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Best VoIP service 2021: Replicate a traditional office phone at home

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Remember when landlines still ruled the land, before smartphones were sophisticated pocket broadband machines? There was a time when telephone handsets were essential business gear, when we put a phone near every chair in the house. Those were the days, my friend. Those were the days.

Now, however, welcome to 2021. You know the story. COVID-19, lockdowns, shelter-in-place, the rise of work-from-home, offices deserted in favor of newly remote workers. We’re in something of a halfway place, where vaccines are helping some folks return to work, while other businesses are still on lockdown. To say life is unpredictable is an epic understatement.

For many companies, especially those that had already gone through their own digital transformation, business was pretty much as usual. Their teams communicate via Slack or Teams, set up Zoom meetings four times a day, and create email chains and threads that can make you question the meaning of life.

But those aren’t the companies and individuals we’re addressing. In this article, we’re talking to companies that still have a handset on every desk (but now the desks are at home), still do business by talking on the phone (really, some folks do that), and who route calls and transfer to extensions (which now have to traverse the planet instead of the building).

For those of you, there are VoIP (Voice over IP) solutions that allow you to run a PBX in the cloud, and connect employees working from home just as if they were wired into the on-premises phone switch. Here are 12 solutions that should help you stay connected.

The most-mentioned VoIP provider among our quick surveys

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RingCentral

When I started asking around about VoIP providers, RingCentral was the one mentioned the most. RingCentral offers solutions for small vendors all the way up through giant enterprises, and it also has a focus on developer integration, allowing external vendors to hook into the RingCentral environment in new and creative ways.

Their core product is RingCentral Office, which offers all the key virtual PBX features, including auto-attendant, company directory, call forwarding and handling, and multiple extensions. Additional programs provide voice mail, call forwarding, fax, and meetings and webinars. RingCentral has a nice iOS and Android app that allows you to turn your smartphone into what seems like a more traditional office phone for callers.

View Now at RingCentral

Add a second line to your mobile phone and then just keep expanding and expanding

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Line2

Don’t want to give our your personal mobile number to customers and clients, but also don’t want to carry a second phone? Consider Line2 which — wait for it — adds a second line to your phone.

Actually, Line2 offers a bit more. It moves the traditional hard-wired on-premises PBX to the cloud and moves the dedicated PBX handsets into your team’s smartphones. You can assign additional phone numbers to phones, transfer calls between team members, set up an auto-attendant function to annoy callers while sounding official. You can even turn your team into a virtual call center with the ability to dynamically distribute calls to agents.

View Now at Line2

Keep the in-office feel, but at home

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Intermedia

We last included Intermedia in our best email hosting services roundup, and now it’s back in our VoIP list. Intermedia actually offers a number of unified communications products including virtual PBX, SIP trunking, and various conferencing apps. In this roundup, we’re looking at the company’s combined system, Intermedia Unite.

While Intermedia Unite recommends mostly Polycom, Cisco, and Yealink VoIP phones, the company’s Anyphone BYOP (bring your own phone) program allows certain other devices to connect into the Intermedia VoIP environment. In terms of features, this is enterprise VoIP with all the fixin’s. As you might imaging from a vendor we recommended as a leading email host provider, Intermedia Unite has strong ties to Office 365 and Workspace (formerly G Suite) as well as Slack and Salesforce.

In pandemic times, the ability for workers to bring their desk phones home, plug them into their home Internet, and still have a receptionist capability that allows AAs and operators to view the availability of everyone in their organization, perform blind transfers, warm transfers, and transfers to voicemail — all remotely — is a huge boon.

View Now at Intermedia

An old-school global PBX provider who has successfully pivoted to VoIP

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Mitel

Founded in 1973, Mitel is an old-school traditional PBX provider that has successfully made the pivot to VoIP. Here’s a fun story. Mitel was founded by Canadians Michael Cowpland and Terry Matthews, and as the story goes, is a portmanteau derived from “Mike and Terry Lawnmowers.”

Since its pivot, Mitel has been mowing through acquisitions, including handset maker Polycom in 2016 and ShoreTel in 2017. While the company does provide small, medium, and enterprise solutions, it’s the enterprise offerings that stand out. Mitel, for example, provides the unified communications network for Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs.

