macOS High Sierra preview

A new file system, more efficient video and photo handling, better graphics, machine learning made easier, virtual reality support, faces and iMessage sync, much Safari love, and more — here's your first look!!

macOS, née OS X, lucky version 13, is named High Sierra after the soaring elevations of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. It's part of a series of Mac operating systems Apple has been rolling out over the last few years. It started with Yosemite, after the park. Then zoomed in for El Capitan, out again for Sierra, and now up, up, way up for High Sierra.

High Sierra according to Apple, combines new technologies with a new level of refinement. The latter especially harkens back a version of OS X called Snow Leopard. It was marketed as having "no new features" — sorry, Grand Central Dispatch and Exchange support — and smartly so, because it put the public's attention where Apple's had been: On making substantial improvements under-the-hood in order to deliver substantive improvements to the overall Mac experience. So too, High Sierra.

There are new features in High Sierra too, of course, including support for virtual reality (VR) and significant additions to the Photos app, but the improvements to the foundation are even more impressive.

Cynics who believe the Mac cup is half full will no doubt play High Sierra off as a side-benefit of what Apple's doing with iOS for iPhone and iPad. Optimists with Mac cups half-full, and ears-to-the-ground, will realize that's a false dichotomy. iOS was born of macOS and Apple has been sharing advances between them for years now. Most recently, the software teams have been better positioned to provide a more integrated, more unified infrastructure for both. And the advantages of that approach are wicked obvious. Not just for the teams, the operating systems, and the apps, but for us, the customers.

Look no further than Apple File System, the biggest improvement in this release, if not this decade. Introduced over a year ago, already successfully rolled out to hundreds of millions of people with iOS 10.3, with High Sierra it comes fully to the Mac.

And that doesn't happen without shared talent and a unified focus. It's part of what makes High Sierra more than just a modifier shoved in front of last year's brand. It's what makes it part of what's next.

In brief

  • Apple File System brings the Mac and storage fully into the future.
  • HEVC and HEIF offer better efficiency and flexibility for 4K HDR video and computational photography going forward.
  • Metal 2 is 100x better at draw calls than OpenGL and Apple's leveraging that for everything from smoother interface animations to making machine learning models accessible to a much wider range of people.
  • VR is coming to the Mac with a ton of smarts for developers and creators, though it remains to be seen if game content will come with it.
  • Photos, Notes, Safari, and several other built-in apps got feature and performance boosts, including opening images in external editors, tables, along with tracker and auto-play video blockers. Hurrah.
  • Other features, like Continuity for media, split view app switching, Instant Markup for screenshots, and HomeKit for Siri remain frustratingly absent.
  • Faces and iMessage sync offer added convenience without impacting security and privacy.
  • Universal Clipboard for those with multiple Macs is the bomb.
  • Free update to most 2009/2010 Macs, shipping this fall.

About this preview

I've been using the macOS High Sierra developer beta on my primary 13-inch Skylake MacBook Pro since release on June 5, 2017. For the last week, I've also been using the second beta on a 15-inch Kaby Lake MacBook Pro review unit and a Skylake 27-inch iMac. That version should be largely identical to the public beta released today.

Since it's a beta, I'm not going to talk about bugs. Finding bugs so Apple can squash them before release is the whole purpose of a beta. If that gives you a false impression about just how rosy life is on High Sierra right now, let me disabuse you of it: As betas go, it's been good, but beta means beta and if you need your Mac for anything mission critical — or you simply need your Mac, stay far away until release or later. Cue the disclaimer.

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas for iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac (sadly, no public beta for the Apple Watch). While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

Apple File System

APFS, the Apple File System was designed to replace the venerable HFS+ across all of Apple's devices. Though Apple had done an admirable job McGyver'ing HFS+ over the years, bubble gum and paper clips could take the Mac no further. So, it was time for something new. Something that was born for modern storage on state-of-the-art devices, and that could meet the needs not just of now, but of the near future as well.

For more on the technical aspects of Apple File System, and how it's implemented on iOS, see my APFS primer. What Apple's doing specifically for macOS deserves a closer look.

