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Ranking the top 10 features of macOS Catalina

Ranking the top 10 features of macOS Catalina
macOS Catalina's new features enhance productivity, entertainment and security.

Dubai - Apple's new computer operating system to hit Macs very soon

By Alvin R. Cabral

Published: Mon 7 Oct 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 7 Oct 2019, 11:00 PM

Apple's about to release the newest version of its computer operating system, macOS Catalina, and we're again going to rummage through it and find out its best of the best.
There are a host of new features, as always, on the new macOS. And just like what we did last year with macOS Mojave, we'll be counting down the top 10 features. To be clear, it doesn't necessarily have to be, technically, a new app; as long as it brings some oomph, it counts for our list.
Last year, two photo-productivity features went 1-2: The Continuity Camera took home the crown, with the new screenshot function coming in a close second, thanks largely to the benefits they brought to my job.

Honourable mentions

Podcasts: In case you missed it, iTunes is gone from Catalina and has been broken up into separate components. The first of the remnants of iTunes and it's now just like what it is on an iPhone. The biggest change is the addition of top-level categories, which makes it easier to search for specific topics. Of course, based on which region you're in, you'll get some local top results; in this case, it'll be Arabic. I'm not really a podcast person, but I have, in recent times, started to listen to audio of films while on the go more often (thank you, YouTube Premium, for the inspiration). If this keeps on, maybe the next iteration of Podcasts will go up higher in our rankings?
Reminders: Not exactly a new app, but enhancements have been made. It has an all-new design and interface that allows you to organise, create and keep track easier. New edit buttons add dates, times and locations to reminders, and you can even add attachments like photos and URLs. You can even tag someone in a reminder; if you send a message to that person in Messages, that reminder will pop up.
Notes: Just like Reminders, Notes has also undergone a colourful revamp. There's a new Gallery view that displays notes as visual thumbnails. Shared folders can allow you to invite others to access its contents and collaborate on them, while searching can now recognise objects or scenes within images. Checklist items, meanwhile, can now easily be reordered by dragging-and-dropping or via keyboard shortcuts.
Photos: Just like on iOS 13, images can now be organised by days, months and years, while best shots eliminates duplicates from the days view. Larger previews allow you to distinguish between similar shots and you can even highlight birthdays, trips and anniversaries. Memory movies are now also on Catalina.
Mail: There are three new main features: Mute a thread, block a sender and unsubscribe (I could use that).
Safari: An updated start page allows you to easily go to sites that are your favourites or you frequently visit, and a warning for weak, easy-to-guess passwords will pop up if you enter one, with an added bonus of helping you replace it with a sturdier one.
And into the top 10 we go.

10. Screen Time

Just like with iOS, Catalina brings Screen Time, showing you how much you've spent in front of a Mac and knocking your conscience if you've gone overboard.

All the good stuff are now on a bigger screen: App Limits gives you control over how much time you spend with certain apps, while Downtime allows you to schedule time away from your Mac (AKA go do something more productive if you're just messing around). Family Sharing, meanwhile, allows parents to configure Screen Time from another Apple device so they can monitor their kids.
There's also what's called One More Minute: When the limit for an app is reached and the blocking screen pops up, this option comes out so that you can, among others, save a file, wrap up a conversation or kill off some pesky monster you've been trying to put away for hours.
And keep in mind: Screen Time can also preserve your eyes' health. Please, especially children, don't stare too much on computer screens for prolonged periods of time.

9. Continuity Markup and Sketch

Remember last year's No.1, Continuity Camera? Well, Continuity Markup and Sketch essentially works the same way - except that it's that, marking-up and sketching.

Connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac and start your thing. Markup lets you sign documents, correct stuff or simply encircle anything you want brought to someone's attention. Sketch, meanwhile, allows you to doodle up something on your iPhone or iPad then insert it in a document on a Mac.

8. Syncing and Backup

Well, the demise of iTunes doesn't really mean it's gone; if you miss syncing, backing up, updating or restoring your iOS device with it, then you'll be happy to know that you can now do all of that in the comfort of locations under Finder. Just go ahead and connect your iOS gizmo to your Catalina-powered Mac and let it rip.

You can consider this as the fifth "app" of the now broken-down iTunes since, basically, it's a dedicated function unto itself. Once you plug in your device, Finder will let you see everything that you used to see on iTunes, along with all the functions. You'll find your device pop up on the left-side menu, just as you would plug in a USB drive.
Basically, it's still the way you sync using the old iTunes - just in a different layout.

7. TV/TV+

Movie marathoners will love this - as long as you're willing to pay a little more. On Apple TV, you can rent movies for Dh19.99, or outright buy them for Dh59.99 each.

But of course, the biggest feature of this is Apple TV+, where you'll be treated to some originals from Apple. However, you'd have to wait until November 1 before it comes to Catalina. Pricing? A cooler Dh19.99 per month - cooler because Netflix's pricing starts at Dh29. And if you buy an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod or Mac, you get a year's free subscription. Whoa.
On others' lists, this could well be higher. The only thing keeping it from being so on my list is the fact that I'm not really into TV shows (unless it's Castlevania from you-know-where). Try to throw in some animes Apple, the types of Dragon Ball ZYu Yu HakushoFlame of Recca and Blood+; you may pry me to up my Screen Time.

