macOS Sierra Preview Roundup: Mac catching up with iPhone & iPad, but many iOS 10 features are missing

macOS 10.12 Sierra MacBook

Apple announced macOS Sierra as the successor to OS X El Capitan last week at WWDC 2016, introducing new features like Siri for Mac, Apple Pay for Safari, Auto Unlock, Universal Clipboard, and new iCloud features that will ship to customers later this fall. After nine days with the first developer beta preview, more than a dozen publications have published an initial round of previews of macOS Sierra including some new details about Apple’s upcoming Mac software update.

Author Ad Placeholder
Will only appear on redesign env.

The concsensus seems to be that macOS 10.12 is a useful release that catches the Mac up with iPhone and iPad features like Apple Pay and Siri, but some of the new iOS 10 features like new iMessage apps in Messages and third-party apps for Siri are noticeably missing.

You can read Apple’s macOS Sierra preview for a brief rundown and watch 9to5Mac’s Jeff Benjamin detailed 23 minute hands-on video of all the new features found in macOS 10.12 to get a comprehensive look at what to expect in the new Mac update coming this fall, then read on to see what others are saying about macOS Sierra so far.

Keep in mind we’re only working with the first developer preview of macOS Sierra at this point so certain features likes Auto Unlock and Apple Pay for Safari aren’t live yet.

Ars Technica has a detailed overview of the new features and technologies in macOS Sierra including Universal Clipboard and the only way to turn it off:

After using the feature to copy and paste text across two Macs, here’s how we think it works:

  • Text or some other item is copied on one Mac. The Mac then advertises over Bluetooth that it has something in its clipboard, the same as it would do if it had content available via Handoff. Unlike Handoff, though, there’s no visual indicator on other Macs or iDevices that there’s anything that’s ready to copy.
  • Hit paste on the other Mac. There’s a pause that accompanies the action—nearly unnoticeable for a snippet of text or a link, long enough to prompt a little progress bar popup for larger images or big chunks of text—during which Mac #2 requests the contents of Mac #1’s clipboard, and Mac #1 sends it over.
  • Though both of your devices need to be signed into the same iCloud account to trust each other, your data never appears to touch Apple’s servers—like Handoff, all communication is local. This also means that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have to be enabled on both devices, and both devices need to be within range of each other for copying and pasting to work. You won’t necessarily need an active Internet connection if you don’t have one.

For whatever reason, if you don’t want universal clipboard to work, you can head into the General preference pane and disable Handoff. As best as we can tell, there’s no way to keep Handoff but not the universal clipboard.

CNET has a brief hands-on and favorites Siri as the best new feature so far:

Yes, it’s the same familiar Siri voice (depending on your region), and she does most of the same things as the iOS version. You activate Siri through a keyboard command, currently Fn+Space, but that may change down the line, and simply speak your query. All the standard things — weather, news, local shops and landmarks — work as expected. But, you can pin results, from sports scores to stock prices, to the notifications panel, and see them anytime.

The most useful trick with desktop Siri has been for searching files, which you can do by type, by date, or by keyword. For example, we could easily call out all spreadsheets, or all image files from the last two weeks with the word “screenshot” in the title.

Computerworld has a few thoughts on the usefulness of Siri after using macOS Sierra for a week:

My opinion? I’m not certain Siri on the Mac will be as widely used at work as it is at home. I think we have a tendency to guard privacy in the workplace and we’re not used yet to talking to our screens. I do however think this will be a big success in some situations and I think attitudes toward spoken word computing will begin to shift. Overall Siri is well integrated, accurate and its voice recognition didn’t let me down once.

