We love being the place you come to in order to find answers to nagging problems. While the Mac 911 name predates iOS, iPadOS, and iCloud, we’re happy to answer questions about all those topics as well as macOS and any Apple hardware, software, or service.
We can help save you some time if you consult this list of the most commonly asked questions we receive. This super FAQ provides brief answers to issues that represent a substantial portion of all the email we receive, along with links to our full-length columns with more details. Some of these columns date back a few years, but they remain up to date for the steps you need to take, even if the appearance of some interface elements has changed.
Focus on Photos and iCloud Photos
Ever since Apple released Photos for macOS in 2015, we’ve seen a huge number of questions about the Photos apps for macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, as well as iCloud Photos (formerly iCloud Photo Library).
As a general tip, if you’re looking for help in managing Photos for macOS libraries, I highly recommend Fat Cat Software’s PowerPhotos, which I last reviewed in December 2015. Among other things, it can migrate iPhoto and Aperture libraries. PowerPhotos is also the only tool that can merge Photos libraries, and works with Apple’s database format to find and remove duplicates. For its $30 price tag, you get both PowerPhotos and a copy of iPhoto Library Manager, which can help prep or manage iPhoto libraries.
Here are the questions asked most frequently about Photos and iCloud Photos.
macOS: Erase, revive, beta releases, and Wi-Fi
After Photos, we get a lot of questions related to macOS, particularly dealing with cleaning up a system for sale or restoring one that seems to have gone kaput.
Let’s start with erasing a Mac, accidentally or intentionally erasing files, or a Mac that won’t start up macOS or boot at all:
- “I’m selling my Mac. How do I wipe it properly before sale?” I recommend making at least one, if not two, complete backups that you verify for accuracy, and then follow our instructions: “How to prepare a Mac for sale or a return to an employer.”
- “I can’t restart my new Mac into recovery mode.” Apple’s new M-series Macs, starting with the Apple silicon M1 chip, have an entirely different way to access the special recovery mode used for troubleshooting, sharing just volmes on the startup and other attached drives without starting up in macOS, and making certain system security settings. See “How to find every troubleshooting boot mode on an M1 Mac.”
- “I accidentally deleted all my files. How can I get them back?” If you don’t have any backups via Time Machine, an online hosted backup, or synced versions of your files, read this column for more ideas. The files may be gone for good. (You should starting backing up today: read “How to create a backup strategy with terabytes of files.”)
- “I can’t get macOS to start.” If the recoveryOS volume on your drive remains active, you can power up with the right combination of keys for an Intel Mac or an Apple Silicon M-series Mac, and use macOS Recovery to reinstall macOS. If it’s missing, on an Intel Mac, you can try internet Recovery. With an Apple Silicon M-series Mac, if the Mac is non-responsive, you have to use either the “revive” or “restore” options, which require access to another Mac, the correct peripheral cable, and an internet connection; read “How to revive or restore an unresponsive Mac from another Mac.” You can also try to reinstall macOS from an external USB drive: see “How to create a bootable macOS Big Sur installer drive. (We have articles on how to create installers for older versions of OS X and macOS, too.)
- “My Mac won’t show a drive or recovery options.” If you get a flashing question mark, your drive may have failed or become damaged. You may be able to use internet recovery with an Intel Mac or the revive/restore options for an Apple silicon Mac. Apple suggests several other options, too. If none of that works, seek out help from Apple Support or a repair shop that works on Macs.
Here are a few other questions that commonly arise around macOS.
- “My Mac says Wi-Fi not installed. Why?” This one is a poser, as it could be a network configuration corruption problem in macOS (or OS X), a hardware failure, or something else entirely. I have some advice in “What to do when your Mac says Wi-Fi hardware isn’t installed.” Sadly, it’s typically a hardware failure that would require repair or replacement of the main circuit board. As an alternative, you can purchase a $25 USB-based Wi-Fi adapter, the Edimax AC1200, though it requires USB Type-A. As of April 2021, the required driver only works through macOS 10.15 Catalina; a Big Sur driver update is expected, however.
- “My keyboard won’t let me type certain keys.” Take a look at “Your Mac won’t type U, I, O, J, K, L, and M? Here’s why” and “What to do whe you caot type certai letters o your MacBook.”
- ”Where did All My Files disappear to in the Finder?” People loved the Finder’s All My Files” search, which appeared by default in the sidebar and when opening new tabs or windows. For unknown reasons, Apple dropped it after macOS 10.13 High Sierra, replacing it with a much worse Recents option, which is more limited in many ways. You can add a replacement for All My Files by following a few not-that-complicated steps in “How to use Spotlight’s query language to create an All My Files-like feature.”
