Bug or Feature? Screen Time on macOS Catalina Isn’t Reporting Actual App Usage

Screen Time is a feature that Apple added to iOS 12, which allows you to keep track of how much time you spend on each app you use, how many times you wake up your iOS device, and how many notifications you receive. This data can help you cut down on your device usage, and you can use Screen Time to set limits for your kids.

Screen Time was also added to macOS Catalina, with the same features. However, it doesn’t seem to work correctly. Rather than showing which apps are frontmost when you work, it shows how long apps are open:

Screen time 1

I keep a number of apps open all the time: Mail, Messages, Fantastical, Omni Focus, Music, and a few others. So counting them as actual “screen time” makes no sense.

In the above example, all these apps were open all day – obviously, the Finder is always “open” – so the data is essentially useless. Is this a bug or a feature? I would think that Screen Time should only record that time when apps are frontmost.

Screen Time also records “Pickups.” While this makes sense for an iOS device – how many times you picked up your iPhone and woke it up – it really makes little sense on the Mac. A pickup on the Mac is the number of times you woke the device from sleep, or restarted it.

Screen time 2

And the apps listed in the lower pane are supposed to be the first app that you used when you awakened the Mac, but seem to be just the frontmost apps when the Mac is awakened. So if I put my Mac to sleep with Safari frontmost, when I wake it up, it will be counted as a pickup. On iOS this makes sense, because when you wake up your iOS device, you are on the home screen, so you have to actively choose which app you are going to use. Also, it doesn’t seem to be reliably updating on the Mac; right now, I’ve put my Mac to sleep a couple of times yet when I awaken it, it doesn’t add to the number of pickups. And it’s not counting the System Preferences app, which I’ve used several times after waking up my Mac to view Screen Time.

Finally, it records notifications, as does iOS. While iOS notifications can be a disturbance, since they appear on the device when it’s not in use, this isn’t the case on the Mac. If the Mac is asleep, notifications won’t display; they will, however, if your screen is dimmed, or if a screen saver is active. In any case, is there any value to counting these notifications, especially here where I have Music set to notify me of track changes?

Screen time 3

While Screen Time is a useful feature, notably for setting limits for kids, its information isn’t very reliable. Say you have a child who has a game open in a window, or hidden, but isn’t playing; in the meantime, they’re working on their homework. All the time the app is running counts as usage time. There’s really no way to get any reliable information about which apps are really used.

And, for example, I might want to track my time using certain apps to bill clients, but with Screen Time, I’d have to remember to quit the apps when I switch to another app, and that is somewhat futile, because I certainly won’t remember.

It’s worth pointing out that Many Tricks’ Time Sink does this quite efficiently: by app, but also by window, so you can easily record exactly what you’re doing, especially if you are billing clients by the time you spent working for them.

New Book Now Available: Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Take Control of macOS Media Apps cover 768x994Are you bewildered with the new Catalina apps that replace iTunes? Befuddled by Apple Music? Do you want to customize the Music app sidebar? Wish you could organize your podcasts? Wondering what the difference is between loves and stars? In this book, I explain not only how Apple’s new media apps work, but how normal people can make the Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books apps do what they want.

In macOS 10.15 Catalina, Apple finally did away with iTunes. In its place are three new apps – Music, TV, and Podcasts – with audiobooks now handled by the Books app and syncing of mobile devices handled by the Finder. Where once iTunes was an all-purpose media hub, now you may use up to five apps to accomplish the same things. The new apps also add more features (while, sadly, removing a few things too).

Take Control of macOS Media Apps is your guide to this new, post-iTunes world. Kirk McElhearn, whose earlier books on iTunes 10, 11, and 12 collectively sold nearly 14,000 copies, is back with a new book that shows you how to manage your music, videos, podcasts, and audiobooks in Catalina.

Whether you just want to play your media, or you want to go deeper with special features like Genius, Shuffle, Up Next, Apple Music, and iTunes Match, this comprehensive guide has the answers you need.

Kirk also looks at various ways of bringing audio and video into Apple’s media apps, tagging songs and videos so you can find them more easily later, creating playlists, sharing your library over a home network, and syncing media with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

Get Take Control of macOS Media Apps from the Take Control Books website.

Note: This book covers Apple’s media apps in macOS Catalina exclusively. It does not cover iTunes for Windows; the Music/TV/Podcasts/Books apps for iOS and iPadOS, or iTunes running in earlier versions of macOS.

