macOS Sierra

It’s been a week since iOS 10 debuted on iPhone and iPad, and now it’s the Mac’s turn with macOS Sierra. OS X is officially no more; long live macOS (version 10.12 to be precise). As its name cleverly suggests, macOS Sierra brings Siri to the Mac for the first time since the voice assistant was introduced in 2011 with the iPhone 4s.

You can free up space on your Mac with a new optimized storage feature, sync your clipboard (and desktop and documents folders) between your Apple devices, watch videos from Safari with picture-in-picture, and use Apple Pay on the web to easily make purchases. You can even bypass your lock screen with your Apple Watch thanks to auto-unlock.

Here’s how to update and what to try in macOS Sierra:


Before you do something major to your Mac like update the whole operating system, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a functional backup of your important data (like documents, photos, and other media). Apple has a handy page for learning how to backup OS X Lion through OS X El Capitan using Time Machine, iCloud, Time Capsule, external hard drives, and alternative backup options. These are the quick links for OS X El Capitan:

Backup options for OS X El Capitan

  • Time Machine – Learn how to backup your Mac using Time Machine.
  • iCloud – Use iCloud to backup your music, photos, calendars, etc.
  • Backup options – Learn about alternative options for backing up your Mac.


Once your Mac is backed up and your data is safe if anything goes wrong, it’s time to update. Apple says these Macs are compatible with macOS Sierra:macOS Sierra update

  • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)

As for feature requirements, you may want to check this page to see if a feature that you want works with your Mac. Auto-Unlock, for example, requires 2013 or new Macs due to Bluetooth limitations so my 2012 Mac mini doesn’t make the cut.

If your Mac is compatible, you can open the Mac App Store and look for the macOS Sierra banner or link on the right sidebar, then click and follow the prompts to update. You can access the Mac App Store by clicking the Apple () icon in the top left corner of your display, then click Mac App Store to launch it.

Creating a macOS Sierra USB install drive

We also have a tutorial that shows you how to create a macOS Sierra USB install drive. This is handy for those of you who wish to facilitate clean installs of macOS Sierra. Watch our video below to see how, and read the full tutorial here.

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What to try in macOS Sierra


Apple’s voice assistant finally coming to the Mac is the headlining new feature. You can ask Siri questions about your Mac, control Finder, and do many of the same things that you can do on Siri everywhere else without interrupting your work on the Mac.

Siri does have some limitations on the Mac though. There’s no HomeKit support yet and podcast control isn’t quite ready. It is fun to send messages and set reminders with Siri on the Mac and controlling or asking about your hardware is pretty clever.

You can even pin Siri queries to the Today view for easy reference.

Auto Unlock

macOS Sierra testers have been saying that Auto Unlock makes wearing an Apple Watch worth it. Just wear your Apple Watch with watchOS 3 and you can skip your log in.


Apple Pay

If you have iPhone 6 or later running iOS 10 or an Apple Watch with watchOS 3, you can actually checkout with websites on your Mac using Apple Pay in Safari is skip the process of filling out your billing and shipping information. You can test Apple Pay on the web with and plenty of other sites are already offering Apple’s mobile payment service at checkout.

When you select Apple Pay at checkout, your iPhone or Apple Watch will ask you to verify the transaction then the whole process is complete. It’s very fast and very convenient.


iCloud Drive

If you pay for upgraded iCloud storage (or just don’t have much to sync), iCloud Drive on macOS Sierra lets you set your desktop and documents folders to sync. The benefit is that you can see your desktop across multiple Macs and on iOS and the web with the iCloud Drive app and

macOS Sierra iCloud Drive

iTunes 12.5

Apple recently released an updated version of iTunes that overhauls the Apple Music experience similar to the changes on iOS 10. macOS Sierra includes the latest version of iTunes out of the box.

iTunes 12.5


You need iOS 10 to unlock the full potential of iMessage with features like drawing, stickers, and screen effects, but macOS Sierra has some new Messages smart included. Emoji are much larger now, you can use Tapback to react to specific messages, and rich inline previews show you URLs, tweets, video embeds, and more without you having to click.

You can also view a lot of the new Messages effects like invisible ink, handwritten messages, and stickers, although you can’t create these from the Mac and iMessage apps aren’t supported. Screen effects like fireworks and balloons are sadly reduced to parenthetical descriptions for now too.

(sent with Sad Trombone Effect)

macOS Sierra Messages

Optimized Storage 

If you’re running low on space or just want to put your Mac to work, macOS Sierra includes some new Optimize Storage options that let you manage your data smarter on a low capacity drive. For example, you can set your trash can to empty after 30 days or look for large files that you may want to delete. If you use iCloud, you can also allow macOS Sierra to offload rarely used files from your local storage if you run out of disk space.

macOS Sierra Optimize Storage


Apple’s built-in Photos app continues to get smarter with macOS Sierra thanks to a new face recognition engine, the ability to search for objects and scenery, view your faces by location, and more. There’s even a new Memories feature similar to iOS 10, although videos aren’t supported on the Mac for some reason. The latest version of Photos also includes various enhancements throughout the app like mousing over a collection to view what’s inside and tweaked editing controls.

macOS Sierra Photos

Picture in Picture

iOS 9 introduced picture in picture to the iPad last year and now macOS Sierra is bringing it to the Mac. This lets you watch videos in Safari in a pop out window that floats over your other active windows. You can even option click and drag windows to any part of the display which isn’t possible on iPad.

macOS Sierra picture in picture


You probably use tabs the most in Safari or Chrome, and Finder gained tabs in a recent OS X update. Now macOS Sierra is making tabs easier for all applications and adding the tab feature to built-in apps like Maps and TextEdit. Three cheers for window management.

macOS Sierra tabs

Universal Clipboard

Finally, we have universal clipboard which is a pretty ambitious feature. Your clipboard can sync between Macs, iPhone, and iPad so you can copy a line of text on your Mac and paste it in Messages on your iPhone. The clipboard expires after a couple of minutes so you can’t accidentally paste something that you copied hours ago or get your clipboards confused. When it works (most of the time) it’s really impressive and useful. The hardest part is remembering that such an invisible feature is there.

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About the Author

Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created