I recently moved from Illinois to North Carolina, and I don’t know the area at all. As a result, I’ve been using Maps and CarPlay a lot since I got here. The new features coming this fall to each aren’t as extensive as they’ve been in past years, but there are several small changes that represent the kind of incremental, ‘quality of life’ improvements that I expect users will appreciate.
Because so much of Apple Maps relies on methodically mapping the world bit by bit, many users are stuck waiting for Maps’ underlying data to catch up with the app’s features. The more detailed maps and 3D models of landmarks introduced last year are good examples. Both came with asterisks because they were only available in certain cities or countries at launch.
This year is a little different. Apple announced new countries and cities where you’ll find the company’s more detailed maps, 3D landmarks, and other changes, but this year, multi-stop routes and tweaks to Maps’ routing UI will be available to everyone at the same time. It’s a nice mix of brand-new features and incremental improvements that includes something for everyone.
After watching this year’s WWDC keynote in June, my initial impression of the watchOS 9 announcement was that Apple had prepared one of the largest Apple Watch updates in years. While writing my watchOS 9 overview later that day though, it felt like the scope of the changes were less than I originally thought. I needed some hands-on time with the update to know for sure.
I’ve had bad luck installing early watchOS betas in the past, so I’ve been waiting for the public beta to arrive before loading it onto my daily-driver Apple Watch. That said, I installed the developer beta right away onto an extra Apple Watch Series 4 that I’ve kept around, and have been using it as much as possible throughout the past month. I’ve ascertained a good feel for this year’s update, and can confirm that we’re looking at another mild-mannered year for the Apple Watch.
I don’t mean this as an insult at all. Rather, it’s another year of the relentless incremental refinement that Apple has long been known for, but which the company has practically turned into a science for watchOS. The formula looks something like this:
A handful of improvements to the Workout app
One or two new features targeted at health
A handful of new watch faces
One or two brand-new first-party apps
One or two redesigned first-party apps
A system-level feature or improvement
This year’s changes to the Workout app may be more significant than usual, but otherwise watchOS 9 fits this formula quite snugly. While it may not make for the most glamorous year-over-year updates, the strategy has cemented the Apple Watch as the most popular smartwatch in the world — by far. It’s no surprise that Apple sees no need to alter it.
While the formula may have stayed the same, there are still plenty of specifics to dig into. Let’s start with Workout, the app whose changes single-handedly led me to believe that we were getting a bigger-than-usual watchOS update this year.
With the release of the macOS Ventura public beta today, macOS takes another step down the path to syncing up its platforms that began four years ago. Where once the Mac hung out doing its own thing with scant regard for where iOS, and later, iPadOS was heading, today the Mac feels like part of a coherent family of products more than ever. Fewer of the differences among Apple’s product lines are the result of historical accidents than ever before. Instead, they’re intentional differences that speak to the ways the devices are used, not how they were developed. As a result, it’s never been easier for someone to move between devices up and down the company’s computing lineup. The same is true for developers looking to bring their apps to all of Apple’s platforms.
This year, the process of harmonizing the Mac with Apple’s other devices continues with Stage Manager, a new window management system available on macOS and iPadOS that offers users a similar windowing experience on both systems for the first time. On the Mac, Stage Manager is very different from the Mac’s traditional windowing systems, but it’s also very easy to get the hang of, which bodes well for new users coming from the iPad. And, of course, the feature is entirely optional, so anyone with whom it doesn’t click can ignore Stage Manager completely. However, as you’ll read below, I think everyone should give Stage Manager a chance because I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy using it.
Another thread from Monterey that is even more pronounced in the Ventura beta is Apple’s renewed emphasis on collaboration and sharing. Last year, SharePlay enabled new experiences that connected people with family and friends no matter what Apple device they use. This year, macOS Ventura expands macOS’ collaboration across devices with Continuity Camera, collaboration features in system apps that are also available to third-party apps, the integration of Messages into collaboration functionality and SharePlay, and more. These are features that are available across macOS, iOS, and iPadOS and are serving as a new thread that strengthens the ties between the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Notes’ Smart Folders are far more powerful in macOS Ventura.