Where the Catalina Music App Stores Album Artwork

When I updated my iMac to Catalina yesterday, I watched as the Music app slowly display album artwork. I have about 4,000 albums in my library – this is all local music, I don’t use Cloud Music Library on this Mac – and it took a couple of hours for the Music app to go through all the files and display the artwork.

But I couldn’t find where it was stored. In the past, there was an Album Artwork folder in the /Music/iTunes folder in the home folder. While that folder is still there – and isn’t needed any more – artwork is now stored in a different location.

But I couldn’t find it at first. I was looking for a folder around the same size; my Album Artwork folder was always around 4-5 GB. The new path for artwork is:

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.APMArtworkAgent/Data/Documents

For me, this folder is less than 1 GB, which is why I couldn’t find it previously. Interestingly, this folder no longer contains files with the extension .itc, which only a few apps could read, but the files are now the original .png or .jpg files that I added to my music files (or that came with purchases from the iTunes Store).


Learn more about the new media apps that replace iTunes in macOS Catalina in my new book, Take Control of macOS Media Apps.

macOS Catalina: Use Your Apple Watch to Enter Your Password and Authenticate

You have been able to use the Apple Watch to unlock your Mac for a couple of years. In the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences, you can check a box to allow this to occur. When you’re wearing your Apple Watch, and it’s unlocked, pressing a key on your keyboard or clicking your mouse tells the Mac to look for the Apple Watch to authenticate you. This was the single feature that got me back to using the Apple Watch a couple of years ago after having worn the device off and on.

Now, in Catalina, this goes one step further. If you have turned on the above setting, you can use your Apple Watch to enter your password when you need to authenticate to perform administrative tasks. For example, if you want to delete files in the system space, applications installed via the Mac App Store, or access secure preferences panes, you must enter this password.

Now, you’ll see a dialog like this:

Unlock with watch

Double-press the side button on your watch, and, boom! It’s done. This will save a lot of time when performing this type of operation, and it allows you to create a more secure password, because you won’t need to type it as often.

Note that on a Mac with Touch ID, this latter technology seems to overrule the use of the Apple Watch. Here’s what I see on my MacBook Pro:

Unlock with watch touch id

I guess this makes sense; it defaults to the closest method of authentication available to the device, and using Touch ID is even a bit quicker than using the watch.

The Fate of the iTunes Store in macOS Catalina

With the new Music app in macOS Catalina, which retains most of the music functions of iTunes, but sloughs off the other media kinds that the previous app managed, there is a change in the way the iTunes Store is handled. In some cases, users won’t even see the iTunes Store.

In early betas of macOS Catalina, the iTunes Store was visible, but in recent betas it did not show up in the sidebar of the Music app if the user was signed into Apple Music. That seems to be the default now: if a user has an Apple Music account, they won’t see the iTunes Store. You can display it, if you wish, in the Music app’s Preferences, on the General pane, but if you’re a streamer, you won’t see it by default.

You’ll note that in the screenshots on Apple’s macOS Catalina preview pages, the iTunes Store is not visible.

Music app

The iTunes Store is certainly not going away, but Apple is considering that streamers don’t want to buy music. This isn’t the case with the TV app, which retains the tabbed navigation bar of iTunes, to show one tab for Library, and four other tabs to entire users to find new content. Granted, the way we consume music is different from movies and TV shows, but this is a clear sign that Apple is betting on streaming for music, and rentals and purchases for video content.

Tv app

It’s interesting that, while Apple has made the interfaces of the four apps that replace iTunes (Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books) very similar, two of these apps retain the tabbed navigation bar: TV and Books. And these are both apps where there is more content to purchase than to stream. (Obviously, all podcasts are free, so there’s no need to have a marketplace in that app.)

In the Books app, I think the tabs don’t make sense. There is one for your library, which is logical, but there are two store tabs: Book and Audiobooks. I think it would be better to have a single store, because there are a lot of people who buy both ebooks and audiobooks, and splitting them can make it harder to find which options you have.

As for the TV app, that has the potential of quickly becoming bloated. There are tabs for your library, then for Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, and Kids. The problem with the TV app is that it aggregates not just your own content, but potentially channels, networks, and services that you subscribe to. And that leads too bloat. But the very nature of these disparate services makes it hard to do otherwise.

Update: Commenters have asked about searching with the iTunes Store disabled. When you search in the Music app, the search results show three tabs: Apple Music, Your Library, and iTunes Store. If the iTunes Store is disabled, then you only see the first two tabs; if you don’t have an Apple Music subscription, then you only see Your Library.

