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At 2016’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple didn’t just announce a new version of the operating system that powers its computers, but a whole new identity. OS X is dead, long live macOS.

Despite the new name and a few useful new features, Sierra is very much representative of the iterative updates we’ve come to expect from Apple. It’s not a major shakeup and, just like the updates that preceded it, Apple will release it as a free download sometime in fall 2016.

So here’s everything you need to know about macOS Sierra, and how you can try it out for yourself before the official release.

A New Name

A minor change but one that might take some getting used to, OS X is now called macOS. This brings it in-line with Apple’s modern naming convention alongside iOS, watchOS and tvOS. As far as versions go, it seems like the 10.x formula will remain in place as macOS Sierra’s official version number is 10.12, following on from OS X 10.11 El Capitan.

Siri Arrives on the Mac

It’s been a long time coming, but Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant is finally coming to OS X. The biggest question about Siri’s desktop debut is how it took this long for Apple to finally implement it, but the feature has been given a boost in terms of features for this release.

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Mac users can trigger Siri using a new menu bar shortcut in the top-right corner, though a dock icon and keyboard shortcut are also available, and it’s likely we’ll see similar hands-free functionality to that found on the iPhone Make the Most of Hands-Free "Hey Siri" on Your iPhone or iPad Make the Most of Hands-Free "Hey Siri" on Your iPhone or iPad Here's how Apple's hands-free "Hey Siri" command can make your life easier. Read More . Siri can do just about everything its iOS counterpart can do: ask about the weather, sports results, work out math problems, convert currency, play music, search the web, and more.

sierra-siri-search

Siri for Mac will also be able to function a bit like Spotlight, allowing you to search Finder using natural language. Ask for files sent to you from a specific contact, or documents you worked on in the month of May and Siri will oblige (El Capitan can already do most of this stuff using Spotlight 7 Useful Things You Probably Aren't Using on Your Mac 7 Useful Things You Probably Aren't Using on Your Mac Better plan your day, quickly find what you're looking for and multitask like a boss — here's a look at seven excellent OS X features that you're probably not using. Read More ). Once you’ve got some results you can drag and drop files directly from Siri to whatever you’re doing, just like you can with Spotlight now.

Follow-up commands can further narrow down your results, and you can pin anything you’ve found to your Today tab in Notification Center, complete with automatically-updating information where supported. It’s possible we’ll see a whole bunch of new Siri commands tailored specifically to the Mac, though whether these will arrive with the initial macOS Sierra release isn’t clear at this stage.

sierra-pin-siri

And just like its iOS counterpart, Apple is opening up Siri to third party applications using the SiriKit API and Siri SDK. That same toolkit will make its way to the desktop too, which could have some interesting implications for your favorite apps.

Share Your iOS Clipboard

The relationship between your desktop Mac and your iPhone has never been better, and Apple is continuing to strengthen that bond with a few iOS-specific enhancements to macOS. The first is the addition of a shared clipboard between the two devices. It works both ways, just copy something on your Mac and paste it on your iPhone, or vice versa.

sierra-clipboard

The feature is imaginatively named Universal Clipboard, and there’s no official word of it working on the iPad yet.

Optimize Your Storage

When Apple introduced Photos and iCloud Photo Library, it offered the ability to create more space on your main machine by storing your original photos on Apple’s servers Move Backups, Apps & Photos Off Your MacBook to Create Free Space Move Backups, Apps & Photos Off Your MacBook to Create Free Space If you're desperate, and you don't fancy paying over the odds for a solid state drive upgrade, here are a few ideas for further maximizing the available storage on your MacBook. Read More . macOS Sierra promises to do even more for space-strapped Mac users in the form of a feature dubbed Optimized Storage, which places files on the cloud but displays them on your Mac as if they were really there.

It’s essentially iCloud Photo Library for the rest of your files, which means you’ll need to buy some iCloud storage space Is It Finally Time to Buy More iCloud Storage? Is It Finally Time to Buy More iCloud Storage? Now that iCloud storage costs considerably less than it used to, it might be time to upgrade beyond 5GB. Read More in order to make use of the feature. Using metadata already available to your OS, Sierra can help you store files you rarely access in the cloud which means they’re available on-demand. The feature also helps identify files you might want to get rid of.

There’s also a nifty duplicate deleter, reminders to get rid of installers you’ve already used, and the automatic deletion of files that have been in your Trash for 30 days. This feature is bound to help out MacBook users most of all, many of whom are stuck with 256GB or smaller SSD drives which offer speed at the cost of overall capacity.

Photos Continues to Evolve

Just like iOS, Photos in macOS Sierra will also see improvements. In addition to better-looking sorting and grouping option that uses striking typography to collate your images into collections, the app promises to help you rediscover forgotten memories by grouping images by criteria like people, places, travel and more.

sierra-photos

Enhanced face recognition allows you to sort your images by person, alongside more intelligent search features that allows the app to identify objects and scenes like sunsets, or groupings of people which you can search by typing. Apple will also finally add a map to Photos, allowing you to browse your collection on an interactive world map provided geo-location was enabled when you shot the image.

This is basically what Google Photos does in the cloud, but on your desktop or iOS device. We’ll have to wait and see how Apple’s technology compares with Google, but it should please the privacy concerned who don’t plan on sending their photos to the cloud.

Better Apple Music

Apple Music has been updated across-the-board, bringing enhancements to both its mobile and desktop version. The new design favors bold fonts and larger album artwork, and redefines how you browse your collection. You’ll now see a Library tab first and foremost, with a For You tab that updates more often with a new playlist every day, Discovery mixes, and a list of recently played tracks.

