Review: macOS 10.12 Sierra


By the time you read this, the latest version of Mac OS X – sorry – macOS, will be available to download from the App Store. macOS Sierra 10.12, to give it its full title, finally sees Apple move away from the OS X nomenclature given to every version of its desktop operating system since 2001.

You might be thinking, “Why macOS?” Well, the answer is simple: the new naming convention brings the OS in line with Apple’s software for its other products: iOS, watchOS and tvOS. After previously naming versions of OS X after big cats of some description, it has turned to locations in California for recent releases.

This latest one name-checks Sierra County, which is home to the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range depicted in the default wallpaper.

Apple tends to release new versions of macOS with a “tick, tock” cadence. Back in 2009 it followed up OS X 10.5 Leopard, which introduced hundreds of new features and improvements, with Snow Leopard – an update that opened up the bonnet to improve performance under the hood.

A more recent example of this would be Sierra’s predecessor, OS X 10.11 El Capitan, which Apple built on Yosemite’s foundations while making the OS easier to run on lower-spec Macs – including Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.


Instead of using the new name as an opportunity to overhaul OS X, Apple has made Sierra another iterative release in the vein of its recent predecessors.

However, it makes a clear attempt at swinging the focus back to new functionality and features, rather than performance. Sierra places a firm focus on usability while allowing you to be more productive on the desktop – especially so if you use your Mac in conjunction with Apple’s mobile devices.

Whether you’re clasping a shiny new iPhone 7 or Apple Watch 2 in your hand, Apple wants you to make you feel like your investments are more than the sum of their parts. Clearly this is something of a double-edged sword, as Mac owners that don’t own them are bound to feel like they’re missing out. Not prepared to buy more Apple products? Then the message is clear: you’re not getting the full experience.

It almost feels churlish to moan, however, as Sierra continues tradition by leaping from the App Store onto your machine for the princely sum of nothing – just like every version of macOS has been since OS X 10.9 Mavericks. A word of warning, though: be sure to check out Sierra’s system requirements before you hit the download button, as they are more taxing than what has gone before.

Supported Macs

Here are the Mac models that are compatible with macOS Sierra:

  • MacBook (Late 2009 and later)
  • iMac (Late 2009 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2010 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2010 and later)
  • Mac mini (2010 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2010 and later)

Siri lands on the Mac

With Siri’s arrival on the Mac, owners of Apple’s computers no longer have to look at iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch owners with envy. Apple’s personal assistant is arguably even more useful on the Mac than it is on the company’s mobile platforms as you can drag and drop Siri’s search results from the Notifications pane into other apps.

These include a range of images found across the web, which appear as thumbnails along the side. Siri also retrieves other information as part of searches, including maps results, location data and user reviews courtesy of Yelp.

As far as its basic operation goes, Siri works just the same on the Mac as it does on other devices. You click the icon in the top right-hand corner, instead of holding a button, before speaking into your Mac’s microphone. You’re given a five second window before Siri returns a string of commands that can be spoken.


You can also retrieve a list of things that Siri can do by simply asking, “What can you do?”. Some are simple, such as asking Siri to open a folder on the Mac or launch an app. It’s also possible to start a Facetime call, set up a meeting using the macOS Calendar, or finding photos from a particular date. If you’re a social media addict, the ability to post updates to services such as Twitter and Facebook could prove a big time-saver.

So, how well does it work? Very well, in fact: Siri’s voice recognition engine is near-flawless. Even in my strong regional accent, it picked up what I was saying almost every time. It only struggled with words that sound the same but are spelled differently. For example, Siri repeatedly failed to distinguish the difference between questions based around the country Wales, and ones about whales.

Siri commands to try

Things that you can ask Siri include:

  • Tell me what movies are playing today
  • Read my latest email
  • Text John ‘See you soon smiley exclamation point’
  • Find a table for four tonight
  • Call Dad at work
  • Find me books by C.S. Lewis
  • How’s the weather in London on Saturday?
  • Did Manchester United win?


Keeping tabs

It’s now possible to use tabs in any almost application, compared to El Capitan that restricted them to OS-specific apps such as Safari, and Finder. Apple’s apps that support tabs from the off include Mail, Maps, TextEdit and the three iWork apps – Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple says that you can open tabs in any app without the need for extra coding from developers, but it depends on the app.


Apps that currently support tabs let you view them using the View menu. The obvious benefit to tabs is that you don’t have to open as many new windows, which comes in especially useful in split screen mode. For example, somebody writing up an essay could position Safari on the left and Pages on the right. Previously it would have only been possible to view one website at a time, whereas tabs allow multiple webpages to be opened including Evernote pages.

Suddenly you can flick between various websites and multiple notes for retrieving information while maximizing the amount of information that can be displayed on the screen, which will come in especially handy for owners of Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.


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