A period of testing a macOS beta unveils easier use of everyday features across devices.
We’re getting closer to September, which traditionally is when Apple emerges from its locked labs and shows off the products it’s been working on. Expect a new iPhone, of course, which may or may not remove the headphone jack in favor of wireless audio — though, to be honest, my interest in following breathless rumors about upcoming phones is pretty minimal. We’ll find out soon enough.
But September is also when the next versions of macOS and iOS will likely arrive, and those are known quantities. Apple announced many features at its Worldwide Developer Conference in June, and has made pre-release versions available for developers and the public since then.
You can sign up for the Apple Beta Software Program to test macOS and iOS yourself (beta.apple.com); just remember that this is still-in-progress software, so install them on devices that you don’t rely on for critical work.
I’ve been testing macOS Sierra on a Mac mini I use just for this purpose, but I’ve also set up an external hard disk with Sierra that I can use to start up any of my Macs. Another option is to install Sierra in a virtual machine, such as using the just-released Parallels Desktop 12 (www.parallels.com). Do you have an old iPhone, iPad or iPod touch? That’s a great test bed for iOS 10.
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There’s a lot to process in each update, so this week I want to touch on some new features that make the Mac and iOS devices work in tandem. Although some people wonder when Apple will finally merge iOS and macOS into one operating system, for now they’re still on separate paths, but working closer together.
Unlock your Mac with the Apple Watch. Sometimes the small changes make a big impact. With an Apple Watch running pre-release simply being in close proximity to your Mac can unlock it when you start up or wake it from sleep.
It requires that you’ve set up Apple’s Two-Factor Authorization, which you should do anyway. After that, when you wake the Mac (by lifting the lid on a laptop or pressing a key for desktop Macs), it senses the watch and unlocks.
It’s also still secure. The watch remains unlocked as long as it’s on your wrist (the sensors underneath can tell), so someone would need to know your watch pass code to use it.
As someone who ends up typing his login password several times a day, I love this feature.
Shared Desktop and Document Folders. The Desktop has always been the place where miscellaneous files go to be forgotten.
The problem is that the Desktop isn’t easily accessible unless you’re sitting in front of that Mac. What if you saved an important PDF there that you need to access on your iPhone?
I’ve used Dropbox in the past for this, so all of my important files and projects are saved in my Dropbox folder. But that requires remembering to save items in that Dropbox folder.
Under macOS Sierra’s iCloud preferences, you can set the Desktop and Documents (another generic catchall) folders so their contents are synced via iCloud. Anything stored there is available on any of your iCloud-enabled devices.
However, you may need to increase your iCloud storage amount, which involves paying a monthly fee if it’s beyond the free 5 GB allocated for every iCloud account. And if you have very large files in your Documents folder, such as the aforementioned Parallels Desktop virtual machines or video projects, you’re looking at a lot of required storage and time for it all to upload (you can relocate those large files easily, though).
Shared Clipboard. Years ago I used a utility on my iPhone and Mac that would transfer the contents of my Clipboard. It was a workaround, but sometimes better than retyping passwords or other long stretches of text.
Now, Clipboards are shared among devices that share your Apple ID. Want to copy a photo caption you wrote in Photos for Mac and paste it into Instagram on your iPhone? You will.
Apple Pay in Sierra. As Apple Pay has gradually caught on, and as annoying chip-and-pin terminals have propagated, I’m using Apple’s payment scheme more and more. When I’m in Pioneer Square, for example, I can order lunch at Sprout using its app and pay using Touch ID on my iPhone.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have Touch ID on the Mac? Apple Pay will be close: When you order something from sites that support Apple Pay, you can confirm the transaction using Touch ID on your phone, instead of rummaging around to find passwords and logins. It’s easy and secure.
Apple hasn’t yet announced release dates for macOS Sierra and iOS 10, but I would expect them to arrive in the middle or end of September. In the meantime, if you aren’t trying the public beta (well, even if you are), make sure you have good backups in preparation for the next phase of Apple’s technology.