An A-Z of Apple Mac and other useful terms

In our day to day support work we field a lot of questions about terms that are in common usage these days; so many that we thought it would be helpful to have a page on the site with some brief explanations.

3G and 4G

These are mobile internet technologies; as you might expect from the name, 3G is older, and 4G is the newer standard which is faster and more reliable. Both are currently in operation presently. There are no firm plans to phase out 3G, not least because 2G is still in operation and - even if you make a call on a 3G phone to another 3G phone - you might still be talking over the 2G network!


4K refers to a 4,000 pixel-width display (the industry standard for this is actually 4096 x 2160); this is a new standard above HD (high definition). By comparison, a 27 inch iMac will have a 2,560 pixel-width display. 4K has become a common reference for UHDTV but technically this is not 4K (the UHDTV resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels).


This is the official name for various wireless (WiFi) specifications developed by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Technology companies including Apple follow these standards so that different devices can talk to each other e.g. your Mac and your router.

App, Mac App Store

App is an abbreviated version of 'application', which is Apple's term for computer programs. The Mac App Store is Apple's online repository of both free and paid software for your Mac.

Apple ID

Whenever you first buy an Apple product or service you are issued with an Apple ID; this is your Apple user account number and you use it for everything: music and app downloads, support, hardware purchases from Apple. To manage yours navigate to 'Settings > iCloud'.


Another wireless data transfer specification, this is mainly used to connect a keyboard or mouse to your Mac, but can also be used to send music to speakers that support it.


When people refer to anything being 'in the cloud' they simply mean that it is in a remote location and accessed via the internet. So, rather than having your media and other data on your home or work computer, you can store it in one central location and access it from anywhere, whether you're at home or on the move. Or you can have additional copies of your work or personal data backed up remotely in the cloud.


In Mac OSX, this is the place that you can view the programs that are currently installed on your Mac.


A high quality combined audio and video digital interface, most commonly used to connect a Mac to a display/monitor. Modern Macs have a combined DisplayPort and Lightning (used to sync and power iOS devices like iPhone and iPad) interface.


The dock sits at the bottom of your monitor screen and has icons for your most-used programs or apps, plus the Trash icon.


FaceTime is Apple's own VOIP (voice over IP) and video conferencing technology, and it enables two people to chat via their computers and their internet connections, anywhere in the world.

Find my Mac

We have an article on our sister site about how to use Find My Mac to to make things hard for laptop thieves.


Hardware is the collective name for the physical components that make up your computer. Firmware is the code that runs inside those components to make them work. Firmware is permanently installed (unlike, say driver software for a graphics card or operating system software such as OSX) and is very rarely, if ever, updated.


Short for Global Positioning System, this is an example of everyday use of military technology. Satellites orbiting the earth make it possible for even a small handheld device (such as an iPhone) to become a marker indicating your position on (or near) the earth. It is used for navigation, parcel tracking and many other civilian technologies that make life easier.

HD (High Definition)

HD is, as the name suggests, a higher quality video format. HD has been taken to mean any viewing resolution which has more than 720 lines on the screen, although with the constant advances in technology many now would reserve HD for 1080 and upwards.

(Wi-Fi) Hotspot

A 'hotspot' is a place where the internet can be accessed wirelessly (WiFi). In the US, T-Mobile were early adopters of this technology, and named their company 'T-Mobile Hotspot'. This is a bit more catchy than 'publicly accessible wireless LAN' (which is how the person who originally came up with the idea described it) and, like Hoover, the company name passed into everyday speech.

iBooks and the iBookStore

Apple's own eBook (electronic book) reader software, and the online shop (also accessible through iTunes) that stores available titles.


Check out our blog for our look at iCloud's introduction back in 2011 and an iCloud setup walkthrough from 2012.


Apple's own messaging service, which allows free text images with photos and other attachments to be sent between devices running either Mac OSX or iOS - so long as both users have an Apple ID. In versions of OSX from Mountain Lion onwards it replaces iChat.


This is currently the most common type of LCD monitor and Apple use it on MacBooks (and also all portable devices). It replaced the older TN LCD monitors because it has a wider viewing angle, and allows the screen to be touched without lightening or smudging. You can see a side by side comparison of the two technologies here.

iTunes, iTunes Match, the iTunes Store and iTunes University

iTunes is Apple's media player / management app. It was originally developed outside of Apple and called 'SoundJam MP'; when Apple bought the technology, they also employed the creators, and it has evolved from its initial use on the iPod playing music to a complete media management centre.

We took a look at iTunes match in early 2012 in our blog.

The iTunes store, as you'd probably imagine, is where you can buy music, films and TV episodes, and iTunes University is a nice (and free) addition to the store that brings you lectures from academics all over the world in both audio and video format to download.

Location Services

Using GPS (see above), plus the location of your nearest mobile phone masts and WiFi hotspots (also see above), apps are able to show and/or use your location - to help you see where you are on a map for example.

Retina (display)

Apple's new higher resolution, available on mobile devices and laptops (we have reviews of the 2012 15 inch and 13 inch MacBook Pro with Retina on our sister site.

How much sharper is the display? Well, a typical computer monitor screen will display at around 100 pixels per inch. Anything from 200 pixels upwards is considered medium high resolution, with high density starting at 240 pixels per inch and upwards. Retina displays are advertised as 300 pixels per inch, but in reality the screen size affects the amount of pixels per inch (here's a handy table showing the different sizes). Nevertheless, you should see a picture that is twice as sharp.


Safari is the default browser in any Apple device. We've more information on Safari in our blog

Time Capsule & Time Machine

For an explanation of both of these, see our blog Apple's Time Machine and Time Capsule Explained and also this article on our sister site How to use Time Capsule & Time Machine to back up and restore your Mac.

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