This is the last installment of this column, and as such, I wanted to cover one of the most important features on the Mac: the Finder. This file manager, browser, and user interface layer is the tool that people use to launch applications, work with and manage files and folders, and control pretty much everything their computer does.
The early Mac was revolutionary, bringing the desktop metaphor to everyday computers. It wasn’t the first computer to use this type of interface, but it was the first one that was widely adopted. Instead of controlling a computer by typing lines of text commands, it used the WIMP interface: windows, icons, menus, and pointer. (And even before text commands, computers were controlled by punch cards, tapes, and other ways of inputting commands and data.)
One thing the desktop metaphor does is allow us to organize files any way we want. Unlike tags, where you set keywords for your files—that you may or may not recall later—folders let you sort items in the way that best fits your style of organizing items. They’re flexible and extensible, through sub-folders, and sub-sub-folders. You could dump all your files in a single folder and use Spotlight to find the ones you want, but you’d quickly find that it’s more time consuming to use this type of interface than to keep your files sorted.
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One of the most useful elements of Apple’s “digital hub,” at least for media like music and movies, is Home Sharing. This feature allows you to share your content across your local network to computers, iOS devices, and Apple TVs. However, it is not without its problems. It can be difficult—even impossible—to get Home Sharing to work on certain devices. Or Home Sharing may work for a while, then stop working. Problems are incredibly hard to diagnose with any networking feature, but Home Sharing is especially prickly.
A correspondent recently had a problem with Home Sharing, and it was quite difficult to troubleshoot. He was trying to use the Remote app on an iOS device to control iTunes on one of his Macs, and, while this had worked flawlessly for years, it suddenly stopped working. (The Remote app uses Home Sharing to connect to and control other devices.) He saw his Mac and Apple TV in the Remote app, but when he tapped either of them, he was unable to connect. He then attempted to re-pair the iOS device with the Mac, a process which requires typing a four-digit code that the iOS device displays in iTunes, but that failed as well.
The real problem was that there was no indication of what wasn’t working. And when we discovered the actual problem, it was actually quite simple, but there should have been some guidance.
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I love iCloud Photo Library. It’s brain-dead simple to use (unlike iCloud Music Library), and it ensures that all my photos are in sync on all my devices. Lately, having bought a new camera, I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, and I’ve been wanting to view them and edit them on my iPad, with Enlight or Affinity Photo, a powerful photo editing app that was highlighted in Apple’s recent WWDC keynote. But syncing from my iMac, where I import photos, to my other devices can take a long time.
There are a few reasons for this. One is that my upload speed is slow. Since I shoot both RAW and JPEG, Photos has both files in its library for each picture, and together they take up about 25MB. So if I import a bunch of photos, there’s a lot of data to upload.
And Photos doesn’t let you control its upload, at least not easily. Even after I import photos and delete the ones I don’t want to keep, Photos wants to upload them, because they’re in the Recently Deleted album. This album is a good thing, because it means that if you delete a photo, then later decide that you really did want to keep it, you have a month to change your mind. But if I import, say, 100 photos, and keep a half dozen, Photos still wants to upload all these pictures to the cloud, then down to each of my devices. I’d rather that Photos not upload the Recently Deleted photos, at least not right away, perhaps deferring them until some time when I’m not doing anything on my Mac. Unfortunately, when I import photos from a memory card, Photos immediately starts uploading them, whether I keep or delete them.
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In this column, I point out things that Apple should fix in macOS, iOS, and in its services and hardware. But it's important to acknowledge the company when they do fix some of the more egregious problems that plague users.
Apple gave us an extensive look at the next versions of macOS and iOS at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, and a number of the new features it announced fix long-standing issues. I'd like to highlight a few issues that Apple has announced that they will be fixing in the next versions of macOS and iOS.
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When you set up a new iPhone or iPad, a few screens walk you through some of the most important settings for the device. You’re asked to enter your Apple ID and password; you’re asked if you want to use location services; and you get queried about Siri. But beyond that, iOS starts working with a slew of default settings. It’s up to you to find them, figure them out, and tweak them.
Unfortunately, the iOS Settings app can be confusing. It’s hard to find what you need to change, and some settings are buried in sub-sub-sub-menus.
I count 44 different top-level settings categories on my iPhone, and then 84 more because third-party apps also have entries, many of which contain options that are also found in the Location, Notifications, Background App Refresh, Cellular Data, and Privacy settings. Few of them contain any actual app settings, and those that do also provide access to those settings from the individual apps. If I add up the iOS settings and the app settings, I have a total of 128 top-level entries in the Settings app. And many users will have more than that, because they have more apps on their devices.
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Apple’s iOS and Mac app stores revolutionized software distribution. They provide one-stop shops for apps from vendors around the world, allowing software developers to offer their products without worrying about setting up distribution contracts. They also take care of the fulfillment (billing and downloads), saving developers time and hassle. In exchange, Apple takes a 30 percent cut of sales, which is fair for the service they provide.
But there’s one thing you can’t do in Apple’s app stores: you cannot provide a new version of your apps to existing customers at a discount. You can’t offer upgrade pricing.
Upgrade pricing makes a lot of sense for software. It helps developers retain customers and it rewards loyalty. Upgrades are generally very similar to existing versions, with a few new features and perhaps a refreshed interface, so it’s not fair to expect users to pay full price. If you do, many users won’t opt for the new versions, and developers generally prefer if most of their users run the latest versions of their software.
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As I pointed out in a recent article, bugs exist in every application and hardware device, and Apple has a bug reporting system that many developers find annoying. But for end users—you and me—dealing with these issues can be frustrating. The error messages you see when something goes wrong with your software or hardware often offer you no help, nor give you any clue as to what is causing the problem.
You may have a crash with Mail, and be met with a message saying “Mail quit unexpectedly.” I guess this is from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious, because, unless you direct an app to quit, this shouldn’t happen. This sort of error message doesn’t help you understand anything, but at least it informs you about what happened. You might have an app in the background and wonder where its window went, so this dialog informs you that you won’t find it.
Error messages on the Mac often appear as Zen kōans; they suggest that you ponder the deeper meaning of the universe in order to understand what they mean. For example, you sometimes get an error from iTunes saying that there is a “temporary problem.”
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