Some of Our Favorite Features of macOS 10.15 Catalina
In a break from Apple’s pattern of alternating cycle of releases,macOS 10.15 Catalinais not a refinement of 10.14 Mojave like 10.13 High Sierra was for 10.12 Sierra. Instead, Catalina boasts significant changes, both obvious things like new apps and less-obvious things like under-the-hood improvements. Here are some of our favorites.
iTunes Is Dead! Long Live Music, TV, and Podcasts
After 18 years of being a fixture on the Mac, the increasingly bloated iTunes has been replaced with a trio of independent apps: Music, TV, and Podcasts. Note that the iOS device syncing features of iTunes have moved to the sidebar in Finder windows.
Major App Updates: Reminders, Notes, and Photos
The ease of telling Siri “Remind me to touch base with Javier tomorrow at 10 AM” has long made Reminders useful, but the Reminders app itself was weak. Apple has overhauled it in Catalina, giving it a completely new interface that lets you create smart lists that collect tasks from multiple lists, add attachments to tasks, and click buttons to add dates, times, locations, and flags to reminders instantly. Best of all, lists finally have their own sort orders! Note that to see some of the new features, you must upgrade your Reminders database on all your devices and those of anyone with whom you share lists, so you may need to wait until everything and everyone is up to date.
Notes gains a new gallery view that provides thumbnail instead of a scrolling list. More practically, you can now share entire folders as well as notes, and for both, you can limit collaborators to read-only mode. If you use lists in Notes, you’ll like the new checklist features for reordering list items, moving checked items to the bottom, and easily unchecking all items to reuse the list.
With Photos, Apple redesigned how the main Photos view displays your pictures. Previously, it started with Years, zoomed in to Collections, and zoomed in again to Moments. Now Photos uses a more sensible Years, Months, Days hierarchy, with Years and Months using a large, easily viewed grid, and Days showing selected thumbnails of different sizes to focus attention on the best images. All Photos still shows everything in a grid. Apple also enhanced the machine-learning aspects of Photos so it can better understand who is in each shot and what’s happening—this helps Photos to highlight important moments and create better Memories. And you can now edit Memory movies on the Mac as well as iOS.
Screen Time Replaces Parental Controls
Last year, iOS 12 introduced Screen Time, which helps you monitor app usage and how often you’re distracted by pickups or notifications. Plus, it lets you set limits on particular categories of apps and make sure you don’t use your device when you should be sleeping. Even better, it enables you to manage what your kids can do on their iOS devices, when they can do it, and for how long.
All that goodness has now migrated to the Mac in Catalina, replacing the old parental controls, so if your middle-schooler needs help avoiding games when homework is due, or in putting the Mac to sleep when it’s bedtime, the new Screen Time pane of System Preferences has the controls you need. It also provides a wide variety of content and privacy controls.
Voice Control Your Mac
Although Apple has buried the new Voice Control settings in System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control, if you’ve ever wanted to control your Mac with your voice, give it a try. It’s astonishing, and you really can run through a set of commands and dictation like this:
Open TextEdit. Click New Document. ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent comma a new nation comma conceived in liberty comma and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal period’ Click File menu. Click Save. ‘Gettysburg address.’ Click Save button.
You can even use your voice to edit the text you dictate! Make sure to scan through the full set of commands to see what’s possible, and remember that you can add your own commands.
Enhanced Security and Privacy
Apple continues to improve macOS’s security and privacy controls in a variety of ways:
In Catalina, the operating system runs in a dedicated read-only system volume that prevents anything from overwriting or subverting critical files.
Kernel extensions, which are often required for hardware peripherals, now run separately from macOS, preventing them from causing crashes or security vulnerabilities.
All new apps, whether from the App Store or directly from developers, must now be “notarized,” which means Apple has checked them for known security issues.
Macs with Apple’s T2 security chip now support Activation Lock in Catalina, so if they’re stolen, there’s no way to erase and reactivate them.
Catalina now plays a mean game of “Mother, May I?,” so apps will have to ask permission to access data in your main folders, before they can perform keylogging, and if they want to capture still or video recordings of your screen, among other things. Apps even have to ask to be allowed to put up notifications. Be prepared for an awful lot of access-request dialogs.
