Amazing New Tips for Rearranging Apps on Your iPhone or iPad

You’ve likely seen our tip on using the Dock on an iPhone or iPad as a temporary holding place that makes rearranging apps easier. We’ve learned two new tips that help even more! First, you can move multiple apps at once. Start by touching an app, waiting to feel a tap, and then moving it (or just touch and hold and tap Edit Home Screen to enter jiggle mode first). Once you’ve picked up an app, drag it down to the blank spot on the right side of the Home screen just above the Dock so you can see what you’re doing while keeping your finger down. Then, with a finger on your other hand, tap other apps to “stack” them on the first app. Now move the stack to the desired location and lift your finger. Second, instead of laboriously dragging the stack to another Home screen, before you lift your finger to drop the stack, use that other finger to swipe left or right to move between Home screens—in essence, you’re moving the Home screen under the stack you’re holding. For a visual demo of these tips, see the TidBITS video.

(Featured image by ammiel jr on Unsplash)

New Back Tap Feature in iOS 14 Provides Two Customizable Shortcuts

We all have things we do regularly on our iPhones, whether it’s checking the weather, searching Google, or invoking the magnifier. Apple has long provided ways of making your most common actions easier to access. You might put an app on your Dock, open Control Center, or take advantage of the triple-press Accessibility shortcut. With iOS 14, Apple has opened up a new and customizable way of triggering actions: Back Tap.

With a double or triple tap on the back of any iPhone 8 or newer running iOS 14, you can invoke any one of a variety of actions, including custom Shortcuts. Sorry, Back Tap isn’t available in iPadOS 14.

Enabling Back Tap is easy, although you might not stumble upon it on your own. That’s because it’s technically an accessibility feature for those who have trouble interacting with the iPhone physically. But just as curb cuts help both those in wheelchairs and stroller-pushing parents, the Back Tap feature is a boon for everyone.

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap (it’s way down at the bottom), where you can attach actions to both double tap and a triple tap.

Apple provides a broad set of actions, but most of them are focused on helping people who can’t use other iPhone gestures. So yes, you could make a double tap open Spotlight for searching, but unless that’s somehow a lot easier than swiping down on the Home screen, it’s not worth one of your two triggers. Actions fall into four categories:

  • System: Most of the System choices mimic easy Home screen gestures or button presses. Most interesting are Mute, which toggles the ringer volume without forcing you to press the Volume Down button repeatedly, and Screenshot, which takes a picture of your screen without making you press two buttons at once.
  • Accessibility: For those who need these Accessibility options, having them easily accessible via Back Tap will be welcome. The most compelling actions for the general public are Magnifier, Speak Screen, and Voice Control. (Voice Control provides much more capable dictation than Siri.)
  • Scroll Gestures: These options scroll a vertically oriented page or screen. Sadly, they don’t work for horizontally driven page flipping in book reading apps like Libby.
  • Shortcuts: Here’s where Back Tap becomes ultimately useful, at least if you can find or build the necessary shortcuts. Anything Shortcuts can do, you can invoke with a double or triple tap.

Wait, what’s Shortcuts? It’s an automation app that Apple includes with every iPhone. With it, you can chain together multiple actions derived from iOS capabilities or provided by your apps to create custom shortcuts. Other systems call similar collections of commands macros or automations or workflows.

Explaining how to build your own shortcuts is a topic for another day, but you can also download sample shortcuts from Apple’s gallery, both to see how it’s done and to use them. For instance, if you tap the Gallery button in Shortcuts ➊, tap Starter Shortcuts ➋, tap Take a Break ➌, and tap Add Shortcut ➍, you’ll copy the Take a Break shortcut to My Shortcuts. Then you can assign a double tap in Back Tap to invoke Take a Break, which sets an alarm for a specified number of minutes and turns on Do Not Disturb until the alarm goes off.

If you want to learn more about Shortcuts right away, check out Take Control of Shortcuts, a 122-page ebook by Rosemary Orchard.

