A First Look At Apple's macOS Sierra

As along with past years, Apple's WWDC 2016 keynote showcased the upcoming updates to Apple's operating systems and developer tools. It's hard to believe that iOS is now on its tenth major version, which put Apple in an interesting position since their desktop operating system has actually been called OS X for numerous years now. Given that Apple's other operating systems are named iOS, watchOS, and tvOS, the name OS X has actually become a bit of an outlier. This year's release comes along with a brand-new name in the typical manner that OS X releases each had a specific name, however additionally a brand-new name for the operating system itself. The 2016 version of Apple's operating system for Macs is named macOS Sierra.

While macOS adopts a brand-new name, it retains the existing versioning system, along with macOS Sierra being version 10.12. This makes sense when you think about the progression from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, which then treated each release as a point update on top of ten and only dropped the Mac in the name in 2012. This kind of versioning is somewhat awkward, and will certainly be more so when it gets to the point where the OS is version 10.20. It will certainly be interesting to see if the next truly large update to macOS brings it to major version eleven, and it could be that Apple plans to keep it in sync along with iOS along with a brand-new major version number each year, however only time will certainly tell.

Like all updates to macOS, Sierra comes along with a number of brand-new features. along with the bulk of Apple's device sales being mobile devices, there have actually been a number of features in recent versions of macOS that job to leverage how devices running macOS, iOS, and watchOS can job together. Having cloud sync across devices is one thing, however building and properly executing Apple's continuity features really requires control over the hardware and software stacks across all devices. Unfortunately it's difficult to test these features during Apple's beta period, however that just gives Apple's users things to look forward to later in the year.

More important than brand-new features is whether or not a Mac can even be upgraded to macOS Sierra from OS X El Capitan. Apple has actually announced the compatibility list for Sierra, and there are some older Macs that have actually dropped off the list. I've put with each other a chart comparing the compatibility of Macs along with El Leader and compatibility along with Sierra.
OS X El CapitanmacOS Sierra
MacBook ProMid 2007 and newer2010 and newer
MacBook AirLate 2008 and newer2010 and newer
Old MacBookLate 2008 aluminum and newerLate 2009 and newer
New MacBook2015 and newer
iMacMid 2007 and newerLate 2009 and newer
Mac MiniEarly 2009 and newer2010 and newer
Mac ProEarly 2008 and newer2010 and newer

As you can see, it looks like Apple has actually put the cutoff point right around the start of this decade. The old MacBook and iMac that released in late 2009 make the cut, however everything else has actually to be a model from 2010. The uniformity of the cutoff makes it fairly likely that this was a somewhat arbitary decision, even though it's difficult to say exactly how numerous older Macs could have actually been put on the list because Apple offers numerous SKUs and CTO options that could make one version of an older Mac fast enough and one more from the same line too slow. In any case, the easy rule along with Sierra is that if your Mac is from before 2010 it's probably not supported, and if you're in that group you're probably overdue for an upgrade anyway.

With Apple having just released their public beta of macOS Sierra, it's worth going over the major features that are currently available for users to try before the OS is officially launched later this year. Features like Auto Unlock and Apple Pay on the web can't really be shown right now, however it is possible to show other features that job between iOS and macOS devices like the additions to Messages and Photos. While I believe the smaller and more subtle features in software updates can be some of the most useful, It's probably ideal to start off along with the biggest feature in Sierra, which is Siri coming to the Mac.

It may not seem like it, however Siri was introduced almost five years ago along with the iPhone 4s and iOS 5. Since that time it has actually been made available across all of Apple's iOS devices, as well as watchOS and tvOS, however it never made its means to exactly what was then called OS X despite the yearly rumor that it would certainly do so. along with the introduction of macOS Sierra, Siri has actually finally been introduced for Apple's desktops and laptops, which means that it's now available across Apple's entire product line.

Why Siri took so long to come to the Mac is a question that probably doesn't have actually a single simple answer. I believe that part of it simply has actually to due along with Apple's increasing focus on iOS leaving the Mac as a lower priority platform for improvements. However, it's additionally reasonable to assume that making Siri truly useful within the macOS environment called for additional job on top of simply bringing it over from iOS. along with an operating system like macOS there's a greater opportunity to use Siri for finding files and performing actions that don't really have actually a counterpart on iOS, which means that Siri's implementation becomes much more complex and requires the ability to respond to a much wider variety of situations and commands than exactly what can be done on an iPhone.
Like Siri on iOS, you can make queries that pull post from the net or from local content like your calendar. Above you can see the often used example of an image query from the web as well as a calendar query to see exactly what my meeting schedule looked like the next day. I've found this to be somewhat hit and miss out on depending on exactly what you search for. For example, Apple was able to correctly pull an upcoming flight from my emails and automatically add it to my calendar, yet when I asked Siri when my upcoming flight to Toronto was she just responded by searching the web for flights to Toronto.

