For macOS Sonoma
If you’re new to the Mac, learning and mastering the VoiceOver screenreader can seem daunting at first. In an attempt to streamline the search for essential getting started information across the AppleVis website, I will provide a series of tips, along with links to more comprehensive guides and podcast episodes, organized by heading and subheading.
From personal experience, I have found that one of the most effective ways to learn a new screenreader is to read documentation with another more familiar one. For example, you could start reading this guide on iOS, Android or Windows, gradually try various things on macOS, and finally, see how you do relying on VoiceOver in macOS in addition to or in place of your other screenreader.
The Mac refers to Apple’s line of personal computers. Mac laptops range from the general-purpose MacBook Air to the professional-focused MacBook Pro. Mac desktops include the Mac Mini, iMac, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro.
For both laptops and desktops, specific product families are differentiated by features, performance, and price. For information and buying advice on Mac models at any given time, check out the MacRumors Buyer’s guide.
MacOS is the operating system that powers the Mac. It was previously known as OS X, and mac OS X before that. Its major versions, released annually, are named after California landmarks, like Catalina or Mojave.
The Apple keyboard
As modifier keys on a keyboard can vary greatly, there is no way for me to know your keyboard’s precise configuration. For this reason, I will be discussing locations of keys on the standard Apple keyboard, the keyboard that comes built-in on Mac laptops and is included externally with Mac desktops.
At the bottom row from left to right are the Globe, Control, Option, and Command keys, followed by the space bar. To the right of the space bar is another Command key, another Option key, and the arrow keys. On Macs without a Touch Bar, on the top row from left to right is the Escape key, followed by twelve function keys.
The Touch Bar is a small strip that holds dynamic touch controls for whatever app is in focus, in lieu of static function keys. Similar to using VoiceOver on iOS and iPadOS, move your finger along the bar to hear what is present, and double-tap to activate an item. If you need to simulate the press of a function key, either hold down the Globe key to display a virtual row of function keys on the Touch Bar and double-tap the one you want, or hold down the Globe key while pressing the function key’s corresponding number. For example, to simulate a press of the F7 key, you’d hold down the Globe key and press the number seven.
VoiceOver and macOS basics
Like other screenreaders on desktop operating systems, VoiceOver is designed to be operated primarily from the keyboard, with a combination of VoiceOver commands and universal system and app keyboard shortcuts. VoiceOver commands are denoted by the VoiceOver modifier, which is either the control and option keys or the caps lock key. This is referred to as “VO” for short. Therefore, if you are instructed, for example, to press VO-Space, hold down the control and option keys (or the caps lock key) and press the space bar.
Move around the screen with VO-left and right arrow, and activate, or “Click” items with VO-Space. In some cases, the tab key will take you to certain elements, but this behavior is not totally consistent across the operating system.
For some elements, VoiceOver will announce that there are “Actions available.” Access the Actions menu with VO-Command-Space, and navigate the menu with the up and down arrow keys; press VO-Space to select a custom action. Custom actions are featured most prominently in apps ported from iOS and iPadOS.
In addition to custom actions, focusing on an element and pressing VO-Shift-M will reveal a context menu with additional options for that element. In literature intended for sighted users, accessing such context menus is sometimes referred to as “Control-clicking,” and is the macOS equivalent of a right-click.
If you’re trying to identify a particular VoiceOver command, either press VO-H twice to access the Commands Help menu, which is a list of all VoiceOver commands navigated with the arrow keys, or VO-K to access Keyboard Help, where keys can be pressed without having any effect on the system, similar to VoiceOver help on iOS or input help on NVDA for Windows.
By default, VoiceOver organizes interface elements hierarchically, meaning there can be elements within other elements. This is indicated by a slight pop sound when focusing on such an element.
While this behavior is not totally consistent across the operating system, element types that typically require interaction include toolbars, groups, scroll areas, collections, and sections, among others. To interact with an element, press VO-Shift-Down-Arrow, at which point pressing VO-left and right arrow will only work to navigate items within that element. To stop interacting, press VO-Shift-Up-Arrow.
While many different element types can be interacted with, it is not always necessary to do so. For example, if you just want to navigate or select an item in a table, you should be able to focus on the table and use the up and down arrow keys, you’d only need to interact if you wanted to select a checkbox or button within the table.
