macOS Sierra preview: Goodbye OS X, hello Siri

Integration and iCloud

One of the consistent themes of recent OS X releases has been ever-tighter integration between the Mac, iOS and Apple’s services, and macOS Sierra takes this further. There are additional features that make those users with iOS and watchOS devices lives easier, and also extra features around iCloud.

Universal Clipboard and Auto Unlock

The first new feature – and one that made me go “hallelujah” when it was announced – is Universal Clipboard. What does this mean? Simply that when you copy something on your Mac, you’ll be able to instantly paste it into a document on your iPad or iPhone. You’ve been able to do this using clipboard managers such as Copied for some time now, but Universal Clipboard promises to be a little better integrated, if less powerful.

Like the Universal Clipboard, Auto Unlock is a fairly obvious idea that’s already been done by third-party applications. It’s also not present in this developer release, but the idea is that when you approach your Mac wearing an Apple Watch, your computer just signs you in, no password required.

iCloud Drive

The problem with iCloud storage has always been that it’s separate to the usual way the Mac stores things. Most users store their documents in one of two places: in the Documents folder, or on the Desktop (if they’re a little less organised). iCloud has always forced you to store things in a completely different place, the iCloud Drive.

Now, that’s changing. iCloud Drive still exists, and it’s still somewhere separate to your Documents and Desktop. But with Sierra, you can add those locations to what iCloud syncs across your devices, allowing you to work in a much more natural way. Once you’ve opted in, Desktop and Documents both appear under “iCloud” in the sidebar of every Finder window, and you use them just as you always have. It’s a big improvement.

Optimised storage

Historically, Apple has been somewhat miserly with its storage. Even today, several of its low-end laptops come with 128GB SSDs, which, which while adequate for some users, can quickly fill up, even if you’re storing music, movies and photos in the cloud.

Optimised Storage is an attempt to help ameliorate this in a sensible way. Essentially, it works like this: when your drive starts to fill up, it removes files you haven’t used in a while from your local drive, leaving a backup copy in the cloud instead. If you need to retrieve those files, they’re only a double-click away.

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There are two obvious problems with this approach. First, users have precisely zero control over this, other than to switch it on and off. You can’t do any kind of selective sync, which would allow you to choose files to always store locally. That important document you refer to once in a blue moon, but really need to have access to offline won’t be there when you need it.

The second flaw is simply that iCloud only gives you 5GB of storage for free by default, which means you have to pay extra if you want to make proper use of either Optimised Storage or iCloud Drive. Additional storage isn’t hugely expensive – one terabyte will cost you £7 per month. Given that premium that you’ll pay for a Mac in the first place, though, I’d love to see Apple at least match the internal storage of your Mac with iCloud Drive space.

Apple Pay on the web

Watch out PayPal, Apple is coming to get you. Apple Pay is going to be available to web developers, finally, allowing online stores to use it as a payment method for customers.

This won’t work using passwords. Instead, you’ll need to use either an Apple Watch or iPhone to authenticate the purchase. On an iPhone, this will mean using the fingerprint reader; on an Apple Watch, you just need to have the watch on your wrist and double-click the side button. It promises to be a smooth and secure experience.

However, what’s not clear at this point is whether Apple Pay will be usable on the web with browsers other than Safari. According to Apple’s documentation:

OS X v10.12 introduces the ApplePay JavaScript framework, which helps you incorporate Apple Pay directly into iOS and OS X Safari-based websites. When you support Apple Pay on your website, users can authorise payments using their iPhone or Apple Watch.

This certainly suggests Safari will be required. If so, this will be a disappointment to everyone who isn’t using Apple’s browser.

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