updates

Install Minor Operating System Updates to Maintain Herd Immunity

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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.

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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 major 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.

WWDC Part 3: iMacs and Notebooks

For those who have been waiting patiently to buy a new iMac or Mac notebook, now’s the time. Apple refreshed the entire iMac line with Intel’s latest processors, faster storage, higher performance graphics, and brighter, more colorful screens. They all provide a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports for driving external displays and connecting to speedy external storage.

The most-improved award goes to the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display, which should see the most performance gains from faster CPUs and high-performance Radeon Pro graphics processors. Plus, that model can now take up to 32 GB of RAM, up from 16 GB — it’s far more compelling than before, if you don’t need the larger screen and better performance of the 27-inch model.

You can buy a 21.5-inch non-Retina iMac starting at $1099, a 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display starting at $1299, and a 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display starting at $1799.

Looking for more performance than even a tricked-out 27-inch Retina iMac can provide?. Wait for December, when Apple promises to release the new iMac Pro. It’s a workstation-class machine that retains the form factor of the 27-inch Retina iMac but swaps the brushed aluminum look for a space gray finish. It will be the fastest Mac ever, thanks to 8-core, 10-core, or 18-core Intel Xeon CPUs. Other performance enhancements include a next-generation Radeon Pro Vega graphics chip, up to 128 GB of RAM, a 1 TB SSD upgradeable to 4 TB, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and 10 Gbps Ethernet. It won’t come cheap, with prices starting at $4999 and rising quickly with build-to-order options.

On the portable front, Apple’s top-of-the-line MacBook Pro notebooks should run a bit more quickly thanks to the addition of Intel’s latest processors running at slightly higher clock speeds. These models also get new graphics processors that improve rendering performance. The 13-inch MacBook Pro still starts at $1299 or $1799 for a model with a Touch Bar and beefier specs. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at $2399.

For those who value portability over all else, the MacBook has become more attractive due to improvements that address its previously underwhelming performance. Along with sprightlier CPUs, it has a new SSD that Apple claims is up to 50% faster, and you can now buy it with 16 GB of RAM, up from the previous limit of 8 GB. It’s still a bit pricey for its performance, with two models priced starting at $1299 and $1599.

If you don’t have much to spend, consider the $999 13-inch MacBook Air. Apple gave it a minor speed bump, replacing the stock 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor with a 1.8 GHz version. It remains upgradeable to an Intel Core i7 running at 2.2 GHz.

By the way, if you’ve been jonesing for a full-size wireless keyboard, you’ll be pleased to learn that Apple also just released the new wireless Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. It’s $129.

It's Come to the Big Screen and the Little Screen

Despite the focus on iOS 10 and macOS 10.12 Sierra, Apple didn’t forget about its other hardware lines, the living room-focused Apple TV and the wrist-based Apple Watch. For those who own a fourth-generation Apple TV, tvOS 10 just came out, and all Apple Watch owners can look forward to the radically revised watchOS 3 when they choose to upgrade.

Although Apple jumped the gun on tvOS 10 by releasing the new Siri-savvy Apple TV Remote app for the iPhone, there are plenty of enhancements on the Apple TV itself. Siri is smarter, enabling you to search for shows or movies by topic or theme. It also finds YouTube videos and finds live TV playing in supported apps, like ESPN.

We’re particularly loving tvOS’s new Photos app, which provides a big-screen experience for viewing Memories slideshows or the new albums for People and Places. Those who find the Apple TV’s main screen too bright in a dark room can now appreciate the new “dark mode.” A new option to download apps automatically ensures that you get any Apple TV apps associated with your iOS apps without additional effort. And, finally, a new single sign-on feature should make it a lot easier to log into those apps that require a paid cable or satellite subscription. If only we’d had that for the Olympics!

These tvOS changes are welcome but not earth-shattering. With watchOS 3, however, Apple rethought how you interact with the Apple Watch, throwing away both glances and the Friends screen and giving the side button an entirely new function. When you add in significantly faster app launches, additional watch faces (including Minnie Mouse!) with more complications, and a simplified way of replying to messages, watchOS 3 essentially gives you a whole new Apple Watch.

