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Your Mac's new software upgrade is on the way and there are three big features worth getting excited about for tech enthusiasts, professionals, and everyone who uses their Mac to get work done -- especially if you spend time working remotely.
I've been using the developer beta of MacOS 13 Ventura since it was released during WWDC 2022 last month, and today Apple has released the Public Beta of MacOS Ventura, along with the Public Betas of iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and WatchOS 9.
Whether you're an early adopter who wants to see if the Ventura beta software is worth taking for a spin or you want to let us do the testing for you while you wait for the full release this fall, ZDNet has you covered. Below are the three best things about MacOS Ventura and a quick roundup of other features worth a look. Also, see Jason Cipriani's previews of iOS 16 and iPadOS 16.
1. Continuity Camera upgrades your Zoom meetings
The last two and a half years have forced the world to get a lot better at remote meetings. Optimizing your setup for better sound, lighting, and background have become common skills. But one thing that has become painfully apparent is how bad the quality of most webcams are – including most MacBooks.
With MacOS Ventura, Apple is extending the usefulness of its Continuity features that allow different Apple devices to work together, such as copying a link on your iPhone and pasting it on your Mac. In MacOS 13, the Continuity Camera feature allows you to use your iPhone as a webcam on your Mac. Even four-to-five year-old iPhones not only have superior cameras than most of today's Macs but also better built-in software for white balance, low light correction, and color management. So, this feature delivers a huge upgrade for meetings and video calls on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Webex, and FaceTime from your Mac.
Working with Continuity Camera has been, by far, my favorite feature to test in MacOS Ventura -- and the one that feels like it will have the most noticeable impact for most people. I was impressed by how smooth and automatic the functionality was. In Ventura when you open an app like FaceTime or Photo Booth, it automatically asks if you want to connect to your iPhone nearby, if you're logged into the same Apple account on both (and running the iOS 16 beta in this case). It also then automatically uses my iPhone as my webcam when I pulled up Zoom.
I was already used to using an iPhone as a webcam using the third-party app Camo, which works reliably but requires several steps to make it function. Continuity Camera is much simpler and that will make it more accessible to more users.
As part of this process, I also tested out an early version of the Belkin Magsafe mount that Apple showed off when demoing this feature at WWDC. It worked seamlessly with an iPhone 13 Pro. Continuity Camera will also work with older, non-Magsafe iPhones and I tested it on an iPhone 11 using a small desktop tripod from Manfrotto and a MeFOTO tripod mount.
The quality difference of using your iPhone as a webcam versus the built-in Mac webcam is stunning. Even the iPhone 11 from 2019 blew away the quality of the MacBook Air M1 webcam from 2021.
One of the best things about this feature is that it could save you from having to go out and buy a new laptop to upgrade to a better webcam to improve your work-from-home setup. The caveat is that even with a newer iPhone and the handy Belkin mount, this still isn't as simple as just using the built-in webcam on your MacBook -- but it's pretty close.
2. Passkeys will make strong security simpler
While Continuity Camera will be the most noticeable new feature in MacOS Ventura, passkeys will likely be the most important feature and will have the biggest long term impact. That's because passkeys solve the internet's biggest security problem and the one that puts the data on your Mac at the biggest risk of being stolen by attackers: your passwords.
Make no mistake, passkeys are essentially an innovation to replace passwords by using a safer and more advanced technology -- while greatly simplifying the process for users. Without getting into the technical details, know that passkeys use a combination of cryptography and biometric authentication (TouchID or FaceID) to authenticate you in a way that attackers can't compromise with phishing attacks, social engineering, or compromising databases of sites where you have an account.
Apple didn't invent the tech for passkeys. This is based on standards from the FIDO Alliance and it's also being adopted by Google, Microsoft and most of the major tech companies, security vendors, and banks. The key for MacOS Ventura -- and the rest of the Apple platforms -- will be Apple's implementation of passkeys using a mix of its biometric authentication and perhaps autofill technology like it uses for two factor authentication codes that come through the Messages app.
Nevertheless, this won't solve the password problem overnight. Apple's version of passkeys won't start widely showing up as an option in the real world until this fall when the final versions of iOS 16 and MacOS Ventura arrive. But once they do, it could make better security significantly easier -- and that's more important than ever with so many workers spending more time outside the company firewall.
3. Freeform could be the digital whiteboard for hybrid work
Perhaps the most innovative new Apple feature in the ecosystem in 2022 will be one that didn't show up in the MacOS Ventura beta yet --or at least it will be the most anticipated one. I'm talking about Freeform, which is technically more of an iPadOS 16 feature but will also be available for Mac and iPhone. I anticipate the Mac version could be quite popular, especially if it works well with Sidecar, and I expect that it will. Freeform functions as a collaborative digital whiteboard for drawing notes, creating illustrations, importing images and videos and editing each other's work. It could be a breakthrough digital brainstorming platform.
This app could allow creative teams, product teams, and engineering teams -- many of which are already using Macs -- to collaborate in a way that might even be more functional than all being in the office and working at a physical whiteboard.
I'm sure there are some skeptical eyebrows being raised that I put this feature on the list even though it's not even part of the beta (Apple says it's coming later this year). Plus, Apple's own internal apps also have a somewhat checkered history. But those caveats aside, if this app lives up to its promise then it could be a big step forward for distributed teams and for professionals working remotely.
Other notable features
Messages app gets more flexible -- The MacOS Ventura changes that you may notice the most will likely be in the app that you probably use the most: Messages. You can now edit messages after you've sent them and delete a message within 15 seconds after hitting send. You can also mark a message as "unread" so that you don't forget to go back and respond if you don't have time to send a reply right away.
Stage Manager for multitasking -- The iPad's new multitasking window manager is also coming to the Mac. I still prefer using multiple Spaces and quickly switching between them with gestures, but Stage Manager might appeal to those who want to accomplish a similar level of multitasking while keeping everything in one space.
FaceTime handoff between devices -- FaceTime can now hand off between your iPhone or Pad and your Mac, and vise versa. For example, say you're taking a walk and doing a FaceTime and then you get back home and want to switch to your Mac, the software now automatically asks you if you want to switch devices when you bring the FaceTime device near another Apple device. Zoom also does this and it can be super handy.
Good hygiene for installing beta software
Remember that if you do decide to give MacOS Ventura a try, we don't recommend that you install beta software on a machine that you rely on to get work done everyday. Beta software is always going to be imperfect and you don't want to put important data or work at risk if the software glitched out and you had to wipe the machine. Instead, install MacOS Ventura on another machine, such as your previous laptop or a machine that's not your primary daily computer.
All those caveats aside, MacOS Ventura strikes the right notes by prioritizing features that will deliver clear benefits for hybrid work and remote employees.