With the Gold Master version of the macOS Catalina beta arriving with developers on Thursday 3 October, it's looking like the arrival of macOS Catalina is immanent. Read on to find out all about the new version of macOS, first unveilled at WWDC in June and bringing new features to the Mac that include the ability to use an iPad as a second screen, the TV app (just in time for the launch of Apple's new streaming service in November), and the demise of iTunes.

Another indication that macOS Catalina will be here soon: Apple told developers on 3 October to get their apps ready for the new operating system. The company has reminded developers that there will be stricter rules for submitting apps that will run in Catalina. Apps will need to be notarized by Apple before they can run in macOS Catalina - that includes all apps, not just those sold via the Mac App Store.

Despite not getting a mention during the September 2019 keynote, following the event Apple updated its product pages for macOS Catalina to confirm it would roll out in October. Apple hasn't announced an exact date, but the launch is expected very soon now that the Gold Master - the final version of the operating system software - has been seeded to developers.

In fact, it was thought that macOS Catalina would arrive on Friday 4 October after the company appeared to have leaked the date on its Danish website. But the OS didn't arrive on that day. More on that below.

Other apps getting a look in this time round include Photos, Safari, Mail, Reminders, and ScreenTime. We have details about all of these, and more new features in Catalina, below.

There will also be a few fatalities, with many apps not surviving the transition to Catalina, due to the new OS not supporting 32-bit apps. Read about the apps that won't work in Catalina here.

It will however be easier for develpers to port apps from iOS to the Mac in 2019, now that developers can get their hands on code that will make that possible. More on that, and the iPad apps that will be coming to the Mac, below.

Read on for everything we know about macOS 10.15, aka Catalina.

Find out how Mojave and Catalina compare here. Plus, we have more details of the new features coming in Catalina - plus some of our favourites macOS tips here.

What is the next version of macOS?

Catalina island

The next version of the Mac operating system is macOS 10.15, but as usual Apple has given it a name in honour of a Californian landmark, this time Catalina.

Catalina is an island off the coast of California, southwest of Los Angeles. (If you watched the Netflix series Love, Catalina features in the last episode).

macOS Catalina release date

Apple has only said the new operating system will be available to download in October. The company hasn't officially confirmed the actual date. However, at the end of September Apple's Danish website seemed to suggest that the new macOS would arrive on Friday 4 October. With the 4 October passing it is now looking like the new macOS will in fact arrive week commencing Monday 7 October.

In fact we think that macOS Catalina will arrive today at around 6pm in the UK, 10am in California, 1pm in New York and 4am tomorrow morning in Sydney.

The company had published a promotion for Apple Arcade on the Mac on its Danish website, saying it wlll arrive on 4 October. This was seen as a big hint that Friday would be launch date for macOS Catalina, which will bring Arcade to the Mac. However, it looks like Apple needed a little more time to finess the next version of the macOS - and perhaps fix a publicised problem with syncing Reminders between macOS and iOS.

Here are the dates when new versions of the macOS have previously launched:

  • Mojave launched on Monday 24 September 2018
  • High Sierra: Monday 25 September 2017
  • Sierra: Tuesday 20 September 2016
  • El Capitan: Wednesday 30 September 2015
  • Yosemite: Thursday 16 October 2014
  • Mavericks: Tuesday 22 October 2013

If you are a registered developer or signed up to the public beta you can download the beta of Catalina now. Find out how to get a copy of the macOS Catalina beta here.

  • The latest public beta is Gold Master. It arrived on 3 October.
  • The latest version of the developer beta is Gold Master. It arrived on 3 October.

New features in macOS Catalina

We already know some of what’s coming in macOS 10.15. Here's what Apple revealed at WWDC 2019, including some additional details not revealed in the keynote.

What is Project Catalyst?

We'll start off with perhaps the most exciting piece of news for Mac users (and even more exciting for developers). Apple will be making it easier for developers to port iOS apps to the Mac. This is good for developers as they won't need to spend time and money writing code for two different apps. And it is good for Mac users because they will see an increase in apps available on the Mac platform.

