Apple has given us a preview of macOS High Sierra, the latest iteration of its Mac and MacBook operating system, at WWDC in California. The updated software, which will launch to the public in the autumn, brings new core technologies, opportunities for developers looking to jump onto the VR bandwagon, and refinements to apps such as Safari, Photos and Mail.
Sierra brought Siri, Apple Pay and more to the Mac, so what’s new now? Apple says High Sierra is all about ‘deep technologies’, making us think that this update to the Mac OS is akin to Mac OS X Mountain Lion and Mac OS X Snow Leopard.
These historic OS updates built on the OS changes introduced in the previous year's versions (Lion/Leopard), and focused more on the underlying technologies, with fewer changes to the outside. Keeping Sierra as part of the name certainly seems to indicate this.
When is macOS High Sierra coming out?
The final version of macOS High Sierra won't be available until the autumn - we expect it to pop up on the Mac App Store around 19 September.
macOS High Sierra beta
However, developers can get their hands on a beta of High Sierra from developer.apple.com and non-developers who sign up to Apple's public beta program will be able to get a copy of the public beta from beta.apple.com from late June.
Apple released the latest beta, beta 4, to developers on 19 June 2017 with no noticeable changes compared to other recent betas.
If you want to decide whether or not the upgrade is worth it, check out our Sierra vs High Sierra comparison review.
What are the new macOS High Sierra features?
MacOS High Sierra brings changes with it that you might be unaware of because they are all happening 'under the hood'.
These changes to the core technologies include:
- A new Apple File System that will change the way the Mac stores your data, as well as make copying files faster.
- Improvements that will enhance 4K video playback (and reduce the space taken up by those videos).
- The graphics capabilities will be improved, bringing VR to supported Macs.
In addition, those who want to see some changes to the apps they use day to day will be pleased to see updates to:
We'll take a closer look at all of these changes below.
New features in Safari will help you personalise your experience when surfing the web. You can refine your settings for particular websites - making the text bigger for example on one site, or adjusting your location settings for another.
Apple is determined to make surfing the web a more pleasant experience, much to the dismay of advertisers as a result there will be no more auto-playing videos and no more cookies tracking your surfing habits and aiding advertisers who want to target ads to your interests.
Apple sells this as Intelligent Tracking Prevention which identifies trackers and keeps your browsing history between you and your internet provider rather than third parties.
As a final nail in the advertiser's coffin, Apple will make all pages that support Safari Reader appear thus in your browser - with ads stripped out.
The Photos app for Mac is gaining some new organisation tools including an always-on side bar (like we had in iPhoto). This new side bar will make it easier to find things, or at least that's Apple's aim.
There will be a redesigned Edit view along with new editing tools including Curves for fine-tuning and Selective Color for making adjustments within a defined colour range. You'll also find new professionally inspired filters.
Speaking of editing, Live Photos will gain a new Loop effect, so you can create a looping video, as well as a Bounce effect, which will play the action forward and backward.
There's also a Long Exposure effect coming which will use Live Photos to blur water or extend light trails for a slow-shutterspeed-like effect.
Your People Album will gets larger thumbnails and more accurate grouping of the 'Faces' (and this will stay in sync across all your devices if you use iCloud Photo Library.
Apple's also introducing lots of new Memories categories — including pets, babies, outdoor activities, performances, weddings, birthdays and sporting events, and you'll be able to easily filter photo collections by your favourite criteria.
Other handy changes in Photos include:
- Viewing past imports in chronological order
- The ability to do various functions right from the toolbar, such as rotate and favourite batches of images
- The selection counter will tell you how many things you have selected
- Filtering photo collections according to criteria
- Photos will supports external editors, e.g. Photoshop can launch within Photos and save edits to the Photos library
- Third-party projects extensions that let you order framed prints, create web pages and more
Apple has also tinkered with the Mail app for MacOS High Sierra.
Updates will include improvements to search to make it easier to find what you are looking for amid our ever growing inboxes.
Top Hits adds a section at the top of your search results that includes the messages deemed to be most relevant to your search. These Top Hits are based on the the mail you’ve read, the senders you reply to most often, people you have designated VIP status to, and according to Apple "the more you search, the smarter it gets".
