What’s New In macOS Sierra?

By | June 16, 2016

OS X 10.12 Fuji has a new name, and you are probably already aware of it. At this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple confirmed the ongoing rumors by rebranding the OS X platform to macOS (in line with the naming convention of iOS, tvOS, watchOS). The latest version is called macOS Sierra, and at the conference, Craig Federighi showcased a gamut of new and interesting features that have arrived on the platform. Here are the top 13 new features present in macOS Sierra:

  1. Unlocking desktop with iPhone – Apple has made use of the cutting edge ‘time of flight networking’ technology to implement ‘Auto Unlock’ in macOS Sierra. This feature would allow users to unlock their their computers with their iPhones and/or even their Apple Watch (bypassing the need to type passwords…yay!). The new ‘Auto Unlock’ feature is somewhat similar to Microsoft’s existing facial recognition technology (Windows Hello) – although Apple’s system comes with a lot less frills.
  2. Universal Clipboard – Cross-device ‘Continuity’ is the marquee arrival on the latest iteration of Apple’s desktop OS. Among the several continuity-related features, the Universal Clipboard has been referred to as the most useful by many software analysts and professional app developers. The clipboard allows people to copy stuff (text, images, quotes, etc.) from their iDevices – iPhone or iPad – and paste it in a text field on their updated Mac systems. ‘Intelligent copying’ at its very best!
  3. Picture-in-picture – That’s what Apple is calling the option of playing video files on top of active windows on macOS Sierra-powered machines. The video window will be removable and resizable (the video box is small in size anyway), and it won’t be disruptive in any way for users. The picture-in-picture feature does away with the need for opening new windows or browser tabs to watch videos – another ‘tick’ mark on the user-convenience box.
  4. Apple Pay arrives on the web – General users as well as Apple app developers have every reason to be excited about this one. The Cupertino tech giant obviously has plans to enhance the accessibility and adoption of its NFC-powered contactless payment system – and that’s precisely why OS X 10.12 has been made compatible with Apple Pay transactions. Pay can combine well with the Auto Unlock feature of the version to make payments more prompt and secure. Apart from Apple Watch or iPhone, the custom fingerprint sensor (Touch ID, maybe?) can also be used for authentication purposes. Non-availability of payment terminals was one of the reasons behind the falling interests in Apple Pay recently (as we reported here). Now that it is on the web, transacting at online retailers and stores will become that much easier.
  5. Siri on Mac – Apple is playing the catch-up game here. It’s two biggest rivals already have their respective digital assistants on the web (Chrome has Google Now and Windows 10 has Cortana) – and it was only a matter of time before Tim Cook and his team brought the much-loved Siri to the Mac platform. Right from playlist creation and conversations, to online search capability and drag-and-drop options – Siri on macOS Sierra is going to be more useful than ever before.

Note: A new Siri API has also been released for third-party iOS app developers at WWDC 2016. Those who make apps will now be able to integrate custom software with the virtual assistant’s features.

6. Improvements in iCloud – With the revamped iCloud Drive in the upcoming version of the Apple desktop platform, syncing documents and folders will be an absolute breeze. Users will be able to store files in folders in a Mac system, and view them on another Mac or a paired iPhone. The overall app-centric nature in which iCloud used to work is a thing of the past, thanks to the option of remote access of documents. Documents saved on a device will be mirrored on another device – that’s pretty cool, right?

7. Optimized Storage – Users who keep running out of disk space on the Apple computers will find the all-new ‘Optimized Storage’ feature on macOS Sierra more useful than most. During the Apple WWDC 2016 keynote, Craig Federighi showed that as much as 130 GB of local storage space can be automatically cleared by this new add-on. In general, ‘Optimized Search’ empties the trash can, and clears the browsing history – but more importantly, it moves all ‘old’ documents to the cloud (redownloading them on the system is simple enough, provided there is internet connectivity). What’s more, users will also be prompted to delete used app installers and other such disposable items. Let’s just say that ‘Optimized Storage’ will make running out of space on upgraded Mac systems very tough!

8. Tabs, reimagined – What are tabs for? If your answer is ‘for browsing the web only’, you have a bit of catching up to do. With Sierra, Apple has made tabs usable for any application that has multiple windows. Apple app developers can use this to come up with larger and more useful desktop apps. For instance, if someone is working on, say, 5 spreadsheets at the same time – all the spreadsheets will be viewable under a single tab (no more rummaging through multiple tabs and windows). The usability of both pre-built as well as third-party apps will be helped by this feature.

Note: iPhone app developers have received a new Tabs API, which they can use to create seamless multi-tab applications.

9. Memories on the Photos app – The built-in Photos app has received a rejig in macOS Sierra. Users will now be able to make beautiful picture montages – which, in essence, means the creation of curated collections of images for special occasions (a birthday or an anniversary, for example). Images can also be displayed on a world map with the help of the Places feature, while People will allow users to group together pictures on the basis of the individuals in them. The location recognition system on the revamped Photos app is smart too.

10. ‘New’ Messages app – iMessages does its job, but many feel that it is just a tad too plain. There have been reports in many online app development forums and portals about how Apple is planning to make the Messages app on Mac more lively – and sure enough, there were mentions about this at the WWDC. Mostly, the changes would reflect the upgrades that have been made in iOS 10. This means more emojis, predictive typing (QuickType) and maybe even custom replies.

11. Tweaks to Gatekeeper – Since its arrival in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, the Gatekeeper security tool had remained pretty much unchanged till now. On macOS Sierra though, there will be at least two noteworthy changes. For starters, signed apps will no longer be launched directly from the Applications folder (although users will not realize this), but from another location in the hard drive. This, in turn, would minimize the threats of potential app attacks. Perhaps more importantly, people will be able to download only signed apps from the Mac App Store (disabling Gatekeeper and using unsigned apps is still possible, but the process is a lot more complicated). Clearly, Apple wants users to keep Gatekeeper enabled on macOS Sierra at all times.

12. iTunes will have updated Apple Music – Contrary to the general expectations of Apple software and mobile app development experts, WWDC 2016 did not witness a design overhaul update of iTunes. Apple Music, however, has got a makeover – and all the changes in the Music app of iOS 10 should be present on the upcoming macOS platform as well. According to reports, the updated Apple Music service has the potential to emerge as a worthy challenger of Spotify.

13. Compatibility – The backward compatibility of macOS Sierra is pretty much impressive. All iMac-s and Macbook Pro systems launched in 2009 or later will receive the update, as will all the 2010-and-later Mac Pro, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. There is a bit of confusion though – since some of the models left out by Apple actually have advanced hardware configuration (for the requirements of macOS Sierra). Also, on Mac systems released prior to 2012, the Metal Graphics framework will not be available.

The first public beta of macOS Sierra will be released by Apple in July, with the final release being scheduled at the annual fall event. Developer preview (beta 1) of the new operating system has already been seeded at the WWDC event. Over the next couple of months, we will get a clearer idea about the other new features in the rebranded Apple desktop OS – which seems powerful enough to notch up good early adoption rates.