macOS Sierra and Other Announcements From WWDC 2016

Say Goodbye to OS X and Hello to macOS

macOS Sierra on MacBook
macOS Sierra with Siri. Courtesy of Apple

The WWDC 2016 keynote kept to the script, providing previews of the four major Apple software platforms: watchOS, tvOS, macOS, and iOS. You may notice OS X is missing from the list, but only in spirit. As we mentioned in our WWDC 2016 rumor roundup, OS X underwent a name change to bring it into alignment with the naming conventions used for Apple’s other operating systems, transforming it from OS X to macOS.

The name change appears to be strictly a branding change, and not an indication of any merging (current or future) of OS X and iOS into a single monolithic operating system.

macOS Sierra

Along with the new operating system nomenclature, we learned that the major versions of macOS will continue to use names based on locations in California. First up is macOS Sierra (10.12). Sierra is a shortened version of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which runs along the spine of California and includes both Yosemite and El Capitan, names used for earlier versions of OS X.

The Sierras take in a much broader view than the closeup of El Capitan or Yosemite, and so it is with macOS Sierra, which will include a broad range of new features, including a new file system.

Apple File System (APFS)

It’s been 30 plus years since Apple unveiled HFS+, the file system currently in use by your Mac. Apple has toyed with new file systems from time to time during those 30 years, but it appears the changes brought about by moving from rotational-based storage media (hard drives) to SSDs (Solid State Drives), as well as new security concerns for a device's file system, have pushed Apple into making the change to a new, faster, smarter, and more secure file system.

Details are just now coming out as developer information is only now being made available, but APFS is a 64-bit based file system optimized for use on SSD and other flash-based storage systems. As a 64-bit file system, APFS allows for over 9 quintillion files to occupy a single volume. The new file system appears to use encryption as the default, encrypting an entire volume much like the current FileVault 2 system does.

It also allows developers and users to set the level of encryption needed, from none to single key or multiple key encryption.

APFS may very well be used on all of Apple’s operating systems, as one of the developer notes indicates the file system scales quite well from watchOS to macOS.

Siri Comes to the Mac

There was never a real reason to keep Siri away from the Mac; in fact, the Mac could easily be a more powerful home for Siri than any current iOS device. So, I'm happy to see Siri will be making its way to the Mac with macOS Sierra.

During the Siri demonstration, the results from a Siri question could be pinned to the Notifications Center, allowing you to easily return to the results at anytime, without having to ask Siri the same question over and over. And since Siri can do much more than just check the web, such as searching the Mac file system, those results can be quite useful.

Siri results can be dragged and dropped onto the desktop, or into open apps, making Siri quite versatile.

The ability to perform many of the advanced Siri tasks natively on the Mac's powerful processors is a win-win, and could lead to development of new apps taking advantage of Siri. That’s because Siri itself is being opened up to developers, allowing them to use the Siri API within their own software to create powerful apps leveraging Siri's capabilities.

Optimized Storage

A new feature called Optimized Storage is designed to make better use of available storage space on your Mac. In combination with your iCloud account and your iCloud Drive, the Optimized Storage feature can move older files that haven't been used in a while to your iCloud Drive. This can be thought of as part of a tiered storage system, somewhat like the way a Fusion drive now works, moving files you don’t use often from the faster SSD to a larger hard drive, while moving recently used files to the SSD for quicker access. Adding the iCloud Drive is just another tier in the storage system.

Of course, you'll be able choose whether to use the service, as well as make adjustments to the preferences for which types of files should be moved to the cloud and which should stay. Not mentioned was any additional storage cost for using the iCloud Drive in this fashion. I’m not sure I’ll be making use of this new service, at least not until I can find out more about it.

Apple Pay

During the keynote address, Apple Pay was touted as coming to the Mac. That’s an interesting idea, but how could it possibly work? The answer is: it doesn’t. Apple Pay on the Mac is really Apple Pay on the web. Essentially, you'll find an Apple Pay button as an option for making a purchase at websites that support Apple Pay. To actually make a purchase using Apple Pay on the Mac, you need your iPhone to complete the transaction. Apple says you just need to use the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone to validate the purchase, but really, what's the point? You can just complete the web purchase as you've always done in the past, and not have to find your iPhone first. One of Apple Pay's features is the convenience of using your iPhone at a pay terminal; I don’t see any convenience in Apple Pay for the Mac.

Universal Clipboard

This is such a simple idea, but like many simple ideas, you'll probably find yourself wondering how you got along without it. Assuming you have multiple Apple devices, say a Mac, an iPhone, or an iPad, you'll now be able to copy/paste between all of your Apple devices. If you're on your phone and just copied a file, a bit of text, or an image to the phone clipboard, that same item will be loaded into the clipboard on all of your devices. Sit down at your Mac, and you can paste the item into an app, onto your desktop, whatever. It's a marvelously simple way to share information between devices.

Even More New Features

macOS Sierra has a long list of new features we haven’t even touched on yet. As I read through the documentation and work with the beta of the new operating system, I’ll keep you posted about new features and how they work.

macOS Sierra Beta and Installation Instructions

Speaking of working with the beta, Apple will be making a public beta of macOS Sierra available to anyone who wishes to join the beta group. The beta should be available sometime in July. You can sign up at Apple Beta Software Program.

Before you download and install any operating system beta for your Mac, be sure to look through: How to Prepare Your Mac for Using an OS X Public Beta.

Keep an eye out for installation instructions I will post for macOS Sierra once the beta is publicly released. You'll be able to use the install guides for the beta in July, and then again, with some minor changes, for the public release of macOS Sierra in the fall.

Just One More Thing

Nope, sorry, there wasn’t just one more thing, or in this case, no new hardware announced. As I noted in our WWDC 2016 Rumors, I was expecting new MacBook Pros. No such announcement was made at WWDC, but don’t worry about that too much. MacBook Pros, along with other Mac hardware, are still expected, and we'll likely see some new hardware before the end of summer or early fall. And, of course, they'll come with macOS Sierra preinstalled.