First up is proper support not just for the solid state storage now found in Apple's notebook lineup, but for the fusion drives — small solid state fused with big hard drive platters — still found in desktops. Apple had used Core Storage as middleware to fool HFS+ into handling fused storage, but it only worked at the block level, didn't understand files or the exact kind of changes being made to them. APFS does. It can make better, more intelligent decisions about what kind of data goes where. For example, it can make sure metadata is always on the SSD so random access is always faster.

I've been using a fusion drive on a 2015 iMac and… it's not always been ideal. Once you get used to SSD like on MacBooks and MacBooks Pro, it's hard to go back, even to fusion. So, every time the platters spin up, so do my nerves. With High Sierra, though, that's been noticeably less often. I want to pay more attention to it over time to see if it's just a new update shot in the disk, or a substantive improvement. I'm very much hoping for the latter.

HFS+ also never understood full-disk encryption. So, FileVault used Disk Images and FileVault 2 once again relied on Core Storage. That limited the available features. APFS includes native support for encryption so Apple can offer it directly and in a way that allows for new features to be added over time.

APFS includes native support for encryption so Apple can offer it directly and in a way that allows for new features to be added over time.

I'm a fierce advocate for security in general and full-disk encryption in particular, especially on notebooks, so this is an incredibly welcome change.

Thanks to APFS snapshots, which captures the state of the storage at a moment in time, without risking changes or collisions like HFS+, backups become a lot cooler too. For example, where HFS+ support for mobile Time Machine backups was buggy, APFS re-implements it completely on snapshots. Which also uses less storage and performs less I/O — it can do differentials at the block level — resulting in better performance.

Since my main Mac is mobile, and I own a Time Capsule, I'm really happy about this as well.

In HFS+, sparse files took up more space and required more time to read and write to than it should have. APFS, which should come as no surprise at this point, supports it natively. No problem, no wasted space or time. Some basic actions are also wicked fast. Because of cloning, APFS doesn't have to produce duplicate data when copying files. It can copy the metadata and and point back to the original. That takes almost no time and uses only a tiny amount of space. As changes accrue, it can record the differentials, making the process as efficient as possible.

The mental hurdle you have to clear, of course, is that if you make five copies of a big video, you save tremendous space… but if you then try to recover space by deleting those 4 extra copies (really clones) you won't recover much space at all. At least unless and until you delete the original, which you might not want to do. Trippy, right?

Apple does some smart interface and reporting work, including fast directory sizing, command line directory size tracking, and not hooking some of it up to the Finder, all to help make it file system magic more human understandable. For the most part it works. The rest is just coming to terms with the new normal.

If you use multiple partitions, which is something I used to do a lot but haven't in a while, APFS lets those partitions dynamically resize. Partition size used to be a huge pain when I rocked virtual machines galore, so past me appreciations this even if current me is long past rehab. The dynamic resizing does come at the expense of absolutely knowing the real size at any given point in time, but I'm a fan of abstracting away as much of the old comp sci cruft as we can from the computing process anyway. For most people, it's better.

Since macOS still fully supports HFS+ volumes, old and new, there's no reason to convert external drives if you don't have to — and you don't have to worry, it won't do it automatically. I left my old HDD externals on HFS+, though I did update my new SSD external to APFS. It means no one else in my circle of family and friends can use it until High Sierra goes into wide release, but such are the sacrifices of the preview process. And it works just fine.

I can't advise anyone to do upgrade to APFS right now, but I've done it on several Macs without incident.

For your boot drive, when you install High Sierra, it asks you if you want to switch to APFS. At that point you need to ask yourself if playing it safe with your data or living a life of adventure (and possibly heartbreak) is the reason you signed up to the beta.

I can't advise anyone to upgrade to APFS right now, but I've done it on several Macs without incident. I backed up heavily first, of course, and so should anyone else attempting it.

If and when you choose to, I think you'll be every bit as happy as I am. Which mean, you won't notice any big difference at all, except how much faster and better certain things are. And that's utterly the point.

HEVC (H.265) and HEIF

Once upon a time we had H.264. We liked it. It was fast and it was good. It let us download and stream our 720p and 1080p video in seconds and minutes instead of hours. But now our video has grown four times bigger with 4K (2160p) and gotten deeper with high-dynamic range (HDR), and H.264 is not longer so fast or so good.

