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#1617: Pages regains mail merge, HomeKit sensor improvements, keyboard flags in Monterey

American flags adorn flagpoles and lawns alike for the Fourth of July holiday here in the United States, but Mac users won’t see the Stars and Stripes as the icon for the US keyboard input menu anymore. Starting in macOS 12.4 Monterey, Apple has replaced the menu’s flags with monochromatic language icons, so we highlight a utility that brings the flags back. Also this week, Glenn Fleishman explains how to use the new mail merge feature in Pages, and Josh Centers shows you how you can use HomeKit improvements to streamline your home automation setup. Notable Mac app releases this week include 1Password 8.7.3, Timing 2022.3, Firefox 102, Piezo 1.7.9, Lightroom Classic 11.4.1, Transmit 5.8.7, Pixelmator Pro 2.4.5, PowerPhotos 2.0, Lunar 5.7, and CleanMyMac X 4.11.

Josh Centers 14 comments

Bringing Back Keyboard Flags in macOS 12.4 Monterey

When Apple released macOS 12.4 Monterey, it seemed like a minor update (see “Apple Releases iOS 15.5, iPadOS 15.5, macOS 12.4, watchOS 8.6, tvOS 15.5, and HomePod Software 15.5,” 16 May 2022), but it included a small undocumented change that has irritated some users: it removed the colorful national flags associated with each keyboard input source. Previously, in System Preferences > Keyboard > Input Sources, you would see an American flag for the US keyboard, a Canadian flag for the Canadian English keyboard, a British flag for the British keyboard, and so on.

Keyboard preferences with flags

More importantly, you would also see these flags in the menu bar’s Input menu, with the currently selected keyboard’s flag as the menu icon.

Flags in the menu bar's Input menu

With macOS 12.4, Apple chose to replace the flags with drab, monochromatic blocks containing a one- or two-character code to identify keyboards, which are nowhere near as visually distinct.

Menu bar Input menu without flags

Apple has seemingly been on a war against color for years, most notably with respect to Finder window sidebar icons. However, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber says that a “little birdie” told him it was a deliberate move on Apple’s part to avoid denoting languages using national flags.

That makes some sense because languages aren’t always neatly tied to countries. But why now, after decades of presenting input languages this way? Especially considering that macOS has long used these little blocks to distinguish languages that don’t correspond to countries, such as Cherokee and Uyghur, and even some languages that seem to match up, like Japanese and Thai.

Regardless, several simple apps can restore the colorful flags to your menu bar.

Keyboard Flag Solutions

John Gruber highlighted a couple of App Store apps to solve this problem: the $0.99 Colorful Input Menu Flags and the $1.99 Keyboard Switcheroo. Neither app collects personal data. I decided to try out Keyboard Switcheroo on Gruber’s recommendation since he felt it was the more polished of the two.

Keyboard Switcheroo works much like Apple’s old Input menu, with the key exception being a first-launch splash screen that offers basic instructions and prompts you to start Keyboard Switcheroo at login. Click Get Started to bypass that, and if you ever need to bring it back, choose Options > Help from the Switcheroo menu.

Keyboard Switcheroo's help panel

When I first installed Keyboard Switcheroo, it placed the icon at the far left of the menu bar. You can hold down Command and drag a menu bar icon to move it wherever you want, apart from the locked right-most positions.

The Keyboard Switcheroo menu

If you choose Edit from Keyboard Switcheroo’s menu, you can add languages directly without delving into System Preferences. (Note that changes in Keyboard Switcheroo aren’t reflected in System Preferences and vice versa.) You can also customize the language icons, choosing from the standard flag image, the flag’s emoji, text labels, or any image on your Mac.

Editing input sources in Keyboard Switcheroo

So there you have it: a simple solution for a small but potentially annoying change in macOS 12.4.

Josh Centers 1 comment

Apple Enhances HomeKit with Sensor-Based Automations and Timed Turn Offs

Before I wrote Take Control of Apple Home Automation, I documented here in TidBITS how I set up my dehumidifier to turn on automatically whenever the humidity in our underground TV room rose to an unacceptable level (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: The Elgato Eve Room” 19 June 2017). In short, my Eve Room monitored the humidity level, and I set up an automation to turn on an Eve Energy outlet connected to our dehumidifier. At the time, the problem was that Apple’s Home app didn’t recognize the Eve Room as a sensor for automations, so I had to jump through some convoluted hoops with Eve’s HomeKit app.

