Help! My Watch's haptic engine has stopped working!

Fri Oct 9, 01:00 PM

Does your Apple Watch no longer tap you like you should? Or is the tap weaker, or does it even sound a bit like tiny gears are grinding?

Well, I can’t promise a definite cure and the best policy is always to visit an Apple Genius, but here’s something to try first: Hard rebooting the Watch. Don’t worry. You won’t lose any data or settings.

To do this you’ll need to press and hold both side buttons: the digital crown AND the side button itself. After around 5-10 seconds the Watch will reboot. And you might find haptic feedback is… well, back!


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El Capitan's crazy gamma adjustments – photographers beware

Thu Oct 8, 10:01 AM

iMacs and MacBooks offer an option to automatically adjust the brightness of the screen based on ambient conditions. This is achieved via a barely visible light sensor near the camera in the top of the screen assembly, and the feature can be activated and deactivated within System Preferences by clicking the Display icon, ensuring the Display tab is selected, and then checking Automatically Adjust Brightness.

Unfortunately, in El Capitan it’s not just the screen brightness (that is the LED backlighting strength) that gets adjusted. Activating this feature will also subtly adjust the gamma of the screen, and this could play havoc if you’re editing photos or videos.

You can test this for yourself in a room with a decent amount of ambient light (that is, a room that’s not dark):

  1. Open System Preferences, as described above, and ensure that Automatically Adjust Brightness is checked.
  2. Open a test image in the background so you can watch it for changes.
  3. Move the brightness slider completely to the right, so the screen is as bright as can be.
  4. Keep one eye on your test image and uncheck the Automatically Adjust Brightness button. You should see a subtle gamma change happen in the image, particularly in the shadows or darker areas.

Note that you can’t repeatedly test this by simply checking and unchecking the Automatically Adjust Brightness box. To repeat the test, you’ll again need to activate automatic brightness adjustment and decrease and then fully-increase brightness, before deactivating brightness adjustment.

Here’s a mock-up I did to show the subtle difference. Many thanks to Sylvester (a.k.a Captain Sexy Cat) for modelling. The left is WITH automatic brightness adjustment, and the right is WITHOUT. Therefore the image on the right would be the technically true and correct image in this instance:

So, what’s to be done about this aside from simply deactivating automatic screen brightness adjustment – which is actually useful? Wojtek Pietrusiewicz was one of the first to spot the issue and mentions a preferences key he spotted in the Console log: I tried the obvious command of defaults write -g AmbientDisplayAgent 0 to attempt to turn off this feature, followed by logging out and back in again, but it didn’t work. However, it’s clear that this can be turned off because the option was there in El Capitan betas – and I’ve a feeling that if enough people discuss it then Apple might return the option in a future update to El Cap.


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Pinch to zoom while playing videos – new to iOS 9

Thu Oct 8, 09:11 AM

Here’s a nice hidden new feature in iOS 9 on iPad/iPhone – you can now use the pinch-to-zoom gesture to zoom in and out of videos that you’ve recorded or that’ve been shared with you (that is, videos in the camera roll – this trick won’t work with movies or TV shows you download).


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Locking a Mac instantly while you're away from it

Thu Oct 8, 08:54 AM

Windows provides the Win+L key combo that locks the computer instantly should you step away from it. On a Mac there’s a handful choices for the same action, although each involves sleeping the screen or activating the screensaver in order to invoke the password prompt.

Therefore you first need to make it so that your Mac requires your password immediately should this happen. You can do this by opening System Preferences, clicking the Security icon, selecting the General tab, and putting a check alongside Require Password. Then switch the dropdown list to read Immediately.

Now, you have at least three options when it comes to instantly password protecting your Mac, as follows:

  • Key combination: Press Option+Cmd+Power, or Option+Cmd+Eject if you have an older Mac or older Mac keyboards. Essentially, you need to tap the key at the top right of the keyboard. If you’re a Brit, that combo is Alt+Cmd+Power/Eject.

  • Via the menu bar: A little setup work is necessary. Open Keychain Access, which you’ll find in the Utilities folder of Applications. Open its preferences dialog (Cmd+comma), ensure the General tab is selected, and then put a check in Show Keychain Status in Menu Bar. In future, you can click the padlock menu bar item and select Lock Screen.

