When my colleagues downloaded the macOS Ventura public beta, the reactions of suppression began. “Everything looks the same,” complained one of my colleagues. “It kinda sucks,” complained another. There was nothing particularly wrong with the operating system – it just looks and feels exactly like Monterey. Many of the most important features of this operating system are things that many users may never know or use.
But it could definitely get worse. Unlike Monterey (I have a feeling we literally just got Universal Control a few days ago), these key features are basically all up and running in beta now, and they seem solid for the most part.
Also, Ventura isn’t full of bugs or glitches that ruin workflows or freeze computers, so there it is. With the usual caveat that you should avoid downloading betas on an important device because you never know when bugs might show up, I haven’t had any problems with the operating system on my M2 MacBook Pro so far. Broadly speaking, the changes I’m seeing seem to fall into two of the agendas Apple has been pushing with macOS for the past few years: bringing it closer to iOS (for those already immersed in the ecosystem) and with Unlock third-party competitors (for those who have eggs in multiple baskets).
The continuity goes on
Big Sur optimized the design of macOS for iOS, and Monterey brought some of the iPhone’s most important features to the Mac. Ventura continues this journey with Continuity Camera. This feature allows you to use an iPhone running iOS 16 as a backup webcam for a Mac running Ventura. Mac computers don’t typically have great cameras, while modern iPhones have excellent cameras, so this would be a sensible choice for people.
I haven’t been able to test this myself yet because I’m still sticking to my old iPhone 8, which barely lags with iOS 15 (I’ll give you more impressions for the full review). But my colleagues who have used the feature report that setup isn’t a problem — your Mac automatically recognizes the connected iPhone, and you can select it like you would any external webcam. The phone also plays a handy tone when you connect.
My colleague Mitchell Clark made a couple of calls with me once they got the feature working with an iPhone 12 Mini and an M1 MacBook Pro. As you might expect, they looked clearer on our call if you were using the pass-through camera. It was a bit disconcerting to see their position change as they switched between the two shooters, the MacBook and iPhone cameras, but it was easy for them. Interestingly, they also looked worse in FaceTime than in Zoom, despite being right next to their router in both cases.
There’s one feature that still seems to have some kinks: Desk View. In theory, Desk View is designed to leverage the Continuity Camera so you can show your desk and your face at the same time with Zoom’s screen sharing feature. However, when my colleague Dan Seifert tried this, Desk View showed his chest or lap rather than his desk. He could Get it to face the desk by manually tilting its phone, but this positioned the front camera to face its lap. That’s… well, you could see how that could go south. I’ve asked Apple about both of the above questions and they have yet to provide an answer.
The other feature Apple seems to be most excited about is Stage Manager, a new way to organize your apps and windows enabled in Control Center. Your open apps are all organized on the side of the screen, and you can only have one open at a time (unless you’ve grouped them with another app, which you can do, although it took me a while to do that gotta find out how.) Opening something new will close what you already have open. Stage Manager’s intent seems to be to eliminate distractions when you need to focus, but as someone whose job generally requires them to have a lot of things open at once, this is a no-go for me. However, using my MacBook feels a lot more like using an iPad.
The System Settings app is now called System Settings and has been redesigned to resemble the Settings app in iOS. The icon grid is gone – there’s a menu on the left and a changing pane on the right, and a bunch of things like Software Update and Storage are now hidden under the General tab. I can see this being easier to navigate for people used to the iPhone, although I don’t like that it doesn’t seem to be resizable in any way currently.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that Spotlight now looks a lot more like the search feature on iOS. You can now use it to run shortcuts or perform other basic actions, although sometimes clicking on the results I got from those searches got me stuck. And it now includes image results from the web and other apps (like the search feature on iOS). The results seem to vary somewhat. Searching for “horse” brought me a series of images of horseradish. The only photo I got from a search for “RM” (a member of BTS) gave me a picture of the cover of John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, although I’d just sent someone a picture of RM and it was sitting right there in my Messages app (maybe his name needed to be in the picture, but pictures often don’t contain words). All in all, I use Spotlight all day and appreciate any improvements to it.
There are a number of new features in the Mail app, and almost all of them are things that shock me to learn that the Mail app wasn’t here yet. You can now schedule messages to be sent at specific times, you can have the app remind you to return to messages at specific times, you can now undo messages within 10 seconds of sending them, and the app now automatically throws E -Mails that have been sent. You haven’t received any replies at the top of your inbox after a while. As a longtime user of Gmail, which has had these things for ages, I guess I’m glad Mail users are finally getting them too.
The only thing I think is really cool is that you can now put “rich links” in emails instead of “plain links”, which makes them appear as little squares with the page name in the body. Even non-mail users see it that way. You can also send text links if you prefer.
Speaking of Apple apps being in heated races with Google competitors, Safari has some updates too. You can now collaborate with others in tabbed groups and automatically start message conversations or FaceTime calls with your collaborators from the browser (although these features require you both to be using Safari, and I’m not sure if that’s the case). There are some security considerations, too: Apple is rolling out Passkeys, a passwordless sign-in standard that stores keys on your iCloud keychain rather than in places prone to privacy breaches and other no-nos. The strong passwords generated by Safari can now be edited to accommodate site-specific requirements.
Messages also brings some new features that users of many other messaging apps (e.g. Messenger) will be familiar with. You can now mark messages as unread and edit or withdraw them for up to 15 minutes (provided the recipient is also using the latest Apple software).
I like that SharePlay, which lets you listen to music and other media remotely with friends, can now also be activated via Messages, as well as collaborating on files in programs like Keynote and Notes. SharePlay is one of those things that’s cool to see in action, but I’ve never really used it. So we’ll see if the Messages integration changes my mind at all during the review process. Speaking of collaboration, shared iCloud Photo Libraries are now a thing and can span up to six people.
Overall, the optimistic view of this update is that Apple is finally acknowledging some of the ways people have been using their Mac devices and incorporating them into the core functionality of macOS. People have been assembling their phones for video calling for more than two years, and Apple is now supporting it. People have come up with all sorts of ways to eliminate distractions and remind themselves to reply to emails, and now they can do it in macOS. The cynical view is that Apple is scrambling to add features to macOS that other systems (both third-party and Apple’s) have offered for ages. Make up your own mind.
We’re still waiting for some issues to be fixed over the next few months, and we’re also waiting for the FreeForm app, Apple’s new Figma-style whiteboard tool that’s supposed to offer a more seamless collaboration experience than we’ve seen from other apps by Apple.
However, there aren’t quite as many unknowns as there were when I wrote the Monterey preview last year. That’s a good sign. And by and large it seems like Ventura is a solid step forward in Apple’s long journey of bringing macOS closer to its mobile counterparts. Especially with features like Universal Control now live, the experience of jumping back and forth between the two is becoming increasingly seamless. One wonders how many such ideas Apple will come up with before it caves in and installs a touchscreen on a Mac (one day, one day).