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Android N: release date, name and features

Rene Millman, Joe Curtis

News

17 Mar, 2016
Android N's 'freeform mode' could let users resize app windows

Android N is set to be the best Android release yet with tons of improvements and new features. Here’s everything we know so far about the next iteration of Google’s mobile operating system.

Jump to:

Android N 7.0: release date and device availability

Android N 7.0: name

Android N 7.0: developer preview

Android N 7.0: top features

Android N latest news
17/03/2016: Android N may allow users to resize apps' windows with the inclusion of a so-called freeform mode.

This mode, detailed in the operating system's guide for developers, lets users change apps' default window sizes and positions, and is designed to be used with larger devices, where making an app window smaller would not make it unreadable.

The document reads: “Manufacturers of larger devices can choose to enable freeform mode, in which the user can freely resize each activity. If the manufacturer enables this feature, the device offers freeform mode in addition to split-screen mode.”

The feature is not included in the developer preview, according to Ars Technica, which speculates it could be used should Google decide to merge its Android and Chrome OSes into a single desktop OS.

Android N release date and device availability
The preview version of Android N was made available on 9 March by Google. Usually, the first look at a new Android OS normally happens at Google I/O, which is scheduled for 18 May 2016.

Despite the preview coming far earlier than anticipated, we will no doubt see some more features of the new OS at the show. Google said that the final preview version of Android N will be ready by the summer. Far quicker than in previous years.

The final version of the code that consumers will get their hands on will be released around October, around the same time as a new Nexus device.

The rollout of Android N to existing Nexus devices will occur in the next few weeks after that. We would expect Android N to land on a Samsung S7 sometime in 2017.

Android N name
As is a long-established tradition, the name of the Android operating system has a confectionery connotation. We can only speculate on what the name will be; either a dessert or a type of sweets.

These names are generic with the exception of KitKat, which, of course, is a brand. Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP Android, Chrome OS & Chromecast at Google hinted in a Medium post that the next version of Android could be named after another brand of confectionery; namely Nutella.

“So, the burning question that’s on everyone’s mind: what will the N release be named? We’re nut tellin’ you yet,” he said.

Android N developer preview
There is a developer preview available to download. It sports a number of features, such as multiple window support and enhancements to notifications.

Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering, described the preview as a “work in progress”, so expect it to be a little rough in places.

“We're doing something a little different this year by releasing the preview early… really early,” Google vice president of engineering Dave Burke said in a blog post.

Android N features
Multiple window support

Android N will sport a new feature, dubbed Multi-window, which allows multiple windows on a single display. The attribute called android:resizableActivity is available for apps targeting N and beyond. With this enabled, a user can put apps into a split-screen mode. The feature is said to work when users switch from landscape to portrait mode. The apps should be able to handle the reconfiguration themselves. Apps can also go into picture-in-picture mode on devices like TVs.

Notifications

There are a couple of enhancements to notifications. First, Android N allows users to receive incoming message notifications quickly and conveniently, without leaving the notification shade. There is also a feature called Bundled Notifications. This, as you can work out, groups notifications from the same app together – for example individual messages from a messaging app. Grouped notifications can be expanded into individual notifications by using a two-finger gesture or tapping the new expansion button.

Efficiency

Android N hopes to eke out more life from your device’s battery when the screen is turned off, like with Doze in Marshmallow, which saves battery when your device is stationary. Doze has a new feature to save battery life as part of Project Svelte, an effort to reduce the memory needs of Android so that it can run on a much broader range of devices. In N, the feature makes background work run more efficiently.

Improved Java 8 support

Android N brings Java 8 language features to the OS. The latest update means users can access Java 8 language features, including lambdas and more, on Android versions as far back as Gingerbread. This is said to reduce “boilerplate” code. For example, lambdas can replace anonymous inner classes when providing event listeners. Some Java 8 language features – like default and static methods, streams, and functional interfaces – are also now available on N and above.

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Help! Safari keeps crashing

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Help! Safari keeps crashing
Stop Apple's Safari web browser from crashing with our guide to fixing common web browser problems. Updated 29 March 2016 to feature the iOS 9.3 bug.

by

Lou Hattersley

| 4 hours ago

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Safari Suggestions bug
1

Crash Safari
2

Too many tabs?
3

Software Update
4

Clear website data
5

Clear out the cookies
6

Remove Flash
7

Extensions
8

Single extensions
9

Virus scanner
10

Try Firefox
11

Delete preferences
12

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Step 1 of 12: Why is Safari crashing? Safari bug causes iOS & Mac to crash – here's how to fix it

On 27 January, many iOS and Mac users found that their Safari browser would crash every time they tried to tap the URL bar, or sometimes a new tab, completely closing the Safari app and forcing them to launch it again, only to experience the same issue continuously.

The problem is reportedly being caused by Apple's Safari Suggestions, which is the feature that offers up automatically completed URLs as you type in the URL bar. These autocompletes come from Apple's server, so even if you haven't updated your browser or device recently, you could still experience the issue.

There's currently no official fix for the issue but there is a temporary workaround that'll stop Safari from crashing on your iPad or iPhone. You'll need to go to Settings > Safari and turn off Safari Suggestions.

On your Mac you can use Private Browsing mode by clicking File > New Private Window.

On 28 January, Apple seemed to have fixed the issue, but with the release of iOS 9.3 on 21 March 2016, a lot of users have reported the same problem – as seen in this video. It seems that users across all different devices running on iOS 9.3 are experiencing the problem.

We also suggest trying to switch off JavaScript in Safari through Settings > Safari > Advanced, in order to try and get a temporary fix for the problem. Some reported it as a workaround fix, whilst others are still having problems. You can always use another browser, such as Chrome or Puffin Web Browser.

Read on if you're looking for information about the Crash Safari bug.

You might also like: iPhone 7 release date rumours

Next Step »

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Next
Prev
On 27 January, many iOS and Mac users found that their Safari browser would crash every time they tried to tap the URL bar, or sometimes a new tab, completely closing the Safari app and forcing them to launch it again, only to experience the same issue continuously.

The problem is reportedly being caused by Apple's Safari Suggestions, which is the feature that offers up automatically completed URLs as you type in the URL bar. These autocompletes come from Apple's server, so even if you haven't updated your browser or device recently, you could still experience the issue.

There's currently no official fix for the issue but there is a temporary workaround that'll stop Safari from crashing on your iPad or iPhone. You'll need to go to Settings > Safari and turn off Safari Suggestions.

On your Mac you can use Private Browsing mode by clicking File > New Private Window.

On 28 January, Apple seemed to have fixed the issue, but with the release of iOS 9.3 on 21 March 2016, a lot of users have reported the same problem – as seen in this video. It seems that users across all different devices running on iOS 9.3 are experiencing the problem.

We also suggest trying to switch off JavaScript in Safari through Settings > Safari > Advanced, in order to try and get a temporary fix for the problem. Some reported it as a workaround fix, whilst others are still having problems. You can always use another browser, such as Chrome or Puffin Web Browser.

Read on if you're looking for information about the Crash Safari bug.

You might also like: iPhone 7 release date rumours

Step 2 of 12: There's a website that can crash your iPhone, Android, Mac & PC

A new bug that's sweeping the web through social media and plaguing users with prankster friends causes your browser on any device or computer to crash with just one link.

Visiting CrashSafari.com will crash your iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablet, Mac or PC. Some clever but mean person (22-year-old Matthew Bryant, a security expert from San Fran, apparently) has come up with a complicated string of code that will overload the browser and make it freeze and then crash within seconds.

As far as we're aware, CrashSafari.com works on any browser, not just Safari, so if you click the link it's likely that you're going to run into problems, hence why people are sharing the link (using shorteners like Bit.ly or Tiny URL) with their friends via text messages and on Facebook and Twitter to trick them.

Step 3 of 12: Too many tabs: close some of them

Is your version of Safari crashing in OS X? Or is Safari running so slowly on your Mac that you can't use it properly? In this feature we're going to look at what to do when Apple's Safari web browser isn't running properly.

The first thing to check is how many windows or tabs you have open. A common problem is that people keep opening tabs in Safari. Each tab or window takes up a little space in memory. Have too many tabs open and Safari starts fighting for resources with other apps, and it ends up running far more slowly than it should.

