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macOS Ventura preview: Stage Manager is the star of the show

It's an easier, and effective, way to move between apps.

Video transcript

DEVINDRA HARDAWAR: It's rare for Apple to fundamentally reshape the way people work on Macs, but with Stage Manager in macOS Ventura, it looks like that's exactly what they're trying to do. At first glance, it looks like a quick way to just swap between apps, and it is. But after testing out the macOS Ventura public beta for the past few weeks, as well, I've also noticed that it honestly fixes a lot of problems that have been endemic to Macs since OS 10 debuted 21 years ago. Or maybe I've just always hated Apple's stock.

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On top of Stage Manager, macOS Ventura has a lot of features that should make Apple users' lives a lot easier. There are some big updates to Mail and Messages. And overall, it looks like a more compelling update than Monterey was last year. But I think what matters the most is Stage Manager, just because it is such a dramatic departure for Apple.

Now, I'll tell you a story. In my 20 years of using Macs, first as a student in college, then as an IT worker, and then as a tech journalist, I've just never liked the OS 10 dock. I just never found the doc to be very useful, to be honest. Sure, it was a huge visual upgrade over the really simplistic task bars that we saw on Windows XP in '98 and many, many Linux variants, but on its own, the dock is kind of a confusing mishmash of shortcuts and application running status indicators. It is just a little tough to use compared to other platforms. And what's funny is that some reviews at the time, back in 2001, complained about the same thing.

Let me give you an example. If you had a lot of Safari windows open on your Mac and you wanted to get to one specific window that maybe has your Gmail tab in it, if you were using the dock alone, you'd have to hold down Control on the keyboard, click on the icon on the dock, and then look at the dropdown menu and click at that specific window from the dropdown menu. That's a lot of steps.

Windows XP, in comparison, is pretty ugly, was pretty ugly at the time, and still is, but if I wanted to find a specific window in Windows, I just click at the taskbar and it's right there. And I do think Apple was aware of this usability quirk, or just deficiency completely, because in 2003, they launched Expose, which was a feature that let you kind of blow up all your windows to see everything running on your system at once, or windows for a specific application.

And ever since that debuted, I could finally use Macs. And that's something I've religiously turned on for every single Mac I've used since 2004, 2005, I think. Now it's a part of mission control, but it's still a really useful feature. And I know there are keyboard combinations that can help you switch between apps, as well, but I don't like tapping multiple keys multiple times. Expose just really changed the world a lot for me because the way I thought of it is, you know, who needs a dock when you've got a God's eye view of your entire system running.

Now fast forward 20 years, and we have Stage Manager. And at first, it looks like another way to just swap between applications. And like I said, it does kind of do that. But it also de-clutters your screen, even though it looks like it's adding more clutter to the overall interface.

When you click a shortcut in Stage Manager, the computer focuses on that specific app. It puts it in the middle of the screen. It kind of minimizes and hides away all the other clutter, all the other windows that you're running so you're just looking at a single window. And that really helps you to focus.

And Stage Manager does this for every app that you're running, which at first seems a little restrictive because I do like having multiple apps running at once. But what is useful is that you can actually drag an app into another Stage Manager shortcut and have those running together in an app group. And that is just a nice way to get back into your workflow for something specifically.

While I was writing this preview, I usually had like a notes application or a word processor and a web browser on at the same time, and it pushed away Slack, it pushed away Spotify and all the other things that would get in the way of my writing focus.

Another thing is that Stage Manager gives you a focused workspace, to me, that's far more useful than Apple Spaces, which is their virtual desktop feature. Now, that is useful for some people, but I always hated setting up a space and then having to click around and hop back over to another space to see what's going on in Slack if I needed to. This one gives you one click to hop back into Slack or other things through Stage Manager, or back into that workflow of research and writing.

Now, if you're a Mac user that's already set in your ways and you don't have any trouble navigating your windows, then you don't have to worry about Stage Manager at all. You can turn it off entirely from the taskbar at the top of the screen, and in system preferences, and just don't worry about it.

