The Mac’s Magic Shortcut to Trashing Files and Photos Quickly

Sure, you could select a file in the Finder and choose File > Move to Trash or drag it to the Trash in the Dock. Similarly, you can trash selected photos in Apple’s Photos app by choosing Image > Delete X Photos, or by pressing the Delete key, but both of those methods result in a dialog asking if you’re sure. The easiest way of trashing a file in the Finder or a picture in Photos is to select it and press Command-Delete. Poof, it’s in the Trash (Finder) or Recently Deleted album (Photos), with no extra effort or prompts! And if you accidentally trash the wrong thing, just press Command-Z to restore it. Keep this key combination in mind for other apps too, since they may also support it as a shortcut for “delete without prompting.”

(Featured image by iStock.com/YurolaitsAlbert)

Filter What’s Showing in Photos to Focus on Specific Types

You know you can make albums and smart albums in Photos, and do searches to find photos that contain particular objects. But what if you want to separate photos from videos, identify which images in an album have been edited, or pick out just the ones you’ve favorited? For that, use Photos’ filters. On the Mac (below left), click the Showing menu in the upper-right corner, and in iOS and iPadOS (iPhone screens below right), tap the ••• button in the upper-right corner and tap Filter. Either way, you can choose Favorites, Edited, Photos, or  Videos to limit the items showing to that type. When you’re done, turn the filter off by choosing All Items.

(Featured image by iStock.com/metamorworks)

Picking the Best Mac for a College-Bound Student

Do you have a child heading off to college soon? As you’re undoubtedly aware from high school, a computer is essential for a college student. If you haven’t been paying close attention to Apple’s Mac lineup, you might wonder which model makes the most sense.

First, don’t buy anything without first checking with the college. Many college departments have specific requirements based on the software that students have to use in their classes. Generally, these revolve around processor type, amount of RAM, and storage space. Luckily, current Macs should meet the requirements.

Colleges often specify—and students usually prefer—laptops instead of desktop machines. Although the iMac is an excellent machine with a gorgeous screen, it’s too big and unwieldy for the transient lifestyle of the typical college student. The same is true of a Mac mini and external display. A laptop is much easier to pack during moves, and it can travel to class every day. A student who’s accustomed to taking notes on an iPad with a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that along with a desktop Mac, but most people should focus on Apple’s laptops.

In the past, it was harder to decide which model was best for a given student, but with Apple’s move to the M1 chip, which significantly outperforms the Intel processors used in previous models, the decision is easier. We see three primary scenarios:

  • Most students: Buy Apple’s M1-based MacBook Air. It’s Apple’s smallest, lightest, and least expensive laptop, but thanks to its M1 processor, it has nearly identical performance to the heavier and more costly M1-based MacBook Pro. It also has the same lovely 13.3-inch Retina display. It starts at $999, and an education discount may be available.
  • Slightly better specs: If cost is of little concern, the M1-based MacBook Pro offers just a bit more performance due to fans that keep its M1 chip cool. It also has a Touch Bar (which some people like, but others don’t), somewhat longer battery life, and nominally better speakers and microphones. It starts at $1299, and again, education pricing may be available.
  • Windows compatibility: The only reason to buy an older Intel-based MacBook Pro— available in either 13.3-inch ($1799) and 16-inch ($2399) models—is if Windows compatibility is essential. All Intel-based Macs can run Windows with no problems, either by restarting in Apple’s Boot Camp or using virtualization software like VMware Fusion (free for students) or Parallels Desktop. (On M1-based Macs, it’s possible to run Parallels Desktop and Windows for ARM Insider Preview, but we can’t recommend that anyone rely on that combination yet.)