So close some tabs and windows in Safari. Hold down the Option key and choose File > Close Other Tabs. Now every page other than the one you are looking at will be closed. If you have too many windows open choose File > Close All Windows.

See also:

How to force quit on a Mac, close programs that aren't responding

Apple issues OS X Yosemite 10.10.2 update to solve WiFi woes

How to use the Safari web browser on the Mac

Step 4 of 12: Check with Software Update to see if it fixes the problem

Web browsers are updated far more frequently than other pieces of software. Apple regularly updates Safari to address security concerns, so open App Store and click Update to see if a new edition is available. That may fix the problem of Safari running slowly.

There are dozens of extensions available for Safari. Read more about the new Extensions for Safari here.

Here's how to use OS X Yosemite Extensions and The top 10 Yosemite Extensions

Step 5 of 12: Clear website data to see if Safari runs better

When you visit a web page in Safari it stores a copy of it in a cache. This copy enables it load the web page faster next time you visit. One way to clear the cache is to get rid of all your website data, including your web browsing history. Click Safari > Clear History and Website Data. Now set the the Clear option to All History and click Clear History.

Step 6 of 12: Clear out the cookies if Safari gets stuck

Cookies are small files that websites store in your browser to track users. They are another piece of data that could be causing problems. To get rid of them click Safari > Preferences > Privacy and Remove All Website Data.

Step 7 of 12: Get rid of Flash to get Safari running better

Flash is software used to play video and other interactive content. Many websites have switched to HTML 5, which is less problematic. We think you'll be happier if you get rid of Flash. Adobe has a handy Uninstall Flash Player for Mac OS guide that you can follow.

Step 8 of 12: Turn off extensions

Extensions (often called plug-ins on other browsers) provide additional functionality to Safari, but they can cause problems. Choose Safari > Preferences > Extensions to see all the extensions on your system. Try setting Extensions to Off and see if this helps.

Step 9 of 12: Finding a problem extension

If Safari works better with all extensions turned off, you should go through your extensions one at a time to see which one is causing problems. Open Safari > Preferences > Extensions and set Extensions to On. Now use the Enable check-box next to each extension and turn them all off. Turn them on one at a time to see which one is problematic, and leave that one set Off until an update is provided.

Step 10 of 12: Turn off Virus scanners

Virus scanners pay close attention to Safari, because it's the Mac's main portal to the internet. It should allow you to get on fine, but if you have a virus scanner try turning it off to see if that helps. If that helps try switching to a different virus program.

Step 11 of 12: Try Firefox to fix single unruly sites

If you find Safari isn't working for just one website, then try using a different browser. Some websites, especially old sites, struggle with providing support for a variety of browsers. Firefox tends to be the most compatible and you can use it to visit that one site.

Step 12 of 12: Delete the preferences

If you've tried everything else and Safari still doesn't work you can delete the preferences from your Home/Library folder. Quit Safari and choose File > Go To Folder in Finder. Enter ~/Library/Safari/ into the Go To Folder Window (don't miss the tilde '~' at the start) and click Go. This opens your preferences folder. Drag everything in this folder to Trash and restart Safari. When you restart Safari it will recreate these files as if you have just performed a clean installation.

How to use the Safari web browser on the Mac | How to clear website history and cookies in Safari

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How to install & set up Linux on a Mac

How do I install Linux on a Mac?

Linux is an interesting and slightly less well-known operating system – although Macworld's tech-savvy readers are likely to know at least a little about it. In the dual world of Windows vs Apple, Linux sits off to one side, powering serious servers and being used by software developers.

There are lots of great reasons to be interested in Linux. Like Mac OS X, it has a heritage with Unix (or at least a Unix clone called GNU). Some Linux desktops, like Ubuntu Unity, are similar in nature to OS X.

Linux is loved by developers, and if you're into coding it can be great to move into Linux. It turns out that OS X is (in many ways) better than Windows for software development, but Linux is even more comfortable to work in. Its open-source nature ensures that code is freely shared, and programs and solutions are often just an apt-get away (don't worry, you'll learn what apt-get is later).

Linux is also a very light operating system, and you can install the latest version Linux on an older Mac and it'll run much faster than older versions of OS X. Apple Macs make great Linux machines.

See also:

Parallels, VMware, VirtualBox and Boot Camp compared

Parallels Desktop for Mac review

How to install Linux on a Mac: Which version of Linux to pick

The first thing you need to know is that there are different versions of Linux around. These are known as “distributions” and each offers a different experience. Which one you pick depends on what kind of experience you want. Here are three to choose from:

Ubuntu. This is the most popular choice for beginners, and it uses a desktop interface called Unity, which is very similar to OS X. It's probably the best place to start.
Linux Mint. This has made waves recently, and is a great alternative to Ubuntu. You can pick a range of desktops (Cinnamon or MATE are the most popular). While Unity feels like OS X, Mint feels a little more like Windows.
Kubuntu. This blends the Ubuntu version of Linux with a different desktop called KDE Plasma. The desktop is generally considered to be more powerful, and certainly has a lot more features.
We'd suggest you start with Ubuntu, but it's pretty easy to install all different versions of Linux and there's nothing stopping you from trying out all three (and more) before settling on the one you want.

How to install Linux on a Mac: Use virtualisation software

By far the best way to install Linux on a Mac is to use virtualisation software, such as VirtualBox or Parallels Desktop. Because Linux is capable of running on old hardware, it's usually perfectly fine running inside OS X in a virtual environment.

VirtualBox is a free environment, although Parallels Desktop is more powerful and an easier installation, so we'd advise using Parallels Desktop for Mac first. A free 14-day trial is available from Parallels.com. Follow these steps to install Linux on a Mac using Parallels Desktop.

Download a Linux distribution file and save it to your Downloads folder. The file will have an “.iso” extension. Click here if you want to download Ubuntu.
Open Parallels Desktop and choose File > New.
Choose Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or image file. Click Continue.
Parallels automatically finds all the compatible ISO files on your system. Highlight Ubuntu Linux (or the one you want to install) and click Continue.
Fill out the Full Name, User Name, Password and Verify Password fields. Click Continue.
The virtualisation file will be saved in your Users folder by default. Click Location if you want to change it, otherwise just click Continue.
Parallels will install Linux inside the virtual environment. Click it in the Parallels Desktop Control Center to start using it.

How to install Linux on a Mac: Replacing OS X with Linux
Running Linux inside a virtual environment is all well and good, but if you're a more seasoned Linux user you may want to replace OS X completely and run just Linux. If so, you'll free up more of the computer's resources and get a great Linux machine.

Installing Linux on a Mac isn't quite as straightforward as installing it on an older Windows machine, and you need to make a few tweaks in the installation process. You'll need a USB Thumb stick (with at least 8GB of spare space). You will also lose your OS X installation (we don't recommend trying to dual-boot OS X and Linux, because they use different filesystems and there are many reported problems).

Be warned that you'll also lose your OS X Recovery Partition, so returning to OS X can be a more long-winded process, but we have instructions here on how to cope with this: How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition

Here's how to go about installing Linux on a Mac:

Download your Linux distribution to the Mac. We'd recommend Ubuntu 14.04.4 LTS if this is your first Linux install.
You need to convert the ISO file to an IMG so OS X can open it. Open Terminal and enter cd Downloads/ then hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ubuntu.img ubuntu-14.04.4-desktop-amd64.iso. The file is converted, and OS X adds “.dmg” to the end.
Enter diskutil list and note all the attached drives.
Now insert the USB Flash Drive and enter diskutil list again, note the disk number of the new drive. In a Mac with a single drive this will be /dev/disk2 but check and double check. You don't want to erase the wrong drive.
Enter sudo diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk[n], where n is the number of your drive. IE: sudo diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk2.
Enter sudo dd bs=1m if=~/Downloads/ubuntu.img.dmg of=/dev/rdisk[n]. Again, replace [n] with the number of your thumb drive. This wipes all of the content of the thumb drive and creates a Linux installer.
OS X displays an Alert saying “The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer.” Click Eject.
Shut down your Mac and attach the USB stick.
Power up the Mac while holding down the Option key.
Choose the EFI Boot option from the startup screen and press Return.
You will see a black and white screen with options to Try Ubuntu and Install Ubuntu. Don't choose either yet, press “e” to edit the boot entry.
Edit the line that begins with Linux and place the word “nomodeset” after “quiet splash”. The whole line should read: “linux /casper/vmlinuz.efi file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper quiet splash nomodeset –. (See screenshot, below.)
Press F10.
Ubuntu boots into trial mode.
Double-click the icon marked “Install Ubuntu”.
Select English and choose Continue.
Select “Install this third-party software” option and click Continue.
Click Yes to the /dev/sdb alert.
Select “Erase disk and install Ubuntu” and click Continue.
Ensure that Select Drive is displaying the main hard drive. Click Install Now. Click Continue in the alert window.
Select your location on the map and click Continue.
Choosing your keyboard layout and click Continue.
Enter the name and password you want to use.
Click Continue and Linux will begin installing.
When the installation has finished, you can log in using the name and password you chose during installation.