View Now at Mitel

This isn’t your grandma’s VoIP provider (anymore)

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Vonage

It would be pretty hard to do a list of VoIP providers without including Vonage. While the company made its name in home-based VoIP solutions, it also dominated the news for less savory reasons. Its IPO, partially funded by customers whose investment crashed, was named one of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business for 2006. Its then CEO couldn’t preside over the public offering because of previous encounters with the SEC. Around the same time, a jury found Vonage guilty of infringing on patents from Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T, and Nortel. And, on top of all that, Vonage was sued by 32 states and had to pay seven states’ legal costs for confusing business practices, refusing to make refunds, and so-called “free” services.

So, how could we possibly recommend Vonage? Well, since 2019, it has been working hard to rebrand itself as a B2B cloud services provider with a conversations API (applications programming interface) designed to allow enterprises and developers to create communications containers within their apps. Vonage’s One Vonage platform integrates unified communications, programmable communications, and contact center operations on top of the public cloud infrastructure and across the vonage global carrier network.

Gone are the days when you might try to set up a Vonage account for grandma. But if you’re a business working on a unified communications infrastructure, you might want to give Vonage a look.

View Now at Vonage

A comprehensive offering with solid international cred

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8×8

8×8 is often classified as a small business VoIP provider, but that doesn’t do the company credit. Formed back in 1987, it was originally a chip design firm. Through acquisitions and product pivots, it has acquired video conferencing products, VoIP technologies, a contact center company, open source chat software, and CPaaS (communications platform as a service) technology. As of 2019, the company had been awarded 128 patents in the areas of semiconductors, video processing algorithms, computer architecture, and more.

The company still appeals to small businesses with its basic cloud PBX plans. The company offers some low-cost international plans that appeal to those who need to connect around the world. It’s possible to move up to all-in-one voice, video, and chat, and then really grow into contact center capabilities, adding in analytics and collaboration. Underlying all of this are API options that can be tapped either by your own in-house custom solutions or a hefty variety of cloud integrations.

View Now at 8×8

That old landline feel from a very modern Internet-connected box

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Ooma

There was a point back in 2011 when my business phone was all about Ooma. For years, I was pre-smartphone. I ran a business from home, which meant I had to manage both personal lines and business lines. History note: Back in the olden days, people had actual wires run into the house for phones, and then throughout the house to handsets. 

Unfortunately, the old twisted copper wires started getting worse and worse, as landline carriers lost interest in POTS (plain old telephone service) lines. So, wanting to keep the feel of a phone at every seat (which seems so bizarre to me now), we used an Ooma box as our gateway between our Internet connection and physical handsets.

I finally dropped Ooma when the complexity got out of control (and didn’t work). It also didn’t help that my wife hated the complexity of the system. As I described in an article back in 2014, “In any case, I’d had it with the excessive level of complexity our phone system required. I had both an Ooma and an AT&T Microcell taking up ports on the router. I had a Link-to-Cell handset base station plugged into the Ooma. I had a ton of power cords and power dongles going under the desk. And it was all unreliable, cranky, and in need of more duct tape.”

I eventually dumped it all in favor of an iPhone and Apple Watch. Rather than having a handset at every seat, I just wear the watch which allows me to answer calls anywhere. But the Ooma still gets used by my ZDNet buddy Jason Perlow (although less so now that he has to Zoom everywhere). Jason, too, adopted the Ooma.

But what of today? Should you consider Ooma in 2021? Yes. Ooma has not stood still since I used it. They’ve moved strongly into the enterprise world, expanded their handset offerings, and expanded their service offerings. What I always liked about Ooma was their clear management interface and a wide range of customizable options. Those exist and have been expanded on considerably. The company has also integrated a home security offering into their main system, with motion sensors, window sensors, and water sensors.

Here’s my bottom line: If you still like the landline feel, multiple lines, and dedicated handsets, Ooma is a good place to go. 

