macOS High Sierra Preview

We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of macOS High Sierra this September. We already know a fair bit about it thanks to Apple’s preview of its new Mac operating system at WWDC in June, and the time we have spent with the public beta of the new software. Here's what to expect from the next version of macOS.  

We have to admit, we were quite dismayed when we heard Apple announce the name of the next macOS. MacOS High Sierra is named after the region in California where the current operating system’s namesake, MacOS Sierra (after the Sierra Nevada mountain range) can be found.

Apart from the fact that such a name is likely to invite a few jokey responses, as it did on Twitter on the night it was announced (many of which seemed to revolve around drugs and getting high). The name, High Sierra, suggests that this is just Sierra with a few tweaks, as we discuss in our comparison review.

Those Mac users who remember Mountain Lion and Snow Leopard will recall that these updates to Mac OS X predominantly offered under-the-hood changes, rather than fun new features for the apps we use day-to-day.

Will High Sierra just be about the technologies hidden under the surface that make our Macs “more reliable, capable, and responsive,” to quote Apple. Or will refinements in our favourite Mac apps make this an update to get excited about?

The good news is that there are some really useful new features coming to the apps that ship as part of macOS. We'll look at them in more detail below, but we can tell you that Photos and Safari are receiving a lot of attention in this update, and Notes and Siri are also benefiting, as you will see as you read on.

New technologies

That's not to say that the new technologies being built into macOS High Sierra are boring. It’s just that the majority of people just won’t know that they are there, or rather they will just end up expecting them to be there as our expectations of technology increase.

For example, Sierra brings with it improvements that will make watching (and encoding) 4K video a better experience. Apple will be supporting HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding, also known as H.265) on the Mac, which will mean these videos will stream better and take up less space as they can be compressed up to 40 per cent more than H.264.

Another way in which these under-the-hood improvements will enhance the experience of Mac users, without them necessarily being aware of it, is the addition of the new Apple File System.

APFS has already arrived on our iPhones and iPads in an update to iOS 10 earlier this year, and when it did many of us found we gained a few gigabytes of space following the update. This is because the new file system re-architects the way that your data is stored.

In practical terms, Mac users will find that common tasks like duplicating a file or finding the size of a folder should happen instantaneously.

Apple says Mac users will also benefit from built-in encryption, crash-safe protections and simplified data backup, but again, these are things we expect to have, rather than things we get excited about.

Virtual Reality

One final area where the new technologies coming in macOS 10.13 might just revolutionise our Macs, at least if you are a fan of gaming, or game developer, is VR.

Apple will be offering support for VR content creation for the first time in High Sierra, enabling developers to create immersive gaming, as well as 3D and VR content.

Whether any but the highest specced Mac will actually be able to play these virtual reality based games remains to be seen though.

App updates

Moving on the the changes that will be more noticeable to the average MacOS customer. Based on the preview of macOS High Sierra we are expecting to see some enhancements in: Safari, Photos, Mail, Siri, iCloud, Spotlight, Notes and Messages.

These changes are certainly not in the same league as the changes that arrived in macOS Sierra, but there are still a few gems that should make this a worthwhile release. We’ll go through them below and explain what excites us (and what doesn’t).

To find out more read: How to use the new features in High Sierra

Safari

First up, Safari. This update to Apple’s web browser seems to be another nail in the advertising coffin. You will be able to see your preferences so that you never see (or hear) auto playing videos, you won’t see bike ads following you around just because you looked for a new bike on Amazon, and if a website supports it, you can choose to automatically see a Safari Reader version of the page you are viewing with all the ads stripped out.

We appreciate that everyone hates ads, but they are still a part of the revenue of many websites (although far less so these days). We hope that the advertising industry reflects on the fact that by making ads so intrusive they have basically caused their own downfall.

There is another change coming in Safari - you will be able to personalise your experience on a per-website basis. If there is a website you frequently visit that has text that’s too small you can set it so that site is always zoomed in a tad more than others. If you want your location settings to be turned off one website, but not others, you can do so.

There is no doubt that these changes will improve our Safari browsing, so we look forward to them with anticipation (and some apprehension as well as relief relating to the demise of the common advertisement).

Photos

There are some nice new features coming in Photos including new editing tools Curves and Selective Color and some new professionally inspired filters to replace the nine that were there in Sierra. Recalling the professionally inspired filters we used to use in Aperture (RIP), we had high hopes for these, but they are basically variations of three different styles: Vivid, Dramatic, and black and white, with warm and cool options. You can of course edit the effects further using the other tools available to you.

