macOS High Sierra

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Op­er­at­ing sys­tem up­dates can be an ex­cit­ing time for users. There’s the po­ten­tial to be more pro­duc­tive with new apps, in­ter­face en­hance­ments that make your com­puter eas­ier to use, and flashy new fea­tures that re­mind you how much of an im­pact tech­nol­ogy can have on your life.

If you want to get caught up in the ex­cite­ment of an OS up­date, you should read Ja­son Snell’s iOS 11 re­view on page 76. iOS 11 is where all the ac­tion is right now.

With macOS High Sierra (ver­sion 10.13) life on the Mac doesn’t change dra­mat­i­cally. It doesn’t

have a lot of new fea­tures that will widen your eyes in ex­cite­ment. But a lot of the changes are in the back­ground and un­der the hood, and they lay a foun­da­tion for bet­ter things to come.

With that in mind, let’s ad­dress the main ques­tion right now: should you up­grade? De­spite what I just said about bet­ter things to come, there are sev­eral new fea­tures you can take ad­van­tage of now, mostly in Ap­ple Pho­tos. (I’ll pro­vide an over­view of the new Pho­tos, but you can find out more on page 76.) Ap­ple’s Notes and Mail apps get a few helpful tweaks, too. So there is some­thing in High Sierra to get your vir­tual hands on.

But these are things you don’t need to get to right away. If you want to put off up­grad­ing to High Sierra, that would be fine, you won’t miss much – though the main rea­son to up­grade now is be­cause it in­cludes se­cu­rity fixes. Other than that, these are changes that you’ll want to have sooner or later. Then you’ll fi­nally get to see though fire­works – per­haps in vir­tual re­al­ity.

Ap­ple File Sys­tem

APFS (Ap­ple File Sys­tem) is the key un­der-the-hood fea­ture of macOS High Sierra. Com­put­ers needs a file sys­tem in or­der to man­age your data, and un­til now, that file sys­tem was HFS+ (Hi­er­ar­chi­cal File Sys­tem).

It was cre­ated be­cause HFS+ was out­dated – it was re­leased in 1985. Stor­age de­vices are much big­ger now, and we cre­ate more files than ever (just take a look at your photo col­lec­tion if you need

proof). De­vel­op­ers have been aching for a new file sys­tem for a while, and Ap­ple has fi­nally an­swered their prayers.

There’s a catch, though. APFS, right now, is only avail­able if you’re us­ing flash stor­age or a SSD (solid-state drive) on your Mac. Dur­ing the beta run, APFS could be in­stalled on a hard drive or Fu­sion drive, but that sup­port was pulled when High Sierra reached golden mas­ter sta­tus. Ap­ple said that hard drive and Fu­sion drive sup­port will be avail­able in a fu­ture macOS up­date.

The fea­tures of APFS in­clude:

Built-in en­cryp­tion and sup­port for full disk en­cryp­tion

Snapshots, which used to record the state of your stor­age de­vice based on points in time, helpful for back­ups Space shar­ing, which makes it eas­ier to re­size and mange dif­fer­ent par­ti­tions Faster per­for­mance The abil­ity to bet­ter man­age very large stor­age ca­pac­i­ties and files

When you up­grade to High Sierra, the in­staller au­to­mat­i­cally coverts to APFS if you’re us­ing a Mac with a SSD. I didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence any prob­lems that I could at­tribute to APFS while I used the beta, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hap­pen. With APFS re­leased to the gen­eral pub­lic, it’s pos­si­ble new prob­lems could arise. This pos­si­bil­ity would be the main rea­son why you might want to wait to up­grade un­til the first ma­jor High Sierra up­date is re­leased.

Vir­tual re­al­ity and Metal 2

Vir­tual re­al­ity has made a lot of noise in the PC mar­ket, but you haven’t heard much about it for the Mac. Ap­ple hopes that changes with High Sierra, which now has sup­port for VR head­sets like the HTC Vive. Ap­ple also has VR part­ner­ships with Valve, Unity, and Epic, and plans for 360-de­gree video in Fi­nal Cut Pro X and Mo­tion.

