First look: A week with macOS Sierra

macOS takes its place within Apple's connected empire

I’ve been lucky enough to use the developer beta of macOS Sierra 10.12 since shortly after it was introduced at WWDC 2016. Because it is still in development not every feature works just yet, but what I've seen shows Sierra is in good shape for an OS that will be made available as a public beta in July, for full introduction in Fall.

My first impressions

Apple's OS isn’t just one operating system, but several: Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and the Watch, all of these are built on the same basic OS, and Apple's made sure that each one of its connected devices work well alongside each other.

An excellent example of how Apple works to make complementary connected solutions that work well together is the new AutoUnlock feature, which lets Apple Watch users open their Macs once they are close to their computer.

iCloud Desktop and Documents, Siri, and things like optimized storage all reflect the notion that everything you need and every project you work on should be available to access and use from any Apple device.

In truth, at Apple, the future of the OS is Continuity everywhere — and no other manufacturer comes close when it comes to delivering such a connected platform. Universal Clipboard is yet another example of how things can work together, logically, with Sierra.

sierra Jonny Evans

Let’s take a look

Flagship macOS Sierra improvements that work well now include: Siri, big Photos improvements, iCloud Desktop/Documents, tabs support in many apps as well as the system’s new optimized storage capabilities. Picture-in-picture mode and a much easier to navigate Apple Music interface also feature.

Things that don’t work yet include the new AutoUnlock feature with Apple Watch, Apple Pay on the Web and Messages (which does work between Macs running Sierra and iOS devices running the latest public beta).

I’ve taken a look at as many of the active improvements as I can (bar Music), and for reasons of space I’m skipping the lazy but in some quarters obligatory “but XXX did XXX first comparisons,” as they are a waste of your time.

Also read: Everything you need to know about the new iMessage

Hey Siri

Accessed using the new Siri icon to the right of the Finder in the Dock, the Siri icon in the Menu or using the Fn-Space shortcut, Siri on Sierra does everything you can do on an iPhone, and adds a load of commands you’ll use on a Mac (just ask Siri what you can ask).

Send messages, open System Settings, make dinner reservations, check the weather and sports scores, search the Web, whatever you like. Not only can you ask it to “Show my photos from yesterday,” but you can ask “How much free space do I have on my Mac,” or “Raise volume,” or launch apps and more. Siri is contextually clever, too, so you can refine search results with further requests.

Siri lets you ask about new topics Jonny Evans

Siri lets you ask about new topics

Despite its iOS beginnings, Siri is now a Mac application, which means you can drag-&-drop search results from the search window into documents and any search can be pinned to the Notification Center. The latter means you can add things you've asked Sirit to get,  like sports scores to stock prices in one click. It’s neat.

Siri also supports lots of search terms around the Finder and will control the built-in assistive features baked inside the Mac. Apple works very, very hard on assistive technologies — that’s why it’s new Union Square store in the US has wheelchair access to an internal courtyard even though it isn’t strictly required, evidencing how it actively thinks about and invests in such diversity. Another accessibility improvement in Sierra, Dwell control, support for hardware that uses a headband or eye movements to track input from users with limited mobility.

Things you can ask Siri Jonny Evans

The big problem I have with Siri is that it listens.

You see, I have times when I want to talk to my iPad, others when I want to use my smartphone and now, with Sierra, I have moments when I want to talk to my Mac. All of my devices are set to listen, but when I have several around and ask Siri to do something they all jump enthusiastically into action, merrily asking if I need their help. You can enable/disable Hey Siri on all the devices on an ad hoc basis, but that’s cumbersome. Given they all connect surely it should be possible to use Siri to assign listening status to just one device, and for the system to automatically update the status once the objects move relative to each other (once I leave home with my iPhone, for example).

My opinion? I’m not certain Siri on the Mac will be as widely used at work as it is at home. I think we have a tendency to guard privacy in the workplace and we’re not used yet to talking to our screens. I do however think Siri on the Mac will evolve to become a big success in some situations. I also think attitudes toward spoken word computing will begin to shift as people get used to it. In the beta, I found Siri to be well integrated, incredibly accurate and its voice recognition didn’t let me down once.

Also read: WWDC 2016: Apple’s 8 key enterprise stories

iCloud Desktop/Documents

I confess this worked like magic. All I needed to do was enable it and within a very short time (less than a minute, in my case) every item I saved to my Mac’s Documents or Desktop folder became available across all my other Macs and devices (in iCloud Drive).

The caveat emptor here is that as you add Macs to your account you’d better make sure you pop all your Desktop files into a folder (off the Desktop) while you set the system up:

“When you turn on iCloud Desktop and Documents on a second Mac, you’ll have the same files on your Desktop and in your Documents folder as you do on your first Mac,” Apple points out.

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