macOS Sierra adds long-awaited Siri integration and Apple Watch automatic unlocking to Apple’s desktop OS

While watchOS 3, Apple’s new wearable operating system, arguably stole the show during the tech giant’s keynote at WWDC 2016, a number of new updates are also coming to macOS Sierra, the successor to OS X El Capitan, in what is poised to be a minor but very useful update to Apple’s desktop OS.

During a briefing today members of the media were shown some of macOS Sierra’s lesser-known features, as well as its arguably most useful addition, Siri integration.

Similar to Cortana in Windows 10, Apple’s new operating system lets users speak directly to Siri, allowing the voice assistant to perform a limited number of tasks. For starters, Siri is located in the dock menu bar (it can also be activated by pressing (Fn+Space). During the demo, Siri performed impressively, accomplishing simple Google searches and other tasks such as brightening the MacBook’s display, though it’s still questionable how likely most users are to give voice commands to their Mac.

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Files, as long as your query isn’t extremely precise, can also be located via Siri, giving user’s voice command access to content. All results can also be pinned to the Mac’s notification pane, though doing so looks like it could overwhelm limited display real estate. If you’re using a Mac with a larger screen, however, this feature may become more useful.

Other desktop Siri tasks include receiving directions from Maps, dictating emails – presumably only through Apple’s Mail apps – playing songs in iTunes, altering basic system settings and general searches, amusingly sourced by Microsoft’s Bing search engine. A downside, however, is unlike Cortana, Siri isn’t always listening and needs to be activated with a key in order to work.

This means you won’t be able to exclaim “Hey Siri” to activate the voice assistant on desktop like you can with iOS. It will, however, be interesting to see if developers take advantage of Siri’s new open API, allowing them to build additional voice-controlled functionality into the device.

Borrowing another page from Microsoft’s playbook, a “trusted” Apple Watch is now capable of automatically unlocking any Mac running macOS Sierra.

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Other new features include iCloud automatically downloading and syncing user Desktop and Document folders across multiple Mac devices. It’s worth noting an iCloud upgrade will likely be required if you plan on storing a significant amount of data on your desktop. This feature can be turned on or off at any time within iCloud’s settings, according to Apple. New iCloud optimization features also automatically move older files to Apple’s cloud storage platform in order to make additional space on the local drive.

On the visual side of things, macOS Sierra looks identical to El Capitan, all the way down to menu and app design, with only the desktop version of Apple Music receiving a simplistic revamp to make it match its mobile counterpart.

The ability to snap a video into picture-in-picture mode, a feature borrowed from iOS 9, allows specific video platforms to be displayed in the corner of the screen and on top of other content, all without altering frame size. It’s unclear if this feature works with more then just Apple’s Safari browser. Apple says the feature is currently only compatible with Vimeo, though its functionality will likely expand.

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Universal Clipboard allows users to copy text, images, video and images from the iPhone or iPad and paste them directly to any macOS Sierra device. The process for using Universal Clipboard involves simply just dragging and dropping content.

Apple Pay is also available on the web now too with macOS. When browsing websites that support Apple’s payment platform, an Apple Pay button will automatically appear, allowing users to authenticate purchases by scanning their fingerprint via the iPhone or a tap of the wrist with the Apple Watch. Apple says an API is available to developers that allows them to only make the Apple Pay button appear when a capable iOS or Apple Watch device is nearby.

Finally, Photos has been given a subtle user interface revamp, with automatic clip making and organization, two features Google has featured in its Photo platform for a number of Android iterations.

While beyond the name change macOS may seem like a minor update to Apple’s desktop operating system, a number of the platform’s new features, particularly Universal Clipboard and Siri integration, have the potential to make an impact on how many people use their Macs on a daily basis.

macOS Sierra is set to launch to the public this fall. A developer build of the OS is currently available.

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