macOS Big Sur: A cheat sheet

macos-big-sur:-a-cheat-sheet

Hello World, from Apple’s macOS 11! This Big Sur guide covers everything you need to know, including features, requirements, and where to get the newest release in the macOS line.

Apple announced the long-rumored successor to its popular and stable OS X (see macOS 10.x) line of operating systems at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The annual, week-long event aimed at developers around the world is usually held in California, but WWDC 2020 was the first time it was held exclusively online and also made available to the public.

The biggest announcement at WWDC 2020 for desktop users at least is macOS 11, with Apple finally making the leap from the venerable OS X/macOS 10.x code to the new 11.0 base. Bringing with it much more than a numerical change, the new version of macOS unveiled on June 22, 2020 brings many redesigns of iconic Apple features, a whole host of usability updates to existing applications, and a few surprises.

This guide for macOS Big Sur will be updated as new features and updates are released over the lifespan of the operating system to always bring you the latest information and keep you up-to-date on all things macOS 11.

SEE: Apple iOS 14: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is macOS Big Sur?

macOS Big Sur is a continuation of Apple’s operating system that powers its lineup of desktop and mobile computers. While it carries the macOS name, it is the first major version change in more than 15 years–officially dropping the 10.x and going by 11.x.

Sharing its namesake with the natural wonder in the Central Coast of California, macOS Big Sur brings with it many firsts for Apple’s newest operating system. While continuing to expand further upon some of the changes made in previous versions to unify the desktop experience with the best of its mobile OS–iOS/iPadOS–to create a user computing environment that is both powerful and unparalleled in its simplicity.

Technical requirements of macOS Big Sur

Unlike previous versions of macOS, Big Sur will not have any minimum set of requirements based on hardware components. Instead, Apple has released a minimum type of hardware based on its lineup of mobile and desktop computers and its release year(s) to serve as a guide.

Additional resources

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macOS 11 Big Sur

Image: Apple Inc.

What are the main features of macOS Big Sur?

Control Center for Mac

Identical to its iOS/iPadOS counterpart, the Control Center has made the move with macOS Big Sur, providing one-click access to a series of functions to easily control many common connections and features, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, playing music, or adjusting screen settings to better suit your work environment. Additional controls can be added to customize the experience based on your favorites.

Notification Center

Though notifications were introduced in a prior version, macOS Big Sur’s redesigned take on notifications allows them to be grouped by app for easier management. Furthermore, widgets and notifications are now displayed together within the same window for a unified look at pertinent data at a glance. Additionally, widgets have been redesigned and may be resized to further customize information displayed in ways that work the way you do.

Safari 14

Safari has been given major aesthetic, efficiency, and privacy overhauls to increase usability with intuitive customizations for each user, battery life adjustments to help users be their most productive (or binge their streaming content a little bit longer), and keep tabs of sites and web apps that are trying to keep tabs on you and your personal data by alerting you if passwords used for sites have been compromised. Safari now provides a weekly Privacy Report based on Intelligent Tracking Prevention to show you how your privacy is being protected based on which sites have been visited and providing a snapshot of how users are being profiled by trackers across the web.

Messages

Messages has gained the ability to pin important conversations to the top of your chat list for easier access and response times. Pinned conversations sync across the Apple ecosystem with iOS/iPadOS 14-enabled devices and macOS Big Sur-supported devices. Another usability feature is Inline replies, which allows users to reply to specific messages directly, causing the messages to thread, making keeping track of replies so much easier.

Maps and Guides

Maps have been redesigned, allowing the navigation app to take advantage of larger screen real estate afforded by the higher resolutions found on newer Macs and 4K/5K monitors. A new routing for electric vehicles has been added allowing users to plan the perfect route to include charging stops along the way. Speaking of stops, Guides offers curated destinations of the best places to visit or your favorites spots. Guides may be made for you or by you and shared for easy access. Indoor maps are also available now, with detailed interior maps of popular areas, such as major airports.

App Store privacy

A major win for privacy advocates and a big step towards more transparency is the privacy information summary included for each app in the Mac App Store. Similar to labels found on other products consumers purchase, the privacy summary will include information on what types of data developers collect, how they collect it, and what they do with that data, including if it is used to track your movements across the web.

New language features

Several new bilingual dictionaries have been added to macOS Big Sur for easier translation between several languages, such as French to German, Polish to English, and Japanese to Chinese. Additionally, enhanced predictive input for Chinese and Japanese has been included for more accurate and contextual predictions. Rounding out these features, new fonts have been added, alongside upgrades to existing fonts for India, including localized message effects.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

Apple Silicon support

Apple announced its initial plans to switch from Intel CPUs to processors of its own design based on ARM architecture at WWDC 20. Apple developed its own series of processing chips, or silicon-on-chip (SoC), for the iPhone/iPad line when the devices were initially launched and has been using them ever since for those devices. Apple is now poised to replace the existing Intel-based components with its own SoC. The transition is projected to last two years, eventually resulting in all of Apple’s devices running its proprietary SoC, with the first product from the new lineup due out before year’s end.

