macOS Sierra is coming to town

macOS Sierra is coming

The big news of the new Mac operating system – macOS Sierra is that we are getting Siri, our favourite personal assistant to help us do our stuff. From what I saw in the Keynote video from WWDC you just have to press a button and Siri will start listening. Maybe it’s the same button as used at the moment to have Siri dictation on your Mac, the function key. Apple showed off the Siri on the Mac being used to search for folders in Spotlight. It was possible to make a search and then to further refine the search just using your voice. By pressing the plus button the search gets saved to the notifications which looked handy if you need to get to the same search results again. It did look quite interesting the fact that you can drag an image which has been found in this manner from the notifications into a document.

macOS Sierra - Siri

One of the ideas is that you’re multitasking by using Siri. You have something else you’re working on already or maybe you’re just using the Messages application. Press the button and ask Siri to do something and you have minimal interruption to whatever you were doing before. Some of these things I can do already using DragonDictate, but I suppose it will be nice to have it built into the operating system. With it being integrated like that it’ll work better with a wider variety of applications. Already when I’m using the Messages application I can dictate the message and then say “Send message” and the message is sent as if it was magic. Siri on the Mac will do much more than I can do with DragonDictate because I can ask it to show me my photos from yesterday. I can even ask specific questions like “Show me all the files I shared with Victoria last week”. I can already tell my computer to open applications for me or to close them using DragonDictate. What is extra with having Siri available is that I can ask questions such as what is the weather in a particular location. I can ask for information my computer doesn’t know but the internet and Siri does.

Improvements to the Photos app

Long lost memories resurfacing in Photos

Google users already know about being offered a display of photos from a particular period in time. Facebook have done something similar with a slideshow of your photos from the previous year. The problem they had with that was when some people had a particularly bad year and ended up been shown pictures of dead friends and funerals. With this sort of improvement in the Photos App it should go a little better and in the example provided at the Keynote it included short clips of movies as well as photos. With Memories we can be reminded and we can rediscover special moments from hidden corners of our photo library. That could be quite a good thing so we have a second viewing of our life with photos. Better than the photos hiding and festering in dark corners, never to be seen again.

macOS Sierra Intelligent search in Photos

This new automatic computer generated search based upon objects within photos looks quite interesting. It promises to identify pictures of sunsets and birthday cakes as well as other types of scenes and objects. It’s a similar sort of thing to the face recognition, but more complicated. We’ll type in or ask Siri to search for pictures with a beach and this could save us quite a bit of time in having to label photos or add descriptions. It remains to be seen how clever this automated search of photographs will be. Can we ask Photos to find all our pictures of dogs for example? That’s what is promised by Apple for the Photos app.

Albums based upon places or locations

When you’re off on a trip somewhere you’re going to take a lot more photos than you would normally, Photos will create albums based on your photo expeditions. Day One the journalling application does something similar for me already so I can see all of the journal entries from a specific location on a map. Day One shows me all those entries within the map viewing area. I find it to be quite a useful capability in the application. On the map in photos you’ll see a small thumbnail photo along with a little blue dot giving you the number of photos within that album for that place. This will be handy if you want to zoom out and have a look at all the places you’ve been to take photos. Zoom in on the map to get more cartographic information. See where you were having that photo life experience.

macOS Sierra - Places

Apple Pay on the web

It looks like with macOS Sierra Apple are going to have a go at taking over from payment systems like PayPal. Some people will be happy about this because they don’t like PayPal. I’ve never had any problems with PayPal so doesn’t really bother me. Besides, we don’t yet have Apple Pay available in Spain. The good thing about Apple Pay on the web is you’ll be able to use Touch ID on your iPhone to securely pay for stuff. Or you can double-click on the side button on your Apple Watch and once again you have all the benefits of the marvellous security in the Apple Pay system. Looking forward to Apple Pay in Europe.

Auto unlock your Mac with your Apple watch

There’s already an application which will do this and I expect Auto Unlock will work by using Bluetooth LE just the same. It’s of no use to me because I don’t have Bluetooth LE on my iMac. You need access to a Mac less than about five years old. You’ll soon get used to not having to type in those passwords to gain access to your computer. It’s a nice little time-saving feature for sure. It’s not something on its own to make you update your perfectly good Mac to a newer version of hardware.

Universal Clipboard

I already have an application which gives me a Universal Clipboard across my devices. If I copy something on my Mac the application Copied sends that copied item to the clipboard of my other devices. I make use of the app quite often. Copied has other features which are useful such as named clipboards and clips management. Items you copy and paste often can be put into a named clipboard so you can get at them again easily. We don’t know yet if this Universal Clipboard has this functionality or is able to give us a list of the last 50 or 100 items copied. I could see how it would be useful to have this universal clipboard built into the system. On your iPhone you might see an image you like, just grab it and put it into a document you’re working on in Keynote or Pages on your Mac in macOS Sierra.

macOS Sierra - Universal Copy

Desktop and documents folders in iCloud drive

Some people are incredibly messy when they work on their computer and throw everything onto the desktop. I personally don’t like this and it annoys me to see a load of different types of files scattered all across the desktop. I use the application Hazel to keep my desktop clean. It automatically tidies away any files I drop onto the desktop. If you do like to work in a messy way then it could be useful to have those files also stored away on iCloud drive. The documents folder (where you should be keeping your documents anyway) as well as the desktop folder will now be accessible from all of your devices. Anything you throw into these places will automatically be stored and updated on the iCloud Drive. Maybe the previous evening you were working on a file which has been saved into your desktop folder. The next day you get to work and find you need to have the file with you. With macOS Sierra you’ll have access to that file as it will already bw synchronised to the cloud and therefore to your other devices. You just have to open up your iCloud drive on the iPhone or iPad and away you go.