Above: Step 12

When you install Linux on your Mac, it removes all of the OS X installation including the recovery partition. If you want to reinstall OS X, you'll have to create an OS X recovery disk using the thumb stick.

Restore Mac without a recovery partition

What's the best way to restore a Mac without a recovery partition?

In the event of a serious problem, you may need to reinstall your whole Mac operating system using the recovery partition. But how do you restore a Mac that's missing a recovery partition?

It is possible to restore a Mac without a recovery partition, but it can be tricky (especially on older Macs). You have two approaches available:

Use Internet Recovery to reinstall OS X on Mac with a missing recovery partition.
Create a OS X installation drive from an old USB Thumb Drive and reinstall OS X.
We're going to look at both of these options in this feature – but first, a quick explanation of what a recovery partition is.

Read next: How to create a Mac recovery partition in El Capitan and Yosemite

How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition: What is the OS X recovery partition? (And what are partitions in general?)
Most people don't really think about hard drives in terms of partitions (and volumes). They just see the whole drive as one thing.

A hard is typically a single volume, but it is then split up into multiple areas, known as “partitions”. Think of your hard drive as the house, and the partitions as different rooms.

You're used to only seeing one room in the house, the one which has your Desktop, Folders and Applications. But there are four partitions, and one is used in extreme cases where you may want to completely reinstall OS X. Even if you completely wipe OS X, and start again from scratch, the recovery partition will be there to step in and reinstall OS X.

It's a problem if the recovery partition is missing. After all, how do you go about reinstalling OS X from scratch? It does happen: if you've placed a new hard drive in your Mac, or accidentally wiped the recovery partition by installing Windows, Linux or another OS on your Mac, then you may not have the recovery partition to work with.

How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition: How to check if your Recovery Partition is working

First you should check that your Mac definitely hasn't got a working recovery partition. It used to be that holding down the Option key in OS X would bring up the Startup Disks (including the recovery partition). But now it only displays the OS X system disks (typically just your main hard drive).

Here is how to boot into Recovery Drive:

Shut down your Mac. (Apple menu > Shut Down.)
Hold down the Command and R keys simultaneously and press the Power button.
Keep holding Command and R until the Apple logo appears on the screen. Let go of the keys and wait for the Mac to complete starting up. (It should take longer than normal.)
You should be faced with a screen saying OS X Utilities. This is the Recovery Partition. If you have this, stop worrying. You're good to go.
If the Mac boots into OS X, or if you're faced with a completely blank screen, then you haven't got a recovery partition. If your Mac does boot into OS X then you can also check Terminal to see if you have a recovery partition:

Open Terminal.
Enter diskutil list.
You should see a list of all the volumes and partitions on your computer. The first drive (/dev/disk0) should have a partition (typically listed as “3” with Apple_Boot Recovery HD after it). Try using the Command-R process again. Before you move on to reinstalling OS X, try a few of these tips:

Reset your PRAM. Shut down your Mac and hold down Command-Option-P-R during boot. Wait for the chimes and let go.
Check your keyboard (especially if it's a Bluetooth keyboard). Try using a wired keyboard if possible.
Okay, so either your Recovery Partition is missing, or doesn't work and you've tried everything. So it's time to look at reinstalling OS X. First you should take time to back up up OS X if you can using Time Machine. This will enable you to restore all your files, folders and apps once you've reinstalled OS X.

How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition: Use Internet Recovery to reinstall OS X

If you haven't got a recovery partition on your Mac, then you need to reinstall OS X. Even if OS X is working, you should probably consider reinstalling it because a missing Recovery Partition is not a good sign. But mostly you'll be confronted with this problem when OS X isn't working and you can't recover it the normal way.

The first approach is to use a feature called Internet Recovery. Newer Macs are able to boot directly from an internet connection, even with no recovery drive available. Here is how to use OS X Internet Recovery:

Shut down your Mac.
Hold down Command-Option-R and press the Power button.
Hold down the keys until you a spinning globe and the message “Starting Internet Recovery. This may take a while”.
The message will be replaced with a progress bar. Wait for it to fill.
Wait for OS X Utilities to appear.
Click Reinstall OS X and follow the installation process.
There are issues with Internet Recovery. It only works with networks using WEP and WPA security. This is most home Wi-Fi networks, but if you're on a proxy network or PPPoE then you will have problems. In these cases it's usually best to find another network rather than create a USB Recovery Stick (our next step). If you have Internet Recovery, then make use of it to reinstall OS X if possible.

How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition: Create a OS X bootable installer from a USB flash drive

If you don't have Internet Recovery, then you are left with the final option. This is to create a bootable installer from a USB flash drive (at least 8GB in size). Note that this completely erases the USB flash drive, so be careful to remove any files from it first.

There are two ways to create a USB flash installer. One is to use Terminal, the second is to use an app called DiskMaker X. Here's the Terminal approach.

Open the Applications folder and check for Install OS X El Capitan. If it isn't present, open App Store and click Purchased, then click Download next to El Capitan. Wait for the file to fully download.

1. Attach your USB flash drive.

2. Open Disk Utility.

3. Select the volume (under External) in the sidebar. The Volume is the top part, not the partition (which is underneath).

4. Click Erase.

5. Make sure it says “Untitled” in the Name field. Don't change this. Click Erase.

6. Open Terminal.

7. Cut and paste the following line into Terminal:

sudo /Applications/Install OS X El Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/Untitled/ –applicationpath /Applications/Install OS X El Capitan.app/

You'll need to enter your admin password. And then enter “y” and press Return. It will first wipe your flash drive, then turn it into a bootable installer.

8. Wait for the process to completely finish.

If this process is a bit daunting, then consider downloading DiskMaker X. This program automates the process of building an OS X installer

How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition: How to use a OS X bootable installer
Then follow these steps to use the bootable installer:

Make sure the OS X bootable installer (USB flash drive) is connected.
Shut down your Mac.
Hold down Option and press the Power button.
The startup device list window should appear displaying a yellow drive with Install OS X El Capitan below it.
Select it and press Return. Wait for the progress bar to fill.
Select Disk Utility.
Select the drive under Internal (your main hard drive).
Click Erase.
Give the drive a name; “Macintosh HD” is traditional but you can choose. Ensure that the Format is OS X Extended (Journaled) and the Scheme is GUID Partition Map.
Click Erase.
Click Done.
Choose Disk Utility > Quit Disk Utility.
Select Install OS X and click Continue.
Follow the install OS X options.
Select Macintosh HD as the installation disk, when presented, and click Install.
OS X will now be installed on your hard drive from the OS X bootable installer. The whole process can take around half an hour. After this has finished you will have a blank installation of OS X along with a new recovery partition.

New MacBook Air UK release date, specs & features rumours

When is the new MacBook Air for 2016 coming out? What new features will the new MacBook Air have?

