#1637: Testing Emergency SOS and Find My via satellite, Ventura free space issues, Lock Screen Photo Shuffle joy, Thanksgiving hiatus
We’re taking some time off for the Thanksgiving holiday in the US this week, so the next TidBITS email issue will appear on 5 December 2022. Until then, look for new articles on our website and ongoing discussions in TidBITS Talk, where people will undoubtedly be discussing Adam Engst’s warning to have plenty of free space before upgrading to macOS 13 Ventura and his testing and analysis of Emergency SOS and Find My via satellite. For those feeling jaded by technology, Glenn Fleishman recommends iOS 16’s new Lock Screen Photo Shuffle wallpaper for the way its machine-learning algorithm finds images that bring him joy. Notable Mac app releases this week include VMware Fusion 13, OmniFocus 3.14.1, Mactracker 7.12, and SoundSource 5.5.6.
No TidBITS Issue on 28 November 2022
This Thursday marks the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. To ensure that everyone who helps with TidBITS can spend the coming week with family, friends, and food, we won’t be publishing an email issue of TidBITS on 28 November 2022, so the next one will appear on 5 December 2022.
Although the weekly email issue won’t appear next Monday, we’ll continue to publish articles on the TidBITS website, and the exceedingly helpful TidBITS Talk discussions will continue unabated. To keep up, visit our site, subscribe to our RSS feed—remember that TidBITS members get a full-text feed—or follow us on Apple News.
We hope those who celebrate Thanksgiving have a happy and relaxing holiday. For everyone else, please accept our apologies that Thanksgiving may prevent the Twitter train wreck and FTX/crypto soap opera from providing quite so much entertainment for the next week. (But don’t miss Elizabeth Lopatto’s hilarious close reading of a filing in the FTX bankruptcy.)
Ensure Sufficient Free Space before Upgrading to Ventura
Two macOS releases ago, I wrote “Ensure Sufficient Free Space before Upgrading to Big Sur” (10 February 2021) to warn users that an installer bug could result in a Boot Recovery Assistant loop. Apple fixed that bug in macOS 11.2.1, but I was reminded of it when TidBITS reader Marc Heusser wrote to tell us that upgrading from macOS 12.6.1 Monterey to macOS 13.0.1 Ventura on an M1 MacBook Pro with insufficient free space resulted in errors that prevented the MacBook Pro from booting. Marc had to restore from backup to bring his MacBook Pro back to working order.
So what counts as “sufficient” space? In my previous article, I linked to the tech specs for Big Sur, in which Apple says that it could require up to 44.5 GB of available storage. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t published similar specs for either Monterey or Ventura. However, our old friend Charles Edge recently published the necessary details in Free Space Required for Modern macOS Upgrades. In it, he says that Ventura requires 25 GB of free space and that its installer clocks in at 12.19 GB, suggesting that it would be safest to add those numbers and make sure you had at least 37 GB free.
Without Apple providing specs, I was curious where Charles came up with that 25 GB number, and he told me that it was from personal experience. He had tried to install Ventura on a Mac without that much space and received a prompt from the installer telling him he needed to free up at least 25 GB. A post from Trend Micro confirmed that number wasn’t somehow specific to his Mac. So a minimum of 37 GB it is, for safety’s sake.
What could have happened in Marc Heusser’s case? The Ventura installer clearly thought he had enough free space to continue, rather than throwing an alert as it did for Charles. Marc speculated that the problem was due to APFS snapshots, and unfortunately, that’s likely. As useful as APFS is, it renders the concept of “free space” somewhat indeterminate. Howard Oakley explains some of the complexity involved. As you can see in the screenshot from Howard’s Mints utility (click the Volumes button), my Mac’s primary drive has 75 GB free, but 94 GB available for “opportunistic usage” and as much as 143 GB available for “important usage.” The Finder reports the 143 GB number.
My best guess is that there’s an edge case where the installer believes there’s enough space available to start (assuming that an upgrade is either opportunistic or important), but when it starts copying files, APFS doesn’t always release the needed purgeable space.
Charles reported that since he published that article, he too has heard from a handful of people who have suffered a failed Ventura upgrade and have thus been forced to start over with a clean install.
So, what should you take away from all this?
- Back up first: Make at least one full backup of your drive before upgrading to Ventura. I say that every time, and I will continue to do until the heat death of the universe. (What, you didn’t make a copy of the Milky Way?) And when I say “at least” one backup, I mean it. I would never upgrade my main Mac without both an up-to-date Time Machine backup and a duplicate. Drives fail, and you don’t want your only backup to fail when you need it to restore after an unexpected catastrophe. (While writing this article, I unmounted my Time Machine SSD, and it didn’t want to remount again, even after a restart. It mounted fine on another Mac, where I’m running First Aid on it right now.)