Regardless of which laptop you decide on, you’ll have to pick a processor, an amount of RAM, and storage capacity:

  • Processor: With the M1-based MacBook Air, you have a choice between two CPUs that are identical apart from one having a 7-core GPU and the other an 8-core GPU. No one is likely to notice the difference for everyday software, but the price difference is only $50 if you’re also getting at least 512 GB of storage. (The M1-based MacBook Pro offers only the 8-core GPU chip.) For Intel-based Mac laptops, there are various options based on clock speed and number of cores. They’re all fine, but you pay for performance, so buy what fits your budget and needs.
  • RAM: With the M1-based Macs, you can choose between 8 GB and 16 GB of RAM. 8 GB may be acceptable, but we recommend 16 GB. Intel-based Mac laptops start at 16 GB, which is a decent base level, and you can go up to 32 GB or 64 GB (16-inch only). Generally speaking, go beyond 16 GB only if you know you need it.
  • Storage: For the M1-based Macs, 256 GB is the lowest storage level, whereas the Intel-based Macs usually start higher. Either way, you can upgrade to a maximum of 2 TB. Choose the amount of storage based on budget and anticipated usage—video takes a lot of space, as can large numbers of photos, but most other uses don’t.

To our thinking, the most obvious choice for a Mac that’s likely to last for four years of college would be the M1-based MacBook Air with the 8-core GPU, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage. Be sure to budget for AppleCare+, too; it’s almost guaranteed that some mishap will befall a student laptop, and AppleCare+ covers up to two incidents of accidental damage every year.

You’ll need to have some conversations with your child to find out what they think they’ll need—and be sure to double-check that against the college’s recommendations—but if you have any questions after that, don’t hesitate to contact us.

(Featured image by Apple)

How to Take the Annoyance Out of Your Key Passwords and Passcodes

We constantly say, “Use a password manager!” for good reason. Password managers make it easy to generate, store, and enter strong passwords. You don’t have to decide whether or not your password is strong or weak, remember it, and type it accurately every time you log in to a website. Seriously, just get 1Password or LastPass, or you could use Apple’s iCloud Keychain.

But what about those passwords you have to enter regularly, like your Mac’s login password, your Apple ID password, and the master password for your password manager? And the passcodes for your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch? Plus, it may also be helpful to be able to remember and type passwords for a few services that require you to enter the password into an app instead of a Web browser. (Of course, you can copy and paste the password from your password manager, but that’s fussy if you have to do it frequently.)

For such passcodes and passwords, you’ll want to come up with options that are strong, memorable, and easily entered. Here’s what we recommend for most people. (If you’re a target of a nation-state or regularly deal in highly confidential government or corporate information, you’ll need an even higher level of security.)

Passcodes

It’s essential that your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch have a passcode that can’t easily be guessed. Once someone can get into an iPhone or iPad, they could read all your email, look at all your photos, make purchases via Apple Pay, and impersonate you in conversations with others. And yet, many people use worthless passcodes like 111111 or 123456. Don’t do that! Also, don’t worry about making a passcode that’s easy to type—with Touch ID, Face ID, and Apple Watch unlocking, you don’t have to type your passcode all that frequently.

Since we’re talking about physical objects that can’t be accessed remotely and are most likely to be compromised by someone who knows you personally, the key is to think about what six digits you can remember but that even people who know you well couldn’t guess.

For instance, you might think of using 081995 if you were born in August 1995, but your birthdate is both widely known and easily discovered. A better pattern would be the dates of the month associated with the birthdays of your best friend from high school, your favorite cousin, and your late grandmother—132408 if they were born on May 13th, July 24th, and November 8th. No one will ever guess that.

You get the idea. Think of dates associated with people or events important to you but that even close friends or family members wouldn’t necessarily know. Then combine those days, months, or years in a way that makes sense to you. You’ll end up with a strong passcode that you’ll never forget.

One last point. Given the level to which data syncs between your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, we don’t see any significant benefit in creating different passcodes for each. Come up with a secure passcode and use it on all three.

Mac Login Passwords

Much like an iPhone’s passcode, the primary vulnerability for your Mac’s login password is someone who has physical access. You don’t have to worry about remote brute force attacks (as long as you don’t have remote access enabled in System Preferences > Sharing) or password files being stolen, suggesting that the password doesn’t need to be insanely strong and equivalently hard to type.

That’s especially true for an M1-based Mac or Intel-based Mac with a T2 security chip, and even more so if you have enabled FileVault (which we recommend). But if it’s an older Intel-based Mac without a T2 chip, it’s conceivable that a thief could image the drive and use brute force attacks to find the password. A stronger password might make sense for such an older Mac.