So, the consortium of licensors (you can think of more colorful names for them) have now given us H.265, which they went to all the trouble of re-branding the even less-enjoyable-to-say high efficiency video codec, HEVC. Gesundheit.

The efficiency in the name works out to about 40% over H.264, typically at the expense of longer encode times up front. (Very little in life, and nothing in video, is free.)

On a Skylake Mac (late 2015 and 2016), you get the 8-bit Main profile which handles 4K. On a Kaby Lake Mac (mid 2017), you get the 10-bit Main 10 profile, which also handles HDR.

With macOS Sierra, Apple is building in support for encode and decode. On a Skylake Mac (late 2015 and 2016), you get the 8-bit Main profile which handles 4K. On a Kaby Lake Mac (mid 2017), you get the 10-bit Main 10 profile, which also handles HDR.

The hardware is what handles the acceleration. macOS is what handles the smarts, turning the greater amount of knobs available in HEVC to provide as high a quality with as high a performance as possible. It also benefits from HEVC, where hardware acceleration allows, by offloading processing to that hardware. That frees up everything else.

There's so little content available for HEVC yet, and even the big players that are trickling out support for it, like Amazon and Netflix, aren't doing it for Mac yet. So, right now, this HEVC will appeal mostly to video professionals and transcoders. As I said in my 2017 Mac reviews, though, I love that Apple is ready and waiting for more — because so am I.

High-efficiency image format, or HEIF, is High Sierra's Nightwing to HEVC's Batman, and you can enjoy right now.

High-efficiency image format, or HEIF, is High Sierra's Nightwing to HEVC's Batman, and you can enjoy right now. it offers 2x better compression than trusty old JPG and what's more — it stores multiple assets in the same container.

That's easier to explain using an iPhone 7 Plus running the also HEIF-enabled iOS 11. Where previously things like the base and depth data for Portrait Mode or the still and motion elements of a Live Photo were stored separately, HEIF bundles them all together. (HDR data, which is taken from multiple exposures, starts being processed at the ISP-level in the chipset, so that's burned in before it can be bundled into HEIF.)

The advantage to that is most apparent in photo editing, where filters can now apply different effects based on the depth or motion data. It's also going to be important as we continue our march towards things like Portrait Mode and the computational photography that'll go well beyond lenses in the future.

That sound you hear is me going squeeeeeeeeeee.

Some of this does come at the cost of compatibility with older systems. macOS can and will share H.264 and JPG versions of your videos and photos to people running devices without HEVC or HEIF support, but if you just grab the raw files and move them around, older apps might not know what to do with them. Early adopter be warned.

They're both standard formats, though, so once support goes wide we'll really start reaping the benefits.

Metal 2

When Apple introduced Metal, a new graphics framework that sidestepped the depthy cruft of OpenGL and let developers write much, much close to the… metal, the company claimed a 10x improvement to draw calls. With Metal 2, the company is claiming a 10x improvement over the original, for a total of 100x over GL. That's ballsy to say the least.

Apple really wants to deliver on the promise of technologies like OpenML, its new, high-level common format for machine learning models, and the lower-level computer vision kernels for image processing, linear algebra, convolutional neural networks, and algorithms behind it.

To do that, it has to make it easier to get the CPU out of the way and tap into the computational power of modern graphics processors. I can't even pretend to understand all this, but the way that it's been explained-to-me-like-I'm-a-three-year-old by much smarter friends and colleagues is that it's offering new commands that allow more to be submitted and referenced in advance, it no longer needs to reset so it can copy less data and send fewer commands, and all of that reduces overhead and increases performance. Woof.

Also, where the original Metal varied in some areas between Apple's platforms, Metal 2 is unified. There are still a few differences because Apple's devices remain different, but there's now feature parity wherever possible, which means code can be shared more easily whenever possible.

The macOS windowing server in High Sierra is implemented on top of Metal 2, so everything on screen from draws to compositing to animation to scrolling is smoother. (I didn't say "buttery smooth" so you can't drink!)

Of course, all that buttery smooth (d'oh!) new windowing isn't helped by the lack of advancement in features like Split View. I use it all the time on the 12-inch MacBook, same as I do on the iPad, but while the iOS version started better and has become much, much better, the macOS version has been left in the same frustrating state as it was at launch — with no ability to change the apps in an existing Split View, only to destroy it and start over.

