Our Four Favorite Features of iOS 14

Harvest season is here again, and Apple has deemed iOS 14 (along with iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14) ready for the picking. Although the betas have been pretty stable and no major problems have appeared in the first few days, we still recommend waiting at least a few weeks before installing via Settings > General > Software Update. In large part, that’s because many developers were taken by surprise by Apple’s release, so they’re working hard to release updates that work properly with iOS 14 and take advantage of its new features.

When you decide to take the leap and install—be sure to make a backup first, just in case—here are four features we recommend you check out right away.

App Library

If you’re like us, your first Home screen or two are well-organized, and after that…where did all those apps come from? We find ourselves searching for little-used apps (swipe down on a Home screen) but wish we could see a list of all installed apps. With iOS 14’s new App Library, we can.

A new screen to the right of your last Home screen, the App Library collects all your apps into folders. At the top, Suggestions includes four suggested apps based on time, location, or activity, and Recently Added shows the apps you’ve downloaded lately. The rest of the folders, which, unfortunately, you can’t rename or rearrange, organize apps by category. In a folder grid, tapping a large icon opens that app, while tapping the group of four small icons in the lower-right corner opens the folder. To see an alphabetical list of every app, tap the search field at the top. You can type to narrow the list.

The App Library is tremendously useful because it contains every app and is always in the same place. That enables you to more easily find apps that you’ve removed from your Home screen. It also works well if you choose to hide entire Home screens, another new iOS 14 feature. Note that you can copy apps from the App Library to a Home screen, which can aid in creating your own organizational scheme.

You might even find that you like having just a couple of Home screens and leaving everything else in the App Library.

Home Screen Widgets

Nothing prevents you from whittling your set of Home screens down to just one, but another new iOS 14 feature might encourage you to have a few more. For some years now, apps have had widgets. Widgets are little summary interfaces accessible in Today View, which you access by swiping right on the first Home screen. In iOS 14, you can now place some of those widgets directly on a Home screen.

Widgets come in three sizes: a small square that occupies the space of four normal 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.

To add a widget, touch and hold any empty spot on a Home screen, tap the + button in the upper-left corner, and drag the desired widget out to the Home screen, where you can continue to drag it to your desired position. When viewing the widget collection, tap a widget to see all its available sizes.

Right now, most widgets are from Apple apps, but we anticipate many developers adding widgets for their apps in the coming months. You can have as many widgets on a Home screen as will fit, and there’s no problem mixing widgets and apps within the available space. Think about what information you like to get from your iPhone, and then go nuts creating custom Home screens that show what you want at a glance.

Shrunken Siri and Phone Call Interfaces

In previous versions of iOS, when you invoked Siri, the interface completely took over the iPhone screen. It turns out there was no need for that, so in iOS 14, Apple shrunk the Siri interface so it appears at the bottom of the screen, on top of whatever app you’re using. If Siri’s response requires giving you feedback, that appears on top of the current app as well.

Plus, when you receive a phone call, instead of the call taking over the entire screen, you see a dark banner at the top of the screen with red Decline and green Accept buttons. Tap either of those buttons, or tap or swipe down the banner to reveal the full-screen call interface, where you can also tap to answer. Want to delay? Swipe up on the banner to shrink it to a button in the top-left corner of the screen.

These small changes make using Siri or answering phone calls feel much more fluid than the approach of taking over the entire screen.

Pinned Messages Conversations

We all have individuals and groups that we converse with regularly in Messages. It’s frustrating to hunt through the list of conversations to find them, so iOS 14 adds the concept of “pinned” conversations. Touch and hold on any conversation in the list to bring up a preview of the last few messages and some commands. Then tap Pin to add the conversation to the top of the Messages screen as a circular icon. From then on, tap that icon to enter the conversation quickly.

iOS 14 sports many other features as well, and we’ll be sharing more about them in future articles. Remember, it’s worth waiting a bit to install, and note that iOS 14 is compatible with the iPhone 6s or later, including the first-generation iPhone SE, and the current seventh-generation iPod touch.

(Featured image by Apple)

Apple Releases Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, new iPad Air, and Subscription Services

In its “Time Flies” special event on September 15th, Apple cleared the decks of some secondary releases to make room for the anticipated unveiling of the iPhone 12 in a few weeks. Secondary though these products may be compared to the iPhone, the new Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, fourth-generation iPad Air, and eighth-generation iPad are nothing to sneeze at.

Apple also announced a new subscription service, Apple Fitness+, and three discounted Apple One bundles of its subscription services.

