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)
Whether you’re working from home or just stuck at home, it can be tough to communicate with colleagues, friends, or family. Sure, there’s email, but that gets hard to manage quickly, and it can be difficult to stay focused with so much news rolling in. For friends and family, Facebook might seem to be the digital town square. However, many people avoid Facebook due to its impressive record of abusing its users’ privacy, failure to protect that user data from hackers, and exploitation by foreign governments. And it’s wildly inappropriate for most business communications.
For an alternative that doesn’t involve relying on overloaded email inboxes or handing everything about your online life over to a corporate Big Brother, consider the group messaging tool Slack, which has become popular with small and large firms, non-profits, academic departments, student project teams, and government agencies. Although it’s aimed at organizations that pay a monthly fee for every active user, Slack offers a free tier with all the features you would need to create your own online community for your workgroup, family, or friends. Everyone can join in since Slack has apps for macOS, iOS, Windows, and Android, and it can be used in any desktop Web browser.
Conceptually, Slack is similar to Apple’s Messages, in that you can communicate with others by typing short messages and sharing graphics and other files. You can even have one-on-one voice calls (group calls, screen sharing, and videoconferencing are limited to the paid plans).
What sets Slack apart from Messages, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and the like is that it lets you segment discussions into “channels,” which can either be public, such that everyone in the group can see them, or private, so only invitees can participate. Plus, you can have “direct message” conversations with one or more individuals.
The beauty of Slack channels is that they’re easy to create, and they bring together all communications relevant to a particular group, project, client, or topic. Channels help focus discussions, so those who are interested in only certain channels aren’t overwhelmed by irrelevant chatter.
For an extended family, you might create channels by branch (so your brother can ignore your in-laws’ conversations), parts of the country (so relatives who live elsewhere don’t have to see the local family members’ dinner plans), and events (like Hanukkah or a family reunion). Or, in a design team’s Slack group, you might want channels for each major client or project, along with channels for financial or human resources topics. There’s no one right answer—the goal is merely to keep discussions relevant and focused.
How do you keep up on discussions? Slack has flexible notifications, letting you choose at the top level to be notified about everything; just direct messages, mentions, and keywords; or nothing—at which point you can check in manually. You can also choose to be notified of replies to threads you’re in. Then you can override those defaults for any channel or conversation, which lets you ensure you’re notified only by people or topics that interest you. Plus, if you leave your Mac, Slack can repoint notifications to your iPhone automatically, with separate settings to make sure you aren’t overly nagged while at your kid’s track meet.
Slack provides tons of other features that can prove useful in groups of any size. You can share and comment on files of any type, which is far more effective than sending attachments around in email. You can create “posts” and get others to edit them collaboratively—a boon when trying to craft the perfect bit of text for some purpose. And you can integrate hundreds of Internet services into Slack so it can act as a single dashboard for many other apps, including the likes of the videoconferencing tool Zoom.
Getting started with Slack is fairly easy, and we recommend the following basic steps.
- Create a Slack workspace. Slack provides instructions for basic setup.
- Set up channels. Create a few channels to help people feel like they’re in the right place. You can always make more channels later.
- Invite people in. You can invite users to your Slack during setup, but it’s better to wait until you’ve set up your channels. Make sure to use everyone’s preferred email address when inviting them.
- Help people install Slack apps. For those who are tech-savvy, installing Slack’s client apps isn’t hard, but you might need to provide support for those who are less experienced.
- Provide name advice. Slack lets each user set a full name and a display name, and you might want to recommend a particular format (first name only, or first name and last initial) that makes display names unique and easily understood and typed.
- Help people configure notifications. Perhaps the hardest part of using Slack is getting notifications adjusted right for each person. Slack offers guides for desktop, email, and mobile notifications, along with additional help.
For additional advice on setting up and using Slack, consider Glenn Fleishman’s book Take Control of Slack, which goes beyond Slack’s help to provide real-world setup and configuration advice. We’re also happy to help provide setup and configuration advice—just get in touch.
Social Media: Whether you’re trying to maintain communications within a small firm, a workgroup, or a family, the group messaging tool Slack is a compelling solution.
