macOS Catalina: What You Need to Know

Here are all the details on Apple’s latest operating system

macOS Catalina is the operating system running on many of Apple’s Macintosh computers. It was announced at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference in June of 2019 and released in October 2019. If you use a MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, iMac, or Mac Pro, you’ll most likely want to upgrade to it if you haven't already. 

macOS Catalina screen

macOS Catalina comes with a ton of features that make your Mac more productive, easier to use, and probably a bit faster as well. Here’s a quick list of all the big (and some smaller but still important) features that the macOS Catalina update offers.

Music, TV, and Podcasts

macOS Catalina's new Music app
Apple Inc. 

It’s the end of an era. iTunes is no longer. macOS Catalina has three separate apps to do the work of iTunes: Music for your tunes, TV for your shows (as well as movies and premium streaming channels, including Apple TV+), and Podcasts for your favorite digital radio shows. 

Each new Mac app integrates with the same apps on all your other devices. Listen to a podcast, watch a movie, or listen to an album on your iPhone and then pick up where you left off on your Mac or iPad.

iPad and Mac Working Together

iPad app Asphalt on Mac via Project Catalyst
Apple Inc. 

Apple’s developed a new system called Project Catalyst that lets developers bring their iPad apps to the Mac with less work than starting from scratch. They run on your Mac just like they do on your iPad, giving you even more screen space and power when running on your Mac. 

In addition, you can extend (or mirror) your Mac desktop to your iPad (without the help of third-party apps) by using an app called Sidecar. Feel like turning your iPad into a graphics tablet? Sidecar, as part of Catalina, lets you do just that: draw on your iPad while it mirrors your favorite Mac graphics program using Apple Pencil. You can even mark up PDFs using Apple Pencil, your iPad, and your Mac, too.

Speaking of integration, your Apple Watch can now authenticate notes, app installations, and passwords from Safari with a quick press of the side button. 

Updates to Mac Apps

Photos on macOS Catalina
Apple Inc. 

Apple’s built-in apps like Photos and Notes have all-new looks and features, too. Photos has a newer, more dynamic view that shows off only the best of your images, without duplicates cluttering up the screen (it doesn't delete your duplicates). You can browse these favorites by day, month, or year as well as get bigger previews of photos you’ve taken. Apple’s beefed up the AI, as well, which lets the app highlight special events like birthdays, trips, or anniversaries. 

Notes has a new gallery view and a better search system to find your notes more quickly, as well as shared folders and checklist options. Reminders is all-new and includes attachments, quick edit buttons, and Siri suggestions from Messages. A new Smart List option effortlessly organizes your Reminders, too, while you can also tag people in Reminders for notifications while you chat with them. 

Safari has an updated start page with favorites and frequently visited sites, and Siri helps bring bookmarks, links, iCloud tabs, and more to the front of your web browser. 

A new Find My app makes sure you can find your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or other Apple connected devices from any one of them. Whether you’re on iOS or macOS, you can pull up Find My and see where your stuff is. 

Security, Privacy, and Digital Wellbeing

Screen Time on macOS Catalina
Apple Inc. 

Screen Time comes to the Mac via macOS Catalina, letting you keep an eye on what you or your kids are doing across all the Apple screens you use on a daily basis. You can monitor usage, schedule no screen time, and set limits for Mac apps and websites (as well as iOS devices that also have the feature). Plus, you can manage your kids’ communication via Family Sharing. 

macOS Catalina uses newer Macs’ T2 Security Chip to run only trusted software (along with Gatekeeper) and encrypt any data you store. It also lets you authenticate via Touch ID and manage Apple Pay payments securely. Activation Lock makes sure that you’re the only one who can erase and then reactivate your Mac. The new macOS makes sure that nothing can accidentally overwrite any system files, keeping all the macOS stuff on its own dedicated system volume, separate from your data. Apps need your explicit permission before accessing any documents (on your Mac, on external drives, or in iCloud) or Desktop files. Any app trying to capture keyboard strokes or images of your screen similarly needs your express permission. 


Apple Maps with accessible overlay for Voice Control
Apple Inc. 

Apple has always been on the vanguard of built-in accessibility options, but macOS Catalina takes it to a whole new level. Voice Control lets anyone navigate their Mac using just their voice, along with improved dictation and more robust text editing abilities. It has more comprehensive commands, too, letting you open and interact with apps via voice. 

Zoom, a super helpful utility for those with visual disabilities, gets even more powerful, too. You can zoom in on one display while leaving the other un-zoomed for the big picture. Hover text also helps you see small fonts with a simple hover of your mouse; great for older eyes as well as visual impairments. 

Can Your Mac Run Catalina?

See if your Mac can run macOS Catalina
Apple Inc

Apple also has a section on the Catalina website showing which Macs are able to run the latest macOS. According to the chart (above), you need an iMac, MacBook, or MacBook Pro from 2012 or later, a Mac Pro from 2013 or later, a MacBook from 2015 on, or an iMac Pro from at least 2017 to run macOS Catalina.

These, of course, are just the big features of Apple’s latest OS. As a modern operating system, there are literally thousands of systems and features that come into play. If you’re looking to get all of the large and small details of Apple’s macOS Catalina, the company has a web page just for that. 

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