Engadget fairly notes that many of the headlining features aren’t available yet, and shares a comment on the changes in iTunes to Apple Music:

iTunes generally still feels like a bloated mess, but Apple Music at least has received a major redesign. The new UI is much simpler, marked by large headers and prominent album art. In addition to your library and the iTunes store, you’ll find three other tabs toward the top to guide your experience: “For You,” “Browse” and “Radio.” Those last two are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth pointing out that “For You” is a mix of personalized playlists and recommendations, along with updates from whatever artists you might be following.

iMore touches on Apple’s new filesystem, naturally called APFS for Apple File System, that can be previewed in macOS Sierra before being deployed next year:

It’s a file system built by modern Apple for modern Apple devices. It’s designed for flash storage and SSD, so you always maintain the maximum amount of space available to you. It’s fully encrypted by default, to keep your data safe and secure. It works on both internal and external drives. It’s great for backing up, with crash protection and support for “snapshots”. That way, if something ever goes wrong, you can revert back and recover your data. It’s also efficient. For example, if you copy a file, APFS will treat it as a “clone” and won’t start using any additional storage until you actually start making changes to that copy.

LaptopMag describes macOS Sierra as a gateway drug to other Apple products:

Provided Apple can make the assistant a more accurate listener, your Mac could save you time and also help you discover things you didn’t even know you could control with your voice.

The other big story for macOS is the evolution of the Continuity features Apple began with OS X Yosemite in 2014. You’ll really need an iPhone and Apple Watch to take full advantage of these Continuity enhancements, highlighted by the handy Universal Clipboard feature, Apple Pay, Photos and Auto Unlock. Ideally, your friends and family will have iPhones, too, to make the most of the new Messages.

And that’s exactly the point and Apple’s business model — make the experience so seamless that you’re compelled to gobble up as many Apple gadgets as possible.

Mashable details some of the enhancements from Messages for iOS 10 that Messages for macOS Sierra will benefit from too:

Messages in iOS 10 is getting a BIG overhaul with new features like rich link previews, larger emoji and quick reactions to messages.

Those features are coming to Messages on macOS Sierra too. This means that when someone sends you a link, you’ll get a preview of that link in the Messages window. And you can respond to a message with a fast “Tapback” reaction.

And although you can’t send hand-drawn messages, stickers, invisible ink or digital touch drawings — all the cool stuff coming to Messages in iOS 10 — from the Mac, if someone sends them to you from an iOS 10 device, those features will show up just fine.

Six Colors shares Apple’s comment on why the Mac doesn’t have hands-free Siri activation using the Hey Siri command like iOS and watchOS have:

First off, you can’t trigger Siri on the Mac with a “Hey Siri.” (Apple’s take is that Mac use tends to be active in a way that iOS use isn’t, and so triggering Siri with a keystroke or click makes sense.) Unlike iOS devices, on the Mac you need to type a keystroke or click on the Siri icon in the menu bar or the Dock in order to begin speaking. Activating Siri brings up a floating window with an audio waveform, and then displays the results of your query in that same window. (You can choose what microphone Siri uses, and whether Siri speaks its results aloud, in the new Siri pane in the System Preferences app.)

TechCrunch adds some perspective as to the scope of macOS Sierra as a software update:

Based on this first beta, Apple has implemented some very pragmatical changes to macOS, starting with Siri, tabs in many apps and a much more intelligent Photos app. Other than that, Apple is porting many iOS features to macOS when it makes sense — picture-in-picture videos, Apple Pay in Safari and support for iOS 10 messages.

Now, let’s take a step back and think about this release for a minute. As you can see, there aren’t dozens and dozens of new features with macOS Sierra. But you might remember that El Capitan was already an evolution of Yosemite. In many ways, El Capitan made macOS more stable compared to Yosemite.

Once again, Sierra doesn’t revolutionize macOS. There are two reasons behind this. First, Apple is spread too thin when it comes to software. The company is going to update iOS, tvOS, watchOS and macOS this fall. That’s no small feat, and you can see that Apple is putting a lot of energy into watchOS 3 and iOS 10.

Tech Insider frames the name change from OS X to macOS quiet well, then recommends waiting until the fall to run it:

Mac OS X has been around so long that Nickelback had the number one single the year it launched. So after over 15 years, it’s time for a change. OS X is officially dead, and has been renamed macOS.


