Back at WWDC, Apple promised to make the public beta of macOS Ventura available in July. The company kept its word, releasing lucky number macOS 13 (in addition to the rest) this morning for anyone who likes to live life a little on the edge, after rounds and rounds of bug testing.
We’ve been fiddling with the latest build for the past few days and are mostly happy with the upgrades included in it. I must add here the standard caveat that comes with using beta software, although I haven’t found this latest version particularly buggy.
Continuity camera was the main feature at WWDC – both in terms of functionality and overall novelty. It builds on an earlier feature of the same name and brings something much more useful to most of us every day. Download Ventura on your macOS and iOS 16 on a compatible device and your iPhone will double as a webcam.
I was honestly a little surprised by how seamlessly the two worked together. Once the upgrades are complete, your Mac should automatically detect the connected device and list it in the drop-down menu of compatible video chat platforms. I tried it on FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, and they were all able to use the iPhone. As you can see below, there is a clear quality difference between the built-in camera of the 14-inch M1 MacBook (left) and the rear camera of the iPhone 12 (right).
Belkin sent me an early version of their Continuity Camera clip-on to test the system, and that worked well too. It uses the phone’s MageSafe magnets to snap to the back. A small rubber lip allows you to rest the phone on the MacBook lid. Or you can use the metal ring to put it on the desk, although the former makes it much easier to make eye contact while looking at your screen. Like Ventura, the clip-on is still in beta, but again, it gave me no problems.
Honestly, the biggest concern is the stress the full weight of an iPhone will put on the lid/hinge in the long run. The MacBook wasn’t designed with that in mind, but I think we have to trust that the company thinks it won’t put too much pressure on it if they actively encourage users to do it. Obviously the ideal here is to improve on the built-in cameras, but while the company has made the jump from 780 to 1080p on newer systems, the iPhone still wins.
It’s certainly a nice upgrade for those with older, compatible MacBooks, but even sticking an iPhone to a Mac isn’t the most elegant solution. It’s a nice option to have in these days of remote working. Center Stage works with the feature to follow you as you move and include others in the frame. Desk View is an interesting – if not particularly useful addition – that can shoot your hands over via overhead view. More useful is the addition of handoff for FaceTime that makes it possible to quickly switch between devices during a call.
Stage Manager is the other feature I use most often since downloading Ventura. I’m always skeptical of any new workflow feature. I tend to find these things interesting in my first review, but they never really stick. Maybe it’s my own scattered approach to working, or maybe the features aren’t baked into the end-user experience in a way that lends itself to stickiness (perhaps both?). After a few days or weeks I tend to forget about them completely.
As a fairly chaotic desktop window user, I’m optimistic here again. This is partly because the feature is enabled by default. It takes advantage of macOS’ real estate to create a sort of sidebar where the rest of your open apps reside. The windows are arranged in piles and your cluttered desktop files disappear into the air. When windows are minimized, go to that left sidebar instead of the toolbar.
Double clicking on the desktop will make the feature disappear and your desktop files will appear. Click on the left sidebar and Stage Manager will reappear. You can also manually drag and drop windows to and from Stage Manager if you want to have multiple apps centrally. Some other little bits of functionality would be nice, like the ability to drag and drop windows to reorder them, but again, I’m cautiously optimistic that my disorganized app can incorporate the feature into my workflow.
Those two features are the most exciting day-to-day additions, but some others warrant a call. Unsend for email is a highly anticipated one, giving you a few extra seconds to reconsider that message. This has saved me more than once in Gmail, and it’s nice to see it added to Mail. That comes along with an improved search that fills the bar as you type.
The system’s Spotlight search has also been improved, with better indexing of images in Messages, Notes, Photos, and more. Spotlight also gets a shortcut that allows you to perform simple functionality such as setting up and enabling Focus sessions from the browser.
The operating system’s system settings have received a long-awaited overhaul. The new version is cleaner and – more to the point – iOS-like. Freeform, meanwhile, is the whiteboard feature the company previewed at WWDC. It’s still listed as ‘Coming soon’ though, so we can’t share practical impressions there. More coming soon.
MacOS 13 Ventura is now available as a public beta.