View Now at Ooma

Unified communications from the folks who make GoToMeeting

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LogMeIn

There is nothing about GoToConnect’s corporate parentage that won’t give you a headache. GoToConnect is part of the line of products that include GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. Near the top of the corporate chain is LogMeIn, which acquired what was then called GetGo, a spin-off containing the GoTo products from Citrix. LogMeIn itself was acquired by private equity firms Francisco Partners and Evergreen Coast Capital in 2019.

While GoTo is not the company’s name, they do business under the GoTo logo and goto.com URL. This hurts even more because GoTo.com was once part of Yahoo and Overture Services. In fact, back in the late 1990s, Goto.com was one of the most popular search engine destinations and somewhere along the way, the domain made its way to LogMeIn. To make the brain box bang even more, GoToConnect was previously known as Jive Communications, not to be confused with Jive Software, which provides an intranet collaboration solution owned by Aurea.

So, now that we’ve covered GoToConnect’s family tree, let’s talk about the offerings. First, of course, is its tight connection with GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar, video offerings almost as well known as Zoom in this pandemic-wacky world. Of particular interest is how well done GoToConnects administrative management tools are, allowing drag-and-drop setup of powerful automated assistant and call forwarding business logic.

The company offers just about everything you’d need for a business PBX, implemented with tight integration to other cloud services like Salesforce, Zoho, Google, Slack, and Microsoft. First and foremost, if you’re a GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar company, you’ll want to consider GoToConnect. But if you want to build out an Internet-first PBX environment, give GoToConnect a look.

View Now at LogMeIn

Any easy solution for fixed-cost extension expansion

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LogMeIn

I wasn’t familiar with Grasshopper but kept bumping into it as I researched this article. And, wouldn’t you know it? It’s also owned by LogMeIn. Think of it as the cuter little cousin of GoToConnect.

What stood out about Grasshopper was its very manageable billing structure for small businesses. While the company offers one number, three extension plan and a three number, six extension plan, the winner here is the five number, unlimited extension plan for $80 a month. This is per-month, per-user. It’s just per month. So if you have a growing small company and you want a virtual PBX with a few numbers (like one for main, one for sales, one for support, etc), and an extension for every employee then, boom! Eighty bucks a month. If you hire more people, don’t sweat it. You’re just budgeting that one $80 per month fee.

What Grasshopper doesn’t have is any original equipment. You provide your own phones or mobile devices. Then you get the usual VoIP, call forwarding, voicemail, extensions, transfers, and so on. There are no call center options, though, so if you’re building out a major call center, you might want a different solution. But if you want a fixed-budget PBX that can generally scale without added cost, hop on over to Grasshopper.

View Now at Grasshopper

Phone service integrated with Nomorobo

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1-VoIP

At first glance, 1-VoIP looks like almost any other business phone service. Want to pay for metered calls? Check. Don’t want to pay for metered calls? Add a few bucks a month, and then check. Want to pay by extension added? Check. Want to pay to effectively rent a handset? Check.

Look, 1-VoIP does the deal, but it’s not a great deal. It supports many of the business phone features you want, like music on hold, extension transfer, queues, auto-attendant, virtual fax, forwarding, and all the rest. Yada-yada-yada.

We were ready to dismiss this as a yawn when we stumbled on its killer feature: integration with Nomorobo. If you’re not familiar with Nomorobo, it blocks most incoming spam calls. On individual smartphones, it’s an app that’s a bit of a hack. You have to route all your calls through Nomorobo, and it then passes them back to you. That adds delays and annoyance to your callers. But with 1-VoIP, Nomorobo is integrated into the virtual PBX. That means that if you’re using a real operator rather than a virtual attendant, you won’t be harassed with all those incoming calls. It’s a well-done feature for a PBX.

View Now at 1-VoIP

Middle of the ground VoIP with a stand-out option: a real human answering the phone

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Phone.com

When I started my first company, few people worked from home. Businesses expected to call into companies and get live receptionists (yes, this was the dark ages). As one of my first startup activities, I wound up contracting with a local answering service, shunting all my calls to them, and they would then call me back to transfer the call to me. It was a pain, but it got me deals I otherwise would have had no hope of getting.