This news was expected. During Apple’s WWDC 2018 keynote the company announced plans to make it easier to port iOS apps to the Mac. Back then the company gave developers a "sneak peek" of its strategy to give Mac developers a chance to "tap into" iOS. Back then we knew the unification of iOS and macOS development as Project Marzipan, but now Apple is using the Catalina-like codename Catalyst.

While iOS and macOS share common foundations, it's not easy to port an iOS app to the Mac because the two user interfaces are somewhat different. "Porting an app from one to the other involves some work," said Craig Federighi back in 2018.

Apple had said it was looking at ways to adopt specific behaviours, for example, drag and drop, so that they can be translated to the other OS. In 2018 Apple ported across some of its own apps from iOS to Mac - News, Home and Stocks - and revealed that it was working on ways to make the transition between the two OSes smoother.

By unifying the app development it is hoped that third-party Mac apps will be updated more frequently. Currently, most development funding goes to iOS apps.

A March 2019 Bloomberg report suggested that the project would eventually allow developers to create one app that works across iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices, but that ability won't arrive until 2021. For now it looks like it's more focused on iPad and Mac.

Apple's new SDK currently allows developers to port their iPad apps to Macs. There will still be two separate apps, but developers will only have to write the underlying code once.

Catalyst is based in Xcode. All the developer needs to do is check the Mac box alongside iPhone and iPad and Xcode will build in curser control and windows control. This means that one development team can build the one app for iPhone, iPad and Mac.

One developer who’s already used Catalyst is Twitter, who is bringing the native Twitter app back to the Mac now that they only need one development team for all devices. One codebase one team was the theme here.

So, what’s this all mean? You won’t be able to run iOS on your Mac, or macOS on your iPhone or iPad, but you should be able to run most of the apps you use on each device - as long as the developer ports them over. The process of porting apps will be simplified, so developers will hopefully be willing to do so.

What is Project Sidecar?

Apple also announced Sidecar, its name for a procedure by which a iPad can be used as a second display, or as a graphics tablet. We'll look at the two uses of the Sidecar technology separately.

iPad as Mac screen

Use an iPad as a second screen

Users will be able to use their iPad alongside their Mac as a second screen. It will be possible to plug the iPad into the Mac, or connect it wirelessly using Bluetooth and Continuity (the range is 10 meters). It is also necessary to be logged into the same iCloud account - so you would have to be using your own iPad, you couldn't just share your Mac's screen to someone else's iPad (we imagine that's a security measure).

With the iPad connected to the Mac the user will be able to add a second screen on which they can extend their Mac's Desktop, or mirror their Mac's screen.

You'll be able to use the mouse to drag windows over to the iPad display, for example. You'll also be able to use an Apple Pencil to point and click and draw, for example when using Markup tools. And it will be possible to tke advantage of the multi-touch gestures on the iPad and the new text editing gestures for that device.

This may be the closest we'll be getting to a touch screen Mac (unless it convinces Apple that should be a thing.)

When connected to your Mac this way you will be able to use any of your Mac apps on your iPad as if it was running macOS.

You won't be able to share the iPad screen on the Mac display - this only works from within macOS so it's not going to allow you to use iOS on your Mac.

This might be bad news for the developers who make solutions that currently enable the iPad to be used in this way (we look at some of those solutions here), but it will certainly appeal to Mac users who also own an iPad and want a second display that they can carry around.

Use an iPad and Apple Pencil as a graphics tablet

Another use of the iPad in this way would be similar to how a Mac user might use a Wacom tablet.

Creative users will be able to use their iPad as a graphics tablet while using the apps listed below.

When an iPad is linked to a Mac using Sidecar it will gain a Sidebar, giving access to controls and shortcuts. You'll also get a sort of Touch Bar (as seen on the MacBook Pro) along the bottom of the iPad screen.

We have a tutorial about How to use Sidecar so your iPad can be a second screen for your Mac.

Which iPads work with Sidecar

Sidecar will work with any iPad running iOS 13 alongside a Mac running macOS Catalina.

Which apps work with Sidecar

Developers shouldn't have to do anything to add Sidecar support to their apps, it should just work, although they may want to build in some extra functionality to take advantage of the iPad touch screen and Apple Pencil.

