This was supposed to be a “bye” year for Apple, one where the software teams would concentrate on stability and speed, with less pressure to make big moves or introduce new features.
While that may be true to some extent for iOS 12, it looks like the macOS team didn’t get the memo. After checking out the beta of macOS 10.14 Mojave, it definitely feels like big changes are coming to the Mac. Some, like Dark Mode, are mostly cosmetic. But others, like the first generation of iOS-based apps made for macOS, are pointing the way for where the Mac is going, and why reports of its coming demise are greatly exaggerated.
At the same time, Apple didn’t bite off more than it could chew with Mojave. There aren’t a ton of new features in the release, but many of the ones that are there change foundational aspects of the macOS experience. No matter how you use your Mac, I can safely some part of your day-to-day is going to change with Mojave, and mostly for the better.
Seeing the light with Dark Mode
Apple has finally answered the call from power users everywhere and created a Dark Mode. Once you engage it via the General options in System Preferences, you’re transported to a mirror-universe macOS the white menu bars are dark gray, the “white space” in apps shifts to a gray gradient, and the sun rapidly sets on the sand dune on the default desktop background.
I know many colleagues who love Dark Mode, or at least the idea of it, but I was a little underwhelmed by the feature, at least as it is now. Although every app gets a dark menu bar, the only apps that benefit from the full treatment are Apple’s. Dark Mode doesn’t do much for you if you tend to spend most of your time in Google Chrome, as I do.
Still, I do admire some of the nicer touches of Dark Mode. Apple’s designers somehow zeroed in on the perfect shade of gray for the background of Safari’s reading tab. Not only does the light gray play nicely off the darker gray of window background, but the text isn’t white — it’s a very light gray.
As power Photos users know, the Edit mode already has its own “mini” dark mode, and Apple wisely didn’t reverse it when Dark Mode is engaged; editing controls are dark whether or not you’ve chosen Light or Dark Mode for the system generally. I would have preferred, though, some kind of new indicator or Private mode in Safari, which was (and still is) marked by darkened tabs. May I suggest a new color for the official release? Some red highlights, maybe?
After you use Dark Mode for a few days, you kind of forget about it… that is, until you switch back. Going back to Light Mode made me recoil at the sudden restoration of brightness, like I was some vampire who’d just had the blinds in front of him pulled back at high noon. The light!!!
Gallery View and Stacks
So, Dark Mode: Nice, but kind of gimmicky if you’re not a creative (and even if you are, many creator apps already have their own dark modes). But Mojave has other Finder upgrades, and I found one to be life-changing: Gallery view.
As any Mac user knows, when you look at the contents of a window in the Finder, you can choose between icon view, list view, or column view. Now in Mojave there’s the new Gallery view, and it’s really helped in my daily work life.
In the course of a day, I end up with a lot of images in my downloads folder. When hunting or a specific one, I sometimes need to squint at the icons. Sure I can hit the space bar to see the preview pane, but then I have to effectively open and close each one.
Not so with Gallery view, where I can use the arrow keys to scroll through images until I hit the one I want. The one complaint I have is Gallery view isn’t available in the Open dialog box when you’re in another app — I hope it’s there in the final release.
I know a lot of people are hotly anticipating Stacks, the feature that neatly organizes your cluttered desktop into a bunch off quasi-folders called Stacks. It works as advertised: If you have a desktop full of different kinds of files, it quickly pulls like file types together into singular icons that vaguely resemble piles of stuff — a rare nod to the skeuomorphism that’s fallen out of favor in recent years.
The Stacks do at least one neat thing besides organizing: When you put the mouse pointer over the icon and you scroll, the image will advance through the icons within, like a flip movie. Got to the one you want? Double-click and that file — and only that image — will open.
It’s very nice, and I’m sure many will find Stacks useful, but I got in the habit years ago of keeping a neat Desktop. Stacks put all my recent screen grabs in one place, but not much else.
Screenshots and Quick Actions
Speaking of screenshots, they got a big upgrade in Mojave. Now, when you do a Shift+Command+3 or Shift+Command+4, the thumbnail of the image will immediately appear in the corner. Click, and the it expands into a special markup pane.
From there, you can mark up the image however you want, even add a signature, and then hit the share button and send it wherever you want it to go. Can’t be bothered marking it up now? Just don’t click the thumb and it’ll save to your Desktop (or Stack) as normal.
There’s also a new keyboard shortcut for screengrabs: Shift+Command+5. Hit that one and you’ll get a menu along the bottom that lets you choose from the usual “capture all screen” and “capture a selection” tools, plus the new “capture a specific window” as well as two options for making a screen recording: record the whole screen and record a selection.
All of the new options are most welcome. They may not come in handy as often as the standard tools, but now you don’t have to hunt through menus, Google searches, and third-party apps to figure out how to do these things.
Apple is also improving Quick Look, the feature where you get a full-size preview of a file just by highlighting it and hitting the space bar, with a new set of tools called Quick Actions. For images, you can now crop, mark up, and rotate them right from the Finder. And for video, you can even trim. The line between the Finder and the Preview app just got really hazy.