I keep trying new gesture and keyboard incantations in hopes that a new switcher is there and I'm just missing it. But so far, no luck. Maybe I'm the only one still using it?

Speaking of being bummed, I know some people are still grumpy that Apple is using an Apple-specific framework for all this new graphical goodness, and not something standards-based like OpenGL was, and that's fair enough. Sometimes Apple chooses to control its own destiny and sometimes that lets Apple move faster, more efficiently, and more specifically than standards-based process or cross-platform technology would allow.

Time will tell if Apple chose wisely in this instance but Metal 2 more than hints that the company did.

Virtual Reality (VR)

When Oculus first announced the Rift, I bought one. Because of course I did. Then, when I found out it wouldn't work on the Mac, I lent it to a friend so she could have fun with it on her PC gaming rig. I'm not PC angry, but I didn't want to have to set up and maintain another computer system just to enjoy the occasional VR experience.

The whole time, though, I hoped — and complained about the lack of support — for VR on the Mac. High Sierra is beginning to answer those hopes — and shut up those complaints.

On the hardware side, the new iMacs have enough graphics muscle to support VR and, currently in developer beta but going into general release in the spring of 2018, external graphics processors (eGPU) will open up that support to the MacBook Pro as well. (macOS has never had to account for GPUs that could appear or disappear before, so all of that is being accounted for in High Sierra, including detection, notification, and loss handling.)

That requires a hefty helping hand on the software side too, including Metal 2.

For VR, Apple is doing everything possible to provide for extremely low latency and solid, high frame-rates between the Mac and head-mounted displays like the HTC Vive. As soon a s VR display is connected, macOS High Sierra will detect it and get as much of the rest of the software stack out of the way as possible. Then, an optimized rendering path takes over.

There are also new performance tools for developers building VR applications, including system trace for VR timelines and per-eye visualization in the debugger. Much of that is as over-my-head as Metal, but it excites the VR nerds I've spoken with and that excites me.

What's not as clear yet is how much support there'll be for native VR gaming on the Mac. Steam is on board, and to quote my colleague, Russell Holly of VRHeads.com, it looks like both they and Apple are doing everything right. So, fingers crossed. Worst case, there's always Boot Camp, but I'd prefer not having to maintain that environment if I don't have to either.

Regardless, I'll be testing the eGPU and the iMac on VR over the summer, so stay tuned for more.

Photos

I have a love-hate relationship with Photos for macOS. I love how integrated it is with Photos for iOS, and how well it excels at basic photo and video management and editing. But I miss being able to drag-and-drop into several of the non-Apple apps I use, and I really miss being able to right-click and open in Photoshop or another external editor, which I did near-constantly in Aperture.

At the same time, just as it delivers the top-most features on my wish list, High Sierra trolls me by improving its own editing enough that I now don't need an external editor anywhere nearly as often. That includes new tools like curves and selective color. Best of all, they're auto-magic enough that you don't have to be a Photoshop wizard to use them.

For example, you can chose selective color to take a photo of your red iPhone sitting on green leaves, pull all the saturation from the green, and then push the red towards purple. And boom, whole new photo.

It's so quick and easy that earlier this week, for the first time ever, I moved a photo from Photoshop to Photos to finish it. Yeah, I was surprised too!

A lot of this is also available in Photos for iOS 11 — unified foundations have their advantages! — and when it comes to quick editing to post on Instagram or other social networks, I prefer doing it on iPhone. iPad is also a joy to edit on. For big batches of images, I still prefer the Mac, so these new tools being available here as well are great.

Even the new Live Photo effects, Loop, Bounce, and Long exposure. They're fun and I'm sure I'll end up using them more on iPhone and for Instagram, but sometimes I'm at my Mac when inspiration strikes and not having to reach for my iPhone is huge convenience.

That's especially true for memories. Confession: I find them kind of annoying on iPhone. I'm usually busy when I have my phone in my hand so I don't have the patience for the notifications or the time to explore and share memories. When I'm on my iPad or Mac, it's a different story. Especially my Mac. On my Mac, a memory will pop up in the corner or the bottom of a photo I'm looking at and I'll smile, and more often than I expect, I'll share it.