Apps that require advanced stylus support can use Tablet Events in AppKit to enable pressure and tilt for Apple Pencil. Developers can also specify custom behaviour for double-tap on the side of Apple Pencil.

Apple announced that the following apps already work with Sidecar:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Affinity Photo & Affinity Designer
  • Cinema 4D
  • Maya
  • zBrush
  • CorelDraw
  • DaVinchi Resolve
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Motion
  • Painter
  • Principle
  • Sketch
  • Substance Designer & Substance Painter

New and updated Apps in Catalina

As we said above, Apple is finally getting rid of the cluttered iTunes app and instead offering three separate entertainment focused apps that will be familiar from iOS: Music, TV and Podcasts. Other apps getting a significant update include Photos, Safari, Mail, Reminders, and ScreenTime.

TV

When Apple put a spotlight on its plans to start streaming its own shows later this year (read more about Apple’s TV+ service here) Apple also revealed that the TV app will arrive on the Mac this autumn. Currently it is possible to watch movies bought or rented from the iTunes Store inside the iTunes app, but there is none of the functionality found in the TV app, including the way it integrate with other streaming services.

Now Apple has revealed how the new TV app will work on the Mac.

Just like the TV app on iOS you will have access to everything you are watching on the TV app on any of your Apple devices (or other devices that have the TV app) via Up Next so you will be able to carry on from where you left off.

There will also be recommendations in Watch Now based on your viewing habits and the opinions of Apple's team of editors. The TV app will also feature the Apple TV channels - so you won't need to install separate apps to watch your favourite shows.

You’ll still have access to the 100,000 iTunes movies and TV shows to buy or rent but users will also gain access to all the content from Apple TV+. We don't yet know if there will be a subscription required for that content. Here's what shows are coming to Apple TV+.  

TV app in Catalina

If you have a recent Mac it will be a great screen to watch shows and movies on. Since 2018 new Macs have included support for 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos playback. Apple says: "4K, 4K HDR, 4K Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and HDR10 content is available on all Mac models introduced in 2018 or later with 4K-resolution screens"

Thanks to 9to5Mac we had already seen a screen shot of how the TV app will look on the Mac. That site has shared the below image that shows a toolbar including Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Kids, and Library tabs, as well as a sidebar with Recently Added, Movies, TV Shows, and Downloaded, and also genres including Comedy and Kids.

New Mac TV app

Music

It was no surprise that Apple announced its plan to break up the Mac version of iTunes, its rather bloated media management and jukebox app.

Calls for iTunes to be overhauled have been ongoing. Ahead of WWDC 2016, rumours suggested that iTunes would get a complete redesign making it easier to use, but this never happened and three years later iTunes is in dire need of an overhaul.

The good news is that because the Music app on the Mac will only focus on music - rather than lots of other things (including syncing, which will now be dealt with via the Finder) - it won’t be as cluttered and complicated as iTunes is currently.

iTunes fans will still have access to their libraries (which no doubt go back a few years) and Apple Music subscribers will be able to listen to anything in Apple's extensive catalogue.

Catalina Music app

The new look app has a cleaner design and is more colourful than iTunes currently - although who knows what it will look like when your legacy iTunes library is imported into the new app.

A few other new Music features we like the sound of include:

  • Read the lyrics as you listen to the song (we're guessing this capability is thanks to Apple's Shazam acquisition)
  • Better control over the music that will play next
  • A miniplayer
  • New search features that will make it easier to locate a song in your library

Read about the new Mac Music app here.

Podcast

Catalina Podcasts app

You may not be aware of this but there are apparently 700,000 shows in Apple’s Podcast catalogue. When the new app launches it will have various new features to make finding these shows easier.

For example, there will be new categories and curated collections put together by editors around the world.There will also be a Trending section for popular shows and Top Charts.

Users will also be able to search for particular content, such as a particular show, topic, guest, or host. In fact, Apple said the Podcasts app will use machine learning to index spoken content of podcasts to enhance search.

