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macOS Sierra – good news for iOS users, ho-hum for the Mac-only crowd

If you don't use an iPhone or iPad, the headline features of macOS Sierra aren't very exciting.

The news that macOS Sierra — the newly announced successor to OS X El Capitan  will not run on some older Macs will be a disappointment for some.

But for others  especially those who don't use an iPhone or iPad  it's no big deal apart from the fact that it means they will need new computers sometime in the next two or three years if they (sensibly) worry about receiving security updates.

Let's look through the list of Sierra features that Apple is highlighting.

• Siri – There's enough noise pollution in homes, workplaces and (semi-)public places already without people gabbling to their computers.

• Photos  Photos hasn't met with universal acclaim as a worthy successor to iPhoto, so improvements will be welcomed. Improvements to face recognition and the ability to search by objects and scenery sound worthwhile. What we don't know at this stage is whether the new Photos will be for Sierra only.

• Apple Pay  only works with an iPhone or Apple Watch. Fine if you've got one, but where's the announcement of a Mac with the necessary hardware support for Apple Pay?

• Auto Unlock  again, requires an Apple Watch. Something similar is already available with third-party software (eg, Near Lock), sometimes with support for a broader range of hardware (eg, HandyLock).

• Universal Clipboard  now we come to something that could be useful to a non-iOS user, as long as they use multiple Macs. Similar functionality is already available with third-party software (eg, NetClipboard, albeit in a more limited form). It's one of those functions that isn't useful very often, but is a boon when you do need it. It could also be a hindrance if you are the primary user of an iPad but also share it with other members of the household.

• iCloud Drive  There are already several file-synchronisation products on the market with broader support than Apple offers. So syncing the Desktop and Documents folders via iCloud Drive isn't a bad idea, it is somewhat limited in comparison. And there's a capacity problem, which brings us to...

• Optimised Storage  Apple says "Storage space maxed out? No problem. macOS Sierra can help make more room by automatically storing rarely used files in the cloud and keeping them available on demand." But with iCloud storage costs $14.99 a terabyte a month (almost $180 a year), so who has more iCloud storage than local storage? Still, the automatic "clean up" routines will be welcomed by many  even though they do largely duplicate the functions of third-party products such as Onyx and Hazel. And you can't help feeling that Apple knows more about what can or can't be safely deleted than an external developer.

• Messages  big emoji. Yawn.

• iTunes  "redesigned Apple Music inside iTunes." Enough said. And it'll probably be available for older OSes anyway.

• Tabs  depending on what you're doing, tabs can be more convenient than multiple windows. So this will be a welcome change for some of us.

• Picture in Picture  floating video? Wasn't there something similar for Mac OS back in the nineties? And anyway, the research is in and humans don't multitask very well. In most cases this is going to be a distraction rather than a benefit.

So if you are a "Mac plus iPhone/iPad" user, there are several interesting and useful features in Sierra.

If you're not, you may be feeling a little neglected.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.