Other than Siri, there aren’t many major changes to the way macOS works. But add all those iterative improvements up, and Sierra feels like a hefty update. Even though you can get the beta now, I don’t recommend installing it on your primary Mac since there are still a few bugs Apple has to iron out before the fall. Most people should wait until then or test the beta on a Mac they don’t use very much.

The Loop describes a situation with Siri for Mac that mirrors mine:

Siri is a strange feature for me on the Mac. It’s great, but I’m so fast using Spotlight to find files and apps, I haven’t used Siri that much in macOS Sierra.

In a lot of cases, I can type a query faster than Siri can find it for me. There are instances where refining a complex search for a file could be faster with Siri, but that’s something I’ll find out in time.

There are a lot of things you can do with Siri in macOS, including getting info about your Mac, controlling system preferences and doing many of the tasks we’ve become used to doing with Siri in iOS. I’m sure that I’ll use it more in time, but a lot of that will be training myself that Siri is available.

The Next Web recognizes macOS Sierra’s effort to catch up with iOS without becoming iOS:

Sierra is a solid update for macOS, even in beta. When stable, it’ll feel seamless. Right now, it’s a really good desktop experience that peers just enough into iOS without relinquishing its desktop soul.

And that’s the dream, isn’t it? Convergence is often tossed around topically, but Windows 10 is proof that desktop and mobile are not the same thing — and we don’t want them to be. With Sierra, Apple is showing us that desktop and mobile can work similarly and cohesively without losing their individuality.

This may even be the most exciting time for Apple’s desktop in recent memory. Not only is the company building on its existing products and services, it has given us powerful new ones (at least for the desktop) we can look forward to seeing more from.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Siri.

The Verge praises iCloud’s maturity in macOS Sierra while noting Siri’s beginner status:

Yes, having Siri on your Mac is nice and perhaps even a Big Deal — but to me, it’s much less important than some other features that Apple is introducing with macOS Sierra (technically, version 10.12). For several years now, Apple has made the Mac feel nicer for iPhone users with Continuity features that made the devices work better together. With Sierra, it’s turned a corner: using a Mac is going to be substantially better for iPhone users than Android users.

And the reason, against everything we’ve come to believe about Apple’s strengths and weaknesses, is cloud services. With Sierra, iCloud has gone from something that you forget you have (and if you remember, you’re usually shaking your fist at it) to a thing that you’ll probably want to (perhaps begrudgingly) start paying for.

Siri ends up just being icing on the cake.

USAToday leaves the verdict undecided but describes the beta features as promising:

MacOS promises easier ways to help you free up and manage space on your computer, mainly by stashing stuff in the cloud. For instance, you can automatically save space by removing iTunes movies and TV shows that you’ve already watched from the Mac.

Since I heeded my own advice and didn’t install the beta on any of my personal Macs, how much space I’ll save on those machines remains to be seen.  But there do appear to be a number of features that should please the Mac faithful. Starting with Siri.

Wired believes everyone will want Sierra and –– importantly –– it probably won’t break anything:

When it does come out this fall, though, you’re going to want to upgrade. It’s free, it includes some security updates, and it’s not like Apple has nutty Windows 8-style ideas about changing everything at once. You can safely upgrade. You’ll want to, too: After using Sierra for a week I’m already missing picture-in-picture and tabs in apps. I’m really looking forward to Apple Pay on the web, unlocking my Mac with my Apple Watch, and sending gigantic emoji to everyone in my Contacts.

So there you have it. The reviews previews are in, but we’ll have to wait for future beta releases and the public launch this fall to have a fuller understanding of all of macOS Sierra’s usefulness. Personally, I’m happy to see Siri finally come to the Mac after five years and hope features like SiriKit and HomeKit get added sooner than later. I also hope Apple isn’t too convinced that the Mac doesn’t need Hey Siri because I’d use the heck out of it in my office, but maybe they’re holding out for a Siri Speaker.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel



Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.