Similar to iOS and iPadOS, the VoiceOver rotor is used on macOS to navigate by different levels of granularity such as characters, words, and lines, as well as element types like links, headings, tables, and others. Move between lists on the rotor by pressing VO-Command-left or right arrow, and navigate the available items with VO-Command-up or down arrow. Pressing VO-U will present a rotor that solely contains element types like links, headings, and tables, which can be navigated using the arrow keys.
Additionally, the following commands can be used to navigate by specific element types. For any of these commands, hold down the Shift key while performing the command to find the previous occurrence of that element type.
- find next heading: VO-Command-H
- find next heading at same level: VO-Command-M
- find next link: VO-Command-L
- find next form control: VO-Command-J
- find next table: VO-Command-T
- find next list: VO-Command-X
- find next frame: VO-Command-F
The menu bar
The menu bar contains useful commands for apps, as well as global tasks like restarting or shutting down. From anywhere in macOS, access the menu bar by pressing VO-M. You are initially focused on the Apple Menu, located on the left. This menu is always shown, and contains commands that you can access from anywhere.
The menu immediately to the right is the name of the current app in focus. For example, if you are working in Mail, the menu to the right of the Apple menu will be named “Mail.” The rest of the menus depend on what app you have in focus, but are often file, edit, view, etc. Use the left and right arrow keys to navigate between menus, and the up and down arrow keys to cycle through the available options; press VO-Space to select an option.
These menus include commands for the app in focus, as well as the commands’ respective keyboard shortcuts. This is how the menu bar can become very useful as you gain proficiency on macOS, as keyboard shortcuts in apps can greatly reduce the steps needed to complete basic tasks.
In addition to common system and app commands, the menu bar is also used to display status information about your Mac, such as Wi-Fi connection and battery information, in an area known as status menus. Access status menus by pressing VO-M twice, navigate the menu headings with VO-left and right arrow, and reveal the menu options by pressing VO Space. Press the Escape key to exit the menu bar or status menus at any time.
Tip: As an alternative to using status menus, pressing VO-F7 (or VO-Globe-7 if you’re using a Mac with a Touch Bar) from anywhere in macOS will cause VoiceOver to speak the time and date, pressing it again will cause it to speak the battery level if you’re on a laptop, and pressing it a third time will cause it to speak the Wi-Fi status.
macOS keyboard shortcuts
While VoiceOver includes commands to complete some core tasks, some of the most useful and ubiquitous commands are universal macOS keyboard shortcuts. They vary from app to app, but generally follow a basic format. Below is a list of the most common shortcuts, and you can find a more comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts available on macOS here.
- new: Command-N
- open: Command-O
- close current window: Command-W
- quit current app: Command-Q
- print: Command-P
- Select all: Command-A
- copy: Command-C
- paste: Command-V
- access settings for the app in focus: Command-Comma
- cycle between open apps: Command-tab
- Cycle between open windows in the app in focus: Command-Accent
Once you get your Mac, if it wasn’t set up in store, you will be walked through a brief setup process.
For a laptop, simply opening the lid should cause it to power on, at which point you may hear a chime. For a desktop, plug it in and turn on any accessories like a wireless keyboard and mouse, and press the power button, which is typically the only tactile button on the case. If you have a desktop that came with a wireless keyboard and mouse that are switched on, the computer should automatically recognize them and proceed with the boot process.
Once your Mac has booted for the first time, you will hear a voice that, in English says something like “To use English as the main language, press the return key.” As stated, press the return key, the rectangular key above the right Shift key on Apple keyboards, to use English or use the up and down arrow keys to select a different language. After a few seconds, you will be told how to turn on VoiceOver or start the quick start tutorial, which I would recommend if you’re new to the Mac.
From there, Setup Assistant guides you through connecting to a Wi-Fi network, signing in with your Apple ID, creating your user account, and configuring various other basic settings. If this is your first Apple product, it might be useful to create a free Apple ID on a device you’re more comfortable with prior to setting up your new Mac.
Your Apple ID is the account used to access Apple services and sync your devices. If you’ve purchased content from the iTunes Store, for example, you already have an Apple ID.
