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:
- Favor lifespan: If you seldom run your laptop’s battery down to the electronic fumes because it’s easy for you to plug in whenever you need to charge, leave battery health management enabled. That will preserve the battery’s overall lifespan to the extent possible.
- Favor runtime: For those who need to eke every last bit of power from their batteries, disable battery health management. You might have to replace the battery sooner, but you’ll get more runtime in everyday usage.
- Switch as needed: Many people need the longest possible runtime only occasionally, such as on long flights with no under-seat power. In such situations, switch battery health management off for the flight and back on when you return to normal usage patterns.
Switching is easy, but Apple buries it deeply enough that it’s clear that the company doesn’t think most users should be disabling it regularly. Open System Preferences > Energy Saver, click the Battery Health button at the bottom, and in the dialog that appears, uncheck Battery Health Management and click OK. You’ll be prompted to make sure you know what you’re doing; click Turn Off to finish the job.
One final note. The reduced maximum capacity with battery health management enabled may have an undesirable side effect—a recommendation from the Battery Status menu’s health indicator that you need to replace your battery. To check your battery’s health, hold the Option key down and click the Battery Status icon on the menu bar. At the top of the menu, next to Condition, you’ll see either Normal or Service Recommended. (In previous versions of macOS, it could have said Replace Soon, Replace Now, or Service Battery.)
Regardless of the term, anything but Normal indicates that your battery is holding less of a charge than when it was new. If you see that message and you aren’t getting enough runtime for your needs, get the battery evaluated at an Apple-authorized service provider or Apple Store.
Social Media: If you have a Mac laptop with Thunderbolt 3 ports, the new battery health management option in macOS 10.15.5 Catalina could extend the lifespan of your battery. However, it comes at the cost of reduced everyday runtime. Learn more here:
Need help with something? On occasion, we all need tech support. Speaking as the people who are sometimes on the other end of those requests for help, we have some suggestions on how to get the support you need as quickly as possible.
For instance, think about what we have to do if we receive an email message along the lines of “I keep getting a note that my backups aren’t working.” All we can tell from that message is that something may be wrong with the user’s backups. But without knowing what app they’re using and what the specific error is, we can’t even begin to recommend a solution. We’ll have to go back and forth to figure out what we need to learn to address the problem. By the end of the (possibly lengthy) process, the user and we may be quite frustrated.
So here’s a simple set of steps you can use to get to the heart of a troubleshooting problem whenever you’re communicating with tech support.
- Describe your setup as it relates to the problem. Whenever possible, be specific about what apps you’re using and include screenshots or videos. In our example above, this might involve saying, “I back up with Time Machine to an external hard drive. It has been working fine, but now I’m getting this error.” (Obviously, if you’re talking on the phone, it might not be possible to share a screenshot, but you can read it to the support rep.)
- Next, explain how you’ve tried to resolve the problem so tech support doesn’t automatically tell you to repeat the same actions. (They may anyway, just to confirm that you did everything properly, but it’s still a help.) You might say, “I clicked OK and let Time Machine try again, but I got the error on the next backup too. Then I launched Disk Utility, selected my Time Machine drive, and clicked First Aid.”
- Finally, explain what happened (or failed to happen) when you took the actions in the previous step. For instance, “First Aid also reported an error.”
- At this point, you may need to repeat Step 2 and 3 for each thing you tried, but you’ve given the support person enough for them to start recommending other courses of action. (In this case, we’d have you erase the drive using Disk Utility and see if that eliminated the error. Even if it did, we’d recommend that you get a new backup drive since you don’t want to depend on a potentially flaky drive for important backup data.)
The steps are a little different if you’re trying and failing to figure out how to accomplish some task. Try this script:
- I want to _____. State what you’re trying to achieve, and as before, make sure to say what apps you’re using. For instance, “I’m using Preview to read a PDF, and I want to print it with four pages per sheet of paper to avoid wasting hundreds of pieces of paper.”
