MacOS Sonoma hardly made the biggest splash at WWDC 2023 (that honour was reserved for Apple Vision Pro), but that’s no shade on what might be the most functional update the Mac operating system has seen in years. With Sonoma, Apple makes meaningful changes to how you use the Mac, from the moment you wake it up, to video conferencing, to browsing the web.
(Before you read about all of these new features, check out our roundup of compatible devices to see if your machine will receive the update in the fall.)
Websites are now apps
This is big news for a generation that lives on the web. Using Safari, you can convert any full-fledged website into an app. It will show up with its own icon in the dock — and thanks to the existing PWA standard, it can support things like native notifications as well. When you open the web app, you’ll find a small toolbar at top with navigation buttons and nothing else, simplifying the overall experience.
Widgets come directly to the desktop
Widgets have had a long history in macOS, going back to the Dashboard days (RIP). In recent years, they’ve been tucked away in Notification Centre, which isn’t the most ideal way to view them. With Sonoma, widgets can be added anywhere on your Mac’s desktop. And as in iOS/iPadOS 17, they’re now interactive, so you can click to play music or check off a to-do item without ever opening an app.
Apple seems to have thought this new system through: All of your iPhone widgets will be available to add on your Mac, and when you open an app, the widgets will fade away so you can focus on the task at hand.
Apple TV’s beautiful screensavers come to Mac
I love the Apple TV’s gorgeous screensavers, which include drone-like footage of some of the most beautiful places on earth (and beyond). Now, Apple is bringing these screensavers to the Mac to go with a newly redesigned Lock Screen that looks similar to iPad.
There’s a Mac twist here, though: When you use these animated wallpapers, you’ll see smooth moving video on the Lock Screen. But as soon as you unlock your Mac, the video will slow to a halt, turning into a still desktop wallpaper. Sonoma will launch with a huge collection of these screensaver/wallpaper hybrids, from cityscapes, to outer space vistas, to ocean life. Check out the video above for a full list.
Is this the year of gaming on Mac?
Apple is, again, trying to make gaming happen on the Mac, and they’re making some practical changes to get there. A new Game Mode reduces latency between Bluetooth game controllers and AirPods audio. Plus, it gives games more CPU and GPU resources while their running to improve performance. With many new games coming to the Mac, and the power of Apple silicon, maybe this can finally be the year of gaming on the Mac?
Big updates to video calls
It’s another big year in the world of video conferencing, with Apple adding quality-of-life improvements to not just FaceTime, but video calls in general. There’s a new Presenter Overlay feature that seamlessly blends your live video along with your presentation. You can show up as a small circle anywhere on the screen, or you can take up the whole screen, sitting next to a digital version of your presentation (with the video background intelligently removed). This feature will be available for FaceTime and all other video conferencing apps like Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and more.
Apple is also adding animated video reactions based on your actions. You can give a thumbs up for a celebration, make a heart to send out lots of love across the screen, and more.
Safari gets profiles, and more
Safari is finally adding profiles, and they work similarly to how they do in other browsers like Chrome. Each profile is its own silo, and you can switch between them using a new drop-down menu in the toolbar. Profiles have individual tab groups, account logins, and private tabs that sync between all your devices.
Speaking of private tabs, Apple is waging an all-out war with trackers when you’re in private browsing mode. The feature now disables all website tracking and user tracking across all pages, and instantly locks the tabs when you move away from the window. As long as no one knows your password (or steals your fingerprint), your private tabs will remain private.
Many new iOS features make their way to the Mac
Many of the new features outlined in our iOS 17 roundup are also coming to the Mac, including all the new Messages features. The same goes for sticker support, automatic PDF form filling, enhanced PDF support in Notes app, and more.