Attach an iPad Sidecar to Your Mac
Our final favorite feature in Catalina is Sidecar, which enables you to connect an iPad to your Mac and use it as a secondary screen, either extending your Desktop or mirroring what’s on the main display. It does require a relatively recent Mac and an iPad running iOS 13, but it works either wired or wireless.
On the iPad, you can keep using Multi-Touch gestures, and Sidecar even supports the Apple Pencil so you can use the iPad like a graphics tablet. Apps that have Touch Bar support will display their controls on the bottom of the iPad screen, even on Macs without a Touch Bar.
More Smaller Features
Those are our favorite big features, but Catalina boasts plenty of smaller ones too:
A new Find My app combines Find My iPhone and Find My Friends into one.
Find My can locate offline devices using crowd-sourced locations.
Apple Watch users can authenticate anywhere on the Mac by double-clicking the side button. (Oh, thank you, Apple!)
Mail can block email from specified senders and move their messages directly to the trash.
You can mute specific Mail threads to stop notifications from chatty email conversations.
Enough! We’ll keep covering new Catalina features, but once you upgrade, spend some time exploring, since there are so many neat new things you can do. And remember, we recommend caution when upgrading your Mac—see our earlier article on that topic.
Confession time. If there’s one topic we can’t stop talking about, it’s backups. Backups are essential, since no one can guarantee that your Mac or iPhone won’t be lost or stolen, be caught in a flood from a broken pipe, or just fail silently. It happens.
You should have a good backup strategy that ensures backups happen regularly, but it’s not paranoid to make double extra sure when you’re doing something that’s more likely to cause problems than everyday activity. And by that we’re thinking about upgrading to a major new operating system, such as macOS 10.15 Catalina or iOS 13.
The reason is simple. As much as Apple tests the heck out of these upgrades, so many files are in play that all it takes is one unexpected glitch to render the entire Mac or iPhone non-functional. Wouldn’t you like to be able to revert instantly if something does go wrong?
Mac Backups before Upgrading
On the Mac side, most people should be using Time Machine. It ensures that you can not only restore your entire drive if necessary, but also easily recover a previous version of a corrupted file. The other advantage of having Time Machine backups (and a bootable duplicate, discussed next) is that you can use either to migrate all your apps, data, and settings back to a new installation of macOS, should that become necessary.
As useful as Time Machine is, a bootable duplicate made with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner is the best insurance right before you upgrade to Catalina. If an installation goes south, you can also boot from your duplicate and get back to work right away.
Finally, although it’s not directly related to backing up before upgrading, we always recommend an offsite backup made via an Internet backup service like Backblaze. This is because a fire or flood would likely destroy your backup drive along with your Mac.
So please, back up your Mac before something goes wrong. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive to get started, and we’re happy to help.
iOS Backups before Upgrading
Although upgrade-related problems are less common with iPhones and iPads, they can still happen. It’s more likely that you’d drop your little friend accidentally while juggling groceries or forget it after your workout at the gym, but regardless, a backup ensures that you don’t lose precious photos if you’re not using iCloud Photos or My Photo Stream, and backups make migrating to a new device like a fancy new iPhone as painless as possible.
With iOS, though, you don’t need extra software or hardware to make a backup. Apple provides two ways of backing up your iPhone or iPad: iTunes and iCloud. We generally recommend backing up to iCloud if your backups will fit in the free 5 GB of space Apple provides or if you’re already paying for more iCloud space. If you’re not a fan of the cloud or don’t have space, there’s nothing wrong with iTunes backups, though they’re a bit fussier to set up and manage.
There’s also no harm in using both, with iCloud for nightly automatic backups and iTunes for an extra backup just before upgrading to iOS 13 or to a new iPhone or iPad. A second backup can be useful—we’ve seen situations where an iPhone would refuse to restore its files from iTunes but would from iCloud.
To back up to iCloud, go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup, turn the switch on, and tap Back Up Now. For backups to happen automatically in the future, you must have sufficient space in your iCloud account (you can buy more), and your device must be on a Wi-Fi network, connected to power, and have its screen locked.
To back up to iTunes, connect your device to your Mac via a Lightning-to-USB cable, launch iTunes, and click the device icon to the right of the media menu.