Similar to the transition from Apple’s previous PowerPC-based operating system, System OS 9 to OS X over 15 years ago, applications will require developers to rewrite their code in order for apps to work with the new SoC architecture. Apple will offer Rosetta 2, an emulation app, that will emulate the environment as needed to allow apps that have not yet updated to run natively.

System security

In an effort to continue to harden macOS and protect user data, Big Sur expands on the system volume enhancements made prior by cryptographically signing the volume, which ensures that once macOS 11.0 is installed, the system volume creates a key that certifies the integrity of the volume. Any malicious attempts to tamper with it will likely fail to break the key; but should it fail, this would be easy to identify and recover from immediately. 

Additional resources

Which devices support macOS Big Sur?

Apple rigorously tests all new releases of its operating systems for compatibility among existing devices. In recent years, Apple has denoted which devices and its release years are capable–at a minimum–to support the majority of the newest features included in each release of macOS. This method of testing and verification continues with macOS Big Sur, with the official list generated by Apple included below.

  • MacBook (2015 and newer)

  • MacBook Air (2013 and newer)

  • MacBook Pro (Late-2013 and newer)

  • iMac (2014 and newer)

  • iMac Pro (2017 and newer)

  • Mac Pro (2013 and newer)

  • Mac mini (2014 and newer)

Additional resources

When can I get macOS Big Sur?

While no release date has been provided by Apple for macOS Big Sur, it is not uncommon for new releases to be made sometime in the Fall. However, bear in mind that this release must pass through a series of tests to determine compatibility, as well as address any issues that may be found during the beta testing phases before the code is certified gold, or final release.

With that said, expect Apple to make macOS Big Sur available via the Mac App Store for direct download on supported devices to perform the upgrade to macOS 11.0.

Check back here when macOS Big Sur is released for a link to download it from the Mac App Store.

Additional resources

How can I test macOS Big Sur?

MacOS Big Sur is currently pre-release in beta form for testing by developers and IT professionals worldwide. In the past, Apple has provided consumers the ability to participate in a limited capacity testing as part of the Apple Beta Software Program, and the company is accepting applications online from anyone who would like the opportunity to beta test macOS Big Sur on their supported Apple computer when the program goes live in July.

Additional resources

What are alternatives to macOS Big Sur?

While Apple tailors its operating system to the underlying hardware it runs on to provide a seamless, integrated experience that does not exist anywhere else, understandably, users sometimes purchase Apple hardware for the superior craftsmanship of its computers, while opting to use an alternate OS that meets their needs.

Due to Apple’s migration to Intel-based processors many years ago, this opened the gateway to allowing other operating systems to be installed and used on Apple hardware natively. While the use of Apple macOS is licensed for use exclusively with Apple hardware legally, the OSes listed below may be installed and used on Apple hardware without a similar caveat.

Microsoft Windows: Users frequently move to install Windows client or server OSes on their shiny new Apple computers. For years, Apple has offered the ability to run Windows 10 as a dual-boot system on supported Macs, allowing users to switch between the two operating systems on-the-fly. Apple even provides the necessary software drivers to allow Windows to take full advantage of the Apple hardware foundation for the best computing experience possible.

This applies to Windows Server as well, with some choosing to pair Apple’s beefier systems with Microsoft’s flagship server operating system to provide networking, file sharing, and dozens of other enterprise-class services to their organizations.

Linux Mint: This is a version of Linux based on Debian, sharing similarities with the widely popular Ubuntu distribution. The primary focus of Linux Mint is to provide a secure and stable computing environment, while offering a complete, polished experience for users out-of-the-box. Linux Mint also includes full support from a vibrant community of enthusiasts and a “best of” assortment of open-source applications, with additional support extended through package management and the all-powerful Terminal. Linux Mint offers something for users new to Linux and experienced admins looking for a sleek, powerful open-source operating system to boost productivity.

VMware ESXi: VMware is a leader in the enterprise-class virtualization space. ESXi is compatible with bare-metal hardware developed by a growing number of manufacturers on its frequently updated Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). The Type-1 Hypervisor consists of a proprietary Linux kernel that runs the underlying host system for managing the resources used by its guests (virtual machines). While the core hypervisor is free to use based on the GPL license, enhanced management capability, High Availability (HA), and live migration of VMs are available through commercially licensed offerings.

Additional resources

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macOS 11 Big Sur

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Apple iOS 14: A cheat sheet

apple-ios-14:-a-cheat-sheet

Apple unveiled iOS 14 at its WWDC 2020 event which will bring many new features and enhancements to iPhone and iPod touch devices later in the year.

