Create and Name Reminders Lists to Use Them Via Siri

Do you create reminders with Siri on the iPhone? Those reminders are automatically added to your default list, which you set in Settings > Reminders > Default List. That’s great generally—“Hey Siri, remind me to update watchOS tonight at 11 PM”—but less good when you want to maintain different shopping lists. For instance, create a list called “Grocery,” and then you can tell Siri, “Put chocolate-covered bacon on my Grocery list.” Want to get fancy? Make a list called “Hardware,” and then tell Siri, “Add birdseed to my Hardware list, and remind me when I arrive at Home Depot.” You may have to pick the correct Home Depot location from a list, but then you’ll receive an alert reminding you to buy birdseed when you pull into the parking lot. To look at any list via Siri, just say something like “Show my Grocery list.”

Install Minor Operating System Updates to Maintain Herd Immunity

It seems like Apple releases updates to iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS nearly every week these days. It has been only a few months since iOS 11 and macOS 10.13 High Sierra launched, and we’ve already seen ten updates to iOS and seven updates to macOS. Some of these have been to fix bugs, which is great, but quite a few have been prompted by the need for Apple to address security vulnerabilities.

Have you installed all these updates, or have you been procrastinating, tapping that Later link on the iPhone and rejecting your Mac’s notifications? We’re not criticizing—all too often those prompts come at inconvenient times, although iOS has gotten better about installing during the night, as long as you plug in your iPhone or iPad.

We know, security is dull. Or rather, security is dull as long as it’s present. Things get exciting—and not in a good way—when serious vulnerabilities come to light. That’s what happened in November 2017, when it was reported that anyone could gain admin access to any Mac running High Sierra by typing root for the username and leaving the password field blank. That one was so bad that Apple pushed Security Update 2017-001 to every affected Mac and rolled the fix into macOS 10.13.2.

Part of the problem with security vulnerabilities is that they can be astonishingly complex. You may have heard about the Meltdown and Spectre hardware vulnerabilities discovered in January 2018. They affect nearly all modern computers, regardless of operating system, because they take advantage of a design flaw in the microprocessors. Unfortunately, the bad guys—organized crime, government intelligence agencies, and the like—have the resources to understand and exploit these flaws.

But here’s the thing. Security is an arms race, with attackers trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities and operating system companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google proactively working to block them with updates. If enough people install those updates quickly enough, the attackers will move on to the next vulnerability.

The moral of the story? Always install those minor updates. It’s not so much because you will definitely be targeted if you fail to stay up to date, but because if the Apple community as a whole ceases to be vigilant about upgrading, the dark forces on the Internet will start to see macOS and iOS as low-hanging fruit. As long as most people update relatively quickly, it’s not worthwhile for attackers to put a lot of resources into messing with Macs, iPhones, and iPads.

That said, before you install those updates, make sure to update your backups. It’s unusual for anything significant to go wrong during this sort of system upgrade, but having a fresh backup ensures that if anything does go amiss, you can easily get back to where you were before.

Find the Battery Percentage Indicator on the iPhone X

Wondering what happened to the numeric battery percentage indicator on the iPhone X? The notch takes up enough space at the top of the screen that there was room only for the battery icon, which can be hard to interpret. If you want to see precisely what percentage of your battery is left, swipe down slightly from the top-right corner of the screen. That gives you the full set of indicators, including battery percentage. You don’t have to keep swiping down enough to show Control Center, but if you do, all the indicators will be there too.

Call 911! Or, with an iPhone or Apple Watch, Invoke Emergency SOS.

Have you ever needed to call emergency services from your or someone else’s iPhone? Almost by definition, such calls take place at stressful times, and it can be hard to remember what to do. Or, if you’ve been in an accident, it might be difficult or impossible to navigate the iPhone’s interface. In iOS 10.2 and watchOS 3 and later, Apple added the Emergency SOS feature to help.