As with the iOS version, you can now view in-line lyrics while playing music which also works using a tweaked version of iTunes’ MiniPlayer. Unfortunately, you’ll still be stuck in iTunes, but fingers crossed the update makes Apple Music much more responsive and pleasant to use (because the desktop version probably offers the worst Apple Music experience of all).

Updated Messages.app

iOS is getting a big update in terms of instant messaging, allowing users to send more emotive messages to each other using animated speech bubbles, automatic emoji detection and full screen animations. While macOS won’t be getting all of those improvements, it will be able to display every new feature seen in the mobile release.

sierra-messages

In addition to this, Sierra’s Messages app will be able to send large emoji, take advantage of quick responses that allow you to “like” a message with a thumbs up (among other things) and view expanded links right there in the conversation.

Pay with Apple Pay

An exciting and time-saving feature for those who live in countries that support it is the addition of Apple Pay for Safari. If a website supports it, you’ll be able to complete a purchase using your stored card credentials and TouchID on an iPhone, or by double-tapping the button on your Apple Watch.

sierra-apple-pay

Not only is it secure, it removes the need for you to manually input your payment credentials when paying for goods online. There’s never been a better time to ditch Chrome for Safari 10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Use Chrome on a MacBook 10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Use Chrome on a MacBook Chrome is, for many people, the first thing installed on a new Macbook. It makes sense: in its early days Chrome gained a reputation for being lightweight and fast. Read More .

Unlock with Apple Watch

Got an Apple Watch? With watchOS 3 and macOS Sierra, you can now unlock your Mac simply by waking it. Never type your password again!

sierra-unlock-applewatch

Even More iCloud

We all know AirDrop is a temperamental feature, and Sierra introduces an alternative way to communicate between your Mac and iPhone. Using iCloud, you can access your Documents and Desktop folders from any device via iCloud Drive. As iCloud Drive is also accessible by logging in to iCloud.com, that means your Mac’s files are accessible from just about any device with access to a browser.

sierra-icloud-desktop

All The Small Things

Apple is getting serious about tabs, pushing things away from multiple windows and instead combining multiple Pages documents and locations in Maps into one interface. This also includes third-party apps too, so expect a less cluttered desktop with the arrival of Sierra.

The picture-in-picture feature seen in iOS also makes its debut on the Mac desktop, with a new mode that allows you to float a window from Safari or iTunes (and in future presumably more apps) above whatever else you’re doing to watch a video while you do something else. There’s an app called Helium that allows you to do this already How to Overlay Web Videos While You Work on Your Mac How to Overlay Web Videos While You Work on Your Mac Sometimes a little bit of a distraction is what you need to get the job done. Helium is a floating browser that lets you watch web videos while you do something else. Read More , but it’s nice to see it baked into the OS.

Can You Run It?

While El Capitan supported Mac models as far back as 2007, macOS Sierra cuts off for late 2009 models:

  • Late 2009 or later: MacBook, iMac
  • 2010 or later: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, Mac Pro

You can find out how old your Mac is by clicking the Apple logo in the top-right corner and selecting About This Mac. While the adjusted cut-off may make older Mac users feel left out in the dark, Apple is still providing a respectable seven years of backwards compatibility. And on the bright side, if your Mac is now stuck on OS X 10.11, at least El Capitan is a well-optimized release OS X El Capitan is Here! Upgrade For A Smoother Mac Experience OS X El Capitan is Here! Upgrade For A Smoother Mac Experience Mac OS X El Capitan is a subtle release: its biggest changes aren't visible — but you'll probably notice them anyway. Read More to go out on.

The developer preview of macOS 10.12 Sierra has already been seeded to developers, and you’ll want to hold off installing it as the early builds can be very temperamental and lacking in features. Instead why not sign up to Apple’s public Preview builds, which will be available in July to anyone who wants to try out the new OS before final release.

What do you think of the upcoming macOS Sierra?

  1. Jonmerc
    August 31, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Jonmerc
    i run windows 10 0n my i mac and it starts 10 secs quicker than Sierra,i have now on 5 6 7 updates and still waiting for something to get excited about
    If it was not for the lovely shape of the i mac i would probably have a windows machine

  2. Mus
    August 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

    "You can find out how old your Mac is by clicking the Apple logo in the top-right corner and selecting About This Mac. " top-left you mean :)

  3. Bryan Wolfe
    June 29, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Pretty happy with Sierra, even with the first beta. Someone stable. Siri still doesn't excite me all that much. It's still a Siloed product unlike what Google and Microsoft offers.

  4. Oblen
    June 17, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Siri's on desktop?
    So, who's blatantly ripping off who, now?

    • Tim Brookes
      June 22, 2016 at 5:13 am

      I'm confused, Siri was originally an iOS feature?

      • George Brooke
        July 21, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        He probably is referring to Cortana in Windows 10

  5. likefun butnot
    June 16, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I think that if Microsoft announced it would delete local copies of seldom-used files in Windows 11, people would lose their collective minds but since it's Apple, it gets a pass.

    • Syn
      June 17, 2016 at 1:28 am

      You noticed that too. There would be rioting in the streets if M$ tried that but Apple does it and all of a sudden nobody bats an eye.

    • Tim Brookes
      June 22, 2016 at 5:15 am

      Having not played with Sierra yet I'm going to have to assume the feature will be opt-in, especially as you'll need free iCloud space in order to use of it (which for most of us will mean buying some). Not sure how customisable it'll be though.

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