Apple, Inc.

Apple took to the stage at its Worldwide Developer Conference 2020 (WWDC) on Monday, June 22, 2020 to unveil the latest developer tools and platforms enhancements. Apple also unveiled the 14th iteration of its mobile operating system for iOS devices called iOS 14.

There are new things in iOS 14 for users and developers alike, including the redesigned Home Screen, App Clips, Car Play features, and more.

What is iOS 14 and will it work on my devices?

iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system that runs on iPhone and iPod touch hardware.

iOS 14 is the newest iteration of the operating system and is capable of running on most hardware that supported iOS 13, including the following Apple devices that are available at the time of this writing:

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st generation)
  • iPhone SE (2nd generation)
  • iPod touch (7th generation)

What are the key features of iOS 14?

iOS 14 focused on refining the user experience in Apple’s mobile operating system, adding some additional refinements and features to Siri, and making Apps even easier to find and use (even without installing them with App Clips). Below you will find a list of the major features as well as some additional smaller refinements and features.

Experience

Apple chose to highlight the changes to the user experience in iOS 14 in their keynote presentation. Among the key changes are Home Screen improvements, improved Widgets in the Today View and the ability to place them on the Home Screen, and the inclusion of Picture-in-Picture video mode on the iPhone for the first time.

Home Screen

On the Home Screen, many users have pages of apps devoted to apps that are rarely used. In iOS 14, you can now easily hide pages of apps except for ones that you explicitly want to be seen.

The App Library features a unique way to look at all of your apps by category and in one place with search to instantly find and launch an app on your device.

Image: Apple, Inc.

There’s also a new App Library feature that sits at the last page of the Home Screen that lets you see all of your apps automatically organized based on category. Tapping into a category folder of the App Library shows all the apps contained in that category. The App Library also allows for searching to quickly launch an app from any category and shows suggested apps based on usage or ones that have been recently installed.

Widgets

Widgets have long been a feature of the Today View on iOS, but Apple has revamped the way they look and feel in iOS 14. They are now able to be more data rich and can be sized differently and have a custom look and feel for the app they are designed for. More importantly, you can now drag a widget from the Today View and drop it onto the Home Screen to organize it alongside your apps. This will go a long way in helping users make their Home Screens uniquely theirs and has been a feature requested by iOS users for years.

Widgets can be dragged from the Today View and placed inline with app icons on the Home Screen for the first time in iOS 14.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Widgets also support a Smart Stack feature that can be scrolled on the Home Screen or in the Today View to highlight different widgets throughout the day; for example, the Calendar widget might appear in the Smart Stack whenever an upcoming appointment is approaching.

Picture-in-Picture

The Picture in Picture (PIP) video mode that has been available on iPad OS for years has now made its way to iPhone in iOS 14. Now you can enter PIP mode on iPhone and leave the video player app and continue watching the video. You can resize the video player PIP window or push it to the side to continue listening to the audio and not view the video.

Siri

Apple announced that Siri, the voice assistant on iOS, now processes over 25 billion requests per month. This is a staggering number. Apple is working to make Siri smarter, but also included a new compact design that’s available across all of the Apple platforms.

Compact Design

Siri’s compact mode makes it easy to use Siri unobtrusively from anywhere on your device.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Siri now launches in a smaller bubble at the bottom of the screen instead of taking up the full screen. This means that you can now continue to view the screen while interacting with Siri, instead of having Siri take up the entire screen, blocking your view.

Smarter and with Translation Support

Apple announced that they’re working on making Siri smarter and being able to process even more types of requests. With iOS 14, Siri now has the ability to send audio messages via iMessage and has also been upgraded to allow dictation processing on the device for greater privacy and control. 

The Siri Translate app makes it easy to carry on a conversation with someone speaking a different language.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Apple has also added a conversation feature to Siri through a new Translate app that lets you easily translate multiple languages as you talk with someone in a different language. This feature also works on-device and doesn’t rely on server-based relay, so you can easily translate between languages while traveling without a data plan on your device.

Messages

Messages, and particularly the iMessage service, is a huge benefit of being an Apple user. Apple is working to upgrade the Messages app across their platforms, but particularly on iOS, Messages gets a huge bump in iOS 14.

Conversations

How many times have you opened the Messages app only to not be able to find the conversation with a friend or co-worker that you were looking for? Well, with the new Pinning feature, you can now swipe right on a particular conversation to pin it to the top of the Messages app. You can use this with your favorite coworkers or friends to ensure that you always can find them to quickly create or reply to a message. You can pin up to nine conversations.

Memoji

Memoji has become extremely popular amongst iOS users and now in iOS 14, you can customize Memoji with over a trillion different customization combinations. They’ve added even more age options, face covering options, and new Memoji sticker options.