Apple last updated its MacBook Air in March of 2015 with a spec boost, we had been convinced that Apple was about to give the laptop a Retina display. Instead, it launched a brand-new MacBook line that's super-thin, super-light and does offer that high-resolution display, but does that mean Apple won't enhance the MacBook Air with a Retina display in the future? In this article we investigate the hints and clues pointing to an imminent MacBook Air update: including release date, specs & rumoured new features.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: MacBook Air UK release date
Apple hosted a special event on 21 March 2016, so ahead of the event we had naturally expected new MacBook Air and MacBook models. After all, the Spring event represented one year since both were last updated (or one year since it was first launched in the MacBook's case) and before that new Air models arrived in April of 2014. But instead, Apple used the event to show off the iPhone SE and the iPad Pro with 9.7in screen.

Despite the lack of MacBooks at Apple's 21 March event, the MacBook rumours haven't slowed down. If anything, they're hotting up as anyone looking to buy a new MacBook soon is feeling frustrated by the lack of any new models with the latest processors. But according to a DigiTimes report published just a day after the March event, new 13 and 15in MacBooks are coming.

The confusing thing about it is that these new MacBooks are said to have a similar design to the current 12in MacBook, but will have 13 and 15in displays. And they'll apparently be thinner than the 11in and 13in MacBook Air models that we have now, too. That makes it tricky to know what MacBook line this rumour is actually referring to, or whether we're going to get a complete shakeup of the MacBook lineup.

Our current thinking is that the 11in MacBook Air is about to be retired, and in its place we'll see a 13in and 15in MacBook Air with redesigned internals and a thinner design.

Of course, the rumour could be completely false. DigiTimes is sometimes accurate, but also sometimes less reliable so it's tricky to know. But if it is true, we'd expect the new MacBooks to emerge at WWDC in June.

We originally expected the MacBook Air to be updated with a Retina display on 9 March 2015 at Apple's Spring Forward event. And were quite surprised when we got something else: a Retina MacBook, yes, but one with a 12in display and a USB-C port (and very few other ports), a new strand of products for Apple's MacBook laptop line-up.

Less glamorously, Apple's MacBook Air did get an update at the same time, with new, faster processors, faster flash storage and better graphics, but the screen and overall design remained the same. Still no Retina display for the Air line.

That left us wondering what Apple's plans are for the future of its MacBook line-up. We think the company intends to replace the MacBook Air with the new MacBook eventually, but the MacBook Air could remain part of the line-up for some time yet, and could still get an upgrade to the Retina display when it's refreshed in 2016.

But when is it going to be refreshed? Now that the March event has been and gone we expect Apple to wait for WWDC 2016 in June, or possibly sneak in an update before then without going to the trouble of hosting an event.

In late November 2015, a report from the Economic Daily News suggests that the MacBook Air will see a significant update in 2016. The report suggests that the update to the MacBook Air may not arrive until WWDC in June, which will be more than a year after Apple last updated the MacBook Air. According to the report, the new MacBook Air models are expected to come out in the third quarter of next year, which suggests that there may be a wait after the June unveiling.

The Economic Daily News report notes that it's been eight years since the MacBook Air launched and it's not been redesigned in that time, suggesting that time is ripe for a makeover, or perhaps it'll be discontinued completely in favour of the new MacBook.

We'll update this article as soon as we know more.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: Price
The last time that there was a Mac laptop that had more advanced specs than a more expensive model was the old MacBooks (aluminium, then white and black, and then eventually aluminum again). These older MacBook models were eventually discontinued and the price of the MacBook Air was reduced to make it the new entry level (when the MacBook Air initially launched it was quite overpriced for the specs, just like the current Retina MacBook).

It seems likely that the same will happen with the new MacBook models eventually replacing the MacBook Airs, at a lower price, but for now that seems a long way off.

The Economic Daily News report suggests the new MacBook Air will cost more than it does currently when it does launch. The 11in MacBook Air starts at £749, while the entry level 13in model costs £849.

If the 11in MacBook Air is removed from the line up perhaps the cost of entry of the 13in model will reduce to the level that the 11in model is currently, with a rumoured 15in model coming in at a higher price.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: Dimensions
If Apple does update the MacBook Air range, what dimensions should we expect?

As mentioned above, rumours suggest that the 11in MacBook Air will be discontinued, after all, the 11in MacBook Air is both smaller than the MacBook and the new iPad Pro.

However, 9to5Mac points out that the new 13in and 15in MacBook Air models could be additional sizes to the MacBook range. That site predicts that some time in 2016 or 2017 we will have just two ranges of Mac laptops: the MacBook at the ultraportable level, and the more advanced MacBook Pro. Maybe the 17in MacBook Pro will make a comeback too, with a 4K display.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: Specs & new features
These new MacBook Air models are said to be thinner and lighter, with internal spec enhancements. Apparently, the new MacBook Air will feature new batteries, cooling modules, and chassis, according to the Economic Daily News.

We also expect to see USB Type-C across the range, especially now that Intel has integrated Thunderbolt 3 into USB-C.

The next-generation MacBook Air is also likely to feature Intel Skylake processors, as well as graphics and RAM upgrades.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: Retina display
The suggestion that the MacBook Air will feature a Retina display has been long running but those rumours were prior to the launch of the 12in Retina MacBook and the iPad Pro – suggesting the signtings of the Retina display some thought was destined for the MacBook Air was instead for these models.

Does this mean that there will be no Retina display on the new MacBook Air when (or if) it launches. If Apple wants to keep the price down maybe not. Or perhaps the newly rumoured 15in Macbook Air will feature a Retina display, while the 13in model will lack the high res display, but come in at a lower price, one similar to the current price of the 11in MacBook Air.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: Touch ID and Force Touch

There are also reports to suggest that it'll boast Touch ID within its Trackpad, which may also get the Force Touch upgrade that was given to the 13in MacBook Pro on 9 March, and comes with the new MacBook.

Touch ID is the fingerprint sensor that's built-in to the Home button of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. It's also used to make Apple Pay more secure.

According to an Independent report, Touch ID for the Mac line would require a dedicated chip to be built in to the device.

The rumour started with Taiwanese blog AppleCorner, which cited sources in the supply chain. Apparently the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad may get a biometric update too, enabling users to make Apple Pay payments on the web, but both those accessories were updated alongside the launch of a new 4K iMac so that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

New MacBook Air 2016 rumours: Will the MacBook Air be discontinued?
With the advent of the 12in MacBook and the new 12.9in iPad Pro, it's no surprise that rumourmongers are starting to predict that the 11in MacBook Air, with a smaller screen than either of those devices, will be discontinued. The iPad Pro may indeed be viewed by Apple as a replacement for the 11in MacBook Air if Apple CEO Tim Cook's comments to the Telegraph are taken into account (published on 1 December 2015).

Following the launch of the iPad Pro, Cook told the Telegraph: “I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC any more? No really, why would you buy one?

“Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.”

However, should Apple discontinue the 11in MacBook Air, it does remove the lower price of entry from the line-up.

It may not just be the 11in MacBook Air that is discontinued. When the new MacBook launched on 9 March 2015, analysts began to suspect that the MacBook Air might not be around for much longer.

“This wasn't the MacBook Air, but instead leaped past the Air,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. “They kept the MacBook Air around just as they do with older iPhones, but the MacBook is now in the same position as the newest iPhone. That makes me wonder if the Air will go away over time.”

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of US business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, also predicted a contraction of Apple's line-up. “All [notebooks] need to be more mobile, so something like the Air doesn't need to be branched out anymore,” she said of the differenciation Apple made for the line since its introduction more than eight years ago. “And it's to Apple's benefit not to have so many 'families' of Macs.”

Over time, it seems likely that the MacBook Air range could be discontinued and eventually replaced by a Retina MacBook range at a lower price.

We'll be updating this article as more information about the rumoured Retina MacBook Air emerges so check back from time to time for the latest news.

Wondering which MacBook is best for you? Read: MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparison review: 13in Apple laptops compared

You might also like to read our New 12in MacBook 2015 review | Which Mac? Best Mac buyers guide | Apple rumours and predictions for 2016

Buying advice: choose the best storage for your Mac

Is your Mac's hard drive near capacity, full to the brim with music, photos and videos? Do you have a Mac with a small SSD drive, having sacrificed storage space for the extra speed offered by flash storage? Are you confronted with having to delete photos and other media in order to accommodate your ever increasing photo library? If so then it may be time to add more storage.