Lastly, Apple said that iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14 would ship on September 16th, and they did indeed. We’ll have more about those releases soon, but we recommend that you wait at least a few weeks before updating devices you rely on. Although the betas have been pretty stable, nasty bugs may surface as millions of users start using the new operating systems.

Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE

With the Apple Watch, Apple usually makes incremental enhancements that improve each successive generation, and the Apple Watch Series 6 is no exception. Most notably, it includes a Blood Oxygen sensor and app that report on the oxygen saturation of the wearer’s blood. Low readings can indicate problems with health and fitness, and research suggests that blood oxygen numbers may help identify COVID-19 or flu infections. Low blood oxygen levels could also encourage those who are infected to seek additional medical attention.

The Apple Watch Series 6 also features a new S6 chip, a next-generation always-on altimeter, and an enhanced Always-On Retina display that is up to 2.5 times brighter than the Series 5 display outdoors when the user’s wrist is down, so it’s easier to view in bright sunlight.

Prices for the Apple Watch Series 6 start at $399 for a 40mm GPS-only aluminum model, with cellular capabilities adding $100. The larger 44mm model costs $30 more, and you can spend more on stainless steel (+$300) and titanium (+$400) cases and various watch bands. The aluminum model comes in silver, space gray, and gold, plus (PRODUCT)RED and a new blue color. The stainless steel model comes in graphite or gold, and the titanium case in natural and space black.

If $399 is too high of a starting point for you, consider Apple’s other new model, the Apple Watch SE. Based on the S5 chip used in last year’s Apple Watch Series 5, the Apple Watch SE includes some of the sensors in the Series 6, such as the always-on altimeter, and it supports fall detection, but it lacks the Series 6’s ECG and Blood Oxygen capabilities. Nor does it have the Always-On Retina display—its display goes black when the user’s wrist is down.

Those tradeoffs drop the Apple Watch SE’s starting price to $279 for a 40mm GPS-only model. A larger 44mm watch bumps the price up by $30, and cellular capabilities add another $100. You’re limited to aluminum cases in silver, gold, and space gray, but any of the Apple Watch bands will work with it. Is $279 still too expensive? The Apple Watch Series 3 remains available in a GPS-only model starting at $199.

The Apple Watch SE might be particularly attractive to families or those caring for seniors, thanks to Apple’s new Family Setup, which lets you manage cellular Apple Watches (Series 4 and later) for others from your iPhone instead of each person having to manage their Apple Watch from their own iPhone.

Apple also introduced two new bands: the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. Both have no buckles or clasps and come in nine available lengths—they expand to fit over your hand and contract to fit snugly on your wrist. The Solo Loop is made of soft silicone, and the Braided Solo Loop combines 16,000 polyester yarn filaments with ultrathin silicone threads—it costs an extra $50.

New iPad and iPad Air

On the iPad side of things, Apple’s first announcement was the simplest. The new eighth-generation iPad replaces the previous seventh-generation model and sports only a single change. Instead of the 4-core A10 Fusion processor in last year’s model, the new iPad relies on the 6-core A12 Bionic processor. It promises up to 40% faster CPU performance and twice the graphics performance of the seventh-generation iPad. Otherwise, it retains the 10.2-inch Retina display, capable cameras, and support for the first-generation Apple Pencil ($99) and Smart Keyboard ($159). Its price also remains the same, starting at $329, with education pricing for a broadly defined set of individuals at $309 and education pricing for institutions at $299.

More interesting is the new fourth-generation iPad Air. The third-generation iPad Air was essentially a stripped-down version of the older 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and the fourth-generation model continues that trend with the current 11-inch iPad Pro. The new iPad Air features the same squared-off design, full-screen display, and 12-megapixel rear camera, and it has an almost identical form factor. It’s compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil ($129) and both the Magic Keyboard ($299) and Smart Keyboard Folio ($179). Finally, it swaps the traditional Lightning port for the USB-C port also used by the iPad Pro.

However, the new iPad Air also features Apple’s newest chip—the A14 Bionic—and eliminates the need for a Home button by building a Touch ID sensor into the top button. That clever approach lets Apple reduce the size of the bezels around the screen while avoiding the cost of the TrueDepth camera necessary for Face ID and simultaneously making the iPad Air easier to use for those wearing masks.

The new iPad Air with 64 GB of storage starts at $599 for Wi-Fi–only models and $729 for cellular-capable models. Bumping the storage to 256 GB adds $150 to the price. It’s available in five colors: space gray, silver, rose gold, green, and sky blue.