Apple remains the only major AI player to offer the choice between a male and female voice, and these voices are going to get even more natural in macOS High Sierra.
If the demonstrations at WWDC are anything to go by, Siri's voice will be much more expressive and less robotic. You can expect more changes in expression and intonation.
Siri is more than just a pretty voice though. It will be taking on the role of DJ, learning your preferences based on what you listen to (if you are an Apple Music subscriber) and making recommendations, as well as helpfully putting together playlists for you.
Apple's upping the storage available for iCloud Storage Plans - so you'll be able to share either 200GB or 2TB with your family, for example.
It will also be possible to share a file stored on your iCloud Drive with others via a link. They will be able to edit it, in-place, so you won't need to worry about extra copies floating around.
The main addition to Spotlight appears to be integration with flight information. You'll be able to enter your flight number to see arrival and departure times, terminals, gates, delays, and more. We assume this will work in the UK, but it may be US only at first.
Spotlight results will also include multiple Wikipedia pages when there is more than one answer to your query.
We think this one is a great addition - you'll be able to Pin your most frequently used notes to the top so you can easily find them. This sure beats having to re-save a Note every time we access it so that it doesn't get buried.
You'll also be able to add tables to Notes.
This is perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the new Mac and iOS operating systems.
Your Messages are going to be stored in iCloud, so if you ever lose your phone you won't lose all your messages, and more importantly, we assume, your Messages will be in sync across all your devices, so you won't see alerts on your Mac for messages you have already read on your iPhone.
Because Messages will be stored in the cloud they won't take up space on your Mac or iPhone either.
Apple File System
Now we've covered the fun stuff (i.e. the apps we use every day). Onto the under the hood changes that will hopefully enhance our overall experience on our Macs come this autumn.
First up is the introduction of the Apple File System (APFS) on the Mac. APFS arrived on our iPhones earlier this year in an update to iOS 10, and when it arrived the first thing we all noticed was that we got gigabytes of space back following the update. This is because Apple has rearchitected the way it stores data on its devices.
But APFS will do more than reduce the amount of space our data takes up, it will also make duplicating a file and finding the size of a folder’s instantaneous.
It also keeps files safe with built-in encryption, helps protect data from power outages and system crashes, and offers simplified data backup, according to Apple.
And perhaps most importantly, it is compatible with HFS drives and data, so you shouldn't lose any data (although we'd always recommend that you back up!), and is designed with future advancements in storage technology in mind.
High Sierra will also see Apple move to the H.265 video standard to support better 4K playback. H.265, also known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compresses video 40% more than H.264 to it means that these high def videos will take up less space on your Mac. High quality video streaming will be possible too.
It's not just about watching videos though. The hardware accelerations on the new iMac and MacBook Pros will make HEVC encoding and editing possible.
(H.265 will also be arriving in iOS 11 for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and the next iPhone).
The Metal technology built into macOS makes it possible for apps to use the full power of the graphics processors. The incoming Metal 2 update brings new capabilities in machine learning, virtual reality and external GPU support.
The API has also been refined, and Apple claims it offers improved performance.
In conjunction with Thunderbolt 3, Apple will offer external GPU support on supported Macs (although this is expected to be a later addition, coming in Spring 2018).
Apple is offering an External Graphics Developer Kit to developers of apps that use Metal, OpenCL, and OpenGL. It costs £749 and will furnish them with all the hardware and software they need to optimise their app, it includes:
- Sonnet external GPU chassis with Thunderbolt 3 and 350W power supply
- AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card
- Belkin USB-C to 4-port USB-A hub
- Promo code for $100 towards the purchase of HTC Vive VR headset
Find out more about this here.
Apple will be offering support for VR content creation for the first time in High Sierra and as a result developers will be able to create immersive gaming, 3D and VR content on the Mac.
These capabilities are limited to the new 2017 iMac with Retina 5K display, the new iMac Pro coming in late 2017 and any supported Mac paired with an external GPU (although the latter will be delayed until Spring 2018).
Developers will be able to use peripherals like the HTC Vive VR headset and apps like Final Cut Pro X, SteamVR, Epic Unreal 4 Editor and Unity Editor to create immersive new worlds, says Apple.