Emergency SOS does three things:

  • First, it calls emergency services, using whatever number is appropriate for your location, which could be particularly helpful when you’re traveling abroad.
  • After your emergency call ends, Emergency SOS sends a text message with your location to emergency contacts that you’ve set up previously in the Health app.
  • Finally, it displays your Medical ID for first responders so they can be aware of things like medication allergies. You create your Medical ID in the Health app as well.

How you invoke Emergency SOS varies slightly depending on which Apple device you have:

  • On the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, press and hold the side button and either of the Volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. Either drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services right away, or just keep holding the side and Volume buttons. If you continue holding the buttons down, a countdown begins and an alert sounds; at the end of the countdown, the iPhone automatically places the call, a feature that Apple calls Auto Call. 

     

  • On the iPhone 7 and earlier, rapidly press the side button five times to bring up the Emergency SOS slider. Drag the slider to call emergency services. (The quintuple-click can work on the new iPhones too; it’s an option in Settings > Emergency SOS.)
  • The Apple Watch acts like the newer iPhones. Press and hold the side button to bring up the Emergency SOS slider, or keep holding the side button to start a countdown after which the Apple Watch will call emergency services automatically via Auto Call. The Apple Watch must be connected to your iPhone, be on a known Wi-Fi network and have Wi-Fi Calling enabled, or be an Apple Watch Series 3 with a cellular plan.

It’s only human to want to test this in a non-emergency situation, and you can do so without actually placing the call. On both the iPhone and the Apple Watch, there will be a red hangup button you can tap, followed by an End Call or Stop Calling button. Similarly, you can cancel notifications of your emergency contacts.

You’ll also want to stop calls if they’re placed accidentally—we know someone who had his hand in his pocket in such a way as to press the Apple Watch’s side button long enough to start the call, and since he was in a noisy environment, he didn’t hear the alert or notice anything until the 911 service called his iPhone back.

To add emergency contacts—the people who you’d want notified if you were in an accident, for instance—follow these steps on your iPhone:

  1. Open the Health app, and tap the Medical ID button at the lower right.
  2. Tap Edit, and then scroll down to Emergency Contacts.
  3. Tap the green + button to add a contact.
  4. Select the desired person, and when prompted, pick their relationship to you.
  5. Tap Done to save your changes.

Two notes. First, if you’re concerned about activating the Auto Call feature inadvertently, you can turn it off in Settings > Emergency SOS on the iPhone, and for the Apple Watch in the Watch app, in My Watch > General > Emergency SOS.

Second, bringing up the screen with the Emergency SOS slider also automatically disables Touch ID and Face ID, such that you must enter your passcode to re-enable them.

We sincerely hope that you never have to use Emergency SOS, but that if you do, it proves to be a faster and more effective way of contacting emergency services.

How to Split Restaurant Checks with Apple Pay Cash

You’re out to lunch with tech-savvy friends, one of whom picks up the check and says, “Just send me your share via Apple Pay Cash.” Say what?

Apple Pay Cash is Apple’s new person-to-person payment service, designed to make it easy for individuals to send and receive money. It’s perfect for repaying a friend who buys concert tickets or a relative who picks up some groceries for you. Or rather, it’s perfect if your friends and relatives use iPhones with iOS 11.2 or later—for green-bubble Android acquaintances, you can instead rely on cross-platform services like Venmo, Circle, and Square Cash. Here’s how to start using Apple Pay Cash.

First, if you haven’t yet enabled Apple Pay, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay > Add Credit or Debit Card, and follow the prompts to add at least a debit card. You’ll also need two-factor authentication turned on in Settings > Your Name > Password & Security—regardless of Apple Pay, two-factor authentication is essential for security. With Apple Pay enabled, tap Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay > Apple Pay Cash and run through the setup process. You might also be asked to verify your identity after setup—it’s necessary to send or receive more than $500 in total.

