macOS Mojave full review
[We have details of how Mojave and Catalina, the new macOS coming in autumn 2019, compare here.]
Mojave vs High Sierra: Design & interface
This might be the biggest change to the Mac interface since Yosemite introduced major overhaul to the user interface in 2014. Back then, Apple replaced skeuomorphism with flat graphic design and blurred translucency effects and gave the Mac a look more reminiscent of the iPhone and iPad interface.
This time the interface change needs to be turned on by the user, but once the new mode is turned on the change will be quite dramatic. Welcome to the real Dark Mode.
A Dark Mode has been an option since El Capitan launched in 2015, but the improved Dark Mode in Mojave goes quite a few steps further to darken the appearance of your Mac.
In High Sierra you could choose to make the colour of the menu bar and Dock darker, but that’s all. Some third-party apps don’t even support the mode, so even with Dark Mode turned on their menu may still be bright. Even Apple’s own apps can still appear bright in Dark Mode, for example, Safari’s SideBar remained a translucent white. (Want to know how to use Dark Mode? Read how to turn on Dark Mode on a Mac).
In Mojave, Dark Mode is dark all over. Every element of the interface, systemwide, takes on a darker hue if that’s what you would like (it’s a choice in Settings). But why would you want to turn your Mac emo?
Picture shows: Apps in Dark Mode
Dark Mode will be ideal if you tend to do a lot of your best work in a darkened room in the dead of night (that scenario seemed to apply to a lot of the developers in the audience at WWDC). Having a darker interface will help avoid eye strain caused by the bright areas of your screen. Another group of people who will no doubt enjoy Dark Mode are photographs and designers, for whom a distracting interface can detract from the image they are looking at. A muted interface allows them to give their full attention to the image on screen.
It also looks really cool. Like putting sunglasses on your Mac.
Mojave vs High Sierra: Features
Dark Mode isn’t the only change that arrived with Mojave. The Desktop and Finder also get some attention.
We’ll start with the Desktop. Most of the Mac users we know have a bit of a habit of filing EVERYTHING on the desktop. Some of us a tidier than others, we have a Stuff folder which from time to time we stuff everything into. Others of us have a slightly more organised file structure on our Desktop with folders for, say Images and Work. Whatever your system, the Desktop is a good place to store things - especially as, since Sierra launched in 2016 it’s been possible to sync your Desktop across all your Macs via iCloud - so you can literally have the same Desktop (and all your usual folders, or mess) available wherever you are.
Shared Desktops had to be our favourite feature of Sierra. But Mojave might just have gone one step further in helping you keep it a little more organised.
In Mojave the files, folders and photos you drag onto your Desktop will be grouped automatically into Stacks. You won’t have to hunt for the image you are looking for - you only need to click on the Images Stack.
Read all about how Desktop Stacks works here. If you have a messy Desktop then it is sure to make a big difference to your productivity.
Changes coming to the Finder combine Quick Look (which was a feature added in OS X Leopard back in 2007 - select a file and press the spacebar to see a preview), and the Markup tools that arrived in Yosemite in 2014.
As before, in Mojave you can press the spacebar to take a Quick Look at an image or a PDF in the Finder and without even opening an app, but now you are also able to make changes such as crop, or rotate an image, or add a signature to a PDF. This should certainly save time in terms of jumping in and out of different applications.
The Finder gets a few changes of its own. There’s a new Gallery view, which replaces the Cover Flow view. Where Cover Flow (introduced in Leopard in 2007, and based on iTunes) gives you a small preview of your files and images that you can flick through until you see what you are looking for, the new Gallery view is more like the view you get when scrolling through photos. And you’ll also get a sidebar with metadata.
It’s a very visual view, rather than seeing the file name as you do would in an older macOS, all the focus is on the preview of the file or photo. Perhaps Apple has found that most people don’t really use sensible file names when saving a document, so seeing a preview is a more logical way to identify whether its what you are looking for. However, the one disadvantage is that the files don't seem to be in any logical order in this view - at least they weren't chronological - so finding what we were after in a large file wasn't a simple process.
There are also changes involving screenshots. There hasn’t really been any change to the process of taking a screenshot since the introduction of Mac OS X back in 2001. On High Sierra you can press Command + Shift + 4 to take a screenshot of a section of the screen, or Command + Shift + 3 to screenshot the whole screen, for example. (There are loads of ways to screenshot on a Mac covered here).
Well, in Mojave, taking a screenshot will remind you of how screenshotting works on the iPhone or iPad. When you take the screenshot you’ll see a thumbnail appear on the right side of the screen, and if you select that thumbnail you will gain access to those markup features for cropping, rotating and so on. So you won’t ever have to open Preview, or Photoshop again.
Even more exciting, Apple has simplified the way you can take video of what's happening on the screen. Rather than opening up the QuickTime app as used to be required, you can now take a video of the screen by pressing Command + Shift + 5 and either Record Entire Screen or Record Selected Portion.
