How-To: Understand and unlock Apple’s Mac and iPhone security screws

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Decades ago, every electronic device was sealed with one of two types of screws: a minus-shaped Flat/Slot head, or a plus-shaped Phillips head. There was no concept — at least, for common consumer electronics — that average people shouldn’t be able to unscrew their gadgets and take them apart. And the only reason to have multiple Flat or Phillips head screwdrivers was to handle bigger or smaller screws.

Times have changed, and “security screws” have become increasingly common. Apple actually started using tamper-resistant screws in its Macs years ago, but when it added Pentalobe screws to the iPhone 4, the media took notice, and there was a brief public flare-up (actual sample headline: “Apple iPhone 4 Uses ‘Evil,’ Tamper-Proof Screws”). Despite initial frustration, however, the solution turned out to be simple: buy an inexpensive Pentalobe screwdriver, or alternately, a multi-bit screwdriver with tons of different bits, like iFixit’s 54-Bit Driver Kit.

I’ve been using iFixit’s kit for so long and across so many great Mac upgrade projects that I consider it essential to my office; if a Mac, hard drive, or other peripheral needs to be opened, the 54-Bit Driver Kit almost always can do it. But since most people have no idea what Pentalobe, Torx, Tri-Wing, Hex and other bits look like or are supposed to do, I’ve assembled this guide to explain them all, focusing on the ones used in Apple products. By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll have a good sense of the world of security screws, and the reasons it’s handy to keep a kit around to open anything up…

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How-To: Clean and speed up your Mac with free, trustworthy downloads

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“My Mac used to be fast, but now it’s running so slow.” I’ve heard many versions of this complaint, and they’re always factually true, not just opinions: Macs do become sluggish over time, even if all of their chips and hard drives are working like new.

I’ve devoted several columns to hardware solutions — replacing old hard drives with fast new SSDs, adding more RAM, and increasing storage capacity using an external drive — but there are software solutions, too. Even die-hard Apple fans will admit that Macs typically run new OS X versions better (faster, and with fewer bugs) if you start with a clean slate: completely wipe your hard drive, do a fresh install of the latest OS X release, and restore only the files you need. That’s not as hard as it sounds, but it’s a radical and fairly time-consuming solution.

This How-To article offers a simpler alternative. First, find and delete enough files to leave your Mac at least 50GB of free storage capacity — enough room for the Mac to work without pausing to manage its hard drive space. Next, cleanse the cruft OS X builds up in the background as you use your computer. Below, I’ll show you how two completely free Mac programs, GrandPerspective and OnyX, will do all the heavy lifting for you. GrandPerspective offers a highly visual display of what’s taking up space on your Mac; Onyx cleans up the Mac files you’d be afraid to touch yourself…

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Spigen unveils affordable new Apple Watch stand and protective solutions from classic case lines

As lucky early adopters get their hands on the world’s first Apple Watches, Spigen has unveiled a collection of accessories designed to hold and protect them. The lineup includes the most aggressively-priced metal stand we’ve seen from any company, as well as affordable protectors that can keep an Apple Watch looking new — important if you want to guard against the bumps and scratches of everyday life, maximizing its trade-in value.

Spigen’s lineup starts with the S330 Watch Stand, an aluminum frame that resembles Apple’s classic iMac and Thunderbolt Display stands, and continues with five different cases and two anti-scratch screen protectors. They’re all currently available for pre-order, shipping in May…

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First 12″ MacBook 1.3GHz benchmarks: top model rivals 1.4GHz iMac, 2014 MacBook Air

Following Apple’s shipments of the first 1.3GHz versions of the 12″ MacBook this week, benchmarks have started to appear online for the new Intel Core M-5Y71 machine. Geekbench 3 shows the following results for each model, which vary based on the testing mode (32/64-bit) and number of processor cores used (single or multiple cores).

MacBook 1.1GHz

  • 32-Bit: Single-Core Average 2212, Multi-Core Average 4070
  • 64-Bit: Single-Core Average 2428, Multi-Core Average 4592

MacBook 1.2GHz

  • 32-Bit: Single-Core Average 2348, Multi-Core Average 4603
  • 64-Bit: Single-Core Average 2579, Multi-Core Average 5185

MacBook 1.3GHz

  • 32-Bit: Single-Core Average 2387, Multi-Core Average 4673
  • 64-Bit: Single-Core Average 2816, Multi-Core Average 5596