While finally updating the book (waiting for the Matter partnership to materialize might not have been the best move; see “Home Automation Standard Gets an Official Name,” 17 May 2021), I took the opportunity to revisit that automation and take advantage of some subtle yet important changes to the Home app. In iOS 15.1, Apple finally made it so sensor-based automations could be triggered based on air quality, humidity, or light level (see “Apple Releases macOS 12 Monterey with iOS 15.1, iPadOS 15.1, watchOS 8.1, tvOS 15.1, and HomePod Software 15.1,” 25 October 2021).

With the right sensors, this new capability can open up a world of possibilities, and if you have a lot of HomeKit accessories, you may have more sensors than you realize.

The Hidden Sensor

In my old setup, I used an Eve Room to monitor humidity. It does other neat things, too, like track air quality and temperature. There’s only one problem: I can’t find it. It’s small, has little buttons and a screen, and has to be put in a prominent place, so my best guess is my kids started playing with it and left it somewhere.

Thankfully, while exploring Automation settings, I discovered that my Ecobee thermostat has a secret humidity sensor. The thermostat doesn’t appear as an accessory in the Home app, but I can query Siri about the humidity in my kitchen, where the Ecobee thermostat is installed, and it shows up as a sensor for automations, as you’ll see in the next section. It’s not in the same room as my dehumidifier but only a few feet away. Plus, it runs off my HVAC system’s power instead of a battery, so that’s one less thing to worry about. And since it’s attached to the wall, my kids won’t mess with it.

Humidity in the Kitchen is high, at 56%

So before you go buying new sensors for automations, it’s worth checking in the Home app to see if you have sensors you didn’t know about.

Creating a Sensor-Based Automation

With all that out of the way, recreating my old automation was simple. If you’d like to do something similar, here’s how.

Open the Home app on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, tap the + icon (below left), tap Add Automation, and then tap A Sensor Detects Something (below right). (If that option is grayed out, you don’t have any sensors available.)

Adding an automation in Home

The next screen displays the available sensors in your home. Not all are well labeled—as you can see in the left screenshot below—so you have to learn how to read the icons:

  • Thermometer: Temperature
  • Green person: Motion
  • Orange person: Occupancy (similar to the motion sensor, but less sensitive)
  • Water drop: Humidity
  • Wavy lines: Air quality

Tap a sensor to select it; you can choose only one sensor per automation. Tap Next to set up how to trigger the automation (below right). The details vary for every type of sensor, but they should be easy to understand. For instance, you can set a motion sensor to trigger based on whether or not it senses motion. For humidity, you can set a humidity percentage and then set the automation to trigger if it rises above or drops below that percentage.

Adding accessories and settings to the automation

At the bottom, you see settings for Time and People, which let you fine-tune the automation. Time lets you set times when the automation can trigger. By default, that’s any time, but you can set it for day, night, or specific hours. The People setting lets you trigger an automation based on who is home.

I used to caution users about the People setting because it didn’t work well in situations where cellular service was weak or nonexistent, like my house. That has improved since iOS 14, so I use it more now, primarily with low-impact automations like setting my cameras to record only when we’re out of the house. However, remember that Apple’s definition of “people” in this case is iPhone users in your Family Sharing group, so you still have to be careful. For instance, if we set it so the lights would turn off when we left home, heading out for date night could leave the babysitter and our kids in the dark.

Once you have the criteria set, tap Next for a screen of all the scenes and accessories that the automation can trigger (below left). Tap those you want to include. Don’t worry yet about specifying what the accessory will do. After you have selected all the right accessories, tap Next, which brings you to the final screen (below right).

On the last screen, you can tap the top field to rename the automation, but most importantly, pay attention to the accessory tiles, which let you set what they do. For most accessories, a tap sets them to turn on or off. As with normal accessory control, you can long-press (or Control-click on the Mac) to fine-tune actions.

Selecting accessories for the automation and automatically turning off the automation after a time

Automatically Turn Off Automations

I want to call your attention to another automation improvement that you’ll find at the bottom of this final screen: Turn Off, another worthwhile enhancement that Apple has made to HomeKit automations. After an automation turns on an accessory, the Turn Off feature enables it to turn the accessory off after a specified length of time.

