Review: macOS 10.12 Sierra

Review: macOS 10.12 Sierra

Review: macOS 10.12 Sierra

Siri, Tabs and iCloud Drive

By the time you read this, the latest version of Mac OS X – sorry – macOS, will be available to download from the App Store. macOS Sierra 10.12, to give it its full title, finally sees Apple move away from the OS X nomenclature given to every version of its desktop operating system since 2001.

You might be thinking, "Why macOS?" Well, the answer is simple: the new naming convention brings the OS in line with Apple’s software for its other products: iOS, watchOS and tvOS. After previously naming versions of OS X after big cats of some description, it has turned to locations in California for recent releases.

This latest one name-checks Sierra County, which is home to a beautiful mountain range depicted in Sierra’s default wallpaper.

Apple tends to release new versions of macOS with a "tick, tock" cadence. Back in 2009 it followed up OS X 10.5 Leopard, which introduced hundreds of new features and improvements, with Snow Leopard – an update that opened up the bonnet to improve performance under the hood.

A more recent example of this would be Sierra’s predecessor, OS X 10.11 El Capitan, which Apple built on Yosemite’s foundations while making the OS easier to run on lower-spec Macs – including Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.


Instead of using the new name as an opportunity to overhaul OS X, Apple has made Sierra another iterative release in the vein of its recent predecessors.

However, it makes a clear attempt at swinging the focus back to new functionality and features, rather than performance. Sierra places a firm focus on usability while allowing you to be more productive on the desktop – especially so if you use your Mac in conjunction with Apple’s mobile devices.

Whether you’re clasping a shiny new iPhone 7 or Apple Watch 2 in your hand, Apple wants you to make you feel like your investments are more than the sum of their parts. Clearly this is something of a double-edged sword, as Mac owners that don’t own them are bound to feel like they’re missing out. Not prepared to buy more Apple products? Then the message is clear: you’re not getting the full experience.

It almost feels churlish to moan, however, as Sierra continues tradition by leaping from the App Store onto your machine for the princely sum of nothing – just like every version of macOS has been since OS X 10.9 Mavericks. A word of warning, though: be sure to check out Sierra’s system requirements before you hit the download button, as they are more taxing than what has gone before.

Supported Macs

Here are the Mac models that are compatible with macOS Sierra:

  • MacBook (Late 2009 and later)
  • iMac (Late 2009 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2010 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2010 and later)
  • Mac mini (2010 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2010 and later)

Siri lands on the Mac

With Siri’s arrival on the Mac, owners of Apple’s computers no longer have to look at iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch owners with envy. Apple’s personal assistant is arguably even more useful on the Mac than it is on the company’s mobile platforms as you can drag and drop Siri’s search results from the Notifications pane into other apps.

These include a range of images found across the web, which appear as thumbnails along the side. Siri also retrieves other information as part of searches, including maps results, location data and user reviews courtesy of Yelp.

As far as its basic operation goes, Siri works just the same on the Mac as it does on other devices. You click the icon in the top right-hand corner, instead of holding a button, before speaking into your Mac’s microphone. You’re given a five second window before Siri returns a string of commands that can be spoken.


So, how well does it work? Very well, in fact: Siri’s voice recognition engine is near-flawless. Even in my strong regional accent, it picked up what I was saying almost every time. It only struggled with words that sound the same but are spelled differently. For example, Siri repeatedly failed to distinguish the difference between questions based around the country Wales, and ones about whales.

You can also retrieve a list of things that Siri can do by simply asking, "What can you do?". Some are simple, such as asking Siri to open a folder on the Mac or launch an app. It’s also possible to start a Facetime call, set up a meeting using the macOS Calendar, or finding photos from a particular date. If you’re a social media addict, the ability to post updates to services such as Twitter and Facebook could prove a big time-saver.

Siri commands to try

Things that you can ask Siri include:

  • Tell me what movies are playing today
  • Read my latest email
  • Text John ‘See you soon smiley exclamation point’
  • Find a table for four tonight
  • Call Dad at work
  • Find me books by C.S. Lewis
  • How’s the weather in London on Saturday?
  • Did Manchester United win?


Keeping tabs

It’s now possible to use tabs in any applications, compared to El Capitan that restricted them to Safari and Finder. Apple’s apps that support tabs from the off include Mail, Maps, TextEdit and the three iWork apps – Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple has made it easy for third-party developers to integrate tabs into their app with no extra coding, so you may be able to open up multiple playlists in Spotify, or conversations in Skype, soon.