Today, of course, we’re all used to email, texting, web forms, and social media. Calling into a business is far more rare. But there are still old school industries for whom a live attendant would be a key business option. 

Although most of Phone.com’s plans are pretty much middle of the road, with relatively low-end pricing, the real attention-getter was their definitely-not-cheap plans that included a live attendant answering the phone. That real human can then transfer to an extension or a mobile phone, sent to voicemail, set up appointments, and follow a script.

Feel free to check out Phone.com for their run-of-the-mill unified communications offerings. But if you want an integrated solution with a real human answering the phone, definitely give Phone.com a look.

View Now at Phone.com

Every broadband provider, ever

Everyone will upsell you VoIP capabilities

When considering a VoIP option, don’t forget your broadband or telecommunications provider. Nearly every cable service and phone service (including Verizon, AT&T, and all the traditional providers) offer VoIP services. In fact, many of them push those services so hard, it’s often difficult getting cable modem service without spending a whole lot of extra time talking agents out of the VoIP upsell.

That said, don’t dismiss your broadband provider out of hand in favor of the players we outlined above. Most broadband VoIP providers have their services (and rented equipment, naturally) well integrated into their overall offerings, which means that you get a one-stop shop for both data and voice. Solutions are often easy to implement because the cable installer will set up your VoIP for you, and you usually don’t have to make any challenging hardware decisions.

A few years back, my octogenarian Dad refused to use a smartphone and wanted wired telephony. But POTS was no longer available in his area. I made one call to his local cable provider and the installer showed up, set it up, and taught him how to use it. It was about the easiest network install ever, and by far the easiest network install for my dad. Whether you’re looking for residential VoIP just for personal use, residential VoIP extended for a new work-at-home life, or business VoIP, give your already-embedded provider a fair look.

Our process

This one took a little creativity. I haven’t touched an RJ-11 jack in six years or so. That said, I did a whole lot of VoIP setup back in the day, and I worked with a number of the vendors listed here. To expand on that list, I reached out to telecommunications managers I know and asked them for their recommendation. Most of them had also left VoIP in the deep dark past and were spending their time dealing with mobile device management issues and app deployment.

But some of them still had old-school customers, old-school managers, or old-school business practices that benefited more from a unified phone system than a wide scattering of tweaked up smartphones. The companies listed here are mostly derived from their recommendations.

I want to mention one such company — although I won’t mention them by name. This company got an honorable mention from a few of the professionals I talked to, but some of the details were hazy. I reached out via the company’s pop-up chat box and was pleased to reach a human rather than a bot. Five minutes later, after trying to get details on the company’s competitive advantages, I was asked “Do you need VOIP services or not?” The agent got ruder from that point on. So that company is getting no mention here at all. 

And this is a lesson to companies: Be careful if you offer a chat option on your website. If your agents are unpleasant, you might lose opportunities. I just pulled a company out of a “best of 2020” list because their operator was impatient and rude — and therefore not qualified to be considered “best of” anything.

How to choose

The single most important thing to do is identify your needs clearly. Do you need extension forwarding? Do you need voicemail? Do you need a human attendant or will an automated attendant do? What apps do you need to integrate into? Make a full laundry list of requirements and desirables. Then start shopping the list. 

If I were doing it, I’d set up a spreadsheet with all the factors I needed, and then I’d cross-index each vendor’s offerings in the spreadsheet. When done with my research, I would probably be able to see who came closest to my needs.

Remember that price may be an issue, but it’s far from the only issue. Don’t focus on saving a few bucks a month if your phone system is your primary link to revenue-generating customers. Make sure you’re able to provide the phone service your customers expect, because that’s how it will pay for itself.

What about you? Are you still using landlines, handsets, or VoIP? Let us know in the comments below.

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/best-voip-service/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Concerns found about Apple NFC restrictions but not enough for new regulation

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Image: Getty Images

An Australian parliamentary joint committee has expressed concern regarding Apple’s business practice of only allowing the NFC chip within its devices to be used for Apply Pay, but the committee did not find this to warrant a recommendation for regulatory intervention.

