Your Apple MacBook is getting a free upgrade - here are the best MacOS 15 features

At WWDC 2024, the company demoed the latest new features coming with MacOS Sequoia. Here's the recap.
Written by Kyle Kucharski, Editor
M3 MacBook Air on desk
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Apple previewed MacOS 15 Sequoia this week at WWDC, showing off an overhaul of the operating system for MacBooks and iMacs that centers around AI integration. This year's WWDC was undoubtedly all about AI. It's unsurprising since Apple took its time to discuss its plans for AI integration across its products. Now that it's here, we have a better picture of its approach, which looks good.

Also: How to install MacOS 15 Sequoia developer beta to test the latest Mac features

New AI features are coming to Siri, Safari, and a new Continuity app that streamlines the use of your iPhone and Mac. But it's not all AI. There are also quite a bit of quality-of-life design improvements and security updates launching with MacOS 15.

Following this week's preview, beta testing of MacOS 15 starts immediately and will continue over the next few months, with a launch to the general public in the fall of 2024. That'll be here sooner than you think, so let's take a look at the biggest features just announced. 

1. Apple Intelligence

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

The past few months have been jam-packed with flashy announcements from OpenAI, Google, and Microsoft, but Apple's had the final word, reclaiming the acronym with the clever naming of its new Apple Intelligence. So what is it? It refers to the overarching AI ecosystem that will be present in MacOS 15, as well as the iPhone and iPad; the engine powering all the new AI functionality across all its apps.

The Apple Intelligence ecosystem is fueled by a partnership with OpenAI, allowing Apple to leverage the massive LLM already cultivated by OpenAI's huge success with ChatGPT, along with the company's goals of taking on Google by entering the search market. 

Also: What is 'Apple Intelligence': How it works with on-device and cloud-based AI

Apple's approach to AI is markedly different from that of its competitors, however. Instead of positioning the new AI features as integral aspects of their products, Apple allows users to opt in, making immediate adoption a choice. The AI features are also clearly defined as being in beta, underscoring their nature as works-in-progress. 

This lets Apple disengage from the chaotic rat race to a degree, positioning itself as the careful, more ethical actor when it comes to AI, particularly in light of recent debilitating security concerns from Microsoft's Recall feature, which is delaying the release of a host of its new Copilot+ PCs.

2. Continuity

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

The new Continuity app links your Mac to your iPhone in a fully comprehensive way, essentially allowing you to remote into your iPhone directly through your laptop. The demo at WWDC showed iPhone mirroring to pull up the iPhone's home screen, interacting with multiple apps using the laptop's trackpad and keyboard. 

Also: iOS 18's new Game Mode makes your iPhone faster and more performant

The app also streamlines your devices by bringing your iPhone's notifications straight to the Mac, allowing you to pull up the corresponding app onto the laptop. If you're worried about privacy while using your phone on your laptop, your phone's screen actually remains locked and turned off, even while you're using the phone remotely.

Alternatively, the new standby mode on the iPhone displays a host of at-a-glance (but un-interactable) data like a clock and calendar while you're using the Continuity app on the Mac. 

3. Siri 2.0

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Apple has played the long game when it comes to its virtual assistant, Siri. As one of the very first to be adopted by the public, Siri has been around for a very long time -- since 2011 -- although it's taken a back seat to flashier AI assistants the past few years. Apple's technology in this area offers a strong foundation to expand upon, however, and the new and improved Siri is full of new AI features.

Also: The best Apple deals of June 2024: iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads, and more

During the WWDC keynote, Apple showed off Siri's new look as an ever-present AI assistant integrated into every thread of the UI, not a standalone app. Siri will have access to ChatGPT's LLM, allowing the AI to be functionally ready to communicate in a more natural context, following up with previous conversations and messages instead of providing full context in every single prompt. 

The new Siri also comes with on-screen awareness, allowing the AI to respond to what you're looking at on the screen without requiring the user to provide specific context with each prompt. This also allows Siri to take in-app actions in a way that wasn't possible before. In MacOS Sequoia, Siri's integration with OpenAI's LLM propels the virtual assistant to the top players in the field alongside ChatGPT-4o and Google's Gemini

4. AI-fueled productivity apps

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Apple Intelligence has been integrated across all of the big productivity apps in MacOS 15. Here's a breakdown of some of the most noteworthy features.

  • Keynote, Numbers, and Pages: The core suite of Apple's productivity apps are seeing a host of AI-infused upgrades on both the creativity end and performance. Keynote will allow users to tap AI to auto-generate slides, and Pages will come with new text-generation prompts fueled by AI.   
  • Mail: Apple Intelligence will play a more active role in finding specific emails, responding, deleting, and organizing your inbox, from summarizing emails to suggesting replies and rewrites. One of the more useful features includes the summary feature, which taps the AI to pull out summaries of an email in the inbox view, as opposed to just showing the first few lines of an email, which often aren't useful for summarizing what an email is about. 
  • Calendar: Besides integration with the Reminders app, the new Calendar app will support AI.
  • Photos: AI-based photo editing features in the Photos app allow users to make touch-ups, remove backgrounds, and do editing instantaneously. Additionally, searching for specific photos and videos using natural language will bring up images of specific people or events. 
  • Notes: Voice functionality is coming to the Notes app, with the ability to add voice memos directly embedded into your notes. AI will also support audio transcription and transcripts of audio recordings. You can record and transcribe audio, and when your recording is finished, the AI will create a summary on its own. 

5. New and improved Safari

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Safari will see a host of improvements powered by AI functionality, including an "Intelligent Search" option that harnesses on-device AI to summarize search results in the browser in Mac OS Sequoia. Following along with Apple's emphasis on security, Safari updates include intelligent tracking prevention that restricts what websites can track, while also emphasizing the efficiency and speed of the Safari app. 

Also: ChatGPT privacy tips: Two important ways to limit the data you share with OpenAI   

Apple demoed Safari's machine learning capability to automatically detect relevant information on a webpage, including things like quick links, directions, and quick summaries with logistical information like phone numbers and addresses. 

6. Standalone Passwords app

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Aligning with Apple's positioning of its AI features as secure and trustworthy, it's releasing an all-new and updated Passwords app in MacOS 15 that consolidates and streamlines your password across your Apple devices. 

Also: Forget LastPass: Apple unveils 'Passwords' manager app at WWDC 2024

This standalone app is an extension of the existing iCloud Keychain, and seeks to simplify password storage by employing Face ID and Touch ID alongside character-string passwords. Much of it is designed to work automatically and seamlessly in an effort to solve what is a huge UX headache that everyone has experienced at one point or another.

7. Gaming

Apple wants to create a "unified gaming platform" across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, with high resolution and improved ray tracing. Apple emphasized the sheer number of new titles available on the Apple silicon chips, and they look better than ever. Frostpunk 2, Control, and UbiSoft include ray tracing and Assasin's Creed, coming to Apple devices later this year. 

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