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Shelter-in-place Edition

Hello. First things first: Everyone on the IvanExpert team is safe and well, and we wish you the same. We are ready and able to help you remotely with whatever your needs may be through these unprecedented times. We can log into your computer and control it from afar as though we are sitting in front of it, so if your home Mac (or other technology) is giving you trouble, please don't hesitate to call us. We are here.

Next: Apple released macOS Catalina 10.15.4, and then followed that with a Supplemental Update; by default, these updates are installed automatically if you are already on Catalina. Anecdotal reports have suggested that the Supplemental Update has rendered a few Macs completely inoperable, which would sure be a bummer at this moment. If you want to disable automatic updates, go to Apple Menu, System Preferences, Software Update, and uncheck “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.” And if you're still on Mojave, we'd suggest not upgrading to Catalina, for the moment.

This newsletter will be about using your technology while being at home full time, as well as quickly reviewing some new Apple products.

Zoom

Certainly one company whose brand profile has been elevated in the age of coronavirus is Zoom. And not without good reason: Zoom is excellent at what it does, which is facilitating one-to-one or group video conversations. (We even participated in a Zoom Passover seder.) 

There have been privacy and security concerns about Zoom, but my reaction to these is with a bit of a shrug: there are privacy and security concerns with nearly every online service, and the company's responses have been to my satisfaction, including a halt to all new feature additions so that development can be solely focused on tightening up the platform.

Here are two good articles with instructions on how to make your Zoom meetings more secure:

at Ars Technica: Security tips every teacher and professor needs to know about Zoom 

at the New York Times: How to Prevent ‘Zoombombing’ in a Few Easy Steps

You don't need to have a Zoom account to participate in a Zoom meeting -- you'll receive an email with a link, and all you have to do is click it. If you're on an iPhone or iPad, you'll first need to download the free Zoom app from the App Store. If you want to host a meeting, you'll need a free account, and that meeting is limited to 40 minutes. You can always start a new one, or you can subscribe for $14.99 per month to have a longer meeting.

Zoom has a bevy of features, including fun backgrounds, recurring meetings, different presentation views, screen sharing, remote control, and even a "Touch Up My Appearance" option. Zoom also tends to exercise your computer's fans, which may sound loud to the recipients; if this is an issue for you, use a headset like the one that came with your iPhone, or AirPods, or any other headphone/microphone product. And, if you're in a group conversation, we suggest you mute yourself except when speaking; you can temporarily unmute to speak, walkie-talkie style, by holding down the space bar. If you'd like help getting to know Zoom better, please give us a shout.

Zoom is not the only option -- longstanding video chat platforms like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype are certainly out there and available. FaceTime even supports multiple people now, and is a good option for an extended family chat (assuming everyone has an iPhone, iPad, or Mac).

AirPods Pro

AirPods make a great complement to Zoom and are an excellent product generally, but Caroline and I have found particular benefit to the noise-canceling capabilities of the AirPods Pro, as we now spend nearly all day and night around each other in a small space with little sonic privacy. The noise canceling is so effective that I usually cannot hear her when she's on a call in another room, and vice versa. I only got mine about three weeks ago, and I already feel that the AirPods Pro are one of Apple's very best and neatest products since, well, the original AirPods. Unlike the originals, the Pro model comes with soft tips in multiple sizes (the original AirPods were "one size fits some"). Squeezing the stem toggles between noise canceling mode and "transparency" mode, which allows you to hear what's going on around you. In that mode, I completely forget my AirPods Pro are even in my ears, except when I speak (my own voice sounds muffled to me, but not the person I'm speaking to). There are many noise canceling headphones on the market, and I haven't tried most of them, but with the AirPods Pro, I'm not that motivated to. It's nice to get a new Apple product that "just works," as the company used to say. AirPods Pro cost $249, but Amazon often has them on sale for $235.

New iPad Pro

Apple updated their 11" (starting at $799) and 12.9" (starting at $999) iPad Pro models. Externally, they're nearly identical to their predecessors. What's new is an optical scanning technology called LIDAR, which allows for highly detailed augmented reality (AR), though I'm not sure this is actually useful unless someone comes up with a killer app for it. With LIDAR only being offered for one slice of one product line, I suspect it will be just as inessential as the MacBook Pro touch bar, and the now-abandoned 3D Touch feature for iPhones. What's more worthwhile in the new iPad Pro models is a better processor, and new, obscenely expensive, keyboard covers and stands. Previously, Apple's iPad keyboards were pretty bad, wearing out over time and being hard to type quickly on. The new keyboards are more like those you'd find on a normal laptop computer. The top tier is a new "Magic Keyboard" that features a trackpad, and a magnetic attachment that "floats" the iPad when it's docked. The trackpad for iPad is a first from Apple, and should leave little doubt that the company intends to eventually displace macOS with iPadOS as their primary consumer computing platform. It ain't there yet, in my opinion, but Apple's trying. When released in May, Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro will be $299 or $349, depending on which iPad Pro you bought; it will also work with the previous iPad models released in 2018.

New MacBook Air

Apple released an update to the MacBook Air. Externally, everything is nearly the same as the previously available 2018 model, with a 13" Retina display, weight of 2.75 pounds, and two USB-C (including Thunderbolt 3) ports, one of which will often be used for power. But the changes are noteworthy: a cheaper lower-end option, a better performing processor in the high-end model, higher-capacity storage, and a more reliable, quieter keyboard than the much-scorned design that Apple has used in their laptops since 2015. With these changes, the MacBook Air regains its position as a very solid general-purpose Mac laptop, though some will still prefer the similarly sized high-end MacBook Pro model, which features four ports and better performance. If you're in the market for a new MacBook Air, we recommend customizing the order to include a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of memory, and twice as much storage as you think you might need (if you have questions, call us).

We miss seeing you in person, but we'd be more than happy to speak with you on the phone or Zoom or FaceTime with you. Stay safe and well, and the same goes for your Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

(April 2020)

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