Apps that currently support tabs let you view them using the View menu. The obvious benefit to tabs is that you don’t have to open as many new windows, which comes in especially useful in split screen mode. For example, somebody writing up an essay could position Safari on the left and Pages on the right. Previously it would have only been possible to view one website at a time, whereas tabs allow multiple webpages to be opened including Evernote pages.

Suddenly you can flick between various websites and multiple notes for retrieving information while maximizing the amount of information that can be displayed on the screen, which will come in especially handy for owners of Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.

iCloud Drive, Universal Clipboard and Apple

Finder has remained largely the same, featuring the same visual design and the option to open multiple windows within tabs, as you now can in applications. It’s a shame that Apple is yet to offer more customization features in El Capitan.

Apple long ago removed the option to skin the operating system’s look and feel, with only a few third-party applications like cDock allowing any customization at all. It was rumored that Sierra would feature a dark move that would apply to Pages, Safari and other of Apple’s applications, but unfortunately it hasn’t happened.

iCloud Drive

The only update to Finder is that iCloud now has its own group in the sidebar. That’s because the latest version of macOS now comes with the option to sync your Desktop and Document folders to iCloud. Apple says that the desktop is still the place where people dump most of their files without a second thought, and it’s something that we’re still guilty of despite being signed up to every cloud storage service out there.

Placing files on the desktop means you don’t have to worry about sorting them until you’re ready, and you’re given instant access to them on other Macs, other iOS devices (via the iCloud app), and

Universal clipboard

Getting information from one Apple device to another has always been a bit clunky. Most people send it to themselves in a messaging app or, more commonly, email. Apple has looked to solve this problem with Universal Clipboard, a new feature that allows you to copy and paste information from a macOS device to one running iOS, or visa versa.

The act of doing it is so simple that it requires no instructions. You press copy one device and then paste it on the other. There’s a slight delay the first time this happens as the content is transferred over your wireless network, but from then on the action is instant.

Seeing double

It’s been around on iOS for a while, and it’s now possible to use Picture-in-Picture mode on your Mac. The viewing mode is in a limited form right now, with Vimeo and a few other video sites making full use of it. The idea is that you can float video from Safari or iTunes around the desktop allowing you to carry out other tasks while having it running in the foreground.


It’s activated by clicking on a darkened button on the bottom-right hand corner of the video screen, which pops it out. The video can then be moved to one of the top or bottom corners depending on where you want to place it, and it can also be resized to take up most of the screen. The miniaturized video window will stay put even if you switch spaces.

Optimized storage

Running out of storage is a common problem for Mac owners – especially if you’re using an older machine such as the 11- or 13-inch MacBook Air. Thankfully, Apple has included a new storage-management feature in macOS Sierra.

Optimized Storage

Accessed using the About This Mac menu and then clicking on storage, it works by automatically deleting files from certain folders and locations to reclaim space. You can choose to move older photos and videos to iCloud, in addition to removing TV shows and movies that have already been watched. If you’re unsure of what to get rid of, Sierra also lets you review and delete files individually.


Apple has made sure that iPhone and iPad owners haven’t got all the fun by adding new features to its Messages app. They include web links that now appear in conversations with content previews, and you can watch videos without leaving the app. It’s all what you would expect from other modern messaging apps, such as Whatsapp. Additionally, Apple has added "tapbacks – short, quick ways of sending emoticons that sum up your response – such as a heart, a thumbs-up icon or a cartoon-esque question mark.


We liked

The arrival of Siri is not before time. Just as she can on mobile devices, Apple’s personal assistant can understand a wide range of phrases and has a voice recognition engine that works nearly every time. The arrival of tabs in applications gives you another means of working in full-screen in a greater deal of comfort, while Apple’s decision to synchronize your Desktop and Documents folders with iCloud feels like a savvy one.

We disliked

The clear disadvantage here is that you’re only going to feel the full benefit of Sierra if you’re using multiple Apple devices – particularly ones running iOS 10. Without them, you’re still left with a solid update but one that simply can’t fulfill its full potential. And it would be nice to see Apple reintroduce some customization with the next release of macOS, even if it’s only in the form of a dark mode for apps.

Final verdict

Just like El Capitan, Sierra is a welcome update that brings genuinely useful improvements to the desktop while bringing further interoperability with Apple’s mobile devices. There are few shocks and surprises here, and if you were hoping for an entirely new experience with Apple changing to the macOS moniker for the first time, then you may end up disappointed.

Source: Tech Radar


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