6. Music

Music is now completely independent, set free from being part of iTunes.

Over 50 million ad-free songs are at your disposal - provided you cough up Dh19.99, but that's after a free three-month trial. Its pricing is at par with Spotify and YouTube Music - though both have free versions that are ad-infested. Deezer, meanwhile, rings up a tad lower at Dh18.
But Apple Music has a number of perks. Every time you open the app, For You gives you a personalised selection (depending on your favourite genres or songs). And if you really miss buying stuff on iTunes, the store is just lying on the left tab. The updated player shows you lyrics, while all your tracks are neatly organised in one place.

5. Find My

While arguably the cutest name in this new roster of features, it also ranks as one of the most important.

Find My takes tracking down your Apple devices and friends to the next level, since it mashes Find My iPhone and Find My Friends into one. As such, it'll be easier to switch from finding your devices to friends, and vice-versa. 
The biggest feature of this app is that you'll be able to locate a device even if it's not connected to the Internet. To explain it in simplest terms, it uses a special Bluetooth beacon that broadcasts a device's approximate last location. This, however, will only work if the 'offline finding' is enabled on the missing device (spoiler: activate it, because it can save your gizmo). Once the missing device is located, it's approximate location can be seen in the Find My's radar.

4. Voice Control

As with iOS 13, Catalina also offers this key accessibility feature, allowing users who can't (or won't) use traditional input methods. Basically, command your Mac by just talking to it.
When you enable Voice Control in Accessibility within System Preferences, there's a little box with a mic icon that'll appear. If you want to disable it but don't want to completely close it, hit sleep.
Try stuff like "open Safari", "take a screenshot" or "turn off Bluetooth" - your Mac will respond with commendable speed. Now, for apps that don't have navigation commands like the ones above, there's a workaround called Item Numbers: In Photos, for example, saying "show numbers" will assign numbers to respective images that are on-screen. With all of them numbered, you can now dictate actions.
It does take dictation pretty well, though it will make mistakes if it thinks a word sounds like a different one. You can even add custom words - think all those tongue-twisting scientific names, as a very good example - so that it'll recognise them easier next time you speak them.

3. Security

This one's always a staple and a foundation for any macOS - any Apple OS, really - release. And there are even more safeguards on Catalina.

That one above is Approve withe Apple Watch, which goes by its name: With the Watch's side button, you can approve purchases, unlock locked stuff and much more.
And just like on the iPhone and iPad courtesy of the T2 Security Chip, Activation Lock is now also active on Catalina, meaning that if your Mac gets lost or is stolen, the only person who can reactivate or erase it is you.
Gatekeeper, meanwhile, makes sure all the apps you install have been thoroughly scanned by Apple and will get the seal of approval, ready for safe use on your machine.
Now, don't be surprised if you won't see a No.2 after this.

1 (tie). Sidecar/Arcade

I just couldn't bring my heart to pick one over the other here. One's a great productivity feature; the other's a long-overdue break stress-reliever.
And I have equal cases for both.
First, Sidecar. I'm not an artist - heck, I don't even require a second screen for that matter - but you gotta hand it to Apple for this great feature.

The drill is simple: Connect your iPad to your Mac - wired or wireless; the latter will give you more range, as long as it's within 10 metres - and voila, you now have your second screen.
Aside from acting as a second screen to spread out your workspace - where your cursor flows seamlessly between them - you can also mirror the displays and, for example, sketch on the iPad while viewing it on a Mac with a larger screen.
Another useful feature: If an app has support for Touch Bar - that digital strip you see above the keyboard on specific Mac Pro models - those controls appear at the bottom of the iPad... whether or not your Mac has a Touch Bar.
Productivity is what makes this a co-winner.
Which leads us to its co-star - Apple Arcade.
I had initially said 'was it anything else?' with Arcade - but not after carefully weighing it against Sidecar.

And why Arcade is just as much as a winner for me? Heck, it's not even live yet ("coming this macOS Catalina this fall", as Apple says on its microsite) and I'm all giddy about it.
A promising line-up of games is also at your disposal. Last we checked, there were 53 titles; on Sunday, four more were added.
You know what's even better? It'll just cost you Dh19.99 ($4.99) a month - half of what Google Stadia will be charging ($9.99) and a fraction of that of Sony's PlayStation Now ($19.99) and Microsoft's xCloud ($15).
Even more, you get a free-month trial after you sign up. And even even more, those who purchase an Apple device - iPhone, iPad or Mac - will get a one-year subscription. Free. On the house. Gratis. Apple really threw in the kitchen sink (plus controllers for good measure) at its competitors.
Well, to be fair, my gamer's bias - who wouldn't want to have a fun break in between doing serious stuff on a Mac? - and the fact that I don't use a second screen are factors in play here. But I still can't ignore the boost Sidecar brings to the productivity table - and I put myself in the position of those who would actually use it, which is why it also landed on top.
Both make strong cases for No.1. So the fairest decision is to hand both of them Catalina's crown.
- alvin@khaleejtimes.com

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