- I tried ____. As before, explain what you’ve already attempted, as in: “In Preview’s Print dialog, I tried choosing 4 from the Copies Per Page menu.”
- What happened was _____. Finally, explain what happened after what you tried, and why it was wrong. “That caused me to get four copies of the same page in the preview, rather than four different pages.”
- Again, you may need to repeat Steps 2 and 3 for everything you tried, but in this case, we have all we need to explain that you need to click the Preview menu in the middle of the Print dialog, choose Layout, and then choose 4 from the Pages Per Sheet menu.
One last thing. It’s always important to explain your overall goal, rather than just ask a specific question. In the example above, for instance, saying that your goal was to reduce paper usage was helpful because we could then suggest that you select the Two-Sided checkbox near the top to print on both sides of the paper, cutting your paper usage in half.
So next time you need to contact tech support, make sure to use these tips, and you’ll likely get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.
Social Media: Do you have frustrating interactions with tech support? Follow our advice on how to talk to a support rep to get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.
Are you the person your friends and family members turn to for questions about the Mac? In normal times, those questions might come over dinner or at another in-person gathering, such that you could look directly at their Mac to see what was going on. Now, however, with everyone staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, answering those questions has seemingly gotten harder. But it doesn’t have to be that way, thanks to a built-in feature of macOS that you may not have known about: screen sharing.
With the Mac’s built-in Screen Sharing app, you can either observe or control another person’s Mac, anywhere on the Internet. They don’t even need to enable Screen Sharing in System Preferences > Sharing. (Don’t worry—there are multiple ways that Apple ensures that this feature can’t be used surreptitiously.)
Initiate the Connection
There are multiple ways to connect to a remote Mac for screen sharing, but two stand out as being particularly easy.
First, if you communicate in Messages with the person whose Mac you’re trying to control, make sure your conversation with them is selected, and then choose Buddies > Ask to Share Screen. The other person can also initiate the connection with you by choosing Buddies > Invite to Share My Screen.
Second, if Messages doesn’t work for you (those commands are often dimmed), or the other person doesn’t use Messages, there’s another option. Press Command-Space to open Spotlight and type “Screen Sharing”. The Screen Sharing app should be the top hit—press Return to launch it. (For future reference, it’s stored in /System/Library/CoreServices/Applications/Screen Sharing.)
Then, in the dialog that appears, enter the person’s Apple ID, which is likely their email address, and click Connect.
Accept the Connection
Needless to say, macOS doesn’t allow anyone to connect to a Mac like this without permission. The other person needs to accept the connection request, which they do by clicking Accept in the notification that appears, likely in the upper-right corner of the screen. Obviously, clicking Decline immediately terminates the connection.
After clicking Accept, the other person gets yet another permission request, this time with additional options. They can once again choose to Accept or Decline, and choose between allowing you to control the screen or just observe them using it. And, of course, if you ever get a screen sharing request from someone you don’t know, you can always click Block This User to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Next, a little popover appears to alert the other person to the new icon on the menu bar. The blue menu bar icon constantly flashes while the connection is active so there’s no question that screen sharing is taking place.
So what’s in that menu? Commands for switching between controlling and observing (choose “Allow Name to control my screen” to toggle), mute the microphone (more on that shortly), pause screen sharing, and end the session.
Use the Connection
The Mute Microphone command in the remote Mac’s Screen Sharing menu is a hint—when you’re sharing the screen, the connection also provides full audio communication. This seems helpful, but in many cases, you’re already talking on the phone, at which point it’s helpful to mute the microphone on both sides. Or hang up the phone and stick with Screen Sharing’s audio.
For the most part, once you’re controlling someone’s Mac remotely, it’s just like using the Mac while sitting in front of it. You can move the pointer around, select icons and menus, open apps and documents, and so on. You may notice a slight lag or jitter as the screen draws, since updating it over an Internet connection is much, much slower than in person.