- Check free space carefully: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you shouldn’t trust the Finder’s claims of free space. It reports the maximum amount of free space that could be achieved after deleting purgeable data. Instead, open Disk Utility, select the top level of your boot volume (not the Data volume underneath), and use its free space number—76 GB in the screenshot below.
- Clear at least 37 GB: If that free space number isn’t at least 37 GB, remove enough data to get it to that point. To begin, empty your Trash and restart. I had about 1 GB of data in the Trash, which brought me up to 77 GB free, but that number jumped to 86 GB after I restarted. If you need to remove more data, choose About This Mac from the Apple menu, click Storage, and click the Manage button next to the desired drive to open System Information’s Storage Management window. Then click Documents and work through Large Files, Downloads, and Unsupported Apps, deleting unnecessary data, preferably larger files. Alternatively, a utility such as GrandPerspective or OmniDiskSweeper can easily identify large files and folders.
You could also use Disk Utility to delete Time Machine snapshots, but I’m uncomfortable recommending that without being able to test it myself. (As I noted above, my Time Machine drive isn’t happy right now.) If you want to experiment with this approach, open Disk Utility, select your boot volume, and choose View > Show APFS Snapshots. Then you can select a snapshot in the list and click the – button to delete it. (The screenshot is from my MacBook Air, which seldom does Time Machine backups because I rarely work on local data.)
Let us know in the comments if you run into space-related problems upgrading to Ventura.
Bring Yourself Recurring Joy with Apple’s New Lock Screen Photo Shuffle
When I think about how technology as a whole has improved my life and the lives of people around me, I tend to focus on things like the development of vaccines, the improvement of chemotherapy and other oncology treatments, and emergency tools like the Apple Watch’s fall detection and automated notifications of dangerous weather conditions.
If I instead ponder how technology has enhanced my happiness, the list is far shorter. I enjoy the quality of photography modern iPhones are capable of. I’m glad to have FaceTime, Zoom, and other videoconferencing tools to connect with family and friends. While Twitter and other social media are decidedly mixed bags, I’ve made new connections with people, and that was especially important for my mental well-being during the pandemic.
But what about pure joy? I’d have been hard-pressed to give you an answer to that until Apple let us add the Photos widget to the Home Screen in iOS 14 and iPadOS 15 and use Photo Shuffle as a Lock Screen wallpaper option in iOS 16. I have the Photos widget on my first Home Screen, and I created a custom Photo Shuffle for my Lock Screen as soon as I started using iOS 16. If only Apple could extend this sort of machine learning to the My Photos screensaver on the Apple TV.
My favorite thing each morning is to see what photo appears in the Photos widget on my Home Screen. That widget shows entries from the For You section in Photos. You might see an entry from Memories, the AI-generated oddball collections that might include “Exploring Pittsburgh over the years” or “On this date.”
But I most often see one of my Featured Photos, which I prefer. Featured Photos is a small, ephemeral album iOS assembles for me every day. Featured Photos nearly always contains 10 to 20 images of happy or interesting snapshots from my life, typically featuring my children.
Featured Photos, like Memories, relies on some kind of machine-learning algorithm that Apple doesn’t describe. But I think it’s far more successful than Memories, which sometimes shows me slideshows of weirdly disconnected or boring images. You can’t push photos into a Featured Photos stack, although you can remove them. With an image showing in the Featured Photos collection in For You, tap the ••• icon in the upper-right corner and tap Feature This Person Less or Remove from Featured Photos. The latter ensures you won’t see that photo in rotation anymore.
Both Memories and Featured Photos have the potential to induce sadness or grief, of course. All technology companies should have learned a lesson from Eric Meyer’s 2014 experience with Facebook, which rolled out a Year in Review feature that mindlessly showed him images of his six-year-old daughter Rebecca, who had died of brain cancer that year. Some smart companies brought Eric in to talk about the topic in the hope that his experience could help their products avoid this tragic error. (Rebecca’s life is commemorated with rebeccapurple, an official CSS4 color name.)
Apple seems to have figured out some way of avoiding this. My life isn’t full of death, disaster, and disagreement. But I have digitized nearly all photos I’ve taken over the last 40 of my mumblety-mumble years, including images of past romantic partners, broken or neglected friendships, and people I care about who have died. I rarely see anything from that data set, despite not having purged images from my Photos library that might, out of context, cause pain. The closest are photos of my mother with my kids that appear regularly, but not too frequently. She died in 2009. I find those images wistful, sweet, and a nice way to remember her in life.