Modern Macs don't allow you to upgrade the internal storage after purchase, so your options include various external solutions. There are plenty to choose from, ranging from a desktop hard drive or a network attached storage device, to a portable flash drive (often referred to as an SSD, or solid state drive), and even cloud storage that you can access via the internet.

There are also a variety of ways to connect your external drive to your Mac. You will face a choice of USB, FireWire and Thunderbolt, plus you can connect to storage via WiFi, or via the internet.

So how do you decide what kind of storage is best for you?

Read our round up of the best storage devices available now: Best storage options for Mac

What sort of storage should I get to go with my Mac?
You need to start by answering a few questions. Do you want to be able to take your storage with you? Do you want to be able to access your data anywhere in the world? Do you want the maximum amount of storage available? Do you want to be able to back up your data as quickly as possible? Or, do you want the cheapest storage solution you can get?

Different people need different things from their external storage. If you are only going to copy a few files at a time onto your storage device speed may not be important, but if you are likely to be copying over gigabytes of data in a hurry, speed will be high on your wish list. Similarly, we may recommend a NAS drive, but if all you want is a small drive you can pop in your bag then it's not going to be the best choice for you. Keep your requirements in mind as you read the following.

Should I get a flash (SSD) drive or a hard drive?
SPEED: If speed is what is important to your then an SSD drive could be a good option. SSD drives can access data much faster because there are no mechanical components and data is accessed electronically. A hard disk drive (HDD) on the other hand will take more time because the data is accessed electromechanically.

This is why Macs that feature an SSD drive inside are a lot faster than Macs that sport hard drives. A MacBook with an SSD will start up in a matter of seconds.

Just to add to the variety, among hard drives there can be differences in speed. Some drives will offer a rotational speed of 7200 rpm, while other drives spin at 5400 rpm. Pro users who do professional-level audio or video production might consider a 10,000- to 15,000-rpm drive, for optimal performance, but these high-performance drives usually offer less storage capacity and require a SCSI connection.

RELIABILITY: The other reason why SSDs are considered superior to hard disks is the fact that an SSD has no moving parts. This means no mechanics to break, even when a machine is jostled or dropped. An HDD is more likely to suffer from mechanical failure or physical damage because of the moving parts. However, reports also suggest that an SSD's performance may degrade over time and if it does you are likely to completely lose your data. Traditional hard drives, on the other hand will tend to warn you of the impending failure and the recovery of data may be possible.

PORTABILITY: If you are going to be carrying the drive around with you this is another reason to opt for flash storage. If you carry a hard drive between work and home you are likely to find that one day it fails. There are some hard drives that are designed to be portable, but it is inevitable that due to the mechanical nature of the device one day you will knock it, or drop it, and it will stop working. The Western Digital My Passport Slim is the most compact of all WD’s Passport range, measuring just 12.3mm thick, 80mm wide and 110mm long. It only weighs 134g too, so you can slip it into a bag or a jacket pocket and carry it around with no trouble at all. It costs £120 for 1TB storage. For extra protection against bumps and wear and tear there's the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt Series, which features an orange rubber bumper. There are of course other (newer) SSDs out there which you can find.

NOISE: Because SSD drives do not have a spinning platter they are also completely silent in operation. The noise produced by a hard disk drive may be an issue if you intend to house it somewhere where the audible noise needs to be kept to a minimum. Perhaps your work involves audio, or perhaps you want the storage device to be used in the living room and the noise of it buzzing away in the background would be detrimental to your enjoyment of the films or music stored on it.

CAPACITY: The major benefit of hard disk drives is that they offer more gigabytes of storage for your money. For example you can get around 1TB of storage for less than £80 if you purchase a hard disk drive, it you were looking for 1TB of external flash storage you could be looking at paying at least triple that. (Integral's 1TB USB 3.0 Portable Solid State Drive). Most of the flash options when it comes to external hard drives are USB memory sticks. The capacities have increased and prices have fallen over the past year, so you can now pick up a 128GB USB 3.0 flash drive for £49.99 (Integral Courier 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive), but at that price don't expect the read and write speeds of a more expensive offering. A better option is the PNY StorEDGE 128GB which is actually an SD card, but thanks to the fact that every Mac comes with an SD card reader on the side, you can use it as additional storage. It costs £80. However, we love the Axtremex Micro SSD, 32GB for £130. It's a tiny, portable flash-based drive.

Should I get a portable drive or a desktop drive?
PRICE: As we mentioned above, if you are going to be carrying the drive around with you this is another reason to opt for flash storage. If you only need a few GB of storage then a 16GB flash drive may be ideal for your needs. However, there are some hard drives that are designed to be portable, and they will be a lot cheaper than a flash drive offering any significant amount of storage.

So if price is important then a cheaper portable drive may be the best choice for you. However, a similar capacity desktop hard drive is likely to offer you even more GB for your money than a portable drive will.

RELIABILITY: A portable drive has been designed to withstand knocks and movement, unlike a desktop hard drive. If you attempt to carry a desktop hard drive around you may damage it.

PORTABILITY: Expect a desktop hard drive to be significantly heavier and bulkier than a portable hard drive. Flash or solid state drives will usually be a lot smaller than a portable hard drive, some flash drives are thumb size, others credit card sized. Portable drives have added shock protection for portability.

STYLE: If you are going to buy a hard disk to sit on your desk it might as well look stylish. You can rely on LaCie to add the glamour to the hard drive market, using big-name designers such as Philippe Starck or the Porsche Design studio to come up with visually arresting designs. Their LaCie Blade Runner has an eye-catching design and is priced at £264.99 with 4TB storage.

Should I get a FireWire, USB, Thunderbolt or a WiFi hard drive?
USB is the most common interface for Macs and PCs, and USB 3.0 delivers a faster data rate than USB 2.0 (5 gbps versus 480 mbps) and more electrical power to an attached device (900mA versus 500mA). The newer standard is backward-compatible, so your computer will be able to use a USB 3.0 drive even if the computer has only USB 2.0 ports.

THUNDERBOLT ports are twice as fast as USB 3.0 ports, achieving a raw data transfer rate of 10 gbps. That’s speedy enough to transfer a full-length, high-definition movie in less than 30 seconds. Thunderbolt hard drives are relatively expensive, however. The LaCie Little Big Disk was one of the first available Thunderbolt devices after the technology launched almost three years ago in February 2011, and now this miniature desktop drive has had a boost again in performance. You can get a 1TB SSD drive for £919.

FIREWIRE (also known as IEEE 1394) is another high-speed interface. The FireWire 400 interface can support a data transfer rate of 400 mbps, while the newer FireWire 800 interface can deliver throughput of 786 mbps.

USB, Thunderbolt, and FireWire all provide enough electrical power to run an attached drive, so the only cord you’ll need to carry with you is the appropriate interface cable.

WI-FI OR NETWORK ATTACHED STORAGE (NAS) is storage connected to your network and running specialized software. These solutions often include more than one hard drive, with your data mirrored across the two. This means that if one fails your files are safe. However, there are consumer-oriented network drives now that basically offer users the opportunity to back up and store files without having to plug in the device. This is especially handy if you have a laptop that generally sits on your lap, rather than on a desk beside a hard drive. For example, the WD My Cloud is a NAS drive aims to provide simple remote access of your data, from any internet connection. The 2TB version costs £120. Alternatively, there's the Synology DiskStation DS214, a two-bay NAS enclosure, which means it ships without disks. It supports up to 8TB of storage with a pair of 4TB drives that you can add yourself (which may save you some money). The enclosure costs £216 ex VAT.

A NAS drive will allow you to back your Mac up using Time Machine regularly, something you may be less likely to do if you have to plug your Mac into a drive from time to time.

RAID: Some desktop external hard drives have more than one hard drive inside. With two drives, the unit can be configured as a striped array (called RAID 0), which makes one partition of the two drives and writes and reads simultaneously for faster performance. If one of the drives dies, you lose all of your data. The two drives can also be configured as a mirrored array (called RAID 1). Mirroring the drives safeguards your data by keeping two identical copies of your drive. The downside is that you can only use half of the unit’s storage capacity. Some two-drive external devices can also be configured to use the drives individually in a JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) setup. This way both drives mount separately as if they were two one-disk external drives. If one drive dies, the other can continue to operate.