Once you have found a show you like you can subscribe and be notified as soon as new episodes become available, download episodes. You'll also be able to pick up from where you left off on another device - you'll find the episode you were listing to via the Listen Now tab.

Find My

The Find My Phone app has been renamed Find My, which makes sense given that the iPhone isn’t the only device you can find with the software. There is an even greater focus on the Mac here though, with new features that make is possible to detect a device that is closed and offline, like many lost or stolen MacBooks might be.

Apple explained how Find My can locate Apple devices even if they are offline by using Bluetooth to send signals which can be picked up by nearby devices. Its location can then be relayed back to you. This is all encrypted and anonymous and because it just piggy backs on tiny bits of data it won't use up battery or impinge on your data allowance. It's basically a way to crowd-source your device's location.

This is just one feature aimed at making Mac's less attractive to thieves. Another new feature is Activation Lock (which will only work if your Mac has the T2 chip). Activation Lock will mean that a thief won’t even be able to boot up your Mac - only you can activate your Mac with your password.

Find My also incorporates Find My Friends so you can use it to find lost devices as well as locate your mates (handy if one of them happens to have your Mac).

Screen Time & Parental Control

Screen time will also be coming to the Mac, giving you an insight into how much time you spend in apps and on the web on you Mac as well as your iPad and iPhone - you will be able to get reports that calculate the time spent on apps and websites across all your devices. 

You'll be able to use Screen Time to schedule time away from the Mac too, or create Limits so that certain apps can't be used outside of set periods. Combined Limits can be groups of apps, such as games or entertainment.

In Catalina you can also manage all your family's devices from Screen Time on your Mac, scheduling downtime, setting app limits and choosing which websites can be accessed on the different. You can also control who your kids can communicate with via their devices by managing their contacts list - and crucially, you can choose that you can always reach them even during downtime.

Just before your time is up and a limit is about to kick in you will see a ‘One more minute’ warning, which will let you save what you were working on or log out before being kicked out of the app.

Photos

macOS Catalina

Currently Photos can be a little cluttered, packed full of almost identical images in a tiny thumbnail format, it can be a bit off putting. The new version of Photos will introduce a new way to showcase photos and videos by day, month and year. Previews will be larger and photos will use AI to highlight photos from birthdays, holidays and anniversaries.

You'll be able to browse your Photos by Day, Month and Year as you can now, but the new format will better showcase images and video, analysing images to show the best part of the image, you will also be able to zoom in to get a larger preview or choose whether to preview photos in square or original format. Video and Live photos will also autoplay.

We were worried that this could spell the end of Memories, which is one of our favourite features of Photos (here's how to make great Memory Movies on your iPhone) but Memory Movies will get some new functionality on the Mac, gaining the ability to edit the duration, mood, and title of your movie or slideshow. These edits will sync to your other devices via iCloud Photos.

Safari

The new version of Safari - which will arrive with Catalina, but most likely also be available for Mojave and maybe High Sierra, will have a new start page with Siri Suggestions based on frequently visited sites, bookmarks, iCloud tabs, Reading List selections and links sent in Messages.

You will also start to see weak password warnings and suggestions of better passwords.

Another change: if you start to type the address of a website that you already have open in another tab, Safari will direct you to the already open tab. We're not sure how this will play out yet, as some people might want multiple pages open on a particular website.

Finally, you will be able to enable PiP (Picture in Picture) via the audio button on a Safari tab.

Mail

There are a number of new features in Mail that will help you keep your inbox getting full up of mailing lists and the like. 

Users will be able to block all emails from a specific sender and move all their messages to the trash. To access this feature you will only have to click on the senders name in the email header. It sounds like you will never need to unsubscribe again.

Speaking of which, if you do want to unsubscribe properly, the Unsubscribe link that usually appears at the bottom of the email will be moved to above the email header so you can unsubscribe really easily.

Other new features include the ability to mute an overly active thread and stop being notified every time someone replies.

There will also be an update to Mail's layout, with a preview of the message on the right.