- “I can’t find my FileVault Recovery Key!” No worries, unless you need it to reset a login. Consult “How to find your FileVault recovery key in macOS” and also “Is your macOS FileVault Recovery Key current? Here’s how to check.”
- “I’m following your instructions to unenroll from macOS beta releases, and it’s not working.” While we have instructions at “How to leave the macOS beta program,” several readers haven’t been able to get this to work.
Sorting out Apple ID issues
While the Apple ID account has existed for many years now, Apple still offers no way to merge, split, transfer, or mostly manipulate most of what’s associated with an account. You can’t split purchases among two accounts for people who shared one; you can’t merge synced data, purchases, or other information from two or more accounts into one. As a result, we get a number of Apple ID questions all the time. Here are the most common.
“I have two Apple IDs (or my partner/spouse/etc. and I each have one).” Many people have wound up with two Apple IDs that manage different parts of their Apple experience because of how Apple launched different services. I use one account that was registered first as an iTools account, for all of my synchronization, while another, which started as my personal email address, for iTunes and App Store purchases.
Many people also write in because two or more people in their family grouping (whether a couple or including children or parents or others) have unique Apple IDs and they want to share purchases or information among them, wondering if Family Sharing is a good option.
There’s really nothing you can do about any of these situations, but people who have been told this in the past by Apple and supposed gurus like yours truly continue to ask, because it’s so frustrating and seems unreasonable.
I do have some general advice, however:
- If what you’re doing is working but annoying, you should learn to accept it, because it seems unlikely Apple will ever change this. I am often frustrated in setting up new devices or dealing with unexpected password requests for iCloud, the App Store, and other Apple properties due to my two-account situation, but it does work reliably. I haven’t lost any data, and I can always access my purchases.
- If you’re using email via iCloud with one account, and have all your purchases on another, you can transition everything except email to your purchasing account, and switch to have everything sync through that account for iCloud. You can tie iCloud in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS to the purchase account, and set up an email-only connection for your email-focused iCloud account. I suggest a plan in “Can you merge synced data from multiple Apple IDs?” and “How to merge two macOS accounts into one.”
- Family Sharing may work in some cases, though I don’t love the implementation. Chris Breen wrote up a transition suggestion in 2014 that still works, but not for everyone.
“I share an account with someone else; can we split it in two (because they are now an adult child of mine, I and the other person have split up, we now want separate accounts)?” This is actually easier than merging two accounts into one, with the exception that items purchased in one account remain with that starting account. However, other data can be migrated; read “What to do when breaking up a shared Apple ID account.” And, if the person you’re separating out into another account is part of a Family Sharing group, they can retain access to most or all of the purchases in the Apple ID they were formerly part of; see “How to split up an Apple ID among family members and forward their email.”
“I have an Apple ID in one country; how can I change the country for that Apple ID’s registration?” You can, but you lose access to all your purchases. You can maintain separate Apple IDs that are registered in different countries, but that can be problematic when you want to switch among them to access different purchases or data, as I explain in “How to use different iTunes accounts for different languages.”
No, Siri, no!
Siri has limitations around correctly spelling things you speak and correctly pronouncing words and names. There are some workarounds.
- “Siri won’t spell something correctly.” Siri may transcribe a name or word incorrectly. You can add the correctly spelled version of the word or name to a contact name, and that can fix things. You can also swipe down on the Siri screen and type to correct misspelled words in its version. It’s supposed to get better over time as you make those corrections, but Siri still transcribes “Offie” instead of the app “Authy,” no matter how many times I correct it.
- “Siri won’t pronounce my name or someone else’s name correctly.” You can tell Siri that it got it wrong, and Siri provides alternative pronunciations from which you can pick, or you can add a word or name to a contact and use a hidden phonetic field in Contacts to provide the correct way to say it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, either, to judge by reader reports.
Sorry, we can’t help you with correcting Apple Maps
Because we have written about how to report errors in Apple Maps to Apple, many hasty and casual discoverers of Macworld’s site believe we either are Apple or have a magic conduit to that land of fruit and aluminium. We do not.
However, we do have this column that explains how to file corrections yourself—or, if you don’t have an Apple device, how to get someone with an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to file a correction for you. Read “Apple Maps lists your location incorrectly? You can report it.”