You can, however, go from Apple Music to the iTunes Store, even if the latter is disabled, by clicking the … button next to any item and choosing Show in iTunes Store. However, searching only Apple Music will not find items that are for sale in the iTunes Store and not available to stream.

Locations of Media Files in macOS Catalina

With macOS 10.15 Catalina, and the splitting of iTunes into three apps (Music, Podcasts, and Apple TV), media files will be handled a bit differently. Here’s where the various files will be located.

  • Music: By default, these files will be stored in ~/Music . (~ is a shortcut for your home folder, the one with the house icon and your user name.)
  • Apple TV: For TV shows and movies, the default location is ~/Movies . Music Videos, however, will stay in the Music app.
  • Podcasts: Podcasts are stored in a cache folder in ~/Library/Group Containers/243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts . This is not designed to be user accessible, and the podcast files do not display the original file names. You can, however, drag podcast files from the Podcasts app to the Desktop or to a folder.
  • Books: Since Apple spun off the Books app, ebooks have been stored in a folder in your Library folder: com.apple.BKAgentService. This folder will contain both ebooks and audiobooks. As with podcasts, you’re not intended to visit this folder, and ebook files do not have their original names, though audiobooks do display their names. However, if you select a file and press the space bar to view it in Quick Look, you will see its cover. (This is not currently the case with podcasts; using Quick Look on a podcast file lets you listen to it, but there is no album artwork attached.)

When you upgrade from macOS Mojave, both the Music and Apple TV apps will remember the location of your existing media, if you are using a different folder than the default. And each of these apps has an Advanced preference allowing you to choose a location for its media folder. This means that you can store your music on one volume and your movies and TV shows on another volume, which can be practical for many people with large libraries.

Note that macOS Catalina is just a beta, and this information is subject to change.

macOS Notes App Using a Ridiculous Amount of Memory

I recently started using Apple’s Notes app for taking notes and storing temporary bits of text and URLs. I use Evernote for long-term storage of this sort of thing, but Notes is an easy to use tool for me to jot something down – or dictate it – on my iPhone, and have it available almost instantly on my Mac.

However, I’ve noticed that Notes is using a huge amount of RAM. Here’s what it is currently using on my Mac:

Notes ram
That’s 7.38 GB on a Mac with 16 GB RAM. You can also see that there is 7 GB of swap memory (virtual memory) being used.

This has something to do with networking. If I look in Activity Monitor, there are about 100 processes called Notes Networking, each of which is using between 8 and 9 MB RAM.

Notes networking memory

I have no idea why this is happening; this isn’t just a memory leak, but these are processes being spawned for some reason. And my Mac has not been running long; the last time I restarted it was less than two days ago.

I’m not going to waste my time calling Apple, because their support is broken. Nor will I waste my time filing a bug report.

The only solution is to quit Notes regularly and relaunch it.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 58: New Security Features in iOS 12 and macOS Mojave

We take a close look at the great new security features in iOS 12 and macOS Mojave. We also answer a few reader questions, about the Activity Monitor app, about when to upgrade hardware, and whether “free” media sites are safe.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Understanding New macOS Mojave App Security Alerts

Apple works hard to ensure the security of its operating systems and sometimes these security features can be confusing. In recent years, Apple has sandboxed their operating systems. This means that apps only have access to limited parts of your computer’s operating system and files. The reason for this is to prevent rogue apps from accessing data that they shouldn’t be able to read and to prevent malware from installing in certain parts of the system.

Related to this are specific accessibility permissions for apps that use the accessibility framework and automation permissions, for apps that use AppleScript, and other background technologies. You see dialogs asking you to grant these apps the permission to do certain things to your files.

While sandboxing and permissions are a good thing overall, they can be an annoyance. It means that some apps – notably utilities – are limited as to which files they can access on your Mac, and that some app features that you were used to using on your Mac may no longer work. While some of these permission dialogs existed before Mojave, they have become more common and can be confusing.

Read the rest of the article on the Mac Security Blog.

How to Use Annotations and Quick Actions in the macOS Mojave Finder

Among the new features in macOS Mojave is a set of powerful tools in the Finder that lets you manipulate or annotate files. Instead of needing to open an app to make simple changes, you can perform some operations on files directly in a Finder window or using Quick Look. In this article, I’m going to tell you about these new features: Annotations and Quick Actions.

Read the rest of the article – and see the great cat photos – on The Intego Mac Security Blog.