Three weeks ago at this time, Engadget was in the middle of a marathon liveblog. Apple was kicking off its annual WWDC developer conference and, as usual, it had news to share about each of its major platforms. Though iOS was the clear star of the show, dominating more than half of the two-hour keynote, macOS notched a solid second place, with around half an hour of lip service. Some observers dismissed it as a relatively boring day of Apple news. I say most of the tweaks are useful, if not overdue in some cases.
The newest version of macOS, called Mojave, arrives today as a public beta, with the final software launching sometime this fall, but I've been testing it since last week. As ever, to make the most of the OS, you'll also need to be on the latest version of iOS. That, too, should be out in beta any time now, with a full rollout this autumn. Read on for our preview of Mojave, and we'll be following up soon with first impressions of iOS 12.
Compatibility and stability
To install Mojave, you'll need one of the following: a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac or Mac Mini from 2012 or later; a 12-inch MacBook from 2015 on; a Mac Pro from 2013 or later; or a new iMac Pro. It should go without saying, but all the usual caveats apply: Perform an iCloud backup first and keep an open mind.
Though Apple has a strong track record when it comes to releasing stable betas, I did experience the occasional app crash or hung pinwheel. I was also frustrated to find that in Safari, I would routinely wake up my machine to find I had been logged out of Facebook and Twitter, even though I had previously instructed these services to remember that browser. An Apple spokesperson says the company is aware of the issue and is working on a fix.
Also, I can't prove this is the result of a bug in Mojave, but one of my two testbeds, a new MacBook Pro, twice locked me out of the machine, even though I knew myself to be typing the correct system password. The machine also rejected my Apple ID and password when I attempted to use that to reset my system password. Weirdly, this did not happen on my second test unit, a late-2015 iMac. I'm not aware of the extent to which other early testers experienced this lock-out issue; all I know is, this doesn't happen to me on the two Macs I use every day. In any case, take this as a reminder that beta releases, however stable, are works in progress, and you should know what you're getting into before installing them.
New to macOS is "Dark Mode," which swaps in black menu bars and white text throughout the operating system. As Apple tells it, this color scheme can be useful when you're working in a dimly lit space, like on an overnight flight. Apple says that black background can also help people in creative fields better focus on the material they're working with, by minimizing distractions in the background.
As it turns out, I really enjoy Dark Mode, but not necessarily for either of those reasons. I just think it's pretty. That said, I found myself switching back and forth between Light and Dark throughout the week. Particularly in the Notes app, which I use for everything from work tasks to grocery shopping. I found it easier to read black text on a white background, as opposed to white on black.
Apple is also opening up the Dark Mode API to third-party apps, though as of this writing, none of my usual faves (Slack, Google Chrome) have been updated to support that feature. That makes sense: It's early days yet. You can find the option in the general settings menu to check it out for yourself.
Also worth a try: the new dynamic desktop background, a first for Apple. Here, a static image of the Mojave Desert changes throughout the day, with the light in the picture roughly correlating to your computer's clock. It works with both Light and Dark Mode, but I was a bit disappointed to learn that neither includes a full range of photographs, from daybreak to nighttime. Light Mode users see a set of relatively light images; in Dark Mode you'll see just night images. Apple's rationale is that people will probably want to match dark photos with a dark color scheme. But I expected to see some high sun at 2:30 in the afternoon.
A less cluttered desktop
Nothing makes me more itchy than a desktop that hasn't been sorted into a neat grid of files and shortcuts. If you're especially OCD (like me!), there's a new feature in Mojave called Stacks that groups items in one expandable pile (say, all of the screenshots I had to take in order to report this story). To enable Stacks, you can either right-click on a file on your desktop or go to the "View" menu. By default, it lumps things together by type (photos with photos, etc.), but you can also sort by tag, the date last opened, or the date the file was added, modified or created.
Once you've enabled Stacks, new files will automatically go where they belong, based on the sorting rules you have in place. In my case, that meant never having to move another screenshot into a screenshot folder. To view stuff in the pile, you can click to expand, but you can also do a two-finger scroll over the stack to scrub through it and see tiny thumbnail previews. If you see what you're looking for (the thumbnails are almost too small), hit the space bar to preview it.