Considering all this, we recommend coming up with a password that’s easy to type, memorable, and difficult to guess for even those who know you well. It doesn’t have to be strong enough to protect against serious cracking software unless you live in a Spy-vs.-Spy world. Consider taking a few words from a song lyric or movie quote you’ll never forget and jamming them together, such as “ettubrute” or “goestoeleven.”

If you unlock your Mac and apps using an Apple Watch or Touch ID most of the time, you can make the login password a bit stronger without the annoyance of having to type it so frequently.

Apple ID and Password Manager Passwords

When it comes to your Apple ID password, the master password for your password manager, and other passwords to online services you need to type, attacks will take place either remotely or be directed against a stolen password file. Plus, your Apple ID password and master password to your password manager literally hold the keys to your kingdom, so they must be extremely strong and resistant to automated cracking. It’s also essential that you won’t forget them and that you be able to enter them—on both a Mac keyboard and an iPhone keyboard—reasonably easily. What to do?

One possible solution is to create a long passphrase of random but easily remembered words, as suggested in the classic xkcd cartoon. Current advice suggests that a passphrase of five words—with at least 32 characters—is now necessary to resist modern cracking methods.

Passphrases are highly secure, but they can be tedious to type and may not work well for an Apple ID password. Apple requires that Apple ID passwords have upper and lowercase letters and include at least one number. But don’t make it longer than 32 characters; some have reported problems with longer passwords.

For a compromise approach, consider a password built using the following rules:

  • It starts with an uppercase letter. That satisfies Apple’s requirement and means you don’t have to switch between upper and lowercase keyboards on an iPhone more than once.
  • That letter and subsequent lowercase letters come from the initials of unrelated people, movie titles, the first few letters of a saying or product name, or something similar that you’ll have no trouble remembering.
  • It includes several punctuation characters accessible from the iPhone’s numeric keyboard that don’t require the use of the Shift key on the Mac keyboard.
  • It ends with digits developed along the lines of the passcode above—this keeps you on the iPhone’s numeric keyboard. (You could also swap the order of the punctuation and digits.)
  • Overall, it has at least 13 characters, preferably more.

(As an aside, does having two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for any account where you’re creating a memorable password let you make a weaker password? Yes, in the sense that your overall security is much higher with 2FA because someone would have to hack your password and compromise the 2FA system in some way. But no, if your password is so weak that it’s trivially crackable, such that 2FA becomes the only protection. Don’t overthink it—stick with strong passwords.)

As an example, consider this possibility for a LastPass master password: Tpmbialas/.19851955. It’s not entirely random, but it’s close and doesn’t use obvious patterns that cracking software could exploit. Let’s break it down:

  • Tpmbialas comes from the first letter of the words in the movie The Phantom Menace and the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms, plus the first three letters of LastPass.
  • /. plays on the name of the tech news site Slashdot to be memorable, and the characters are easily typed on both the iPhone and Mac keyboards.
  • 19851955 will be easily remembered by fans of the movie Back to the Future, whose characters travel in time from 1985 back to 1955.

It’s highly secure—the How Secure Is My Password? site says it would take 1 quintillion years to crack, and there’s no way that even someone who knew your taste in movies and music could guess it (as long as you don’t tell them about your pattern).

One last thing to consider: is your password fun to type? Some key combinations probably roll off your fingers, whereas others will be prone to typos. Test your proposed password on both a Mac keyboard and your iPhone. If you hate typing it, tweak the characters until it’s better.

When you’re developing your own unique passwords that you must be able to remember and type, a strategy along these lines should serve you well. Just make sure to avoid dictionary words, repeated characters, and any password under 13 characters in length, all of which make passwords easier for cracking software to guess.

(Featured image by iStock.com/peshkov)

Share Files, Photos, and other Data between Apple Devices with AirDrop

It’s common to want to share files, photos, and other data between your devices—or with friends and family. When the desired person or device isn’t nearby, it’s easiest to use Messages or Mail. But what if you want to move a file between two of your Macs, from your iPhone to your Mac, or to your friend who’s across the table? For transfers within immediate proximity, Apple provides AirDrop, a quick and easy way to move data between devices.

