Apple macOS 10.12 Sierra is out, and there’s more to it than just Siri

Apple went to great lengths to explain the upcoming features in macOS, the highlight being Siri integration. Digging deeper into the OS however, one realises that there’s more to it than just Siri integration.


Apple’s macOS (earlier OS X) is now available to most Mac users. At WWDC 2016, Apple went to great lengths to explain the upcoming features in macOS, the highlight being Siri integration. Digging deeper into the OS however, one realises that there’s more to it than just Siri integration.

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Can I upgrade to Sierra?

Apple macOS 10.12 Sierra is out, and there’s more to it than just Siri

Apple’s free mac OS update is available on the following devices:

  • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)

Since all features of macOS Sierra aren’t available on all devices that receive the upgrade, here’s a breakdown of supported devices, sorted by supported features:

Handoff, Instant Hotspot, and Universal Clipboard

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (2012 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (2012 or newer)
  • Mac mini (2012 or newer)
  • iMac (2012 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Auto Unlock is supported on all Mac models introduced since 2013

Apple Pay on the Web

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (2012 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (2012 or newer)
  • Mac mini (2012 or newer)
  • iMac (2012 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

AirDrop to iOS devices is supported on the following devices:

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (2012 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (2012 or newer)
  • Mac mini (2012 or newer)
  • iMac (2012 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

AirDrop to Mac devices is supported on the following devices

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Late 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • iMac (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme card, or Mid 2010 or newer)

A more detailed breakdown is available on Apple’s support page for macOS Sierra here.

How do I upgrade?

Image: methodshop.com

Image: methodshop.com

Upgrading your Mac to macOS Sierra is easy. If you’re on a supported device, you have three options:

  • Wait for an update notification in the App Store and hit update
  • Search for macOS Sierra on the App Store and then update (it’ll be the featured download for a while)
  • Create a bootable pen drive and update multiple Macs

If you’re on a Hackintosh, just keep a close eye on Hackintosh.com for instructions since the update will not be so straightforward. The update file comes in at 4.7GB.

Devices that aren’t officially supported can potentially be upgraded to Sierra by editing the system definition, but you might brick your device. Proceed with caution.

The initial setup is very much the same as earlier OS X installations, but there are a couple of new pages for setting up iCloud and Siri integration now.

So what’s new?

Siri macOS

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: Siri.

Five years since Siri made her debut on the iPhone 4s, Siri finally makes it to Macs. Siri now resides in the dock and can be pulled up via a keyboard shortcut (holding down cmd+space) or by clicking on the icon. As far as functionality goes, Siri works the same way as she does on an iPhone, but without the tight integration with core iOS functionality. There is no “Hey Siri”, you can’t control HomeKit devices and Siri’s third-party integration that came with SiriKit on iOS isn’t as fleshed out.

What Siri can do is work like Spotlight search, send iMessages, access notes, handle News and pin queries as a custom search widget in the notification centre. As far as Siri is concerned, that’s all there is. Unless you really use Siri a lot, you won’t see much change in the way you deal with your Mac.

iCloud is everywhere

Apple macOS Sierra iCloud Tech2

The real star of macOS Sierra is iCloud. Unlike its earlier implementation, where iCloud just existed as a cloud storage option that synced Photos and Music, it now functions like a cross between Microsoft’s OneDrive and Microsoft LiveID settings sync, but maybe better.

Like OneDrive, iCloud will now host files on your iCloud and let you download the files you want. You’ll see a blue download icon on files that aren’t on your Mac. The bigger change is “iCloud Desktop and Documents.” This feature syncs your desktop and documents folders with the cloud (Why can’t OneDrivce do that by default?) and also your settings.

When you sign into a new Mac, the contents of your desktop and documents folder will be visible, but the files won’t be downloaded to the new machine by default. iCloud won’t mess up multiple desktops by merging them, however. Each desktop and documents folder will be segregated by the name of the device it’s installed on. You can move files around to sync them across desktops.

The best part about this new iCloud integration is that the optimised storage feature from iOS makes its way to macOS as well. The system will intelligently manage your storage, deleting backed up files from your device when you don’t need them. Thus clearing up space. Considering that many MacBooks now come in 128GB options, this can be very useful.

