The macOS Sierra release on September 20th, 2016 marked a few milestones. It’s the 13th release of the Mac OS, the fourth release of the Mac operating system based on place names (the previous naming convention involved cats), and the first with the new moniker of macOS instead of OS X.
In the roughly four months since it was released, Sierra has seen three updates that mostly addressed bugs and security fixes. Apple also released a fourth beta of macOS Sierra which, at least in beta form, includes a new feature, an unusual event for Apple, which rarely includes new features between major Mac OS releases (more on the new feature a bit later).
September 20th, 2016
Apple had already released multiple versions of the new macOS Sierra via both the developer preview program and the public beta program. Both beta systems are designed to give users the opportunity to work with a new OS, with the developer version being updated often and a bit more likely to have a few bugs. The public beta version tends to be more stable, but it still has the potential for bugs and crashes.
The first general release of macOS Sierra was meant to be stable, with few if any major bugs. Ah, the best laid plans…
macOS Sierra 10.12.0
macOS Sierra 10.12.0 had its share of issues, but nothing more than is to be expected from a first release. People ran into some general installation problems, including having their Macs freeze up during the install or right after the final restart. Other issues reported involved Time Machine not running and Wi-Fi being slow or failing to connect.
Although these were common issues, they were far from widespread, and most users of the first version of macOS Sierra didn’t encounter any issues. Instead, the many new features were quickly explored and enjoyed, including:
- Siri, which made its first appearance on the Mac some five years after appearing on the iPhone 4s.
- Universal Clipboard, which lets you copy and paste between any of your Apple devices.
- Hands Free, which allows you to use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac, without having to enter a password.
- Managed Storage and Optimized Storage, which allow you to reduce the amount of storage space needed by moving some data to iCloud storage, as well as helping your local storage stay uncluttered by helping you locate unused and older apps and documents.
- Photos update. Apple continues to add features and make the Photos app easier to use.
macOS Sierra 10.12.1
As expected, the first macOS Sierra update concentrated on fixing issues that were uncovered by the widespread use of macOS Sierra 10.12.0. But it also included a minor feature update to Photos: the addition of a smart album for images taken with the iPhone 7 Plus and the new Depth Effect pictures it’s capable of.
The macOS Sierra10.12.1 update fixed a number of issues with Microsoft Office and Exchange, including a bug in Universal Clipboard that caused text to be pasted strangely, with unusual characters. It also addressed a number of general security issues.
Perhaps the most interesting bug that came to light was a general problem many scanners were having using Apple’s own scanning subsystem. Apple attempted to address this problem with an update targeted directly at Fujitsu’s SnapScan system. While the update helped, the scanning issues would persist for a while longer.
MacBook Pro and Touch Bar
Late October saw the release of new MacBook Pros, including models that included a new Touch Bar supporting multi-touch technology, as well as Touch ID, fingerprint recognition for unlocking the Mac as well as making purchases with Apple Pay, iTunes, the App Store, and the iBook Store. The new MacBooks with Touch Bar shipped with macOS Sierra 10.12.1, while the new 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar shipped with macOS Sierra 10.12.0.
Although it wasn’t explicitly stated by Apple, macOS 10.12.1 is the minimum requirement for using a Touch Bar and Touch ID on a MacBook Pro.
macOS Sierra 10.12.2
December 13th saw Apple release the second update to macOS Sierra. As usual, Apple listed the update as aiming to improve stability, compatibility, and security. It also included new Emoji icons, including one for bacon, which had me wondering how we could have gone this long without a bacon Emoji.
More seriously, 10.12.2 removed the battery time remaining estimate for battery operated Macs. Mac portables have had a time remaining estimate available for at least 15 years. Apple says it was removed because the time estimate had accuracy problems, though the percent charge in battery is still present.
Added was the ability to include screen shots of the new MacBook Pro Touch Bar, as well as fixes for a number of graphics and bug issues experienced by the new MacBook Pros.
Also seeing updates were the Managed Storage and Optimized Storage feature, Siri, when used with FaceTime and Bluetooth headphones, further bug fixes when using Mail with an Exchange server, and new digital camera RAW support.
Version 10.12.2 may have introduced a new bug involving the Preview app and the editing of PDFs. It seems as if using Preview to edit existing PDFs can lead to corruption of the PDF file. The issue seems to be with Apple rewriting the PDF Kit used in macOS Sierra.
On January 23rd, 2017, Apple released macOS 10.12.3, with additional fixes for MacBook Pro graphics, specifically, the 15-inch model. The update also addressed a number of PDF issues, fixed a compatibility issue when PDF documents are exported with encryption, and fixed an issue that prevented scanned documents from being searched.
Apple didn’t include a great deal of detail in the 10.12.3 release notes, and it’s too soon to say if all the outstanding PDF issues have been addressed. But it seems Apple is aware of the problems and is working through them.
Looking Beyond Four Months
Although our four-month window has come and gone, it’s always fun to look ahead and anticipate what we’ll be seeing in future releases of macOS Sierra.
The very short term is easier than looking in a crystal ball, since Apple has already released the beta for macOS Sierra 10.12.4. What stands out is a brand new feature being included in the beta, known as Night Shift.
Night Shift appears to be a Mac implementation of the Night Shift feature that was introduced in iOS 9.3. The idea is a simple one; as the day moves into evening, the Mac display decreases the intensity of blue light and increases yellow. This causes the display to change from a cool daylight color to a warmer evening color.
The reason for the color change is to reduce eyestrain and promote a more restful feeling as sleep time approaches.
You don’t have to wait for macOS 10.12.4 to be released to try out Night Shift; the F.lux app has been available for the Mac for a number of years. It provides the same day-to-night display change, and also offers a good deal more customization and versatility than is present in the beta version of Night Shift.
The long-term view for macOS Sierra looks bright, and we’ll likely see most of the current issues corrected, providing for stable operation of your Mac and its peripherals. Of course, this summer will see the annual WWDC, a new version of the macOS announced, and a public beta available sometime in the summer.
And so the cycle begins again.