Give it a try! Back Tap might turn out to be the iOS 14 feature you use more frequently than any other.

(Featured image by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels)

Home Screen Widgets Take Center Stage in iOS 14

A significant new feature in iOS 14 is Home screen widgets, information-rich tiles that share space on a Home screen with app icons. iPhone users familiar with Google’s Android smartphone operating system have long clamored for widgets because they provide quick information at a glance, without having to launch an app or swipe right on the Home screen for Today view.

In fact, you could think of iOS 14’s Home screen widgets as having escaped Today view—which is still there and provides access to a scrolling list of widgets that you choose. Widgets do need to be updated for iOS 14 to live on the Home screen and appear at the top of the Today view list. Older widgets remain accessible at the bottom of Today view, and you can add and remove them by tapping Edit at the very bottom of the Today view screen.

Adding Widgets

To add a widget to a Home screen or to Today view (which, for the purposes of widget management, is just another Home screen), follow these steps:

  1. Touch and hold any empty spot on a Home screen until the icons start jiggling.
  2. Tap the + button at the top of the screen.
  3. In the Widget pop-up, scroll or search to find apps that offer widgets.
  4. Tap any widget to see its options; swipe left and right to see different sizes or types of information.
  5. Once you’ve found the widget size and content you want, tap Add Widget.
  6. Back on the Home screen, drag the widget to the desired location, which may involve dragging it to another Home screen or the Today view. Remember that you can instead swipe with another finger to move the screen underneath the widget while you’re dragging.
  7. After you position it as you want, tap Done in the upper-right corner (Face ID) or press the Home button (Touch ID).

One tip: Other apps and widgets will move out of the way, which can be disconcerting, and it can result in your apps being shuffled around weirdly in the end. It’s safest to add widgets to an empty or nearly empty Home screen and, once you’ve gotten them configured as you like, move them to your final destination Home screen.

Choosing Widget Sizes and Types

Widgets come in up to three sizes: a small square that occupies the space of four app icons, a horizontal rectangle that’s the size of two rows of apps, and a large square that takes up the space of four rows of apps. Plus, apps can provide multiple widgets, so the Spark email and calendar app, for instance, has nine different widgets that show recent email messages and upcoming events in a variety of layouts.

You might be thinking that widgets are cool but that they take up a lot of space. That’s true, and although nothing prevents you from having a bunch of Home screens devoted to nothing but widgets, you can also combine widgets into a stack. To do this, when you’re in jiggle mode, simply drag one widget onto another of the same size, much as you’d add an app to a folder. iOS 14 combines the two and, once you leave jiggle mode, lets you swipe up and down on the widget to move between them. You can add quite a few widgets to a stack, though at some point, it will become challenging to find the one you want.

Stacks have another trick up their sleeve: Smart Rotate. When this option is enabled, the stack automatically displays the widget it thinks you’re most likely to want to see from the available set. How it chooses is a black box, so we can’t predict how well it will work for you. Smart Rotate seems to be on by default; if you want to check or turn it off, touch and hold on a stack ➊, tap Edit Stack ➋, and then toggle the Smart Rotate switch ➌. Note that you can also rearrange the order of widgets by dragging their handles ➍ and delete one directly by swiping left on it ➎.

For an Apple-mediated taste of what this might be like, consider adding a special type of widget: the Smart Stack, which always sits at the top of the otherwise-alphabetical list of apps that provide widgets when you’re looking for one to add. The Smart Stack widget, which is available in all three sizes, automatically populates itself with widgets that it thinks you’re likely to find interesting. It too employs Smart Rotate, and you can edit the Smart Stack just like one you’ve created.

Removing Widgets

It will take some experimentation to hit upon a set of widgets that show the information you want, so don’t be shy about removing widgets or stacks that aren’t being helpful. To do so:

  1. Touch and hold any empty spot on a Home screen until the icons start jiggling.
  2. Tap the – button in the upper-left corner of a widget or stack.
  3. In the alert that appears, tap Remove. Repeat as desired.
  4. Tap Done in the upper-right corner (Face ID), or press the Home button (Touch ID).

