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macOS: Not just powering Macs but bringing them to life

33 years of evolution has delivered an operating system that users swear by. Find out what makes it special.

Apple’s line of personal computers – Macintosh – is powered by Apple’s in-house operating system since 1984. Dubbed as the “classic” Mac OS back then, the operating system has gone through a series of changes to its features as well as the name. Starting from 2001, Apple changed Mac OS to Mac OS X whose versions were named after big cats. The “X” in the name stands for “ten” and also showcases its UNIX lineage.

From 2013, the naming trend changed to landmarks in California instead of big cats. Adopting the nomenclature that they use for their other operating systems (iOS, watchOS, and tvOS), the OS X versions starting from 2016 are called “macOS”. The latest publicly available version of macOS is macOS 10.12 dubbed as Sierra. The next version macOS 10.13 slated to be called High Sierra is also announced but will be publicly available in Fall 2017.

macOS

Features

macOS packs a plethora of features to enhance your Mac experience. Some of these features are exclusive to Mac while others share similarities with features in the larger Apple ecosystem. Apple currently seems to be in the process of integrating a lot of features from its other operating systems. One such addition was the introduction of “Siri” to Mac.

Siri

Apple introduced Siri in the year 2011 in its iOS release. Since then, the personal voice assistant has undergone massive improvement and has been a major part of Apple’s ecosystem now. While iOS, tvOS, and watchOS showcased Siri, it hadn’t made its way to macOS. Apple introduced this personal voice assistant to macOS last year. Siri on Mac is not as simple as the phone counterpart.

It is capable of executing tasks involving more complexity such as finding a file and finding documents by tags. For example, “Find me all the files that I opened last week”. Siri can do a web search and the content it finds can be dragged into your working document right away. This leads you to improved productivity.

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Siri returns all the files that you modified last week

In addition to this, Siri results can be pinned to the Today section of the Notification Center. For example, if you ask Siri for the score of a particular game and then pin it to the Notification Center, you can see the updated scores right there every time you open the Notification Center, just like widgets.

Optimised storage

There’s an optimiser provided in the macOS that optimises your storage space. It keeps a track on the files that you use frequently and based on that decides whether to keep it on the computer or on the iCloud drive.

It scans and deletes used app installers, duplicate downloads, caches, logs, etc. Similarly, the files that are uploaded to iCloud include ePub books that you have read, old screenshots, iTunes U courses that you have completed, full-resolution photos, unused App Store apps, old documents, unused fonts, etc.

Some files are permanently deleted. These include Apple Music caches, inactive iTunes downloads, cached Map tiles, trash items after 30 days, IPSW files from iTunes, inactive App Store downloads, old iPhone backup, etc.

Revamped Photos app

The Photos app recently received a massive overhaul and brings some of the coolest features from iOS to macOS. The Photos app now recognises faces in the photos, and of course you can even add names to these faces. Using this, your images are properly organised into a “People” album. It can also recognise over 4000 different items such as sunsets, beaches, cakes, etc.

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As you zoom photos will be categorised by months, weeks, days

It also includes Memories tab where you’ll find photos and videos that contextually go together, and a map to geotag your photos. You can quickly create video montages of your photos from specific trips using automatic music, text, and transitions. Built-in music based on the moods can be used or you may choose your own music.

Just like iOS, you get memory categories like Recent events, Last Week, Last Weekend, etc. Additionally, you can edit Live Photos using filters and other tools.

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Photos app will automatically sort the photos and create albums

Picture-in-picture mode for Safari

There’s an all-new picture in picture mode for Safari that lets you shrink the video player in your browser and place it at any corner of your screen. With this feature, you’ll be able to keep working while watching your favourite videos.

APFS file system

macOS High Sierra, which is coming this fall brings an entirely new file system to Mac. Called as APFS (Apple File System), it replaces the 20 years old HFS+ file system. All the future versions of macOS will be running APFS. It is faster and more stable than HFS+. It is built on a 64-bit architecture, built-in encryption, and crash-safe protection.

Cross site tracking prevention

If you are browsing for any product on an e-commerce site, that product makes its way as an advertisement to Facebook or other websites that you visit. To solve this problem, Safari on the newest macOS High Sierra comes with intelligent cross site tracking prevention. It uses Machine Learning algorithms to stop trackers behind the ads. It is not an ad-blocker and you’ll keep on seeing advertisements, but not related to the product you recently browsed.

VR Support

High Sierra brings out of the box support for VR, namely SteamVR with support for HTC Vive. All this time Mac lacked the necessary power to run VR, hence, popular VR devices didn’t support Mac. With the Metal 2 technology which aims at giving a graphical performance boost, Mac might now be compatible with the VR headsets.

Tabs Interface

Tabbed browsing has always been one of the neatest features of all time. Taking it further, Apple has introduced tabs interface to almost any app and has also provided third-party developer support. In Sierra, Apple adds tabs to Pages, Mail, TextEdit, Maps, etc.