In fact you won't be limited to the tools in Photos at all. The new version of Photos will offer support for external editors. As a result Photoshop will be able to launch within Photos and save edits to the Photos library. While this won’t mean anything to the average iPhone photographer, anyone with a decent camera and a love of photography will be able to take advantage of the tools offered by Photoshop while at the same time utilising the Photos interface. That’s got to be a good thing.

There are also some fun options for editing Live Photos coming. The new Loop effect will make it easy to loop a Live photo, so it will be more like a gif. While a Long Exposure effect will achieve something akin to a slow-shutterspeed photo from a Live Photo, blurring water or extending light trails caused by fireworks or traffic.

With the arrival of these new edit modes for Live Photos we might actually take some photos with Live Photos turned on (because, let’s face it, right now it’s a bit pointless).

Mail

If, like us, your email inbox is swamped, you’ll be grateful for this new feature coming in the MacOS Mail app. Top Hits is a new section at the top of your search results that will use artificial intelligence to predict the email you were most likely to be looking for.

Top Hits are based on the the emails you’ve already read, the senders you reply to most often, and people you have designated VIP status to.

It’s a small change, but we think it will be a big help.

Siri

We’ve not really sold on the idea of using Siri on our Mac. We’re sure that it’s a useful feature to be able to ask Siri to turn on Bluetooth, or to play a particular album in iTunes, but frankly we don’t use it because the majority of the time, when we think of something to ask Siri we are in a crowded office and don’t want to look silly.

With that in mind - how about making it possible to type the question you want to ask Siri, Apple?

There are some enhancements coming to Siri in macOS High Sierra. The one that will probably get the most attention is the fact that Siri’s voice will be much more expressive and less robotic in the next version of MacOS (and iOS 11).

Apple says that the new voice should give the personal assistant a bit more personality. The new UK Male voice seems to be a bit more friendly, from what we have heard in the Public Beta, but the Female voice seems to have not been updated yet, so we will suspend judgement here until after the launch.

Siri will also become a fully fledged DJ, advising you on tracks you might like (if you are an Apple Music subscriber) and even creating playlists for you. We’re don’t have very high expectations here as in our experience the Genius recommendations in iTunes are always a little random. We’ll wait and see.

Notes

We use Notes on our iPhone for everything so we are really excited to hear that in macOS High Sierra (and of course iOS 11) Notes is getting some enhancements.

There is one change coming to Notes that we are probably more excited about than anything else in MacOS (which is very sad, I know). It’s the fact that we can Pin Notes we need to access frequently to the top. We’ve lost count how many times we’ve scrolled through looking for information we have stored in Notes. This is the answer to our prayers!

You’ll also be able to add tables to Notes. Right now this is something we would have to open up Numbers to do, which often seems like overkill when it’s just a simple list of Christmas gift ideas. We’re thinking that the To-Do lists we store in Notes could use some columns (although we do like being able to check things off thanks to the update that came in 2016’s update to the operating system).

Messages

There’s one last app update we want to mention. Messages has been annoying us for ages because no sooner have we read a message on our iPhone it pops up on our Mac. It seems ridiculous that the two devices can’t be better in sync. Well, this autumn they will be.

Messages are going to be stored in iCloud, so Messages on the Mac should know the status of Messages on your iPhone. That’s one of our grumbles solved.

Another benefit of Messages being stored in iCloud - if you lose your iPhone or accidentally wipe everything, all your Messages should be backed up in the cloud. And another bonus if you are someone with an iPhone without a lot of memory - the messages won’t take up lots of space on your phone. (Our only query here is, how will you access them if you are offline, but we’ll worry about that later as we’re talking Macs here).

iCloud

Speaking of the cloud, there are a few changes in iCloud coming that will be welcome.

It’s going to be possible to share a file stored on your iCloud Drive with others via a link. They will be able to access and edit the file you created, rather than a copy of the file, so you won't need to worry about extra versions floating around.

In some ways, this is just a different way to collaborating on a file, something you can already do in most Apple apps - Pages, Numbers, Notes… But it’s a simpler implementation that will probably make the other person more aware of the fact that they are required to edit the document.

Also coming to iCloud is an increase in the amount of storage that will be available to you. Up to 2TB of storage is coming your way (for a price).

Read about how macOS High Sierra compares to Windows 10.

OUR VERDICT

The question is, are these app refinements and under-cover enhancements going to be enough to excite Mac users, or is macOS High Sierra going to be a bit of a let down?

While macOS High Sierra won’t make as big an impact as Sierra did, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Change for changes sake can be as much of an annoyance as a delight. Just recall how many were troubled by the user interface changes in Yosemite in 2014.

Sometimes what’s really needed is a bit of a MOT, and with macOS High Sierra, we’re getting an MOT as well as some new features that will banish some of the little annoyances we currently have with our Macs. And that’s got to be a good thing.

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