At various points throughout the setup, you may want to jump to the top of the window to start viewing instructions for the current step. To do this, press VO-Globe-Left-Arrow, press VO-Globe-Right-Arrow to jump to the bottom. Once setup is complete, you’ll be placed on the Desktop.
Some immediate post setup tips
Updating your software
Periodically, Apple releases updates to macOS and bundled first-party apps. As updates may have been released since your Mac was packaged at the factory, it is a good idea to check once initial setup is complete. To do this, choose Apple > System Settings, select General in the table, and click Software Update. If updates are available, click update now; note that you may need to restart your Mac to complete installation of some updates.
To update bundled apps, choose Apple > AppStore. Once you’ve passed any sign-in or welcome dialogs, choose Store > Updates (or press Command-8) to check for updates. Click the “Update all” button in the toolbar to download and install all updates.
Configuring VoiceOver to start automatically at login
Note: For an audio demonstration of this process, check out the AppleVis podcast episode “How to Configure VoiceOver to Start Automatically when Logging into Your Mac.”
By default, VoiceOver does not start automatically at the login prompt. To change this:
- Choose Apple > System Settings, and select Lock Screen in the table.
- Click accessibility options and toggle the “VoiceOver” switch on.
- Click done.
On some older Mac models, if FileVault disk encryption is turned on, which is the default, VoiceOver should start when the Mac boots and prompt for the username, and then prompt for the password if the username is entered correctly. However, if you’d rather not have to manually enter your username or be able to navigate other elements in the window, you must turn FileVault off. To do this, open System Settings, select Privacy & Security in the table, click FileVault, and click “FileVault turn off.” The contents of your disk will then be decrypted.
Changing function key settings to work best for VoiceOver
By default, the function keys on a Mac keyboard are mapped to certain “Special features,” like adjusting the display brightness, sound volume, or engaging Siri. However, in order to use these keys for other functions, like performing VoiceOver commands, you must either hold down the Globe key as part of the command, or override their special features in System Settings. To do this:
- Choose Apple > System Settings, and select Keyboard in the table.
- Click Keyboard shortcuts and select “Function keys” in the resulting table.
- Toggle the “Use F1, F2, etc keys as standard function keys” switch on, and click Done.
With this setting enabled, holding down the Globe key while pressing a function key will perform that key’s special feature.
VoiceOver settings can be customized using VoiceOver utility, accessed from the Utilities folder or by pressing VO-F8 (or VO-Globe-8 if you're using a Mac with a Touch Bar). Similar to System Settings, settings in VoiceOver Utility are grouped into categories like General, Verbosity, Speech, etc. Use the up and down arrow keys to find a category in the table and navigate using VO-Right-Arrow to explore the options. Alternatively, you can quickly jump to a category by selecting it from the View menu or pressing its keyboard shortcut.
In addition, some VoiceOver settings can be changed by VoiceOver commands from anywhere in macOS. For example, to change speech options, press VO-Command-Shift-left or right arrow to view the available settings, and adjust the values using VO-Command-Shift-up or down arrow. Also, some verbosity settings can be changed by pressing VO-V and using the left and right arrow keys to view the settings, and the up and down arrow keys to adjust their values. The following are several additional VoiceOver customizations that can further improve your workflow:
Arrow-key Quick Nav
Note: Arrow-key Quick Nav is distinct from single-key Quick Nav, another Quick Nav commander that allows for single-key navigation of webpages. This feature can be used regardless of whether arrow-key Quick Nav is on or off, and is discussed in more detail later in this guide.
You may have noticed, as you press the left and right arrow keys, that VoiceOver announces “Arrow-key Quick Nav on” and “arrow-key Quick Nav off” which can alter VoiceOver behavior and thus be incredibly frustrating.
Arrow-key Quick Nav allows you to use the arrow keys as if the VoiceOver modifier was held down. For example, a press of the right arrow when not in a textfield is treated like VO-Right-Arrow, and thus moves VoiceOver focus right. With Arrow-Key Quick Nav on, you can also adjust the rotor by pressing the up arrow with either the left or right arrow, and then use the up and down arrow keys to navigate the available items; press the up and down arrow keys together to activate items.