  • Command line/third-party app: If you’re a friend of the command-line, or if you use a third-party app that lets you run commands, you can use the following command:

    /System/Library/CoreServices/Menu\ Extras/ -suspend

    Or, if you want to use AppleScript instead, the following will lock the screen:

    tell application "Finder" to sleep

Note that there are a few apps that claim to use Bluetooth and your phone/Watch to lock the Mac when you’re away. To be honest, I find these just don’t work well enough because of the way Bluetooth works.


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YouTube videos on your Apple Watch – for real!

Wed Oct 7, 10:57 AM

This is not a drill. Video Search lets you look-up YouTube videos and watch them, overcoming one of the most annoying restrictions of the Watch. It’s $2.99 in the App Store (£2.29 for Brits).

So, does it deliver?

Yes, and no. But mostly yes.

Video Search is a pretty simple app, as is necessitated by the Watch’s interface. Upon starting, the app shows a list of recommended videos, similar to that seen when you visit Alternatively, you can tap the Search button and use Siri to dictate a search term. This isn’t ideal, for obvious reasons, although works surprisingly well. We searched for PewPewDie, for example, and Siri got it correct aside from the spacing – it heard it as “pew pew die”. Still, that’s enough to find his videos.

Tap any video and it’ll be loaded for playback, with a circular on-screen progress display ticking around for longer video files that apparently must be loaded 100% before playback can commence. Our best guess is that the videos are initially cached on the iPhone, and then beamed across to the Watch.

Playback quality
Video quality isn’t great, with a relatively low frame rate (compared to desktop/iPhone playback) making things very so slightly jerky, and some aggressive and blocky compression is visible even on the tiny screen of the Watch. Again, we can only guess why this is happening, but it may well be hardware limitations and/or bandwidth limitations. There’s no playback quality settings to adjust.

Some videos also didn’t work in our tests – tapping the play button did nothing – while some videos didn’t offer a play option. This may well be because of digital rights restrictions.

What you get
Still, for those videos that do work – and that’s most of them – you get the whole thing and not just a snippet. In the App Store blurb the developers talk of previews, perhaps giving the impression you only get a few seconds of each video, but this is perhaps to hint at the less-than-perfect video quality and perhaps to appease the App Store overlords – the reason there’s not already an app like this for the Watch is because Apple only wants you to glance at the watch, or at most use it for short busts. Needless to say, if you’re watching a 14 minute PewPewDie walkthrough then you’re breaking this rule. Shhh! Don’t tell Apple!

The Watch app is also fast, considering some Watch apps can be so slow that you almost don’t want to bother. The companion iPhone app doesn’t do much aside from provide a list of the videos you’ve watched. You can also handoff watching a video to the iPhone instead of watching it on the Watch.

We expect this app to develop as time goes on. There’s presently no way to control the playback position, for example. You can only start and stop. You can control the volume with the digital crown as you might expect, however, and double-tapping the screen zooms-in to the video at the expense of cutting off the sides of the video frame.

There’s a lot to like in Video Search, and we’re thankful for the developers for getting this app into the App Store. We’re also not entirely sure how long it’ll stick around there, so you might want to grab it sooner rather than later.


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Apple Watch wallpapers

Wed Oct 7, 10:43 AM

Watch 2.0 brought the ability to use your own photos as watch faces, but you can also download dedicated wallpaper images and use those instead.

Here’s a superb collection of images. Our favourite is the one below! If only Apple would replace Siri’s voice with that of KITT then, frankly, we’d be nostalgasming.

Here’s how to use the images as wallpaper:

  1. Using your iPhone, visit the wallpaper site and find an image you like. Then click the Download Now link beneath it. This will show the wallpaper on your iPhone screen.
  2. Tap and hold the wallpaper image, then tap Save Image.
  3. Wait a moment or two for syncing to happen, then access the Photos app on your phone. Find the new image, open it for viewing, then force tap and tap Create Watch Face.
  4. The previous step assumes you have the Photos app on your Watch set to show your camera roll. If it’s set to show only favourites then you’ll need to open the Photos app on your iPhone, select the wallpaper image, and click the heart icon to make it a favourite.