This is good news, for all, but it might also force you to upgrade your iCloud storage plans. Luckily, iCloud Desktop and Documents is optional.

Here are plans you can opt for:

  • Free: 5GB of storage
  • $0.99 a month: 50GB of storage
  • $2.99 a month: 200GB of storage
  • $9.99 a month: 1TB of storage
  • $19.99 a month: 2TB of storage

These prices are competitive, but Microsoft’s OneDrive offers a better deal. For $9.99 a month, you get access to 5 accounts with 1TB of storage each and each of those accounts gets access to a fully licensed copy of Word, Excel and Powerpoint (via Office365).

UI and usability tweaks

macos-sierra-release-2

In terms of aesthetics, there’s nothing new. The design language op El Capitan is carried forward as is.

The notification centre does get a refreshed design, putting it in line with the notification panel on iOS 10. Finder gets a feature upgrade as well, now giving you the option to sort a folder by folders first rather than the alphabetical-only order that Apple preferred for so long.

There’s also an option to automatically empty trash every 30 days. The OS will now offer to delete .pkg files once you’re done with them and duplicate Safari downloads will also be deleted as well. Partial downloads, the cache and other temporary storage will also be cleared more frequently.

Continuity is now upgraded to include Universal Clipboard functionality. This will allow you to copy-paste text between iDevices and Macs, but the devices will need to be in close proximity and use the same iCloud account. If you’re on an Apple Watch with WatchOS 3 and have a newer Mac that supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, you’ll be able to unlock your Mac with your watch.

We won’t bore you with the technicalities, but in a nutshell, macOS will use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to determine the distance of the watch from your Mac (by measuring response time).

Messages

macOS Sierra Messages Tech2

Messages for Mac gets a decidedly limited feature-set; you won’t get to see all those fancy animations and “mood” effects, for example. You can still view larger emojis, take advantage of rich links and view subtler effects like “invisible ink,” however.

While it’s not the same as iOS’ Messages app, we’re not sure whether this matters so much in the long-term.

Apple Pay

macos-sierra-release-4

This feature is largely irrelevant in India. But here’s how it works.

For Apple Pay to work, you’ll need a Mac with Handoff support (refer to the list on the first page) and an iPhone 6 or newer device or an Apple Watch. You simply head to an Apple Pay supported page (in Safari) and tap on Apple Pay at checkout. You’ll see a notification on your Watch/iPhone and you’ll be able to authorise the payment from there.

Obviously, credit card and banking details are encrypted.

Safari gets PiP and dumps old standards

Opera PiP Picture in Picture Video Popout Tech2 720

Safari's Picture-in-Picture mode is very similar to Opera's Video Popout feature

The updates to Apple’s Safari browser are also quite significant. In addition to Apple Pay support, the browser gets a beefed up rendering engine and now fully supports Picture-in-Picture mode.

While watching a video, you simply tap on the contextual PiP button and your video pops out as a persistent window on your screen. This is very similar to the PiP functionality on the iPad Pro models as well as in Opera’s latest browser.

Apple is also dropping support for plug-ins like Flash and Java, requiring users to enable these features explicitly. It might seem like a bad move on the surface, but Flash and Java are notoriously unsafe plug-ins and it’s high time we saw their demise.

macOS’ Photos app meets iOS’ Photos app

Apple macOS photos Tech2 720

The Photos app on macOS gets the same features as the Photos app on iOS. You get the Memories function (for making quick videos from a set of images and videos), intelligent search, facial recognition and everything else.

The only noticeable addition is a “Brilliance” mode that apparently makes pictures brighter.

Notes, Contacts, Mail and more

As with iOS 10, Contacts and Mail get more filters and some minor visual tweaks. Nothing of note.

The Notes app supports “real-time” collaboration now, but as we mentioned in our iOS 10 preview, it’s not that great. As far as obvious changes, these are what you’ll notice. There are a number of under-the-hood tweaks that change the way Apple deals with unsigned applications, Bluetooth audio and more. macOS also comes with a developer version of their upcoming filesystem, APFS, which will herald major changes in macOS, but not yet.