If you find that pressing the arrow keys in the course of using your Mac is inadvertently toggling Arrow-key Quick Nav for you, you can disable this command by going to VoiceOver Utility > Commanders > Quick Nav and deselecting the “Allow toggling of arrow-key Quick Nav using left and right arrow keys” checkbox. In the future, If you want to use Arrow-key Quick Nav, you can toggle it on and off from anywhere in macOS by pressing VO-Shift-Q.
If you use iOS or iPadOS, you’re probably well accustomed to using touch gestures to navigate with VoiceOver. With Trackpad Commander, many of these gestures can be performed on your laptop’s internal trackpad or an Apple Magic Trackpad connected via Bluetooth.
To enable Trackpad Commander, hold down the VoiceOver modifier and rotate two fingers clockwise on the trackpad; counterclockwise to disable it. VoiceOver will play a sound and announce when Trackpad Commander has been turned on or off. Once it has been turned on, you can move your finger around the trackpad to explore by touch, or swipe left or right with one finger to move to the next or previous item; double-tap with one finger to activate an item. In addition, rotating two fingers on the trackpad with trackpad commander enabled will turn the rotor just as it does on iOS and iPadOS; swipe up or down with one finger to navigate the available items, and double-tap to activate an item.
The following is a list of some potentially useful trackpad gestures, and you can find a full list of VoiceOver gestures for use with a multi-touch trackpad here.
- Go to menu bar: two-finger double-tap near top of trackpad
- Go to dock: two-finger double-tap near bottom of trackpad
- interact with element: two-finger swipe right
- Stop interacting with element: two-finger swipe left
- Read from position of VoiceOver cursor to end of document or webpage: two-finger swipe down
Additional settings and custom gestures can be configured in VoiceOver Utility > Commanders > Trackpad.
Keyboard Commander allows you to configure custom commands to perform VoiceOver functions, open apps, and run scripts. This may be useful if you find a particular VoiceOver command difficult to perform and want to assign an alternative keyboard shortcut to it, or want to configure a command to open an app so you don’t have to locate it manually. Also, not all VoiceOver functions have default keyboard commands assigned to them, so if you, for example, discover a function in the Commands menu without a default command, you can assign a custom command using Keyboard Commander.
Commands can be configured in VoiceOver Utility > Commanders > Keyboard. By default, Keyboard Commander includes a command for opening the Text Checker, a VoiceOver feature that identifies common errors in typed text, as well as commands for opening Mail and Safari and running scripts for announcing the date and time and the number of unread Mail messages. Note however, that the script for announcing the date and time may be slower and may use a different voice than what you use for VoiceOver, as it uses System speech rather than VoiceOver directly. Therefore, you may instead want to use VO-F7, or reassign the letter T in Keyboard Commander to VoiceOver’s “Speak the time” or “speak the date” command.
For more information and an audio demonstration of how commands can be configured and used, check out the AppleVis podcast episode “Speed Up Everyday Tasks on your Mac by Using the VoiceOver Keyboard Commander.”
The Desktop is the first point you’re placed after logging in. It is a place where any file can be dumped, and by default is where external storage devices are mounted for quick access. From anywhere in macOS, jump to the Desktop by pressing VO-Shift-D. Navigate items using the arrow keys, and press VO-Space to open an item.
In addition to files, folders and storage devices, you can place widgets, extensions of apps that allow you to view quick snippets of information or perform basic tasks without needing to have the app open, on the Desktop. To do this, press VO-O to open Notification Center, and click the “Edit widgets” button. Locate a widget under the “Widget suggestions” heading, and choose “drag to desktop” from the Actions menu. Interact with a widget on the Desktop to view its contents, or access additional options for that widget in its context menu.
Similar to iPadOS, the dock in macOS contains apps that you can access quickly from anywhere in the operating system. Access the dock by pressing VO-D and navigate apps using the left and right arrow keys. Open apps using VO-Space, or view additional options for an app in its context menu. Exit the dock at any time by pressing the Escape key.
To add an app to the dock, press Command-Shift-A to access the Applications folder, use the arrow keys to locate the app, and press Command-O to open it. Then, locate it in the dock, (it should be to the right of your existing dock items) access the context menu with VO-Shift-M, and choose “Keep in dock” from the “options” submenu. To change the position of an app on the dock, focus on it and press Option-Left-Arrow to move it to the left, or Option-Right-Arrow to move it to the right.
