Making Sense of the Alleged Lack of Compelling macOS Sierra Features

October 5th, 2016

So I read an article this week from an Apple fan site that was telling me that Sierra is just wonderful, more or less. But in reading it, I actually felt disappointed at the list of all those terrific features, since most of what was actually shown didn’t strike me as so impressive. If Apple limited its presentation to just these five features (well except for the first one), I wonder how many people would even care.

Of course, it starts with Siri. Siri has been out for five years, after debuting on the iPhone 4s. As I recall, Apple got dinged on that device, since it was the first iPhone to be launched by Tim Cook weeks after he took over as CEO from Steve Jobs. So it was regarded as just a minor refresh, but Siri became a cultural icon, so the attack wasn’t very compelling. What was compelling was the suggestion that Siri could do a lot better, but it was also labeled “Beta” in those days. Would that Apple had done the same with Maps. Lots of bad publicity could have been avoided.

In any case, the blogger’s Sierra list predictably puts Siri at the top. I suppose if you’ve been aching for its arrival on the Mac for five years, you’d feel vindicated. But its presence — and the renaming of OS X to macOS — does appear to demonstrate a serious commitment to the Mac by Apple. So even though new gear is overdue, there’s also a certain email, purportedly from Tim Cook, which promises new Macs.

In any case, the second feature listed is Apple Pay, which merely means that you can use it to buy merchandise online from your Mac. It doesn’t work by itself. You need an iPhone with Touch ID, and your Mac will require Bluetooth LE, since this is a Handoff feature that requires passing data from between the two devices. Specifically it should require a Mac from 2012 or later. That limitation isn’t mentioned in the article.

A related feature is the ability to use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac. It’s a proximity thing and, again, it will require a Mac new enough to support Handoff. But since the Apple Watch is still not on everyone’s wrist, I wonder how many people will care. But it does demonstrate Apple’s commitment to make its products work together. I do wonder, though, whether the next MacBook Pro will sport Touch ID, which would be the real improvement.

Another feature touted at this unnamed site is Messages, because it inherits some of the fancy formatting and special effects that debuted in iOS 10. This is something that those much younger than I will appreciate.

The only other feature mentioned is the “new look” of iTunes. But when you read the paragraph, you’ll see it’s really about the improved and more user friendly interface for Apple Music, which is never named. So perhaps the blogger is confusing the two. That’s troubling.

But I wonder why there’s not much else. What about the major improvements in face recognition in Photos? That surely counts for something. What about Memories, the ability to automatically generate a video presentation based on a family gathering or special event — or at least what Apple’s AI algorithms determine to be related. All right, these are not features I’m aching to try, but I suspect my son, who an immense photo and video library, would love it.

I could comment about picture-in-picture, which allows you to take a window with a video in it and detach it from Safari into a small window that lives above the other document windows. Alas, it also requires videos that are designed to support the new feature, which is done by implementing a new Apple API. So when I visited The CW’s site in search of one of my favorite super hero shows, I was disappointed to see that none of them displayed the telltale PIP icon, although I’ve read a piece on how to “trick” it to work with YouTube videos where it doesn’t seem to be supported.

Whatever happened to just working?

In any case, other major features I’ve written mostly about require a decent-sized iCloud Drive. Well, maybe not for Universal Clipboard, but as soon as you choose to share your Desktop and Documents folders, you can expect a pretty substantial requirement. In my case, if I wanted to use it, it would mean a 1TB allocation, which is $9.99 per month. That’s because these two folders consume over 250GB on my iMac (next step down is 200GB), and I don’t think my situation is that unusual.

Since I only use a single Mac — most of the time — it’s not something I need. Those folders would have little value on an iPhone or an iPad — at least to me.

One thing not mentioned very often is the fact that pushing large folders to iCloud will take a huge bite out of your ISP’s bandwidth cap. If you’re lucky not to have any limits, it doesn’t matter. But it’s something to consider, because the cost may be more than that of your iCloud Drive if your ISP penalizes you for using too much data.

The best features of Sierra obviously depend on your needs and priorities. But limiting the list so much doesn’t present a realistic picture at all.

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One Response to “Making Sense of the Alleged Lack of Compelling macOS Sierra Features”

  1. DWalla says:

    Universal clipboard is nice under Sierra. I don’t care much about the automatic login (proximity login) for iPhone and AppleWatch owners. Apple Pay is a nice security feature that will likely expand to keyboards having Touch ID on them. The Cloud storage features would be nice… if I didn’t have just insane amounts of large files that would take weeks to upload to the cloud. Face Recognition in Photos is definitely improved significantly from my experience. iTunes has definitely improved as well… but not quite as nice as the iOS 10 simplicity. Tabbing in apps is a nice touch. Sierra also has the much anticipated upgrade to the Metal API…. this should entice more developers to take advantage of the clearly faster alternative to OpenGL. Oh… and AirDrop enhancements are also a big plus for me.

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