macOS High Sierra boasts new core storage, video and graphics technologies

As anticipated, Apple previewed macOS High Sierra, the follow-up to macOS Sierra, at today’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote. Coming this fall (it’s now in beta testing), it delivers new core storage, video and graphics technologies that pave the way for future innovation on the Mac. 

macOS High Sierra provides an all-new file system, support for High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and an update to Metal, Apple’s graphics technology that powers everything from machine learning to virtual reality content creation. Plus, it offers refinements to such apps as Photos, Safari and Mail.

High Sierra will be the first version to support the Apple File System (APFS), which features enhanced performance, security and reliability of data and provides a foundation for future storage innovations. 

An advanced architecture optimized for today’s massive storage technologies, APFS is designed to make common operations such as copying files and directories instantaneous, helps protect data from power outages and system crashes and keeps files safe and secure with native encryption. macOS High Sierra also maintains complete read-and-write compatibility with previously formatted HFS drives and data and is designed to accommodate future advancements in storage technology, according to Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering.

AFPS is optimized for flash/SSD storage and features “strong encryption, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing, cloning for files and directories, snapshots, fast directory sizing, atomic safe-save primitives, and improved file system fundamentals.”

Support for industry-standard HEVC (H.265) enables video streaming and playback of 4K video files up to 40% smaller than with the current H.264 standard, according to Federighi. With HEVC, Apple is enabling high-quality video streaming on networks where only HD streaming was previously possible, while hardware acceleration on the new iMac and MacBook Pro deliver fast and power-efficient HEVC encoding and editing, he adds.

macOS High Sierra also introduces Metal 2, an update of the technology that provides games and applications, direct access to your Mac’s GPU [graphics processing unit] allowing improved rendering, frame rates, and other benefits.   It features a refined API [application programming interface] and improved performance that help developers accelerate their apps. 

Metal 2 adds support for machine learning used in speech recognition, natural language processing and computer vision. The combination of Thunderbolt 3 and Metal 2 allows the most demanding users to access powerful external GPUs, says Federighi. An External Graphics Developer Kit gives developers all the hardware and software they need to optimize their apps.

Metal 2 provides near-direct access to the graphics processing unit (GPU), enabling developers to maximize the graphics and compute potential of your apps on iOS, macOS, and tvOS. Building upon an efficient low-overhead architecture with precompiled shaders, fine-grained resource control, and multithreading support, it further boosts performance by enabling the GPU to take more control of the rendering pipeline. Moving beyond just graphics, Metal 2 provides deep support for GPU-accelerated machine learning and purportedly offers enhanced developer tools that make it even easier to debug, optimize, and deploy Metal apps.

Drawing on the performance of Metal 2 and the latest Mac hardware, macOS High Sierra adds support for VR content creation for the first time, enabling developers to create immersive gaming, 3D and VR content on the Mac, according to Federighi. Leading VR companies are joining Apple to drive VR innovation on the Mac with features coming later this year.

Valve is optimizing their SteamVR platform for macOS and enabling connection of the HTC Vive headset, while Unity and Epic are bringing their VR development tools to macOS. Also later this year, Final Cut Pro X will add support for professional 360-degree workflows with the ability to import, edit and export 360-degree video.

Photos in macOS High Sierra adds a new always-on sidebar that presents albums and organization tools. A redesigned Edit view includes new tools like Curves, for fine-tuning of color and contrast, and Selective Color, for making adjustments within a defined color range. Live Photos can be edited with fun effects, and Memories curates user photos and videos around several new topics. Photos now supports external editors, so Photoshop, Pixelmator and other apps can launch directly within Photos, with edits saved back to the Photos library. 

And for the first time, support for third-party project extensions gives users access to printing and publishing services, such as Animoto, ifolor, Shutterfly, WhiteWall and Wix, from right within the Photos app. The following are additional app refinements:

° Safari can automatically use Reader to open articles in a clean, uncluttered format, while Autoplay Blocking stops media with audio from automatically playing in the browser.

° Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari uses machine learning to identify and remove the tracking data that advertisers employ to follow users’ web activity.

° Mail search gets faster and easier with Top Hits, which puts the most relevant results at the top of a user’s message list.

° Siri on the Mac responds with a natural and more expressive voice, and when using Apple Music, it learns music preferences, creates custom playlists and answers music trivia.

° Notes adds simple tables, where a user can type in cells, make edits and move rows and columns.

° Spotlight provides flight status information, including departure and arrival times, delays, gates, terminals and even a map of the flight path.

° iCloud File Sharing lets users share any file stored in iCloud Drive and collaborate with other people.

The developer preview of macOS High Sierra is available to Apple Developer Program members at developer.apple.com starting today, and a public beta program will be available to Mac users in late June at beta.apple.com. macOS High Sierra will be available this fall as a free software update from the Mac App Store.