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Myths and Misconceptions about macOS Sierra

After writing about Apple’s announcement of macOS Sierra at WWDC and seeing comments in a variety of online venues, I’m a little depressed and disappointed (see “macOS 10.12 Sierra to Succeed OS X 10.11 El Capitan,” 13 June 2016). Not with macOS Sierra itself, but with how many people are responding to its unveiling. All that anyone can accurately say about macOS Sierra is what Apple has shared; even the developer preview release is so new that it would be unfair to criticize any problems it may have.

However, that hasn’t stopped the curmudgeon brigade from calling the keynote a “disaster” and referring to macOS Sierra’s changes as “fluff,” before complaining that they were being forced to upgrade.

I have no doubt that many people find change of any sort unsettling, but I’d like to encourage some calm and understanding. To go further, can we have some optimism for the future? The only way our experience as Apple users will improve is if Apple and its community of developers are excited to make things better. Not every change makes a positive difference, but just as with evolution, a lot of changes must be tried before we can benefit from the successes.

With that in mind, let me address three common myths and misconceptions:

#1: Apple is forcing me to upgrade. — Not true. Apple’s black helicopters will not land in your front yard to disgorge an elite upgrade team that will hold you at gunpoint until you install macOS Sierra.

You can wait as long as you like to update. Just last weekend, I helped my aunt move from a 13-inch MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard to a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display running 10.11 El Capitan. She had been using Snow Leopard since 2009 or so, and she skipped 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.9 Mavericks, and 10.10 Yosemite with no ill effects. She was ready to upgrade to El Capitan because she could no longer do online banking without a current Web browser, but she decided that after six or seven years, it was worth buying a new MacBook Pro.

Although you don’t have to upgrade, I think swearing off updates entirely is foolish, which is why I wrote “Why You Should Upgrade (On Your Own Terms)” (4 September 2015). But you can certainly put off any upgrades until early kinks have been worked out and it’s a convenient time.

#2: The new features are useless (because I don’t want to use them). — It’s easy to look at the list of new features in macOS Sierra and scoff because you can’t imagine using them.

“Siri on the Mac? It’s not like it works that well on the iPhone. Desktop and Documents folder sharing across devices? Why would I want all that crud on my iPad? Universal Clipboard? I probably wouldn’t even remember how to use it the once or twice I might need it per year. Auto Unlock? The Apple Watch is an overpriced toy. Big emojis? Invisible ink messages? What are Apple’s developers smoking?”

Here’s the thing we all have to remember: No one of us is Apple’s target audience. Not you, not me, not anyone. Apple is a global company that wants to sell hardware — iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs — to as many people as possible. Yes, Apple very much wants to sell you at least one of each, and it’s going to create features that encourage buying into the overall Apple ecosystem. To do anything else would be, to quote Spock, illogical.

Plus, Apple is looking for broad appeal. While many long-time Mac users may be nonplussed by the emphasis Apple put on emoji frippery in Messages, for instance, those sort of features already exist in other messaging apps, and they’re huge in Asia, particularly among younger users. Attracting that audience is key for Apple.

So no, these features aren’t useless. They may not be useful to you, but they may be compelling to a teenage girl in China. Apple is just as happy to take her money as yours, and since the company has posted over $1 trillion in revenue in the past decade, it’s hard to argue with the strategy.

New features also help Apple compete with Microsoft and Google. In terms of desktop market share, Windows remains at about 90 percent, and on the mobile side, Android smartphones control 80 percent of the market. Apple may be one of the most valuable companies in the world, but there’s plenty of room for it to expand, if it can attract switchers.

#3: Apple is abandoning professionals. — This myth is related to the earlier complaint about unwanted features, but debunking it requires a different perspective. Professionals don’t work in the operating system, they work in apps, most of which Apple doesn’t provide. Apple does make Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Logic Pro, and Final Cut Pro, but I can’t think of any category of productivity apps for which Apple is the sole supplier.

Your needs are undoubtedly different from mine, but for my work, I rely on BBEdit, Nisus Writer Pro, Adobe InDesign, Google Chrome, Mailplane, Preview, Slack, Trello, and Automator. As long those apps and the workflows I’ve built up around them continue to work, I can ignore literally every change in macOS Sierra.

That’s an important point. No one is going to force you to use new features in macOS Sierra. If Siri, Auto Unlock, Universal Clipboard, and Desktop and Documents folder syncing don’t make you more productive, don’t pay attention to them. I’ve never found Launchpad, Handoff, AirDrop, or Notification Center to be helpful in my work, so I don’t use them, and they don’t get in my way.

Some may say that Apple should put more effort into specific operating system or usability improvements. There’s no harm in that, but if you want to make suggestions, please be specific for two reasons. First, vague criticisms are worthless, and second, it’s likely that enterprising Mac developers have already provided a solution — cue Keyboard Maestro, LaunchBar, TextExpander, and a host of others. Just as Apple doesn’t provide all our productivity apps, the company shouldn’t be relied on to offer every imaginable interface or workflow tweak.

More generally, the job of an operating system is to provide a stable foundation and set of frameworks upon which developers can build. Apple has aimed many operating system changes at providing developers with capabilities they couldn’t afford to implement on their own. That results in more powerful apps or upgrades appearing more quickly, and that in turn makes professionals more productive. Taking advantage of new capabilities may require you to update, but time is money, and if the latest app lets you get your work done faster, it’s worth it.

Onward and Upward — I won’t pretend that all change is good, or even that every change in macOS Sierra is likely to work out. As I said in “macOS 10.12 Sierra to Succeed OS X 10.11 El Capitan,” lots of questions surround the Optimized Storage feature that’s supposed to move rarely used data to iCloud. Personally, I wouldn’t trust it or encourage anyone to use it without a truly solid backup strategy. Even then, I’d want to wait until enough people had put it through its paces with no ill effects.

Although healthy caution is always warranted, it’s essential to realize that in the end, all this change does move our technology experience as Apple users forward. It might happen in fits and starts, but speaking as someone who has spent every working day over the last 26 years on a Mac, I have never been more productive or capable than I am today, working in my favorite apps in Apple’s current Mac operating system on recent Mac hardware.

I can’t guarantee that any given upgrade will make you or anyone else more productive, but productivity gains are inevitable in the long run. Do you remember when a Mac could run only a single app at a time, or when we wasted a lot of time scrolling because Mac screens were so small, or when extension conflicts required constant rebooting, or when attaching a hard drive needed SCSI termination voodoo, or when…. You get the picture, I hope.

We’ve come a long way, and how far we have left to go is limited only by our imaginations and those of the developers who provide our tools. So let’s not get bogged down in petty criticisms about an operating system that won’t even be released for several months.

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