Apple software upgrades are now so deep and extensive that it will take months to absorb the potential benefits
Mac OS upgrades, which have been free going back more than 20 years, have been bordering on spectacular recently, but also do carry some dangers. Early adopters have been known to experience buggy not-100%-ready-for-primetime features that do, however, generally get fixed fairly quickly once live bugs are identified.
The upside is that there is, just as in the iOS systems, a literal cornucopia of free built in apps and features most of which benefit from the periodic upgrades.
As a matter of fact, many, many of the improvements are not detailed or listed in any manual and not used in the marketing materials for the free software upgrades. As the saying goes, they just “work”.
Read more: How Apple Created the Tech Universe
Probably the biggest of these invisible improvements, one that spans multiple apps and functions is the now, fully established, system known as iCloud. Born as “Mobile-me” and a nightmare until about 3 years ago, this system for syncing across all Apple devices, apps and software has become a powerhouse that has no comparable rival.
An evolving system nearly two decades in the making
The idea, sometimes maligned as overkill, is simple in theory. An Apple aficionado might own a desktop mac such as an iMac, Mac Mini or Mac Pro. For travel; a MacBook Air, Pro, etc, an iPhone (of course), an iPad and, whew, maybe wear an Apple Watch. There might be an Apple TV unit in the house and perhaps a HomePod mini (and so on!).
All of these can benefit from iCloud. Many functions, particularly with the Apple Watch, for example, are mandatory and help to link various functionality between devices.
But where this software enhancement has really begun to shine is when using built in apps that have a version on both the mac family and also within iOS and iPadOS, such as Notes, Photos and, of course, Safari.
Although these have been around since Yosemite and have had the benefit of iCloud Sync since at least that time, with Catalina they really started to function at a very high level. With Big Sur the potential is off-the-charts.
One caveat that is still a work in progress is the need for identical, or nearly identical, functionality across all devices (mac, iPhone and iPad at least). For the photos app this is nearly the case but for Safari and Notes there is still a way to go before all functions match on every device and OS.
Of course, this is the very lofty goal, already underway with the new M1 chips and the gradual goal of total interchangeability between macOS and iOS / iPad Os.
Many actions are still more functional on a mac than on iPhone or iPad: but that’s changing
Much attention is paid to the idea of using and featuring iOS apps on a mac, but for practical applications it is the ability of the software on iOS devices to have all the functionality of the macOS versions that is even more important and desirable.
A great example, and a glaring one, is Safari. Differences between browsing on a mobile platform (with iPad being a sort of in-between experience) and on a desktop or laptop can be frustrating and difficult.
For surfing news or browsing static content the differences are not significant, but if you start trying to do banking, or eCommerce or other more complex tasks you can hit a brick wall.
Much of this is on the server side where the websites themselves either block or are not compatible with all versions of Safari in every OS version.
However, particularly on iPad, there should be an eventual ability for Safari on iPad to emulate laptop / desktop browser specs for those purposes. And, with macOS Big Sur that is already nearly a reality.
Similarly when using the Notes app, which we do at Lynxotic extensively for story development and shared processing, the functionality is nearly seamless between macOS Big Sur and iPad or iPhone.
As a matter of fact, the differences are so minimal that, when switching between devices, finding a “missing” function, such as the ability on an iPhone to format the text into Title, Heading, Body and so forth, as you would do in WordPress or other text editing system, it is a shocking experience.
Beyond detailed individual features it’s the overall end-result that’s astounding
The overall experience from mac to mac – when using full iCloud Sync, is that you can move from machine to machine and a have 100% seamless transition. Although some files can be specially segregated by machine, if you choose, making them only available locally on that machine, this is up to the user.
You can have an expanded iCloud storage limit added to your account (2TB is currently $9.99) and have access to all files on all machines and devices.
Although still not 100% functional in all situations, even the files app and iCloud storage system on the iPhone can access and store all files and allow you to save or access many important documents on the go.
Starting with macOS Catalina, and now even more with Big Sur, the invisible and seamless “clone” experience when moving from desktop to laptop has been very functional and hugely beneficial, and now the iPhone and iPad are rapidly realizing a similar potential.
Shared Albums in photos, Shared Notes, Safari’s vast and ever improving ability to safely store 1000s of passwords and other site specific data, obviously the huge privacy upgrades, and soon, the identical user experience for all these apps across all devices, this amounts to a must-have success in software that easily matches the acclaim that the new hardware built-in with the new M1 chips have rightfully received.
The future is coming, faster than you think, and that’s a good thing (in this case)
Another big, I mean huge, factor that is coming into play with Big Sur and the various OSs, is the emergence of machine learning and “over-the-air” updates, including some that are unannounced and take place within individual apps without requiring user interaction.
The photos app is a huge example of this but the phenomenon is also spreading into other built in software.
This means that improvements in functionality and sometimes even added features are taking place faster and can be major, even between the official updates themselves.
In the end the “whole widget” approach will provide benefits so astounding that a user of Apple products will be in a “universe of capability” that has no comparable alternative and certainly no rival.
The improvements across all apps and functions are so vast that it would take thousands of pages to catalog even a fraction of them – basically it is better to do what we have always done with Apple system software; wade through while learning by doing and rejoice each time the “singularity”, that is now a stated goal, becomes a little bit closer.
With macOS Big Sur, your mac via iCloud and your other Apple devices are now already a vastly more powerful network of tools working together than they ever could be separately.
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