With iOS 10 apparently serving as Apple's flagship operating system, it's easy to overlook Apple's latest software offering for desktops. However, macOS Sierra ought not to be ignored, as it's evidently jam-packed with new features and improvements.
The highly-anticipated OS X 10.12 was officially revealed with a new name, macOS Sierra, at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2016. As we experienced in the move from OS X 10.10 Yosemite to 10.11 El Capitan, Sierra isn't just a compilation of bug fixes and performance updates—it's a full-fledged follow-up to last year's update.
So then, what can you expect from macOS Sierra? Fasten your seatbelts and follow along to find out!
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next version of Apple's desktop operating system
- When is it out? September 20, or right now if you're in the Apple Beta Software Program
- What will it cost? Like the previous several versions, it will be a free update
macOS Sierra release date
When it comes to releasing new software, Apple has gotten into an annual release cycle. To no surprise, we saw the reveal of macOS Sierra in June at the WWDC, the Worldwide Developers Conference, with a private beta issued to developers that same day.
A public beta, released on July 7, 2016, brought Siri, picture-in-picture mode and more to a broad audience of Mac users for the first time in Apple history. Since then, the macOS Sierra public beta received a number of different updates, with the first having been seeded on July 20.
Of course, in order to take advantage of the new Continuity features like Universal Clipboard, you'll also need the iOS 10 beta installed on a compatible iPhone or iPad. Apple Pay, on the other hand, won't be ready for the limelight until macOS Sierra's hard launch on September 20, or right now if you're a part of the Apple Beta Software Program.
Siri finally makes an appearance
The biggest new feature slated for macOS Sierra is the inclusion of the Siri virtual personal assistant. Siri was launched on iOS back in 2011 and, surprisingly, Macs are the last in a long list of platforms that support it.
Just as with the virtual assistant on iPhones, users will be able to simply command Siri and ask it questions with their voice. However, being on the Mac opens up a greater swath of options such as file searching, storage inquiries and even the ability to toggle settings on and off.
At WWDC, SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi showed audiences how Siri could prove beneficial on Mac while remaining distinct from other Apple platforms. The personal assistant software can respond to complex requests such as, "Show the files I worked on last week about the off-site." From there, users can narrow down their search based on tags.
Siri can even access other parts of macOS including applications like iTunes, effectively making her your personal DJ. Moreover, the AI is compatible with Safari as well, allowing it to act on web searches.
And, with Apple having issued as SDK for developers to make their own apps work with Siri, it will be interesting to see where that goes. Maybe we'll see the day when Siri can access your Spotify library, upload files to Google Drive or help you organize spreadsheets in Excel.
A long overdue file system upgrade
Since 1985, Apple has remained complacent with its Hierarchal File System, or HFS. With macOS, however, that all changes thanks to the new APFS, or simply Apple File System. Starting with the company's 2017 MacBook lineup, all of Apple's computers will support the new filesystem on its bootup drive. Unfortunately, the new filesystem is limited to transferring files back and forth on a non-startup drive in its present beta state.
Once Apple's hardware begins to support the new standard, it won't be long before we start to reap the benefits. These include improved flash memory optimization, faster Time Machine backups and improved space allocation letting two APFS-formatted disks act as one combined storage drive. Unfortunately, for legacy Mac users this means HFS support will be ousted in the next 25 years, though it would be a miracle if your computer could still boot up by then.
Continuity gets even better
Continuity between Mac and iOS is a big deal for those engulfed in Apple's hardy ecosystem. Ever since its introduction, users have been able to pick up calls and text conversations from their phones and conveniently pull them up on their Mac computers.
With macOS Sierra, not only will you be able to access your computer from outside devices including your iPhone, but if you need to quickly move something from one device to another, this is made even easier than AirDrop thanks to the Universal Clipboard function. Fortunately, if the public beta is anything to go by, it's as seamless as Command-C, Command-V.
And, while TouchID may come to Mac at some point, a similar feature called Auto Unlock will arrive later this year. As the title implies, this new feature will let you unlock your Mac from other Apple devices merely by being in close proximity to an Apple Watch or iOS device.
What's more, Apple Pay has expanded beyond the restraints of a 4.7-inch screen and onto PCs by way of macOS. Making an effort to compete with e-commerce services like PayPal, a "Pay with Apple Pay" button will soon be integrated in your browser with TouchID on a nearby iPhone or iPad serving as a means of quick authentication.
Better multimedia functionality
Finally we have the Photos app getting an overhaul in iOS 10, and because of the way Continuity works, the incoming features also apply to Mac. These include a new "Memories" tab for a more magazine-like viewing mode as well as an AI that automatically sorts photos either by people or topics.
Likewise, if you're a skilled multi-tasker interested in watching videos while you work, you'll be delighted to know that macOS Sierra's picture-in-picture mode allows users to take their video windows with them even as they rotate between desktop screens.
What's next for macOS?
Though we can assume that most of macOS Sierra's features were revealed at WWDC, there are still a handful of discoveries being made hinting at what we can expect from the operating system's official launch in September.
One such discovery, as reported by 9to5mac, was made by a developer on Twitter who somehow managed to activate a more ubiquitous Dark Mode color scheme on his Mac. Although you can already enable a dark menu bar and Dock in the macOS Sierra public beta, this newly proposed feature would ostensibly extend across a catalog of applications, like Safari.
While it's yet to be confirmed by Apple, the prospect of a true Dark Mode is undeniably an exciting one. Nevertheless, there's bound to be an assortment of rumors, true or otherwise, leading into macOS Sierra's September release.