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.
Welcome to macOS pic.twitter.com/rUJGvGCdkg
— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD) June 13, 2016
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.
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. 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.
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). 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.
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.
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. 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 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.
new macOS Sierra will have feature similar to Dropbox project infinity. Will optimize storage seamlessly with cloud pic.twitter.com/uwnh9IG4lb
— Rich DeMuro (@richdemuro) June 13, 2016
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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, 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 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?