New versions of macOS, watchOS, and tvOS hit supported devices today

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OS Updates —

macOS gets improved iPhone/iPad app experiences, AirTag support, and more.


MacBook Air laptops, new and old.

Enlarge / MacBook Air laptops, new and old.

After an extended beta-testing period, Apple launched updates for all of its operating systems today, including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

In general, the updates are focused on supporting the various new products Apple announced last week, as well as implementing App Tracking Transparency, fixing bugs, and adding new features and tweaks to existing software like Safari, Music, and Reminders.

We’ll discuss iOS and iPadOS (as usual, arguably the biggest updates) in another article. For now, here’s what you can expect to see in today’s tvOS, watchOS, and macOS updates.

tvOS 14.5

While tvOS releases like this are usually just bug-fix updates, there are some new features of note this time around.

Like the latest updates to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, tvOS 14.5 adds support for the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller and the Xbox Series X|S controller. Many of the games on the Apple TV require traditional controllers to play. tvOS already supported the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controllers, so this update just makes the Apple TV work with the newer-generation gamepads.

The newly redesigned Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Enlarge / The newly redesigned Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple

Additionally, tvOS 14.5 adds the “Adjust Color Balance” feature that Apple talked about during its event unveiling the new Apple TV 4K last week. While the company demonstrated it on the new model, this feature is also available on prior models like the 2017 Apple TV 4K with this update.

Adjust Color Balance uses sensors in your iPhone to analyze the conditions of your surroundings and automatically adjust the color balance of content on the Apple TV to something approximating industry-standard specifications.

The much-talked-about App Tracking Transparency privacy requirement that has been so controversial on iOS will also be enforced on tvOS starting with this update. Finally, tvOS 14.5 is the first version of the Apple TV software to support the new Apple TV 4K and the redesigned Siri Remote that comes with it (the new remote also works with older models and can be ordered separately).

watchOS 7.4

Today’s Apple Watch update is a small one, meant primarily to support a new feature in iOS. That feature is the ability to unlock your phone with the Apple Watch when Face ID is obstructed by a mask. Apple writes the following in its release notes for watchOS 7.4:

iPhone can use your Apple Watch to unlock when Face ID detects a fact with a mask. Your Apple Watch must be nearby, on your wrist, unlocked, and protected by a pass code.

Below: Photos of the Apple Watch Series 6 and its accessories, from our review published last September.

  • The blue case is casual but versatile.


    Corey Gaskin

  • The woven Solo band fits comfortably without feeling loose or constricting.


    Corey Gaskin

  • The blue case looks best when the light hits it.


    Corey Gaskin

  • The woven band is a comfy choice for daily wearing.


    Corey Gaskin

  • The improved always-on display is 2.5x brighter outdoors with your wrist down.


    Corey Gaskin

  • The Solo loop and Sport band with the Apple Watch Series 6.


    Corey Gaskin

  • It’s a new look for Apple Watches—but all too familiar.


    Corey Gaskin

  • The rear of the casing packs the new SpO2 sensors for measuring blood-oxygen saturation.


    Corey Gaskin

watchOS 7.4 also adds ECG and irregular heart-rhythm notification support to two new regions (Australia and Vietnam), the ability to “classify Bluetooth device type in Settings for correct identification of headphones for audio notifications,” and the ability to stream audio and video from Apple Fitness+ workouts to AirPlay 2 devices. Apple has published the full release notes for watchOS 7.4, but we covered all the main bullet points here.

macOS Big Sur 11.3

macOS Big Sur 11.3 is the largest of the three updates we’re discussing today. It includes several new features and optimizations for M1 Macs and various apps like Music and Safari, among other things.

AirTags support

Last week, Apple announced and began taking orders for AirTags, its new Tile-like geolocation devices. This macOS software update adds support for AirTags. Users can use macOS’s Find My app to find lost items to which they’ve attached AirTags, like purses, backpacks, or wallets.

Improvements to iOS and iPadOS apps on M1 Macs

One of the key promises of the new Apple Silicon chips in the latest Macs—such as the M1 seen in last year’s MacBook Air, low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, and low-end Mac mini (as well as the just-announced 24-inch iMac)—is that Macs can natively run iPhone and iPad apps, giving them access to thousands of high-quality apps that weren’t previously available.

We were very critical of the iPhone and iPad app experience when we reviewed the first Apple Silicon Macs late last year. We found that input could be a pain, and the apps were often presented in static, unresizable windows that made for a poor experience.

Below: A gallery of our various observations about iPhone and iPad apps running on M1 Macs, from our Mac mini review in November. This gallery reflects the state of things before today’s changes.

  • Codeacademy Go works just fine, but as an iPhone app, the window is awfully small on a desktop monitor, and you can’t resize or fullscreen it.

  • The Southwest Airlines app works fine, though I’m not sure why you’d use it instead of the website in this case.


