirPodssvelte wireless earbuds that pair quickly and seamlessly to all Apple devices logged in to the same iCloud account. They’re light, stay in the ear well, and are comfortable even for many people who can’t wear the wired EarPods. At $159, they’re not cheap, but they’re less expensive than many competing wireless earbuds.

Apple TV

Despite its age, the $149 fourth-generation Apple TV still makes a good present for anyone who watches TV shows and movies from Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and other Internet streaming video services. It’s also great for sharing photos or videos from an iPhone or iPad on the big screen via AirPlay.

Unless your recipient has or is likely to get a compatible 4K HDR TV, gift-guide-Apple-TVskip the $179 Apple TV 4K since it provides no benefits on older TV screens.

For the friend or family member who already has an Apple TV, search for silicone cases that protect the brittle Siri Remote and make it easier to orient in the dark.

iPad

Last, but far from least, if someone in your family has never tried an iPad or is limping along with an early model, the current sixth-generation iPad combines good performance and a gorgeous screen starting at just $329.

gift-guide-iPad-Pencil

It’s also compatible with the original $99 Apple Pencil, so if your recipient has an artistic bent, consider adding Apple’s stylus and maybe a painting app.

Of course, particularly if you’re buying an iPad for a child, a protective case is a must, and even for adults, a good case can provide peace of mind and hold the iPad in convenient positions for reading books or watching movies.

MacTLC: Tip of the week

Make Safari Tabs Easier to Identify by Adding Icons

Do you end up with so many tabs in Safari that it becomes impossible to read the truncated tab titles? There’s no shame in that, and Safari 12—which comes with macOS 10.14 Mojave and is a free update for 10.12 Sierra and 10.13 High Sierra—now offers an option to add an icon representing the Web site to each open tab. Called a favicon,this tiny image is usually carefully designed to identify its site and makes it easier to pick out the tab. To enable the feature, open Safari > Preferences > Tabs and select “Show website icons in tabs.” Unlike other Web browsers, Safari never shrinks a regular tab to just the icon, so you’ll always see the icon and some text.

Safari-favicons

iOS 12’s Screen Time Feature Helps You Manage Your iPhone Usage

Do you frequently reach for your iPhone for a quick check of Facebook or Messages? It’s all too easy to let social media, the latest hot game, or even your work email intrude on your real life. If you’re uncomfortable with how much—and when—you use your iPhone or iPad, iOS 12’s new Screen Time feature can help you limit your usage in two ways, by time of day and by time spent in an app.

(Screen Time can help you monitor and limit your children’s iOS usage too. This article focuses on setting it up for yourself; we’ll examine Screen Time parental controls another time.)

Get Started with Screen Time

To enable Screen Time, go to Settings > Screen Time and tap Turn On Screen Time. After you see an introductory splash screen, tap This Is My iPhone to go to the main Screen Time screen.

Screen-Time-setup-basics

Two options on the lower portion of this screen help you customize Screen Time overall. Tap Use Screen Time Passcode to create another passcode that controls access to Screen Time settings and lets you extend time limits. It’s designed for parents who let their children use their devices, but you could use it as a speed bump when overriding your self-defined limits.

If you use both an iPhone and an iPad, enable Share Across Devices to aggregate your usage. This syncs settings between your devices, so if you want different setups, keep this option off.

Downtime

To limit your usage according to a schedule, perhaps so you don’t get caught up in a game before bed, tap Downtime, turn on the Downtime switch, and set start and end times. Unfortunately, you can’t create multiple schedules for different portions of the day.

App Limits

When you tap App Limits and then Add Limit, Screen Time presents you with a list of categories and examples of your apps in each one. Select one or more—say Social Networking and Games—and then tap Add. Then set the amount of time you want to allow yourself overall for apps in that category. You can create multiple category limits with different amounts of allotted time.

Screen-Time-App-Limits

If an app category is too broad, you can limit a particular app. Tap the Screen Time graph at the top of the screen, scroll down to the Most Used section, and tap an app in the list. At the bottom of that screen, tap Add Limit and specify a time limit.

There are a few exceptions to the apps limited by both Downtime and App Limits, regardless of your settings. The Phone app is always available, and Clock, Find My iPhone, Safari, and Settings appear to be exempt. For other apps you never want limited, tap Allowed Apps on the main Screen Time screen, and then tap the green plus button next to any app you want to allow. Apple adds FaceTime, Maps, and Messages to the Allowed Apps list by default, but you can remove them if desired.

Screen-Time-Always-Allowed

Living with Screen Time

Screen Time alerts you 5 minutes before a time limit expires and displays a Time Limit screen when time runs out. Although the point of Downtime and App Limits is to help you stop playing the latest addictive game or reflexively checking Facebook, you can tap Ignore Limit to keep using the app, either for 15 minutes or the rest of the day.

Screen-Time-limit-warnings

Screen Time also dims the icon for any affected app on the Home screen and puts a tiny timer icon next to the name. You can still open such apps, but you’ll go right to the Time Limit screen.

Screen-Time-dimmed-icons

Equally as helpful is the way Screen Time reports on your usage so you realize how much you’re using different apps. It provides a weekly report, but you can always go into Settings > Screen Time to see your daily usage.

Screen-Time-daily-usage

Tap that graph, and Screen Time lets you dive into the details, for example, by revealing your most-used apps, how often you pick up your device, and how many interrupting notifications you receive. Much of the information in this screen is interactive—tap various items to see more details or adjust settings.

Screen-Time-weekly-usage

Only you can decide if you’re using your iPhone or iPad more than you like, and only you can exercise the self-control to restrict your usage. But Screen Time highlights how you’re actually spending time, both as you’re doing it and after the fact. Give it a try!

 

MacTLC: Tip of the week

Apple Moved Control Center in iOS 12 on the iPad—Here’s Where to Find It

Although most of what’s new in iOS 12 are new features, one change for change’s sake may throw you. In iOS 11 on an iPad, you would bring up Control Center by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, just like on all iPhones other than the iPhone X. With iOS 12, however, Apple brought the iPad in line with the iPhone X and the recently released iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen on the iPad now reveals the Dock, and if you continue swiping, the App Switcher. But no Control Center! To bring up Control Center, swipe down from the upper-right corner of the screen—use the Wi-Fi and battery icons as a reminder.

Control-Center-iOS-12-iPad