Web content pulled in through Siri is interesting on the Mac because you can actually interact along with it and move things from Siri's results into other applications. For example, if you make a query where the result is a group of images you can actually copy and paste or save those images without having to initial open them in a web browser.
In my experience Siri has actually troubles understanding context and semantics. For example, you can see that my test laptop was configured for the US region so it's using some sort of incomprehensible values for the temperature. When I asked Siri to "get" me the results in celsius, the query failed because Siri didn't understand exactly what I meant. When I asked Siri to "give" me the results in celsius, the query was understood. The problem here is that as a user, I'm not really distinguishing between Siri getting me something, and Siri giving me something. Within this context, the meanings were basically the same, however Siri was unable to properly comprehend this. As far as post retrieval goes, until you can truly speak to Siri in natural language without having to mind exactly what phrasing you use it's always going to have actually more friction than simply asking a search engine for the same information.
One of the features that distinguishes Siri on macOS from the iOS version is the integration along with the file system. You can use Siri to query files no matter where you've stored them, while on iOS there's not really an accessible file system and you can't use Siri to search for documents. Above you can see how I looked for a note that I developed a couple of days prior.
In situations like the one above you may want to keep track of the post Siri gave you for referencing at a later date. To do this Apple provides the plus button on the top right corner of each bubble of post that Siri presents, which allows you to pin the result right into the Today View. I can see situations where this would certainly be useful, however since this test laptop isn't something I use for development I haven't yet come across that sort of situation in the real world.
When Apple demonstrated Siri for macOS at WWDC they showed how it can be used to search for files, and how Siri understands additional commands based on the context of previous ones. There was an example of Siri searching for files, and then narrowing it down based on a pretty specific query involving when the files were last edited, exactly what their content was about, that they were sent by, and how they were tagged. If Siri could reliably perform such actions it would certainly undoubtedly be helpful in finding specific files without having to look through your disk along with Finder. Unfortunately, I haven't had near as much luck along with complex commands as Apple did in their demo. Above you can see me searching for the files that I modified on a given day, and Siri is not successful in narrowing it down to only the Swift files. If Siri can actually query a file based on a complex list of requirements relating to its metadata, it must be able to do something as basic as narrow down results based on the file type.

You can additionally see in the left image above that Siri for macOS can mangle the voice transcription fairly badly. This has actually been a recurring issue for me on the 13" MacBook Pro that I've been testing on, and I never have actually this numerous troubles along with Siri on Apple's mobile devices. I'm hoping that this isn't due to the fact that the microphones on Macs haven't been designed and positioned along with Siri in mind, however I can't rule that out as a chance either so I'll have actually to see if things improve as macOS moves closer to release.

Right now Siri feels pretty beta on macOS, however given that macOS is a beta in itself that's not really unexpected. I believe Apple has actually some job to do along with the system integration, and it's actually not clear to me how much happens on the back end and front end respectively so it's hard to say whether Siri is in a good position to be properly functioning by the time macOS Sierra goes live in the fall. It is clear that Apple is adding features as the beta progresses, along with an example being the addition of Siri Search for the Photos app in the second developer beta. Right now I can say that Siri is here, and Apple appears to be on their means to making it job as advertised, however I'll reserve any final judgements for when Sierra sees its steady release.

Sometimes the very best features in a software update are the small additions that end up having a large impact on how you use a device. I believe the inclusion of universal tabs on macOS is a fantastic example of this. Everyone that has actually used a computer must be familar along with tabs, as they're a common style of interface for applications that job along with numerous pages or documents that follow the same sort of format. Excel is a fantastic example of a tabbed application that works along with numerous documents of the same type, while web browsers are an example of applications that use tabs to avoid creating a fantastic number of windows that would certainly all have actually the same interface however along with a different internal content pane.
While tabs are surely useful, there are numerous applications that allow you to open multiple windows however do not allow you to organize those windows as tabs. along with macOS Sierra Apple has actually implemented a system-level tab manager that works across essentially all applications. The only requirement is really that the application uses macOS's standard window chrome so the tab bar can be easily integrated into the application.
As you can see, the implementation fits in very well alongside apps that already supported tabs such as Safari and Finder. A rule of thumb is that if an application supports multiple windows, it will certainly now support tabs under macOS Sierra. For applications that job like a browser such as Safari and Apple Maps, using the standard cmd+t shortcut will certainly develop a brand-new tab. For other apps like pages where that shortcut has actually likely been taken, cmd+opt+n opens a brand-new tab, which complements the cmd+n shortcut to open a brand-new window. When in full screen mode cmd+n is overridden to develop a brand-new tab, as you can't open a brand-new window in full screen.

