Apple gave us a preview of macOS High Sierra, the newest version of its Mac and MacBook operating system, at WWDC in June 2017. The updated software, which will launch to the public in September and is currently in beta testing, brings new core technologies, opportunities for developers looking to jump on the VR bandwagon, and refinements to apps such as Safari, Photos and Mail.
In this article we’ve got everything you need to know about High Sierra: interface changes, new features and which Macs are compatible with the new OS.
The final verison of macOS High Sierra will be available to download on 25 September.
The Gold Master beta version become available following the 12 September Apple event, find out what else Apple announced at that event here.
If you want to decide whether or not the upgrade is worth it, check out our Sierra vs High Sierra comparison review.
High Sierra beta versions
You can run a beta verison of High Sierra now!
Ahead of the launch, developers can get their hands on a beta of High Sierra from developer.apple.com and non-developers who sign up to Apple’s public beta program are also able to get a copy of the public beta from beta.apple.com.
Find out how to install the beta version of High Sierra here.
High Sierra problems
Reports are indicating that those with Fusion Drives may experience some difficulties when the new macOS High Sierra operating system lauches.
This is because the new Apple File system (APFS), more on that below, will not support Fusion Drives at launch.
This shouldn’t affect anyone who hasn’t been running the beta version of High Sierra, but if you have been running High Sierra beta on your Fusion Drive equipped iMac then beware that you will need to follow Apple’s advice to convert your Fusion Drive back to the previous HFS+ format before installing High Sierra.
Apple’s instructions, which you can read here suggest that you should first make a Time Machine back up, then create a bootable installer of High Sierra, and reformat the drive before recovering your data from the Time Machine backup.
Apple also outlines how to overcome this particular challenge using Internet Recovey, but advises that it is only for advanced users.
New features in macOS High Sierra
Sierra brought some big new features to the Mac, such as Siri and Apple Pay – so what’s new now?
MacOS High Sierra brings changes with it that you might be unaware of because they are all happening ‘under the hood’.
These changes to the core technologies include:
- A new Apple File System that will change the way the Mac stores your data, as well as make copying files faster.
- Improvements that will enhance 4K video playback (and reduce the space taken up by those videos).
- The graphics capabilities will be improved, bringing VR to supported Macs.
High Sierra reminds us of Mac OS X Mountain Lion and Mac OS X Snow Leopard – two updates that built on the OS changes introduced in the previous year’s versions (Lion and Leopard respectively), and focused more on the underlying technologies, with fewer changes to the outside. Keeping Sierra as part of the name certainly seems to back this up.
However, there are ways in which these core technologies will improve your Mac experience in a way you will notice. Speaking on 1 August, Tim Cook talked briefly about the “immersive gaming, 3D and virtual reality experiences made possible with the upcoming release of macOS High Sierra”.
There are also some new features coming to some of the apps Apple ships with macOS, such as the ability to turn off autoplaying video in Safari, and new advanced editing tools in Photos.
You can also expect to see updates to:
We’ll discuss the changes coming to all of those apps below, addressing the ‘core technologies’ later on in this article.
New features in Safari will help you personalise your experience when surfing the web. You can refine your settings for particular websites – making the text bigger for example on one site, or adjusting your location settings for another.
Apple is determined to make surfing the web a more pleasant experience, much to the dismay of advertisers as a result there will be no more auto-playing videos and no more cookies tracking your surfing habits and aiding advertisers who want to target ads to your interests.
Apple sells this as Intelligent Tracking Prevention which identifies trackers and keeps your browsing history between you and your internet provider rather than third parties.
What this means to users is that in macOS High Sierra, Safari automatically blocks audio and video on every site visited unless you specifically tell Safari that you want to hear the audio/video playback. Once you’ve ‘told’ Safari that a certain website can play audio and video, it should remember that the next time you visit the site (because who wants to enable it for every YouTube video they watch?).
As a final nail in the advertiser’s coffin, Apple will make all pages that support Safari Reader appear thus in your browser – with ads stripped out. For more information read How to use the new features in High Sierra.
The Photos app for Mac is gaining some new organisation tools including an always-on side bar (like we had in iPhoto). This new side bar will make it easier to find things, or at least that’s Apple’s aim.
There will be a redesigned Edit view along with new editing tools including Curves for fine-tuning and Selective Color for making adjustments within a defined colour range. You’ll also find new professionally inspired filters.
Speaking of editing, Live Photos will gain a new Loop effect, so you can create a looping video, as well as a Bounce effect, which will play the action forward and backward.
There’s also a Long Exposure effect coming which will use Live Photos to blur water or extend light trails for a slow-shutterspeed-like effect. You’ll also be able to capture Live Photos from within FaceTime.
Your People Album will gets larger thumbnails and more accurate grouping of the ‘Faces’ (and this will stay in sync across all your devices if you use iCloud Photo Library.
Apple’s also introducing lots of new Memories categories – including pets, babies, outdoor activities, performances, weddings, birthdays and sporting events, and you’ll be able to easily filter photo collections by your favourite criteria.
Other handy changes in Photos include:
- Viewing past imports in chronological order
- The ability to do various functions right from the toolbar, such as rotate and favourite batches of images
- The selection counter will tell you how many things you have selected
- Filtering photo collections according to criteria
- Photos will supports external editors, e.g. Photoshop can launch within Photos and save edits to the Photos library
- Third-party projects extensions that let you order framed prints, create web pages and more
Apple has also tinkered with the Mail app for MacOS High Sierra.
Updates will include improvements to search to make it easier to find what you are looking for amid our ever growing inboxes.