Vast numbers of people who previously reported for work at an office every day are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s sensible, and if you’re included in that group, there was probably even a little thrill of “I get to work from home!” at first. But as those who have telecommuted for years know, it’s not as simple as settling down on the couch with your laptop. Here are a few tips.
Make a Dedicated Work Space, If Possible
Particularly if you’re not home alone, you’ll want to create a space that’s dedicated to working. Otherwise, it’s difficult to focus on work instead of what’s happening in your home. A spare bedroom with a door is ideal, of course, because it lets you avoid the fridge, the TV, and your family, who may also be trying to work or do schoolwork at home.
But if you don’t have an extra room, or if you need to share it with your spouse and kids, think about ways you can create individual spaces, perhaps with bookcases or makeshift curtains.
Either way, your goal is to avoid seeing and hearing others. Your partner’s activities can be distracting, and listening to your kids discussing a school project will make focusing on your work all the harder. Sound isolation can be difficult to achieve in an open room, but that’s what earbuds are for. Those with noise-canceling capabilities, like the AirPods Pro, would be best.
Pay attention to lighting as well. Putting your monitor against a window probably won’t work well during the day, and overhead lighting can cause glare.
Set Up an Ergonomic Working Environment
It’s unlikely that your home office furniture is equivalent to what you have at work, but if you’re going to be putting in full workdays at home, you need to pay attention to ergonomics.
Many tables are slightly too high to sit at comfortably with your feet flat, your hips at a 90-degree angle, and your hands floating comfortably above the keyboard, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Do what you can to achieve that position; if necessary, raise the chair and add a footstool.
Good, inexpensive chairs with height adjustments can be hard to find, though the IKEA Flintan is well-reviewed and only about $80. A small pillow can provide lumbar support if necessary. Try to make sure the arms, if present, are low—you should use them only when not typing.
It’s difficult to achieve good ergonomics while working on a laptop, or, even worse, an iPad because you’re almost always looking down too far. With a MacBook, you can achieve the ideal sightline either by attaching a large monitor that you can position at the right height or by raising the MacBook and using a separate keyboard and mouse or trackpad at the proper typing height.
Potentially Upgrade Your Internet Connection
Even beyond whatever apps you need to do your work, it’s likely that you’ll end up doing a fair amount of videoconferencing. You may need to increase the throughput of your Internet connection, and it’s important to remember that upload and download speeds are separate. You usually have much higher download speeds, so focus on the upload speed when evaluating your plan.
Apps vary in their bandwidth requirements, but you can consider a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) upload speed a safe minimum, with 3 Mbps being sufficient for nearly any video calls you’ll need to make. The download speed should be at least equivalent to the upload speed, but that will almost always be true.
If your current connection isn’t fast enough, contact your Internet service provider. More throughput will usually cost more, but ideally, your ISP can just change some settings to upgrade you. In some cases, a new cable modem or similar network hardware may be necessary, and in the worst case, you may need a new cable from the street. Whatever you do, try to avoid any plan that comes with a bandwidth cap!
Don’t be afraid to compare prices if you have multiple providers, and even if you have sufficient bandwidth now, it may be worth calling to see if plan prices have dropped since you subscribed.
Upgrade Wi-Fi Hardware
Finally, if the only place in your home that you can work isn’t well served by your current Wi-Fi router, it might be time to upgrade. That’s particularly true if you’re working on old AirPort base stations from Apple.
For creating a Wi-Fi network that has the most coverage, look into mesh networking gear like Eero and AmpliFi. The beauty of mesh networking is that you can add another router or beacon to extend the network without complicated setup.
That said, contact us before ripping your network apart, because on-site visits to fix problems may be difficult or impossible for a while.
Social Media: Working from home like the rest of us? Here’s our advice on setting up a comfortable and effective workspace.
Taking photos is a popular use of the iPhone, and Apple has said that the improved cameras gave this year’s iPhone 11 Pro models their “Pro” designation. But Apple continually works to improve the Photos app as well. Taking great photos is only half the job—you also have to be able to find, edit, and enjoy your photos, and that’s where the company focused its efforts in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 (which we’ll refer to collectively as iOS 13 from now on). Here’s what’s new.