I've had some troubles along with the cmd+opt+n shortcut not working correctly in applications like Pages, which is likely due to Sierra's state as a pretty early beta. I was able to show tabs working in Pages by using the command in the View menu to make the tab bar render and hitting the button to open a brand-new tab, and the troubles along with the implementation will certainly hopefully be sorted out by the time Sierra comes into its public beta phase.

Picture in Picture or PiP mode is available on iPads as of iOS 9. It allows an application that displays videos to continue playing the video in a floating window even after the user has actually left the application and gone to one more app or the estate screen. On the iPad the usefulness of this feature cannot be overstated, as it allows you to continue watching a video while additionally interacting along with two completely different applications in split-screen mode. along with macOS Sierra PiP is now available as well, and it works in the same manner as it does on iOS.
Since macOS has actually windows, Picture in Picture isn't as necessary as it is on the iPad where applications generally take up the entire screen. For example, it's helpful that an iOS video application implements PiP so you can keep watching even if you have actually to switch to one more app, however on macOS that doesn't really matter because your video app has actually its own window anyway. Where it does come in handy is popping videos from Safari and displaying them in a floating window while you use other applications or browse other websites.

Like the iPad, the PiP window on macOS snaps itself to one of the four corners of the display and sits atop other applications so it cannot be obstructed. It can be resized to a degree, along with the max size being about one quarter of the screen on this 13" MacBook Pro. from the box it works along with any website that uses the standard Safari HTML5 video player. Unfortunately, sites like YouTube that use their own custom user have actually to integrate the functionality themselves, however Apple has actually noted that ESPN and Vimeo have actually actually done the job to implement this already and you can see an example of that above. iTunes will certainly support PiP when Sierra is officially released, however for now there aren't really any desktop applications that it can be used with, even though as I said before, PiP isn't as necessary for video gamers on macOS as it is on iOS.

I don't believe anyone would certainly say that the move to SSDs in laptops was a step backward, however the transition meant computers that once included a 500GB or 1TB hard drive in the base model now come along with a 128GB or perhaps a 256GB SSD. Meanwhile, the amount of data that users keep has actually continually increased as they take more photos, record more videos, and listen to more music. Streaming content has actually alleviated storage tension to some extent, however in the end you simply have actually much less local storage to job along with nowadays than in the past.