You do have a few special capabilities based largely on the buttons in the toolbar, however:
- Toggle Control/Observe: When you’re controlling the remote Mac, you may find yourself competing for the pointer and keyboard with the other person. To let them “drive,” click the binoculars icon in the toolbar to switch to Observe mode. Click the arrow pointer to return to Control mode.
- Resize the window: If you’re on a 13-inch MacBook Pro and trying to control a 27-inch iMac screen, it simply won’t fit. Luckily, Screen Sharing lets you resize the window so it does, although some interface elements may become too small to use easily. If that’s a problem, you can disable scaling by clicking the left-most Scaling button, after which everything on the remote screen will appear at normal size. You’ll have to scroll the window to see parts of the screen that are out of view.
- Share Clipboard: By default, you’re sharing the Clipboard, so anything you cut or copy on your Mac will be transferred to the other Mac’s Clipboard, and vice versa. If that’s awkward, you can disable it and then use the commands in the Clipboard menu to get or send the Clipboard contents manually.
- Take a screenshot: Normal screenshot controls don’t work for taking a screenshot of the remote screen, or rather, they’ll work on the remote Mac. To take a screenshot of what you see and keep it on your Mac, click the Screenshot button.
- Transfer files: It’s not obvious, but you can move files back and forth between the two Macs merely by dragging them to and from the remote Mac’s window. You sometimes have to pause slightly for Screen Sharing to realize your pointer has left the remote Mac and is on your Mac, but as soon as you let up on the mouse button, the file copies. A File Transfers window shows progress and history.
When you’re done with your screen sharing session, you can shut it down by choosing End Screen Sharing from the remote Mac’s Screen Sharing menu or just close the window or quit the Screen Sharing app on your Mac. Remember that as soon as you do that, the audio connection will drop as well, so make sure you’ve said goodbye first!
Social Media: Do you need to help someone with their Mac without visiting them in person? During this time of physical distancing, macOS’s Screen Sharing feature is a perfect solution, letting you converse while observing or controlling a remote Mac.
When you’re in the Finder, choosing File > New Finder Window does, as you’d expect, open a new Finder window. But what folder appears in that window? By default, new Finder windows open to Recents, which is a built-in smart folder showing recently opened documents. If you’d prefer to see items in a fixed location on your drive, go to Finder > Preferences > General and choose any location from the New Finder Windows Show pop-up menu. We’re partial to Desktop or Documents, but you can choose whatever folder makes sense with your workflow.
If you’re plugging your iPhone in regularly but getting low-battery warnings when you shouldn’t, consider the possibility that something is preventing your iPhone from charging successfully while plugged in. If there’s no lightning bolt badge on the battery icon when the iPhone is plugged in, that’s a sure sign that no power is reaching the device. Another hint that failures could be happening intermittently would be a lack of charging in the Last Charge Level graph in Settings > Battery when you know the iPhone was plugged in. Luckily, the solution is often easy. Take a wooden (not metal) toothpick and gently poke around inside the iPhone’s Lightning port for pocket fuzz. You’d be amazed how much crud can end up in there. If cleaning doesn’t solve the problem and you use only a single Lightning cable to charge, try another one.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
When Apple released iPadOS 13.4 recently, it came with an unexpected feature: trackpad and mouse support. Apple plans to release a Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro that has a built-in trackpad in May as well, but in the meantime, you can control an iPad entirely via a Magic Trackpad 2 (the wedge-like one that recharges via a Lightning port). Pair it in Settings > Bluetooth, and look for settings in Settings > General > Trackpad. Apple did an impressive job with integrating a cursor into the iPadOS experience: the small, circular cursor shifts colors subtly depending on the background, becomes a highlighted selection rectangle when over objects, expands icons on the Home screen, and morphs into a thin insertion point when in text. Plus, Apple built in oodles of two- and three-finger gestures to mimic what you can do directly on the iPad screen—see the full list at TidBITS.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
There’s little more frustrating than being unable to print a document when you need it. You choose File > Print, and nothing happens. Or, worse, macOS looks like it’s printing, so you focus on some other task, only to realize 20 minutes later that nothing has come out of the printer. Now what? Try these troubleshooting steps.
