macOS Catalina vs macOS Mojave full review
Apple's latest Mac operating system, known as macOS Catalina or macOS 10.15, brings lots of new features to the Mac, along with some changes that should mean more third party apps transition to the Mac from iOS. There are enhancements to existing apps, some 'new' apps, some privacy and security focused features, and the ability to use your iPad as a second screen (if you have a compatible Mac and iPad).
All of the above sounds very exciting, but is it a good enough reason to update your Mac to Catalina? 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.
If you want to know more, we have a review of Catalina here and a review of Mojave here. We also have more details of the new features in Catalina - plus some of our favourites macOS tips here.
How do Mojave and Catalina compare?
Mojave bought a big change to the Mac interface, or rather it gave users a choice of a second Dark Mode version of the Mac look and feel. We'll begin our comparison of macOS Catalina and Mojave by looking at how Catalina enhances Dark Mode.
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.
In Catalina there is one major enhancement coming to Dark Mode. In Mojave 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 features relating to accessibility in Catalina: with Catalina installed it is possible to choose from new colour filter options that could make the screen easier to read.
Another 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 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 a 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.
Before you get too excited, you'll need a compatible iPad and a compatible Mac for this feature to work. Compatible iPads include iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, 5th Generation iPad, iPad Pro models and any newer iPads than those mentioned. If your Macs is a 2016 model or newer (2018 in the case of the MacBook Air and Mac mini) if should support the feature. Full list of compatible devices here.
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. Prior to Catalyst the amount of time and money involved in creating two different apps, one for iOS and one for Mac, meant that developers focused on the more profitable and popular iOS. Some developers (such as Twitter) originally made two separate apps and then ditched the Mac app because of the work involved.
With the arrival of Catalina Apple introduced a simple way for developers to port their apps over to the Mac. If you were expecting an influx of third party apps arriving on the Mac you'll be disappointed though as there haven't been many. But the new OS is paving the way for even more Mac apps, which is a good thing.
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.
Thanks to Catalyst in Catalina Apple has bought three ‘new’ entertainment apps to the Mac. We say ‘new’ but they will be familiar from iOS: Music, TV and Podcasts. Those three apps replace a somewhat ageing stalwart of macOS: iTunes.
That’s correct: in Catalina iTunes is 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 started streaming in November 2019. (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 for existing apps. One app that’s receiving 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 gains some useful Mac focused features in Catalina.
The most obvious change is that in Catalina Find My will lose the iPhone part of its name and get its own app - in Mojave you access the Find My service via iCloud in an online portal. 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 its location back to you.
That’s great if you’ve just left your Mac in the office, but if it’s been stolen there's another new feature in Catalina - 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 is only available on Macs with a T2 chip - so MacBook Pro (2018/2019), iMac Pro, Mac mini (2018), MacBook Air (2018).
There are lots of other apps that gain 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. Here's what you can expect:
- Photos gets a bit of an interface overhaul to showcase your images better.
- Mail gains 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 available in the older versions of the operating system too (so you can take advantage of that in High Sierra and Mojave).
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 them 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.
Catalina brings some brilliant new features to the Mac, but is it a reason to upgrade from Mojave?
Project Catalyst should mean that the third party iOS apps will be making their way to the Mac, which is great, but they will probably run in Mojave or older versions of the macOS too, 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. We're just disappointed that our own Mac is too old to take advantage of the feature.
Find My should be great for Mac users, as are the other enhancements coming to existing Mac apps in Catalina. We aren't mourning the demise of iTunes - it had become so bloated and untidy.
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 to Catalina, it’s free after all.