Then, in the Backups section, click the Back Up Now button. If you’re prompted to encrypt your backups, we encourage you to agree since otherwise your backup won’t include passwords, Health information, or HomeKit data. For automatic backups via iTunes, select This Computer. After that, every time you plug into your Mac, it will back up.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we’re not talking about how to restore if something goes wrong during an upgrade. That’s because it’s impossible to predict exactly what might happen or what state your device will end up in. So if you’re unfortunate enough to have such problems—or to have some other catastrophic failure—get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.
At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2019 on June 3rd, the company unveiled the next versions of all its operating systems—macOS 10.15 Catalina, iOS 13 (and a new iPadOS), watchOS 6, and tvOS 13–along with the much-anticipated new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR.
Nothing that was announced will ship until later this year—probably September—but we wanted to give you a quick overview of what’s coming down the pike.
macOS 10.15 Catalina
With macOS 10.15, which Apple is calling “Catalina,” the company is working to bring macOS and iOS ever closer while preserving what makes the Mac special.
For instance, Catalina replaces the increasingly overloaded iTunes with three new apps that mimic those in iOS: Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV. Reminders, Notes, and Photos also see significant enhancements that are mirrored on the iOS side, and a new Find My app on both platforms combines the capabilities of Find My iPhone and Find My Friends. Apple is even bringing Screen Time from iOS to the Mac to help you track and control your usage—and that of your kids—across all your Apple devices.
Some of these apps exist on the Mac thanks to Project Catalyst, an Apple technology that makes it easy for developers to convert iOS apps to the Mac. Apple used Catalyst internally last year to bring Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos to macOS 10.14 Mojave. This year, Apple is letting third-party developers use Catalyst, so once Catalina ships, we’ll see a flowering of new Mac apps coming over from iOS.
Another new technology, Sidecar, lets you use an iPad as a second screen for a Mac, either wired or wirelessly. Sidecar even enables you to use the iPad and Apple Pencil as a graphics tablet with apps that support such an input method. Two other new features will let you use a Sidecar-connected iPad to mark up any PDF or insert a sketch into a Mac document.
Catalina promises many more features, including some that will increase macOS security and others that will make the Mac much easier to use for people with disabilities. For instance, the new Voice Control capability lets you run a Mac (or an iOS device) entirely with your voice—it’s amazing.
If you’re running Mojave now, you’ll be able to run Catalina too since the system requirements remain the same.
With iOS 13, Apple appears to be focusing once again on performance and refinements. The company claimed we’ll see faster Face ID recognition, smaller app downloads and updates, and quicker app launches.
The most apparent new feature will be Dark Mode, which Apple is bringing over from Mojave. It displays light text on a dark background, which can be welcome when using an iOS device in a dark room without bothering others. It also may increase battery life on OLED-based iPhones like the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max. But keep in mind that research shows the human eye and brain prefer dark text on light backgrounds, so you may read more slowly and with less recall in Dark Mode.
Along with the apps mentioned previously that also improve in iOS, Apple said it has rebuilt Maps and its underlying database from the ground up, so you’ll see far more detailed maps, and you can zoom in for a street-level photographic view called Look Around.
Camera and Photos received attention as well, giving you faster access to effects and letting you apply effects to videos as well. You can even crop and rotate videos taken in the wrong orientation—finally!
Other improvements include a new Sign In with Apple option for signing in to apps using your Apple ID, full text formatting in Mail, shared folders in Notes, SMB sharing in Files, iCloud Drive folder sharing, and support for USB thumb drives.
In terms of system requirements, iOS 13 drops support for some older devices, leaving the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, and SE as the oldest iPhones supported, along with just the newest iPod touch.
Joining Apple’s other operating systems this year is iPadOS, a superset of iOS 13 that provides additional iPad-only features. In some ways, it’s nothing new, since the iPad has always had unique features, but it shows how Apple wants to differentiate the iPad from the iPhone.
In iPadOS, the Home screen holds more icons in a tighter grid, and you can pin the Today View widgets on the side of the screen. Safari will be able to support complex Web apps like Google Docs, Squarespace, and WordPress, and it gains a download manager that lets you download files into the Files app.
