As I often do with big Apple announcements I will try to break it down to the basics: what, when, how much? Other bloggers will go into much more detail (and I may have more in-depth blog post myself later) but here is my quick rundown of everything Apple announced yesterday.
The betas are available immediately for developers, will be available to the public later this summer, and the final versions will be released this fall. Generally, these updates are released in September or October, but between the scope of the macOS update and the current health crisis, it may be later.
Do not install beta software unless you accept the risks. This software is not ready for the masses, but Apple will soon offer it to consumers so usage can be analyzed for a better final release this fall. Common problems include broken apps, spontaneous restarts, flaky connections, reduced battery life, and data loss. Downgrading requires restoring a backup from a time before you installed the beta, which will likely revert your documents and photos to that date as well. If you insist on testing, I recommend using a secondary device that you don’t rely on such as an iPad or an older Mac.
If you want to watch the keynote in its entirety, it’s available here.
macOS 11 Big Sur
Big Sur is named for the coastal region of California near Monterey. Even if you aren’t familiar with the area just an hour south of Cupertino, you may recognize the coastline and Bixby Creek Bridge from the HBO series Big Little Lies. This is the biggest redesign since Mac OS 10 nearly twenty years ago, more consistently unifying the cosmetic design with iPadOS without sacrificing power.
Key features include:
- Control Center and widgets, similar to iOS
- Messages and Maps apps are remade in Catalyst, porting over long-missing features from iOS such as Memoji, send with animation, and Look Around
- Safari adds web page translation, privacy report, Web Extensions API, better tab management, customizable home screen
- Mac Catalyst expands APIs for developers allowing more App developers to easily port their apps to Mac
macOS Big Sur is compatible with:
- Late 2013 MacBook Pro and later
- 2014 iMac and later
- All other Mac models 2013 and later
Which means that models that can’t upgrade past macOS 10.15 Catalina are:
- MacBook Pro – Mid 2012, Late 2012, Early 2013
- MacBook Air – Mid 2012
- iMac – Late 2012, Early 2013, Late 2013
- Mac mini – Late 2012
The Macs losing support have Ivy Bridge generation processors which Intel recently stopped releasing security fixes for. So this decision may be more to do with Apple’s inability to assure customers that their computers can be fully patched and I’m sure is another reason Apple is abandoning Intel for their own processors.
This year’s update for iPhone and iPod Touch introduces some exciting headline features such as home screen widgets, picture-in-picture, and incoming call notifications that don’t’ take over the whole screen
Compatibility includes all products compatible with iOS 13.
Key features include:
- Resizeable widgets alongside your app icons
- App Library allows you to have apps installed without taking up Home Screen space
- Picture-In-Picture on iPhone for video and FaceTime, just like on iPad
- Siri is compact, no longer taking over your whole screen, and far faster and smarter
- “Translate” is a new app very similar to Google Translate or Microsoft Translate allowing you to have a conversation with people who speak a different language
- App Clips allow you to run core features of apps directly from the cloud without installing
- Messages introduces many new features including inline replies, mentions, and pinned conversations
- Maps introduces curated Guides, cycling directions, EV directions with charging stations on your route, red light and speed camera warnings
- CarPlay adds wallpaper, and new app types for parking, EV charging, and food ordering
- Car Keys allows your iPhone to completely replace your car key fob on some new models of cars, starting with BMW
- AirPods can automatically switch between devices
- AirPods Pro adds spatial awareness capability for 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos content, using the accelerometers of AirPods Pro and iPad or iPhone to determine the direction
- Third-party apps can be set as default for mail and browser
- Emoji search
In general, iPadOS 14 includes all of the new features from iOS 14, though it does seem to be missing the new App Library, and widgets are confined only to the sidebar on the first screen. Additionally, we get a few new iPad-only features listed below.
iPadOS 14 is compatible with all devices that can run iPadOS 13.
- Sidebar navigation, button pulldown menu more consistent, and appear to work almost exactly as they do on Mac
- Search is now a popup like on Spotlight for Mac
- Notes app becomes much more powerful, allowing text manipulation of handwritten content, data detectors (tap a handwriten phone number to call) and shape drawing
- “Scribble” using Apple Pencil to fill in text fields in any app
watchOS 7 adds some exciting new features like sleep tracking and cycling directions, as well as a sprinkling of minor new things.
Compatible with Apple Watch Series 3 and later, dropping support for Series 1 and Series 2.
- New watch faces
- Face Sharing – through the web, app store, iMessages
- Cycling directions
- Workout app adds new workout types: dance, functional strength training, core training, cooldown
- Activity app is rebranded “Fitness”
- Sleep Tracking logs sleep time in the Health app
- Wind Down creates a bedtime reminder, can launch specified Shortcuts, enables DND, dims the screen
- Hand Washing uses the accelerometer and microphone to detect when you are washing your hands, giving you haptic feedback at 20 seconds or shaming you for stopping too soon
tvOS 14 isn’t a major release this year, but there are a few welcome features I’m looking forward to:
- Picture-In-Picture available for third-party apps
- AirPlay in PIP
- 4K support for YouTube
- 4K AirPlay from Photos app
- AirPods Sharing allows you to connect two pair of AirPods simultaneously
HomeKit, Apple’s home automation standard is already quite a mature product even if you’ve never heard of it. But it gets several welcome new refinements this year. Apple is also working with Google and Amazon to make their equivalent platforms interoperable.
- Adaptive Lighting sets smart bulb color temperature based on time of day
- Camera Activity Zones allow you to only get notifications when activity happens in certain areas of the frame
- Video doorbells announce who is at the door on HomePod or AppleTV using facial recognition data from your Photos library
Transition from Intel to Apple processor
Beginning later this year, Apple will begin a two-year transition from Intel to the same type of in-house chips they use in iPhone and iPad. This should allow Apple to once again innovate the Mac in the same way that it has innovated iPhone and iPad, improving the performance, efficiency, and security enormously.
This transition has many benefits, mostly related to energy efficiency and speed. Another exciting byproduct of this transition is that Mac will run iPad and iPhone apps with zero effort from the developer. Rosetta 2 will automatically rewrite Intel apps for the new native processor, reducing the overhead of running old software on a new computer. And Universal 2 binaries allow developers to publish software that is native to both platforms. Most software developers will simply need to recompile their apps using the new Xcode with little to no modification.
Apple has announced that all of their software will be ready to run on the new chips on day-one, and they demoed Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud which are nearly ready as well.
While I’m really excited about what this means for Mac in the long term, I remember the transition from PowerPC to Intel in 2006 was not without some difficulty. Yesterday’s announcements seemed to address some of those concerns, suggesting they learned from their mistakes, but we shall see. My only real concerns are that the last PowerPC and the first Intel Macs dropped software support after only about 5 years, much less than the typical 8 to 10 years Apple is known for. And after only two software upgrades Apple dropped Rosetta support, preventing newer Intel Macs from running older PowerPC software, which encouraged lots of people to remain on obsolete software much longer than they should have. I do hope that the current line of Intel Macs continues to get support for many years because for the first time in a while I think that Apple has a great lineup across every one of their products.
- Foundation, based on Isaac Asimov’s science fiction series coming to AppleTV+ in 2021
- Find My app is gaining support for third party devices
- HomePod will receive support for third-party music services such as Spotify or Pandora
- App Store subscriptions will now be available for family sharing (with developer approval)