macOS Catalina vs macOS Mojave full review

In June 2019 Apple announced the details of its next Mac Operating System, which will be known as Catalina. The company has revealed that lots of new features will be heading to our Macs, along with some changes that should mean more third party apps transition to the Mac from iOS. There will new enhancements to existing apps, some 'new' apps, some privacy and security focused features, and the ability to use your iPad as a second screen. (We have more details of the new features coming in Catalina - plus some of our favourites macOS tips here).

All of the above sounds very exciting, but will it be enough reason to update your Mac to Catalina when the time comes - and will Apple's refusal to support 32-bit apps in Catalina cause any problems for you? Read on to find out whether we think Catalina will a worthwile update from Mojave.

We have a preview of Catalina here, and a review of Mojave here.

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How do Mojave and Catalina compare?

Mojave bought a big change to the Mac interface, or rather a choice of a second Dark Mode version of the Mac look and feel. Mojave’s Dark Mode turned the colour down on every element of the interface, systemwide. It was a popular feature with those who work in darker environments, and designers who want to the menus to fade into the background while they work on images.

Dark Mode Mojave

In Catalina there is one major enhancement coming to Dark Mode. Right now all you can do is choose between Dark Mode and Light Mode. If you prefer to use Light Mode during the day, and Dark Mode at night you will need to toggle between the two. In Catalina you will be able to set Dark Mode to come on automatically later in the day.

There are also some interesting new features relating to accessibility: it will be possible to choose from new colour filter options that could make the screen easier to read.

The other big change that arrived in Mojave was Desktop Stacks, which helped everyone clear up their cluttered Desktops. As a result, rather than have 100 screenshots saved on your Desktop, all your screenshots would be shuffled into a Stack (a sort of folder). If you want to find the screenshot you just took, click on the Screenshots Stack. The same applies to Images, PDFs, and other types of file you might just have been dumping on your Desktop.

Since most of us file everything on the Desktop these days - especially since you can sync your Desktop with iCloud (a feature that arrived in Sierra) - this does help us organise everything a bit better.

There’s not really a similar Desktop organisation related feature coming in Catalina, but there are some other equally impressive features that are likely to transform the way you work.

One new feature will allow you to extend your Desktop to a second screen, which is nothing new, what’s new is the fact that the second screen can be your iPad.

If own have an iPad (and if you don’t we think this feature might be a good reason to buy one) you will be able to either mirror your Mac’s screen on the iPad screen, or use the iPad display as a second screen, extending your workspace. You will also be able to use the iPad and an Apple Pencil in a way similar to how you might use a graphics tablet. This is pretty groundbreaking stuff.

Sidecar in Catalina

To use the iPad as a second screen just plug it into your Mac, or connect it wirelessly using Bluetooth (the range is 10 meters). You’ll need to be logged into the same iCloud account on both devices.

One of the best things about this ability - which Apple refers to as Sidecar - is that it means you can take advantage of the touch screen on the iPad while using macOS. One way you might use this is when marking up an image or a PDF. This may be the closest we'll be getting to a touch screen Mac (unless it convinces Apple that should be a thing.)

While Sidecar means you can essentially run macOS on your iPad, as long as you are within 10 meters of your iPad at least, it doesn’t mean that you can run iOS on your Mac - it doesn’t work in the other direction. However, there are other changes that will hopefully mean more of your favourite iOS apps will be making their way to the Mac and we’ll talk about that next.

Apps in Catalina vs Mojave

Project Catalyst is Apple’s strategy for getting iOS developers to start porting their apps to the Mac. Until now the amount of time and money involved in creating two different apps, one for iOS and one for Mac, has meant that developers have focused on the more profitable and popular iOS. Some developers originally made two separate apps and then ditched the Mac app because of the work involved.

Apple is introducing a simple way for developers to port their apps over to the Mac. This should mean that when macOS Catalina arrives a number of third party apps will arrive with it. So, while not exactly a feature of Catalina, the arrival of the new OS is paving the way for even more Mac apps.

Project Catalyst actually had a sort of practice run in Mojave, although back then it was known as Marzipan. Apple used it in order to port some of its iOS apps to the Mac, so we saw News, Stocks, Home and some other iOS apps arrive on the Mac in 2018. Those transitions worked well, so we have high hopes for the new apps coming to Catalina.