Finally, no macOS update would be complete without updates to system apps. One of the dividends Apple is enjoying from the unification of the technologies on which its apps are built is they have been able to advance system apps across all platforms simultaneously. We saw that most strikingly last year with Monterey, but the trend will continue with Ventura, which includes significant updates to Mail, Messages, Notes, Photos, Home, and more. This year’s crop of updates shows that last year wasn’t a one-off push to synchronize system apps. I think it’s now reasonable to expect simultaneous annual app updates across all platforms going forward.
I’ll have more to say about what Ventura means to the Mac and where Ventura succeeds and fails in my annual macOS review this fall. However, because the public beta of Ventura is available for anyone to download for the first time today, and I know many readers are eager to give it a try, I want to provide a preview of what you can expect to find if you install it along with my first impressions of using it for the past few weeks.
Sometimes I truly have excellent timing with my stories.
As you may recall, a couple of months ago in the lead-up to WWDC, I published an article on my experience with using the M1 Max MacBook Pro for six months. That story was born out of a desire to get to know macOS again after years of iPad-only work; as I shared at the time, my curiosity was also the byproduct of Apple’s incoherent narrative for iPad power users for the past couple of years. Great hardware held back by lackluster software had long been regarded as the core weakness of the iPad platform; I hadn’t always agreed with the Apple community’s “consensus” on this, but an M1 iPad Pro carrying MacBook Pro-like specs with no new pro software features to take advantage of it was, indeed, a bridge too far. So when I published that story just in time for WWDC, I did it because a) that’s when it was ready and b) I wanted to bring some chaotic energy into the iPad discourse and see what would happen.
Like I said, sometimes I do have excellent timing with my stories. And in this case, not even my wildest expectations could have predicted that, in one fell swoop a week later, Apple would reimagine iPadOS around desktop-class apps and a brand new multitasking with external display integration, a new design, and – the unthinkable – overlapping, resizable windows with iPadOS 16.
Today, Apple is releasing the first public betas of all the operating systems that will launch to the wider public later this year: iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS 13 Ventura, and watchOS 9. We’re going to have overviews of all these public betas today on MacStories.1 As you can imagine given my annual reviewer responsibilities, I installed both iOS and iPadOS 16 as soon as they became available after the WWDC keynote on my iPhone 13 Pro Max and 12.9” iPad Pro with M1, and I’ve been using them as my daily drivers for the past month.
Obviously, I have some early thoughts and first impressions to share on iPadOS 16: it is fundamentally changing my relationship with the iPad platform and my workflow, which has been untouched for years since the introduction of multiwindow in iPadOS 13. Stage Manager, while still in need of refinements in several areas, is a game-changer for people like me, and it signifies a major course correction on how Apple thinks about iPadOS for power users.
But I should also say that I’m equally intrigued by iOS 16, which marks Apple’s return – after two years – to user customization with a drastic revamp of the Lock Screen, which can now be personalized with widgets, multiple wallpaper sets, and deep integration with the Home Screen, Focus, and even Apple Watch. The new Lock Screen is the proper follow-up to iOS 14 widgets we’ve been waiting for, and it’s going to be the feature that will push millions of people to update their iPhones to iOS 16 right away later this year. Besides the Lock Screen, there are dozens of other quality-of-life improvements to built-in apps and system intelligence that have caught my attention in iOS 16 in the past month, from the welcome updates to Mail and Reminders to system-wide unit conversions based on Live Text, Safari tab groups, and more.
There’s a lot to uncover in iOS and iPadOS 16, and I can’t possibly get into all of it today with this story. All the details and final opinions will have to wait for my annual review in the fall. Instead, below you’ll find a collection of initial thoughts, impressions, and suggestions for aspects of iPadOS and iOS 16 I’d like Apple to improve this summer. As with last year’s preview story, I’m going to include two recap segments at the end of each section with a list of improvements I’d like to see in iPadOS and iOS 16 before the public release.