Similar to iOS and iPadOS, you can use Control Center on macOS to change a wide variety of basic settings. Access Control Center either from the status menus or by pressing VO-Shift-O from anywhere in macOS.
Navigate the settings with VO-left and right arrow, and press VO-Space to toggle a setting on or off. Additional options for a setting can be accessed by focusing on it and choosing “Show details” from the Actions menu. You can change what’s included in this view in System Settings > Control Center.
Similar to other operating systems, macOS uses notifications to signify when something requires your attention. Notifications include texts, emails, calls from your iPhone, alerts from third-party apps and websites, and more.
Like iOS and iPadOS, there are two types of notifications, banners and alerts; banners only remain on the screen for a few seconds whereas alerts stay on the screen until you act on them. To act on an alert, press VO-N to open the Notifications menu, select the alert, and choose an action from the Actions menu.
To access Notification Center, where all notifications are displayed, press VO-O. When focused on a notification in this view, press VO-Space to open it in the app or website that sent it, or use the Actions menu to view options specific to the notification.
If you’d rather certain apps not send notifications, you can turn this capability off on an app-by-app basis in System Settings > Notifications. Additionally, individual apps’ settings may include more granular controls for determining what events or types of content, at what times, that app will notify you about.
Even for notifications you find useful, you may find, as you use macOS more, that they can be quite distracting or overwhelming when received at the wrong time or in excess. To help you manage these common distractions and hopefully reduce your stress level, you can use “Focuses,” profiles that allow you to configure what apps and people, at what times, will cause a notification to appear on your Mac, as well as other devices signed into your Apple ID. If you do not want to receive notifications for anything, you can turn on do not disturb, which blocks most notifications, or you can create your own focuses for increased customizability in System Settings > Focus.
In addition to customizing notification settings, focuses allow you to choose the type of content you see within supported apps when enabled. For example, when you’re working, you could configure a “Work” focus to only allow people and apps related to your work to send you notifications, and only display your work calendar in the Calendar app. Conversely, when you’re not working, you could configure a “Personal” focus to allow notifications from all apps and people except those related to your work, and hide your work calendar in the Calendar app.
Finder is macOS’s file manager, and is always open. Think of it as the equivalent of File Explorer on Windows. It is where you create, organize and delete files and folders, view external storage devices, and manage and sync iOS devices. For more information, check out this guide to using Finder on macOS.
Spotlight lets you search for files and other data on your Mac, connected devices, and the Internet. It can be accessed from the status menus, or by pressing Command-Space from anywhere in macOS.
Type your search in the field and use the up and down arrow keys to navigate the results. If what you’re looking for is not in the list, select “Search in Finder” to open a Finder window with all the results on your Mac, or “Search the web” to perform a web search using your default browser and search engine. Settings like the keyboard shortcut, the types of results to include, and locations to exclude can be changed in System Settings > Siri & Spotlight.
Siri is the intelligent personal assistant built in to macOS and other apple platforms. It can be used to look up information such as weather forecasts, sports scores, stock prices, and calendar events and reminders, call or text people if you have an iPhone and the relevant features set up, turn some settings on and off, open apps, and more.
By default, it can be engaged by holding down the F5 key, or Globe-F5 if you’ve configured the function keys to override their special features. Issue your command when you hear a ding sound, and release the key (s) when you’re done talking. Siri should then respond with an answer, a followup question, or if it searches the web, an interface with the search results.
When you first set up your Mac, you were also probably asked to train Siri to recognize your voice, which allows you to activate it without pressing any keys by preceding your command with “Siri.” For example, if I wanted to call a contact named John, I would say “Siri, call john,” and it should respond by calling that contact. Likewise if I wanted to text them, I would say “Siri, text John,” followed by the content of my message. The following is a list of some other things you can say to Siri, though it is in no means comprehensive.
- What’s the weather today?
- What’s the weather like this weekend?
- What time is it in London?
- What’s Apple’s stock price?
- How’s the Dow doing today?
- What’s the score of the Red Sox game?
- How tall is LeBron James?
- How many Super Bowls has Tom Brady won?