Turn Off turns out to be useful in many contexts. Let’s say you want a motion sensor to turn on a light at night when you stumble out of bed to go to the bathroom. Previously, there was no simple way to turn that light off, but now the automation can automatically turn it off after a few minutes.

I’m using that setting to further streamline my dehumidifier system. Previously, I had set up two automations: one to turn the dehumidifier on once the humidity rose to a certain level and another to turn it off after the humidity dropped below another level. Now, instead of the second automation, I can set the dehumidifier to turn off after an hour. If the humidity is still high, it’ll kick back on.

Helpful as timed Turn Off is, it reveals a gap in the Home app’s capabilities. What we really need is for automations to be able to turn themselves off in the same ways they turn themselves on. So, for humidity, it could turn on when the level rises above 60% and off when it drops below 40%. Or, an automation triggered by a motion sensor could turn off a set number of minutes after motion is no longer detected.

In any case, I’ve hopefully given you some ideas for how to take more advantage of HomeKit in your home.

Glenn Fleishman 29 comments

Apple Brings Mail Merge Back to Pages

After nearly a decade, Apple has finally brought mail merge back to Pages. Apple removed the feature from the iWork suite as part of the fundamental rewrite of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote in 2013. A concept dating back at least four decades, mail merge lets you insert placeholders in a template document that are replaced with entries in a column of data in a spreadsheet or similar tabular format. It’s commonly used to generate form letters, address labels, and name tags.

Microsoft Word has always had mail merge, but it’s far more complicated than the last time I used it. I recently wrestled with Word to produce shipping labels for a Kickstarter project’s rewards, and every step was painful, despite its built-in templates for Avery labels. (Avery is a major producer of printable labels in all varieties.) What I remember as a quick set of clicks and formatting in the 1990s and 2000s took hours of fiddling to produce something that still didn’t look exactly like I wanted.

Other options have disappeared. I used BeLight’s Labels & Addresses app for years, but the company opted not to upgrade it to 64-bit compatibility, so it died with macOS 10.15 Catalina. To its credit, BeLight gave users a free license to Swift Publisher, its desktop publishing software, which has some rudimentary tools for mail merge. But despite the effort BeLight put into the feature, I found it more painful than Word to use when merging from spreadsheet data. It’s easier if you only want to merge from Contacts.

Apple’s revived mail merge in Pages 12.1 is utter bliss, both on its own and by comparison to Word and Swift Publisher. That’s good news because many people don’t have a license for either of those apps.

The bad news? You can merge “letters, cards, and envelopes,” according to Apple. That is, page-based documents. Pages doesn’t yet handle labels or any blocks of placeholders that would require inserting multiple records on a single page that fill with the next item from the data source.

My ultimate solution for printing labels after many, many hours of testing was Avery’s Design & Print service (free account required), which is clever but limited. If you’re printing entries only from your contacts, Apple’s Contacts app offers built-in label printing with selectable Avery and DYMO templates. However, if you have page-based documents to merge, Pages has become your best option.

Getting Started

Start with mail merge in Pages by opening an existing document or creating a blank one. Keep the document in word-processing mode; if you choose File > Convert to Page Layout, mail merge becomes unavailable.

Click the Document icon at the far right of the toolbar to change the page dimensions, such as to an envelope or note size. Once you’re set, in the Document sidebar, click Mail Merge at the bottom to reveal the Mail Merge options sidebar. (My examples here are with Pages for macOS, but Apple also brought mail merge to Pages for iOS and iPadOS.)

Getting started with mail merge in Pages

You can merge with data from Contacts or a spreadsheet, as I explain in the next two sections.

Merge from Contacts

In the Mail Merge pane at the right, you can populate your document with fields that will be replaced by data:

Mail merge from contacts

  1. Position your cursor in the text where you want the field to go.
  2. Click Add Merge Field in the Mail Merge pane. (You can instead choose Insert > Mail Merge Field.)
  3. The fields listed come from the Contacts app. Choose an item from the list or More Fields, which lets you drill down into other contact fields. (Note that multi-line entries, like an address, will insert hard returns at the ends of lines, like the address line; see a tip below.)
    More Fields
  4. When you’re finished adding fields, click the Merge button at the top of the pane to open the Mail Merge dialog.
    Mail merge dialog
  5. You can draw your data from All Contacts or filter by groups. (If the group you need doesn’t exist, go to the Contacts app, and create and populate it.)
  6. Click Preview to see what data will be filled in for each merged entry. Click Close to exit the preview.
  7. If the preview looks correct, click Merge. Pages creates a new document with one page for each merged item.
  8. Save your merged document.
  9. You can now print the document as a series of pages, cards, or envelopes.
    Printing a mail merge envelope

