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Apple’s MacOS Sierra: Five Top Features


Even though Siri is the star of MacOS Sierra, other new tricks make this year’s free update worth checking out

The flashiest new appearance in Apple’s new MacOS Sierra operating system is Siri, finally on the desktop. But there are plenty of other tweaks that can make Macs run faster and more efficiently. After living with MacOS Sierra, we’ve named five more features Mac users need to know about, especially if they’re considering the free update available starting Tuesday.
Universal clipboard

People who own Macs also generally have iPhones and iPads. The “universal clipboard” lets them copy and paste texts, photos and video across iOS and MacOS devices. And there’s no setup required.

This fall Siri debuted on the Mac, got smarter on your iPhone and grabbed your ear with the new wireless AirPods. Is she finally the AI assistant we’ve been waiting for? WSJ’s Joanna Stern spent the day with her to find out. Photo/video: Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal.

To make it work, you have to have an iOS device running iOS 10, Apple’s latest mobile operating system, and a laptop or desktop running MacOS Sierra. All devices must be logged into the same iCloud account. If you then select and copy something on your iPhone or iPad, you can use the paste option on your Mac to retrieve whatever you’ve copied—or vice versa. (It even works Mac to Mac, iPad to iPad, and iPhone to iPhone.)

You can copy and paste with essentially any app. Since the universal clipboard syncs across devices using your iCloud account, there can be some lag from time to time, but it’s been a rare annoyance in our testing. Just remember, the universal clipboard will only paste the last thing you copied.

Apple has been evolving iCloud Drive since its 2014 introduction. In this new edition, everything sitting on your Mac’s desktop and in the Documents folder will be available in the iCloud Drive iOS app for iPhone and iPad. (You can download this from the App Store if you can’t find it on your mobile device.) This syncing can also work across multiple Macs, as long as all the devices are logged into the same iCloud account.

Along with that, updated Macs display an iCloud Drive folder that you can use to sync files across devices as well. Windows PC and Chromebook users can access iCloud Drive by going to the iCloud.com website.

This new incarnation of iCloud Drive is so straightforward, it makes you wonder why Apple didn’t deliver it before. For Mac users who aren’t hooked on Google Drive or Dropbox, iCloud Drive will likely feel like an easier and more natural take on cloud storage. And while Apple only gives you a paltry 5GB of free storage (compared with Google’s free 15GB), Apple is on par with most online storage providers in its $10-a-month pricing for one terabyte.

Optimized storage


When you click Optimize Storage, MacOS Sierra will move long-neglected files to your iCloud online storage account to save space on your computer.

That iCloud storage becomes even more useful with a new MacOS feature called optimized storage. Nobody likes working on their laptop and getting a notification that your local drive is “almost full.” Figuring out what to delete to free up space is a hassle.

MacOS Sierra can automatically free up space by shoveling old, long-unopened files to iCloud. After files are moved to iCloud, they’ll still appear on your Mac, right where you saved them, and you can restore them by clicking their little cloud icons.

To activate optimized storage, click on the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of your Mac’s screen, then select About This Mac. Click Storage and then Manage, then look for the Optimize Storage menu option. In this same menu, you can also tell MacOS to automatically empty your computer’s trash folder every 30 days.
Apple Pay

Apple put its mobile payment service, Apple Pay, right into the Safari web browser in MacOS Sierra, in a move that challenges the near-ubiquitous PayPal.

When using Apple Pay on the web, you still need to authorize purchases like you do using Apple Pay in stores, with an unlocked Apple Watch on your wrist or the Touch ID fingerprint reader built into newer iPhones and iPads.

On Day One of MacOS Sierra’s public availability, the list of Apple Pay-friendly websites is tiny. So far you can use Apple Pay on the websites for Instacart, Lululemon, Warby Parker, Spring and Indiegogo. However, Apple says that more than 300,000 websites are expected to support its payments service in the coming months.
Apple Watch unlock

Auto unlock is another feature built for those who’ve bought into Apple’s ecosystem of products. If you’re wearing an Apple Watch, your Mac will be able to recognize your wearable and automatically log you in—no need to type your password.

In order for it to work, your Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch Bluetooth must be turned on, and all your devices need to be on the latest operating systems: MacOS Sierra for the Mac, WatchOS 3 for the Apple Watch and iOS 10 for the iPhone that the watch pairs with. In our testing, this worked fast and flawlessly.

While inventive, both the auto unlock and online Apple Pay depend too greatly on an Apple Watch or iPhone to work. It would be better if biometric authentication—say, a Touch ID fingerprint reader—were built directly into the Mac itself. Since Apple is overdue for an overhaul on at least some of its Mac computers, that’s something we’d expect to see soon.

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