Groups

Group messages in the Messages app has been completely rethought in iOS 14 and now features in-line replies lets you reply to a message in a thread style display so you can keep on track on a specific topic without interrupting the entire group’s conversation.

Mentions let you directly call out a user in a group message and you can be notified only when you’re directly mentioned in a conversation so that you’re not pinged for every message on the group chat.

Groups can also be customized using a group photo or customize the group logo with an emoji instead.

Maps

Apple has been using their own maps since iOS 6 and this year, they’re adding even more features to the Maps app to make it one of the best experiences for users on the platform.

Finding great places

Maps guides can be used to get recommendations for places to visit or try for various destinations on your next trip.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Apple started adding curation options for Maps in iOS 13 with their Maps Collections feature, but they’re taking it a step further in iOS 14 by working with various prestigious brands to create guides for cities or destinations that you can follow to get recommendations for places to visit. 

New ways to get to places

Maps is now providing environmentally-friendly transportation options like the ability to get detailed cycling directions to and from a destination in select cities. This new cycling direction feature gives users access to detailed information about bike lane access on roads, paths with bike access, and will also include incline data and if stairs or heavy traffic might be encountered on the trip. This will be initially available in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Beijing when iOS 14 launches.

Another environmentally green feature that has been added to iOS 14 Maps is the ability to get directions routed for electric vehicles. This will automatically figure in the range using weather, elevation, and current charge to plan out charging stops along the route. It will also take into account your particular vehicle to only show stops that have compatible chargers.

CarPlay

CarPlay is an iOS feature that’s important to many users as it brings the iOS experience into the vehicle in a positive way that allows for inter:action with Siri and well-loved iOS features and apps.

Apple’s CarPlay support has been upgraded with a lot of new features in iOS 14, including the ability to set a custom wallpaper.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Apple announced that CarPlay is available in 80% of the vehicles currently sold. Some new features available in CarPlay is the ability to assign new custom wallpapers to the Home Screen background and new app categories, including apps that support mobile ordering in electric vehicles.

One of the biggest features announced for iOS 14 and CarPlay was the ability to use your iPhone as a key for the vehicle.

Car Keys

You can easily share Car Keys from the wallet app via iMessage and even set restrictions for the key.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Apple is unveiling their new project for CarPlay called Car Keys. The 2021 BMW 5 series will be the first vehicle supported, but more vehicles will be coming later in the year and next year.

Keys are stored in the Secure Element on your iPhone (the same chip that stores Apple Pay and biometric unlock data) and you can remotely disable keys should your iPhone become lost. You can also share keys via iMessage and enable features such as restricted driving profiles for teenagers.

Initially, this feature will work with the NFC chip on the iPhone to allow unlocking when tapping the iPhone on the vehicle, but later vehicle support will include the ability to automatically unlock the vehicle when approaching and lock when walking away using the U1 low-powered wireless chip available on most recent iPhones.

The best part is that you can still use this feature for up to five hours after your iPhone’s battery has died thanks to the Power Reserve feature of iOS that was introduced in iOS 13 for transit cards in the Wallet app.

App Store

The App Store is now 12 years old and new features introduced in iOS 14 will radically change the way that apps are discovered, run, and installed with App Clip.

AppClip

App Clips are smaller versions of the full app that can be instantly downloaded and launched when the user taps their device on an NFC tap point or scans a QR code.

Image: Apple, Inc.

AppClip is Apple’s answer to being able to use a smaller version of an app to do specific tasks, such as using mobile ordering at a restaurant or bringing up a loyalty card at a store.

App Clips are small apps that can be instantly downloaded and run on the device with little user interaction. Simply tap your device to an NFC tap point or scan a QR code and the app will launch in a card interface at the bottom of the screen. The app will let you do a specific task, such as placing a mobile order, then when done, will disappear and not take up any space on your device.

App Clips can use Apple Pay for payments and take advantage of “Sign in with Apple” for account creation. They only stay on your device as long as you need them, then get removed. In the App Library, you can easily download the full app from an App Clip if you decide you’d like to keep the full app on your device.

Easy to Discover

App Clips can be launched from a website, an iMessage, Maps, NFC tags, and QR codes. There’s also a new Apple-designed App Clip code that has both NFC and camera-based scanning functionality that can be placed at retail locations or other areas to allow quick scanning to open the App Clip.

Apps like Yelp can integrate their own tags using App Clip codes that can be placed at multiple businesses or locations.

How it works

App Clips will use the native iOS SDK and will include a small feature of the full app. The App Clips will need to be 10MB or less so that they can be quickly downloaded to the device and launched quickly. 