Apple Fitness+ and Apple One Bundles

Finally, Apple unveiled its latest subscription service: Apple Fitness+. It’s a “workout experience” that combines metrics from an Apple Watch Series 3 or later with studio-style workouts that you view on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. World-class trainers present classes across a variety of disciplines, including cycling, treadmill, rowing, HIIT, strength, yoga, dance, core, and mindful cooldown. For novices, there’s an Absolute Beginner program.

When you start a workout on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, the correct workout type automatically starts on your Apple Watch. While you’re exercising, heart rate and workout times are shown on the screen. When Apple Fitness+ launches, sometime before the end of the year, it will cost $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, and you’ll be able to try it free for a month.

If you’ve found yourself subscribing to multiple Apple services and paying for additional iCloud storage, you may be able to save money with the new Apple One bundles:

  • Apple One Individual: For $14.95 per month, you get Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50 GB of iCloud storage, a savings of $6.01 per month.
  • Apple One Family: For $19.95 per month for up to six family members, you get Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 200 GB of iCloud storage, a savings of $8.01 per month.
  • Apple One Premier: For $29.95 per month, you get everything: Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, Apple Fitness+, and 2 TB of iCloud storage, all of which can be shared among six family members. That adds up to a savings of $24.95 per month.

Of course, these bundles are worthwhile only if you’re interested in all the included services, but for those who are already paying for a collection of Apple services, they provide a nice discount.

(Featured image by Apple)

Are You Making the Most of the Touch Bar on Your MacBook Pro?

In 2016, Apple introduced the Touch Bar with the MacBook Pro. It’s a long, thin display above the number keys on the keyboard that shows a variety of buttons and controls. By default, it changes depending on which app you’re in, and it also displays the Control Strip, a collection of controls that roughly mimics the functions accessible from the F-keys that traditionally live in that position. Finally, it includes the Touch ID sensor that brings fingerprint authentication to the Mac.

Since its launch, however, the Touch Bar hasn’t migrated to any other Macs or keyboards, although the MacBook Air picked up a Touch ID sensor without the rest of the Touch Bar. As a result, developers haven’t been as enthusiastic about supporting the Touch Bar as they might have been. Nevertheless, it provides useful shortcuts in many apps, and you can customize it more to your liking. (Plus, although we’re not going into those details here, Apple is making the Touch Bar even more useful and customizable in macOS 11 Big Sur.)

Choose What the Touch Bar Shows

You may never have noticed the Touch Bar’s settings because Apple has hidden them in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences. Logical, but perhaps not where you might have looked first if you were thinking of the Touch Bar as an extension of the trackpad.

You have two choices here, what appears in the Touch Bar normally, and how it changes if you press the Fn key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard. Your options include:

  • App Controls: The controls that appear when you choose this option vary by app. This option is the most generally useful, though how much so depends on whether the apps you use support the Touch Bar in helpful ways.
  • Expanded Control Strip: The Control Strip, which appears by default on the right side of the Touch Bar, lets you adjust common settings like brightness and volume. The Expanded Control Strip option fills the rest of the Touch Bar with more buttons.
  • F1, F2, etc. Keys: Aimed at keyboard traditionalists, this option mimics the F-keys that occupy the Touch Bar’s position on every other keyboard in the universe. People often use these keys as hot keys with macro programs like Keyboard Maestro.
  • Quick Actions: Want to create your own custom buttons for the Touch Bar? In Apple’s Automator app, you can create workflows as Quick Actions, which then appear on the Touch Bar when you choose this option.
  • Spaces: Those who are big users of Spaces in Mission Control might appreciate this option, which lets you switch between different full-screen apps and Split View spaces.

In the Touch Bar Shows pop-up menu, you should choose the set of Touch Bar buttons that you’ll find the most useful most of the time. That’s probably either App Controls or F-keys for most people, unless you do a lot of your own automation (choose Quick Actions) or regularly use full-screen apps (choose Spaces).

The Press Fn Key To menu basically gives you a second choice—press that key, and you can display whatever set of buttons you’d find next most useful.

Finally, notice that there’s a checkbox for Show Control Strip. If you want to take over its space on the right side of the Touch Bar for other buttons, deselect the checkbox. One useful approach is to disable the Control Strip in general use, but show the expanded Control Strip when you press Fn.