I assume Apple’s machine-learning system relies on signals stored locally and synced across my photo libraries. It knows who I’ve identified in the People album; I don’t add people I want to forget. I assume Photos tracks how many times I view images and videos, and it knows which I’ve marked as favorites. And I occasionally do note that a photo should be removed from Featured Photos. Perhaps that’s enough.
iOS 16’s new Lock Screen Photo Shuffle feature has a different design that’s also random but much more focused. When setting up Photo Shuffle as your Lock Screen wallpaper, you can pick Shuffle Categories: People, Pets, Nature, and Cities. With People, you’re presented with a subset of your People album and can select the people you want to see regularly. I expect Apple structured these choices to further constrain the appearance of unwanted images, which are less likely to be tolerable on the Lock Screen. You can remove troublesome photos, too, though it’s a slog: in the Frequency options hidden behind the ••• icon, select Don’t Feature Photo to remove it from future shuffled photos.
Although you can swipe through “all” the featured photos when customizing Photo Shuffle to start, it will add photos to the collection over time, so you may occasionally have to customize that Lock Screen again to remove an undesirable photo that the algorithm has chosen after your initial setup.
I set Photo Shuffle’s frequency to the ridiculous update schedule of On Lock. Every time my iPhone lights up with an incoming alert, I raise it to view, or I press the Standby button, I get a new image. Weeks into using it, I haven’t even begun to tire of the random presentation of photos of the people I love across decades of my life.
It turns out you can design a product to produce joy. Apple has chosen to hide the details of how it engineered this kind of delight, and that unpredictability might just be a key aspect of the pleasure of continuous rediscovery.
Testing Emergency SOS and Find My via Satellite
On 15 November 2022, Apple launched its promised Emergency SOS via satellite feature for iPhone 14 owners in the US and Canada. The company also announced that the technology would become available in France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK in December 2022. It’s a good bet that Apple will extend it to other countries when possible.
The service will be free through 15 November 2024 for existing iPhone 14 owners; those who purchase an iPhone 14 from now on will receive 2 years of free service starting from the date of activation. Apple said nothing about how the service would be priced after that.
To give you an idea of the competitive landscape, Garmin’s inReach Safety Plan costs $11.95 per month billed annually or $14.95 per month billed monthly. That plan, in conjunction with Garmin’s inReach satellite communicators, offers more features, but Apple may have added comparable capabilities by late 2024. I’d argue that Apple can do more even before then.
But for now, Emergency SOS and Find My via satellite are free for iPhone 14 owners, so I decided to give them a spin. Apple has done a good job of alerting users to the existence of the feature, adding an entry to Settings that briefly describes how to use the feature and walks users through reviewing their Medical ID information, which might be important for emergency responders.
Living in rural upstate New York, it was easy to find an area with lousy cellular service, though once I was in an area where I knew coverage was weak, it took a little while to find a spot in the nearby Shindagin Hollow State Forest where my iPhone started displaying SOS in the status bar, along with a new satellite icon I hadn’t previously seen (see “What Does SOS in the iPhone Status Bar Mean?,” 11 October 2022). The satellite icon didn’t always appear, though SOS remained throughout my testing. My guess is that a carrier other than T-Mobile had a whisper of coverage such that the satellite icon showed only when it was the sole option for reaching emergency services.
Testing Find My via Satellite
Once I’d found my location, I decided to try Find My via satellite first because it’s easy to test for real. I opened the Find My app, tapped Me in the toolbar, and tapped Send My Location, receiving the right explanatory screen below.
Once I tapped the Send My Location button, a notification appeared in my Dynamic Island, telling me to turn right to find the signal. I held my iPhone up to the sky and started turning. Find My quickly homed in on a satellite, but as you can see in the selection of notifications below, it lost the connection quite a few times and had me doing the Hokey Pokey as I worked to keep a satellite in view. Interestingly, it was able to find a satellite in several directions. However, Find My eventually gave up (bottom-left screenshot). Since the road I was on ran through a deep valley, I climbed up the side of the hill a short way and tried again. Find My picked up right where I’d left off and sent my location quickly.
You might wonder, as I did, what actually happened. Since I had no cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity, I couldn’t contact Tonya to determine if she could see my location, and I hadn’t thought to ask her to check while I still had a bar of service. She later confirmed that she didn’t receive any notifications about my location, and by the time I got in touch, Find My was showing my new location. So while Find My via satellite probably did something, it would have taken a lot more setup to prove that it worked.
Running Through the Emergency SOS via Satellite Demo
After I finished testing Find My, I switched to testing Emergency SOS via satellite. Since I didn’t have a special iPhone 14 like Apple provided the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern for her article and video, I opted to use Apple’s built-in demo instead of potentially starting a live Emergency SOS conversation with a real dispatcher.