Years, Months, Days, All Photos
Previously, Photos grouped photos first by years, then by “collections,” and finally by “moments.” To simplify things, Photos now offers four more sensible groups: Years, Months, Days, and All Photos.
Years shows a single image that helps you keep the years apart—previous years’ images come from the same time of year as the current day. Next, tap a year icon or the Months button to see a few tiles representing the events at which you took photos in each month. To zoom in again, tap the Days button or any event to see a curated selection of photos for each day you took photos in that month.
The key word above is “curated”—Photos is using artificial intelligence to show you just the best or most representative images and eliminate similar shots, so some photos won’t appear at all in Days view. When that happens, you’ll see a +# tag on the last image indicating the number of hidden images. To see everything, tap that +# tag or the All Photos button. You may find yourself wanting to use All Photos a lot if Photos is hiding images from you in Days view.
Enhanced Photo and Video Editing
Photos in iOS 13 also gains significantly more editing capabilities, bringing it closer to par with the Mac version. In iOS 12, you could adjust some light, color, and black-and-white options. iOS 13 retains the light and color options and bolsters them with new tools and an improved interface. The black-and-white options disappear, but you can simulate them by applying a monochrome filter like Noir, Silvertone, or Mono, and then using the rest of the editing tools.
When you tap the adjust button while editing an image, Photos displays a horizontally scrolling list of 16 controls, each with a circular button on top and a slider below. Move the slider to adjust that setting with a real-time preview. Also notice how the circle fills in to reflect what you’ve done. All edits are non-destructive, and you can tap the circle to turn its associated edits off, or tap again to turn them back on. This tap-off/tap-on interface works well for comparing before and after versions.
The full list of controls now includes:
- Auto: Tap to apply suggested enhancements—it’s always worth a try!
- Exposure: Simulates changing the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor
- Brilliance: Applies region-specific adjustments to brighten dark areas, pull in highlights, and add contrast to reveal hidden detail
- Highlights: Increases or decreases detail in light portions of the image
- Shadows: Increases or decreases detail in darker portions of the image
- Contrast: Adjusts the contrast of the photo
- Brightness: Adjusts the overall brightness of the image
- Black Point: Sets the point at which the darkest parts of the photo become completely black
- Saturation: Adjusts the overall color intensity of the image
- Vibrance (new): Boost muted colors without affecting skin color or saturated colors
- Warmth (new): Adjusts the amount of yellow or blue in the image to make it feel warmer or cooler
- Tint (new): Adjusts the amount of magenta or green in the image to change the tint
- Sharpness (new): Makes edges of objects crisper and more well-defined
- Definition (new): Adds contour and shape as well as mid-tone definition and local contrast (try it—it’s often helpful)
- Noise Reduction (new): Smooths graininess and eliminates light speckles in dark images
- Vignette (new): Darkens the edges of the image to focus attention on the subject at the center
Previously, Photos allowed you to crop and straighten an image, and iOS 13 also now lets you adjust the vertical and horizontal perspective. You likely won’t change perspectives often, but it’s nice to have the option.
Even more impressive, Photos in iOS 13 lets you apply all these edits—the adjustments and cropping/tilting—to videos as well as still images. Video edits are non-destructive, too, which makes it easy to play with effects. Photos video editing may not compare with the full features of a video editor like iMovie, but it’s a huge step forward.
Apple also tweaked other aspects of Photos.
- Multiple search terms work better now, so it’s easy to search for “cat tree” and find just the pictures of your cat in a tree.
- Live Photos and videos begin playing as you scroll past them, which is pretty neat.
- You can control the intensity of any filter to fine-tune the look of a photo.
- Soundtracks for Memory movies are now based on what you listen to in Apple Music.
- You can now pinch-to-zoom while editing to see the effect of an edit on a portion of the photo.
If you haven’t explored the new features of Photos on your iPhone or iPad after updating to iOS 13 or iPadOS 13, take some time and check them out.
(Featured image by Adam Engst)
Social Media: In iOS 13, Apple overhauled Photos to provide more sensible organization and more powerful editing capabilities. Even better, all of its editing tools now work with videos too! Read on for details.
