macOS updates have been largely forgettable in years past, as most of them have generally been catching up to features and apps first seen on iOS. Also, a lot of the updates only matter to people who use the Apple-made apps on their Mac — like Mail, Photos, Safari, iCloud Drive, etc. And if mac OS ‘High Sierra’ moniker of this year’s macOS wasn’t a hint, it’s going to be more of the same.
Let’s take a look at what the newest version of macOS has to offer, which will be out in Beta soon with the final version releasing this fall.
1. Apple File System (APFS) Support
At WWDC 2016, Apple announced that it was working on a new file system that will replace the HFS+ file system that’s been around for decades now. Simply called Apple File System (APFS), it first arrived on iOS 10.3 earlier this year. At the WWDC yesterday, as planned the company announced that macOS High Sierra will use APFS by default. We have written an elaborate piece on the advantages of APFS, but to summarise here are some of the benefits — first, it is optimized for flash or solid state drives. With the exception of the Mac mini and some iMacs, all other computers on Apple’s shelf today are powered by SSD storage, so it’s apt for the company to make this filesystem the default one.
The file system also promises improved responsiveness — Apple’s website suggests that common tasks like finding the size of a folder will be faster with APFS. At the keynote video, a demonstration suggested noticeable difference when duplicating files. The file system is also designed for safety and security, with features like built-in encryption, crash-safe protections and efficient data backups.
2. H.265 (HEVC) Video
For many years, H.264 has been the commonly-used video compression standard. At this WWDC, Apple has moved to the newer HEVC (known as High Efficiency Video Coding) format, which is also known as H.265. This proprietary standard will only work on Macs with sixth-generation Intel processors at least, and Apple suggests that the HVEC performance is tied to how powerful the Mac is. What does that mean for users? Apple says H.265 can compress video up to 40 percent more than H.264, meaning videos will take up less space on your Mac while retaining the same visual quality. Last year, a Netflix study suggested that H.265 was 20 percent more efficient than VP9, a competing royalty-free standard developed by Google.
Obviously, this will only make an impact for videos that are compressed in H.265. Fortunately, the camera app in iOS 11 will store videos using the new compression format, and people are already seeing the result.
Thanks to the new HEIF/HEVC format on iOS 11, your videos are really reduced in size. 4k goes from 340MB a minute down to 170MB a minute.
— Shubham Agarwal (@phonesoldier) June 6, 2017
3. Metal 2
As you may know by now, the graphics chip in computing devices is great for not just 3D graphics rendering, but also for offloading tasks from the CPU. Apple introduced Metal its in-house hardware-accelerated graphics and computation API in iOS 8. It competes with OpenGL and OpenCL as well as Vulkan (supported by Android 7.0 Nougat and above).
This year, the second version of Metal makes its way to macOS High Sierra, adding capabilities like machine learning, virtual reality and external GPU support. At the keynote presentation, Apple said that external GPU reference hardware could be used with Macs that don’t have as much graphics power via the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port. Apple also partnered with HTC Vive for developers to create VR experiences using a Mac.
The Photos app in High Sierra has a reworked interface with a persistent sidebar for easier navigation. The Memories feature gets more categories like pets, babies, weddings, birthdays, etc — meaning the app will identify photos that may be of the following types of events, and automatically create a virtual album with the best shots. Live Photos, that were introduced with the iPhone 6s, can now be edited with effects like loop or bounce.
Photos also play nice with more professional image manipulation apps like Pixelmator or Photoshop, as photos edited using those apps will automatically be saved into the former’s library. Lastly, Apple suggests facial recognition in the Photos app has gotten more accurate than before. And if you’ve tagged names and use iCloud Photo Library, it will now sync all those names to your other devices too.
The Mac’s default web browser did get some features that will be appreciated by a lot of users. Let’s start with Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which aims to remove cross-site tracking data using machine learning. In English, this means that product you once saw on an e-commerce site won’t be seen as part of an ad banner on websites you visit afterwards. Another annoying thing about the web these days are those pesky auto-playing video ads. A few years ago, Safari started showing a speaker icon using which one could effectively mute the audio of those ads whenever they played. But in High Sierra, Safari by default prevents videos from auto-playing. You can whitelist websites where you’d prefer that behavior also.
Next, the Reader mode in Safari long has been the savior from horribly designed websites that place a lot of ads and distracting content between the text. Until now, you had to manually click the icon on the right corner of the address bar to enable Reader Mode wherever it was supported. But in High Sierra, it can be set to automatically kick on for websites you choose.
Apple also suggests Safari on High Sierra is faster than competing web browsers like Chrome, Firefox and even Microsoft Edge on Windows. Tests conducted on multiple benchmarks suggest that Safari is the world’s fastest web browser right now, according to Apple. Also, it is no secret that Safari also tends to be more power-efficient than others (especially Chrome) on a Mac.
The Other Stuff
Siri can now play a song of your choice by learning your musical preferences, provided you’re subscribed to Apple Music. If you use iCloud Drive, sharing files is made easier with link-sharing. Spotlight can now look up flight status by keying in the flight number, just like how you would on Google. You can store Live Photos from Facetime video calls and pin frequently-used notes to the top of the Notes app. The Notes app also supports tables now, expanding its feature set with every macOS release. Users of the Messages app will be pleased to know that their iMessages will sync over from another device when they set it up on a new macOS computer. And lastly, Apple expanded the concept of family sharing to iCloud too; now you can buy cloud storage for all iDevice users in the household.
So, what did you think of macOS High Sierra? What features do you think will be the most useful to you? For us, the Safari browser enhancements are a great addition. Let us know yours in the comments.