- How many ounces are in a pound?
- What’s 5 Dollars in Euros?
- How do you say “Hello” in Spanish?
- Set an alarm for 9 AM tomorrow.
- Turn my 9 AM alarm off.
- Remind me to get milk when I leave work.
- Read me my texts.
- Play Beyonce (Apple Music subscription or local song download required).
- What’s the song that goes something like “To the left, to the left?”
- Play Empire State of Mind (Apple Music subscription or local song download required)
- Turn on do not disturb.
- Open Accessibility Settings.
- Find the nearest 7-11.
- Call BestBuy (it will automatically present listings around your current location)
- Flip a coin.
Siri settings, like the voice and keyboard shortcut, can be changed in System Settings > Siri & Spotlight.
While the purpose of this section is not to cover one app, there are some concepts central to VoiceOver and macOS that can help you get started with basic word processing.
Your Mac comes with two main word processors, TextEdit, a basic document creation tool, and Pages, Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word. For information and an audio demonstration of some of Pages’ functions, check out the AppleVis podcast episode “An Introduction and Overview of Pages for macOS (the 2022 edition).”
To navigate text, use the left and right arrow keys to move by character, Option-left and right arrow keys to move by word, and up and down arrow keys to move by line; hold down the Shift key with any of those commands to select text the cursor passes. Unlike Windows screenreaders, VoiceOver by default speaks text the cursor passes rather than text to the right of the cursor. You can change this if you wish by going to VoiceOver Utility > Verbosity > Text, and choosing “Speak text to the right of the cursor” from the “when moving the cursor” popup menu. The following additional commands should work in any app used for creating and editing documents:
- bold selected text: Command-B
- italicize selected text: Command-I
- read text formatting: VO-T
- jump to top of document: Command-Up-Arrow
- jump to bottom of document: Command-Down-Arrow
- read from position of VoiceOver cursor to end of document: VO-A
- check spelling: Command-semicolon
- reveal full spell and grammar check window: Command colon
Similar to iOS and iPadOS, you can use dictation on macOS to speak rather than type text.
To dictate text, when in a text field, press the F5 key (or Globe-F5 if you’ve configured the function keys to override their special features) and start speaking when you hear a ding sound. Press the key (S) once more when you’re done talking, and the text will be inserted and spoken by VoiceOver. In addition to words, you can also dictate punctuation and line breaks, and macOS will attempt to infer punctuation based on your speech patterns and tone of voice.
Dictation settings, like the microphone and keyboard shortcut, can be changed in System Settings > Keyboard.
Emojis are special characters that can give a sense of personality to what you’re typing. These can be used to convey emotions, expressions of individual identity, objects, and more.
From most text fields, emojis can be inserted by pressing the Globe key to reveal the emoji & symbols window, interacting with the table, navigating to and interacting with the grid immediately below the desired emoji’s category, and navigating to and pressing VO-Space on the emoji. Alternatively, you can focus on the search field at the top of the table to search for an emoji, interact with the grid immediately below the field, and press VO-Space on the desired emoji. In addition, some emojis include customizations which can be accessed by focusing on them and pressing VO-Shift-M.
When navigating websites, VoiceOver contains them in groups announced as “Web content.” When interacting with these groups, you can use the arrow keys to navigate the webpage as if it were a document, VO-left and right arrow to move by paragraphs and web elements, and the rotor and related navigation commands for more granular navigation. Alternatively, press VO-A to read from the position of the VoiceOver cursor to the end of the webpage.
In addition, pressing VO-Q will turn single-key Quick Nav on, where similar to Windows screenreaders, the press of a single key will take you to the element type associated with that key. For example, pressing H and Shift-H will take you to the next and previous heading, respectively, pressing a number from one to six or Shift with a number will take you to the next and previous heading at that level, respectively, pressing J and Shift-J will take you to the next and previous form control, respectively, etc. These commands can be changed in VoiceOver Utility > Commanders > Quick Nav.
For more information on how to use Safari, the Mac’s built-in web browser, check out this guide to using Safari on macOS.
In addition to spoken feedback, VoiceOver on macOS supports a wide variety of refreshable braille displays. Braille displays can be connected to your Mac via USB, or paired and configured via Bluetooth by putting your display into its pairing mode (it is known by a variety of names) and going either to System Settings > Bluetooth, or VoiceOver Utility > Braille. Check your display’s documentation for specific pairing instructions.
