We assume you have a backup strategy. Hopefully, it includes a bootable duplicate to minimize downtime in the event of a drive failure, a Time Machine or other versioned backup to address the problem of a deleted or corrupted file, and offsite backup to ensure that you don’t lose everything in the event of theft, fire, or flood. (And for many California residents these days, fire is an increasingly likely concern!)
A good backup strategy protects your data, though it’s decidedly a case of “necessary, but not sufficient.” That’s because problems that can cause data loss can also result in the loss of your primary hardware. Therein lies the question: what would you do if your Mac failed today?
Without getting into the full topic of disaster preparedness, let’s run through some possibilities of how you could respond if your main Mac were to die and need to be repaired or replaced, either of which could take days or weeks. There is no right answer here—all we’re trying to do is help you consider such a situation so you can better ensure you’re ready if it does happen.
If your Mac usage is relatively minimal, you might be able to do without while you repair or replace your Mac. That might be the case if your home Mac has died but you do most things at work anyway, or if you use an iPhone or iPad for most of your communications anyway.
If you need to accomplish more serious tasks while your Mac is at the shop or en route from Apple, one possibility would be to migrate those activities that can’t wait to an iPad. Those who are considering an iPad as a fallback device should be aware that, in our experience, it’s often difficult to move your work to an iPad quickly.
You’ll almost certainly need a physical keyboard for the iPad, for instance, and even if you use many of the same apps, like Apple’s iWork suite or Microsoft Office apps, there may be unanticipated gotchas. Even if most of your work takes place in email and on the Web, you may encounter issues when dealing with attachments or with logging in to lots of sites—a cross-platform password manager like 1Password or LastPass is essential.
The only way to know if you can complete your work on an iPad successfully is to do it for real. Take a day when you don’t have major commitments or deadlines and try to accomplish everything on the iPad, working through each sticking point as you run into it.
Few of us can afford to have an exact duplicate of our primary Mac sitting idle in case of disaster, but it’s not that difficult to ensure that you have some Mac available to switch to. And it wouldn’t be a stretch for a business to have one reasonably capable Mac that’s waiting on the sidelines in case 1 of 15 or 20 Macs were to fail suddenly.
Many people like the combination of a primary desktop Mac and a less powerful laptop Mac for traveling. An advantage to that approach is that, with the right cables, the laptop Mac could be pressed into service with an external display and access to a bootable duplicate hard drive should the desktop Mac die.
Another strategy that works well is to hold onto an old Mac that you’re replacing instead of selling it or handing it down to another user. That way, even if the performance may be slower than ideal, you can always fall back to it if necessary.
Finally, you may be able to borrow a Mac from someone who has an extra or doesn’t need theirs for a while. In that case, you’ll need to make sure you can connect and boot from your bootable duplicate. That may require twiddling a setting on a T2-equipped Mac, and it may be slower than running from the internal drive, because most people probably won’t want you to backup, reformat, and later restore the data on their internal drive.