Other iOS 14 changes and features

  • The Compact UI of Siri has made its way to the incoming phone call UI and FaceTime UI. Incoming calls will now use a new banner UI instead of taking up the full screen and interrupting your workflow
  • You can now assign default apps for your web browser and email client. If you use an app other than Safari and Mail for web browsing and email, this means that your favorite apps can now be launched in their place when tapping a link or email address
  • Search now has a quick launcher that can more quickly open apps by typing just the first few characters of an app name
  • Siri can now answer questions that require a web search
  • Safari can now translate entire webpages that are in a different language than the iOS user’s default language
  • Safari will automatically monitor your passwords and alert you when a password for a particular website has been involved in a data breach
  • AirPods can now be more seamlessly transitioned from one device to another by automatically switching to the device currently being used.
  • AirPods will automatically notify you whenever the battery is getting low through audio and push notifications on your connected device
  • iOS 14 now features a dot in the status bar of your device whenever the microphone or camera is in use by an app.
  • You can now choose to only share an approximate location with an app instead of your specific location. This will allow your device to provide a larger GPS area than your precise pinpoint location with apps that you don’t trust with your data.
  • Photo access can now be limited with apps and you can choose to share a specific photo, album, or the entire library
  • When downloading an app, the App Store listing will now show exactly which permissions the app will request when you download and install it
  • App Store subscriptions can now be used with the Family Sharing feature if allowed by the developer to allow one IAP Subscription purchase to be shared amongst all family members
  • FaceTime now supports Picture-in-Picture (PIP) mode so that you can leave the app and continue to see someone a floating FaceTime PIP window
  • The Files app now supports APFS-encrypted drive support for connected drives or network storage drives
  • Notes now features shape recognition for drawing lines, arcs, and shapes, including hearts, stars, and arrows. Pause slightly at the end, and your imperfect shape snaps into a perfect one
  • The Weather app now features next-hour precipitation, severe weather alerts for supported areas, and multi-day precipitation forecast

Additional Resources

When will iOS 14 be released?

Apple released a developer beta of the iOS 14 operating system at the conclusion of the WWDC 2020 keynote and developers can install the closed beta from the Apple Developer website.

Apple plans to release iOS 14 in Fall 2020, along with expected new hardware, such as new iPhones as they typically do, though it’s unclear if COVID-19 and the current pandemic situation will change Apple’s hardware release cycle this year.

Apple plans to release a public beta of iOS 14 to non-developer users in July through the AppleSeed program.

Additional Resources

How can I download and install iOS 14?

At the present time, iOS 14 is available in beta form only and can only be installed by registered Apple developers through the Apple Developer Website.

If you have an Apple developer account, you can download iOS 14 by doing the following:

  1. Log in to the Apple Developer Download website on the device you wish to install iOS 14 on.
  2. Select Download beside of the device type that you wish to install iOS 14 on and follow the prompts to install the beta profile (this profile will enable beta software updates on your iOS device).
  3. Once installed, restart the device.
  4. After restarting has completed, navigate to the Settings app | General | Software Updates and allow the device to check for updates. You will see the ability to update to the iOS 14 beta and can complete the update process as you normally would for any iOS update.

Just like in previous years, Apple will also begin offering a staggered release of public betas for non-developers to install on their iOS-compatible devices in July 2020. This is done through the AppleSeed website and you will need to apply for access to the beta program once it’s available. Check back regularly on that website for more information on when the beta program is available.

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Apple’s Siri: A cheat sheet

apple’s-siri:-a-cheat-sheet

Siri, Apple’s personal digital assistant, uses machine learning and natural speech to answer questions, return relevant search information, perform actions, and more. Here’s the lowdown on Siri.

Occasionally, seemingly small innovations pack tremendous impact. Certainly, that’s proven true with Apple’s Siri personal digital assistant. The voice-activated concierge so significantly reshapes the way people interact with devices that Alphabet technical adviser Eric Schmidt has stated the feature poses a threat to Google’s underlying search business.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to the future of artificial intelligence (TechRepublic Premium)

Regardless of rhetoric, Siri has its fans, with Apple revealing the the digital assistant fulfills more than 1 billion requests per week. Apple’s HomePod high-fidelity speaker extended the technology’s reach into its customers’ everyday interactions, and new watchOS advancements further expand the virtual assistant’s reach and usefulness.

Apple announced at its 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that Siri is being updated to include predictive guidance and recommendations. Machine learning advancements, Siri’s voice recognition capability, and the ability to learn from users’ behaviors and routines meld together to make it all possible. macOS, iOS, and watchOS updates usher in a new era in which Siri Shortcuts and improved watchOS integration make it even easier for users to create custom Siri reminders and receive predictive notifications and customized recommendations without having to expend much, if any, additional effort.