Make Sure AirDrop Is Ready to Go

First off, AirDrop requires both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so make sure both are enabled. If you use wired Ethernet on your Mac, enable Wi-Fi as well, but put the Wi-Fi service beneath the Ethernet service in System Preferences > Network (click the down-pointing arrow under the list and choose Set Service Order).

Next, make sure other devices can discover you. On the Mac, choose Go > AirDrop and, near the bottom of the Finder window that appears, choose Everyone from the pop-up menu. (If you’re out in public and random people keep trying to send you files, which would be weird, choose Contacts Only instead.) On an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > General > AirDrop and select Everyone.

Send a File or Photo via AirDrop

Apple has integrated AirDrop into the standard sharing mechanism in macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, so sharing via AirDrop works the same as sharing via most other apps.

In the Finder on the Mac, the easiest approach may be to select AirDrop in a Finder window’s sidebar and then drag files to the icon representing the destination device (below left). You can also select one or more files and choose File > Share > AirDrop or Control-click them and choose Share > AirDrop, both of which present a dialog from which you can select the destination (below right). The right-hand dialog is also what you’ll see if you use the Share option in Photos or any other app.

On an iPhone or iPad, when you’re viewing the item you want to share, tap the Share button to bring up the Share sheet. You may be able to tap the AirDrop icon for the desired destination directly in the top row, but if it doesn’t show what you want, tap the general AirDrop icon in the second row to display the AirDrop screen with icons for all available destinations. Either way, tap the destination to send the file.

Receive Data via AirDrop

On the receiving side, AirDrop is utterly simple, particularly when transferring files between your devices, though the experience varies a little depending on the direction and file type.

  • Receiving on a Mac: If you’re transferring between your own devices, you don’t need to do anything; the file will appear in the Downloads folder of the destination Mac. Files sent from other people will appear there too, but you’ll get a prompt asking you to accept or decline the file, and if you accept, an option to open it in the appropriate app.
  • Receiving on an iPhone/iPad: Receiving on an iPhone or iPad is similar, with one additional step. Unless iOS/iPadOS knows where the file should go (images always import into Photos automatically, for instance), it prompts you with a list of apps that can open the file. Files you transfer between your own devices are accepted automatically; for files from other people, you must tap the Accept button first.

Troubleshooting

AirDrop has been around since Mac OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011 and has seen significant updates since then. So if you had trouble getting AirDrop to work years ago, it’s worth revisiting the feature. That said, problems can still crop up:

  • If a Mac doesn’t appear as an AirDrop destination, make sure it has Wi-Fi active. Ethernet is not sufficient. Also, if the Mac’s firewall is active, check that it allows incoming connections. Open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall > Firewall Options and deselect “Block all incoming connections.”
  • If an iPhone doesn’t appear as an AirDrop destination, make sure Personal Hotspot is turned off in Settings > Personal Hotspot.
  • Because AirDrop relies on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, interference with either, or a separation between devices of more than 30 feet (9 meters), can cause performance and reliability to suffer.
  • For best results, make sure you’re using recent Apple hardware running the latest versions of macOS, iOS, and iPadOS. Apple has improved AirDrop over the years, and it works significantly better than it did years ago. Technically, AirDrop requires a Mac introduced in 2012 (excluding the 2012 Mac Pro) or later running OS X 10.10 Yosemite or later. On the mobile device side, the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch must be running at least iOS 7.
  • If you’re prompted to accept transfers between your own devices, that’s an indication that the devices aren’t logged in to the same iCloud account.
  • Although AirDrop has no explicit size limit, very large files (over 500 MB) will take a long time to transfer and are more likely to fail due to network issues during the transfer.
  • If you can’t find a transferred file in the destination Mac’s Downloads folder, remember that it retains its original creation and modification dates, so it might be sorting differently than you expect.

Next time you need to move data between nearby Apple devices, give AirDrop a try!

(Featured image by iStock.com/jroballo)