In Australia, banks must pay fees to Apple to use Apple Pay. Other competitors in the mobile payment and digital wallets space, such as Google, do not charge a fee for the use of its Google Pay payments platform.

“The committee notes the imbalance in bargaining power between payment platform providers and other participants in the payments ecosystem. Nevertheless, the observation that the market power of digital wallet platforms, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, is causing banks to be price-takers may not automatically trigger the need for regulation,” the committee said.

“Such situations are common in modern capitalist economies like Australia and within the payments system, specifically … the case for regulating the market power of digital wallet platforms would need to establish why that is different or is creating more problems than other situations of market power in the payments system.”

The committee’s stance regarding Apple’s third-party NFC chip block was detailed in the committee’s findings [PDF] for its inquiry into the country’s mobile payment and digital wallets, which wrapped up on Thursday following the report’s release.

Rather than make a recommendation for regulatory changes, the parliamentary joint committee said it was happy for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to carry that burden of making recommendations instead. In doing that, the committee welcomed the ACCC’s investigation into this issue, which commenced last month, and recommended that the competition watchdog “draw on lessons from other jurisdictions”.

In addition to its support of the ACCC’s investigation, the committee has recommended for the federal government to have more power, through the Treasurer, in making policies in this space.

It also recommended that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) be given the power to make the ePayments Code mandatory for all industry participants. The code, currently voluntary in nature, regulates electronic payments including ATM, BPay, Eftpos, and credit or debit card transactions, online payments, and internet and mobile banking.

Another recommendation arising from the inquiry included for the Treasurer to direct the ACCC to conduct an in-depth examination of the merits of different regulatory and technological approaches to enabling least-cost routing on mobile transactions, including the merits of consumers retaining the ability to route transactions over their preferred network if they choose to do so.

In July, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) CEO Matt Comyn complained to the committee under testimony about the lack of access to Apple’s NFC antenna, accusing the tech giant of leaning on its market power to compel the banks into paying fees to use Apple Pay. Two months later, the black and yellow bank said Apple currently has an 80% market share in the digital wallets space.

“The fact that a single provider could have 80% market share in an individual market is usually cause for concern, and this is a company … [whose] market cap is double Australia’s gross domestic product, and certainly in the context of tax receipts, makes very little contribution to Australian government receipts,” Comyn told the committee.

CBA, along with most of Australia’s banks, signed up for Apple Pay in 2019 after they jointly lost their request to the ACCC to collectively bargain against Apple for access to its NFC interface four and a half years ago. 

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/concerns-found-about-apple-nfc-restrictions-but-not-enough-for-new-regulation/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Netgear cuts Q4 outlook amid supply chain woes, weak consumer demand

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Netgear is seeing stronger demand from small businesses, but consumer demand has slowed, and supply chain woes will hit fourth quarter sales.

The networking company reported third quarter revenue of $290.2 million, down 23.3% from a year ago when workers upgraded remote office and Wi-Fi infrastructure en masse. The company reported third quarter earnings of 31 cents a share and non-GAAP earnings of 50 cents a share.

Wall Street was expecting Netgear to report third quarter revenue of $294.96 million with non-GAAP earnings of 42 cents a share. 

Netgear CEO Patrick Lo highlighted numerous moving parts.

Netgear added that it has authorized plans to buy an incremental 3 million shares of its company stock, or 10% of its outstanding shares.

As for the outlook, Netgear said it has numerous disruptions on the logistics front with costs rising for ocean freight as long as longer shipping times. The fourth quarter will see lower consumer Wi-Fi demand with supply constraints hampering SMB demand.

The company said fourth quarter revenue will be between $250 million to $265 million. That guidance was well below Wall Street estimates of $328.6 million in revenue. Netgear added that “considerable uncertainty remains in the market due to the COVID-19 pandemic and deteriorating supply chain condition.” Netgear also flagged supply chain constraints last quarter

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/netgear-cuts-q4-outlook-amid-supply-chain-woes-weak-consumer-demand/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Not upgrading to iOS 15? Then you need to install this update now

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Back when Apple first announced the iOS 15, it promised that users could choose to stay on iOS 14 if they wanted to and still get updates.

