A couple of years ago, Apple transformed Reminders from a simple checklist-style task manager into something far more robust. It was a surprising but welcome update that made the app a good choice as the sole task manager for many users. Reminders is back with more surprises this year, including tagging and Smart Lists features, which I didn’t expect. Both new features work together to make it easier than ever to manage your tasks in Reminders, which by itself makes this year’s update to Reminders worth checking out. However, the update may indicate something broader too: that Apple is more receptive to providing users with greater control over how they use the iPhone and iPad’s stock apps, an exciting possibility that I hope comes to pass.
Tags are brand new to Reminders and probably the most surprising addition to the iOS and iPadOS 15 versions of the app. Tags aren’t anything new to task management apps in general, but user-defined tags haven’t historically been available in Apple’s iPhone and iPad apps.
There’s a new Tag Browser in Reminders and multiple ways to add new tags.
The design of Reminders’ tagging system makes it easy to get started. When you add a new task, there’s a field just below Notes for adding tags. Just start typing a name for your tag, and when you tap the Space bar, hit return, or type a comma, a hashtag is added to the beginning of the tag, and it changes to Reminders’ purplish accent color. Sorry, no spaces are allowed in your tags.
When I’m researching, speed is essential. Whether I’m planning a family trip or preparing to write a story like this one, the first step is research, which starts with collecting information. This stage is almost always a speed run for me, no matter the context. That’s because the goal is collecting. Reading, thinking, organizing, and planning come later.
There is an endless number of apps and automations for collecting information, but I’ve always found that the best options are the lightest weight. You don’t need to fire up a word processor to collect links, images, and text, for example. By the same token, though, a plain text editor doesn’t always fit the bill either, reducing links to raw URLs and often not handling images at all. Moreover, the notes you take are completely divorced from their source, losing important context about why you saved something.
This fall, when iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey are released, Notes will gain a new feature called Quick Note that’s designed to handle this exact scenario. Quick Note can be summoned immediately in a wide variety of ways on both platforms, and your notes are stored where they can be easily found again. Best of all, notes can be linked to their source material in apps that support NSUserActivity, a virtual Swiss Army Knife API that enables a long list of functionality across Apple’s devices.
Notes needs work to make it easier to get the information you gather with Quick Note out of the app, but already, there is a long list of apps that support the feature thanks to the wide use of NSUserActivity among developers. Some years, Apple introduces interesting new features that I hope will take off, but there’s a lag because they’re based on new technologies that developers don’t or can’t support right away due to compatibility issues with older OS versions. Quick Note isn’t like that. Even during the beta period, it works with apps I use that haven’t done anything to support it. As a result, I expect we’ll see many developers support Quick Note this fall.
Although Quick Note already works well on the iPad and Mac, there’s still more Apple can do to make it more useful. Chief among the feature’s drawbacks is that its capture functionality is nowhere to be found on the iPhone, which is disappointing. There are also many built-in system apps that would benefit from the sort of tight integration with Quick Note that Safari has implemented but don’t yet.
Today Apple released the first public beta of macOS Monterey after just over three weeks of developer testing. The public beta is a chance for anyone who doesn’t have a developer account to preview the new features coming to the Mac’s OS this fall.
I’ve been using Monterey since the first developer beta was released during WWDC and switched to it full-time about a week ago when developer beta 2 was released. I’ll have a lot more to say about Monterey this fall when it’s officially released. However, having already spent a substantial amount of time using the OS for my everyday work, I wanted to share my first impressions with readers who are thinking about trying it too.
I’m sure there are a lot of MacStories readers eager to install the Monterey beta. It’s a good year to do that too. I haven’t run into any show-stopping bugs, and this year’s beta is far more approachable than the Catalina or Big Sur betas were. Those updates included fundamental shifts in the way the OS worked that made the update uncomfortable for some users. There’s some of that in Monterey, but less than in the past couple of years. Instead, Monterey introduces a collection of enhancements to existing system apps and new cross-system feature integrations that make the update useful immediately. Coupled with the debut of Shortcuts on the Mac, there’s a lot in this year’s beta that I’m sure MacStories readers will enjoy testing.
To Apple’s credit, much of Monterey feels like a natural extension of the OS’s existing features and system apps, even in the early betas. Focus, Quick Note, Live Text, and AirPlay to Mac all fit into that category, feeling right at home with the rest of the OS. However, that’s not universally true. I think Apple has overshot its target with Safari in some respects, which is disappointing in no small measure because there are also meaningful innovations coming to the browser this fall that have already been useful in my daily web browsing.
Of course, I’m also very excited about Shortcuts for Mac. If you’ve used the automation app on the iPhone or iPad and have a Mac, I don’t know how you couldn’t be eager to try the app. If you rely on Shortcuts as I do, Monterey is a very big deal that, even early in the beta cycle, delivers on the promise of a unified vision of automation across Apple platforms.
Many of my existing shortcuts worked immediately on the Mac.
The Shortcuts team has done a remarkable job of ensuring that many of my everyday shortcuts already work without needing me to do anything. Combined with deep integration of existing scripting systems, Monterey backs up the statement made onstage at WWDC that Shortcuts is the future of automation on the Mac. There’s still work to be done before Shortcuts is as powerful as other Mac automation solutions, but the app is off to an excellent start.
