MacOS Catalina is here with a number of key features: Mac Catalyst, new apps, sidecar, screen time and voice control. As you might expect, Catalina also contains dozens of small functional changes that are worth investigating. Here are some of the most interesting hidden features in macOS Catalina:
Finally Home Theater
For the first time, the Mac has access to the 4K HDR versions of popular movies and TV shows. This is made possible by courtesy of the new TV app – but has limitations. All Macs released in 2018 or later can play HDR and Dolby Vision video for high dynamic range and play back audio encoded in the high quality Dolby Atmos format.
For full-length 4K HDR streaming, this feature will be available only from 2018 and MacBook Pros and 2017 and newer iMacs with the T2 chip. Unfortunately, this means that older 4K and 5K iMacs are out of luck.
Reset after a bad upgrade
Have you ever installed a software update to find that it has corrupted other software that you rely on for your work? Catalina adds a new feature that takes a snapshot of the system disk before applying an update and allows you to restore your Mac to macOS recovery in this state. (Reboot your Mac and press Command-R to start macOS Recovery.)
This is a clever use of the snapshot feature of the APFS file system, but it takes up a lot of disk space (because your drive has storage space requires very little from your Mac before and after the upgrade). Snapshots will only be saved for one day and if they do not have enough free space they will not be available at all.
Yet, this is a really great feature – which, ironically, is introduced in an OS version that intentionally breaks down compatibility with more than a decade of MacOS apps. At the very least, you can roll back to the next one.
Quick Image in Image
Apple has expanded the possibilities for converting video to image. This is one of my favorite features of the past few years that I like My video hovers over all the other windows on my Mac. When a video is playing in Safari, you can click and hold the audio icon in the Smart Bar and then click Enter Picture in Picture. I used to bookmark, but now it's activated directly in Safari.
Apple has also equipped QuickTime Player with support for Picture in Picture. There is now a PIP button in the floating control bar of the window, with which your video floats with a click above.
Stop typing passwords
For some time, Macs with integrated Touch IDs can use their fingerprints to authenticate instead of typing passwords. Catalina extends biometric authentication support to unlocked Apple Watches. If something appears on the screen that requires authentication, which is most common when customizing items in System Preferences, my Apple Watch taps my wrist and prompts me to double-tap the page key. That is all that is needed.
This authentication method does not currently appear to be broadcast to third-party apps. Therefore, I can not unlock my password manager yet with a few clicks on the clock. Maybe one day.
Creating timelapses and animations in QuickTime Player
A classic QuickTime feature is restored in Catalina with the Open Image Sequence command, which lets you open a collection of still images and convert them to a video file. This feature allows you to create a movie from a series of photos, a timelapse, or even a series of drawings. You can select the resolution, frame rate, and encoding formats.
Find your missing devices.
Catalina and iOS 13 both incorporate incredible new technology that makes it easier to find missing devices. If you leave your Mac behind, you will be able to find it even if it is not connected to a network because Catalina Macs broadcast a Bluetooth beacon that can be received by other Apple devices. For more information about implementation, see this wired article.
And of course, you can now find your devices – and your friends – directly from your Mac through the new Find My app, which lets you mark devices as lost, view their last known locations, and also be notified when a friend is around leaves a certain place or arrives there. All of these features have been available on iOS for some time, but they are now available on the Mac as well.
Copying Files to iOS Devices in Finder
Apple has removed iOS device management from iTunes (which is now gone!) And into the Finder. After you have connected an iOS device to your Mac and entered your password so that the Mac is a trusted device, you can click the Files tab and look into your device's memory. This is nothing new, but the finder is a much more reasonable place for that.
If you've ever had to transfer large files between your Mac and iOS devices and you did not want to use the Cloud or AirDrop, you can do so via a wired connection directly to the Finder. I use this option all the time to transfer large audio files to my iPad for editing, and then transfer the final audio projects back to my Mac when finished.
Unauthorized software open
In Catalina, Apple was banned more of the system to protect users from potential malware. Unfortunately, these changes can sometimes cause you to run the software that you want to run. Any software created for the Mac after June 1 of this year must be uploaded to the Apple servers, scanned and approved by an automated system. If it's not approved by Apple, it will not let macOS gatekeeper work – at least not by default. Instead, a warning appears that Apple can not scan the app for malware, and you're asked to contact the developer for more information.
The good news is that Apple lets you run this software if you really want to: You just need to know how to bypass gatekeepers and open the software. To start an app that has not been approved, hold down the Ctrl key and click Open. A similar warning regarding malware and contacting the developer will be displayed. But now it's also possible to just open the app. Once you open an app with this method, it will never bother you.