When you’re done, you’ll end up with a new Apple Pay Cash card in the Wallet app. It’s a virtual card that stores money you receive and works like any other debit card for payments. If it doesn’t have enough money on it to cover a payment, you can choose any other debit or credit card you’ve added to Apple Pay. You can also add money to it or withdraw money to a linked bank account. You’ll want to use a debit card when adding money or paying beyond your balance with Apple Pay Cash, since then there is no transaction fee. A credit card incurs a 3% fee.

To send or request money via Apple Pay Cash, you use its Messages app, which is installed automatically. While in an iMessage thread (blue bubbles) with the person with whom you want to exchange money, make sure the app drawer is showing (tap the app button if necessary) and then tap the Apple Pay button in the drawer.

A panel appears with a dollar amount, + and – buttons, and buttons for Request and Pay. Use the + and – buttons to set the amount, or tap the dollar amount to show a keypad where you can enter an exact amount, with cents if necessary. Then tap Request or Pay to insert the transaction into the message. It won’t be sent until you tap the black send button, so if you change your mind, you can tap the little x to delete. Lastly, you’ll be prompted to verify the transaction in the usual Apple Pay fashion, which means authenticating with Face ID on the iPhone X or Touch ID on all other iPhones.

You can even use Siri to initiate transfers—“Send my mother $15.” or “Ask my sister for $4.99.” And if you have an Apple Watch with watchOS 4.2 or later, you can also send money from the Messages app, or send or request money via Siri. On the watch, double-press the side button to confirm the transaction.

Frankly, the only downside to Apple Pay Cash is that it works only within the Apple world. But as long as you want to exchange money with Apple-using friends and relatives, it’s fast, easy, reliable, and one less reason to visit the ATM.

Ransomware: Should You Be Worried, and What Protective Steps Should You Take?

Malware makes headlines regularly these days, and although Macs are targeted far less than Windows PCs, Mac users still need to remain vigilant. A particularly serious type of malware is called “ransomware” because once it infects your computer, it encrypts all your files and holds them for ransom.

Luckily, despite the virulence of ransomware in the Windows world, where there have been major infections of CryptoWall and WannaCry, only a few pieces of ransomware have been directed at Mac users:

  • The first, called FileCoder, was discovered in 2014. When security researchers looked into its code, they discovered that it was incomplete, and posed no threat at the time.
  • The first fully functional ransomware for the Mac appeared in 2016, a bit of nastiness called KeRanger. It hid inside an infected version of the open source Transmission BitTorrent client and was properly signed so it could circumvent Apple’s Gatekeeper protections. As many as 6500 people may have been infected by KeRanger before Apple revoked the relevant certificate and updated macOS’s XProtect anti-malware technology to block it.
  • In 2017, researchers discovered another piece of ransomware, called Patcher, which purported to help users download pirated copies of Adobe Premiere and Microsoft Office 2016. According to its Bitcoin wallet, no one had paid the ransom, which was good, since it had no way of decrypting the files it had encrypted.

Realistically, don’t worry too much. But it’s likely that malware authors will unleash additional Mac ransomware packages in the future, so we encourage you to be aware, informed, and prepared.

First, let’s explain a few key terms and technologies. Apple’s Gatekeeper technology protects your Mac from malware by letting you launch only apps downloaded from the Mac App Store, or those that are signed by developers who have a Developer ID from Apple. Since malware won’t come from legitimate developers (and Apple can revoke stolen signatures), Gatekeeper protects you from most malware. However, you can override Gatekeeper’s protections to run an unsigned app. Do this only for apps from trusted developers. Even if you never override Gatekeeper, be careful what you download.

Apple’s XProtect technology takes a more focused approach, checking every new app against a relatively short list of known malware and preventing apps on that list from launching. Make sure to leave the “Install system data files and security updates” checkbox selected in System Preferences > App Store. That ensures that you’ll get XProtect updates. Similarly, install macOS updates and security updates soon after they’re released to make sure you’re protected against newly discovered vulnerabilities that malware could exploit.