Regarding its own video suite - Apple says that Final Cut Pro X will add support for professional 360-degree workflows with the ability to import, edit and export 360-degree video, "later this year".
Already, Steam is optimising their SteamVR platform for macOS and enabling connection of the HTC Vive headset, according to Apple.
Thankfully, every Mac that can run the macOS Sierra can run High Sierra - great to see. Those devices are:
- MacBook (Late 2009 or later)
- MacBook Air (2010 or later)
- MacBook Pro (2010 or later)
- Mac mini (2010 or later)
- Mac Pro (2010 or later)
- iMac (Late 2009 or later)
macOS 10.13 new features wishlist
Prior to the unveiling of High Sierra at WWDC we had compiled our own wishlist of changes we were hoping to see in the software. Not all of them have been addressed... yet. While we wait to see what else might arrive in High Sierra, here's what we are still hoping for... For helpful advice about using the current features in MacOS read: How to use System Preferences.
'Conference calls' in FaceTime
At the moment FaceTime is limited to two callers, which is a bit rubbish. (Skype allows up to 10 callers, although quality is better if you keep numbers to five or fewer.) Multi-caller FaceTime was the top choice of new macOS feature when iDrop News polled its readers in November 2016.
Ahead of WWDC 2016, rumours suggested that iTunes would get a complete redesign alongside the Apple Music app for iOS, making it easier to use, according to people familiar with the matter.
Apple Music did get a makeover, but iTunes was left alone at WWDC 2016. It's a real shame because we think iTunes is in dire need of an overhaul. One idea would be to separate the iTunes app and the Apple Music app, giving subscribers a simpler, more attractive interface.
Everybody loves the macOS dock, allowing for quick access to your most used apps and folders - but there's still room for improvement, especially for those of us that use multiple displays. The dock is available across all connected displays, but it's always the same dock with no way to edit it on a per-screen basis. For those that use multiple displays to perform different tasks - from editing videos to coding and more - being able to have a separate dock on each display could speed up the workflow and generally make life a little easier.
Bring back the Save As shortcut
We're still not sure why Apple replaced Save-As (Command-Shift-S) with Duplicate in its iWork apps, but we think Apple should rethink the approach. Whatever new approach to file saving they had planned hasn't gained wider industry traction, and it's just confusing to everybody who knows the Command-Shift-S is Save As.
In the meantime, swat up on your knowledge of Mac keyboard shortcuts here.
Sort out automation once and for all
If you fancy a bit of automation, read 10 ways to automate your Mac.
Health app for macOS
Health is a great app for iOS and Apple Watch, and we think it'd be nice to see it come across to macOS. Being able to keep an eye on your health stats from the desktop would help Health become a much more versatile tool.
For more information about How to use Apple's health app read this.
There's no getting away from the fact that iTunes is a big, bloated mess of an app. We'd love to see Apple break iTunes up into a series of smaller apps (as it is in iOS). Top of our list would be a dedicated Music app, with deep integration with Apple Music. But we'd also love to see separate Podcasts and iTunes Store apps.
Clock App for macOS
Wouldn't it be great if macOS had a proper Clock app, with all the functionality of the Clock app in iOS? The widget is fine, but a dedicated app with Alarm, Stopwatch and Timer functionality for macOS would come in handy.
iCloud Time Machine
You can backup your iOS devices to the cloud, but what about your Mac? With cloud storage prices falling, we think it's high time Apple brought cloud backup directly into macOS. You might have to pay extra for the solution, but it'd be a much better system than backing up Macs to external drives.
If you aren't completely up-to-date on Time Machine here's a Complete guide to Time Machine
Merge Siri and Spotlight
This feature is more for convenience, rather than anything else and will provide a greater integration of both local and internet-based searches. This principle is similar to the way Microsoft integrated its own voice-based tool, Cortana into the search function of Windows 10. Of course, if you prefer not to use Siri you can always disable it from the settings.
iPhone auto unlock
macOS Sierra brought us auto unlock using an Apple Watch, but we're sure many would appreciate the option to unlock their Macs with their iPhones - a class of device owned by far more people.