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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Thoughts on macOS 10.13

WWDC is just around the corner, and that means it’s about to get real busy for those of covering Apple.

Back in the day, the Mac enjoyed all of WWDC’s stage time, but that’s not the case anymore. We are almost guaranteed to see new versions of macOS and iOS get unwrapped. watchOS and tvOS may enjoy stage time, too, if Apple has something big to show on those fronts this year. Throw in services like Apple Music, Siri and iMessage, possible hardware refreshes and maybe even something altogether new, and it will be a very busy week.

But I — as will surprise no one reading this — want to get back to the Mac.

macOS is an incredibly mature operating system at this point. The days of massive release notes for each major version are long behind us, but that isn’t to say that Apple should ship Sierra forever. There’s always more work to do, and I have four areas in which I think macOS 10.13 could improve upon its predecessor.

Ahoy, Macintosh. Siri showed up to the Mac with Sierra, and it can do some pretty interesting things. In addition to all the standard stuff like sending messages and playing music, Siri can search files and control items in System Preferences.

However, any time I go to invoke Siri, I either have to take a trip up to the menu bar or stare at my keyboard and try to remember the shortcut for it. It slows me down and I often just bail on the whole thing.

I would love to be able to speak to my iMac and it respond, just like my iPhone or the Amazon Echo.

The Mac has had the ability to receive audible command for years. This feature can be enabled in the Accessibility preference pane, and offers a wide variety of options and commands. I think its time Siri on the Mac learns from its more mobile cousins and keeps an ear open for me at all times. If the iPhone can do it, surely the Mac can, too.

HomeKit. I have a growing number of smart lights around my house, and being able to control them with Control Center or Siri on my iPhone is great, but there are times my iPhone isn’t handy and I need to do something.

Currently, if you ask Siri on the Mac to turn off a light, she replies “Sorry, I can’t help you with HomeKit here,” and offers to search the web with the phrase you said.

This is far from ideal, and frankly, a little embarrassing. It’s time for Siri on the Mac to know about my HomeKit-enabled devices. They are synced between my iPad and iPhone via iCloud already, so it’s not like adding the Mac would require users to change anything about their setups.

In addition to Siri support on the Mac, I would really like to see a Today widget for HomeKit devices come macOS 10.13. Control Center on iOS puts these devices just a swipe away, and they should be just as convenient to reach on the Mac.

Dark Mode. Yosemite brought a dark theme to parts of the Mac’s interface, including menus, the Dock, App Switcher and Spotlight, but like iOS, the system lacks a true dark mode that replaces the sea of white Finder windows with something darker and easier on the eyes.

Apple’s pro apps — including Logic, Final Cut and the long-gone Aperture — ship with a dark user interface that makes creating content in them much more comfortable. Bouncing between Logic and Finder while podcast editing drives me crazy, especially if I’m working at night on my 27-inch iMac. Having the option to tone down Finder, Mail and other system apps would be great.

Photos improvements. Last year, Photos on the Mac got a big update to match the iOS version. Facial recognition improved, searching for objects or people within photos made finding images easier, and the Memories features put together slideshows and collections based on events and dates in the past.

The problem is that too much of this stuff is handled on-device. If I sort through my 33,000 photos on my iPad and tag every face I see, those changes aren’t reflected on my iMac. It is thought that this decision was based on privacy, but that feels a little thin to me when the product the feature is for is already syncing thousands and thousands of personal photos and videos with a cloud service.

In addition to syncing more metadata, Photos on the Mac could benefit from more editing tools, faster launch times and more clear language around its iCloud settings, and a better system for indicating what is stored locally vs. in the cloud.

All in all, I expect macOS 10.13 to be a pretty sleepy release. That’s fine, but I hope it doesn’t get lost in the noise of newer, shinier operating systems.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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