macOS Sierra brings some brand-new features to suggestions users reduce storage pressure. Some of this has actually to do along with leveraging the cloud for file storage, while other parts are designed to suggestions along with cleaning up things on a Mac that can be removed. It's no secret that computers running Windows and macOS both end up accumulating files that the user doesn't want and often doesn't even know exist. Unfortunately, it has actually never been easy to track all of these files down, which opened up a market for computer cleaner software that is sometimes much less than reputable. In macOS Sierra there's now a central area for tracking exactly what is taking up a lot of space on your Mac, along along with controls and suggestions on how to free up space.
When you open the brand-new storage management panel in Sierra you'll initial see the screen that shows recommendations. Most of these are fairly standard, such as setting the trash to automatically empty itself, removing old mail attachments and iTunes movies, and using optimized photos instead of storing the original full resolution images on your device. There's additionally an option to reduce clutter by removing old documents stored on the Mac, which opens up a screen that additionally shows you some of the largest files on your Mac, which can be a fantastic means to clear out the largest files that you don't need anymore. In fact, on my test device this feature found several temporary files related to the beta that were over a gigabyte in size each, and I undoubtedly wouldn't have actually found them by just looking through Finder.
Among all the options to suggestions reduce storage pressure, there's one that stands out. The brand-new Store in iCloud feature claims to store all files and photos in iCloud and keeps only recently utilized files on your local drive. I'm not sure if "all files" is a bit of an exaggeration, however the list of things that it will certainly move to the cloud is very comprehensive, and it includes files like unused fonts, language packs, unused Mac App Store apps, and numerous other things that you would certainly never have actually time to clean off your computer even if you never use them. Essential of all is that this does not count versus your iCloud storage. The justification for this is likely that numerous of these things are actually parts of macOS that can be downloaded on demand, and even in the case of your own files it's not as if they're being synced across your devices so it's not using iCloud in the same means that file syncing does. This means that users that have actually kept the standard 5GB storage allotment don't need to worry about all the files from their computer suddenly filling up their iCloud Drive.
As somebody that uses a 256GB iMac for iOS development, the brand-new Store in iCloud feature in macOS Sierra interests me greatly. Despite the fact that I keep my media stored on a NAS, there are still times where there's storage tension just due to files I'm currently working on and media that I've downloaded locally without having moved it to the NAS yet. At WWDC Apple stated that turning on all the storage optimization options in Sierra brought a 250GB Mac along with 20GB free to 150GB free. While I doubt this is typical, and it surely wasn't just due to moving data to iCloud, even a few extra gigabytes here and there would certainly go a long means to suggestions Mac users along with smaller SSDs.
A feature separate from optimized storage is iCloud Desktop and Documents. This feature does utilize your iCloud storage, however it additionally provides a pretty useful means of syncing files across all your macOS and iOS devices. along with this feature enabled all files and folders that are within the Desktop and Documents folders on your Macs will certainly be synced across iCloud. This means that every Mac you use will certainly have actually the same desktop, and all of your documents. On iOS these can be accessed via the iCloud Drive app, and assuming the format is something that can be handled by a system-level or third-party iOS app you'll be able to open it there as well.
One apparent oversight along with iCloud desktop and document syncing is the ability to have actually a limit on the size of files that will certainly sync. For example, I don't want large video files on my laptop that end up in documents or on the desktop to then be uploaded to iCloud and downloaded to my other Macs. My desktop computers don't store media locally at all because it's all streamed from a NAS, and the laptop only has actually local media content so it can be accessible when I'm not at home. It would certainly be helpful if Apple provided mechanisms to exclude certain files or folders within the desktop and documents folders from iCloud syncing, as well as some setting that stopped files above a certain size from syncing to iCloud unless you explicitly tell it to.
I'm sure somebody within Apple is already aware that this feature needs some configurable options, and by the time macOS Sierra releases later this year I'm sure there will certainly be a solution in place. Beyond that there's not a whole lot else to say about the feature. I've been in a number of situations where I wished I could get at a file on the desktop of my estate computer from my job computer, however without SSH or VNC set up there was no means to do so. Having things sync to the cloud on their own means that's never something you have actually to worry about again, and sometimes the very best features are the ones that just Offer you a bit of peace of mind.
The Photos application for OS X was unveiled alongside OS X Yosemite, however while Yosemite launched in the second half of 2014 it wasn't until mid-2015 that the Photos app was officially released. Photos provided a fantastic means to organize all the photos that users take on their iOS devices, and integration along with iCloud and the brand-new iCloud Photo Library was clearly something kept in mind during the development process, while Apple's previous attempt to integrate iCloud into iPhoto using Photo Stream felt like a tacked on feature.
While Photos and iCloud Photo Library offer a simple means to make photos accessible across all Apple devices, they haven't done much to suggestions along with organizing those photos. Apart from the most basic categorization like automatic albums for panoramas, selfies, burst photos, etc, the only automatic detection based on the content of a photo is the Faces album which tries, not always successfully, to generate an album containing photos where people's faces are visible. Around the same time, Google launched Google Photos, which employs machine learning to do image analysis which enables categorization and search on sets of photos based on the contents of the photos themselves.
With Photos for macOS Sierra and iOS Apple is now employing machine learning as well. Much like Google Photos, you can now search for photos based on the content within them, and the app will certainly now generate groupings of photos that are related. The search generally works as expected, even though there are limitations to exactly what sort of objects the system has actually been trained to recognize. The most interesting situation I found was the one above, where it correctly distinguished between a normal cake and a birthday cake and presented two separate search results where the birthday cake result had only the cake images where the happy birthday text writting in icing was visible.