Same for the new third-party extensions that allow you to order framed prints and other IRL manifestations of your photos. They won't be available until macOS High Sierra ships this fall, but I have some strong preconceptions about how I'll end up using them. I may yet be proven wrong, but my guess is grabbing a one-off or impulse items will be awesome on iPhone. Planning something really special, though, will again better on iPad and, dare I propose, still even better for me on the Mac.

One of the most anticipated new features, and also one coming to both macOS High Sierra and iOS 11, is Faces sync. When Apple initially re-deployed facial recognition and tagging last year, the company said syncing would come later.

Well, later is now. And the reason it took so long is that Apple wanted to provide the convenience of sync while maintaining the privacy and security of on-device processing — Apple doesn't want to know who your friends and connections are, and I'm supremely thankful for that.

So, what Apple's doing is interesting. To enable face detection, you have to start selecting people you know and then identifying them. At that point the on-device machine learning and computer vision takes over and starts to add more and more pictures of the identified people to the pool.

When syncing, Apple is only moving over the data you yourself identified. None of the machine learning or computer vision relationships that were built around it. Just your "truth". Then, the synced device rebuilds those relationships locally.

In other words, I tag pictures of my mom on my iPhone, it finds other pictures of my mom on my iPhone to add to her Faces folder on my iPhone. The pictures I tagged are also synced to my Mac, which then also finds other pictures of my mom on my Mac to add to her Faces folder on my Mac.

Apple will have to prove that this implementation works well enough that people who want no part of the massive data harvest that is Google Photos will still find it useful enough to use, and that'll take a while post-launch to really shake out.

Still, privacy is good and options are good, and options for privacy are great.

iMessage sync

The other big sync-but-privatize news for macOS High Sierra involves iMessage. Previously, each device got its own unique end-to-end encrypted copy of a message that Apple's servers would attempt to deliver for a week or so and then abandon forever. It was great for security but not so great for convenience and consistency. Over time, invariably, some devices would have some messages and others, especially newer ones, wouldn't.

I was curious how Apple would solve this because the last thing any privacy-conscious person — or Apple itself — wanted was some unencrypted web repository sitting online, ripe for the plucking.

It took them a while but, like with Photos, it seems Apple has done it right.

All messages remain end-to-end encrypted and for all intents and purposes inaccessible to Apple. They're merely collected now on the web, in their encrypted form, so Apple can ensure a consistent delivery and experience across your devices.

We'll likely have to wait until Apple's post-release security white paper is delivered and explains the process in more detail, but it sounds like from the moment you turn on High Sierra and/or iOS 11, all your threads will show up on all your devices, current and to come.

It also remains to be seen how well the approach holds up to the scrutiny of the info-sec community, but if Apple is going to stick by its privacy-first policies, it's going to have to stick with delivering on them as well.

Safari

Safari has been my go-to web browser for years. It's gotten to the point where I only install Chrome on a Mac when and if I have to. Safari is just so much lighter, both in interface and power draw, that it better fits the modern, mobile world. Because I work on the web and spend most of my day in a browser, whatever improvements Apple makes to Safari, and its underlying technologies like WebKit, affect me directly. And it's great to see Apple still pushing that forward.

Yes, relentless performance and zero regression are alive and well.

So, what's new in High Sierra? All me to shut up for a rare moment and let Apple senior vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, talk for a moment.

From The Talk Show Live at WWDC 2017, as transcribed by Serenity Caldwell:


Craig Federighi

Sorry, sorry man!

[laughter]

But so, there's definitely a fair amount where we have goals as a company and as a release, where we ask all teams to pull in, and what's so awesome about Apple is that the teams will all rally to the cause. But at the same time, this release, we said, listen: Here's 50% of the time off the top — tell us how you just want to make your stuff better. And the teams took to it, uh… it's great to have great people.

John Gruber John Gruber

Safari got a pretty good chunk of that.


Craig Federighi

Yeah.

John Gruber John Gruber

And it seemed like… you — just flat out said, y'know, "Safari is faster than Chrome."


Craig Federighi

You helped prompt me to do that!

John Gruber John Gruber

Yeah?


Craig Federighi

Yeah! Yeah. It was a few weeks ago that you wrote something about Safari, and you were — you complimented Safari in one regard, and then you said "Yeah, and it's okay that Safari's not the fastest," and I'm like, "WHAT?!"