You can also touch and hold a widget or stack and then tap Remove Widget or Remove Stack.

What’s most important about the new Home screen widgets in iOS 14 is that they’re completely individualized. No two iPhone users will even have the same widget choices, and as your favorite apps are updated for iOS 14, new widgets will appear. So take a few minutes to explore what’s available now, and be sure to check back every month or so.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

What’s MDM, and Why Is It Useful for Organizations?

For those who work in organizations, regardless of size, you know how much effort is involved with coordinating a group’s technology. It can take quite some time to set up a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone with all the right apps, settings, and logins. And that’s just to get started—on an everyday basis, maintaining solid security practices is essential, and support requests are inevitable.

The solution to all this is MDM, or mobile device management, which is a way of centrally administering computers, tablets, and smartphones to simplify setup and ensure peace of mind for both employers and employees. Apple strongly encourages the use of MDM; the company continually enhances the core capabilities that MDM systems expose for IT administrators. If the benefits we outline here interest you, contact us to talk about your needs.

Benefits to the Organization

MDM is a big win for organizations, including businesses, non-profits, schools, government agencies, and more. It’s just too hard—and too insecure—to deal with every device individually. With MDM, organizations benefit in the following ways.

  • Quick, consistent setup: With MDM, organizations can create profiles—collections of settings and account information—and install them automatically as part of a deployment strategy. In the best case, users have to do little more than power on the device and sign in; it automatically checks with the MDM server and downloads the necessary information. MDM solutions also let organizations install and configure approved sets of apps to ensure that every employee has the tools they need at their fingertips.
  • Improved security: A great deal of digital security comes down to policies: requiring a strong passcode, ensuring secure settings for things like screensavers, requiring that backups be encrypted, and more. All these options are easily set and enforced by MDM profiles. Plus, MDM can separate personal and business accounts and data and even ensure encryption of on-device data. And perhaps most important, MDM enables remote locating, locking, and wiping of lost devices.
  • Lower costs: Although MDM solutions usually come with a monthly cost, research shows that organizations save money overall in two main ways. Initially, MDM reduces setup costs by replacing an hour or two of hands-on effort with remotely pushed deployment. Over time, the consistency of setup and app availability dramatically reduces ongoing support costs.
  • Asset tracking: An MDM solution enables information-rich asset tracking, making it easy for an organization to see exactly what devices it owns, which employees have them, and where they’re located. Such a system enables more efficient use of existing resources and easier lifecycle management.

Benefits to the User

Although it might seem as though MDM is primarily aimed at helping and protecting the organization, individual users benefit as well.

  • Personal/work separation: MDM makes it possible to separate personal and work accounts and data, which can eliminate the need to carry both personal and work phones at all times. In some cases, MDM can also make it so employees can securely use their own devices—which might be newer or more powerful—with organizational data and accounts.
  • Faster, easier setup: Most people don’t look forward to setting up and configuring devices, particularly when typing in usernames and passwords for numerous accounts. MDM does much of that, so employees can focus on their actual jobs.
  • Peace of mind: With the security policies enforced by MDM, users can have confidence that they haven’t inadvertently done anything to expose confidential data. Plus, mistakes happen, and devices are lost or stolen. An MDM solution might be able to locate a lost device, and if not, it can ensure that the device is both worthless and unable to reveal anything damaging.

As helpful as MDM is once your organization is using it, we won’t pretend that choosing and setting up an MDM solution is trivial. Unless you have significant IT staff and resources, it makes sense to work with people who already have considerable MDM experience. We do, and we’d be happy to discuss a custom approach that fits your needs.

(Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

The Best Apple-Related Gifts for 2020

The holiday shopping season is fast approaching! Given the significant stresses placed on society’s fulfillment, distribution, and delivery systems by the pandemic, we recommend you start thinking about your holiday gift-giving sooner rather than later. Even Apple, which generally does an excellent job predicting demand and shipping products quickly, has been suffering from delays this year. But if you order in time, Apple has a wide variety of products that would make great gifts for your Apple-using loved ones.