The 1.3GHz MacBook’s 64-Bit scores represent 16%-22% improvements over the 1.1GHz model, and 8%-9% gains over the 1.2GHz model. On April 27, we updated the 32-Bit scores now that additional benchmarks have been posted; they show smaller gains over the lower-speed models. More details are below…

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Review: ChargeTech’s ChargeAll Portable Power Outlet lets any MacBook (or other Apple device) refuel on the road

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The first time I found an AC wall outlet under my seat on an airplane, I realized that I could use my MacBook Pro with its wall charger for hours, even if I’d partially discharged the battery before boarding. Later, when I rode a bus with an AC outlet onboard, the freedom to enjoy my laptop for hours made the long trip feel brief. But I’ve had far more trips without AC outlets than with them, and there have been plenty of times when my MacBook could really have used a recharge mid-trip.

That’s why I’m genuinely excited about ChargeTech’s ChargeAll Portable Power Outlet ($150-$200), which primarily exists to give you access to an AC outlet literally anywhere you might be — something that I can’t believe has taken so long to become available. There are two versions, one with 12,000mAh of power, and the other with 18,000mAh of power, either with enough energy to keep your MacBook going for hours on the road. Both units have the overcharge and short circuit protection you’d expect from a surge board — the difference is that you can toss them into a bag or a car…

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Apple Store signs around the world go green for Earth Day

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As part of Apple’s push for a greener environment, the company has changed up its physical signage outside Apple Stores around the world to celebrate Earth Day. The updated logos are mostly the same but the leaf section is tinted green. The celebration can be seen at Apple Stores worldwide.

Apple has also put the Apple logo with the green adornments in some places online, such as on its YouTube account. Apple’s homepage is currently dominated by its environmental initiatives for the occasion, with the launch of Apple Watch relegated to one of the smaller summary panels.

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iOS-controlled toy Sphero made Star Wars’ BB-8 possible, now make your own at home

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Best known for its app-controlled robotic toys, iOS developer Sphero was responsible for creating the real version of the ball-shaped droid BB-8 featured in Disney’s upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, according to Time. Having released the original iOS-controlled Sphero and much-improved Sphero 2.0 balls in 2012 and 2013, the company was accepted into a Disney accelerator program in 2014, receiving personal mentoring from Disney CEO Bob Iger — a close friend of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “When the tech-savvy CEO saw Sphero’s technology in action,” Time reports, “he realized the potential application for BB-8 and connected the startup with the masterminds of the Star Wars characters.”

Along with the disclosure of Sphero’s involvement in the robot’s creation, Time noted that an BB-8 toy was planned for release. Although Gizmodo suggested that an official BB-8 toy by Sphero had appeared on retailer Fat Brain Toys’ site, the image has since been pulled, and Sphero subsequently said that it is not a “legitimate” image. Separately, designer Christian Poulsen has demonstrated how to make a homemade BB-8 droid by cutting open a Sphero ball, inserting a neodymium magnet inside, and placing another magnet inside a handmade foam head, painting the head and ball to match BB-8. Poulsen described making the toy as a quick one-day project, and has a collection of videos showing the modified Sphero moving around much as BB-8 does in the upcoming movie. Sphero 2.0 currently sells for $130. The official Sphero-designed toy will likely be released closer to the film, which is due out on December 18, 2015.

Updated April 22, 2015: In addition to noting that the BB-8 image run by Fat Brain Toys is not its actual product, Sphero has confirmed its involvement in BB-8, providing clarification and an official link to follow progress on the toy.

“What an incredible honor it is to work with the team at Disney on one of the most interesting new characters in the Star Wars franchise,” said Paul Berberian, CEO. “Opportunities this significant are rare. If anyone can execute and deliver on an exceptional BB-8 experience, it’s our Sphero team in Boulder.”

“This is the beginning of a whole new category of consumer products. You can own a piece of the movie, have it in your home, and relive an experience that is authentic to the entertainment on the screen.” said Rob Maigret, Chief Creative Officer. “Our hardware and software technology advancements make it possible to build the toys of the future now. We are deepening the user connection in ways that, until today, have only been portrayed in science fiction.”

The best travel accessories for your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or Retina MacBook

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Traveling with any MacBook is a lot easier today than it was five or ten years ago. Apple’s latest laptops consume much less space than their predecessors, and last much longer when they’re in active use. Whether it’s on a seat-back tray or resting in your lap, your MacBook can deliver quite a few hours of productive work time, video viewing, or even gameplay without assistance. But it can do even more if you bring the right accessories along.