    Samuel Axon

  • Same goes for Airbnb: works great! But why?


    Samuel Axon

  • Straightforward, tapping-oriented games like Disco Zoo work perfectly, and apps like these are the best examples of iOS apps on the Mac.


    Samuel Axon

  • The Witness works about as well as any complex 3D game can, thanks to its simple, direct tap-to-move controls.


    Samuel Axon

  • One game that was listed in the App Store as fully supported hard crashed the Mac mini the instant I launched it.


    Samuel Axon

  • Among Us is mostly playable, but some menus are formatted strangely.


    Samuel Axon

  • Sky looks lovely, but it’s only barely playable due to its complex control scheme.


    Samuel Axon

  • This panel explains how to use games or apps with complex touch control schemes on the Mac. It’s not a good experience.


    Samuel Axon

Apple has addressed some (but by no means all) of those problems with macOS Big Sur 11.3. Users can now tweak an iPhone or iPad app’s window size, and certain keyboard and mouse inputs can now be used in place of some types of input that are available on mobile devices.

Safari

macOS updates usually have a big focus on Safari, and that’s generally true with this one, too. You can now customize the start page section order, support has been added for WebM and Vorbix video and audio formats, and new features and APIs have been implemented for developers.

macOS Big Sur 11.3 release notes

We just listed a few of the changes above. Here’s the full change list from Apple, which includes features and changes to Reminders, News, Music, emoji, game controller support, AppleCare, and more:

macOS Big Sur‌ 11.3 adds support for AirTag, includes ‌iPhone‌ and ‌iPad‌ app improvements for Macs with ‌M1‌, introduces separate skin tone variations for emoji with couples, and adds more diverse voice options for ‌Siri‌.

AirTag and Find My

  • Support for AirTag to keep track of and find your important items like your keys, wallet, backpack and more, privately and securely in the ‌Find My‌ app
  • The ‌Find My‌ network with hundreds of millions of devices can help you find your AirTag, even when it isn’t nearby
  • Lost Mode notifies you when your AirTag is found, and you can enter a phone number where you can be contacted

iPhone and iPad apps on Macs with M1

  • Option to change an ‌iPhone‌ and ‌iPad‌ app’s window size
  • Support for displaying the highest resolution version of an ‌iPhone‌ or ‌iPad‌ app in full screen
  • Keyboard support for ‌iPhone‌ and ‌iPad‌ games designed to use device tilt
  • Keyboard, mouse, and trackpad support for ‌iPhone‌ and ‌iPad‌ games that support game controllers

Emoji

  • Support for separate skin tones for each individual in all variations of the couple kissing emoji and couple with heart emoji
  • New face emojis, heart emojis, woman with a beard emoji

Siri

  • Siri‌ now includes more diverse voice options

Apple Music

  • Autoplay keeps music playing by automatically playing a similar song, once you’ve reached the end of a song or playlist
  • City charts showcase what’s popular in over 100 cities from all over the world

Podcasts

  • Podcasts Show Pages are redesigned to make it easier to start listening
  • Option to save and download episodes, automatically adding them to your Library for quick access
  • Download behavior and notification settings can be customized on a show-by-show basis
  • Top Charts and popular categories in Search help you discover new shows

News

  • Redesigned News+ feed enables ‌Apple News‌+ subscribers to quickly find, download, and manage magazine and newspaper issues
  • All-new Search experience that helps you find relevant topics, channels, and stories

Safari

  • Start Page section order can now be customized
  • Additional WebExtensions API lets developers offer extensions that replace the new tab page
  • Web Speech API lets developers incorporate speech recognition into their web pages for real-time captioning, dictation, and voice navigation
  • WebM and Vorbis video and audio format support

Reminders

  • Ability to sort Today Smart list
  • Support for syncing the order of reminders in lists across your devices
  • Option to print your reminder lists

Gaming

  • Xbox Series X S Wireless Controller or Sony PS5 DualSense Wireless Controller support

Mac computers with the M1 chip

  • Hibernation support

About This Mac

  • About this Mac displays Apple warranty status and ‌AppleCare‌+ coverage in the Service tab when signed in with Apple ID
  • Support for purchasing and enrolling in ‌AppleCare‌+ for eligible Mac computers from About This Mac

This release also fixes the following issues:

  • Reminders created via ‌Siri‌ may be unintentionally set for early morning hours
  • iCloud‌ Keychain might not turn off
  • AirPods‌ audio routing to incorrect device for Automatic Switching
  • AirPods‌ Automatic Switching notifications might be missing or duplicated
  • External 4K monitors may not display in full resolution when connected over USB-C
  • Login window may not display properly after restarting Mac mini (‌M1‌, 2020)
  • The Dwell feature may not work in the Accessibility Keyboard

All three updates are available to supported devices worldwide right now.

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