Whether you want to shorten the time required to answer a question, schedule a ride, check a flight’s status, take an alternative route home due to traffic congestion, send a note letting others know you’re running behind, or send a text message or obtain navigation information without having to type, Siri offers intelligent assistance that adapts to the individual user’s nuances over time. Available in all of Apple’s operating systems–iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS–users can customize the digital concierge to possess different voices and change the way its services are activated.

Siri was originally introduced as a standalone iOS app by Siri Inc. Apple acquired the company in April 2010. The feature was then integrated within iOS dating to version 5, after which the feature was steadily rolled into Apple’s other platforms, including watchOS, tvOS, and macOS. The platform now supports some 20 languages in dozens of countries.

We’ll update this cheat sheet when new information is available about Siri. This article is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: Apple’s Siri (free PDF).

Executive summary

  • What is Siri? Siri is a digital personal assistant that performs searches and completes actions in response to an end user’s natural voice commands and learns from a user’s behavior and routines to provide predictive recommendations and information.
  • Why does Siri matter? Siri introduces an innovative and revolutionary search and instruction strategy, being adopted by competitors (including Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana), that changes the way users interact with devices and obtain information. By leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities, the virtual assistant’s usefulness is enhanced without requiring additional user interaction.
  • Who does Siri affect? Users of any Apple device–whether the equipment is a smartphone, tablet, desktop computer, laptop, Apple TV, iPod touch, watch, or HomePod audio speaker–can access Siri capabilities, which help leverage investments the user has made in digital content and material across all Apple devices and services using an Apple ID.
  • What are the potential privacy and security risks of using Siri? Artificial intelligence, merged with machine learning trends and voice recognition capacities within a virtual assistant, raises multiple significant privacy and security concerns. The virtual assistant collects and leverages intimate knowledge and details of each user’s personal and professional lives. With such treasured information comes great safeguard responsibilities, but Apple claims to be up to the task.
  • How do you get and use Siri? Siri is integrated within iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Users can customize settings for the virtual assistant, which is automatically integrated within contemporary Apple devices.

Additional resources:

siri-cnet-tylerlizenby.jpg

Image: CNET/Tyler Lizenby

What is Siri?

Siri is a digital personal assistant, integrated within Apple device operating systems, that enables Apple device users to get answers to questions, check the weather, confirm flights, perform searches, answer questions, complete actions, send a message and much more. The time-saving feature uses natural language and doesn’t require learning sophisticated or unfamiliar commands. Also, Siri adapts to a user’s nuances, learns from previous operations, and leverages a device’s existing capabilities to extend usefulness with a minimum of user instruction or interaction.

Siri is not a utility to be used in hectic, noisy environments, or a tool to be leveraged for performing complex commands, such as editing videos or photos. Instead, the digital concierge excels at performing time-saving commands (“Hey Siri, please text my spouse that I am running five minutes behind”), opening a specific file (“Hey Siri, please open the 2018 budget spreadsheet”), accessing specific photos (“Hey Siri, please open the new product shots photo album”), learning whether you need to take an umbrella to your client meeting (“Hey Siri, is it going to rain at 3: 00 pm?”), and similar tasks.

Don’t sell Siri’s capabilities short, though–Apple touts Siri’s ability to book rides, make payments, and display specific files, among other actions, too. The more time you spend with Siri, the more you’ll learn how it can be used to perform new and creative tasks.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

Certainly, Apple will continue investing in the AI assistant. Apple announced at WWDC 2017 that it is using deep learning to improve Siri’s operation. Voice intonation and inflection tweaks help create a more natural sounding voice, while the technology also benefits from on-device learning to enable it to better respond to questions, provide more relevant information, and even recommend suggested articles, text changes, and search strings based on the user’s previous behavior.

siri-shortcuts.jpg

Siri news at WWDC 2018.

Image: Brandon Vigliarolo/TechRepublic

And at WWDC 2018, Apple announced new watchOS innovations that make Siri even easier to use. Users need only to raise their wrist and start speaking–they don’t have to say “Hey Siri,” to begin issuing commands and questions to the virtual assistant. The watchOS Siri Face will begin supporting interactions with third-party apps, too, and includes such enhancements as estimating commute times and providing contextual updates, such as for sporting events.

Siri sound consistently improves, too.
iOS 13

and
macOS Catalina

introduce neural text to speech, also known as Neural TTS. Whereas Apple previously used short audio clips recorded by acting talent and pieced together to form words, phrases, and sentences, with Neural TTS the resulting speech sounds more like normal human talking with natural emphasis and cadence. The effect is particularly noticeable when Siri speaks longer, more complex statements.

At WWDC 2020, Apple announced an improved design for Siri in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. On both iPhones and iPads, Siri no longer takes over the entire screen when summoned; instead, a small, orb-like icon pops up at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to still see whatever you were working on before initiating Siri. 