[big laughter]

And I realized, when every time one opens their browser and goes to a particular search engine, that there's an ad that says "Get a faster browser"…

John Gruber John Gruber

Right.


Craig Federighi

… That eventually, it seeps in, and people stop —

Phil Schiller Phil Schiller

[into the mic] MARKETING.


Craig Federighi

Marketing, where that's coming from. And…

[laughter]

And so we thought we'd bring some knowledge! And it's all true, man. I mean, that team is unbelievably obsessive about performance. They're absolutely the best in the industry. The Safari team rules, the WebKit team, the combination of them, they build the fastest browser on the planet, and honestly, I'm getting sick of people not giving them their due!

[large cheers and applause]

Phil Schiller Phil Schiller

Beware a pissed off engineer.

[laughter]

There are some new features coming to Safari as well, including automatically blocking automatically playing videos. That's not just video ads either but sites that start playing video right away to buff up their view numbers. If you've ever had silly sounds pop out of your Mac at the worst possible time — cough, senior staff, cough — you'll really appreciate this.

Safari will also block trackers. Advertising companies use trackers to to try and build profiles to serve more compelling ads and to make sure they don't pay to serve the same person the same ad more than a handful of times. (Because, after that, you've either already clicked on it or, more likely, already decided it's something you're not going to click on — and advertisers are nothing if not frugal to a fault.)

Since ads are super dumb and normally don't know about each other, they don't share trackers but rather spin up multiple instances of even the same tracker multiple times on the same page. That in no way helps the advertisers with their goals but absolutely kills performance on page.

As disheartening as it is for some of us to believe, it's not the privacy that bothers most people — otherwise we'd be far, far more careful about all the data we're already handing over to Google and Facebook in exchange for "free" services — but the impact on performance. We don't all hate giving away data but we all seem to hate our browsers being slow.

Regardless, this solves for that. And what's more, Safari for High Sierra lets you save settings per site. So, you do things like defaulting certain sites to Reader Mode if that's what you want.

There's a lot more too, including: WebRTC, HEVC for more efficiency web video, variable fonts so great typography stays looking great across different screens and resolutions, CSS fill and stroke, CSS Grid so everyone finally stops using tables (right?), CSS scroll snap because web apps need all the scrolling help they can get, and Gamepad support for online games.

Also, WebAssembly so you can get binary with it on the web, SharedArrayBuffer because JavaScript deserves to be multi-CPU aware too, Fetch API to bring resource loading out of the stone ages, DOM JIT because the object model needs to be just-in-time too, HTML custom elements because easier code reuse is easier, offscreen canvas to make web animations silky smoother, indexed database API 2.0 because persistent storage for web apps needs as much 2.0 as it can get, and input events and point lock to better control interactivity,

And URL standard for better parsing compatibility across browsers, resource and user timing to help analyze web performance or the lack thereof, visual viewport so responsive design can pan, zoom, and handle other changes, concurrent garbage collection so it stops janking up your browsing, and HTTP immutable responses for better security and performance.

Phew.

Siri + No HomeKit

Siri for macOS High Sierra gets the same new, more natural voice as Siri for iOS, and the same, new, more circular icon just like on the top of HomeHup. There's also music integration for recommendations, playlist creation, and general information.

There's still no sign of HomeKit support, though, which is a huge bummer. I'd love to be able to tap Siri on the Touch Bar and turn my lights on or off without having to reach for an iOS device or remote.

Along the same lines, even though Continuity was introduced three versions ago, there's still no support for media, which means I can't be listening to a playlist on my Mac, get up and walk away, and keep listening on my iPhone without missing a beat.

I miss all the beats — unless I manually tap through to find and play the same list, or ask Siri to find and restart it. Yes, like an animal.

Given the great lengths Apple has gone to to make its platforms such a uniform, consistent experience, it only sticks out all the more when gaps like this remain.

Universal Clipboard

This is really too short an update to really warrant a whole section but I love it so much: You'll be able to copy and paste files between Macs using just the power of Apple ID, iCloud, Bluetooth LE, and point-to-point Wi-Fi alone.

