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macOS Catalina first look: goodbye, iTunes; hi, ipad apps on mac

iPad apps come to Mac, and iTunes is broken up into several apps. From a consumer perspective, these are the most significant new aspects of macOS Catalina, which Apple will roll out for Macs in the fall. Today, the company releases its first public beta of Catalina. Let me say this on the front page: You should only install the beta on a secondary Mac you've had around the house. It has been quite stable in my testing, but it is by no means ready to be put on your full-time laptop, iMac or Mac mini.

There are plenty of other changes and enhancements to macOS Catalina, from a redesigned reminder app to small but useful additions like iCloud Drive folder sharing. Let's review what you can expect from macOS 1

0.15 when it rolls out to everyone in a few months.

iTunes splitter for Apple Music, Podcasts and TV

Apple is finally giving goodbye to iTunes for Mac, breaking the flared software into three more focused apps: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV. The company says these apps have to offer excellent performance, but I've tested Catalina on a 2016 MacBook Pro – and it's still an early beta – so it's hard to measure how much faster than iTunes.

Apple Music is a gateway to the company's subscription music service, but it also handles all the traditional music library management that iTunes did before. So if you're a geek like me with an Apple Lossless collection and a bunch of smart playlists, don't worry: it's all that makes the trip over and works perfectly. And yes, you can still buy individual albums and songs here if you're not an Apple Music person. If you are, you get the usual sections like For You, Browse, and Radio. There is also more color throughout the app and in the sidebar, which is a nice change since iTunes was beautifully beaten.

As for podcasts and Apple TV, they are exactly what you would expect from Mac versions of their iOS colleagues. The Apple TV includes full support for Apple TV channels so you can stream content from HBO, Showtime and other networks right inside the app if you subscribe to them. Apple also adds support for HDR and Dolby Vision to the TV app.

And Podcasts offer a very clean and straightforward interface to keep up with your favorite shows and podcasts.

Sidecar allows you to use your iPad as a second display

Apple has got a cue from apps like Luma Display and introduces a new feature in MacOS Catalina called Sidecar, which allows your iPad to act as a secondary or mirrored display for your Mac. This works both wired and wireless, and Apple says performance must be fundamentally identical between the two. It has, in my experience, been mostly true, but the wireless state can be a small buggy in this beta stage. It's also limited to a range of 10 meters (or just over 30 feet), as Apple uses Bluetooth as part of the Sidecar magic.

In addition, any app that supports stylus input lets you draw or edit with your Apple Pencil instantly without developers having to do anything. It covers apps like Adobe Lightroom, Illustrator and others like Affinity Photo. Although you are not a proapp user, Sidecar will be useful for annotating PDFs or signing documents on your Mac.

Image: Apple

Pencil can also be used to point and click as a mouse. And you will actually find yourself doing it more than you would think, because if you tap or turn on the primary iPad display area using your finger, nothing happens. Apple has deliberately omitted any kind of finger navigation support, and this design decision was made because the company doesn't really see macOS as a platform intended to touch. It's for a mouse pointer or your Apple pencil. There are two exceptions to this, though: Down the left side of your iPad's screen is a sidebar that contains modification keys (command, selection, control, and shift) and an undo button. So to right-click, you will keep control and tap the display with your pencil. If the app you are using on your Mac also contains Touch Bar controls – even if your Mac itself lacks a touchline – they appear at the bottom of the iPad screen.

There are still facts to Sidecar. If you open a webpage in Safari, use your Mac's trackpad or arrow keys on your iPad's keyboard to scroll around. As the pencil serves as a mouse pointer, you cannot use it to push around a page; it will only select content on the screen instead. It makes sense when you think about it, but is initially curving. Secondly, Sidecar can only be started from your Mac, so you can't start a session on the iPad. Finally, Sidecar is strictly (and surprisingly) about display functionality. If you were hoping to touch your Mac's audio through your beautiful iPad Pro speakers, it's not an option.

iPad apps on Mac: get ready to open floodgates

Project catalyst gives developers an easy way to port their iPad Apps to macOS while still providing flexibility and tools to make them feel at home on Mac. The touch controls are automatically customized to the mouse and keyboard, but app manufacturers can choose to do some extra work to make their Catalyst apps fit better with other Mac apps with items such as menu bar control panel, toolbar shortcuts, Touch Bar support, or transparent sidebars. (They will have to make another icon, as iOS icons look a little strange in your dock). If apps use iOS 13 features as dark mode, they also automatically work in macOS.