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Hit Command + T to open new tab

In the Maps app, you can browse multiple locations without losing your place. Third-party apps such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop are also supporting tabs out of the box.

How macOS ties into Apple’s ecosystem

Earlier, Mac OS was an independent operating system in Apple’s ecosystem and shared no ties with Apple’s other operating systems. However, with ever increasing Mac, iOS, and Apple Watch users that’s no more the case. macOS is sharing strong ties with iOS, watchOS, and tvOS by sharing features with them.

Auto unlock using Apple Watch

Starting from macOS Sierra, your Mac can be unlocked automatically if you are wearing an Apple Watch. Unfortunately, only Mac models after 2013 support this feature. To make it work, your Apple watch needs to be running watchOS 3. You should also enable two-factor authentication (not two-step verification). Additionally, both the devices should be signed in to same iCloud account.

First, you need to enable a passcode on your Apple Watch. Wear your watch and make sure it’s unlocked for Mac to detect it. You then need to enable “Allow Apple Watch to unlock your Mac” under the Security & Privacy tab in the System Preferences on your Mac. As long as the Watch is in close proximity to the Mac, it will unlock itself.

According to Apple in their keynote, in order to prevent someone from forwarding Bluetooth signal from the Watch using a Bluetooth listener when you are away from the Mac, your Mac will calculate the time taken for the signal from Watch to Mac and back.

Universal Clipboard

Universal Clipboard is a single clipboard across your iPhone, iPad and Mac. If you copy a text or photo on your Mac and want to share it to your iPhone, you can straightway paste it on your iPhone. However, unlike desktop clipboard, the contents of this clipboard are not retained for long. Whatever you copy is retained for two minutes only. Also, this feature works in peer-to-peer fashion, that means nothing is stored on Apple servers.

To make this Universal Clipboard work you need to sign in to the same iCloud account on all your devices, turn on Bluetooth and WiFi. Just like auto unlock, Universal Clipboard keeps a track of the distance between the devices based on the time taken for the signal from the device to Mac. It won’t work if two devices are in different rooms.

iCloud Drive

Whatever you save on the desktop can be uploaded to iCloud drive, either manually or automatically. These files can be made available on your iPhone or iPad using the iCloud Drive app.

Apple Pay on Mac

Apple Pay is now available on the web. You can initiate secure transactions right from your Mac without entering any passcodes or card credentials. This handy feature is routed through your iPhone and only works if you have set up Apple Pay on it.

While performing the checkout, you can use “Pay with Apple Pay” option. If you have MacBook with Touch ID then straightway place your finger to make the payment, else it will lighten up your iPhone and more authentication in the form of Touch ID should be done on the phone. This will automatically complete the payment for you. However, not every e-commerce website supports Apple Pay.

Continuity

Since OS X Yosemite Apple offers call relay feature that lets you place or receive calls on your iPhone using Mac. This is a handy feature for all of us who often keep our phones unattended while working on our computers.

To make this feature work, you need to connect your Mac and iPhone to the same WiFi network. In addition to this, both the devices should be logged in to same iCloud account. With these settings turned on, you have to enable “Calls from iPhone” in the FaceTime preferences on your Mac. Similarly, on your iPhone, you need to enable “Allow calls on other devices” under the Phone tab in the Settings app.

Handoff

Handoff is another cool feature that lets you start something on one device and finish it on another. In simpler terms, if you are browsing a web page on your Mac and have to leave your keyboard, you can continue browsing the page from the exact same location on your iPhone or iPad. This works will a variety of apps such as Mail, Safari, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, etc.

macOSCheck “Allow Handoff between Mac and your iCloud devices”

To make Handoff work, you need a Mac that supports Bluetooth LE, you should be logged into the same iCloud account on your Mac and your iPhone or iPad. Additionally, both the devices should be connected to same WiFi network. Once these requirements are satisfied, you can enable Handoff from General tab in the System Preferences on your Mac.

Is there anything macOS could do better?

Although macOS is a rich and feature-packed operating system, it does have some tradeoffs. One crib is that Apple is systematically eliminating old Mac hardware from the latest updates.

Starting from macOS Sierra, Apple has eliminated the support for Mac hardware before 2009. So if you are using the latest Apple hardware you can make the most of these features. Most of the features work well with all the Mac models running Sierra, however, some features tied to the Apple ecosystem might need additional hardware. For instance, auto unlock using Apple Watch will only work with Mac models introduced after 2013. Similarly, for the Universal Clipboard to work, you need post 2012 Mac.

Similarly paying using Apple Pay on Mac needs either the latest MacBook Pro with Touch ID or a Mac model introduced after 2012 along with Apple Pay enabled iPhone.

To optimise storage, macOS will automatically upload files to iCloud. However, the free space available on the iCloud is 5GB and will be used up quickly. You’ll need to buy additional storage for the feature to work flawlessly.


This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Fast Track which is a part of the Digit magazine package. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Varad Choudhari

Varad Choudhari