macOS Ventura: The MacStories Review

macOS Ventura: The MacStories Review

macOS Ventura is a difficult release to pin. I’ve been running it for several months and it has worked well for all my daily work and personal tasks. Features like Continuity Camera, iCloud Shared Photo Library, and the many system app updates have all been stable, worked as advertised, and helped me do more with my Mac. So from an everyday workflow standpoint, Ventura is an excellent release that delivers on the promise of an OS that moves in step with Apple’s other OSes and erases artificial barriers for users coming from iOS and iPadOS. And yet I worry about the clouds on the horizon.

The release of Ventura is just one moment along macOS’s evolutionary path, but it’s an important one. Each fall release is a marker laid down by Apple that says something about where the Mac has been and where it is going.

The story of macOS Ventura didn’t begin at WWDC in June. As I wrote in last year’s macOS Monterey review, it started five years ago:

In recent years, no narrative thread has been more important to the Mac and its operating system than their realignment in Apple’s product range. It’s a fundamental transformation of both hardware and software that has taken shape over years, beginning publicly with Craig Federighi’s WWDC Sneak Peek in 2018.

Last year’s release of Monterey went a long way toward validating what came before with Catalina and Big Sur:

Monterey is one of the most tangible, user-facing payouts of the past three years of transition. More than ever before, Apple is promoting system apps across all of its platforms simultaneously. Finally, everything is everywhere.

Ventura is in many ways a continuation of Monterey’s history. Apple has delivered a second year of parallel development across its system apps, with the notable exception of shortcuts, which I’ll cover later. It’s a big win for Mac users, who in previous years waited for multiple releases for apps like Maps and Books to catch up with their iOS and iPadOS counterparts.

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So, with Monterey’s success in moving system apps forward in unison across all operating systems looking more like a trend than a one-off, what are the clouds I see on the horizon? There are three:

  • Stage manager: Stage Manager is in far better technical shape on the Mac than on the iPad. In fact, I’ve been using it every day since WWDC and will continue to do so. There’s a lot of room for improvement, which I’ll cover below, but my concern extends beyond Mac-specific issues to what the feature’s problems on the iPad mean for Mac users long-term, something I covered last month for Club MacStory members and will elaborate on below.
  • Shortcuts: Shortcuts was in rough shape when it launched on Mac last year. The app is in a much better place today, although bugs continue to be a problem. More concerning to me, however, is the lack of new system-level actions on the Mac. A lot of resources have undoubtedly gone into stabilizing shortcuts on the Mac over the past year, which is understandable, but unfortunately those efforts seem to have come at the expense of introducing new actions at the system level or maintaining parity with new actions on iOS and iPadOS.
  • System settings: So much of the design work we saw introduced with Big Sur was so carefully considered to harmonize macOS with iPadOS while retaining its Mac nature that System Preferences is a shock to, well, the system. System Preferences was long overdue for an update, but System Preferences isn’t the redesign we needed. Instead, it’s a clear example of why you can’t just graft iOS or iPadOS designs onto macOS and be done with it.
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While each of the above points concerns me, it is equally important to put them in context. For most users, macOS is in a very good place. My daily work on the Mac is not affected by whether the iPadOS version of Stage Manager is buggy. I may feel limited by the lack of some actions in shortcuts on my Mac, but at the same time, I have shortcuts on the Mac, which I’ve been hoping for for years. And system settings are, after all, just settings that may not be pretty to look at, but they still work.

But while the problems with Ventura may not be immediate, they’re still significant because they threaten the viability of the Mac in the midst of the hardware renaissance. I want to see the Mac continue to grow and prosper, and I’m more convinced than ever that pairing it with the iPad is one of the ways to achieve that. Unfortunately, Ventura doesn’t move the ball forward in a meaningful way.

By linking the two together, Apple has set the stage for a healthier third-party app ecosystem that benefits both platforms by making it more economical for developers to create apps for both. I get sent a lot of apps to try and I can tell you that this is definitely happening already. The vast majority of apps I get sent these days aren’t just for Mac or iPad – they’re universal apps that work on both and usually the iPhone and Apple Watch as well.

But the work and story that began with Federighi’s sneak peek is not finished. For the Mac and iPad to thrive, now is not the time for Apple to take its foot off the gas. Still, that’s how Ventura feels after several years of fundamental changes to macOS. It’s not a bad update. There’s a lot to like among the system apps and other changes, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that Apple has taken its eyes off the long-term vision for macOS with Ventura. It won’t affect your day-to-day use of the OS, but it’s certainly something worth keeping an eye on as Ventura updates and WWDC rolls around again next summer.

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