WWDC Wish List: macOS 10.16

After a stormy year with macOS Catalina, it's time for stability. Bring on macOS Avalon.

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As Mac users approach Apple’s annual developer conference and the promise of the whole operating system cycle starting over again, it would be natural to feel a lot of trepidation. It’s been a rough ride for macOS Catalina, with overly strict and chatty security barriers, incompatibility with 32-bit apps, a host of little annoying instabilities, and a less-than-impressive debut for Mac Catalyst.

It’s just time to get back on the hamster wheel and go through another macOS beta cycle—whether we like it or not. But I’ve got some hope that this year will be different. Here’s what I’m wishing for when Apple rolls out the new Mac operating system, macOS 10.16, at WWDC in less than two weeks.

Embracing Avalon

For all of us who have despaired over the relatively rough ride that has been macOS Catalina, it’s worth remembering that all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. Apple has frequently alternated between disruptive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink updates and years in which it focuses on stability rather than a flood of new features. For every Lion and Yosemite and Sierra, there’s a Mountain Lion and El Capitan and High Sierra.

It’s hard to imagine that after the last year—which has been disruptive across all of Apple’s operating systems—that Apple would not take a year to tighten all the screws and get things stable again. Which is why I’m hoping that what we’ll be getting in macOS 10.16 is more of a macOS Avalon—named after Santa Catalina Island’s single city—than some bold new macOS Santa Cruz.

But even if I assume that macOS 10.16 isn’t going to be a radical update, that doesn’t mean I don’t have hope for some great new stuff—and some critical fixes.

Catalina, take two

My biggest disappointment with macOS Catalina was how limited Mac Catalyst turned out to be. The tech was designed to make it easier for iOS developers to bring iPad apps to the Mac, but it has been hampered by limitations that have made developers reluctant to make the move. And at this point, even the developers who have invested time in trying to bring their iPads apps over to the Mac are waiting, hoping that Mac Catalyst gets an update to make it better.

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Apple introduced Mac Catalyst last year and it still need improvements.

I’m also reminded of an early report about Mac Catalyst by Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman that phase two of the effort would be the ability to bring iPhone apps over to the Mac, not just iPad apps. I’d love to run iPhone apps as small, purpose-built apps on my Mac, sort of a revival of Dashboard widgets or even Desk Accessories from the earliest days of classic Mac OS. The bottom line is, Mac Catalyst needs to get better, so that developers can more easily bring their iPad apps over to the Mac.

Get the security out of our way

My second biggest gripe about Catalina involves its new security features. I’m not opposed to Apple’s (quite admirable) attempts to rebuild macOS (which is basically 20 years old) with a more modern approach to security. A lot has changed in the last two decades, and the Mac needs to adapt if it’s going to stay with us.

That said, macOS Catalina felt like a product that was produced by a culture that valued security over the experience of the people who use the product. Apple’s security decisions made the act of using a Mac appreciably worse. Just this week, I was prompted to grant Apple’s own app, GarageBand, access to my Desktop folder, when I had chosen the Open command and clicked on Desktop myself. And granting apps permission for certain kind of access requires a weird back-and-forth between the app and the Security section of the System Preferences app that should be much more straightforward.

I don’t need macOS to become less secure. I do think Apple needs to the work to make it easier for users to use their Macs, their apps, and their files without the operating system getting in their way.

More flavor from the iPad

The last two major revisions of macOS have featured new Apple apps brought over from the iPad, and I don’t expect this version to be very different. I’ve got some requests.

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Apple needs to bring Mac Messages up to par with its iOS versions.

The macOS version of Messages has lagged behind its iOS equivalent on features for years. It’s time to replace the current Mac version (which is basically iChat AV, a decade on) with one that’s a match with the iPadOS version. And yes, that means support for sticker packs and memojis.

The other major Apple app I’d like to see move to the Mac is Shortcuts. While AppleScript and Automator are still useful (and I use them every day!), they’re not the future of the platform. Shortcuts, introduced two years ago to iOS, is. So it’s time to start laying the groundwork on the Mac, with a tool that can automate basic tasks and control apps built with Catalyst. If a Mac version of Shortcuts could also run AppleScript scripts, access the command line, or run Automator actions, we’d really have something.

The Health and Activity apps currently run only on iPhone, but I’d love to see them come to both the iPad and the Mac.

Finally, we need to have a talk about System Preferences. Apple has long since renamed almost every other Mac app to match its iOS equivalent. And yet here we are with System Preferences when every other Apple device has Settings. It’s time for a change.

Prepare for our ARM Mac future

If, as expected, the next version of macOS is the first version to support Macs running Apple-designed ARM processors, I’d expect it to integrate some features that will shine when paired with those future Macs. And maybe, in the meantime, they can make current Macs better too.

Apple should introduce Low Power Mode, a concept from iOS, to allow users to reduce the power consumption of their MacBooks and maximize battery life. Mac users can currently do this with apps like Turbo Boost Switcher that do things like disable the Turbo Boost feature found on Intel processors; on ARM Macs it would presumably maximize the use of high-efficiency processor cores and reduce the use of high-performance cores.

iOS also features a concept that macOS continues to lack—discrete control over how much data can flow based on what your current connection type is. Again, a third-party app like TripMode can do the job, but it’s better if macOS itself can differentiate between a wide-open, unmetered Wi-Fi connection and an expensive, pay-by-the-byte cellular connection. Right now, Macs only use cellular connections when tethered to a cellular device, but if Apple makes cellular iPads, wouldn’t it like to also make cellular Macs?

This year I want to keep my Mac wish list to a minimum, though. I want a macOS version I can recommend people upgrade to—and that means it needs to focus on a better user experience, including increased stability. Improvements to Mac Catalyst could bring more software to the platform, and laying the groundwork for ARM Macs could benefit us all. Bring on macOS Avalon.

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