12 Cool New Features in macOS High Sierra
High Sierra isn’t a huge update to Apple’s operating system, but there are still plenty of changes, big and small, for Mac users to sink their teeth into.
A dozen years ago, when you had to pay for a new macOS version (it was called OS X back then), Apple typically loaded each new upgrade with eye candy that grownups turned off.
In recent years, now that macOS is a free upgrade for everyone, each new version leaves its biggest improvements hidden beneath an interface that looks almost exactly the same as the last version.
By naming it macOS High Sierra, Apple is making the same point that it made a few years ago when upgrading OS X from Leopard to Snow Leopard: The new version makes things better more than it makes them different.
Below are highlights worth knowing about High Sierra. For an in-depth look at Apple’s new desktop operating system update, read PCMag’s full macOS High Sierra review.
High Sierra has a new default file system, APFS. High Sierra-equipped Macs will ship with their disks formatted in the APFS file system instead of the now long-in-the-tooth HPF system. APFS adds increased security and reliability and vastly increases the speed of file transfers. An option lets you format disks so that encryption is built in, not merely applied as it is in Apple’s FileVault. When you upgrade to High Sierra, the installer offers to upgrade your disk to APFS during installation. If your Mac is a dual-boot system that has a partition with an older macOS version that can’t read APFS disks, you won’t be offered the option to upgrade the disk during High Sierra installation, but you can reformat your disk later on by booting to Recovery Mode and using the Disk Utility. For more details, read What APFS Means for You.
Apple claims massive increases in graphics speed, thanks to the new Metal 2 technology in High Sierra. Apple also introduced native support for virtual reality. Both of these updates rely on third parties to create compatible software and hardware, so it remains to be seen how it all works out, but the groundwork is all in place now. Note that you’ll need enough graphics horsepower for VR, meaning either a high-end iMac or an external Thunderbolt 3 GPU.
High Sierra runs on iMacs and MacBooks dating back to late 2009, and all other Macs dating from 2010. I installed it on a 2010 white MacBook, a model that was never a speed demon but which seems snappier than ever running High Sierra on the APFS file system. The upgrade process was quick and flawless, despite the miscellaneous old software I had accumulated on that machine over the years.
High Sierra won’t start shouting without warning. My number-one computing annoyance — maybe yours, too — is the experience of listening to music in iTunes, then browsing to a news site where a video window opens automatically and an announcer starts shouting bad news over the music. In High Sierra, Safari automatically blocks audio and video on every site, unless you open a dialog box that authorizes it on a specific page. Finally, you can surf the web without desperately clicking — always too late — on Safari’s mute button.
Are you creeped out when ads start showing up in your browser for a product you looked at on Amazon? Safari now tries to block the cross-site tracking data that produces those ads, and you may lose some of that creepy sense of being watched everywhere you go.
High Sierra customizes websites so they stay customized. Do you visit sites where the type is too small or too large, or that insist you turn off your ad blocker? You used to have to change your settings each time you visited the page, but with High Sierra the browser remembers these settings. You can also set Safari Reader to display automatically for easier, less distracted reading.
The macOS Photos app, after a thorough overhaul two years ago, gets a reorganized sidebar with albums sorted according to media type and quick access to older imports. Photo-editing features include the ability to turn a Live Photo into a repeating loop (like an animated GIF). Editing features in Photos include easy manipulation of color curves and new filters. And you can edit a photo in third-party apps from inside Photos, with any changes reflected instantly in Photos itself.
This key productivity app gets a more sensible interface in High Sierra. Apple’s Mail app — for me, the standout app for managing multiple mail accounts — now supports a split-screen feature that’s available when you’re running the app full-screen. An option, turned on by default, creates a new message in a split-screen pane instead of a new window, while the inbox remains visible in a pane on the left.
The Notes app gets small but valuable improvements, such as a pinned note feature that keeps important notes at the top of the list and support for tables in notes, along with the earlier checklist feature. You can also now share notes with contacts for collaboration.
In the latest version of High Sierra, Spotlight illuminates more territory. The Spotlight search engine acts a lot more like Google. You can now type in a flight number and view gate numbers and a flight map, just as Cortana does on Windows 10. If Spotlight can’t zero in on the answer, it offers a batch of Wikipedia entries to choose from.
Apple iCloud gets advanced file-sharing features that let you send a link to a file via message or mail. The recipient can view or (if you allow it) edit the original file by clicking on a link. You can still send files as attachments, but this method means that your colleagues can always collaborate with you on the latest version of a file.
Security is stronger than ever in High Sierra. Apple keeps plugging potential openings for bad guys to invade your system. When I installed a Hewlett-Packard printer into High Sierra, the OS downloaded a driver from HP, but then popped up a warning that it wouldn’t install the driver until I went to the Security preference pane and explicitly allowed it.
Apple’s mobile operating system also got a major upgrade, which affects most Mac users, since they’re likely to also be iOS users. For more info on the new version, check out The Coolest Features in iOS 11.
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.