With Macworld’s Mac 911 column, we take your questions and do our best to help. 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, we’ve received 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. 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.
- “I can’t delete a photo.” A very common problem is that the Photos app in iOS/iPadOS doesn’t let them delete an image. This typically relates to a previous sync via iTunes that remains in effect even if you forgot that you ever used iTunes for media synchronization. See “How to delete photos in iOS when the trash can icon is grayed out.”
- “If I delete a photo, will I delete it everywhere?” If iCloud Photos is enabled on the device from which you’re deleting an image or video, then yes: it’s deleted on all of your devices (iPhones, iPads, and Macs) logged into the same iCloud account which also have iCloud Photos enabled.
- I deleted photos and they came back! See “The problem with deleting photos from your device with iCloud Photo Library enabled” and “If you delete a photo from iCloud Photo Library, is it gone forever?”
- “I want to store my Photos library on an external drive.” See “How to move an Apple Photos for OS X library to an external drive” and “How to copy your Photos Library and keep its organization.”
- “I want to back up my iCloud Photos but I don’t have a permanently attached drive that’s large enough to store the full resolution of my images and videos.” See “How to make a local backup of your iCloud Photos synced library.”
- “I deleted photos and videos in Photos, and want them back.” Photos has a Recently Deleted album that retains media for 30 days, from which you can restore items. However, if you emptied that album or it’s been more than 30 days, you can only retrieve the missing media from backups.
- “How do I back up iPhone photos and video with iCloud Photos turned off?” The answer is in this column.
- “I turned iCloud Photos off and want to turn it back on. What will happen to my libraries?” You’ll wind up with a merged superset of all your media, as I explain in “What happens to your pics if you had iCloud Photos off, but turn it back on?”
- “iCloud Photos stopped syncing.” Here’s how to fix it.
- “I accidentally changed the date and/or time on a bunch of images and videos in Photos for macOS! Can I roll this back?” You can’t perform an undo, but you can fix the problem with a smart albums. Consult “How to fix incorrect date and time corrections in Photos.”
- “After syncing photos from two devices I didn’t mean to, can I untangle a combined iCloud Photos library?” Yes: I provide strategies to figure out which photos and other media belong to which account in “How to untangle a merged set of iCloud Photos.”
Erase, revive, restore, and reinstall macOS
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.” With a Mac running macOS 12 Monterey, you can use a simpler “erase all” option—read “There’s a super easy way to clean-install macOS Monterey.”
- “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.
Find answers to other common macOS questions
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” and “How to fix a missing Wi-Fi entry in macOS.” 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 2022, the required driver is only available for macOS releases through 10.15 Catalina.
- “Why am I seeing a message that says ‘Wi-Fi is paused’?” It’s not your Mac (or iPad or iPhone), but a router you’re connected to that’s blocking your access. The solution is in “What to do when your Mac shows a Wi-Fi message that says your device is paused.”
- “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.” If you need to access your Mac via the Recovery Key, read “How to unlock your Mac with its Recovery Key and FileVault active.”
- “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.
- “How can I split one shared macOS account into two separate ones?” If you’ve been using a macOS account that’s shared with one or more other people, I offer strategies on splitting them into two in “How to split a macOS account into two.”
Figure out your maximum displays (and expand it)
Apple has so much variety among its Macs about how many external displays you can add and of what variety, we’ve collected that information—plus a bonus.
Manage Time Machine snapshots and volumes
Apple took Time Machine through a transition across its shift from the HFS+ (MacOS Extended) drive format to its modern APFS (Apple Filing System) that phased in starting a few years ago. You might have an old Time Machine volume formatted as HFS+ or an older Mac using that format on its startup volume. Interacting with APFS can be tricky—as can managing snapshots stored on the local volume or as part of Time Machine backups.
Pick the right cable, adapter, or dock
The USB-C jack/plug format is a delight for being compact, standard, and reversible across its long access—no more fumbling with the rectangular USB Type-A plug to ensure it’s the right way “up”! But because USB-C can be used for USB 3.1 and 3.2, USB4, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, and DisplayPort, as well as docks and hubs, confusion abounds.
- “What’s the right port or cable to use?” One of our most common category of questions is how to figure out what port or cable is right for connecting docks, external drives, Macs to other Macs, and adding other peripherals. You can read this general guide to understanding USB and Thunderbolt, “Learn to untangle USB and Thunderbolt,” including which cables work best for the two standards. If you want to add a drive to your Mac, “Which Mac port is the best to use for external storage?” will guide you to the best combination of price and throughput.
- “Why does my hard drive unmount when I plug it other periperhals into a dock attached to my Mac?” Your dock may lack the necessary power to handle all the devices you’re attaching. Figure out requirements using “When buying a USB-C dock, check if it can provide enough power to your peripherals.”
- “How can I use my Apple USB SuperDrive with a USB-C connection?” The SuperDrive has some odd power characteristics that make it incompatible with some adapters and docks. You can find out how to connect a SuperDrive successfully in “How to connect an Apple USB SuperDrive to a newer Mac.”
Sort 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.
“Why is Apple telling me that my ‘Apple ID has not yet been used with the App Store’?” This probably started cropping up in late 2021 and we’ve had quite a few reports of it. Our best advice can be found here, but you may need to contact Apple directly to resolve it.
“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.”
Ask Mac 911
We’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to [email protected], including screen captures as appropriate and whether you want your full name used. Not every question will be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.