Ars Technica reviews macOS 10.15 Catalina: ‘The end of a three-year effort to modernize the Mac’

Andrew Cunningham for Ars Technica:

You’d never know from the length of these reviews, but no individual macOS release since the yearly update cadence began really feels like a massive leap up from its predecessor. Instead, they’re more impressive when considered two or three years at a time. By itself, Catalina feels mostly like a Second Edition release for Mojave, which fine-tunes a few features and opens the doors to third-party iPad apps as promised. But I see Catalina more as the end of a three-year effort to modernize the Mac.

Future macOS releases will bring us more improvements to both Catalyst and SwiftUI, and a year from now we’ll be able to see whether an influx of UIKit apps has fundamentally changed what it’s like to work on (and develop for) Macs. The modernization work will continue. But Catalina is solid proof that Apple really isn’t looking to make Macs as tightly controlled or as locked down as iDevices. No one knows what the future holds — and if, as some have predicted, Macs begin shipping with Apple’s own A-series ARM processors rather than x86 processors, Apple still could use the architecture switch to get rid of some of the Mac’s underlying flexibility. But it really does seem like the Mac is going to stay the Mac, distinct from the iPhone or the iPad.

reams more in the recommended full review, of course.

MacDailyNews Take: We agree with Andrew that “The Great iTunes Breakup” is beneficial for just about everyone. Although we’ve had no issues yet, for your mission-critical Mac(s), wait until macOS 10.15.1 to upgrade from Mojave.

1 Comment

  1. Good balanced review. Hard to pack it all in one article, but as usual ARS does good work. Andrew missed a lot of key points on the OSX/macOS timeline.

    Catalina is definitely a mixed bag. As promised, a lot of stuff will be broken, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. App changes may be better in the future if/when they get refined but it looks like negligible performance tweaks and hardly any user control enhancements as far as we can tell. User settings are scattered in interesting places and Apple likes to lock out the user from doing too much fun stuff without Terminal. Apple is clearly trying to get SIP and T2 erected as user protections. For some, these opaque nannies may be major annoyances. Usability isn’t all for the positive. The easy cheap video editing tools that Quicktime 7 offered are long gone, there is no replacement. The abandonment of iTunes breaks a lot of 3rd party music software that leveraged iTunes files. This may have been necessary, but i fear it’s primarily because Apple decided to use iOS Music as its starting point for Mac Music. That sounds horrible. With this release Apple continues to push iOS solutions to the Mac, and that’s not a clear win for many users who leveraged all kinds of Mac-only tech like Applescript. It’s not clear that the iOS translation works well everywhere, it just dumbs down former Mac advantages.

    We didn’t test it, but it sounds like Sidecar may turn out to be a huge GPU hog — it remains to be seen what low-end graphics Macs will do when taxed. That indicates to me that Apple chose not to implement Sidecar 5+ years ago because Apple had neutered all its Macs — there was no way to reasonably upgrade GPUs in the aftermarket, and Apple’s glued-in GPU offerings couldn’t cut the mustard for seamless performance. That’s almost certainly the real reason Apple cut off so many older Macs for Catalina, even though 2010-2012 Mac Pros should have no problem running Catalina with an updated Metal capable GPU. Isn’t it hard to believe that Apple couldn’t be bothered to offer Mac Pros with Sidecar capability before Jobs kicked the bucket? It was an obvious “pro” feature that Apple ignored. But the situation hasn’t changed if you have an older Mac Pro. Obviously Apple has no desire to support any older Mac Pros, trashcan or otherwise, no surprise there. Apple beancounter Timmy wants to support only the middling GPUs he selects for you. The better solution to this conundrum would be to stop preventing users from being able to upgrade hardware in their Macs (that includes ALL Macs, not just Macs costing more than $5k). Let’s hope Apple changes their act in the future.

    There’s no explanation why Dashboard couldn’t be maintained, or why a 32 bit emulator couldn’t be built in as Apple did before with significant CPU transitions, but whatever. Apple is very inconsistent in which technologies it sunsets and which ones it continues to use even as Apple implementation falls way behind the times. Apple for example is finally killing its antiquated implementations of Open CL and Open GL, but Apple doesn’t give users both Metal and Vulcan. For some users, the desire or need to develop Vulcan will be a problem. So while it is fair to say that 3rd party app developers should be able to support all the latest standards, 64 bit and all, Apple may be forcing another round of divorces as some developers just don’t find the Mac platform to be profitable.

    One question I still have is whether APFS is trustworthy with anything besides the boot drive. It’s not clear what lingering issues remain for APFS. It was certainly not ready for prime time when Apple did eventually roll it out. Let’s hope they have resolved the many issues there. Among them APFS Time Machine issues. My guess is that Apple doesn’t care about Time Machine, it will let that app die and try instead to sell people only iCloud backup solutions in the future.

    Apple gives and Apple takes away no matter what we say. Everyone should read the reviews before blindly updating. Andrew Cunningham does make a very salient point: as buggy as 2019 iOS releases have been, it’d be wise to wait to the .1 or .2 release before jumping in with both feet.

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