Customize App Controls

App controls are in many ways the most interesting because they change not just when you switch between apps, but also based on what you’re doing in an app. Take Pages, for instance. If you’re working with text, Pages configures the Touch Bar to show buttons that let you switch between paragraph styles, apply character formatting, and tweak horizontal and vertical justification. That button on the far right displays auto-complete options for the word you’re typing. But if you have a text box selected, Pages instead provides buttons for opacity, various colors, and line strokes. Select a table, and Pages immediately offers options for adding and removing columns and rows.

Even better, some apps, like Safari, let you pick which buttons appear in the Touch Bar, just as you can pick the controls that appear in window toolbars. In apps that allow this, choose View > Customize Touch Bar. A selection of available buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. Drag one of the buttons off the bottom of the screen and—really!—onto the Touch Bar, where you can drag it into different spots. When you’re done, click the Done button.

While you’re customizing the Touch Bar for an app, you can also rearrange buttons by dragging them left or right (with either the pointer or your finger) and remove buttons by dragging them (with the pointer) from the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro’s screen.

Note that the Touch Bar is only so big, and the Mac won’t let you populate it with more buttons than it has room for. If you try, the new button will replace one of the current buttons.

Customize the Control Strip

You’re not limited to choosing which app controls you’d like to see in the Touch Bar. In System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard, click Customize Control Strip to bring up a similar collection of controls that you can add to the Control Strip. Plus, you can rearrange and remove buttons from the Touch Bar’s Control Strip just as with the app controls.

Try Third-Party Utilities

As you might expect, clever Mac programmers have extended the ways you can use the Touch Bar beyond what Apple provides. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • BetterTouchTool: For $8.50, this general-purpose customization utility gives you control over various input devices on your Mac, including the Touch Bar. It lets you completely customize the Touch Bar, add and customize the appearance of buttons for all sorts of built-in actions, create dynamic widgets using AppleScript and other languages, and download ready-to-use presets.
  • Pock: Want to recover the screen real-estate occupied by the Dock? The free Pock puts your Dock items in the Touch Bar for fast app switching. Plus, it provides useful widgets, including a handy Now Playing widget that can show the title of the current song.
  • Haptic Touch Bar: Although Apple built the Touch Bar so it could provide haptic feedback—making it feel like you’ve pressed a key down when all you’ve done is touched a flat glass surface—most controls don’t provide it. The $4.99 Haptic Touch Bar utility makes all Touch Bar buttons pretend to be physical buttons, with haptic and audio feedback.

If you’ve been ignoring the Touch Bar because it didn’t work the way you wanted, or if you’ve liked using it but wished it could do more, give these customization options a try!

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

When Should You Upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14?

As we get into September, it’s a good bet that Apple will soon—either this month or next—be pushing out major upgrades for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Apple previewed these new versions at its Worldwide Developers Conference back in June, and they’ve been in public beta for a few months. Once Apple makes macOS 11 Big Sur, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14 available, the question looms large—when should you install them?

(Note that we say when and not if. There’s no harm in delaying a major operating system upgrade until Apple has squashed early bugs. But waiting too long puts you at risk from security vulnerabilities and prevents you from taking advantage of compelling new features. Plus, when you buy a new Mac, iPhone, or iPad after these operating systems have shipped, you’ll get the new version, and it may not even be possible to downgrade. It’s best to be prepared in the event that you’re forced to replace one of your Apple devices unexpectedly.)

macOS 11 Big Sur

We’ll start with the hardest decision—when should you upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur? Last year, macOS 10.15 Catalina shipped with quite a few problems, and we recommended holding off on the upgrade for most people for at least several months. Even now, we have people for whom we’ve recommended staying on 10.14 Mojave for the time being. It’s too early to have a sense of how stable Big Sur will be, but we hope that Apple will have learned its lesson with Catalina and will ship a more stable release.

Note that Big Sur requires a Mac released in 2013 or later; some 2012 models that were compatible with Catalina won’t be able to make the trip to Big Sur.

The change that puts the “big” in Big Sur is the one you’re least likely to notice at first: support for a Mac with Apple silicon. As we’ve mentioned before, Apple has promised to release a Mac using a custom Apple CPU instead of the Intel chips that have powered Macs for years. Only Big Sur will work on that Mac, whatever it turns out to be. But that’s no reason to upgrade your current Intel-based Macs right away.

More obvious is that Apple has put a lot of design effort into the user interface of Big Sur. Windows, menus, dialogs, sidebars, and even icons have all received design updates. You may or may not like the new look more than the old, but again, it’s not a big reason to upgrade quickly for most people.