A few tips related to the above:

  • You can access additional address options by drilling down in More Fields. Choose More Fields > Address and then one of the kinds of addresses, like home, and then you can select the full address as a multi-line entry or a single line without line breaks, or you can pick individual components of an address, like city and state.
  • Mail merge documents can have multiple pages, which is useful for longer form letters. The Mail Merge pane shows the page number on which a field appears to the right of the field’s name in the fields list.
  • While you can’t create labels, you could use a combination of Avery’s free downloadable Pages templates and mail merge. Create the mail merge, produce the merged document, open the Avery template and save it under a new name, and then copy and paste from the merged document into the fields on the Avery template. Tedious for hundreds of labels, but not too terrible for a handful!
  • When creating an envelope, even though you can’t switch to Page Layout mode, you can add a text box. I click the Text icon in the toolbar, drop my return address into that text box, and drag and resize it to the space I want in the upper-left corner. I make the return address text box fill the whole left side of the envelope because Pages’ built-in text wrap will then let me push the left edge of the addressee to where I want it.

    Adding a return address to an envelope
    Set up an envelope with your return address in a text box to control the position of the addressee’s delivery address.

Merge Using a Spreadsheet

Merging from your contacts is useful, but what about from a spreadsheet? It’s pretty much a breeze, too. Follow these steps:

  1. As with a Contacts-based merge, position your cursor in the text.
  2. Click the Add Merge Field in the Mail Merge pane.
  3. Choose Add from Spreadsheet at the top of the menu.
  4. Select a Numbers document and click Open.
  5. Choose the desired table of source data from the Table field, which previews the fields that will be imported. If the Numbers spreadsheet contains multiple sheets, Mail Merge lists them as sheet name:table name. (You can also switch to a different spreadsheet by clicking Change.)
    Choosing a table in mail merge
  6. Click Add as Fields.
  7. These fields now appear as items you can choose from the Add Merge Field menu in Step 3 in the previous instructions.
    Preview Merge Fields

There’s no filtering option: your Numbers document must contain just the entries you want to merge.

Room for Improvement with Hope It Will Happen

There’s plenty of room for improvement in mail merge, but I count this as a stellar return engagement. Apple has consistently paid modest attention to its productivity apps, particularly in the last few years, often adding features or cleaning up around the edges.

What else would I like to see?

  • Support for labels—the templates are already in Contacts!—and other repeating items on the same page
  • Allow mail merge fields in Page Layout documents
  • Link Numbers and Pages so you can mark fields in Numbers and export to create a merged Pages document directly

What mail merge capabilities would you like to see in Pages?

Watchlist

1Password 8.7.3 12 comments

1Password 8.7.3

AgileBits has issued 1Password 8.7.3, a maintenance release that enables you to sort items by frequently and recently used. The updated password manager also now lets you change how long your session remains active when using the 1Password SSH Agent, makes several user interface updates that occur after changing the language, adds Universal Autofill for the Mighty browser, redesigns the Watchtower loading screen and security score, resolves an issue where the names of vaults and items wouldn’t truncate properly in the sidebar, fixes a bug that prevented window managers from working properly after Universal Autofill was used, and ensures that non-numeric characters are no longer excluded from the credit card number field. ($35.88 annual subscription from AgileBitsTidBITS members setting up new accounts receive 6 months free, free update, 2.9 MB installer download, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

Timing 2022.3 No comments

Timing 2022.3

Daniel Alm has released Timing 2022.3, adding a new Easy mode for reports (which can be switched back to Advanced mode at any time). The Easy mode offers a live preview that shows which columns will end up in the exported report, adds sorting by title or project, and enables grouping by the top or second-level project. The time and productivity tracking app also adds an option to play a sound when a timer’s estimated duration has ended, hides calendar events longer than 20 hours, improves VoiceOver/Accessibility support for picking date ranges, adds basic support for tracking URLs in the Orion browser and SigmaOS, and improves the reliability of AppleScript-based tracking. Note that the next feature update for Timing will likely require macOS 10.15 Catalina or later. ($42/$66/$96 annual subscriptions, free update for current subscribers, in Setapp, 28 MB, release notes, macOS 10.14+)