But I think for new users and for people who kind of have to straddle both Windows and Macs like I do, it gives you another way to manage Macs, and just makes it feel a lot more convenient. To be honest, I cannot wait until I can just minimize the dock and just never have to look at it again.

As for the other updates in Ventura, it's a lot of things that Apple, honestly, should have been including from a long time ago on these apps. So the Mail application, for example, has a much better search to help you find a specific message. It has better rich text editing. In the Compose window, you can actually insert links now.

There's a Schedule Send function, there's an Undo Send function. You know, all the things we've had in Gmail for pretty much over a decade at this point. It just seems like Apple is playing catch-up there. I personally just don't use email apps anymore because I have Gmail accounts on multiple browsers. But for people who do, this is a nice update for that.

And similarly, you'll get some quality of life upgrades in Messages, as well. You'll be able to just tap into an existing message and edit it. After a certain amount of time, you'll be able to delete messages entirely. If you're talking to somebody who hasn't updated to Ventura yet, then they'll just get a separate message saying, hey, this person edited this particular message. It's going to look kind of messy, but honestly, that's what Android users have to deal with whenever somebody uses iMessage feature. So Apple users are kind of getting a taste of that, as well.

You'll also get better collaboration features through Messages. You'll be able to start Share Play sessions so you can watch stuff together with your friends. To test that, you need other people running Ventura, and I didn't have anybody around who could really spend time with it with me. So I haven't tested that yet, but functionally wise, and just from what I've seen from Share Play, it seems like a cool idea.

And perhaps the coolest feature that's going to be coming to macOS Ventura is Continuity Camera, which works together with a little accessory. It's an iPhone mount accessory that you can attach to your monitor or your MacBook. And it essentially just lets you use your iPhone as a high-quality camera for macOS.

Now, this is kind of a funny thing to see. We don't typically see Apple leaning on accessories like this. And this feature alone, it seems to say that Apple's MacBook cameras and their studio display cameras just aren't that great. I'm really excited by this feature. I haven't gotten it to work yet on my preview hardware, but I'm looking forward to doing some testing with it.

I think, for some people, having instant access to a much higher-quality camera is going to make your video chats look better, your chats with friends look good. It does add some friction to setting up a video chat. And I think a lot of people, to be honest, are just used to having their phones nearby, so if they're in a work video chat or something, they can doddle and be on Twitter and do other things and not pay attention to the chat. So that is something people will have to get used to, as well.

Safari is also getting a few updates, including shared tab groups. So if you're planning a vacation with friends, you can just collaborate together. Apple's also introducing passkeys into Safari, which essentially should replace passwords entirely for supported sites. So it is just a way to authenticate with your iCloud account into a website and not have to worry about inputting a password at all.

But of course, not every site is going to be updated to that anytime soon. So Apple's also giving you a better way to edit and tweak those autogenerated super secure passwords they give you sometimes. So I think that's kind of cool, too, because a lot of sites have weird restrictions. So it is nice to have some editing function there.

And finally, Apple is going to be introducing a new app called Freeform into Ventura. It is a collaboration app. It's just a huge whiteboard space. It is certainly like a new-looking thing for Apple. Just feels kind of inventive and fresh. We haven't been able to test Freeform yet, but it's likely dropping later this year, so look for more coverage then.

Overall, I think macOS Ventura is shaping up to be a really interesting update from Apple, certainly much more exciting than Monterey was last year. So we're going to be testing it more. This is just preview software, and Apple tends to drop more features as we get closer to the official release date. We still don't know when that's going to be. Typically, it's after we start getting new hardware, so most likely October, maybe November, depending on how timelines go.

But you know what? Stay tuned to Engadget, because we'll be covering all this stuff and any other updates that come from Apple and Microsoft and everybody else throughout the year. So stay tuned. If you dug this video, please be sure to like and subscribe.

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