Historically, picking a new Wi-Fi network has required you to open the Settings app and tap Wi-Fi, forcing you to unlock your iPhone or switch away from what you were doing. In iOS 13, however, Apple added a better way to connect to a new Wi-Fi network. Open Control Center (swipe down from the upper-right corner on an iPhone X or later or an iPad; or up from the bottom on an earlier iPhone), press and hold on the network settings card in the upper-left corner to expand it, and then press and hold on the Wi-Fi icon to reveal a list of Wi-Fi networks. Tap one to switch to it.
Power users like keyboard shortcuts because it’s faster to press a couple of keys than to navigate lengthy menus. If you have trouble remembering shortcuts, check out KeyCue, which displays a concise table of all currently available shortcuts. But what about menu items that lack shortcuts? Make your own in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts. Click the + button, choose an app from the Application menu, fill in the Menu Title field, click the Keyboard Shortcut field, press your desired key combination, and click Add. You can even make shortcuts for Safari bookmarks, since they appear in the Bookmarks menu. If a shortcut doesn’t work, make sure you typed its menu title exactly right, including any punctuation like three periods for an ellipsis. To edit an item, double-click its title or shortcut in the list. If you no longer want an item, select it and click the – button.
Most Mac users rely on iPhones and iPads to take photos and store them in the Photos app, which happens automatically for those who use Apple’s iCloud Photos syncing service. But what if you want to import photos from a device other than an iPhone or iPad—say a Samsung smartphone running Android—and what if you don’t want those images in Photos? Turn to Apple’s Image Capture app, which has shipped with macOS for ages and is stored in your Applications folder’s Utilities folder. To use it, connect your device to your Mac via USB, launch Image Capture, and click the device in the sidebar. Choose a destination from the Import To pop-up menu, and then either select some photos and click Import or click the Import All button to get everything.
Digital cameras have been around long enough that people have stopped making snarky comments about how hard it is to find anything in a shoebox filled with hundreds of unorganized photos. But given the tens of thousands of photos many of us now have, it’s hard to be smug about the ease of finding any given image. Luckily, Apple has provided us with numerous tools in the Photos app to help. Some of these organization systems you have to set up and maintain, but others work silently for you in the background. Let’s start with the automatic methods.
It’s impossible to miss how Photos automatically organizes your photo library by date, particularly in macOS 10.15 Catalina, where the Photos view lets you drill down by Year, Month, and Day. One tip: Day view doesn’t necessarily show you all the pictures taken on a particular day; to see them, click All Photos.
If you don’t want to browse, you can also search (choose Edit > Find) on things like “2015” or “January 2015.” The utility of such searches is that they filter the displayed images to just those taken in that year or month. You can even search on “January” to find all photos taken in January of any year.
With a little training of its facial recognition algorithms, Photos can automatically create and maintain collections of photos of particular people. Click People in the sidebar to see the faces that Photos has identified automatically, and if any of them currently lack names, click the Name button for a photo you want to identify, enter a name, and either press Return or select from the suggestions. Although it may not happen immediately, Photos will scan all photos for other pictures of each person and add them; if you get a banner in the toolbar asking you to review additional photos, click Review and then deselect any photos that aren’t that person in the next dialog.
Whenever you’re looking for a photo of a particular person, the fastest way may be to focus on just those photos that contain their face. Click People in the sidebar and double-click the desired person’s box to see their photos. Make sure to click Show More to see all the matched photos, rather than just those Photos deems the best.
By default, the Camera app tags every iPhone or iPad photo with the location where you took the picture. That enables you to search for images on a map. Click Places in the sidebar, and then pan and zoom the map to find the desired location. Click any photo thumbnail to show just the photos taken in that spot. If you know the name of the location, you can also search for it directly—Photos knows the names of all geotagged locations.
Location-based searching could be a godsend for real-estate agents, builders, and others who need to collect images by address. No need to use keywords or other metadata, since the geotagging provides all the necessary information.
AI Object Search
In the last few releases of Photos, Apple has added object searching, which finds photos based on their contents. Looking for photos of cows, or beaches, or oak trees? Just type what you want to find into the Photos search field, and Photos might find it.