Firefox 102 No comments

Firefox 102

Mozilla has released Firefox 102, mitigating query parameter tracking when navigating sites in Enhanced Tracking Protection strict mode. As the Bleeping Computer security and technology news site notes, “Numerous companies, including Facebook, Marketo, Olytics, and HubSpot, utilize custom URL query parameters to track clicks on links.” Once you enable this new feature, these sites will no longer be able to track the links you click in Firefox. Firefox 102 also now enables you to disable automatic opening of the download panel every time a new download starts. (Free, 121 MB, release notes, macOS 10.12+)

Piezo 1.7.9 No comments

Piezo 1.7.9

Rogue Amoeba has released Piezo 1.7.9, updating the Audio Capture Engine to version 11.8.2 with a workaround for issues with FaceTime volume when using the built-in microphone, as well as an improvement in dealing with poorly implemented Audio Units. Additionally, the Piezo update reduces CPU usage, improves clock synchronization across devices, and enhances persistent device tracking. The simple audio recording app also adds support for StarLeaf as a VoIP audio source, resolves an issue where upsampling of certain low sample rates could produce audio artifacts, and makes a couple of fussy typography improvements. ($19, free update, 22.4 MB, release notes, macOS 10.14+)

Lightroom Classic 11.4.1 No comments

Lightroom Classic 11.4.1

Adobe released Lightroom Classic 11.4 with a few new features and enhancements for the desktop-focused photo cataloging and editing app. The update adds the new Preset Amount slider for adjusting the intensity of an applied preset, enables you to copy and paste Select Subject or Select Sky presets to multiple selected photos with a single click, adds the Invert Mask option to the three-dot menu, enables you to use a predefined crop overlay “Fifths” (helpful for architecture photographers), cleans up inactive and obsolete previews to prevent unnecessary disk space bloating, and diminishes the wait time when deleting Smart Previews. Shortly after this release, Adobe issued version 11.4.1 to resolve a couple of bugs. ($9.99/$19.99/$52.99 monthly Creative Cloud subscription, free update for subscribers, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

Transmit 5.8.7 No comments

Transmit 5.8.7

Panic has published Transmit 5.8.7 with additions, improvements, and bug fixes for the file transfer app. The release now enables Panic Sync account deletion to be performed from the Sync section of Transmit’s preferences, resolves an issue that could prevent rearranging tabs by dragging, corrects a problem that prevented directory listings with certain Dropbox Business account configurations, resolves an issue that caused tab labels to be clipped in an unreleased version of macOS, and makes various localization improvements. ($45 new, free update, 33.9 MB, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

Pixelmator Pro 2.4.5 No comments

Pixelmator Pro 2.4.5

The Pixelmator Team released Pixelmator Pro 2.4.4 with an all-new shapes browser and photo browser improvements. The shapes browser features larger and easier-to-navigate shape thumbnails, a search bar for finding shapes by name, and the capability to browse the entire shapes library without switching between different shape categories. Offering an improved, smoother experience, the photo browser now enables you to add images to favorites using a Favorite button in the toolbar, shows progress when downloading photos from iCloud, and more.

The image editor also allows you to add and edit layer styles of multiple selected layers, remembers the last-used document color profile setting when exporting an image multiple times during the same editing session, improves text handling in SVG files, resolves an issue that caused images with certain effects to sometimes look different when exported, improves color accuracy of Adobe Photoshop adjustment layers, and fixes a bug that occasionally caused Pixelmator Pro to stop responding when saving changes.

Shortly after this release, the app was updated to version 2.4.5 to correct an issue that would cause the Pixelmator Pro extension for the Photos app to stop working. ($39.99 new from Pixelmator and the Mac App Store, free update, 449 MB, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

PowerPhotos 2.0 No comments

PowerPhotos 2.0

Fat Cat Software has released PowerPhotos 2.0, a major update for the longstanding Photos library manager that improves performance and handling of iCloud Photos compatibility. PowerPhotos works with the built-in Photos app on your Mac and helps you find and eliminate duplicate photos, split large libraries into smaller ones, merge libraries, export photos and albums, and more.

