Practical Mac: Mac owners, this is for you. Practical Mac explores Apple's new software offerings, hardware upgrades and more. Appears every other Saturday.

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Practical Mac

By the time you’re reading this, I’m likely bleary-eyed from staying up late Thursday night to order an iPhone X. Preorders began Friday morning at 12:01 a.m. for the first deliveries on Nov. 3. I wrote this earlier in the week, but if the past is any indication, I probably wasn’t the only one trying to get one of the newest models.

Rumor suggests that Apple’s supply may be constrained at the outset, so, quite honestly, I’m not expecting mine to arrive for a while. That’s OK, because my “ancient” iPhone 7 still works — a reminder that people who don’t write about technology for a living don’t always need the latest model.

In the meantime, I’ve just returned from a photo workshop in the San Juan Islands, so I have photography and new Mac features on the brain.

Apple Photos 3

With the release of macOS 10.13 High Sierra, Apple put a lot of work into underlying technologies like Metal 2, the Apple File System (APFS, on Macs with solid-state drives) and various operating-system plumbing updates. It also updated the Photos application to version 3, which introduces a few nice improvements.

Although Photos has gotten a bad rap following the discontinuation of iPhoto and Aperture, the hidden truth has been that its editing controls are more powerful than they appeared. In version 3, those tools are more exposed, instead of tucked away behind menus.

And some adjustment tools are new and welcome. There’s now a Curves control for people more familiar with that type of editing. Selective Color lets you adjust particular hues, such as increasing the saturation or luminance of blues in a photo, for example.

If you’ve captured photos on an iPhone or iPad using the Live Photos option, which records a few seconds of video around the still image, you can choose which frame to be the main image, as well as apply Live Photo effects like Long Exposure.

But one of my favorites new features is something that fixes an irritation I’ve had nearly every time I opened the application: You can now Control-click the My Albums folder in the sidebar and choose a sort order. At last, I can sort my albums alphabetically instead of scrolling to see where Photos put them. (You can also sort by albums with oldest or newest photos in them.)

It’s the little things.

Adobe Lightroom CC and Adobe Sensei

Last week, Adobe shook up its Lightroom ecosystem, and plenty of photographers, by introducing a new Lightroom CC application for Mac and Windows. It’s designed around Creative Cloud, so all your photos are uploaded to the cloud and available in Lightroom apps on any device (iPhone, iPad, Android).

At the same time, the application formerly known as Lightroom CC is now called Lightroom Classic and gains speed improvements (at last).

I’ve written about them more at my own site, but what I want to focus on here is a new technology Adobe is using called Sensei. It’s server-based machine learning that, in Lightroom CC, provides the basis for searching. Instead of you manually adding keywords to describe what’s in your photos, Sensei identifies objects and scenes in them. Apple and Google are doing this, too, which allows you to search for something like “elk” in your photo library and view photos that contain elk, even if you never tagged them as such.

For people who subscribe to an Adobe Creative Cloud plan and use Lightroom, there’s a new technology preview available when viewing photos at called Best Photos. With this feature, Sensei analyzes the photos you’ve shared with Creative Cloud and determines which shots are better, based on several factors such as focus, composition and whether you’ve rated them. It’s pretty cool, and worth trying.

Safari stops auto-playing videos

Back in the macOS camp, Apple has added a feature to Safari that makes every day better: Safari 11 can stop auto-playing videos. This version works in macOS Sierra and High Sierra. Go to Safari’s preferences, click the Websites category, click Auto-Play, and set the “When visiting other websites” option to Never Auto-Play.

Viewing websites these days is bad enough with pop-ups and ad messages jumping in the way of content; silencing autoplay videos makes a big improvement. You can also set the Reader mode, which displays only article content minus all the other garbage, to automatically kick in at selected sites.

I feel better already.

(Disclaimer: I’ve done some contract writing for Adobe in the past.)