Check the Printer’s Print Queue App
Whenever you print, the printer’s Print Queue app appears in your Dock, named for the printer. (If it doesn’t, open System Preferences > Printers & Scanners, select the desired printer and click Open Print Queue.)
In the Print Queue app, look at the status of the printer and the print job. First off, if you print to multiple printers, does the app correspond with the correct printer? If not, cancel the job by clicking the X button to its right, quit the Print Queue app, print again, and choose the correct printer from the Printer pop-up menu in the Print dialog.
The Print Queue app may also display a useful error message that tells you what’s wrong, such as the printer being offline or not connected. You may also see old print jobs stuck in the queue that are blocking the current job—delete them by clicking the X next to their names.
If something has caused the printer to be paused, click the green Resume button. That won’t work if the printer has paused itself due to a paper jam or low supplies—in such a case, resolve the problem first.
Check the Printer and Its Connection
Error messages may have given you a hint about problems with the printer itself, but they’re not always helpful. Verify the following:
- Is the printer turned on? Doh! If necessary, turn it on. Also, try turning it off and back on—this resolves a surprising number of printing problems.
- Is the printer connected? It should be connected via either USB or your Wi-Fi or Ethernet network—make sure the cables are plugged in and it’s on the same network as your Mac. Consider restarting your router if there seem to be communication issues.
- Does the printer have paper in it? No paper, no printout.
- Is there a paper jam? Printers usually squawk about paper jams. Clear it before trying again.
- Are any ink or toner cartridges empty? Some printers are notorious for refusing to print if even one ink cartridge is empty, or even low. That can be true even if you’re printing only in black and a color cartridge is empty.
There’s one final check of the printer you can perform: printing a test page directly from the printer (check your printer’s manual for instructions). If that fails, the printer may need servicing.
Check Your Mac’s Printing Setup
The final place to look for a solution to printing problems is in your Mac’s printing subsystem. Problems here can be specific to your document or to its app, or they can be related to the printer driver.
For your first test, try opening your document in Preview as a PDF (in the document’s Print dialog, choose PDF > Open in Preview) and printing it from Preview.
If that works, you know that your Mac can print, so the problem has to do with either the document or the app. To isolate the problem to the document or the app, print another simple document from the app. If that does print, you know the problem is with your document, but since you’ve already gotten a PDF to print of that document, your immediate problem may be already solved. If the problem is with the app, you’ll eventually need to solve it, of course. But most of the time, the problem actually lies with your printer driver.
It’s uncommon for driver updates to come outside of macOS updates these days, but check System Preferences > Software Update just to make sure. You can also check the printer manufacturer’s Web site for updates; Google on “printerNameAndModel Mac driver” to find what’s available. Compare that against what you see when you select the printer in System Preferences > Printers & Scanners and click the Options & Supplies button. If there’s a newer version, download and install it.
If installing a new version doesn’t work, try deleting the printer from Printers & Scanners and re-adding it. Select the printer in the list and click the – button at the bottom to delete it. Then click the + button and add it back.
No luck? Try deleting the driver and adding it again, but choose a different option from the Use pop-up menu at the bottom. Start with the name of the printer itself instead of Secure AirPrint to ensure you’re using the manufacturer’s driver instead of Apple’s. If that doesn’t make a difference, try again with Generic PostScript Printer or Generic PCL Printer—beware that they may not provide full functionality beyond basic printing. For the ultimate in trying something different, if it supports your printer, try installing an independent driver from the open-source Gutenprint project.
One note: if possible, avoid using the Printer Sharing feature that’s been in macOS for years. It works, but it requires that the Mac doing the sharing be turned on and awake whenever anyone using the shared printer wants to print.