Although it’s magic when this approach works, don’t put too much stock in it. Searching for “cow” also brought up images of pigs, goats, and horses for us. Close, in that they’re all four-legged farm animals, but no cigar.
Sometimes, what you want to find is already categorized by its media type. If you want to find a selfie, for instance, or a panorama, look no further than the Media Types collection in the Photos sidebar. It includes dedicated albums that automatically update themselves to contain videos, selfies, Live Photos, Portrait-mode photos, panoramas, time-lapse movies, slo-mo movies, bursts, screenshots, and animated GIFs.
Albums and Smart Albums
With the categorization techniques so far, you don’t have to do much, if anything. With albums, however, all organization is entirely manual. Creating a new album is easy—select some photos and then choose File > New Album with Selection. After the fact, you can add more photos to the album by dragging them from the main window to the album in the sidebar. And, of course, clicking the album in the sidebar displays all the photos.
Smart albums are entirely different from albums—they are essentially saved searches. To create one, choose File > New Smart Album and then define the matching criteria. Photos provides oodles of options, making it easy to create a smart album that, for instance, holds photos of a particular person taken with one specific camera over a certain time frame.
An aspect of working with albums and smart albums that can be confusing is how to delete photos. When you remove a photo from a regular album, you’re just taking it out of that album, not deleting it from your library. (To actually delete a photo from your library, click Photos in the sidebar before selecting the photo and pressing the Delete key.) The only way to remove a photo from a smart album is to ensure that it no longer matches the smart album’s criteria, either by changing the conditions or by modifying the photo’s metadata, which isn’t always possible.
If you want to tag individual images in a way that makes them easy to find later, keywords are an excellent option. Choose Window > Keyword Manager to display the floating Keywords window, and click Edit Keywords to open the editing view where you can click + to add a keyword (complete with a one-letter shortcut, which also puts it at the top of the Keywords window). Click – to remove a keyword (from the list and from any photos to which it’s assigned). Click OK to switch back to the main keyword view.
To assign a keyword, select a set of photos or just focus on the current one. Either click the keyword in the Keywords window or press its associated letter shortcut. Clicking or pressing the shortcut again removes the keyword.
You can see what keywords are attached to an image by making sure View > Metadata > Keywords is chosen and then clicking the badge that Photos adds to keyworded images. To find everything with a particular keyword, though, you’ll have to do a search and, if necessary, look at the Keywords collection at the bottom of the search results.
Titles and Descriptions
Another way to find photos manually is to give them titles or descriptions and then search for words in those bits of metadata. Applying consistent titles and descriptions manually would be onerous, but you can do multiple selected images as easily as one. Select some pictures, choose Window > Info, and in the Info window, enter a title or description. Close the Info window to save.
To see (and edit) the title under each image, make sure View > Metadata > Titles is chosen. To find included words, you need to do a search, just like with keywords.
Choosing the Best Approach for Your Needs
So many choices! Here’s our advice about which should you use:
- When possible, stick with the approaches (date, People, Places, object search, media types) that require little or no additional tagging work. People and Places are particularly useful that way.
- If you can construct a smart album that finds all the images you want, do it. However, it may not be useful (or possible) unless you’re looking for a subset of photos that already are in an album, have a keyword, or are attached to a person.
- Use albums for quick, ad-hoc collections or for collections of related photos. They’re easy to make and use, and to delete if you no longer need them. An album would be good for collecting all the photos from your summer vacation.
- Use keywords to identify general aspects of images throughout your entire photo library that you’re happy to access only by searching or via a smart album. Keywords would be useful for tagging all the photos you take of lecture slides, or that relate to your hobby.
- Avoid relying on titles and descriptions if you can. It’s too easy to make mistakes such that later you can’t find items you’ve titled or described. Albums and keywords are better for organization. Leave the titles and descriptions for actually titling and describing individual images.
Next time you think, “I wish I could find all my photos that…,” take a minute and think through these options to decide which will best serve your needs.
Social Media: Feeling overwhelmed by the task of finding a particular photo in the haystack of your digital photo library? We run through all the ways you can categorize and search for images.