Sometimes it’s nice when a product launch drops when I’m on the road. I qualify this statement because, well, it’s one more thing to do in an invariably busy work trip. But some products are simply better tested on the road: laptops, headphones, travel chargers and the occasional operating system.
I ran a beta version of macOS 13 is coming on my desk since it premiered at WWDC over the summer. As always, such things are not for the faint of heart. Like I said before, I really enjoy Stage Manager on the big screen. My adoption rate for new macOS workflow features isn’t great – I usually use the majority of them for the duration of the review period and then immediately forget they exist.
Stage Manager has crossed the ringer on the iPadOS side – and rightly so. The beta implementations left a lot to be desired, contributing to the company’s decision to forgo iPadOS 16, in favor of upgrading to 16.1 about a month later. I won’t say that Stage Manager was perfect from the start on the desktop (what’s beta software?), but I turned it on day one and have rarely found myself turning it off since.
When enabled, the feature keeps all windows open simultaneously on the desktop. The main window takes up most of the space and the others are kept to a minimum on the side of the screen. It’s a bit like a toolbar made up of open applications. Tap one of them to swap them in the main staging area. You can also remove a few and create a stack which will then be minified and expanded together.
An underrated element in all of this is the fact that all desktop clutter disappears when the feature is activated. If you maximize the window, the sidebar will disappear. The feature still has a few quirks which I would suggest Apple update. Unzipping a window, for example, drops the Finder window you’re using into the sidebar. Removing individual windows from a stack can also be a bit annoying. Overall, though, you can argue that Stage Manager is the best Mac productivity update in years. Glad to say here that I use it on both desktop and laptop.
Continuity Camera was met with a mixed reception when it was introduced at this year’s WWDC. The criticism is fair in the sense that it feels like putting a band-aid on a larger problem, addressing the symptoms rather than the root cause. The larger problem is that Apple neglected laptop webcams for years. It’s an issue that’s been highlighted during the pandemic, for obvious reasons, and Apple has more recently made an effort to improve video capture, through a combination of ISP tweaks and improved equipment.
The Continuity Camera was developed to address the larger problem of legacy hardware. Instead of having to buy an external webcam or a new Mac, it offers a way to exploit the iPhone as a sort of makeshift webcam. And let’s be real, iPhone video capture is light years ahead of the latest Macs. Setup is simple, as long as the Mac and iPhone are running the same Apple account. Using an accessory like the one recently released by Belkin, you can mount it on top of the laptop or desktop, just above the built-in webcam. Rear-facing cameras will do the job of the webcam. As far as solutions go, it’s not among Apple’s sleekest, and as I noted in my article on Belkin, the iPhone 14 Pro is too heavy for the Air cover to support anything other than a 90 degree angle. But the solution absolutely works in a pinch. I plan to keep the Belkin accessory in my cable bag, in the future.
Those are the two main features in my opinion. Although, as always, these kinds of releases are pretty big feature dumps, with updates across the board. Spotlight is getting a lot of love this time around. It’s one of those features that you probably don’t think about much. I tend to limit my desktop searches to local files, and for everything else I use Google.
Apple is pushing to make the desktop version of Spotlight the kind of one-stop shop it’s become on the iPhone. It certainly makes sense on a mobile device, but in the end, I’m not sure how much more convenient the macOS version is than launching a browser and searching Google. This time around the feature offers a more simplified design, as well as searches in Photos, Messages and Notes – those, at least, are (hopefully) not things you’ll find in a search based on a Navigator.
The list also includes entertainment searches for things like music and movies. However, I’d say the handiest addition here are “Quick Actions”, which offer shortcuts for things like setting alarms and Shazaming music. This should save you valuable time.
Safari tends to get a lot of love in those big system updates, and that certainly follows for Ventura. This is another place where I have to be upfront about not being a daily user. I’m too attached to Chrome as a cloud-based browser and account sync service. The biggest new thing here is Shared Tab Groups, which lets you share groups of tabs. In effect, you create a group on a specific topic and can share them via a variety of methods, including messages and mail.
There’s also a nice overhaul of security on board, with the addition of an end-to-end encrypted connection via Passkeys. Consider what Google offers with Password Manager. The company has also extended the feature to extend it to non-Apple devices.
There are some really welcome additions to Messages this time around. You can now unsend a recent message or edit it. With the latter, the message will open as a dialog box that you can type directly into. Be warned, though, the app keeps a paper trail, thanks to user feedback. Once edited, the message has an “Edited” label. Clicking it will bring up the history of changes.
SharePlay is now available in Messages, so users can watch movies or listen to music together. Additional collaboration tools let you share notes, reminders, and more through the app. The Photos app also has lots of new sharing options, including a collaboration tool that lets you add a group of up to five people.
System settings have a new design, closer to iOS. The redesign certainly streamlines the process. There’s a minimal learning curve if you’ve spent time on an iPhone. The closing of the gap between macOS and iOS continues, unabated.
The last big thing to note here is Freeform. Apple’s attempt to crack the frustrating world of virtual whiteboards has yet to get off the ground. The company continues to promise an arrival later this year. More on that closer to launch.
In the meantime, Ventura is now available as a free download for Macs produced in 2017 and later.