Catalyst can prove huge for the Mac App Store, which has stagnated over the past several years compared to the vast array of apps on iOS. Apple showed a few examples of Catalyst-based third-party apps at WWDC, and more should come when Catalina shifts in the fall. I can't wait to see apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on Mac (with support for offline downloads) and I'm sure you have a list of what you're happy about as well. Apple does everything it can to make it worthwhile – and easy – for devs to bring their iPad software to a new platform.

Apple continues to introduce several of its own Mac apps based on Project Catalyst tech. News, Home, Shares and Voice Notes debuted in Mojave for some tough criticism, but the company says it has learned a lot in a year. Catalina's Podcasts app runs on Catalyst, although Apple Music and TV are traditional Mac applications.

Find my redesign reminder app and screen time

As with iOS, Apple updates the reminder application on macOS with a new design and more advanced features. Find my app that combines Find My Friends and Find My iPhone (or Mac, in this case) also comes to MacOS Catalina.

Apple says Find My will find your Mac even if it's not connected to Wi-Fi using its Bluetooth signal. If your Mac is lost or stolen, any Mac or iOS device crossing its path will be able to report this location back to you, and it will then appear in the Find My app for easy reference. This reporting feature is encrypted from end to end and uses very little data or battery power according to Apple.

Apple also brings screen time from iOS to Mac with Catalina. It can be found right in system settings. As on mobile devices, it will show you how long you spend using some apps. You can set limits, downtime periods and also apply these limits to combined categories such as games or social networks. Apple also allows parents to set communication limits for children – e.g. Limits it only to contacts.

iPhones and iPads are synced through Finder now

Break up iTunes forced Apple to find out what to do with device synchronization. I suppose they could have kept it in the Apple Music app, but instead the sync menu has moved to the macOS Finder. It's pretty much the same screen you're familiar with from iTunes, just in a new place. As Apple made sure to notice at WWDC, nothing (automatically annoying) appears when you connect an iPhone or iPad. You can only open the Finder yourself to synchronize, back up or restore a device.

Voice Control is a great gain for accessibility

Apple demoed its new Voice Control feature on stage at WWDC for great applause. It allows users to fully navigate and control their Mac (and iOS / iPadOS) devices using their voice. I repeated some of the steps in the video below and they worked as expected. The system is wise enough to distinguish between dictation and commands in the air, so it will not contain things like "hit send" in your messages. Apple says the quality of its dictation has improved as a result of these new accessibility efforts.

The second tidbits

  • Mail in Catalina will let you block senders, dumb threads and automatically unsubscribe from commercial mailing lists with one click.
  • Activation lock enhances security on misplaced or stolen Macs, but only those with a T2 security snap. Currently, the list includes 2018 (and later) MacBook Pro, 2018 MacBook Air, 2018 Mac mini and iMac Pro. As with iPhone, your Apple ID password must be entered so the device can be used. And no, you can't just boot into the Disk Utility and wipe the hard drive to get around the activation lock.
  • Your Apple ID info is now at the top of the system settings, giving you quick and easy access to account management. Need to change your password? It couldn't be much faster than in Catalina.
  • Apple Watch could already let you bypass your Mac's lock screen, but now it can also be used to access your passwords, approve app installations, or watch locked notes with a double tap on the digital crown.

Image: Apple

  • Apps must now request permission to access your Documents, Downloads, Desktop or ICloud Drive folders. Permission is also required for access to removable storage.

Image: Apple

  • macOS Catalina runs on its own read-only system power to prevent critical files from being deleted or overwritten.
  • Pictures for macOS fall slightly behind the iOS version. In Catalina it gets the new, more immersive browsing experience and support for Memory Movies, but it lacks some of the more powerful editing tools that come to Pictures in iOS 13 – especially for video.
  • 32-bit apps are not supported in macOS Catalina. Period. They just don't want to run. If you have 32-bit apps left on your system when you install the update, you will see what they are and be warned that they will become inoperative after the update.

An area Apple does not really treat macOS Catalina is speed. Software VP Craig Federighi did not speak any performance improvements at WWDC and it seems that Apple is happy with where Mojave is today. The work of bringing iPad apps to Mac and Catalina's other new features was prioritized, so maybe next year we'll see a performance-focused update. This is largely about refinement and heralds a new era of third-party software on macOS.

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