One of the tiny changes in Sierra is an option to change how items sort in Finder windows. If you find it frustrating to hunt for folders mixed in among files in a large file listing, you can now switch to the Finder, choose Finder > Preferences, click the Advanced button, and select “Keep folders on top when sorting by name.” From then on, in the list, column, and Cover Flow views, when you click the Name column, all the folders in that window appear above the files. Within the grouped folders and files, items still sort alphabetically by name.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to edit the same files on your iMac and your MacBook without having to copy things back and forth manually? Apple’s iCloud Drive has made that possible for some time, but it was clumsy to store files in iCloud Drive instead of in your Documents folder or on your Desktop. No longer!
New in macOS 10.12 Sierra is Desktop and Documents folder syncing, which works with iCloud Drive to give you unified Desktop and Documents folders across all your Macs. Plus, you can access their contents on your iPhone or iPad using the iCloud Drive app! It’s easy to enable this feature, but be aware of the ramifications.
Before you begin, think about how much space you’ll need on iCloud Drive—add up the size of those folders on each Mac you want to sync. (If you have any Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion virtual machines in your Documents folder, move them to another location because they’ll consume a ton of space.) If the total size is larger than the 5 GB of free space Apple gives all iCloud users, you’ll need to pay for more space: 50 GB ($0.99 per month), 200 GB ($2.99), 1 TB ($9.99), or 2 TB ($19.99).
Once you’re ready, navigate to System Preferences > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Options and select Desktop and Documents Folders. Make sure Optimize Mac Storage at the bottom of the dialog is not selected.
When you do this, Sierra moves your Desktop and Documents folders from your home folder to iCloud Drive, which could be disconcerting. They’re still accessible from a Finder window’s sidebar, from the Finder’s Go menu, and within iCloud Drive itself. It may take some time for iCloud to slurp up all your data, so be patient. For your other Macs, make sure they’re signed in to the same iCloud account, and repeat these steps.
From then on, when you create, edit, or delete a file on the Desktop or in the Documents folder on any of your Macs, Sierra syncs that change up to iCloud and then down to all your other Macs. It’s reasonably quick, depending on the speed of your Internet connection, but avoid working on the same file on different Macs without letting syncing complete first or you could end up with conflicted copies. If you’re offline, you can work as normal, but your changes won’t sync up until your Mac reconnects to the Internet.
If necessary, you can work with the contents of these folders on non-Sierra Macs directly in iCloud Drive—choose Go > iCloud Drive in the Finder to access them.
Some Sierra users have found that the contents of subsequent Macs’ Desktop and Documents folders end up in sub-folders named along the lines of “Desktop – name-of-Mac.” If you see this, make sure iCloud Drive has had time to upload and sync everything. If so, you can move the sub-folders’ files into the main Desktop and Documents folders manually.
Now, about that Optimize Mac Storage checkbox. When it’s selected, if your Mac runs low on drive space, Sierra may delete old, large files from the local drive to free up more space. The files remain in iCloud Drive, and you can click a cloud button next to their names in the Finder to download them. What’s unknown as yet is whether iCloud-only files will be backed up by Time Machine and other backup apps; you could end up with the iCloud Drive version of a file being the only extant copy. As a result, we don’t recommend selecting Optimize Mac Storage on your primary Mac, though it should be fine on a secondary MacBook with minimal storage.
Finally, if you decide to turn off this feature, Sierra creates new local Desktop and Documents folders in your home folder, but it doesn’t populate them with content from the previously shared folders in iCloud Drive. You may need to copy files from the iCloud Drive folders to the local Desktop and Documents folders to get everything back the way you want it.
Desktop and Documents folder syncing is designed to simplify the experience of using multiple Macs (and iOS devices!), but if you’re accustomed to each of your Macs containing different files, it may be more confusing than it’s worth.
Here’s what may be the most subtle new feature of Sierra: when you’re dragging one window next to another, Sierra makes them “stick” slightly when their edges align perfectly. You’re most likely to notice this in the Finder, if you work regularly in two side-by-side windows for moving files around your system, but it applies to any two windows, even those from different apps. To see this effect in action, open two windows and then drag one toward the other, noticing how it stops briefly when the window edges meet up. If the feature gets in the way of aligning windows as you want, press Option to disable it while you’re dragging. This window alignment feature won’t change how you use your Mac, but it should make for a neater screen.
With macOS 10.12 Sierra, Siri has finally come to the Mac, and you can ask Apple’s personal assistant for help with all sorts of tasks, such as finding and opening files, adjusting system preferences, setting reminders, getting directions, looking up words, sending or responding to email, looking for photos, and much, much more. To invoke Siri, click the Siri icon in the Dock, click the Siri icon in the menu bar, or press and hold Command-Space.
Wait! What about the hands-free “Hey, Siri” technique that we’ve become accustomed to on the iPhone and Apple Watch? Strangely, Apple didn’t build “Hey, Siri” into Sierra, perhaps to sidestep privacy concerns that your Mac would constantly be listening to everything around it (not true, regardless). Never fear, though, because there’s a way you can bring “Hey, Siri” to the Mac as well. If you have an iPhone or Apple Watch that might respond to “Hey, Siri” commands directed at your Mac, you can use a different voice trigger, like “Yo, Siri” or a different name, like “Hey, Mac.” Follow these steps:
Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation. Turn Dictation on, and select the checkbox for Use Enhanced Dictation (which may cause your Mac to download additional data files).
Jump to System Preferences > Accessibility, and scroll down to select Dictation in the left-hand column.
Select Enable the Dictation Keyword Phrase, and then type your trigger word, like “Hey” or “Yo” into the text field.
Click the Dictation Commands button, select Enable Advanced Commands at the bottom, and then click the + button.
In the controls that appear to the right, enter a name like “Siri” or “Mac” in the When I Say field and leave the While Using pop-up menu set to Any Application.
From the Perform pop-up menu, choose Open Finder Items, and in the Open dialog that appears, navigate to the Applications folder, select the Siri app, and click Open.
Back in the Dictation Commands dialog, click Done and close System Preferences.
Now give it a try by saying “Hey, Siri” (or whatever you used for your trigger and name) and then asking a question like “What’s the weather forecast for tomorrow?” This trick works best if you pause after saying “Hey, Siri” and wait for Siri to beep encouragingly. If your question follows the “Hey, Siri” prompt too quickly, Siri tends to miss what you’ve said.
Siri is far from perfect, but it’s still pretty astonishing what we can now do with voice commands. This little trick will let you talk more naturally to Siri, without having to fuss with the keyboard or mouse.
This fall, Apple will release the next version of the Mac’s operating system, now called “macOS” to match with iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. As with the last few versions—Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan—the new macOS 10.12 Sierra won’t force you to change how you use your Mac, but it does bring a bunch of features that you might enjoy.
Most exciting among Sierra’s new capabilities is the addition of Siri—you can finally talk to your Mac just like your iPhone. You can ask Siri to open apps, display certain files in a folder, check how much drive space you have free, and adjust settings, plus carry out tasks with Siri that you already do on the iPhone, such as searching Google, checking the weather, making reminders, and looking up sports scores. Invoke Siri by clicking its Dock icon and wait a moment, and you’ll get a list of fun and serious suggestions for things you can ask. For an organized directory of questions Siri understands, click its Dock icon, and say “What can I ask you?”.
iCloud Drive becomes significantly more interesting in Sierra, thanks to an option to sync your Mac’s Desktop and Documents folders to iCloud. Once they’ve uploaded, you can access their contents not just on any other Macs you may have, but also on your iOS devices and the iCloud.com Web site. Note that the actual Desktop and Documents folders then move from your home folder to the iCloud Drive volume (choose Go > iCloud Drive to open it). Beware that enabling this option may require paying for more space on iCloud Drive.
People who work back and forth across a Mac and iPhone or iPad may also appreciate Universal Clipboard, which synchronizes clipboard contents to all your devices in the background. Copy a phone number from an email message on your Mac and a few seconds later you can paste it into your iPhone’s Phone app (press for a second or two in the white space above the numbers, and then tap the Paste button that appears—useful, eh?).
Being able to open multiple pages in separate tabs is standard fare in every Web browser, and Apple added tab functionality to the Finder several years ago. If you like tabs in Safari and the Finder, you’ll be pleased to hear that Sierra makes it so almost every app that can open multiple document windows can do so in tabs as well. Apps won’t have to change; just look in the File, View, and Window menus for tab-related commands.
Those who have become accustomed to the security of using Apple Pay from an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay for a burger at McDonald’s or groceries at Whole Foods will be able to bring the same level of security to many Web transactions. With Safari in Sierra, on Web sites that accept Apple Pay (which will be a lot), you’ll be able to enter your payment info with Touch ID on your iPhone or with a paired Apple Watch. Much as it may seem odd to complete a transaction on your Mac using an iPhone or an Apple Watch, the Touch ID fingerprint sensor is a key aspect of how Apple Pay remains secure.