My goal is to help you choose the best items to carry with you on the road — the type of items I’ve spent years testing. The picks below are highly practical and focused to make good use of space and address real-world concerns that many travelers have. Read on!

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Sony leaks reveal Apple TV and iTunes Store contracts, Sex Tape + Breaking Bad deals with Apple

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Known for publishing previously confidential documents, WikiLeaks has released a large collection of emails from last year’s widely publicized hack of Sony, notably including Apple agreements covering Sony’s Crackle Apple TV channel, video sales through iTunes, and other topics. The leaks include:

  • The terms of Apple’s agreement to add Sony’s Crackle video service to the Apple TV, notably including a 3-year term (starting December 11, 2013), Sony’s retention of 100% of advertising revenue, and a promise that Apple will permit new types of overlaid/display ads on Crackle if it becomes technically feasible and Apple OKs it. Few details were previously known about the business terms between Apple and channel providers for the Apple TV.
  • Apple’s agreements to distribute Sony videos through the iTunes Store, including the original 2007 agreement between the companies covering TV shows such as Charlie’s Angels and Who’s The Boss, term extensions and high-definition amendments, and the addition of iTunes in the Cloud (which Apple originally called “Virtual Storage Locker”).
  • Sales forecasts for Sony games sold in the App Store, as well as charts suggesting that Sony’s iPhone and iPad game revenues far surpassed the amounts made on competing platforms.

The leaks go on to describe Apple and Sony product tie-ups, including the iPad’s “character” role in the film Sex Tape, as well as Sony’s internal reaction to Apple’s “Stickers” ad featuring a Breaking Bad reference, and an apparent effort by Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg urging Sony not to collaborate with Apple…
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The best Apple Watch headphones and earphones

Up until now, Bluetooth wireless audio was purely optional for Apple’s devices: every iPad, iPhone, and iPod has shipped with a 3.5mm audio port to connect with wired earbuds and headphones. The Apple Watch is different: it’s Apple’s first fully wireless device, with no user-accessible ports to connect accessories, even though it can work as a standalone music player during workouts. The lack of a headphone port is actually a positive, since tethering your wrist to your head with a cable would look silly, and isn’t ergonomically ideal. Thankfully, Bluetooth headphones have come a long way over the past few years, shrinking from gangly and boxy earmuffs into earphones comfortable enough to exercise with.

Since one of the Apple Watch’s major selling points is fitness functionality, this quick guide to the best Apple Watch headphones and earphones focuses mostly on accessories that can work anywhere, rather than options you can’t wear while exercising. But I’ll include some larger options, too, just in case you’re picking a pair for non-athletic use, or to share with your iPad, iPhone, iPod, or Mac…

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How-To: Reclaim your Mac’s old hard drive or build a new one with an external USB enclosure

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Earlier this year, I wrote several guides to boost the speeds of older Macs by swapping their internal hard drives for super-fast solid state drives (SSDs). As readers have confirmed, their older iMacs, MacBooks, and Mac Pros have seen dramatic improvements with new SSDs. But some people were left with a question: what should I do with my Mac’s old hard drive? Throw it away?

A great answer: put it in an external hard drive enclosure and keep using it! My latest How-To shows you how easy it is to reclaim your Mac’s old drive by installing it in a nice USB enclosure such as Akitio’s SK-3501U3 (shown here), which I chose because of its Mac-matching design, reasonable sub-$40 price, and compatibility. External enclosures are also ideal options if you want to choose a high-quality hard drive mechanism for yourself, rather than taking a risk on whatever might be hidden inside a fully-assembled external drive. I’ll explain that, and much more, below…

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Review: Mophie’s Juice Packs for iPhone 6 + 6 Plus are polished battery cases at premium prices

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Unless you pick the matte black versions, which look like most of the other iPhone 6 and 6 Plus battery cases I’ve tested, you’ll quickly be wowed by how premium Mophie’s newest Juice Packs feel in your hand. Glossy white plastic Apple accessories may have become passe years ago, but Mophie somehow got the look and feel just right — better, even, than the “unapologetically plastic” iPhone 5c.

The reason for that luxe feel? Mophie needs it, as the new Juice Pack Plus for iPhone 6 ($120) and Juice Pack for iPhone 6 Plus ($100) are currently the most expensive battery cases currently available for their respective iPhones. Though the company has never been shy about charging more for top quality cases, this year’s Juice Packs are hitting shelves well after numerous solid and aggressively priced competitors.

Below, I’ll discuss how Mophie’s price to performance equations actually play out for these Juice Packs, and whether they’re worth buying in light of other options…

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