Providing a live demo is brilliant because it lets people get a feel for how Emergency SOS via satellite would work in an actual emergency. It turns off cellular connectivity temporarily and then walks you through the entire process. To get started, go to Settings > Emergency SOS, scroll down, and tap Try Demo.
The demo felt live in that it first required me to find the satellite and then walked me through a conversation that mimicked a conversation with an emergency dispatcher. The messages weren’t quick to send, but the lag time felt reasonable. I have no way of proving whether I was really talking to a satellite or if the entire thing was canned, but it felt real, thanks to the notifications telling me to keep pointing at the satellite.
Because I didn’t dare dial 911, I didn’t see what Joanna Stern reported regarding the real emergency script questionnaire, which asks you to tap buttons to indicate what sort of emergency you’re having and who needs help.
Although I felt a little let down by Tonya not noticing the Find My location I sent via satellite and not knowing for sure if the Emergency SOS via satellite demo was in fact communicating with a satellite, the user experience was excellent in both cases. Apple deserves kudos for giving the user confidence in what must be a tremendously fiddly connection process.
Pondering Next Steps via Satellite
On the one hand, for a 1.0 effort, Apple’s satellite additions to the iPhone 14 are pure magic, and the company’s engineers should bask in the glory of achieving the seemingly impossible. I mean that, and take everything I say next with that praise in mind.
On the other hand, Apple’s current implementation misses the boat in a big way. The entire point of sharing your location is communication. Emergency SOS via satellite is great for serious mishaps while driving, biking, or hiking somewhere without cellular service. If you’re lost or injured in the wilderness, or if your car breaks down far from civilization, you want to communicate with emergency services.
But what if you don’t want to involve emergency services? As I hope I’ve clarified, there is a vast amount of land in the US (and probably a lot more in the much less populated Canada) where there’s no cell service. If I drive 5 miles west, I’ll find myself in the heart of a small city that’s home to a world-class university and all the high-tech communications goodness you’d expect. However, 7 miles southeast puts me in thousands of acres of uninhabited state forest without cellular service. In other words, many people spend a lot of time in cellular-free areas and might appreciate the option to ask—however minimally—family or friends for assistance via satellite.
After all, most problems don’t warrant calling 911. You might want a friend or family member to help if you run out of gas, break a spoke on a bike ride, or twist an ankle on a trail run. Many bikers I know don’t even carry tube repair kits anymore because it’s faster and easier to call someone for a pickup than to fix a flat tire.
Find My fails completely for this sort of non-emergency communication. Yes, you can send your current location to Apple via satellite, but no one with whom you regularly share your location would know to check for it, why you’ve shared your location, or what they should do about it. It might be helpful if you could brief someone ahead of time on what to expect and do. “If I’m not back from my bike ride by 5 PM, look for my location in Find My and come get me.” But for those who live or regularly travel in rural areas, it’s so easy to end up in an area without coverage that setting up plans in advance would be tricky.
At first, I thought the solution would be for Find My to alert my followers of a location being shared via satellite. Tonya and I could agree that if she ever saw a notification that I had just shared my location via satellite, she should come to find me. But I share my location with other people too, and I wouldn’t want my parents worrying every time they received such a notification.
A better solution is obvious, and so much so that I had to drive back to my spot again to make sure Apple hadn’t quietly enabled it. Just use Messages to send your location via satellite! In Messages, tap the avatar for someone with whom you’re having a conversation, and then tap Send My Current Location to share a map with a pin. Sadly, when I attempted to do this in a satellite-only area, it failed.
Sharing a location like this addresses all my desires for non-emergency communications via satellite while seemingly staying within the current system’s limitations. You can send location via Find My now, so I see no reason you couldn’t do the same via Messages, even if normal text messages weren’t possible. All Apple has to do is route the location update to a Messages conversation as well as update Find My. And it’s easy to tell trusted friends and family members that if you ever send your location without any other context, they should consider that a request for assistance. If you sent your location to a group chat, the people on it could coordinate so only one of them came to get you. The only problem is that such a capability would receive a lot more use than Find My via satellite, and the system might not yet be able to handle that level of traffic.
So Apple, how about this for a roadmap? In iOS 17, after the satellite system has had a year of real-world use for Emergency SOS, add the option to use Send My Current Location via satellite for Messages. That will significantly increase usage, and if the satellite system proves capable of handling the traffic, iOS 18 could also allow us to send short texts via satellite. With those two features, Apple would have no trouble signing up large numbers of users—me included—for a monthly satellite-communication service.