Taking a cue from iOS, swiping up on the Apple Watch screen now displays Control Center for quick management of common settings. And, instead of showing the Friends screen, pressing the side button displays the Dock, to which you can add your most used apps. Swipe left and right in it to navigate between apps, which are kept up to date and launch instantly, making for a far better experience than poring over the app cloud. You can also swipe left and right on watch faces to switch between them, which makes it easier to choose the face that best matches your mood.

New apps include Reminders and Find My Friends, which let you glance at your wrist instead of pulling out your iPhone to check to-dos and the location of your friends. Entirely new is Breathe, which guides you through deep breathing sessions to reduce stress. For those who find social pressure motivating, the Activity app now lets you share workout and activity information with friends and family. Activity also now supports wheelchair users, encouraging them with “time to roll” instead of “time to stand” reminders, and providing wheelchair-specific workouts and wheelchair-aware calorie tracking.

To increase peace of mind, a new SOS feature will call emergency services when you press and hold the side button (set it up in the Apple Watch app on the iPhone). Then it notifies your emergency contacts, providing them with a map of your location. The Apple Watch can also display your Medical ID (set that up in the Health app on the iPhone), which provides information about allergies and medical conditions.

Last, but far from least, after some setup, wearing your Apple Watch will be all that’s necessary to unlock recent Macs running macOS 10.12 Sierra. It might be worth getting an Apple Watch just to avoid having to type that login password multiple times per day!

The Age-Old Question: When Should You Do a Software Update?

It’s that time of year again, as the leaves start to turn, the air gets crisp, the grass is covered with frost in the morning, and Apple releases major operating system upgrades. We’ve known this was coming since the company’s announcement in June, but now it’s time to think hard about when you’ll upgrade.

(Note that we say “when” and not “if.” There’s no harm in delaying an upgrade until Apple has had a chance to squash the 1.0 bugs and it’s a convenient time in your schedule. But waiting for too long can put you at risk from security vulnerabilities and prevent you from taking advantage of new integrations between Apple’s devices. Plus, should you have to replace a Mac or iOS device unexpectedly, you may be forced to use the current operating system, which could be awkward if you weren’t ready for the upgrade.)

Let’s dispense with the easiest answer right off. If you have a fourth-generation Apple TV, either let it upgrade itself to tvOS 10 or manually invoke the upgrade from Settings > System > Software Updates. Since tvOS 10 is a relatively minor update and you don’t create work on an Apple TV, upgrading is unlikely to cause any problems. If you’re a major TV junkie and are paranoid about how the upgrade could prevent you from watching your favorite show, just wait a few weeks until other users have reported on their experiences on the Internet.

In some ways, the question of when to upgrade to watchOS 3 has a similar answer. Although watchOS 3 is a major upgrade that radically changes how you interact with the Apple Watch, the improvements are so significant and the downsides so minimal that it’s easy to recommend an immediate upgrade. However, to install watchOS 3, you must have upgraded your iPhone to iOS 10 first. So…

What about iOS 10? Now we need to hedge a little. Although iOS 10 has been getting good reviews from beta testers, if you rely on an app that isn’t compatible, you’ll want to put off your upgrade. Check the App Store listing for your key apps, and if they’ve been updated recently, you’re probably OK. The other thing to remember is that iOS 10 changes the Lock screen behavior, so it may be worth delaying the upgrade until you have some time to poke at the new interface. Messages and Photos also receive a bunch of new features that you may want to play with, but you shouldn’t have any trouble using them before you’ve figured out the new stuff.

As always, the rubber meets the road on the Mac. Like iOS 10, macOS 10.12 Sierra has gotten good reviews from beta testers, but if you rely on your Mac to get your work done, it’s important to ensure that your key apps are compatible. Plus, despite Apple’s public beta, it’s not uncommon for unanticipated problems to surface once the first release of a new operating system for the Mac becomes more broadly available. Unless you’re dying to use the new features in Sierra that integrate with iOS 10 and watchOS 3, we recommend waiting until version 10.12.1 or even 10.12.2 before upgrading. That gives you plenty of time to make sure your apps and workflows will work in Sierra.

Finally, we just want to say that as much as change can be hard, we’re excited about Apple’s new operating systems. Like you, we probably won’t end up using all the new features, but some of them will definitely enhance the experience of being an Apple user.