Notes

Notes has some changes that will make finding a particular note easier. You will see search suggestions, and Notes will gain a new Gallery View that is designed to make it easier to see the note you are looking for. This view will show all your notes as visual thumbnails. We aren't sure how this will work since most of our notes are random shopping lists, links to websites, and, well, notes, but it might encourage us to use Notes for other things.

For a few years now it's been possible to scan things on an iPhone using Notes, in Catalina Notes will be able to use optical character recognition to recognise the words and also recognise objects in images. Which should also help with search.

There will also be improved collaboration options, including shared folders. And you will be able to share things as read only, so that they can't be edited.

There will be a new checklist option that will move all your completed items to the bottom of the list, and an uncheck all option so that you can use your list again (such a good idea!)

Reminders

The Reminders interface is getting an overhaul, simplifying the creation and tracking of reminders. You'll be able to organise your upcoming reminders into categories like today, scheduled, and all, and it will be possible to customise reminders with 12 colour and 60 symbols.

Other new features will include a quick toolbar so it will be easier and quicker to add a deadline, you'll be able to add attachments such as a website or a photo to a reminder, tag people in a reminder - and get an alert reminding you next time you are messaging them. You will also see Siri suggestions for reminders based on your messages. It will also be possible to group a number of tasks under a top-level reminder.

QuickTime Player

We were worried QuickTime Player might not survive after Apple added video casting options to the Mac via Command + Shift + 5 in Mojave. Prior to Mojave QuickTime was the best way to record your screen. Now in Catalina QuickTime is getting a couple of new features .

The one that interests us the most: you'll be able to create an H.264, HEVC, or ProRes-encoded movie file by navigating to a folder of sequentially numbered images, then choosing your desired resolution, frame rate, and encoding quality.

Other new features include PiP so that you can play video in a window that's not blocked by other windows, and the Movie Inspector pane will offer more information about a video.

Home

The Home app will work with HomeKit Secure Video so that you can view securely recorded video detected by HomeKit-enabled cameras on your Mac.

iPad Apps Coming to Mac

We've already talked about Apple's Project Catalyst, which should see many iOS apps making their way to the Mac. So far the following have been announced:

  • Asphalt 9 Legends
  • DC Universe
  • Jira
  • TripIt
  • Fender Play

Other new features coming in Catalina

Apple also revealed a number of other improvements coming to the Mac in Catalina including new accessibility features and security and privacy enhancements. More detail below.

Accessibility & Voice Control

New Voice control features will make it possible to control a Mac entirely with your voice, which will be a benefit to those who can't use traditional input devices to control their Mac (the same voice control options will be available on iOS devices too). 

Voice control uses Siri for speech recognition and includes enhanced text editing options that can be set to use your own custom words. Dictation is simplified, so, for example, you could say: "Replace 'I'm almost there' with 'I've arrived'", or you could say "change almost" and you would see a list of suggested replacements, including emoji.

To make controlling the Mac with your voice simple, you'll be able to navigate an app by referring to numbered labels that appear next to clickable items, or by referring to points on a grid that can help to pinpoint particular locations on the screen.

Other new accessibility features include the ability to zoom in on text by hovering over it and pressing the Control key. It will also be possible to choose from new colour filter options that could make the screen easier to read.

Apple ID

There will be some changes to the way you can access your apple account via your Mac. You'll be able to get to your Apple ID info via System Preferences to gain access to account details, security details, payment and shipping info, and more.

You'll also be able to review and update iCloud settings, manage or upgrade your storage plan, and view your subscriptions (and those being shared via Family Sharing).

In addition you'll see a list of all the devices that are signed into your account, including when they were last backed up and their Find My status.

Snapshots

In recent years keeping a Time Machine back up has become less necessary partly because a lot of our content is now stored in iCloud and also because thanks to the new Apple File System (APFS) that arrived in High Sierra the macOS takes a Snapshot of the file system on your Mac at certain intervals, which means that if you have just updated the software on your Mac and found it was incompatible, you'll be able to Restore From Snapshot and recover the machine back to the way it was before the update.

Security

Apple has a number of security measures built into macOS. One of these is Gatekeeper and in Catalina Gatekeeper will gain the ability to check apps for known security issues when you install them and periodically after. 