If you’re still stuck, go nuclear. Go back to the Printers & Scanners preferences, Control-click any printer, and choose Reset Printing System. As the warning dialog tells you, doing so will delete all your existing printers, scanners, and faxes, and any pending print jobs. You’re basically resetting your printing system to factory defaults, after which you’ll have to add printers back again.
One of these solutions will almost certainly solve your problem, but if not, give us a call!
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
Social Media: Unable to print? Look for a solution in our comprehensive troubleshooting steps.
If your Mac is acting up and you suspect a hardware problem, there’s an easy first step that you can—and should—try before calling for tech support: Apple Diagnostics. (On Mac models released before June 2013, Apple instead included a similar set of diagnostics called Apple Hardware Test.)
Apple Diagnostics is a set of hardware test routines that Apple bakes into every Mac. It tests numerous internal subsystems in your Mac, including the CPU, memory, and firmware; displays and graphics adapters; connectivity via USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Thunderbolt; batteries and power adapters on laptops; and more.
Before you run Apple Diagnostics, prepare your Mac with these steps:
- If you have a firmware password enabled, turn it off before proceeding.
- If possible, pick a situation when the Mac is most likely to experience the problem (such as right after turning it on for the day, or when it’s unusually warm).
- Disconnect all external devices with the following exceptions: the keyboard and mouse or trackpad, display, Ethernet cable if you use it, and power adapter for laptops.
- If you’re testing a laptop, make sure it’s on a flat, well-ventilated surface.
- Shut down your Mac.
Once you’re ready, turn your Mac on while holding down the D key. (If that doesn’t invoke Apple Diagnostics, try again, holding down Option-D to attempt to start Apple Diagnostics over the Internet.) Keep holding down until you see a screen asking you to choose your language. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see a bar showing the progress of the diagnostic tests, which should take only a few minutes.
What to do if Apple Diagnostics reports an issue
If Apple Diagnostics finds any issues, it suggests solutions and provides reference codes. Write the reference codes down so you can share them with tech support later, if necessary. Apple publishes a full list of reference codes, but the list generally doesn’t tell you much beyond what the Apple Diagnostics report explains.
After you’ve read about the issues and solutions, you have four options.
- For a second opinion, click the “Run the test again” link. It’s not a bad idea to make sure that multiple tests come up with the same results. If they don’t, that’s useful information for tech support too.
- To get more information, including details about service and support options from Apple, click the “Get started” link. Doing so causes your Mac to start up in macOS Recovery, open Safari, and display a Web page for Apple Support. It asks for your location along with permission to read your Mac’s serial number and reference codes before providing additional details. If your Mac can’t access the Internet at this time, none of this will work.
- To restart your Mac normally, click the Restart button.
- To shut your Mac down normally, click the Shut Down button.
With a few exceptions, most problems identified by Apple Diagnostics require service from an Apple Authorized Service Provider or Apple itself.
- If you get a note about USB or Thunderbolt hardware, make sure you’ve disconnected any devices other than the keyboard and pointing device and test again. If you have another wired keyboard or pointing device, swap those in and test again.
- If Apple Diagnostics complains about your laptop’s power adapter, disconnect it from both the wall and the computer, reconnect it to both, and rerun the test.
- One of the battery errors (PPT004) may require updated diagnostic information. To confirm the problem, run Apple Diagnostics over the Internet: shut down the Mac and start it up again while holding Option-D.
What to do if Apple Diagnostics doesn’t find any problems
With any luck, you’ll see the coveted “No issues found” message. While that doesn’t mean you’re imagining any problems, it does suggest that they’re probably related to software and won’t require a hardware repair. However, some infuriating problems are intermittent due to solder connections being warm or cold, which is why it’s important to test when they’re most likely to occur.
One final note: If you want to see the results of the last run of Apple Diagnostics, open the System Information app and click Diagnostics under the Hardware section.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
Social Media: If your Mac is acting up and you suspect a hardware malfunction, try running Apple Diagnostics to see if it identifies any issues. Instructions here: