The 2019 edition of Apple’s annual developer conference was jam-packed with announcements, from the details of watchOS 6 and iOS 13 to the new eye-wateringly expensive Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR, but we’re here to talk about the most-used bit of Apple software in the Stuff office: macOS. The new version, that’ll be available for free download come our springtime, is macOS Catalina. This is what you need to know about it.
iTunes is dead
Almost 20 years since it debuted, one of the banes of Apple users’ existences has been killed off. So long, iTunes. You shan’t be missed. Instead, the app’s key features have been split into three apps: Apple Music, Podcasts and Apple TV. Need to sync an iPhone or iPad to your Mac? Plug it in and iTunes will no longer pop up (hurray!). Instead, you’ll be able to access the device and sync menu from the sidebar of a Finder window…. like, you know, anything else you plug into a Mac.
Apple loves to talk up its privacy chops, flipping the bird at Facebook and Google in the process. It’s done a fine job of just that with macOS Catalina and its browser Safari by introducing a new ‘Sign in with Apple’ option or services where you’d usually get a ‘Sign in with Google’ or ‘Sign in with Facebook’ option. Plus, there’s now the option to create temporary, single-use email addresses when signing up for new services so you won’t get spammed on your real email address and can revoke apps’ permissions easily.
Find My… anything
The new Find My app lets you keep tabs on your iPhone, iPad or willing friends and family by combining the old Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into one happy tracker. The app also works on iDevices, and a new feature that harnesses your MacBook’s Bluetooth and that of the iDevices in its proximity means you should be able to find a misplaced Mac even if — as is most likely — its lid is closed and its not connected to a Wi-Fi network.
Apple says this tracking is entirely anonymised and uses tiny packets of data that piggyback on nearby users’ existing data activity. Which sound to us like a.) the nearby good Samaritans will never know they’ve been good Samaritans, and b.) if this tracking system is ever compromised it’s not going to be pretty.
A new security option called Activation Lock should also make stealing MacBooks a whole lot less attractive as it’ll be possible to remotely lock a purloined lappie right down at the bootdisk level unless the right credentials are entered. Of course, that’s also likely to mean more post-theft phishing attacks to try to get users to divulge their login details. Still, it’s novel, and hopefully should reduce temptation (or, at worst, the cost of Mac spare parts on the black market).
Follow the sound of my voice
Accessibility gets a real boost with macOS Catalina (and iOS 6) in the form of new voice controls that let users navigate their devices with unprecedented precision and ease using their voices alone. During its demo video, Apple showed off incredibly granular and efficient control of a MacBook and iPhone by barking orders exclusively. We’re eager to see how this plays out with third-party apps.
Two screens are better than one
One of the rumoured updates that came to pass is Sidecar, a new feature of macOS that lets you use an iPad a secondary display. This could prove really handy for digital nomads looking for the flexibility and productivity a secondary display affords without needing to pack a monitor into their luggage (never mind find a power outlet for it).
The last of the really big updates to macOS Apple showed off was Project Catalyst, an app that harnesses Swift UI to let developers create apps for watchOS, iOS and macOS all in a single interface. This should cut coding time and development costs, and allow devs to create better integrated apps for the Apple ecosystem.
Of course, there are plenty of other features in the forthcoming update to macOS that didn’t make it to the stage. We’ll be testing these once we’ve gotten the beta of Catalina installed. For those of you who’d rather wait for the final release, you can expect it around September 2019.