While I am aware of macOS’s support for refreshable braille, I do not own a braille display, so cannot comment on the quality or usability of these features. If you have any questions or problems with braille on macOS, your best bet is to post to the AppleVis forum or a similar group, or to contact Apple or the display’s manufacturer for assistance.
General Mac FAQs
The following is a list of frequently asked questions that I’ve observed many people asking about the Mac platform:
How long should my Mac last?
Generally, a Mac laptop that is well taken care of can continue to function for over four years, with desktops lasting even longer since they aren’t typically moved or traveled with. If your Mac is dropped frequently or exposed to liquid, it may experience problems due to shock, liquid damage or corrosion. Likewise if you constantly keep your laptop plugged into power, battery capacity will degrade faster, and you won’t get as much time between charges.
Should I install updates to macOS as soon as they become available?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of updates that Apple regularly releases to macOS, maintenance updates, which are released about every month or two, and feature upgrades, which are released annually. In addition, more minor updates are occasionally released to address specific issues in the operating system.
For maintenance and bug fix updates, the risk of introducing new bugs is relatively low, so as long as your data is backed up, installing them is generally safe and recommended. Feature upgrades, on the other hand, often introduce many bugs, and thus I recommend reading thoroughly into the new features as well as any bugs other users are experiencing in order to make an informed decision on whether or not to upgrade. If you are unsure, it may be wise to wait until several maintenance updates have been released.
Whenever an update is released, no matter the scale, there should be an article posted to the AppleVis blog about it, which typically includes information about notable changes, bug fixes, and new bugs for blind and low vision users. It may also be helpful to read any comments about the update posted by fellow forum members, as everyone’s use case is different, and it is simply impossible to know the precise effects of an update on a given use case.
If you decide to hold off on a feature upgrade, you can usually continue to install updates that Apple occasionally releases to address security flaws, which I definitely recommend. Typically, Apple will release updates to the latest major version of macOS, as well as the two prior versions.
Should I backup my data?
Absolutely! Like any computer or mobile device, there is a multitude of things that can go wrong in the course of using your Mac that can result in data loss. As no backup solution is perfect, it is generally advised to employ more than one to form a comprehensive data protection strategy.
In addition to iCloud, you can use other popular cloud services with your Mac, such as DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and others. You can also use Time Machine, a backup utility built into macOS that makes a backup of your data at regular intervals to a location of your choosing. For more information, check out this guide to backing up your Mac with Time Machine.
Do I need a third-party anti-malware app for my Mac?
In my opinion, macOS offers sufficient malware protection features out of the box for most users and use cases. These include not allowing newly installed apps to run if they haven’t been verified as trusted, automatically scanning for and removing known malware from your Mac, and requiring user consent before apps and websites can access sensitive information or restricted areas of the system.
That said, it is not uncommon for users to contract malware from web messages that claim their computer is infected, and in order to clear the infection, they must download something. Therefore, as with any internet connected device, you should be especially wary of such messages, and not download anything from web ads. If you believe your Mac has become infected with malware that macOS has not removed, you can use an anti-malware app to clear the infection. While this field is constantly evolving, and thus it is difficult to make a general recommendation as to one product over another, one that I’ve had good experiences with in the past is MalwareBytes.
For more information, check out this guide to some of the security, privacy, and anti-malware features of macOS.
Conclusion and additional resources
Although this guide touches on numerous topics, there is a wealth of information on AppleVis and elsewhere. More information is available in your Mac’s built-in help and the AppleVis forum, and below are a few links to some more potentially useful resources:
- A Complete List of VoiceOver Keyboard Shortcuts Available on macOS
- Getting VoiceOver Help on Your Mac
- How to Contact Apple for Accessibility Inquiries
- iCloud Explained
- Installing and Uninstalling Apps on macOS
- Quick Tip: Using the Spellcheck Facility on macOS
- Report Accessibility Issues in iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS or tvOS: A Guide on How and Why
- The Mac's Mail App Explained
- The Mac’s Messages App Explained
If you have any other suggestions or want something clarified, sound off in the comments.