Hands on: macOS High Sierra packs tons of surprising features


macOS update
macOS High Sierra brings powerful updates to the Mac.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

macOS High Sierra doesn’t pack as many updates as iOS 11, but Apple’s latest desktop software delivers plenty of new features worth drooling over.

After using the first High Sierra beta for the last few days, I’ve been blown away. Check out what’s new in the macOS High Sierra hands-on video below:

What’s new in macOS High Sierra

If you were hoping for a design refresh in High Sierra, you’ll sadly be disappointed. It’s more of a refinement upgrade rather than an all-new operating system. But refinement is a good thing.

Smarter, safer and faster

High Sierra uses the Apple File System, aka APFS, instead of HFS. Moving and searching for files will be faster and more stable than ever thanks to APFS’ 64-bit architecture. The new file system is also more secure, with built-in encryption, crash protections and simplified data backups.

Safari gets a big upgrade with new JavaScript performance that Apple claims is 80 percent faster than Google Chrome. Along with speed, Apple added better security to its web browser in the form of blocking ad trackers. Now, once you’ve visited an online store or website, those annoying, repetitive ads will stop following you. That’s not to say Safari will block all ads — only the ones that track you around the web. (Safari will identify the targeted ad trackers through machine learning.) The web browser also blocks videos that autoplay, which can be super-handy if you’re a multi-tab surfer.

Apple also shrank the amount of space that Mail takes up. It now uses 35 percent less space on your hard drive thanks to APFS. The change is minor, but it is definitely noticeable.

Photos and video in High Sierra

photos app
New filters, curves and selective colors tools make Photos on the Mac even more powerful.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The Photos app in macOS High Sierra gets a new sidebar, filters and tools that bring it closer in line to an app like Photoshop. Curves and selective colors mean you’ll find even more ways to get creative with your pictures. If you prefer to work with apps such as Lightroom or Photoshop, you can now right-click on an image and choose an app to edit with. Once you’ve finished editing, just hit Save and the edits will save directly to the Photos library.

Organizing images is easier now, with the option to drag and drop collected photos into albums, export them to your desktop or rotate and favorite batches right from the toolbar. The Live Photos animations now available in iOS 11, such as loop and bounce, also make their way to Photos for the Mac.

Apple’s graphic technology Metal, which works with the GPU to improve graphics performance, now has a new version. Cleverly titled Metal 2, it adds new capabilities such as machine learning and support for virtual reality and external GPUs. If you use your Mac for editing video or to play games, you’ll see speed and quality improvements.

Thanks to more and more of us consuming 4K video, Apple introduced a new codec to replace H.264 with HEVC. HEVC will compress videos up to 40 percent more than the popular H.264 and will make them stream better, thanks to that smaller file size. For example, my 4K, 5-and-a-half-minute iOS 11 hands-on video comes out at 1.63GB using H.264. If I re-export that using HEVC, it compresses down to an impressive 1.3GB.

Other macOS High Sierra improvements

macOS High Sierra packs plenty of upgrades to make it worthwhile.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Siri in macOS High Sierra

Siri on the Mac gets a lot of the same improvements we saw in iOS 11. You can ask Siri to choose music for you now. Apple’s AI assistant also gets new, more humanlike voices.

iCloud in macOS High Sierra

If you’re an iCloud user, you can now share files stored within iCloud Drive to friends or colleagues who use the service.

Spotlight in macOS High Sierra

Spotlight can now look up flight times, terminals, gates, delays and even maps. You can ask it questions such as musicians born in Liverpool, to suggest novels by certain writers and more.

Notes in macOS High Sierra

Notes gets a new pin feature to keep your most important notes to the top of the list where you’ll be able to find them easier. The app also adds tables.

FaceTime in macOS High Sierra

FaceTime now allows you to take photos during calls and there’s new family iCloud storage plans of either 200GB or 2TB if you’re in need of more storage.

Messages in macOS High Sierra

Finally, Messages get saved in the cloud to help reduce file storage on your Mac and keep all your iMessages up-to-date across all your Apple devices.

macOS High Sierra release date

macOS High Sierra is currently only available as a developer beta. A public beta should become available later this month, with a general release this fall.


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