The op­er­at­ing sys­tem also in­cludes sup­port for Metal 2, Ap­ple’s graph­ics API. In ad­di­tion to sup­port for VR and bet­ter per­for­mance, Metal 2 has sup­port for ex­ter­nal GPU hard­ware, which could mean you

can boost your MacBook’s graph­ics per­for­mance by us­ing Thun­der­bolt to hook up an ex­ter­nal box with a top-end graph­ics card.

You may not be able to take ad­van­tage of VR and Metal 2 sup­port right away, though. De­vel­op­ers need to cre­ate Mac-com­pat­i­ble VR soft­ware, and soft­ware needs to be de­vel­oped for Metal 2. Down the line, we could see some re­ally cool stuff.

HEVC and HEIF

Ap­ple has two new file for­mats that ac­tu­ally de­buted in iOS 11: High Ef­fi­ciency Video En­cod­ing (HEVC) is a new for­mat for video, and High Ef­fi­ciency Im­age File For­mat (HEIF) is a new for­mat for pho­tos.

HEVC, also called H.265, of­fers smaller file sizes than the pre­vi­ous stan­dard video for­mat, H.264. Smaller file sizes are im­por­tant, since we’re now liv­ing in a world of 4K video – and if you’ve ever made a 4K video on your iPhone, you know that the files can get pretty big.

HEIF does a sim­i­lar thing: it makes file sizes smaller than com­pared to JPEG com­pres­sion.

With sup­port for these for­mats built into High Sierra, you’ll be able you read the HEVC and HEIF files from your iPhone (pro­vided that you have one

that can cre­ate HEVC and HEIF files). Macs with a Sky­lake pro­ces­sor or newer will be able to pro­vide hard­ware ac­cel­er­a­tion for HEVC; Macs with an older pro­ces­sor can still play HEVC, but play­back is soft­ware-based and per­for­mance may be af­fected.

Some­times it can be scary to use new file for­mats, es­pe­cially when the new for­mats re­place ones that are ubiq­ui­tous. You can de­cide to not use the new for­mats on your iPhone, as ex­plained in our over­view of iOS 11. HEVC and HEIF do of­fer sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits, and Ap­ple has made pro­vi­sions to make sure you can ex­port your HEVC videos and HEIF pho­tos into H.264 and JPEG, re­spec­tively.

Sa­fari 11

Fi­nally, some­thing in High Sierra you can re­ally get your hands on: new Sa­fari fea­tures. There are sev­eral new fea­tures in Sa­fari 11, but there are a cou­ple that stand out.

The first is con­trol over me­dia auto play. You know those an­noy­ing au­to­play videos that ap­pear when you visit a web­site. Sa­fari 11 now gives you the op­tion to stop those videos from au­to­mat­i­cally play­ing. Or you can let the video play, but mute the auto. You can cre­ate a list of web­sites with each site hav­ing its own set­tings. With au­to­play videos so preva­lent on the web (de­spite the wide­spread dis­like of them), it’s a fea­ture that’s long over­due.

The sec­ond fea­ture is In­tel­li­gent Track­ing Preven­tion. Track­ing is used by third par­ties to aim their ad­ver­tis­ing at you. The most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of this is when you buy some­thing on the web – say,

a salad spin­ner – and then when you visit other web­sites, you see salad spin­ner ads all over the place. ITP pre­vents this track­ing from hap­pen­ing.

Sa­fari has a bunch of other new fea­tures, such as an al­ways-on Reader mode, per­sis­tent page zoom, no­ti­fi­ca­tion con­trols, and im­proved per­for­mance.

Ex­cited about the Sa­fari 11 fea­tures? You don’t need to up­grade to High Sierra to get them. Sa­fari 11 is also avail­able for macOS Sierra; you can in­stall it by per­form­ing a soft­ware up­date. If you want to wait to up­grade to High Sierra, you can still get Sa­fari 11.

Pho­tos

Pho­tos is the one app in High Sierra that gets the most changes. It has tweaks to the side­bar

and tool­bar, drag-and-drop or­ga­ni­za­tion, im­ports his­tory, im­proved ac­cu­racy with the Peo­ple al­bum, and more. The Edit mode is re­designed with bet­ter ac­cess to tools, Live Photo sup­port, and there are also new fil­ters. Pho­tos also has new Project Ex­ten­sions, so you can use third-party ser­vices to cre­ate web­sites, books, and other goods.

