macOS Catalina is here, and with it, a bunch of top-line features: Mac Catalyst, new apps, Sidecar, Screen Time, and Voice Control. But as you might expect, Catalina also includes dozens of small feature changes that are worth investigating. Here are a few of the most interesting hidden features of macOS Catalina.
When using iCloud Photos, it’s possible the Photos.app has difficulty in uploading certain media. This would previously be displayed as an issue at the bottom of the All Photos view but without immediately presenting which media was causing the issue. A workaround was to create a smart album with the criteria of displaying media ‘unable to upload’. With Photos 5 in Catalina, a hidden feature appears when media is unable to upload: a category is shown automatically in the sidebar with all the media having difficulty uploading, making it easier to take action on such.
2. Revert after a bad upgrade
Have you ever installed a software update only to discover that it has broken other software you depend on to do your job? Catalina adds a new feature that takes a snapshot of the system disk just before applying an update and allows you to restore your Mac to that state via macOS Recovery. (Restart your Mac and hold down Command-R to boot into macOS Recovery.)
This is a clever use of the snapshot feature of the APFS filesystem, but it takes up a lot of disk space (since your drive has to save every bit of your pre- and post-upgrade Mac). Snapshots are only retained for a day, and if you don’t have enough free space available they won’t be available at all.
Still, this is a really great feature—that ironically is being introduced in an OS version that intentionally breaks compatibility with more than a decade of macOS apps. At least you’ll be able to roll back after the next one.
3. Make time-lapses and animations in QuickTime Player
A classic QuickTime feature makes its return in Catalina with the Open Image Sequence command, which lets you open a collection of still images and convert them into a video file. This is a feature that would be great for making a movie out of a burst of photos, a time-lapse, or even a series of drawings. You can choose the resolution, frame rate, and encoding formats.
4. Copy files to iOS devices in Finder
Apple has moved iOS device management out of iTunes (which is now gone!) and into the Finder. Once you’ve connected an iOS device to your Mac and entered your password to allow the Mac to be a trusted device, you can click on the Files tab and get a look inside the storage on your device. This isn’t anything new, but the Finder is a much more sensible place for it.
If you’ve ever needed to transfer large files between your Mac and iOS devices, and have balked at using the cloud or AirDrop to do so, you can also do so across a wired connection, right within the Finder. I use this all the time to transfer big audio files to my iPad for editing and to transfer the final audio projects back to my Mac when I’m done.
Column transition between tabs
For the CPU and Memory tabs, where many of the columns exist in the table shown on both tabs, there is a new column animation for the reordering of the columns between tabs. This includes process name, PID, user, threads, and memory. This makes the connection between these tabs easier to visualize, however, the animation is less useful when sorting is performed on a column that does not exist on one of the tabs, such as sorting by CPU descending on the CPU tab and sorting by memory descending on the memory tab. Once the animation is complete, the rows snap into their correct position by sort order.
New Tab Position
When creating a new tab in Safari, the new tab is now inserted to the right of the current set of tabs, rather than always in the right-most position., however, it’s more intelligent than that.
Generally, this means the new tab is inserted to the right of the current tab. This is also the first option in the list for customizing the position of new tabs, forcing Safari to always open a new tab immediately to the right regardless of nearby tab ancestry.
You can make new tabs open after related tabs, which means after tabs which were created by the current tab, for example by opening a link in a new tab.
6. Run apps originally made for the iPad
A catalyst is a tool for software developers introduced alongside macOS Catalina Features, making it easier for apps to be ported from the iPad to the Mac. In terms of how it affects you, you should see more apps make the jump from Apple’s tablet to Apple’s laptops and desktops, or at least that’s the theory—Twitter and TripIt are a couple of the apps that are apparently on the way, though they’re not live yet.
7. System Preferences.app
Additional functionality has been added to the Touch Bar. You can now show Spaces on the Touch Bar and switch between them using the buttons. Using Keyboard.prefPane in System Preferences, you can set the Touch bar to always show Spaces (alongside the control strip), or only show Spaces on the Touch Bar when the Fn key is held down.
8. Manage your reminders more easily
Reminders have even more improvements than Notes, from the revamped interface and layout to the way it can recognize plans you’re making in Messages and then prompt you to create a reminder about them. Your reminders get automatically shuffled into smart lists (flagged items, items due today, and so on), and you can now add attachments to reminders as well.
9. Touch Bar talents
I’m a fan of using Spaces on a Mac to help make sense of a busy desktop, and I am pleased Apple has made it possible to use the Touch Bar to move between the Spaces I use. You set this in System Preferences > Keyboard > Touch Bar Shows.
There you can choose App Controls, Expanded Control Strip, Function Keys, Quick Actions or Spaces.