The final big-deal feature in Sierra, called Optimized Storage, has a number of options that you can enable in the redesigned System Information app—look in Window > Storage Management. Designed to free up space on Macs with relatively small drives, Optimized Storage can remove the local versions of files stored in iCloud (including older files of your Desktop and Documents folders; make sure you have a good backup to be safe!). You can download one if needed by double-clicking its icon. It removes already watched movies and TV shows from iTunes along with email attachments from Mail, all of which you can download again if necessary. It can delete files from your Trash after they’ve composted for 30 days, and it helps you reduce clutter on your Mac by identifying large files so you can consider deleting them manually.
Sierra boasts plenty of other features too, such as Auto Unlock, which eliminates the need to enter a login password if you’re wearing an associated Apple Watch. Then there’s Picture in Picture, which floats a resizable video window from Safari or iTunes in any corner of your screen while you pretend to get work done. Finally, of Sierra’s bundled apps, Photos sees the most changes, with improved automatic recognition of faces, plus object and scenery recognition.
Although Sierra won’t run on every Mac that’s compatible with El Capitan, it will run on MacBook and iMac models released in late 2009 and later, and on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and Mac Pro models released in 2010 and later. It will be a free upgrade and will be the default on every new Mac sold after its release. We’re looking forward to playing with all the new features and with Siri in particular—tune in for more details in the coming months!
It’s that time of year again, as the leaves start to turn, the air gets crisp, the grass is covered with frost in the morning, and Apple releases major operating system upgrades. We’ve known this was coming since the company’s announcement in June, but now it’s time to think hard about when you’ll upgrade.
(Note that we say “when” and not “if.” There’s no harm in delaying an upgrade until Apple has had a chance to squash the 1.0 bugs and it’s a convenient time in your schedule. But waiting for too long can put you at risk from security vulnerabilities and prevent you from taking advantage of new integrations between Apple’s devices. Plus, should you have to replace a Mac or iOS device unexpectedly, you may be forced to use the current operating system, which could be awkward if you weren’t ready for the upgrade.)
Let’s dispense with the easiest answer right off. If you have a fourth-generation Apple TV, either let it upgrade itself to tvOS 10 or manually invoke the upgrade from Settings > System > Software Updates. Since tvOS 10 is a relatively minor update and you don’t create work on an Apple TV, upgrading is unlikely to cause any problems. If you’re a major TV junkie and are paranoid about how the upgrade could prevent you from watching your favorite show, just wait a few weeks until other users have reported on their experiences on the Internet.
In some ways, the question of when to upgrade to watchOS 3 has a similar answer. Although watchOS 3 is a major upgrade that radically changes how you interact with the Apple Watch, the improvements are so significant and the downsides so minimal that it’s easy to recommend an immediate upgrade. However, to install watchOS 3, you must have upgraded your iPhone to iOS 10 first. So…
What about iOS 10? Now we need to hedge a little. Although iOS 10 has been getting good reviews from beta testers, if you rely on an app that isn’t compatible, you’ll want to put off your upgrade. Check the App Store listing for your key apps, and if they’ve been updated recently, you’re probably OK. The other thing to remember is that iOS 10 changes the Lock screen behavior, so it may be worth delaying the upgrade until you have some time to poke at the new interface. Messages and Photos also receive a bunch of new features that you may want to play with, but you shouldn’t have any trouble using them before you’ve figured out the new stuff.
As always, the rubber meets the road on the Mac. Like iOS 10, macOS 10.12 Sierra has gotten good reviews from beta testers, but if you rely on your Mac to get your work done, it’s important to ensure that your key apps are compatible. Plus, despite Apple’s public beta, it’s not uncommon for unanticipated problems to surface once the first release of a new operating system for the Mac becomes more broadly available. Unless you’re dying to use the new features in Sierra that integrate with iOS 10 and watchOS 3, we recommend waiting until version 10.12.1 or even 10.12.2 before upgrading. That gives you plenty of time to make sure your apps and workflows will work in Sierra.
Finally, we just want to say that as much as change can be hard, we’re excited about Apple’s new operating systems. Like you, we probably won’t end up using all the new features, but some of them will definitely enhance the experience of being an Apple user.