Top Hits adds a section at the top of your search results that includes the messages deemed to be most relevant to your search. These Top Hits are based on the the mail you’ve read, the senders you reply to most often and people you have designated VIP status. According to Apple, the more you search, the smarter it gets.
Mail will also offer a long-requested feature; split-screen view when running the app full-screen.
Essentially, if you’ve got the Mail app open full-screen in macOS High Sierra and you want to send a new email, the composition window will open on the right-hand side of the screen instead of a new window, as currently it does in macOS Sierra.
Apple remains the only major AI player to offer the choice between a male and female voice, and these voices are going to get even more natural in macOS High Sierra.
Siri’s voice will be much more expressive and less robotic. You can expect more changes in expression and intonation.
Siri is more than just a pretty voice, though. It will be taking on the role of DJ, learning your preferences based on what you listen to (if you’re an Apple Music subscriber) and making recommendations, as well as helpfully putting together playlists for you.
The main addition to Spotlight appears to be integration with flight information. You’ll be able to enter your flight number to see arrival and departure times, terminals, gates, delays, and more.
Spotlight results will also include multiple Wikipedia pages when there is more than one answer to your query.
We think this one is a great addition – you’ll be able to Pin your most frequently used notes to the top so you can easily find them. This sure beats having to re-save a Note every time we access it so that it doesn’t get buried.
You’ll also be able to add tables to Notes.
This is perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the new Mac and iOS operating systems.
Your Messages are going to be stored in iCloud, so if you ever lose your phone you won’t lose all your messages, and more importantly, your Messages will be in sync across all your devices, so you won’t see alerts on your Mac for messages you have already read on your iPhone.
Because Messages will be stored in the cloud they won’t take up space on your Mac or iPhone either.
Apple File System
Now we’ve covered the fun stuff (i.e. the apps we use every day). Onto the under the hood changes that will hopefully enhance our overall experience on our Macs come this autumn.
First up is the introduction of the Apple File System (APFS) on the Mac. APFS arrived on our iPhones earlier this year in an update to iOS 10, and when it arrived the first thing we all noticed was that we got gigabytes of space back following the update. This is because Apple has rearchitected the way it stores data on its devices.
But APFS will do more than reduce the amount of space our data takes up. It will also make duplicating a file and finding the size of a folder instantaneous.
It also keeps files safe with built-in encryption, helps protect data from power outages and system crashes, and offers simplified data backup, according to Apple.
And perhaps most importantly, it is compatible with HFS drives and data, so you shouldn’t lose any data (although we’d always recommend that you back up!), and is designed with future advancements in storage technology in mind.
Why is this so exciting for Mac users? In addition to offering increased security when compared to the standard HPF system and built-in drive encryption, it offers a dramatic speed bump in file transfer speeds – ideal for those that move/copy/duplicate large files.
The introduction of APFS may even free up a bit of storage like it did for iOS users when Apple introduced it in iOS 10.3!
High Sierra will also see Apple move to the H.265 video standard to support better 4K playback. H.265, also known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compresses video 40% more than H.264, and means high-def videos will take up less space on your Mac. High-quality video streaming will be possible too.
It’s not just about watching videos, though. The hardware accelerations on the new iMac and MacBook Pros will make HEVC encoding and editing possible.
(H.265 will also be arriving in iOS 11 for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and the next iPhone.)
The Metal technology built into macOS makes it possible for apps to use the full power of the graphics processors. The incoming Metal 2 update brings new capabilities in machine learning, virtual reality and external GPU support.
The API has also been refined, and Apple claims it offers improved performance.
In conjunction with Thunderbolt 3, Apple will offer external GPU support on supported Macs (although this is expected to be a later addition, coming in Spring 2018).
Apple is offering an External Graphics Developer Kit to developers of apps that use Metal, OpenCL, and OpenGL. It costs £749 and will furnish them with all the hardware and software they need to optimise their app, it includes:
- Sonnet external GPU chassis with Thunderbolt 3 and 350W power supply
- AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card
- Belkin USB-C to 4-port USB-A hub
- Promo code for $100 towards the purchase of HTC Vive VR headset
Find out more about this here.
Apple will be offering support for VR content creation for the first time in High Sierra and as a result developers will be able to create immersive gaming, 3D and VR content on the Mac.
These capabilities are limited to the new 2017 iMac with Retina 5K display, the new iMac Pro coming in late 2017 and any supported Mac paired with an external GPU (although the latter will be delayed until Spring 2018).
Developers will be able to use peripherals like the HTC Vive VR headset and apps like Final Cut Pro X, SteamVR, Epic Unreal 4 Editor and Unity Editor to create immersive new worlds, says Apple.
Regarding its own video suite – Apple says that Final Cut Pro X will add support for professional 360-degree workflows with the ability to import, edit and export 360-degree video, “later this year”.
Already, Steam is optimising their SteamVR platform for macOS and enabling connection of the HTC Vive headset, according to Apple.
This is in part thanks to the new Metal 2 technology introduced as part of the update that’ll give the existing Mac range a hefty boost in terms of graphical power, and signifies a huge step in the VR world; only months ago, Oculus claimed its Mac support was on hold due to the power required to use the headset.
Will this change now? Only time will tell, but we imagine it will be the case.
Read next: Can you use Oculus Rift with Mac?
Which Macs can run High Sierra?
Thankfully, every Mac that can run the macOS Sierra can run High Sierra. Those machines are:
- MacBook (Late 2009 or later)
- MacBook Air (2010 or later)
- MacBook Pro (2010 or later)
- Mac mini (2010 or later)
- Mac Pro (2010 or later)
- iMac (Late 2009 or later)
Read about how macOS High Sierra compares to Windows 10.