Apple enhanced iPad multitasking so you can switch between apps in a Slide Over view, open multiple windows from the same app in Split View, and use App Exposé to navigate among your app combinations. Plus, text editing improves significantly, with direct access to the cursor and easier text selection, as well as new three-finger gestures for cut, copy, paste, and undo. The iPad even gets full-featured font management, and you’ll be able to buy fonts from the App Store.
iPadOS won’t work on many older iPad models, though it is compatible with all iPad Pro models, the fifth- and sixth-generation iPad, the iPad mini 4 and fifth-generation iPad mini, and the iPad Air 2 and third-generation iPad Air.
With watchOS 6, Apple is working hard on health and fitness capabilities for the Apple Watch. The company has added a Noise app that can warn you when sounds approach dangerous levels and a Cycle Tracking app that helps women monitor their periods and predict windows of optimal fertility. And, the Activity app has picked up trending features so you can see how you’re doing across time in a number of health metrics.
Apple has also untethered the Apple Watch from the iPhone to an extent, allowing developers to create standalone watch apps that don’t require a companion iPhone app and opening an App Store for such apps that you can browse and search from your wrist.
Other new watchOS 6 apps include Audiobooks, Calculator, and Voice Memos. Plus, once you upgrade to watchOS 6, you’ll be able to choose from more faces and additional complications.
As with watchOS 5, watchOS 6 will work on all Apple Watch models other than the original unit, but not all features are available on all models.
The big news for tvOS 13 is that it finally gets multi-user support, so everyone in a household will be able to have their own personalized experience. (Speaking of which, the HomePod will also support multiple users with iOS 13.)
Apple has redesigned the tvOS Home screen to show previews, added a slide-in Control Center like in iOS and watchOS, and updated the Music app to show lyrics in sync with the currently playing song. The screensaver also goes under the ocean so your cat can be entertained by all the fish.
Finally, in a move that will significantly enhance the forthcoming Apple Arcade game subscription service, both tvOS and iOS will support the Xbox One S and PlayStation DualShock 4 game controllers.
Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR
Although the Worldwide Developer Conference is mostly about Apple’s operating systems, the company took advantage of the keynote to show off the completely redesigned Mac Pro and its companion screen, the Pro Display XDR. The technical specs of both are astonishing—Apple has done what looks like a fabulous job of designing the most modular, flexible, and powerful Mac ever, combined with a display that competes against reference monitors costing tens of thousands of dollars.
The Mac Pro will rely on Intel Xeon W processors with 8 to 28 cores, and you’ll be able to configure it with up to 1.5 TB (that’s terabytes!) of RAM. It has eight PCI Express expansion slots, into which you can install MPX modules that contain up to four AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards for massive number crunching performance. Another slot can hold Apple’s new Afterburner accelerator card for ProRes and ProRes RAW video acceleration, and a half-length slot contains Apple’s I/O card with two USB-3 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and to 10 Gb Ethernet ports; there are two more Thunderbolt 3 ports on the top of the case. Storage starts at 256 GB of SSD and goes up to 4 TB.
All this fits into a stainless steel frame with an aluminum case that lifts off to provide access to all sides of the Mac Pro. It has a massive 1.4-kilowatt power supply and relies on three fans and a blower to keep the unit cool. It even has handles on the top and optional wheels in case you need to move it around regularly.
Accompanying the Mac Pro will be Apple’s first monitor in years, the Pro Display XDR. It’s a 32-inch 6K screen that supports P3 wide and 10-bit color that can display more than 1 billion colors accurately. It’s also incredibly bright and can sustain 1000 nits of full-screen brightness or peak at up to 1600 nits.
If your eyes glazed over reading those specs, this new hardware isn’t for you. Apple is aiming it at high-end professionals, the sort of people who happily spend many thousands of dollars on new hardware to enable faster video editing, data processing, or other performance-intensive tasks. The base-level Mac Pro will start at $6000, and the Pro Display adds another $5000. Even the Pro Stand (which provides tilt and height adjustment, plus rotates to portrait orientation) for the Pro Display costs $1000, so a tricked-out Mac Pro setup could easily exceed $20,000. So no, this is not a Mac for “the rest of us,” but it’s great to see Apple ensuring that the most demanding Mac users can stay on the platform.
(All images courtesy of Apple)
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