The changes and new fea­tures in Pho­tos are too nu­mer­ous to go into any great de­tail in this re­view. In­stead, as we men­tioned ear­lier, we’ve ded­i­cated a whole ar­ti­cle to the new Pho­tos (see page 76).

Siri

Siri made its de­but in macOS Sierra. I don’t find my­self us­ing Siri nearly as much as I do on my iPhone; that’s just the na­ture of how mo­bile de­vices are used ver­sus lap­tops and desk­top com­put­ers.

In High Sierra, Ap­ple has im­proved Siri by mak­ing it sound less ro­botic and more like nat­u­ral hu­man-speak. It’s a very no­tice­able change to me, and I guess there are folks who ap­pre­ci­ate it. But Siri’s ro­botic ex­pres­sion never both­ered me, and I re­ally don’t think this is a big deal. I have never once thought, “You know, I’d use Siri more if it sounded more like a per­son.”

What pre­vents me from us­ing Siri more is that I con­sis­tently have a hard time try­ing to get Siri to un­der­stand me. To this day. I still can’t get Siri to reg­u­larly un­der­stand me say­ing, “Send a text to my wife.” (And I have to use “my wife” be­cause Siri al­ways mis­un­der­stands my wife’s last name, and I have mul­ti­ple con­tacts with the same first name.)

I know I have a ter­ri­ble voice, and my enun­ci­a­tion needs work (I’ve been told this for years by var­i­ous pro­fes­sion­als), but even if I try my hard­est, Siri mis­un­der­stands me more of­ten than any­one would like. Since this is­sue for me hasn’t got­ten bet­ter, I have to be­lieve that Siri has reached peak com­pre­hen­sion, so I need to change. And I’ve tried, but the only real change I’ll prob­a­bly make is to not use Siri.

I’m not say­ing you shouldn’t use Siri on a Mac. There are big fans and it works well for them. You’re lucky. You’ll be able to take ad­van­tage of Siri’s new in­te­gra­tion with Ap­ple Mu­sic. Say, “Play some mu­sic” and Siri will play songs, and if you want to skip a song, you can say, “Play next” and Siri will play the next song. You can even tell Siri to play spe­cific gen­res or artist, and even ask for some back­ground in­for­ma­tion, like “When was this song re­leased?” Have fun with that.

Other changes

The Top Hits fea­ture in Mail dis­plays how much you’ve read an email, past searches, and a mes­sage’s rel­e­vance to VIP or Favourite con­tacts to make it eas­ier to find what you need Spot­light search now can pro­vide flight sta­tus The iCloud set­ting in Sys­tem Pref­er­ences has been re­designed so you can man­age your Fam­ily Shar­ing MacBook Pro users will find TouchBar im­prove­ments Notes now sup­ports ta­bles and pinned notes

Ver­dict

macOS High Sierra may not be chock full of juicy new fea­tures you can’t wait to use, but that’s okay. What’s more im­por­tant here is that Ap­ple is set­ting up the Mac for the fu­ture, with APFS, Metal 2 and vir­tual re­al­ity, HEVC and HEIF, and more. If you want to put off up­grad­ing un­til the first or sec­ond ma­jor up­date, that would prob­a­bly be fine, though con­sider that up­grad­ing now will in­stall im­por­tant se­cu­rity up­dates. Re­gard­less of how you view the new fea­tures, the fu­ture of macOS looks bright. You’ll need to your Mac to be up to speed to take ad­van­tage of it all. Ro­man Loy­ola

Sys­tem re­quire­ments

OS X 10.8 or later

APFS is avail­able when you for­mat a drive in Disk Util­ity, but it’s cur­rently only for SSDs

macOS High Sierra has built-in sup­port for VR head­gear like the HTC Vive

Both of the videos in this still im­age were en­coded at 1080p at 400kb/s. The top video (706KB file) used HEVC (aka. H.265). The bot­tom video (751KB file) used H.264. Sam­ple files avail­able at x.265.com

Sa­fari 11 al­lows users to stop auto-play videos

Spot­light can now ac­cess flight in­for­ma­tion

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