Apple took more time in the WWDC keynote to discuss what’s coming in its 2023 operating system releases than it did to introduce its new Macs (see “Three New Macs Complete the Apple Silicon Transition,” 5 June 2023). Even still, the company’s presenters focused on only a handful of features in each operating system.
We did learn the new name for macOS 14—in a nod to California’s wine country, it will be macOS Sonoma. I feel funny putting that detail up front, but it feels important given how commonplace the macOS name becomes in our vocabulary for the next few years. At least Sonoma seems like it should be easy to say and spell for most people, so it will hopefully generate fewer mistakes like Mohave, Big Sir, and Venture.
There’s no way to cover even those features that Apple highlighted in the keynote, much less the many others it describes in preview pages on its website. Instead, I focus here on 12 features I look forward to trying or find generally compelling, in no particular order. For a list of everything coming in 2023’s operating systems—and Apple’s descriptions of the features below—see:
All these operating systems are available in beta form for developers now, will appear in public beta form for everyone soon enough, and should ship in the usual September/October time frame.
We’ve been able to specify what photo we want to share with others for some time—those appear in Messages, Contacts, Phone, and more. In iOS 17, you’ll be able to create a custom Contact Poster containing your name over a photo or Memoji, and it will appear to others whenever you call. And before you ask, Apple’s Communication Safety protections cover it, so you shouldn’t have to worry about seeing someone’s naughty photo of themselves when they call.
No More “Hey” with Siri
It may take a while to retrain my brain, but Apple says that we’ll be able to drop the “Hey” from “Hey Siri.” Given how many times per day I invoke Siri to turn lights on and off, set scenes, make reminders, and more, I’ll appreciate being able to use one less word. Alas, Apple said nothing about a new version of Siri that might take advantage of modern machine learning techniques for improved recognition and more fluid responses. I don’t want Siri to incorporate ChatGPT, but the current token-matching approach for commands is increasingly unimpressive.
I rarely answer calls from unknown numbers anymore because they’re nearly all spam calls. In most cases, I end up with a 90-second voicemail of a staticky phone line but no actual message. iOS 17’s Live Voicemail feature may block those outright, but when a person is talking on the other end, it will provide a real-time transcription of the message so you can see if you want to pick up. All transcription is handled on the iPhone to ensure privacy.
Dictatyping on the Mac
In iOS 16, Apple enhanced dictation so you could speak and use the keyboard simultaneously. That was a big win, and even though Dictation still hasn’t gained the helpful editing capabilities of Voice Control, I regularly dictate to my iPhone. With macOS Sonoma, that feature is coming to the Mac, and it may be what finally lets me use dictation for some of my writing.
FaceTime Apple TV Support
FaceTime is a distant third among the video calling systems we use. Zoom rules for everything related to Tonya’s work at Cornell and our meetings for the Finger Lakes Runners Club. We use Google Meet for family calls because some of them have Google Nest Hub Max smart speakers with video screens. But FaceTime’s new option to use an iPhone or iPad camera on an Apple TV via Continuity Camera would let us take video calls from the couch in the living room and see the other people on our big screen TV. It’s too bad Apple couldn’t have implemented this feature during the pandemic lockdowns before videoconferencing habits became so ingrained.
Messages Reaction Stickers
Apple spent an inordinate amount of time talking about iMessage stickers, and I tuned nearly all of it out while thinking uncharitable thoughts—during Tristan’s childhood, stickers seemed to feed a troubling “Ooo, shiny!” acquisitiveness among some of his peers. But then I heard that we’ll be able to use stickers as reactions to messages. I find the tapback icons in Messages helpful but limiting, so I may put a little effort into creating a set of personalized response stickers. Penguins, yes; Disney princesses, no.
PDF Form Filling
Could Apple be about to upgrade Preview in a tangible way after all these years? Apple says enhanced PDF functionality allows for quick form-filling with AutoFill looking up your information from Contacts. This feature works in iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma, but Apple emphasizes it for iPadOS 17, where it will require a relatively recent iPad. This form-filling capability will apparently work even with scanned PDFs; we’ll see if it works with random PDFs not designed for form-filling.
Mac Desktop Widgets
It’s about time. macOS Sonoma will let you drag widgets from Notification Center, where I have literally never used them, to the Desktop. Even better, you’ll also be able to put iPhone widgets on your Mac, thanks to Continuity—the widgets will actually be running on the iPhone that’s nearby or at least on the same Wi-Fi network. That said, the only widget I use anywhere is CARROT Weather on the iPhone, so we’ll see if any widgets become more compelling on the Mac.
Whenever my family left my grandparents’ house for a long drive home, we’d be admonished to “Call when you get home.” (Probably due to the trip when my parents’ beater car broke down late at night after dropping me off for vacation, and my grandparents and I had to go rescue them. That car finished its life on blocks with a screw wood splitter replacing a rear wheel and a garden hose running straight into the extremely leaky radiator.) Nowadays, most people would probably text when they arrive home safely, but Apple aims to automate it all with the new Check In feature. It alerts a family member or friend when you arrive home safely, and if you stop making progress, it checks in with you. If you don’t respond, it shares information about your location and iPhone status with the other person. All end-to-end encrypted, of course.
Share Phone Numbers with NameDrop
Trading phone numbers with someone is always awkward, with you dictating it to the other person or handing them your phone to type it in. The new NameDrop feature leverages AirDrop, so you can just bring your iPhone next to another iPhone (both running iOS 17, I’m sure) to trigger a contact exchange. Contact Posters will appear, of course, and you’ll be able to pick the data you want to share before initiating the transfer. Bringing iPhones close together will also work for initiating AirDrop transfers.
Finally! Find My will allow sharing AirTags and other Find My network accessories with up to five other people. That should work around the problems families have had with AirTags being associated with only a single person in the family. Everyone in the group will be able to use Precision Finding and play a sound to locate an AirTag when nearby.
Safari Web Apps
I’ve long evangelized the merits of site-specific browsers that essentially turn a website into a standalone app. Arc’s workspaces and pinned tabs have eliminated the need for site-specific browsers for me, but those who use Safari in macOS Sonoma will be able to transform any website into an app in the Dock merely by choosing a command in the File menu. We’ll see if Apple gets all the details of incoming and outgoing URL handling right—that’s the trickiest part of site-specific browsers. I feel bad for BZG and other companies currently making site-specific browsers; I’m sure they’ll be hard at work looking for ways to go beyond what Safari provides.
Which of these features seem the most compelling to you? Are there others that you’re waiting for with bated breath?