For photo organization there's a brand-new feature called Memories. These are essentially groupings of photos that are related based on context and metadata. At this point the feature has actually only generated one memory for me, however I have actually a number of images from trips and events in my iCloud Photo Library and I'm not sure why it hasn't generated one for those as well. The memory it did generate was of my trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland, and it grouped the photos taken at a park there by me and a friend of mine.
Apple additionally has actually a brand-new editing option called Brilliance. This setting essentially works to improve the exposure of an image selectively by brightening darker areas however leaving properly exposed areas as they are. For instance, it may lighten a harsh shadow significantly while only slightly adjusting the well-lit area. This slider can be believed of as one that automatically applies the other adjustments that are available individually in order to achieve a certain result. I don't do any photo editing in the macOS or iOS Photos apps, however I suppose that the ultimate goal along with consumer photo editing has actually been making a single-action system for fixing troubles along with images, along with Brilliance being like a more fine-grained version of one click auto adjustment features.
At WWDC there were a number of brand-new features shown for the Messages application on iOS that will certainly be coming in iOS 10. Given that iMessage exists on both iOS and macOS, it makes sense that support for these features is coming to Sierra as well. The situation isn't as simple as one might think, as while you can receive messages using all the brand-new features on a Mac, you can't send messages that make use of features provided by iMessage apps, and you can't use some of the features that were designed for the multi-touch interface of iOS.
The core interface of Messages is fairly much unchanged. Right now Apple has actually changed the default contact avatar, however these kinds of changes often modification multiple times over the course of the iOS and macOS beta cycle. In the screenshot above you can see Apple's brand-new 3x emoji. When sending emoji alongside text the message renders at its typical size, so this just applies to messages that only have actually emoji in them. The display of messages that have actually links is additionally much better. Previously they simply displayed the link as text, which felt really antiquated compared to apps like Skype and Hangouts that Offer you a preview, and now iMessage does the same.
Messages for macOS includes support for the brand-new message effects that will certainly be coming in iOS 10. There are effects to make messages that scale up in size to emphasize loudness, or come in along with the text obscured until you wipe the effect away to reveal the text. You can receive these messages on macOS, however you cannot apply them to the messages that you send.
The one feature that does make its means to macOS is support for placing a reaction on a message. By long clicking on a message you open a menu that has actually a number of responses. Applying one of these to a message applies an icon on the corner of the message corresponding to the reaction, and options like the humor reaction offer a good means to cut down on the number of messages that simply say "lol".
I do feel that Apple could have actually found a means to implement more of the brand-new iMessage features in the macOS Messages app. For example, you could implement message effects on macOS along with a simple tooltip menu or a popover, even if the interface still does job much better within the multitouch interface of iOS. On the other hand, when I send messages on macOS I tend to just type it in and hit enter to send, and I probably wouldn't end up using the message effects as much as on iOS due to the greater friction in the interface. I can see how the decision may have actually come down to weighing the balance between the engineering effort called for and how well it would certainly actually job on a desktop or laptop.
By this point I've covered numerous of the tentpole features of macOS Sierra. Right now it's a bit difficult to test some of the other features announced at WWDC that relate to continuity between macOS, iOS, and watchOS due to the fact that all these platforms are in beta and, in the case of watchOS, a beta that you can't return from. Unfortunately, I feel that those features end up being the most interesting ones, because they're only made possible by Apple controlling the software and hardware stack across all their devices.
macOS Sierra has several tentpole features, along with some being more subtle than others. Siri is the big feature for this release, however in my experience so far it surely hasn't been the best. As the beta cycle moves onward it will certainly be interesting to see how Siri improves. The improvements to Photos and iMessage are additionally significant, and for Photos it brings the service closer to parity along with Google Photos. I believe Apple could have actually tried harder along with Messages, as you basically can't use any of the brand-new features and just have actually support for receiving them.
The features that I actually found most useful in Sierra are the subtle ones that improve existing functionality or add brand-new features that job on their own in the background. Leveraging iCloud to offer local desktop and document syncing is exactly the kind of feature Apple must be building now that they have actually a usable cloud service and millions of users using millions of devices. Providing a means to have actually the system handle the transfer of older and lesser used files to iCloud will certainly do a lot to alleviate storage tension on Macs along with 128GB and 256GB SSDs as well, which I would certainly wager makes up a substantial portion of Macs out there given exactly what the starting storage tiers are.
I believe Apple choosing the name Sierra says a lot about this release. While OS X has actually been rebranded as macOS, Sierra is still an evolution of El Capitan, which was an evolution of the much larger overhaul that came along with OS X Yosemite. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however I do wonder why certain parts of macOS like Finder and iTunes remain mostly unchanged along with each release. It's possible that Apple doesn't feel there's anything that should be fixed there, and it's additionally possible that it's simply a large undertaking that just isn't ready. In any case, the trend is clearly toward making refinements to the existing system through brand-new features like tab support in all multi-window apps, along along with continuity features like Apple Pay and Auto Unlock on macOS that leverage the ability of Apple's numerous products to job together.
In the end, macOS Sierra appears to be a good improvement on OS X El Capitan. Users will certainly feel right at estate after they upgrade, and they'll be greeted along with brand-new features and small tweaks throughout the system that suggestions make the experience better. If you've bought into Apple's device ecosystem you additionally get some features that don't really have actually any equivalent within Microsoft's or Google's device ecosystem, however that additionally means if you aren't fully within Apple's ecosystem you're missing out on a good chunk of Sierra's features. Sierra itself is fairly rough around the edges at this point, however it's available now as an open beta for users that want to want to install it and check out the brand-new features for themselves.

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