Creative professionals will love this nice bit of customization: Now you’ll be able to select exactly what metadata the Finder will show for images. Under Finder>View>Preview Options, you can select specific Exif info, like device model, ISO speed, and the content creator, to be visible in the Finder.
A taste of the iPad
One of the bigger rumors about macOS 10.14 before Apple revealed it earlier this month was that it would mark the long-anticipated moves toward merging macOS and iOS. That sort of happened, and it sort of didn’t. MacOS isn’t becoming iOS, but Apple is creating tools to more easily port iOS apps to macOS, starting with Mojave.
The first apps to get the treatment are four familiar iPhone/iPad apps: Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos.
All of these apps are relatively straightforward, and the Mac versions work just as you’d expect them to. The only one that’s a little bit unexpected is Stocks, which has been redesigned to accommodate news. But each Mac app is nearly identical to its iPad version, and data you’d expect to transfer over (saved stories in News, tracked symbols in Stocks) carries over.
The one exception is Voice Memos. While the macOS UI looks amazing, the app didn’t have access to the recordings I’ve made on my iPhone, which is disappointing, though it makes sense. The app on iOS is so barebones, there isn’t even an option to sync via iCloud, and that would require storage anyway.
The apps work fine (apart from the usual beta bugs), though there are telltale signs they weren’t designed or Mac. For instance, the sidebar on News and Stocks can’t be resized so it takes up more or less horizontal space in the app window; when you mouseover the line separating the sidebar and the story pane, you don’t see the familiar line with two arrows sticking out from either side. Not a deal-breaker, by any means, of course — just a sign of their heritage.
With Mojave, Apple is also giving the Mac App Store a major makeover. Besides bringing the design language closer to apps like News and Podcasts, Apple is adding featured stories on various apps as well as tips and recommendations, making the front page of the app more like a magazine. I don’t hate this, but I don’t see why Apple’s tips would be any better than stuff you can find on the web.
Apple made a huge deal about a couple of important changes to how Safari handles privacy. First, Apple’s browser will prevent share buttons and comment fields from automatically tracking you; instead, Safari will ask you if you want to consent to the tracking the first time you visit a site that does this.
Whatever you decide, the change applies site-wide, and no page on the site will ask again for 30 days (you can always change things up in settings). That’s a decent amount of time, and should prevent Mojave from becoming Apple’s own Windows Vista, incessantly interrupting you with dialog boxes when you’re just trying to live your life.
At least that’s the idea. The new feature isn’t yet active in Safari — I never once got an alert asking me to opt-in or opt-out of being tracked. Apple says the API it’s using still needs to be adpoted by social networks but will be ready for general availability this fall. OK.
The other Safari change is in how your device presents itself to the world, or rather, the internet. By default, macOS Mojave will ensure potentially device-identifying attributes like fonts and other data aren’t shared to websites trying to track you even when you opt out of cookies. It’s a welcome change, although it will be difficult to discern if it makes much difference until Mojave is installed on more machines.
Siri gets some new abilities in Mojave. Now you can ask Siri to show you your passwords, and it’ll take you to the right screen — just input your password or fingerprint and you’re done. You can also ask Siri for help finding your iPhone by asking her to ping it.
When I tried this, though, I was reminded that Siri still sucks. Despite telling it repeatedly which iPhone I wanted to ping, responding with exactly the same language it was cuing me with, it still didn’t understand and eventually just gave up. Lots of work still to do here, clearly.
I was happy to see one feature work flawlessly, and that was Continuity Camera, where you can use your iPhone to capture images directly to the Mac. From a Pages document, all I had to do was Control-click to bring up the action menu and choose Take Photo. Instantly the iPhone I had running iOS 12 opened to its Camera app. Once I snapped a pic and confirmed with “Use Photo,” it appeared in the document less than a second later. Capturing receipts just got a lot easier.
Mojave is coming at an interesting time for the Mac. Rumors of the platform’s demise or merger with iOS have been persistent for years, and while they’re just rumors, there’s some underlying logic to them.
There’s no question Apple’s productivity focus has been far more concentrated on the iPad Pro over the past couple of cycles. Over the same period, Mac sales have been pretty much flat. Now, keyboards are going to be part of any real productivity platform for years to come, and that means there’s going to be a need for the Mac.
Clearly Mojave is an attempt to boost the Mac by building a bridge to the iPad world. Right now it’s a single-lane bridge, with just Apple cars on it, but there are already plans for future expansions. In 2019 Apple is planning to bring third-party iPad developers into the party, potentially bringing a new wave of apps to the Mac App Store.
At least that’s the plan. With macOS Mojave, Apple is laying the groundwork for a Mac app “surge” that might just give its computers a new lease on life. Because while many are predicting the Mac becoming relegated to just power users in the next few years, Mojave — with easy-but-smart features like Dark Mode and Stacks — has a good chance of awakening the power user in all of us.