If you own a Mac made in the last few years (go here (opens in new tab) to see which models are compatible), then you'll be in line for a free upgrade to the newest macOS Catalina when Apple pushes it out in September. It's packed with an impressive number of features, as we'll explain.
Whether you want to set up a second display to work alongside your Mac, or you want to keep tabs on how much time you're spending in your apps, Catalina has something for you. Plus, iTunes is getting split up into different components, and so much more besides.
iTunes gets split up
iTunes is no more on the Mac: instead you get individual apps for your music, videos and podcasts. While it might take some getting used to, you should find that all the usual features and options are present and correct, just in different programs—and hopefully it'll be a better system than the now-bloated iTunes (which is sticking around on Windows, for now). Meanwhile, syncing iOS devices will show up in the Finder on macOS Catalina.
Screen Time hits the Mac
You might already be using Screen Time to keep an eye on the apps you're most addicted to on your iOS devices, and now the utility is coming to Apple's laptops and desktops as well. Just as on phones and tablets, you can set it up to put time limits on certain programs, and to see where all your time is being wasted—it's also a good way of keeping tabs on what the kids are up to when they should be getting on with their homework.
Upgrades for Notes and Reminders
Every upgrade to macOS comes with upgrades for the individual apps running on top of it too, and Notes and Reminders are two of the apps with the most new features to talk about: Notes gets a Gallery View and better options for searching and collaborating, while Reminders has been given a new lick of paint and a layout revamp that makes it easier for you to create, organise and track whatever it is you're supposed to be doing today.
Set up a second screen with Sidecar
One of the more intriguing features coming with macOS Catalina – for iPad users at least – is the ability to set up one of Apple's tablets as a wireless secondary display. Apple is calling the feature Sidecar and it means you can use two screens on the go with a MacBook without having to lug around an actual monitor. As an extension of the Sidecar feature, you'll also be able to use a linked iPad as a graphics tablet on Mac apps that support it.
More iPad apps on the way
Speaking of the iPad, Apple is making it easier than ever for developers to port apps over from the tablet to the Mac interface. We've already seen Apple apps including News and Home make the switch, with varying success, and with the new developer tools available, plenty more should start appearing. Two apps that Apple has mentioned specifically are Twitter and the racing game Asphalt 9, which should arrive soon after Catalina itself does.
Control your Mac with your voice
Apple has packed a range of impressive accessibility features into macOS Catalina for the benefit of those who can't use a laptop or desktop computer in the normal way. One of the most notable is a comprehensive new voice control system that lets you do just about everything on a Mac with your voice – from moving through menus to selecting files to launching apps. It should prove to be a really useful upgrade for those people who need it.
As it usually does, Apple has tightened up the security and privacy controls in the macOS Catalina update as well: the operating system now regularly scans programs for security issues, and all apps need to get explicit permission before accessing the documents on your computer. There's also a new Find My app that makes it easier to find both your mobile and Mac devices if they go missing or get stolen – even if they're switched off.
Photos gets better too
Apple continues to tweak and improve the Photos app on macOS. This time around, with the Catalina update, you can get at your best photos more easily and see all of your photos in a larger preview window. Photos will pick out your best photos for you, if you want it to, using local machine learning to work out who's in your shots and what's happening. This brings Photos on the Mac into line with the improvements heading to Photos on iOS 13.