Also consider running anti-malware software like Malwarebytes. That’s not absolutely necessary, like anti-malware solutions are for Windows, but doing so can provide peace of mind, particularly if you regularly visit sketchy parts of the Internet or download dodgy software. Of course the smarter thing to do is to avoid these sketchy sites in the first place. Don’t ever try to download pirated software.

Although regular backups with Time Machine are usually helpful, KeRanger tried to encrypt Time Machine backup files to prevent users from recovering their data that way. Similarly, a bootable duplicate updated automatically by SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner could end up replacing good files with encrypted ones from a ransomware-infected Mac, or a future piece of ransomware could try to encrypt other mounted backup disks as well.

The best protection against ransomware is a versioned backup made to a destination that can be accessed only through the backup app, such as an Internet backup service like Backblaze (home and business) or CrashPlan (business only). The beauty of such backups is that you can restore files from before the ransomware encrypted them. Of course, that assumes you’ve been backing up all along.

If you ever are infected with ransomware, don’t panic, and don’t pay the ransom right away. Contact us so we can help you work through your options, which might entail restoring from a backup or bringing files back from older cloud storage versions. There are even descriptors for some Windows ransomware packages, and such utilities might appear for hypothetical Mac ransomware as well.

To reiterate, there’s no reason to worry too much about ransomware on the Mac, but letting Apple’s XProtect keep itself up to date, staying current with macOS updates, and using an Internet backup service will likely protect you from what may come.

Having Trouble Switching Apps on the iPhone X? Try This.

Since the iPhone X lacks a Home button to press twice for the app switcher, you’ll need to switch apps in a new way. To bring up the app switcher, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to about halfway, and then pause until the app thumbnails appear. Then you can scroll through your launched apps by swiping horizontally and switch to an app by tapping its thumbnail. While in the app switcher, you can also force-quit a frozen app: press a thumbnail to get a red minus button and tap that button. Alternatively, you can skip the app switcher entirely. Instead, swipe right on the very bottom of the screen to switch to the previous app—swiping left switches to the next app.

Who Should Buy the New iMac Pro?

Apple’s new iMac Pro has started shipping, and it’s an astonishing machine. Put simply, it’s the most powerful Mac ever, a title it will likely retain until Apple releases a new version of the Mac Pro, promised for sometime in 2018. But for now, what’s special about the iMac Pro, and should you buy one?

The main thing to know about the space gray iMac Pro is that it’s aimed at high-end professionals, and as a result, it gets pricey fast. The base configuration starts at $4999, and if you max out all its options, you’ll spend over $13,000. That’s a lot of money, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.

The power starts with the processor, an 8-core Intel Xeon W. If that’s not enough performance for you, there are also 10-core, 14-core, and 18-core options. Apple didn’t skimp on RAM either—32 GB comes standard, and you can bump it to either 64 GB or 128 GB. The default storage is a 1 TB solid-state drive, but you can increase that to 2 TB or 4 TB. You can’t upgrade the iMac Pro in any way yourself, but you can take it to an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider to have more RAM installed after the fact.

The screen is a stunning 27-inch Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display, and the iMac Pro drives all those pixels with a Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics card with 8 GB of memory, though you can get even more graphics processing power from an optional Radeon Pro Vega 64 card with 16 GB.

Most of the iMac Pro’s other specs are similar to the existing 27-inch iMac with Retina display—a 1080p FaceTime camera, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, an SDXC card slot, four USB 3 ports, and a headphone jack—but it also boasts four Thunderbolt 3 ports for driving external displays and large storage arrays, along with 10 Gb Ethernet for lightning-fast network access.

It comes with a space gray Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad and a space gray Magic Mouse 2. You can switch to a space gray Magic Trackpad for $50 or buy both input devices for $149, which you might want to do because the space gray peripherals aren’t sold separately.

Many of the iMac Pro’s options come with eye-watering price tags—$2400 for the 18-core processor and another $2400 for 128 GB of RAM—but those stratospheric costs make the purchasing decision fairly easy. If you’re in a line of work where increased performance translates directly to increased productivity, you’ll want an iMac Pro as soon as you can get one. It’s ideal for video editors who need to work with 8K video, engineers using complex modeling software, and developers suffering through long compile times. Put simply, if time is money for you, you’ll want an iMac Pro.