PowerPhotos 2 now sees and works with any photos in your iCloud photo library (automatically downloading as needed), introduces a more capable export function (with options such as exporting as a flat folder and including videos from Live Photos and all photos from a burst), adds a global menu bar item for quicker access, enables you to organize libraries into groups in the sidebar, quickens the speed of library loading, and uses a new duplicate comparison algorithm that can find more photos that are not quite identical. PowerPhotos 2 is a free upgrade for those who purchased the app on or after 6 April 2022 and is discounted by 50% for those who purchased any previous version of PowerPhotos or iPhoto Library Manager. ($29.95 new, $14.95 upgrade, 29.5 MB, release notes, macOS 11+)

Lunar 5.7 No comments

Lunar 5.7

Alin Panaitiu has released version 5.7 of Lunar with some handy additions and improvements for the display brightness control utility. The update adds a mute/unmute button when hovering over the volume slider, provides an option to toggle Dark mode when using XDR Brightness for lowering power usage and LED heat, adds ALS support for Feather ESP32-S2 boards, introduces configurable workarounds for monitors where mute doesn’t work because of non-standard DDC implementations, and reacts to screen sleep events faster to work around some buggy monitors that don’t enter standby. ($23 new, free update, 18 MB, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

CleanMyMac X 4.11 No comments

CleanMyMac X 4.11

MacPaw has released CleanMyMac X 4.11 with an updated menu that provides improved at-a-glance information about your Mac. In addition to tracking CPU load, you can now get a pop-out showing top-consuming apps, system uptime, and unusual activity spikes. You’ll also be able to keep track of available storage, check the temperature and condition of your drive, get an improved overview of your laptop battery health, and see a real-time view of CleanMyMac’s malware protection. Note that future versions of CleanMyMac will discontinue support for macOS 10.10 Yosemite and 10.11 El Capitan, though the Malware Database will be updated regularly. ($89.95 one-time fee, $34.95 annual subscription, in Setapp, free update, 82.2 MB, release notes, macOS 10.10+)

CleanMyMac 4.11 new menu

ExtraBITS

1 comment

Defending Ukraine: Microsoft’s Early Lessons from Russia’s Cyberwar

Everyone knows about the Russian war in Ukraine, but less well known is that Russia has been engaged in a secret cyberwar against the entire world since the invasion began, spanning 128 organizations across 42 countries. Microsoft’s threat intelligence team has been on the virtual front lines, and the company has now released a 27-page white paper about its experiences, along with a corresponding blog post summarizing the key points:

  1. Countries need to distribute data outside their borders. Ukraine’s data centers were one of Russia’s first cruise missile targets, but Ukraine’s government quickly dispersed its operations to the public cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.
  2. Cyber defenses such as advances in threat intelligence and endpoint protection have helped Ukraine mitigate many of Russia’s cyberattacks.
  3. Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up their efforts to penetrate the networks of countries supporting Ukraine, most notably the United States and Poland, a NATO member where much of the military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine is being coordinated.
  4. Russian agencies are conducting significant propaganda operations to support the invasion, simultaneously attempting to undermine Ukrainian confidence, disrupt Western unity, and sustain support among the Russian population.
  5. Microsoft calls for “a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to strengthen defenses against the full range of cyber destructive, espionage, and influence operations.” In other words, we’re all in this together.

Perhaps most interesting is the extent to which tech giants like Microsoft are playing an active role in this conflict. Corporations are by definition part of the military-industrial complex, but given the breadth of cyberattacks, the need for tech companies to help defend their customers everywhere feels like a seismic shift. We’ve been noting examples of the tech world’s global influence for some time now; this is yet another example of how they’re approaching the power (and responsibility) of nation-states.

13 comments

Apple Invites Top Community Contributors for “White-Glove” Treatment

The Apple Support Community forum has long offered game-like points and levels to encourage participation, but now the company is taking it a step further with Apple Community+, an exclusive invitation-only program for its top community contributors. Apple says that invitations are limited to a few lots per year. The company is equally vague on the benefits but promises “special perks, white-glove experiences, and more,” whatever that means. (The term “white-glove” generally refers to high-quality and highly personalized customer service—it’s unclear how that matches up with a reward program for helpful commenters.)

Many years ago, Apple sent Adam Engst a mug as a “thank you” for his contributions to the iPhoto forum in Apple Discussions, the predecessor to Apple Support Community. It doesn’t sound as though there will be any physical rewards involved in Apple Community+.

If your invitation was lost in the mail, you can always contribute to our TidBITS Talk forum, where our CEO reads every post and is the most prolific contributor. Let’s see Tim Cook match that.