On the plus side, Apple has worked on smaller features that might improve your everyday user experience. A new Control Center, much like what you’re accustomed to on the iPhone and iPad, provides quick access to controls from System Preferences in a single place. Notifications are now grouped by thread or app, and interactive notifications let you do more without opening the associated app.

Apps see minor enhancements as well. Safari receives a new start page, shows more tabs at once, displays a preview of a site when you hover over a tab, translates pages into seven languages, provides more privacy details, and checks if your passwords have been involved in a data breach. Messages lets you pin important conversations, thread messages in group conversations, and direct messages to individuals in a group conversation with an @name. Apps such as Photos, Reminders, and Notes also get enhancements, and your AirPods will switch between your devices more seamlessly.

Nonetheless, we recommend waiting until at least version 11.0.1 or even 11.0.2 before upgrading. That gives you time to make sure your key apps are fully compatible with Big Sur and for Apple to resolve any unanticipated problems. And don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to ask for personalized upgrade advice given your particular needs.

iOS 14

While we urge caution with macOS updates, iOS updates are an easier decision. In part, that’s because Apple usually releases new iPhones simultaneously and the company wants to make sure the new version of iOS works well for those who buy new hardware. iOS 14 runs on the same devices that can run iOS 13; basically the iPhone 6s and later.

iOS 14 brings some of the most significant changes to the user experience that Apple has made in years. You can now embed widgets—in different sizes—on your Home screen, so you can see your calendar, weather, or headlines at a glance. A new App Library automatically organizes your apps and provides a full list. Plus, you can hide Home screens that hold seldom-used apps. Apple also shrunk the interfaces for phone calls, Siri, and searching, so they no longer take over the entire screen.

As in Big Sur, Messages gets pinned conversations, threaded conversations, and mentions of specific people. Maps gains cycling directions, alerts for speed cameras, routing for electric vehicles, and guides for the best places to visit in cities. The Camera app can take photos more quickly; you can put FaceTime calls into thumbnails using Picture in Picture; and Music now lets you search for songs by genre, mood, and activity.

There are new features too. App Clips are small parts of an app that let you accomplish a task—renting a scooter, ordering from a coffee shop while waiting in line, getting more info about a museum exhibit—by scanning an NFC tag or a QR code. A new Translate app lets you converse with someone in one of 11 languages with real-time translation. With new cars that support it, Car Keys lets you unlock and start your car using your iPhone. AirPods switch automatically between your devices, and the AirPods Pro gain “spatial audio” that provides a movie theater experience by placing sound within a space.

No single feature of iOS 14 may be life-changing, but we anticipate that lots of people will appreciate its enhancements. We think it’s a good upgrade. Give it a few weeks to make sure there isn’t a major gotcha that Apple missed, but after that, install when you have some time to play with the new features.

iPadOS 14

Remember, despite the different name, iPadOS is basically iOS with added iPad-specific features and a few iPhone-specific bits removed. So most of what’s new in iOS 14 is also coming to your iPad in iPadOS 14. Plus, Apple has updated the iPadOS interface in ways, such as the increased use of sidebars, that make it more Mac-like. As with iOS 14, iPadOS 14 runs on all iPads that support iOS 13.

One of those iPad-specific features is Scribble, which lets you handwrite in any text field with an Apple Pencil. You can also select and delete words with Scribble, and touch and hold to add a space. Notes also adds numerous Apple Pencil-related features, including smart selection of text, a Copy as Text command for converting handwriting to typed text, dragging to select, and even shape recognition that cleans up roughly sketched shapes.

For those who already rely heavily on the Apple Pencil, we think iPadOS 14 will be a no-brainer upgrade. As with iOS 14, though, it’s probably best to wait a week or so to install, or at least until you’re certain that your key apps have been updated to be compatible.

watchOS 7

Once you’ve updated your iPhone to iOS 14, there’s no reason not to update to watchOS 7, assuming you have an Apple Watch Series 3 or later. As with previous upgrades, it’s not huge, but you might like some of the new capabilities. Chief among them is sleep tracking for those who either need help getting a good night’s sleep or are curious about how they’re sleeping. watchOS can now tell if you’re washing your hands for the requisite 20 seconds and even remind you to do so upon arriving home.