Optimise Storage

You already have this facility with the Photos app. It’s particularly handy if you have a small hard drive because you’ve changed over to using an SSD. There will be no need to keep all of your files on your hard drive if you make use of the optimised storage feature in macOS Sierra. Files you haven’t used for a long time will be saved to the iCloud drive and deleted from the computer hard drive. The idea is you’ll be able to download these files just when you need them at a later stage. It seems like it could be a good idea.

macOS Sierra - optimized storage

What happens to our backups

My first thought with Optimised Storage is to wonder how this will interfere with a proper backup strategy for your data. If your files are only in one single place then you effectively have no backup. If something happens to this one file in iCloud drive then you are completely stuffed! With a proper backup strategy you should have three copies of your important files (all of them). The first one is the file you are using and is on your computer hard drive. The second copy is on a separate hard drive and the third will be off-site. Off-site could be a cloud storage solution such as iCloud Drive or Dropbox. I have to wonder how Time Machine will cope with files no longer available on the hard drive. Will there be some sort of marker on the hard drive like in photos when you have a thumbnail image in place of the actual photo. Will Time Machine make a copy of the marker or will its copy the actual file? This is something we need to find out more about before we take advantage of this new feature in macOS Sierra.

Getting rid of duplicates

Another feature of optimised storage is that it will get rid of duplicate and obsolete files. I can see that it would be useful to get rid of duplicates, especially if they are big files taking up space unnecessarily. I hope Apple have set this up so when it reminds you to delete old installers, duplicate downloads caches and logs, it won’t make a mess of things. With some applications it’s a good idea to keep a copy of the installer. This is the case with DragonDictate as you are only allowed to download the application for a short amount of time after you’ve bought it. It’s worth making a copy of the installer for DragonDictate and keeping it safe somewhere. Optimised Storage will also keep an eye on your trash and delete items that have been sitting there for over 30 days. This is something I don’t need because of using the application Hazel which already gives me that functionality. Hazel gives you fantastic tools for working with files such as renaming before moving. If you’re a power user on your Mac then I thoroughly recommend buying the application even after macOS Sierra is available.

Doing fancy stuff with Messages

macOS Sierra - big emojisOne of the big features in the keynote for macOS Sierra was improvements to the Messages application. Maybe a lot of people use Messages and will benefit from having these extra fancy ways to communicate with each other. It’s not exactly earth shattering though is it? I think it’s maybe childish to get excited by large emojis as some commentators on the Mac podcasts have done. It might be handy to have previews of links within the conversation in Messages and videos that’ll play in a little window. These things are not exactly going to set the world on fire. After you have noticed and exclaimed “Gosh that’s cool” once then you’ll just forget about it and get on with your life. Apple could have come up with something a little more interesting. What about getting the home kit Internet of things working better. I know it’s only early days, but being able to switch on and off lights in the house from Siri is not too exciting. Let’s see how the Home App on iOS performs.

We got tabs we didn’t get a better iTunes

Also not too exciting is the announcement about having tabs in other applications in macOS Sierra apart from the Finder and Safari. What is the picture in picture feature within macOS Sierra going to give us we can’t do already. Maybe we are expecting too much from a computer company. Is Apple busy working behind-the-scenes on the Apple car which really could blow everybody’s minds. Apple could have been doing something with the iTunes application which is rather bloated and unwieldy. There is the possibility there could be a number of things going on in the background of the Mac OS Sierra upgrade to make things better generally. It all could be working faster and more efficiently. All these little changes being made to small parts of the operating system could have an overall worthwhile benefit to the way we do things with our computers. We’ll see in autumn when it is released.

Moaning App Developers

Despite my moaning about the lack of exciting new major improvements to the Mac OS things are going in the right direction. The developers of third-party applications are getting the proper encouragement and tools to use and maybe that’s where we’ll see things moving forward. There have been complaints by developers about how the Mac App Store works with regards how difficult it is to have people find their applications. There are a huge number of apps, some of them absolutely fantastic. With so many applications then there are certainly apps that are a complete load of rubbish too. No wonder sometimes it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff!

Still looking forward to macOS Sierra

I might be getting a little bit weary about the slow pace of improvements to my computing life. Maybe I have unreasonable expectations. I don’t know what I even expect to come from my favourite computer platforms. I know it has to be more substantial than bigger emoji icons and fancy graphics in Messages. Is it an improvement if we can converse without using proper language. Siri on the Mac will be useful and it is about time too. It is still all about the Apple system and most new features on the Mac are mirrored on the iOS devices too. We’ll have an Apple computer experience whether using the Mac, iPhone or iPad. I’ll be updating as soon as the macOS Sierra is made available publicly. I will not be using the beta versions as I only have one Mac. It isn’t a good idea to use betas just to get the latest version early. There will be bugs in the betas and I’m happy to let others find them and help get rid of them.