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After a few months of public beta, the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system is ready for prime time. Sierra drops the OS X label in favor of macOS, which brings the desktop naming convention in-line with iOS, tvOS, and watchOS.
It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a release that featured any truly new features, and Sierra doesn’t do a whole lot to buck the trend. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t upgrade. You definitely should if you use iOS or have an Apple Watch.
So here’s why you should upgrade, how to upgrade, and how to save the installer for use on any other Macs.
At Last: Siri on the Mac
It seems odd that Apple has waited so long to bring their smart assistant to desktop users, but that’s exactly what macOS Sierra does. Apple users have long had a degree of voice control for their Macs, including dictation features, but Siri is a real step forward. The voice-powered assistant will do just about anything the iOS counterpart can, with the exception of interacting with third-party apps.
After you’ve installed Sierra you’ll get an option to enable Siri, after which you’ll be able to trigger the feature by clicking the icon in the dock, or in your Mac menu bar. By default, you can also activate Siri by holding down Command + Space, a keyboard shortcut you can reconfigure under Settings > Siri.
Use Siri as you would Spotlight — for finding files, for converting currency or performing simple sums, for checking the weather, and more. Siri can find you images on the web, or find images you have taken yourself. You can even pin certain results to Notification Center by clicking the plus + logo that appears in the result window.
Share Your iOS & macOS Clipboard
One of the best features for iPhone and iPad users running iOS 10 is the new Universal Clipboard feature. Make sure you’re logged in to the same iCloud account on any iOS devices and your Mac, and have Handoff enabled on both devices. It uses Continuity so relies on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to do the heavy lifting, and nothing is sent to Apple’s servers (transfers take place locally).
Text works instantly: copy something on your iPad and paste it on your Mac. Images take a little more work, as you can’t simply “paste” an image into Finder. Instead you’ll need to paste into an app like Preview via the File > New from Clipboard menu bar option.
To disable the feature, you’ll need to disable Handoff entirely, which allows you to quickly fetch active tabs, unfinished email, third party features like notes in Evernote on other devices. Head to Settings > General > Handoff on iOS, or System Preferences > General > Allow Handoff to disable the feature entirely.
Better Search & Photo Organization
Just like iOS 10, macOS Sierra’s Photos app is smarter and can identify objects, faces, scenes, and sort images by location. When you first launch Photos after upgrading to Sierra, it will begin to scan your library to identify and sort your images. This process can take some time (it took over 12 hours on my iPhone 6).
Once Photos has completed its initial scan, your photos are far more searchable than they had been before. A new album for People will appear, and you can assign each face to a contact for better organization. You can search for places like “beach,” objects like “coffee,” animals like “cat” and anything else you’re looking for.
More Storage Management Options
If you’ve got a MacBook with a small SSD, you’ll be delighted with the new Storage Management interface which provides a few options for making the most of the space you’ve got. There’s an option to put all your files and photos in iCloud, and only keep your recently opened files and optimized photos locally on your Mac.
Another option called Optimize Storage allows you to automatically remove iTunes films and TV shows from your Mac after watching them. You can also automatically empty the trash every 30-days, and an option to Reduce Clutter helps you find large files that you rarely access and clean them up.
The Storage Management app also tells you how much space applications like GarageBand and Mail are using. Anecdotally, I noticed that macOS Sierra left me with around an additional 30 GB of free disk space after the install, which doesn’t include the 5 GB occupied by the installer.
Unlock With Apple Watch
Head to System Preferences > Security and Privacy and click on the padlock, then input your password. You can now check the option to allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac automatically. Whenever you’re within range and you wake your Mac up, it will unlock automatically from now on.
Just like Universal Clipboard, Apple Watch relies on Continuity so you’ll have to have Handoff enabled under Settings > General > Handoff for it to work.
And the Rest
There are of course a bunch of other improvements, including:
- A better Apple Music experience, though technically this is part of the latest iTunes update (but it’s out now, so knock yourselves out).
- Messages can now display all of the new iOS 10 iMessage tricks, like full screen decorations and bubble effects. You can’t send these effects, but you’ll get new emoji that’s three times bigger than it was previously.
- You can now pay for purchases on support websites with Apple Pay. Simply flash your phone when prompted, as you would any other purchase.
- New wallpapers — and who doesn’t love Apple’s wallpapers?
- Sierra also includes the usual security updates and under-the-hood tweaks, which is good news for everyone.
Installing macOS Sierra
I can’t stress this enough: back up your Mac before you install! Operating system upgrades can fail, putting you in a position where you need to reinstall the operating system entirely. Connect a spare USB drive and run Time Machine or use a third-party backup solution if you want.
You’ll also want to make sure you have enough free space to install the upgrade. Apple recommends 8 GB of free space, but you could push this a little further for peace of mind. If you have any essential third-party apps then you might want to check they work with Sierra before you upgrade by visiting the developer’s website. Last of all, consider making a bootable USB installation just in case things go very wrong.
Next download macOS Sierra using the Mac App Store. It’s currently found on the Featured tab, or you can simply search for it. The download size is around 4.7 GB, and the install procedure will take around 30 minutes to an hour.
Note: If you have multiple Mac computers, you can save the installer so that you don’t have to download it more than once. Simply copy the “Install macOS Sierra” application from your Applications folder to a removable drive. You can’t save the file after you’ve upgraded, as the installer deletes this file on completion.
To begin the installation procedure, launch the Install macOS Sierra application and follow the instructions. When you restart into Sierra you’ll have to enter your iCloud password, and complete the setup. Your computer may be a bit slow until it has been optimized for use with the new software, and you may encounter a few problems with existing apps until they are updated.
Have you upgraded to Sierra right away? What do you think so far?