Some additional notable features to Siri include: The ability to send audio messages, dictate on your device, and translate between languages with the new Translate app. Siri also has a bigger bank of responses to common questions and more facts available than ever before. 

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Why does Siri matter?

Instead of users having to stop what they’re doing, navigate to various menus and applications, access the keyboard, type specific instructions, and browse and occasionally revise results, Siri enables users to deliver simple and natural voice commands to Apple devices. Whether seeking to play a video, open a file, obtain navigational information, view a specific photo album, or perform other tasks, users can quickly perform all these actions using Siri via minimally disruptive voice commands.

Considering users configure Apple devices to join their iCloud and iTunes accounts, the content (spreadsheets, documents, presentations, PDFs, videos, photos, movies, TV shows, music, and other files) available to all their Apple devices becomes accessible to Siri. The result is a much more collaborative, efficient, and productive relationship between an end user, the end user’s digital content (files, photos, videos, music, applications, cloud services, etc.), and devices (Apple TV, iPhone, Mac, automobile entertainment system, watchOS, and iPad) that require often minimal voice interaction to sort, locate, view, and access.

Siri also simplifies the task of leveraging other Apple technologies. For example, an iPhone user on the go can instruct Siri to schedule a 2: 00 pm client appointment on Tuesday. When the Apple user returns to the office, powers on his or her Mac, and opens the Apple Calendar, the meeting will already be present on the calendar, assuming the user has configured Apple Calendar properly on all his/her devices. Apple’s quickly closed the gap from being able to enter such information on the go to being able to enter and synchronize such data using simple voice commands. The ramifications are impactful and wide-ranging.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (cover story PDF download (TechRepublic)

At WWDC 2017, Apple announced the release of a new Siri speaker. Called HomePod, the Bluetooth-enabled, self-adjusting high-fidelity device sports six microphones to extend Siri functionality. Apple users can leverage Siri voice interaction technologies (think voice commands), enabling the device to play Apple Music, control smart home accessories, answer general knowledge inquiries, set clocks and timers, obtain news and weather information, and even get traffic reports and translations.

At its annual 2018 WWDC, Apple announced the introduction of Siri Shortcuts. The feature permits any app to receive access to Siri. Users can assign key phrases to specific apps, such as “Siri, I lost my keys,” to enable Siri to work with Tiles to provide the physical location of the missing keys in question. Using Shortcuts users can also create custom reminders and choose from hundreds of preformatted shortcut routines.

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Who does Siri affect?

Users of Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches, are affected by Siri innovations.

Customers who purchase automobiles equipped with Apple CarPlay also benefit; Siri functionality integrates with the car’s audio system’s capabilities and better links a user’s iPhone with the vehicle to simplify obtaining directions, making calls, listening to books, sending and receiving messages, and listening to music. And, as announced at WWDC 2017 and WWDC 2018, Siri is taking an increasingly prominent role in watchOS 4 and watchOS 5 platforms, respectively.

SEE: Executive’s guide to Apple in the enterprise (free ebook) (TechRepublic)

Everyone from business users seeking to coordinate schedules and maintain pace with the modern workplace to retirees seeking to monitor investments to students working to ensure busy academic and personal lives stay on track will find the virtual assistant, which learns from their behaviors and routines, a welcome addition to their increasingly frenetic responsibilities. As Siri increasingly integrates within Apple users’ lives, with its machine learning and artificial intelligence capacities, the personal assistant could soon prove a necessity.

Developers are also impacted, as software manufacturers benefit when their applications are integrated with Siri. Apple’s SiriKit assists developers with the process. SiriKit consists of two frameworks that developers can leverage to tie their applications and services with Siri.

SEE: WWDC 2019: A guide for business pros (Tech Pro Research)

Apple’s WWDC 2019 conference touted Siri refinements both within iOS 13 and CarPlay. SiriKit makes it easier for developers to integrate Siri functionality within their apps. CarPlay is one example, as Pandora and Waze support Siri beginning with iOS 13.

Siri iOS 13 improvements include Shortcut support. A quick method for automating instructions, such as directions to the next appointment on your calendar, Shortcuts are integrated within iOS 13 to provide more powerful access to all Shortcuts, including those added to Siri.

Those using Siri for navigation will find the AI assist improving over time, as well. With iOS 13, instead of saying take a right in 700 feet, Siri will simply say take the next right. The improvements are more natural, and subsequently, more quickly understood. When traveling to large venues, such as arenas or airports, Siri guides you closer to your actual intended destination within that location.

But even everyday actions benefit from Siri. Whether using podcasts or Maps, Siri better guides users by providing more accurate and contextual suggestions and recommendations. Users can also leverage Siri to perform more common tasks, such as tuning in to a specific radio station.

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What are the potential privacy and security risks of using Siri?