Apple is delivering on that promise with an update that you should install as soon as possible. 

iOS 14.8.1 contains 12 — yes, a dozen — security fixes for a swath of issues, ranging from kernel vulnerabilities to bugs in the Safari WebKit engine. These are the sort of issues that could let the bad guys get a foothold into your device to wreak more havoc. Apple also fixed many bugs on Monday with the release of an update to iOS 15: iOS 15.1 and iPadOS 15.1

Apple also released the iPadOS 14.8.1 for tablet owners who decided to stick with iOS 14.

A complete list of fixes for both iOS 14.8.1 and iPadOS 14.8.1 can be found here.

To install the update, tap on Settings > General and go to Software Update to download the update.

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Apple MacOS Monterey (12.0.1) review: Productivity firmly back on the menu

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Like

  • AirPlay to Mac
  • Time-saving tab controls in Safari
  • Improved automation via Shortcuts app

Don’t Like

  • Universal Control has gone AWOL
  • Some features only available on Apple Silicon Macs

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) was particularly eventful this year, with an increased focus on services and areas such as health and fitness, along with the usual software upgrades that normally dominate the developer-focused event. In among all these announcements, MacOS — once the sole raison d’être of WWDC — merited barely 10 minutes out of the opening 100-minute keynote

That’s a little misleading, though, as many of the new features in MacOS 12 — codenamed Monterey — are focused on apps such as FaceTime and Notes, which the Mac shares with the iPhone and iPad. Many new features, such as Quick Notes and improved controls for video calls in FaceTime, were covered during the iOS section of the keynote, as were the new ‘focus’ features for reducing distraction while working on your Mac or iPad during the day.  

This did at least mean that the time devoted to Monterey during the keynote could focus on a key group of new features that will have Mac users eager to download Monterey, which was made available to the public as a free upgrade on October 26. 

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 A summary of the key new features in Apple’s MacOS 12 (Monterey).

Image: Apple

Taking back control 

beta version of Monterey has been available for several months, and it was clear during the beta that some features were proving somewhat troublesome. The headline-grabber during the WWDC presentation was Universal Control, which allows you to control multiple Apple devices — such as a desktop Mac, a MacBook laptop and an iPad — with a single mouse (or trackpad) and keyboard.  

SEE: MacBook Pro launch: Things you may have missed

This was particularly appealing to professional and creative users, who would be able to quickly switch between a desktop Mac, a laptop or an iPad while working, especially as Universal Control also allows you to drag and drop files between devices too.  

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Universal Control will — in due course — allow you to work across Apple devices, launching and controlling apps, and dragging and dropping files.

Image: Apple

However, Universal Control wasn’t available during the beta test phase, and Apple has now confirmed that both Universal Control and the SharePlay features for sharing video calls in FaceTime have been delayed until “later this fall”.  

It’s also worth noting that several features — including the new Portrait mode for the Camera and FaceTime apps — only run on Macs that use Apple’s home-grown M1 SoCs. That’s a trend that will probably continue with future versions of MacOS, as Apple completes the transition from Intel processors to its own Apple Silicon across the entire Mac range. 

AirPlay To Mac 

The absence of Universal Control is disappointing, but the long list of new features included in Monterey does seem to be largely complete. And since many of those features are already available in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, they’ve had some running-in time to ensure that they work smoothly and reliably. 

Another new feature that grabbed the attention of many professional users was AirPlay to Mac, which allows an iPhone or iPad running iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 to stream its display to a Mac’s larger screen. Not only does AirPlay to Mac work smoothly, but I’m pleased to find that it works better than expected.  

You can stream a presentation to your Mac, or use a stylus to sketch on the screen of an iPad while viewing your work on the larger Mac display. However, I also discovered that I could stream video from one app, such as the BBC iPlayer, to the screen of my office iMac, and then switch to another app on the iPad to check my emails, browse the web or create a new document in Pages — with video output from the iPlayer app continuing to play on the iMac. 

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AirPlay to Mac: Streaming AV content from Apple devices to an iMac’s display.