Other new security features include:

  • Apps will be required to get permission before accessing a user's Documents and Desktop folders, iCloud and external volumes, folders of third-party cloud storage providers, removable media, and external volumes.
  • Mac users will be prompted before an app captures keyboard activity or takes a screenshot or video of the screen.
  • There will be a dedicated system volume completely separate from all the other data on the Mac, so it will not be possible to overwrite system files.
  • Hardware peripherals previously ran code in macOS using kernel extensions, in Catalina will run separately from the OS, so they can’t affect macOS is something goes wrong.

We've already mentioned Find My above and the T2 chip powered Activation Lock. These improvements will enhance security by making it impossible for a thief to access your data.

To find out how to keep your Mac from security vulnerabilities read: How to stop your iPhone, iPad or Mac getting hacked and our Mac security tips.

Compatibility

For a few years now Apple has been warning that support for 32-bit apps on the Mac would be ending. Mojave was the last macOS release to support 32-bit apps. Only applications that are 64-bit will run in the next version of macOS. Find out which apps won't work in Catalina here.

This shouldn’t be a huge issue. Developers have been updating their apps following Apple’s warnings and new apps submitted to the Mac App Store have been required to support 64-bit since January 2018, and Mac app updates and existing apps have all been required to support 64-bit since June 2018.” However, people are still likely to be using older versions of apps. If you are then it might be time to take the plunge and update to a newer version of your apps.

The last time there was this much upheaval in terms of non-compatible apps was when Apple stopped shipping Rosetta in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. Rosetta was Apple’s tool for translating apps to run on an Intel processor. When Apple initially moved to Intel, Rosetta served to translate legacy apps, but following the release of Lion those old apps were no longer supported.

Here’s how to check your Mac to find out if you are using any 32-bit applications:

  1. Go to Apple Menu
  2. About This Mac
  3. System Report
  4. Software > Applications
  5. Look in the final column to see whether it’s a 64-bit application.

Here are some of the non-64-bit applications that may be a cause for concern:

Adobe

  • Adobe Illustrator CS5
  • Illustrator CC (2017)
  • Adobe InDesign CS5
  • Adobe Photoshop CS4

Update to the latest versions here.

Microsoft

  • Microsoft Excel 2011
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2011
  • Microsoft Outlook 2011
  • Microsoft Word 2011

Support for Office 2011 for Mac ended on 10 October 2017. Even if you are running Office 2016 for Mac you should update to version 15.35 or later. Update to the latest version of Microsoft Office here.

Apple

There are also some Apple apps that no longer work. Apple used to bundle a number of apps with Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio, both of which are now discontinued and replaced by Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X in 2011. If you are still using these older suites note that none of these bundled apps, which included DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Colour, Cinema Tools, and more, will work.

If you had updated to Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X you aren’t necessarily out of the water. Only the following versions will be compatible, so if you are running an older version than the ones listed below you will need to update. You can update to the latest versions on the Mac App Store, links below.

  • Final Cut Pro X 10.3.4 - Update to the latest version of Final Cut Pro here
  • Motion 5.3.2 - Update to the latest version of Motion here
  • Compressor 4.3.2 - Update to the latest version of Compression here
  • Logic Pro X 10.3.1 - Update to the latest version of Logic here
  • MainStage 3.3 - Update to the latest version of MainStage here

System requirements for macOS 10.15 Catalina

The fact that the next very of macOS won’t support 32-bit apps also hints that there may be a few more Macs that aren’t supported either.

Catalina is supported on the following Macs:

  • MacBook models from early 2015 or later
  • MacBook Air models from mid-2012 or later
  • MacBook Pro models from mid-2012 or later
  • Mac mini models from late 2012 or later
  • iMac models from late 2012 or later
  • iMac Pro (all models)
  • Mac Pro models from late 2013

Mojave supported mid-2010 or mid-2012 Mac Pro models with certain Metal-capable graphics processor, unfortunately, it doesn't look like Catalina will.

Metal was the key here - Macs that didn’t have Metal support were dropped after High Sierra. It is possible that eGPU support could extend the lives of older Macs though.