In the wake of Facebook’s massive data leaks, which revealed comprehensive profile and behavior information for identifiable individual users, privacy and security concerns are receiving heightened awareness. In fact, digital privacy and security issues are likely to prove among the most publicized stories of 2018 and the next several years.

At its WWDC 2018 conference, Apple renewed its commitment to privacy and security, but concerns remain. Whenever a technology captures as much intimate, personal, sensitive, and strategic information as with which Siri is entrusted for each user, the value of that information proves significant, tremendously so for a variety of constituents. Thus, the challenge for Apple, which states it’s committed to safeguarding this sensitive data, is to avoid the type of questionable alliances and leaks that continue plaguing Facebook.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

If macOS Mojave and iOS 12 are any indication, Apple’s moving in the right direction. macOS Mojave works to curb tracking, known as fingerprinting, which enables websites to track a user’s behavior across multiple websites. FaceTime will soon boast end-to-end encryption. A new Intelligent Tracking prevention feature built into Safari will protect against “like” and “share” links that often track users without the user’s knowledge.

By making it more difficult for third-parties to track user behavior–by resisting the temptation to sell user data to advertisers or for data mining purposes and by presenting roadblocks to the release of complete profile information for a user–third-party app developers, websites, and other partners are going to find it much more difficult to mine Apple user’s information.

At WWDC 2019, Apple doubled-down on privacy. Having stated privacy is a fundamental human right, the company is increasingly positioning its technologies as possessing fundamental design strategies designed to preserve and protect user privacy, whereas such competitors as Google and Facebook are publicly collecting such user data to better target users with ads and promotions.

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What are the competitors to Siri?

Several alternatives, from such heavyweights as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, pose compelling competition to Siri:

Apple has a history of developing loyal relationships with its users. Many Apple professionals are so loyal to the platform that they use Macs in the office, iPads at home, and iPhones everywhere in between. Mating Siri with the digital wearable (Apple Watch) and home speaker (HomePod) further increases the “stickiness” within the relationship that’s so prized by marketers.

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How do you get and use Siri?

Users seeking to leverage Siri’s capabilities need to purchase a contemporary Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Apple TV. Siri settings can be customized using an iPhone’s or iPad’s Settings menu, a Mac’s System Preferences screen, or the Settings menu on an Apple TV.

The default method of accessing Siri on an iPhone or an iPad is to hold down the Home button. To summon Siri on a macOS Sierra-equipped Mac, you can leverage a keyboard shortcut assigned within System Preferences or by clicking the Siri icon on the menu bar (after configuring your Mac’s Siri preferences to enable its appearance). macOS Sierra also places a Siri icon in the Dock for easy access. Using an Apple Watch, you can ask Siri a question by pressing and holding the Digital Crown or by raising the Watch or tapping the screen and saying “Hey Siri,” unless you’re using watchOS 5 or newer, in which case you can just raise your arm and ask Siri your question. In watchOS 5 and newer, users need only to raise their wrist and begin speaking–it’s that easy.

Additional resources:

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Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 22, 2020 to reflect new features announced at WWDC 2020. 

Apple iOS 13: A cheat sheet (free PDF)

apple-ios-13:-a-cheat-sheet-(free-pdf)

Apple unveiled iOS 13 at its June 2019 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Apple wasted no time getting into the nitty-gritty details of the new mobile operating system, and had quite a few surprises like splitting up support for iPad and iPhone into their own unique OSes with separate features for the first time since the iPad was released.

From the cheat sheet

This cheat sheet looks at specific features, availability, compatible devices, and release history.

WHAT IS IOS 13, AND WILL IT WORK ON MY DEVICE?

iOS 13 is the 13th major iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system called iOS. The OS can run on the following iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices that are available as of this writing.

Cheat sheet: Google Meet video-conferencing and chat app (free PDF)

cheat-sheet:-google-meet-video-conferencing-and-chat-app-(free-pdf)

Video-conferencing software continues to act as the glue that binds organizations together in the remote-working landscape, with innumerable platform providers vying for our attention. This includes advertising-to-cloud-computing giant Google, which offers its Google Meet video-conferencing solution as part of its G Suite package as well as a standalone service for anyone with a Gmail address.

Google Meet is an enterprise video-conferencing service that supports chat, one-on-one video calls and group video meetings. It is basically Google’s answer to video-conferencing and chat apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which are considered rival services.

If you’re looking to find out more on what Meet has to offer, and whether it’s a viable video-conferencing solution for your business, this free PDF download from TechRepublic is here to tell you what you need to know.

In the download:

  • What is Google Meet?
  • How do I use Google Meet?
  • Is Google Meet free?
  • Will I need G Suite to use Google Meet after September 30?
  • What other features does Google Meet have?
  • What is the difference between Google Meet, Hangouts and Google Duo?
  • What are Google Meet’s main competitors?
  • And more!