Best new features in macOS Catalina

Apple introduced the new macOS Catalina at WWDC yesterday, and here are the best new features.

Approve with Apple Watch

The Apple Watch can now be used to authenticate actions on a Mac, such as unlocking locked notes, unlock protected settings in System Preferences, modify root files and approve app installations. It can also authenticate anywhere macOS prompts for the user password.


Sidecar adds the ability to use an iPad as a second display for the Mac. It can be used as an extended desktop to add more screen space or it can mirror the Mac display. It can be used both wired and wirelessly. Wireless mode works within 10 meters from the Mac.

Sidecar also allows the Apple Pencil to be used with the Mac through the iPad to draw and sketch in apps, mark up documents such as PDFs while continuity sketch makes it possible to sketch on the iPad and then easily insert it into a document on the Mac.

There’s a sidebar with commonly used controls such as modifier keys, undo function and display or hide the menu bar, dock and keyboard. It will also display Touch Bar controls on the iPad screen even if the Mac doesn’t have a Touch Bar.

Find My

Find My iPhone and Find My Friends have become a one app, and is coming to the mac with macOS Catalina. The big new feature for the Mac is the ability to find lost devices that are offline, such as MacBooks. Offline devices will periodically send out a bluetooth signal and when marked as missing, other Apple devices nearby will pick up this signal and report the location to Apple. The reporting is anonymous and end-to-end encrypted to protect privacy.

The retirement of iTunes

After years of cramming more and more features into iTunes, it will be replaced with separate Music, TV and podcasts applications. iOS devices are now managed trough Finder instead. This should provide a better user experience.

Improved Security

Apple has added new security features to help protect macOS against security threats. macOS Catalina is going to run from a dedicated read-only system volume, which protects it from third party apps and bad actors from overwriting and replacing system files.

There’s also a new data protection feature which asks the used before an application is allowed access to the Documents, Desktop and Downloads folder, as well as iCloud Drive. Even folders of third party cloud storage providers and removable media like USB flash drives and external drives are protected. It will also ask before allowing key logging or screen capture of both still and video recordings of the screen.

User space system extensions and DriverKit will run kernel extensions separately from the operating system, so that they can’t affect the OS. This will protect against kernel panics from poorly written kernel extensions, as well as protect from malicious code.

Apple T2 equipped Macs will gain activation lock just like iOS devices, which will prevent a stolen Mac from being erased and reinstalled. This is a measure to make Macs less sought after for criminals, hopefully reducing theft.

Gatekeeper has also been enhanced, and will check applications downloaded from App Store and the internet before they are run for the first time, and then periodically.

Honorable Mentions

There are many more new features that didn’t make the best new features list, but that are still worth a mention.

Photos has been improved with a new photos tab, providing a new experience browsing your photos. Photos are organized by day, month and year views that make it easy to find photos from the same time previous years. There are larger photo previews and auto-playing live photos and videos.

Notes has received a new gallery view with thumbnail previews. It’s now possible to share entire folders of notes including subfolders. Notes can also be shared as view only, so only you can make changes. There’s a new an improved search feature that can recognize objects and scenes in images added to notes, and it can search for text in items scanned with the built-in document scanner. There are new options for checklists, like being able to quickly reorder items using drag and drop or keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to move completed items to the bottom. It’s also easy to re-use a completed checklist by using the new uncheck all feature.

Reminders has been redone from the ground up. There are new edit buttons to add times, dates, locations, flags and attachments. Attachments that can be added includes photos, documents, scans and web links. Siri intelligence is built in and can suggest actions based on what is typed. It can also suggest creating a reminder based on a conversation in Messages. Reminders can also be assigned to a top-level reminder, and multiple lists can be grouped. The the smart lists can organize reminders into categories such as Today, Flagged, Scheduled or All.

Screen time has also been added to the Mac, and is added to the combined usage information synced trough iCloud. The same downtime, app limits and family sharing features known from iOS are now available on the Mac.

iCloud folder sharing allows sharing a folder in iCloud Drive using a private link. Anyone with the link can access the folder and add new content to it.

New accessibility features include voice control, more accurate dictation, word and emoji suggestions, rich text editing and the ability to add custom words. All audio is processed on device for privacy.

Restore from snapshot is a new feature that can restore macOS to a previous state if third party software turns out to be incompatible with an update just installed.