Image: Apple

This AirPlay streaming only works with devices that are on the same network and signed into the same AppleID, but business users who are concerned about security can completely deactivate this feature on the Mac, using the AirPlay Receiver option in the Mac’s Sharing Preferences panel. 

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You can disable AirPlay to Mac by unchecking the AirPlay Receiver box.

Image: Cliff Joseph / ZDNet

Mind you, AirPlay to Mac did remind me of the old Target Display Mode that provided a similar feature for iMacs — albeit via a wired connection — until it was frustratingly removed by Apple almost a decade ago.  

I felt a similar moment of nostalgia with the new Shortcuts app for the Mac, which has been now been brought to the Mac from iOS. Designed as a replacement for the Mac’s Automator app, the Shortcuts app had me thinking wistfully of the glory days of Hypercard (look it up…), which helped many budding young programmers get started back in the ’80s and ’90s.  

The Shortcuts app worked fine in the beta version of Monterey, although it didn’t include many ready-made Shortcuts to help people get started. Thankfully, the final version of the app now includes an extensive gallery of shortcuts covering a wide range of tasks, from setting a timer for your toothbrush routine, to scheduling meetings and video calls, and improving accessibility. 

Tab handling in Safari 

For many people, though, the single most welcome feature in Monterey could be the improved handling of tabs in the Safari web browser, and its ability to create Tab Groups that can instantly show or hide a collection of tabs. However, the initial response to these new tab features in the Monterey beta was poor, with many people complaining about the visual appearance and location of the new tabs. The tab features subsequently went through a series of modifications during the beta phase, before settling on what seems to be their final form. 

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Tab controls for Safari in MacOS Monterey: the default setting is Separate.

Image: Cliff Joseph / ZDNet

Apple’s original plan was to move tabs into the main address bar, and to use smaller tabs with rounded corners (Apple’s current eye-candy fad). The address bar also changed colour to match the background colour of the current web page. That didn’t go down too well, so during the beta phase Apple brought back the traditional tab design with a separate tab bar — and eventually just decided to provide both options so that people could make up their own mind.

By default, Safari will use the more traditional Separate style, while the new Compact style with rounded tabs in the address bar can be chosen from Safari’s Preferences/Tabs panel. 

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Separate (top) and Compact (above) tabs in Safari.

Images: Cliff Joseph / ZDNet

In addition to this cosmetic change, Safari now also allows you to save multiple tabs as a Tab Group. You can close an entire tab group to unclutter your screen, and then open the group again whenever you need to simply by selecting it from the new pull-down menu that sits in the address bar.  

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Safari’s Tab Group pull-down menu.

Image: Apple

This is a godsend for me, as I tend to have multiple browser windows open while I’m working, with each window bulging with its own collection of tabs. The ability to tidy all those windows and tabs into groups and then instantly retrieve each group from a menu — or to manage them in more detail in Safari’s Sidebar view — will be a huge time-saver for me and many other Mac users.  

It’s worth noting, though, that Tab Groups are also available in the standalone version of Safari 15.0, which is available for older versions of MacOS, going back to Catalina (2019). 

My only complaint is that creating and saving new Tab Groups doesn’t seem immediately intuitive. I’ve deleted entire groups of tabs accidently while figuring out how this new feature works, so a little more clarity wouldn’t go amiss there. I think I’ve got it under control now, and the ability to reduce the scattershot mess of tabs and windows on my Mac desktop makes me more eager to install Monterey than any other MacOS update in recent years. 

Conclusions 

Many Mac users felt that last year’s Big Sur update left the Mac playing second fiddle to the iPad, but Monterey manages to restore the Mac to its central role as your primary work tool, while also embracing your mobile devices as useful collaborators.  

There’s a little egg-on-face due to the non-appearance of Universal Control, but features such as AirPlay To Mac, the new Shortcuts app, and Safari’s improved tab controls will quickly be adopted and used on a daily basis. And while Big Sur sometimes seemed more concerned with its candy-coloured icons, Monterey might just be the most productivity-focused upgrade that MacOS has had in a long time. 

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/apple-macos-monterey-12-0-1-review-productivity-firmly-back-on-the-menu/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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