The G-Technology G-RAID mini contains two 1TB drives and costs about £350.00. The drive comes formatted for use with Macs, and in the RAID 0 format, which provides maximum performance by ‘striping’ your data across the two drives.

THE CLOUD: Another solution might be to rent storage space in the cloud, but buying a hard-drive’s worth of capacity is prohibitively expensive: for example, 1000GB of storage on Dropbox, will set you back £79 per year. Buying a portable hard drive is far more economical.

In comparison you can pick up a 2TB drive for a fraction of the price.

There are cheaper or free cloud options, of course. You can get 2GB free space on DropBox. But it's likely that 2GB won't stretch very far if you are looking for somewhere to back up files.

SPEED: As you can see, there are a number of interfaces to choose from and your choice depends on the Mac you own. The majority of new Macs offer Thunderbolt, but at the moment this is quite an expensive option. However, transfer speeds are far faster, with Apple claiming Thunderbolt transfer speeds of up to 10Gbits/sec. In contrast, USB 3.0 offers around 5Gbits/sec. USB 2.0 on the other hand offers only 380 Mbit/sec, so if your Mac is very old and only offers USB 2.0 transfer speeds will be slow. If you find a cheap USB 2.0 hard drive you will be able to plug into a USB 3.0 port on your Mac, but speeds will be no faster.

PRICE: As we mention above Thunderbolt is quite an expensive option. A WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo with 4TB storage is £439.99, while the WD My Book Studio with USB 3 and 4TB storage costs £179. You could alternatively opt for a network attached hard drive such as the My Book Live Duo that will connect to your Mac via Gigabit Ethernet. You will also be able to access this drive via your iPad and iPhone. A 4TB My Book Live Duo costs £279.30.

How do I know if the drive is compatible with my Mac?
HFS or NTFS? OS X and Windows use different file systems (HFS+ and NTFS, respectively), so most hard-drive manufacturers offer platform-specific models; the drives are pre-formatted accordingly, and the bundled software (if any) is compatible with the given platform. OS X can read files on an NTFS drive, but it can’t write them. If you intend to use the same drive on both platforms, you can install software on your Mac that will enable it to do both: NTFS-3G is a free option.

TIME MACHINE? Almost all USB or FireWire external hard drives are compatible with Time Machine, as long as the drive is HFS+ formatted.

Can I get storage for my iPad/iPhone
There are a number of external storage options that can also be used by your iPad or iPhone. For example, Kingston's Wi-Drive is a small flash drive that you can load files onto via your Mac. When you’re done copying files to the Wi-Drive, you can access the files on the drive on your iPad or iPhone via the Wi-Drive app using Wi-Fi. Once you are connected to the Wi-Drive you can stream movies and music wirelessly. Read more: Best external storage for iPhones and iPads.

iPad Pro deals: Where to buy an iPad Pro in the UK

Apple now offers two models of iPad Pro after a March 2016 event added a smaller version to the mix just six months on from the launch of the 12.9in iPad Pro. If you're thinking of buying an iPad Pro, you've come to the right place. Here we help you decide where is the best place to buy an iPad Pro and where to get the best iPad Pro deals.

The 12.9in iPad Pro is widely available to buy now from Apple and third-party stores, while pre-orders for the new 9.7in iPad Pro began on 24 March ahead of a 31 March release.

iPad Pro deals UK: Where to buy the iPad Pro
The first place you'll think of when it comes to buying an iPad Pro is Apple, which of course offers both tablets through its online and retail stores. There you'll arguably get the best support, but you'll always pay the RRP as Apple very, very rarely offers price cuts or special deals.

If you're set on buying from Apple, take at the options below. If you're interested in saving some cash by shopping elsewhere, click here to skip ahead to third-party retailer deals.

9.7in iPad Pro, 32GB WiFi-only, £499. View here.
9.7in iPad Pro, 128GB WiFi-only, £619. View here.
9.7in iPad Pro, 256GB WiFi-only, £739. View here.
9.7in iPad Pro, 32GB WiFi plus Cellular, £599. View here.
9.7in iPad Pro, 128GB WiFi plus Cellular, £719. View here.
9.7in iPad Pro, 256GB WiFi plus Cellular, £839. View here.
12.9in iPad Pro, 32GB WiFi-only, £679. View here.
12.9in iPad Pro, 128GB WiFi-only, £799. View here.
12.9in iPad Pro, 256GB WiFi-only, £919. View here.
12.9in iPad Pro, 128GB WiFi plus Cellular, £899. View here.
12.9in iPad Pro, 256GB WiFi plus Cellular, £1,019. View here.
iPad Pro deals UK: Cheapest place to buy the iPad Pro
As the smaller iPad Pro isn't even available to pre-order yet, third-party retailers aren't offering discounts, but we're sure they will soon and we'll update this article when deals emerge.

However, the iPad Pro 12.9in is available from lots of third-party retailers and many of them are offering discounted prices.

iPad Pro deals UK: Simply Electronics
Simply Electronics has one of the lowest prices on the iPad Pro we've seen. The 12.9in iPad Pro WiFi-only is available for £559.95 down from its RRP of £679 at the moment. View deal here.

You'll also find the 12.9in iPad Pro WiFi plus Cellular with 128GB storage for £749.95 down from the RRP of £899. View deal here.

Or the 12.9in iPad Pro WiFi-only with 128GB storage for £674.95 down from £799. View deal here.

iPad Pro deals UK: Amazon
Over on Amazon, the iPad Pro has some big discounts too. You can pick up the iPad Pro 32GB WiFi-only 12.9in model for £600.99, for example. View deal here.

There's also £89 off the 128GB WiFi-only 12.9in model at Amazon, now £710. View deal here.

iPad Pro deals UK: Currys
You can pick up the iPad Pro from Currys, too. The 12.9in model starts at £679 and the new 9.7in model is available to pre-order starting at £499 like Apple's pricing, but you will get a free accessory kit when you pre-order. View deal here.

iPad Pro deals UK: eBuyer
eBuyer offers a bit of a discount on the iPad Pro too. You'll find the WiFi-only 12.9in iPad Pro with 32GB for £649 down from £679. View deal here.

eBuyer also offers the 128GB WiFi-only 12.9in iPad Pro for £779.99 down from £799. View deal here.

iPad Pro deals UK: Tesco
Tesco's pricing is the same as Apple's, but buying from Tesco does mean you get Clubcard points that you can spend on your next Tesco shop. View deal here.

iPad Pro deals UK: eBay
Finally, you can turn to eBay. eBay has a dedicated iPad page here that is ever-changing when it comes to deals and discounts. It's worth taking a look, but make sure you do your research on the seller before you buy. Check the seller's reviews and reputation to make sure other buyers haven't had any issues before you hand over your cash.

iPad Pro deals UK: How to buy the iPad Pro with a data contract
You can also get the iPad Pro on a contract with monthly data from UK carriers.

Vodafone offers the 128GB iPad Pro 12.9 with 3GB of data for £379 upfront and £38 per month. View deal here.

The other option from Vodafone is the 128GB iPad Pro 12.9 with 10GB data for £349 upfront and then £43 per month. View deal here. We expect Vodafone will soon offer the iPad Pro 9.7, too.

EE has contract options for the iPad Pro too. You can get the 128GB 12.9in model with 10GB of data and a £299.99 upfront cost, with 24 monthly payments of £48. View deal here.

EE is now offering the new 9.7in iPad Pro for pre-order too. You can get it for £149.99 upfront and £43 per month with 10GB data if you're happy with the 32GB model. View deal here.

Alternatively, EE offers the 9.7in model with 128GB for £249.99 upfront and £43 per month for 10GB data. View deal here.

O2 has options with lower upfront costs but higher monthly payments. You'll pay £99.99 upfront and then £52.50 per month for 10GB of data for the 32GB 12.9in iPad Pro. View deal here.

The 9.7in model is available at O2 starting at £19.99 upfront and £42.50 monthly. View deal here.