AirPods and AirPods Pro

Apple makes two models of its insanely popular wireless earbuds: the original AirPods and the noise-canceling AirPods Pro. Although it’s tempting to assume that the AirPods Pro are simply better than the AirPods, the decision isn’t that simple. The AirPods are cheaper ($159, or $199 with a wireless charging case) and don’t block the ear canal. The AirPods Pro are smaller and cost $249, and you also get active noise cancellation, a customizable fit, a wireless charging case, and sweat and water resistance. However, the AirPods Pro block the ear canal, which many people dislike, and don’t stay in as well for some.

HomePod and HomePod mini

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker lags behind Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home devices in large part because of its price, which started at $349 and later dropped to $299. But the sound that the HomePod puts out is top-notch, and Apple has done a good job of integrating the HomePod into the overall ecosystem of Apple devices, so you can use it as a speaker for an Apple TV. It also works well for controlling HomeKit-compatible lights and plugs.

Cognizant of the price problem, Apple has just introduced a new HomePod mini that enters the market at $99. It’s also a lot smaller than the original HomePod, and while its sound probably isn’t as good due to fewer bits of audio hardware, we’re betting that it’s still excellent. A HomePod mini can do nearly anything a HomePod can do, including creating a stereo pair with another HomePod mini (but not with a HomePod). It’s a cheaper introduction to having a Siri-enabled smart speaker and a nice way to bring audio into other parts of a home or office.


Apple’s iPad line is stronger than ever. At the top, the iPad Pro comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch models, and while they’re bursting with power, they’re also on the high end of the price spectrum (starting at $799 and $999), which makes them less attractive as gifts. Plus, they might be due for updates soon.

Instead, for a demanding iPad user, look at the new fourth-generation iPad Air ($699), which combines the flat-edged industrial design of the iPad Pro with Apple’s latest chip. It’s compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil ($129) and the Magic Keyboard for iPad ($299).

For kids or those who want an iPad for simpler purposes like browsing the Web, reading books, watching TV, and playing casual games, you won’t go wrong with the new eighth-generation iPad, which combines thoroughly respectable specs with a low price starting at $329. For additional input options, it works with the first-generation Apple Pencil ($99) and the Smart Keyboard ($159).

Finally, don’t count the fifth-generation iPad mini out. At $399, it’s a little more expensive than the 10.2-inch iPad, but its 7.9-inch screen makes it a lot smaller, which many people like. It too is compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil, and although Apple doesn’t make any keyboards for it, it will work with any Bluetooth keyboard. If you’re having trouble deciding between the iPad and the iPad mini, check out Apple’s comparison tool.

Apple Watch gift certificate

Finally, we love the Apple Watch, and it would seem to make a great gift. However, we urge caution when considering it as a present. The problem is Apple provides a dizzying number of options, and everyone has their own preferences, so it’s difficult to know what to get. You can choose from the new Apple Watch Series 6 (starting at $399), the equally new but less expensive Apple Watch SE (starting at $279), or the older Apple Watch Series 3 (starting at $199). Get the Series 6 if you want an Always-On Display, blood oxygen sensor, and ECG capabilities. The Apple Watch SE lacks those three options but has the same screen size as the Series 6, along with its compass, altimeter, and fall detection feature. And the Series 3 has a slightly smaller screen and just the core Apple Watch features. Apple has a helpful comparison tool.

Within each model, you have to choose between larger and smaller case sizes, pick a case material (aluminum for all, or stainless steel or titanium for the Series 6), a case color, a band type, and a band color. And then there’s the question of whether Wi-Fi–only is sufficient or if a cellular-capable model makes more sense.

So unless you think you know exactly what the recipient would like, we’d encourage giving a certificate that’s good for a conversation about what would be most appreciated. Then sit down with the Apple Watch Studio to run through all the aesthetic decisions.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)