Over the last couple of years Apple’s been getting a bit lax at meeting deadlines. The company has got into a habit of pre-announcing products and then failing to deliver for a LONG time. Take the HomePod, which Apple said would be out in time for Christmas but didn’t ship until February 2018. And the AirPower, which was announced in September 2017 and still hasn’t shipped (in fact Apple seems to be pretending it never mentioned AirPower in the first place).
High Sierra also had a few promised features that took a long time to appear. For example, Messages in iCloud, first teased at WWDC in June 2017, arrived on the Mac and iPhone in June 2018.
But the biggest embarrassment has to be Apple’s failure to get APFS - it’s new file structure introduced with High Sierra - to work with Fusion drives and hard drives. Fusion drives combine flash storage with a hard drive, they are a way of benefiting from a faster solid state drive while at the same time taking advantage of the extra storage offered by a cheaper hard drive. It’s an option on nearly all of Apple’s desktop Macs. Apple has finally solved the issue and when you update a Mac with a Fusion Drive or a hard drive it will be switched to APFS.
As for what APFS will mean to you if you do have a Fusion Drive or a hard drive, we’ll recap what we said about APFS in our High Sierra review: Apple File System (APFS) is the successor to the old Hierarchical File System (HFS+), which has been around since the beginning of 1998. It is the way that your Mac manages and organises all your data rather than the way you file things.
When APFS was rolled out to iPhones and iPads in iOS 10 users found that they got a good few GB of space back and the same was true for High Sierra. Another benefit is that when it comes to copying large files the process will be faster - this is because it doesn’t actually copy the file, but rather it creates a writable clone of the original. It’s a bit like making an alias, except that any changes made to the cloned file will be attached to that version of the clone, rather than reflected in the original. Another feature of APFS is that the size of a partition will not be limited, which could be handy if you might want to run more than one version of the operating system.
A benefit if you have a Fusion Drive is that metadata can be saved on the SSD portion of the drive, speading up Spotlight searches. It should also significantly speed up coping files - notoriously slow on a hard drive. We'll be looking at the changes in more depth in our full review.
There are lots of other features that come with APFS that will impact you without you really being aware of them.
Mojave vs High Sierra: Apps
Every time Apple updates the macOS the company spends some time tweaking and if we are lucky completely overhauling some of the included apps. In High Sierra Photos and Safari got a lot of attention. Over the years we have also seen a lot of iOS apps making their way to the Mac (something that is going to get a lot more common in a year or so, as we will discuss at the end of this article).
So, what’s new in Mojave?
The News app from the iPhone has arrived on the Mac in Mojave. The Mac version of the aggregator includes all the articles you can read on the iOS app, including Top Stories, Trending Stories, and sections that are personalised for you.
Previously it was possible to manage HomeKit gadgets (thermostats, lights and other Internet of Tech devices) via iOS on an iPhone or iPad, and via Siri on the HomePod.
Mojave beings the Home app to the Mac so that Mac users can control these gadgets. It's a logical step and hopefully the more and more gadgets will become HomeKit capable.
This is another app from iOS, and obviously, the iPhone is a device better suited to recording such memos. But by bringing the app to the Mac, Apple will make the syncing process simpler.
The Stocks app has also been pulled into MacOS Mojave. It will show all the stock information you have available on your iPhone - with the same companies you follow there. And, as with the new iOS 12 version of the app, you can see Apple News-style articles within the app.
Other apps will also get some tweeks, including Safari, although Safari 12 will be available on older versions of MacOS too.
Apple’s web browser Safari received quite an overhaul in 2017 when Safari 11 was introduced. Apple went all out to make the surfing experience more pleasant, making it easy to stop videos from auto-playing, specifying settings on a per-site basis, stopping some of the worse advertising practices, and making it easy to stop cookies and the like from tracking you.
The new version of Safari, Apple is promising that it will stop companies from tracking you between websites. To do this it will prohibit cookies and will make your Mac look just like everyone else’s, in order to make ‘Fingerprinting’ impossible.
Group Facetime calls
Speaking of delayed features, in Mojave (and iOS 12) it will be possible to make FaceTime Video calls with multiple people at once - up to 32 in fact. However, this feature won't arrive until some time in the autumn of 2018, according to Apple - so hopefully in time for Christmas!
Mac App Store
The Mac App Store is also gets an overhaul in Mojave. It’s been redesigned from the ground up, according to Apple. This is good news because the Mac App Store could be a little unintuitive, and cutting through the chaff to finding a good app was notoriously tricky.
The updated Mac App Store sems simple to navigate and it should be easier to make a judgement about how good an app is before you commit to purchasing it. To help with the latter, developers are now able to add videos showcasing their apps so that buyers can get a feel for what they can do.
Apple is also going to allow developers to offer free, time-limited, trial versions over the Mac App Store - which should make people more inclined to eventually purchase the app (previously developers who want to offer trials have to do so on their own sites, or offer a cut-down version of their app and hope that people decide to sign up for more features).