Apple has renamed the Activity app to Fitness and turned it into a streamlined fitness dashboard. The Workout app can now track core training, dance, functional strength training, and cooldowns. And finally, a new hearing-related feature can tell you how loudly you’re listening to audio through headphones and when such levels could cause harm.

tvOS 14

Apple doesn’t say much about tvOS 14. This new operating system version will install itself at some point after release. It features a new Home app for those who do HomeKit-based automations, can display video from HomeKit video doorbells while you’re watching TV, extends its Picture in Picture capabilities, lets you use two pairs of AirPods to listen simultaneously, and supports more gaming controllers. It also reportedly provides better 4K video support and lets you stream 4K video from an iPhone. It will work on the fourth-generation Apple TV (also known as the Apple TV HD) and the Apple TV 4K.

Upgrading to a new operating system can feel like a big step, but this batch of upgrades looks like they’ll be easier to get used to than most. We think they come with a low risk of trouble, a nice collection of enhancements, and reasonable design tweaks that move the interface forward. But even still, make sure your essential apps are compatible and update your backups before you consider upgrading!

(Featured image by Apple)

What’s the Deal with All the Privacy Requests in Catalina?

Over the last few releases of macOS, Apple has been beefing up the Mac’s privacy controls so they more closely resemble what the company has done in iOS. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that when you first launch a new app on your iPhone or iPad, it often prompts for access to your contacts or your photos, the camera or microphone, and so on. The idea behind those prompts is that you should always be aware of how a particular app can access your personal data or features of your device. You might not want to let some new game thumb through your photos or record your voice.

macOS has been heading in this direction too, with macOS 10.14 Mojave upping the stakes and 10.15 Catalina forcing apps to play this “Mother, May I?” game in even more ways. As a result, particularly after you first upgrade and whenever you install a new app, you may be bombarded with dialogs asking for various permissions. For instance, the Loom app that helps you make quick video recordings of your screen requires lots of permissions. Grant them and Loom won’t have to ask again.

Loom’s requests are entirely reasonable—it wouldn’t be able to do its job without such access. That applies more generally, too. In most cases, apps will ask for access for a good reason, and if you want the app to function properly, you should give it access.

However, be wary if a permission dialog appears and you don’t recognize the name of the app making the request or if you aren’t doing anything related to the request. Apple’s hope is that you’ll deny access to requests from malicious apps.

The problem in Catalina is that apps have to ask for permission for so many basic capabilities that users become overwhelmed by all the dialogs. A good app, like Loom, will walk the user through accepting them on its first launch, but even still, answering four or more requests can be confusing.

You might be tempted to deny access categorically. That’s fine from a privacy standpoint, but not when it comes to functionality—when you deny a permission request, you prevent that app from working as you anticipate. Fortunately, you can always grant (or revoke) permission later. And remember, once you’ve granted permission, you won’t have to do it again for that app—it’s a per-app request, not a per-session request.

To see which permissions you’ve granted or denied, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. A list of categories appears on the left; click one to see which apps have requested access. If you’ve granted access, the checkbox next to the app will be selected; otherwise it will be empty.

You’ll notice that the lock in the lower-left corner of the System Preferences window is closed. To make changes, click it and sign in as an administrator when prompted.

Most of these categories are self-explanatory, but it might not always be obvious why an app wants permission. In the screenshot above, for instance, Slack has been granted access to the Mac’s camera. Why? So its video call feature can work.

Annoyingly, giving access often requires that you quit the app in question before the permission takes effect. That’s awkward on the first launch of a new app, since you launch it, respond to a bunch of dialogs, and then have to quit and relaunch before you can use it.

There are some categories (including some not showing above) that could use additional explanation:

  • Accessibility: Apps that request accessibility access want to control your Mac. In essence, they want to be able to pretend to click the mouse, type on the keyboard, and generally act like a user. Utility and automation software often needs such access.
  • Full Disk Access: This category is a catch-all for access to areas on your drive that aren’t normally available to apps, such as data in Mail, Messages, Safari, Home, and more, including Time Machine backups and some admin settings. Backup and synchronization utilities need full disk access, in particular. An app can’t request full disk access in the normal way; you must add it manually by dragging its icon into the list or clicking the + button under the list and selecting the app in the Applications folder.
  • Automation: The Mac has long had a way for apps to communicate with and control one another: Apple events. An app could theoretically steal information from another via Apple events, so the Automation category lets you specify which apps can control which other apps. You’ll see normal permission requests, but they’ll explain both sides of the communication. (System Events is a behind-the-scenes macOS utility that helps with scripting and automation.)

So if you’ve been seeing repeated requests for permission in Mojave and especially in Catalina, now you know why these dialogs keep popping up. They’re a bit irritating at first, but the added privacy is worthwhile, and once you’ve granted permission to an app, you shouldn’t hear from it again.

(Featured image by Jason Dent on Unsplash)