Speaking of apps, as usual Apple’s going to be enhancing some existing apps, and adding a few new apps to the Mac.

There are three ‘new’ entertainment apps coming to the Mac. We say ‘new’ but they will be familiar from iOS: Music, TV and Podcasts. Those three apps will replace a somewhat ageing stalwart of macOS: iTunes.

New Music app Mac

That’s correct: in Catalina iTunes will be no more. But don’t fear, all your music will just be moved into the Music app where it will enjoy a less cluttered existence. iTunes was becoming very bloated, it was just doing too much. Apple actually joked in the keynote at WWDC about how they could have added all sorts of other things to iTunes, but luckily they decided enough was enough and overhauled the whole thing.

Your music library and (if you subscribe) Apple Music will be accessible via a more user-friendly interface in the Music app, and syncing your iPhone or iPad with your Mac will now be done via the Finder. The TV app will be the home of any films and shows you store on your Mac, as well as the place to go to access any of the services that will have their own dedicated Apple Channels and the Apple TV+ content that will be available later this year. (Read all about Apple’s streaming service here). We’re a little less excited about Podcasts, but apparently there are 700,000 to be discovered.

There are many other enhancements coming to existing apps in Catalina. Obviously these all build on the apps that are available in Mojave. One app that’s getting a nice Mac-focused update is Find My.

Find My iPhone is a useful service that means you can locate a lost or stolen iPhone (and wipe it so that there is no risk to your data ending up in the wrong hands). It can also be used in the same way to locate lost Apple Watches, iPads, and Macs. Find My iPhone has been around for years, but it’s getting some useful new Mac focused features in Catalina.

The most obvious change is that in Catalina Find My will be losing the iPhone part of its name, but much more important, it will be possible to track a lost or stolen Mac even if it’s asleep and offline. The Find My service will track your Mac using Bluetooth beacons, basically Macs near by will be able to detect your Mac via Bluetooth, and they will be able to communicate the location back to you.

That’s great if you’ve just left your Mac in the office, but if it’s been stolen another new feature - Activation Lock. This will mean that a thief won’t even be able to boot up your Mac - only you can activate your Mac with your password. The feature will only be available on Macs with a T2 chip (so MacBook Pro (2018/2019), iMac Pro, Mac mini (2018), MacBook Air (2018).

MacBook Air

There are lots of other apps gaining enhancements in Catalina. It will probably be a matter of personal preferences as to whether you prefer the newer version of the app to the current one. Some times changes don’t go down well, other times change is most definitely for the better. Until we actually use these apps we will hold off on whether or not the enhancements are positive or not.

  • Photos is getting a bit of an interface overhaul to showcase your images better.
  • Mail will gain a feature that makes it easier to unsubscribe and block users,
  • Notes gains a gallery view and character recognition so you can search for words that appear in documents you’ve scanned in. And checklists can be unchecked so you can use them again.
  • Safari will also get an update - but Safari updates are usually available in the older versions of the operating system too.

Compatibility

The System requirements for macOS 10.15 Catalina are very similar to Mojave, with a couple of exceptions. Mojave supported mid-2010 or mid-2012 Mac Pro models with Metal-capable graphics processor, unfortunately, Catalina won’t support those older Mac Pros.

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

The other issue in terms of compatibility may be your third-party apps, especially if they are quite old. This is because Catalina doesn’t support 32-bit apps, so if you are still using a 32-bit app you will need to update or run Catalina in a separate volume on your Mac and Mojave in another.

You may also want to know which apps won't work in Catalina.

Verdict

Catalina will bring some brilliant new features to the Mac, but is it a reason to upgrade from Mojave? It’s possible that Project Catalyst will mean that the third party iOS apps making their way to the Mac will run in Mojave or older versions of the macOS, in which case that wouldn’t be a reason to upgrade.

The other headline feature, being able to use an iPad as a second screen has been possible before thanks to third party software, but Apple’s implementation looks excellent and so simple. We even think it will help Apple sell a few more iPads.

Find My sounds great for Mac users, as do the other enhancements coming to existing Mac apps in Catalina. If you need 32-bit apps then you probably won’t want to update, but if you’re living in the 21st century then there’s no reason not to consider the update when Catalina arrives later this year, it’ll be free after all.

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