macOS Sierra: What’s new in System Preferences?

What's new?

Apple, WWDC, OS X, macOS, Sierra, Mac, Macintosh
Jonny Evans

Every Mac user should know their way around System Preferences as it is where you will find a huge number of incredibly useful settings that should help any Mac user get more out of their machine. So, apart from a clearer and more spacious design, what is new in macOS Sierra’s System Preferences?

sierra preferences Jonny Evans

Changes and additions

Compared to the last available OS, macOS Sierra has the following changes and additions:

  • The Startup Disk preference pane is now situated to the right of the second row;
  • App Store has been raised to sit to the right of iCloud on row three
  • Your Dictation and Speech preferences have now been combined inside your Accessibility settings. If you have any configuration profiles in use on your Mac you will also find a preference to control these.
  • You’ll also find new Siri System Preferences.

There are a number of new tweaks and different features within some of these preference items, particularly Accessibility, but first let’s look at the biggest change.

You will also find some talk claiming introduction of a new Dark Mode, but I’ve found no evidence for this, other than finding that if you click the Invert colors option in the Display setting in the Accessibility preferences you see the same effect.

macossierrasystempreferences Jonny Evans

The Siri pane

The new preference item for Sierra’s flagship feature, Siri lets you disable and enable the voice assistant with a check box situated under the icon to the left of the pane. You can also set language settings, voice settings, enable and disable voice feedback, set the mic input and create a keyboard shortcut. Finally you can choose to Show Siri in the meny bar (enabled by default) and check for more information about Siri and Privacy. Now read The essential guide to using Siri on a Mac to learn more about using this powerful new tool.

dock prefs Jonny Evans


The Dock preferences item now contains a new “Prefer tabs when opening documents” item. By default this is set to ‘In Full Screen Only’, but you can also choose ‘Always’ and ‘Manually’ from the drop down menu.

langaugeregion Jonny Evans

Language & Region

This pane now offers a new Temperature drop down choice in which you can choose between Fahrenheit and Centigrade as default options, but the biggest change is in Keyboard Preferences (accessed at the bottom of the pane). Tap this and you’ll find the new home for Dictation settings, including support for Enhanced Dictation. The default Dictation shortcut is to Press the Function key twice, but you can change this here. You will also find new Capitalize words automatically and Add period with double-space checkbox settings in the Text pane inside Keyboard Preferences in here.

Security & Privacy

The most controversial change here is that the option to allow apps downloaded from “Anywhere” has disappeared. You'll also eventually find the allow Apple Watch to unlock your Mac checkbox here.

trackpad Jonny Evans


It may be worth mentioning that if you’ve not come across a Force Touch trackpad before on a Mac that’s equipped with one at the bottom of the Point&Click pane you’ll find additional settings as follows:

  • Click: Light, Medium, Firm
  • Tracking Speed: Slow>Fast
  • Silent Clicking checkbox
  • Force Click and haptic feedback checkbox.
grab Jonny Evans


Apple has dedicated lots of resources to improving accessibility across all its software platforms this year, and this is clear to see when you encounter the new accessibility pane. Positioning of items in the left hand list has been tweaked and new items include new General, Speech and Dwell Control settings. A new Reduce Motion setting is also available in the Accessibility>Display item.

  • General: This new setting lets you choose which items (Zoom, VoiceOver, Sticky Keys, Slow Keys, Mouse Keys and Invert Display Color) to invoke when pressing the Accessibility Shortcut key (Command-Option-F5).
  • Speech: This setting is the new home for some of the Text to Speech settings found in the retired Dictation and Speech System Preferences pane. Here you can set System Voices, choosing between Samantha, Victoria, Alex, Fred and others, some of which are available in enhanced quality.
  • Dwell Control: A big addition in macOS Sierra, Dwell Control lets users control the mouse using head or eye tracking tracking technology. Here you can set up Dwell actions for things like left, right and double click; drag & drop; Options Menu and Scroll Menu

Other things you might find:

  • Slightly more battery information in Battery inside Energy Saver;
  • Shortcuts to Keyboard settings are more widely available
  • In Time Machine the Off/On toggle to enable Time Machine Backups has been replaced by a “Back Up Automatically” checkbox.

Have I got everything? Let me know anything you’ve learned in comments below.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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