You'll also like: Best Apple Watch deals

Alternatives to Apple Numbers

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Alternatives to Numbers
Apple's Numbers is a capable spreadsheet, but it's not the only one. Take a look at the alternatives.

by

Cliff Joseph

| 24 Mar 16

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Apple Numbers 3.6.1

Microsoft Excel 2016

Google Docs

LibreOffice

OpenOffice Calc

Panorama Sheets 6.0

Smartsheet

Soulver 2.4

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Apple Numbers 3.6.1

Price: Free with new Macs (£14.99 upgrade for existing users)

More info: The App Store

Number-Crunching: Numbers is a good example of how the best Apple software takes difficult tasks and makes them look easy. As soon as you type ‘=’ into a cell, the Inspector palette on the right-hand side of the spreadsheet displays a list of available functions, and to help new users get started it even displays explanations and examples of how to use each function.

Numbers doesn’t have the sheer range of functions that you’ll find in Excel, or support for advanced features such as pivot tables, but it provides a good basic set of functions that will be useful for home users, education and small businesses. And, of course, Numbers also allows you to import and export spreadsheets in Excel format if you need to.

Graphs And Charts: Apple describes numbers as ‘the most beautiful spreadsheet ever’, and it does put a lot of emphasis on its graphics tools. A Numbers spreadsheet is really just a blank page where you can place data tables, text and graphics in any layout that you choose. The program includes tools for quickly creating 2D and 3D graphs and charts, and even interactive charts that can include simple animations to illustrate changes in data.

Collaboration: You can share your spreadsheets online with other people by using the online version of Numbers at www.icloud.com, and the online program can warn you if there are conflicts between changes made by different people. However, you can’t track changes made to a spreadsheet, and Numbers lacks the more comprehensive collaboration tools found in Google Sheets and Microsoft’s Office Online.

Pros: Free with new Macs, lots of help for new users, simple tools for creating charts and attractive layouts

Cons: Fewer functions and analytical tools than Excel, limited collaboration tools

You can read all our iWork reviews here: Apple Pages, Keynote & Numbers reviews

Read:

Alternatives to Numbers

Alternatives to Pages

Alternatives to Keynote

Next »

Advertisement

Next
Prev
Price: Free with new Macs (£14.99 upgrade for existing users)

More info: The App Store

Number-Crunching: Numbers is a good example of how the best Apple software takes difficult tasks and makes them look easy. As soon as you type ‘=’ into a cell, the Inspector palette on the right-hand side of the spreadsheet displays a list of available functions, and to help new users get started it even displays explanations and examples of how to use each function.

Numbers doesn’t have the sheer range of functions that you’ll find in Excel, or support for advanced features such as pivot tables, but it provides a good basic set of functions that will be useful for home users, education and small businesses. And, of course, Numbers also allows you to import and export spreadsheets in Excel format if you need to.

Graphs And Charts: Apple describes numbers as ‘the most beautiful spreadsheet ever’, and it does put a lot of emphasis on its graphics tools. A Numbers spreadsheet is really just a blank page where you can place data tables, text and graphics in any layout that you choose. The program includes tools for quickly creating 2D and 3D graphs and charts, and even interactive charts that can include simple animations to illustrate changes in data.

Collaboration: You can share your spreadsheets online with other people by using the online version of Numbers at www.icloud.com, and the online program can warn you if there are conflicts between changes made by different people. However, you can’t track changes made to a spreadsheet, and Numbers lacks the more comprehensive collaboration tools found in Google Sheets and Microsoft’s Office Online.

Pros: Free with new Macs, lots of help for new users, simple tools for creating charts and attractive layouts

Cons: Fewer functions and analytical tools than Excel, limited collaboration tools

You can read all our iWork reviews here: Apple Pages, Keynote & Numbers reviews

Read:

Alternatives to Numbers

Alternatives to Pages

Alternatives to Keynote

Microsoft Excel 2016

Price: Subscription – from £5.99 per month; MS Office 2016 – from £119.99

More info: office.microsoft.com

Number-Crunching: Excel is the big-daddy of spreadsheets, used by businesses all over the world and with hundreds of functions and features crammed into its Ribbon toolbar.

The sheer range of features built into Excel can seem daunting, but it includes dozens of templates to help you get started, including spreadsheets for home and personal use, business budgets, time-tracking and invoicing. The Formula tab on the Ribbon includes a pull-down menu that quickly lists standard functions, along with a Formula Builder for creating your own functions and formulae. A second tab on the Ribbon provides more advanced tools such as pivot tables and linking to external data sources such as Filemaker or corporate databases, and even HTML web pages.

Graphs And Charts: Even Numbers has to tip its hat to the sheer variety of graphs and charts included in Excel. The Charts tab on the Ribbon includes standard options such as bar, area, pie and scatter charts. However, each type of chart also has a separate pull-down menu that includes many additional variations, such as 3D charts, exploded pie charts, or stacked area charts. Excel also includes a special type of chart, called Sparklines, that can help to highlight trends within dense collections of data.

Collaboration: There are plenty of ways to collaborate with Excel. The Review tab on the Ribbon allows you to track changes made to a spreadsheet, and to control the level of access that you provide to other users. Larger organisations can set up their own servers for in-house collaboration using Microsoft’s SharePoint software, but you can also upload documents to the OneDrive cloud storage service, or use Microsoft’s Office Online suite of web apps.

Pros: Unrivalled range of spreadsheet features and functions, comprehensive collaboration tools, attractive graphing tools

Cons: Expensive, complicated for beginners

Read: Microsoft Office for Mac 2014 release date

Google Docs

Price: Free

More info: docs.google.com

Number-Crunching: The latest version of Google Docs includes a number of new features, including many additional functions and new ‘filter views’ that allow you to hide certain data in order to focus on just the key data within the spreadsheet. There’s a handy ‘quicksum’ feature that automatically works out the total of a set of selected cells, along with a ‘range-selection’ mode that helps you to quickly select a set of cells for your formula. However, Google Docs doesn’t provide as much help for newcomers as Pages, so you do need to be familiar with spreadsheet work and to know the basic functions that you’re likely to need.

Graphs And Charts: Google Docs doesn’t have the eye-catching 3D graphs and charts of Numbers, but it does include a quick and easy Chart Editor. This can create a variety of common charts, including bar charts and pie and scatter charts. There are some useful extras here too, such as the ability to superimpose charts over a map, or to create flowcharts and org charts.

Collaboration: Online collaboration is a strong point with all of Google’s online apps – although it helps if the people you’re sharing with also have Google accounts of their own. You can display your spreadsheet publicly on the web, just send email invitations to specific people, or set up a Google Group for regular collaborators. You can add comments to your spreadsheet, and there’s a Revision History option that lets you view previous versions of your spreadsheet.

Pros: Free, good features for sharing and collaboration

Cons: Full collaboration features require a Google account, not ideal for beginners

LibreOffice

Price: Free – donations encouraged

More info: libreoffice.org

Number-Crunching: It’s no coincidence that the LibreOffice spreadsheet is called Calc – just like that of OpenOffice – as both software suites share the same open-source roots. Not surprisingly, the two programs also share many of the same features and functions, as well as similar formatting palettes and toolbar layouts.

Calc’s main toolbar includes options for quickly sorting data in cells, SUM calculations, and correcting decimal point placing. For more advanced work there’s a Function Wizard that quickly lists the entire range of available functions, and also helps you to create and structure more complex functions and formulae of your own.

Graphs And Charts: The Chart Wizard in LibreOffice Calc is almost identical to the one found in OpenOffice. It includes a good selection of two-dimensional bar, column, pie and scatter charts, along with a ‘3D Look’ option that allows you to add simple 3D perspective effects. You can also liven up your charts by applying transparency or graduated tint effects, and if things get a bit untidy you can just hit the Reset button to revert to one of the standard chart types.

Collaboration: Like OpenOffice, LibreOffice focuses more on offline collaboration. You can send copies of your spreadsheets to other people, and each user can record the changes they make within their own copy. There’s an option for comparing different versions of a document, and if you approve the changes that have been made you can import those changes and merge them into your own copy of the spreadsheet. However, you can’t collaborate online with other people all working on the same version of a document.