In the long term, as we hinted above, Apple is planning to make it easier for developers to port iOS apps to the Mac - good news for fans of iOS apps who fancy seeing them on a bigger screen. This should also, in theory, reinvigorate the Mac app market, as the process of making popular iPhone and iPad apps available on the Mac will be far easier, and use fewer resources than currently - good news for developers.
This latter development is going to take a little longer to come to fruition. Apple used WWDC 2018 to let developers know about the strategy so that they could help it work out the best way to translate certain gestures from iOS into their logical counterparts in the MacOS. This is something you can expect to see in macOS 10.15 in 2019.
Mojave vs High Sierra: Continuity with iOS
Speaking of Apple’s moves to make porting from iOS to Mac simpler, the company has bought a few new ‘Continuity’ features to Mojave that will improve the way your iPhone, iPad and Mac work together.
In MacOS High Sierra and earlier, there are lots of what Apple calls Continuity features. These are features that link up your iOS devices and your Mac. Since Yosemite arrived in 2014 there have been a number of features that bring your iPhone, iPad and Mac closer together.
For example, you can make phone calls directly your Mac (they are routed via your iPhone). If you are surfing the web on your iPad you can Handoff to your Mac as soon as you sit down at your desk, and continue browsing the same page there. Messages can appear on, and be sent from, your Mac (and a new feature added to High Sierra in June 2018 means your entire Messages history will be kept in sync across all your device). So what’s new in Mojave?
Mojave are be able to choose their iPhone as a method of capturing content when they are working on their Mac. For example, if you are working on a document and you need to a photograph you will get the option to use the iPhone as a capture device. Choose that option and the iPhone camera will instantly start up ready for you to take the snap.
Mojave vs High Sierra: Graphics and power
There are a few things arriving with macOS Mojave that should make your Mac even more powerful.
RIP 32-bit apps, soon...
There is one thing coming in (or rather missing from) Mojave that Apple didn’t discuss in the keynote, but has flagged on a number of occasions. Apple will no longer support 32-bit apps "without compromise".
High Sierra was the last macOS release to "support 32-bit apps without compromise", so basically, while a 32-bit app might work in Mojave, you might experience some issues related to Apple not making compromises for it. We're not entirely sure what this will actually mean in terms of whether apps will work, but we have already had problems with Photoshop CS5 (which is a 64-bit app but appeared to have an issue potentially related to Adobe Application Support). Read how we got Photoshop CS5 to work in Mojave here.
With all this in mind, if you rely on apps that are 32-bit (here’s how to check if any of the apps you’re using are 32-bit), you might want to hold off updating to Mojave, nag the developer to upgrade, or start looking for alternatives. Next year those apps really won't work any more when Apple issues macOS 10.15.
It is not all bad news though - with 64-bit apps developers are able to deliver better software that can make use of more than 4GB of RAM.
We show you how to tell which apps might not work in Mojave here.
Metal & eGPUs
Metal is Apple’s API for 3D graphics and it was given a bit of the limelight during the WWDC keynote.
Apple demoed Unity’s Book of the Dead running on a MacBook using a eGPU. The point here being that with an eGPU even the least powerful Mac can run a graphically intensive game.
There was already eGPU support in High Sierra - it arrived in the spring of 2018 as a point update - but in Mojave there will be support for four external eGPUs.
And, while the move to Mojave will leave some Macs out in the cold, unable to be upgraded, some Macs that would otherwise be incompatible can be made compatible with the addition of an eGPU.
We look in more detail at macOS Mojave in our review, here.
Mojave was the first version of macOS to introduce a true Dark Mode, and if that’s something you have been pining for, then you will be happy. In High Sierra the closest you could get to Dark Mode was a darker menu bar, now every element of the interface can go dark. You may try it out for a few days only to switch back, but it’s good to have the choice.
Probably our favourite new feature in Mojave is Desktop Stacks because it keeps our desktop tidy. In High Sierra we did an ok job siphoning screenshots and things we’d dragged or saved to the desktop into folders, but now in Mojave it’s all done for us. It’s like having a self-tidying house.
Mojave changed the way we take screenshots for the better, introducing more flexibility and making it even easier to video what is happening on your screen. The latter was possible before via the QuickTIme app, but it wasn’t visible to everyone.
Being able to edit screenshots, images and PDFs from QuickLook, rather than opening Preview is also really handy and undoubtedly time saving.
If you have a Fusion Drive or a Hard drive inside your Mac, Sierra will bring APFS - the new Apple File System, which replaces the very old HFS. This will make things feel speedier and there are lots of other benefits.
The new apps that arrive with Mojave (News, Home, etc) probably won’t be reason enough to update from High Sierra, but the fact that they are part of a movement of iOS apps to the Mac that could see third parties bringing their popular iOS apps to the Mac in 2019 is exciting, but that relates to the next version of macOS. Find out more about the new 2019 macOS here.