That's a geeky way of saying hit CMD-C on one Mac, move over to another Mac that's also logged into your account, and hit CMD-V. Boom, Continuity file copying.

It's the same feature that's let you copy and paste text between Apple devices for a while now, only for files.

And yeah, it'll make even AirDrop feel like too much work. Fast.

Best of the rest

There are a few other features that, while not as big, are still worth pointing out.

Spotlight, still around and kicking in the age of voice, will be able to give you flight numbers, arrival and departure times, terminal and gate info, update you on flight delays, and show you a map of the flight path. There's also support for constellations and, hurrah, multiple Wikipedia results.

Accessibility will get Type to Siri, which has been on my wish-list for a long time as well. (Sadly, inverse colors doesn't seem to be as smart as the new iOS 11 version, at least not yet.)

For iCloud, you'll be able to share an iCloud Drive link the way you've been able to share a Dropbox link for a while. Just copy it, send it, and whomever you share it with will be all up in your file or files with you. (Yes, share wisely.)

Files you share can be used in any compatible app and you can control access so, for example, anyone can view one file but only specific Apple IDs can edit another. Think Google Docs sharing but for iCloud.

There are also new storage plans that offer more storage at the highest end but also the option to use your storage with Family Sharing.

Mail is faster and now shows top hits based on a variety of factors, including how often you engage with the sender. It's supposed to get better the more you use it. I've found it a bit of a mixed blessing since I often search for mail that comes from senders I typically don't engage with — like for order status or shipping info. I'll give it time, but I currently feel lost more often than I did staring at the long list of literal results.

Notes lets you pin notes at the top of the list and also add tables. Since its launch I've pretty much lived in Notes for most of my writing. It's my figurative mind palace. But with sync. It doesn't get all the fancy new features like document scanning or, obviously, Instant Access via Apple Pencil, but I'll take any improvements I can get.

I'd still kill for a plain text mode. Hard.

I also wish Instant Markup for screenshots was included in macOS High Sierra the way it is in iOS 11, because Mac users want to complain and taunt via screenshot too.

FaceTime lets you grab Live Photos during video calls. It's terrific fun in the best Photo Booth sense of the word. There are no effects, like Photo Booth, but there's every bit the sense of capturing a special moment. And since it uses the camera on the other end of the conversation, you get much better than screenshot, compressed video quality. You get everything the other device can deliver. In motion.

Still waiting on FaceTime conference calling.

There's also bilingual English support, autocorrect, auto word-list updating, and better video captioning for Japan; safe browsing and local points of interest for China, Hindi as a system language, a Nastaliq font, SF Arabic system font, and new bilingual dictionaries for Russian and Portuguese.

Coming this fall

macOS Sierra is currently in developer and public beta and scheduled to ship wide this fall. Compatibility includes:

  • iMac (Late 2009 & later)
  • MacBook Air (2010 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
  • Mac mini (2010 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (2010 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (2010 or newer)

Though, as with previous updates, not all features will be available on older models.

Like all recent updates, it'll be free. And it'll have the vast majority of Apple's customers at precisely that — free.

But I also think it'll win more than it's fair share of fans on the strength of its new technologies and refinements. For people like me who have been looking for VR support or waiting on a few extra features for everyday apps like Photos or Notes, or wanted Faces and iMessages to sync, it'll be a clear win.

And that's something given the maturity of macOS as a traditional computer operating system and Apple's desire not to toaster-fridge it by grafting on a touch layer, in large part because the company already ships an enormously popular and increasingly powerful touch-first operating system in iOS.

It's one of those things where people hate change but also hate being bored. In this instance, many will no doubt call the new macOS boring.

As someone who uses macOS every day and has everything from the multitouch trackpad to the keyboard shortcuts on muscle-memory speed-dial, I'm happy for every other year to slow down on the sculpting and double down on the polishing. I do wish Apple had addressed some of my longer-standing gripes, like the aforementioned lack of HomeKit support, lack of Continuity for media, and the inflexibility of Split View, but they nailed other ones like external editors in Photos. They also gave my most-used app, Safari, so much love.

I'll wait on the release version to form any final opinions and there's still a lot more I'd like to see from Apple on the Mac, but macOS High Sierra sets the stage for most of it.

And that's exactly what it needed to do.