Pros: Free, Function Wizard assists with complex functions, simple chart tools

Cons: No online collaboration, few features to differentiate it from OpenOffice

Apache OpenOffice Calc

Price: Free – donations encouraged

More info: www.openoffice.org

Number-Crunching: Calc is the spreadsheet program within the free OpenOffice suite. It looks a bit like a mash-up of Numbers and Microsoft Excel, as there’s a large ‘side-deck’ palette on the right-hand side of the screen that is similar to the Inspector palette in Numbers, along with a densely populated toolbar like the Excel ribbon that runs across the top of each document. That cluttered interface might be a bit intimidating for new users but, like Numbers, it does help you out by providing information about all the available functions in the side-deck palette. One useful feature is the Detective option, which helps you to work with complex formulae by showing the relationships linking data cells and formulae.

Graphs And Charts: The graphs and charts in Calc aren’t as pretty as those of Numbers, but the program’s Chart Wizard guides you easily through the process of selecting a chart type, selecting data and then modifying elements such as titles and labels for the X and Y axis. The Wizard includes the usual bar, pie, line and scatter charts, and there are options that let you add transparency and simple 3D perspective effects to your charts.

Collaboration: Calc does include a review function that allows it to record changes made to a document by different people. However, each person needs to work on their own separate copy of the spreadsheet, using their own copy of OpenOffice. There’s no option for simultaneous online collaboration as there is with Numbers and some of its other rivals.

Pros: Free, extensive set of functions, simple Chart Wizard

Cons: Cluttered interface, limited collaboration options

Panorama Sheets 6.0

Price: £29.99

More info: The App Store

Number-Crunching: Developer ProVue is well-known for its powerful Panorama database, and Panorama Sheets is a simpler version designed for home users and small businesses. Like its big brother, Panorama Sheets presents database information in a spreadsheet format that makes it easy to quickly browse, search and sort through your data.

You start work by defining the fields in your database, such as the names and addresses of your customers, or the members of a local sports club. Panorama Sheets then presents you with a blank spreadsheet into which you can insert the necessary data. You can create fields that perform calculations, and the program does include a wide range of mathematical, scientific and financial functions similar to those you might find in a conventional spreadsheet. And, like any database it also allows you search and sort information quickly, perhaps locating customers who share the same post-code, or club members who haven’t paid their subscription fees.

This combination of database and spreadsheet features can be a little confusing if you’re not already familiar with database concepts, but it’s one of the better options for simpler database work since FileMaker scrapped Bento last year.

Graphs And Charts: Panorama Sheets is very efficient at storing and sorting your data, but it’s pretty basic from a graphical point of view. There are no options for creating graphs and charts, and it lacks the attractive graphics and layout tools that Bento used to provide.

Collaboration: Panorama Sheets is very much a single-user product, but it does provide the option of upgrading to other products in the Panorama range as your business grows, including Panorama Server for sharing data across an organization.

Pros: Simple database program that presents data in spreadsheet format, wide range of functions and sorting tools

Cons: Emphasis on database features, limited graphics and layout features, complex for beginners.

Smartsheet

Price: Subscription £7 per user, per month:£84 per annum

More info: www.smartsheet.com

Number-Crunching: At first glance, Smartsheet might look like a fairly conventional spreadsheet, but it’s actually a collaborative project management tool. Its designers decided to use the columns-and-rows format of a spreadsheet simply because most people already understand how spreadsheets work. Smartsheet documents – known as ‘sheets’ – can be used to store information, such as a series of tasks, dates and names of the people involved, and to share that information online with your colleagues.

It doesn’t provide the same range of mathematical functions that you’d find in dedicated spreadsheet, but Smartsheet does allow you to attach additional files to individual rows within a sheet, including wordprocessor documents, PDF files, and more detailed spreadsheets if required.

Graphs And Charts: Smartsheet isn’t a conventional spreadsheet, so it doesn’t provide tools for converting data into graphs and charts like rivals such as Excel or Numbers. However, it can be used to create ‘Gantt charts’ that are used in project management, and you can attach proper spreadsheets and charts to rows along with other types of information.

Collaboration: Smartsheet provides plenty of options for collaborating with colleagues. The creator of a sheet document can publish it openly on the web, or simply send invitations to specific colleagues. You can also decide whether to share the entire sheet, or just a set of files attached to one particular row. Pricing depends on the size of your organization, with subscription prices starting at £84 per year for a single-user license that allows you to collaborate with an unlimited number of colleagues. There’s also a free iOS app that you can use as well.

Pros: Versatile project-management tool based around familiar spreadsheet concepts, designed for collaboration

Cons: Requires a subscription, lacks the number-crunching power of a true spreadsheet

Soulver 2.4

Price: £8.99

More info: The App Store

Number-Crunching: Soulver isn’t a true spreadsheet program like Numbers or Excel – in fact, it doesn’t even use cells like a spreadsheet at all. However, it’s a handy tool for performing simple calculations that don’t require the complexity of a spreadsheet.

A Soulver document just looks like a blank page that is divided into two columns. The left-hand column allows you to type simple notes and calculations – such as ‘3 nights at £50 per night’, or ‘£50 in US dollars’ – and the answer will then appear in the right-hand column. It doesn’t have the range of functions that you’d find in a proper spreadsheet, but Soulver can perform a number of trigonometry calculations and allows you to create variables or use operators such as brackets within your calculations. Soulver can also track share prices – though it needs an Internet connection for updates – and can convert currencies, distances and weights, so it’s a good alternative to a basic calculator. The Mac version is a little pricey at £7.99, but there’s a free trial available and there’s also an iOS version that costs just £2.29.

Graphs And Charts: Soulver has some simple formatting tools that allow you to highlight different elements within a calculation, but there are no tools for converting data into graphs or charts.

Collaboration: You can save Soulver documents as PDF, CSV, HTML or text documents, which might be handy for sharing your notes with other people. However, Soulver is really just a personal calculator and doesn’t provide any options for collaborating on documents with others.

Pros: Good for quick calculations, tracks shares, converts currencies, weights and distances

Cons: Mac version is expensive, no charts or collaboration features

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Free Bitdefender tool prevents Locky, other ransomware infections, for now

Antivirus firm Bitdefender has released a free tool that can prevent computers from being infected with some of the most widespread file-encrypting ransomware programs: Locky, TeslaCrypt and CTB-Locker.

The new Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware vaccine is built on the same principle as a previous tool that the company designed to prevent CryptoWall infections. CryptoWall later changed the way in which it operates, rendering that tool ineffective, but the same defense concept still works for other ransomware families.

While security experts generally advise against paying ransomware authors for decryption keys, this is based more on ethical grounds than on a perceived risk that the keys won't be delivered.

In fact, the creators of some of the most successful ransomware programs go to great lengths to deliver on their promise and help paying users decrypt their data, often even engaging in negotiations that result in smaller payments. After all, the likelihood of more users paying is influenced by what past victims report.

Many ransomware creators also build checks into their programs to ensure that infected computers where files have already been encrypted are not infected again. Otherwise, some files could end up with nested encryption by the same ransomware program.

The new Bitdefender tool takes advantage of these ransomware checks by making it appear as if computers are already infected with current variants of Locky, TeslaCrypt or CTB-Locker. This prevents those programs from infecting them again.

The downside is that the tool can only fool certain ransomware families and is not guaranteed to work indefinitely. Therefore, it's best for users to take all the common precautions to prevent infections in the first place and to view the tool only as a last layer of defense that might save them in case everything else fails.

Users should always keep the software on their computer up to date, especially the OS, browser and browser plug-ins like Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Java and Silverlight. They should never enable the execution of macros in documents, unless they've verified their source and know that the documents in question are supposed to contain such code.
Emails, especially those that contain attachments, should be carefully scrutinized, regardless of who appears to have sent them. Performing day-to day activities from a limited user account on the OS, not from an administrative one, and running an up-to-date antivirus program, are also essential steps in preventing malware infections.

“While extremely effective, the anti-ransomware vaccine was designed as a complementary layer of defense for end-users who don’t run a security solution or who would like to complement their security solution with an anti-ransomware feature,” said Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender, via email.