And if you’re a professional whose needs aren’t nearly so rarefied, you can rest easy knowing that the regular 27-inch iMac can give you more than enough performance for a lot less money.

Apple’s HomePod Smart Speaker Coming Soon

Move over, Amazon Echo and Google Home, there’s a new smart speaker coming soon. First announced back in June of 2017, Apple’s long-awaited HomePod will ship in the US, UK, and Australia on February 9th for $349. You can get it in space gray or white.

Where Amazon and Google focus mostly on how you can interact with their smart speakers, Apple is emphasizing the audio quality that HomePod users can enjoy. In a cylindrical package just under 7 inches tall, the HomePod boasts seven beam-forming tweeters for high-frequency acoustics, coupled with a large woofer for deep, clean bass.

What makes the HomePod smarter than regular speakers is its A8 chip, which provides it with processing power equivalent to an iPhone 6. Software running on the HomePod gives it spatial awareness, so it can sense its location in the room and adjust the audio automatically for the best listening experience.

With a free software update due later this year, you’ll be able to control multiple HomePods throughout your home, controlling each one independently or playing the same music on all of them, perfectly in sync. Plus, if you put two HomePods in the same room, you’ll be able to set them up as a stereo pair.

But the HomePod can do more than play music. It uses Apple’s Siri voice assistant to listen for your commands with an array of six microphones, so you can ask Siri to send messages, set timers, play podcasts, read the news, get the weather, check sports scores, and more—Apple has even expanded Siri’s knowledge of music for the HomePod. You can also transfer a phone call from your iPhone to your HomePod for a hands-free conversation.

What if you don’t want to talk to your HomePod? You can tap its top to play/pause (single tap), move to the next track (double tap), or go back to the previous track (triple tap). Touching and holding invokes Siri without saying “Hey Siri,” and you can tap or hold the + and – buttons to adjust volume.

Home automation buffs will be excited to know that they can control HomeKit accessories via Siri on the HomePod as well. What’s more, the HomePod can act as a HomeKit hub that can trigger automations and let you control HomeKit accessories while you’re away from home.

But what most people will use the HomePod for, most of the time, is music. For full music functionality, the HomePod requires an Apple Music subscription. Those who don’t subscribe to the $9.99 per month Apple Music will still be able to play music purchased from iTunes, stream Beats 1 Radio, and listen to podcasts.

Setting up a HomePod is simple—just plug it in, and your iPhone or iPad will detect it automatically, just like a pair of AirPods. Like the AirPods, a HomePod requires an iOS device. It must be relatively recent (iPhone 5s or later, iPad Air or later, iPad mini 2 or later, or sixth-generation iPod touch), and it must be running at least iOS 11.2.5—you’ll want to install the latest available version to keep up with tweaks as Apple rolls them out.

It will be a few weeks before the HomePod can be tested against the various Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Our bet is that the HomePod will sound better but understand fewer commands than the more-established products from Amazon and Google. Nevertheless, along with adding multi-room audio and stereo capabilities, Apple will undoubtedly improve Siri’s capabilities on the HomePod over time.

Amazon Prime Video Finally Comes to the Apple TV

A $99-per-year Amazon Prime membership provides various perks, including free 2-day shipping from the Amazon online store and streaming access to Amazon’s media libraries. But for Apple TV users, accessing Prime Video content has been frustrating, because there was no Amazon app for the Apple TV. That has all changed now, and if you have an Amazon Prime membership and an Apple TV, it’s time to download the new Amazon Prime Video app. It gives you a boatload of additional video content, including Amazon’s original programming (like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is hilarious). Find it on your fourth-generation Apple TV or Apple TV 4K in the App Store app. If you are still using a third-generation Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video should appear automatically on your Apple TV Home screen.