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MenuMeters – a dashboard for your Mac, and free to boot

Tue Oct 6, 12:03 PM

Just a quickie update, but the excellent MenuMeters has been updated for OS X El Capitan. This work was done by another developer, rather than the original developer, so isn’t obvious to track down.

The app installs as a Preference Pane within System Preferences, so to install it you just need to double-click the downloaded .PrefPane file. In future you can configure the app by opening System Preferences and selecting the icon.


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Keyboard shortcut to pin a tab in Safari

Tue Oct 6, 11:53 AM

With Safari in OS X El Capitan there’s a Pin Tab entry on the Window menu but no keyboard shortcut. To create a pinned tab you’re forced to use the mouse to drag an existing tab to the left of the Safari window, or right-click the tab and select the option.

However, this lack of keyboard shortcut is easily fixed using OS X’s built-in tools, as follows.

  1. Open System Preferences and click the Keyboard icon.

  2. Click the Shortcuts tab, and in the list at the left at the left click the App Shortcuts entry.

  3. Click the Plus button, located in the middle bottom of the window.

  4. In the dialog box that slides into view, select Safari from the Application dropdown list.

  5. In the Menu Title field below, type Pin Tab.

  6. Click in the Keyboard Shortcut field beneath this, and press whatever shortcut you want. Ctrl+Cmd+P is a good choice, but beware that Cmd+P is usually assigned to File > Print.

  7. Click Add, then close System Preferences.


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Dial phone numbers on your Apple Watch

Tue Oct 6, 10:22 AM

God knows why this isn’t built into the Apple Watch but the simple yet clever Watch Keypad app puts a numeric dialler on the screen of the Apple Watch so you can tap in and subsequently dial phone numbers, or send texts. It’s $0.99, or 79p for Brits.

And it was created by two 14 year-old geniuses as part of the WWDC sponsorship scheme. Go kids!

To use the app just type the number then force press the screen to call or text.

Alas the app merely utilises the built-in phone and messages apps so doesn’t let you enter DTMF tones – another annoying omission on the Apple Watch when making calls. However you can add pound (hash for UK readers), star snd plus to the end of the number you want to dial – just force touch and select Switch Symbols. Therefore you can navigate at least the early part of an automated call.


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It's time to give-up Microsoft Office

Mon Oct 5, 07:54 PM

With all the trouble Office is having running under OS X El Capitan, you might want to try LibreOffice, which is now available free of charge via the Mac App Store. Because it’s in the Mac App Store, it’s likely to be regularly updated.

Making it prettier
You might considering installing the Office 2013 theme to make it look a little prettier (read the instructions on the webpage, beneath the illustrations, to learn how to install it).

I also like to open the Preferences dialog box (tap Cmd+comma) and click the Appearance heading beneath the main LibreOffice heading. Here you can change the colour of various on-screen elements. Changing the Application Background colour to something white, or nearly white, makes LibreOffice look a LOT more modern. Turn off Shadows too a little further down the list to make things look even better.

Save in Office file formats
To switch the app to saving in default Office formats, click the main menu, and then select Preferences. Click the General entry under the Load/Save heading, and in the Document Type dropdown list select Text Document, and then select Microsoft Word 97-2003 in the Always Save As dropdown beneath. Repeat this step for Spreadsheet and Presentation within the Document Type dropdown list, selecting Microsoft Excel 97-2003 and PowerPoint 97-2003 respectively too. Remove the check from the box that reads Warn When Not Saving in ODF or Default Format.

Make existing documents open in LibreOffice
Track down an existing Word/Excel/PowerPoint file on your hard disk and right-click it, then select Get Info. Under the Open With heading in the dialog box that appears, select LibreOffice Vanilla from the list. Then click the Change All button.

Note that you’ll need to do this not only .doc files but also .docx files, and for .xls and .xlsx, and so on.

Change the default word processor font
To switch the default word processor document font to something more modern and business-friendly, like Calibri, open Preferences (Cmd+comma), expand the LibreOffice Writer heading at the left, and then select Basic Fonts (Western). Then change the font to Calibri under the Default heading, at least, although you might also change the other font headings too.


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