Before diving into what it’s been like to work full-time with Monterey, it’s worth stepping back and considering where macOS has come from over the past few years. In many ways, Monterey feels like the third act of a story that’s played out since the introduction of Catalina. That update was a little unsettling. It was clear macOS was heading in a new direction, but the destination was unclear.
With the introduction of M1 Macs, improvements to Mac Catalyst, and Big Sur’s design changes, macOS’s destination began to come into focus. The OS was being aligned more closely with Apple’s other OSes through a combination of design and underlying technologies to create a continuum that respects device differences but unifies user experience across the entire lineup.
I don’t think I’d go so far as to declare Monterey the conclusion of macOS’s three-act drama. There are elements of tying up the loose ends left over from the prior two releases of the OS. However, we’re also seeing the first tangible examples of where the Apple silicon era will take the Mac even as the company continues to migrate the machines to its own SoCs.
One thing’s for certain, though: the sometimes awkward evolution of macOS over these past few years and the adjustments required to move the Mac and iPad into closer alignment are bearing fruit. For the first time in memory, Apple is releasing features across all of its platforms at once. The days of waiting for features that start on one platform to make their way to others seem to be coming to an end. That’s terrific news for users who will be able to move more freely between platforms without a steep learning curve, eliminating a lot of the frustration of the past.
With that, let’s dig into some of the details that I think will have an immediate impact on readers who download the macOS Monterey public beta.
Apple has opened its public beta program for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and tvOS 15 on the Apple Beta Software Program website. macOS Monterey is not yet publicly available, but Apple’s beta site says it is ‘coming soon.’
Developers, who can access betas of Apple’s OS releases before the general public, received the first developer builds a few weeks ago during WWDC. If past practice is a guide, the public betas released today should be identical to the second developer beta released last week.
If you would like to sign up but haven’t, visit beta.apple.com and log in using your Apple ID. It should go without saying that you should only install betas on your devices after you’ve taken appropriate steps to protect your data and are willing to endure potentially buggy software.
Stay tuned for more over the summer too. The MacStories team is working on special preview stories that cover a wide range of features in the public betas as we approach the publication of our annual OS reviews this fall. Federico and I will also be doing special interview episodes of AppStories this summer to dig deeper into what the new OSes will mean to MacStories readers and the apps they love.
We speculated for years about whether Shortcuts would come to the Mac and, if so, in what form. In 2019, Dr. Drang wrote about his concern that Shortcuts would come to the Mac as a Catalyst app that couldn’t interoperate with existing Mac automation tools. It was a legitimate concern, especially given the state of Mac Catalyst apps at the time.
As Drang explains in a post today, those early concerns haven’t materialized. Shortcuts for Mac isn’t limited by Mac Catalyst, and Apple has directly plugged the app into the existing Mac automation ecosystem. Drang concludes that:
All in all, this is looks like everything I wanted in Mac Shortcuts. As I said in the post two years ago, the ability to run every kind of automation from every other kind of automation is key to making a fluid system, where you can use each tool for what it does best. Also, it means that third-party automation tools like Keyboard Maestro, which has a good AppleScript dictionary for running its macros, will fit in well with the new environment even before they incorporate Intents that are directly accessible from Shortcuts.
As Drang notes, Shortcuts for Mac’s ability to run AppleScript and for shortcuts to be run from AppleScript or from the command line is an important feature that promises to significantly increase the app’s utility from day one. Even before existing Mac automation apps do anything to support Shortcuts, they will work with it if they support AppleScript or shell scripting. That will allow users to build shortcuts that incorporate workflows created in apps like Keyboard Maestro and for Keyboard Maestro to run shortcuts from the very start.
However, before automation fans run out and install Monterey to start building new automations, it’s worth noting that Shortcuts for Mac is a brand new app in the first beta of Monterey. As Drang notes, some functionality isn’t enabled yet, and there are significant bugs that need to be worked out throughout the app. That’s to be expected, and there are still good reasons to be excited about Shortcuts for Mac. For now, though, adventurous automators should approach Shortcuts for Mac with realistic expectations about what they will be able to create.
To say we’ve followed Shortcuts closely at MacStories is probably an understatement. Federico was relying on it to run MacStories months before it was publicly released as Workflow, and today, the app is deeply embedded in every aspect of our production of the website, podcasts, and Club MacStories content, as well as the way we operate the business.
As someone who works across a Mac and iPad all day, the lack of Shortcuts on the Mac was frustrating, but something I was willing to deal with because the app was such a good fit for the way I worked, even when I had to run it in parallel to my Mac instead of on it. Going into WWDC, though, my feelings about automation on the Mac aligned closely to what Jason Snell wrote on Six Colors earlier this year. As we discussed on AppStories, the time had come for Shortcuts to be available on all of Apple’s platforms, which was why I was so pleased to see it become a reality during this week’s WWDC keynote.
WWDC keynotes cover a lot of ground, hitting the highlights of the OS updates Apple plans to release in the fall. However, as the week progresses, new details emerge from session videos, developers trying new frameworks, and others who bravely install the first OS betas. So, as with past WWDCs, we’ve supplemented our iOS and iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 coverage with all the small things we’ve found interesting this week:
Apple concluded today’s WWDC opening keynote by unveiling macOS Monterey, which was fitting given that so many features coming to the Mac this year are also new to other platforms or are coming from those platforms to the Mac for the first time. It’s a release that promises closer integration than ever before between the Mac and Apple’s products through a long list of individual feature releases and updates. Let’s dig into the details.