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MacOS Catalina's 3 best features in the public beta

The iTunes replacements, iOS apps on Mac and Sidecar highlight our hands-on look at Apple's new MacOS 10.15 beta.

MacOS Catalina beta

MacOS Catalina beta


The public beta of MacOS 10.15 Catalina is here for everyone to try, now that Apple has released it early -- along with the public betas for both iOS 13 and iPadOS. We've been testing the various Catalina betas since early June and we have hands-on insights on what's in it and the best new features you're going to be most interested in. Of course, we only recommend that you install the Catalina public beta on a testing machine at this point, and not your daily driver.

Now playing: Watch this: The top 3 upgrades in MacOS Catalina

Overall, there's some new mojo in the Mac universe right now after the launch of the new Mac Pro, which is basically a supercomputer for your desk, and the Apple Pro Display XDR, which is pushing forward the technology for desktop displays in ways most of us didn't expect.

Of course, all that massively powerful hardware needs software to take advantage of it and that's where Catalina comes in. At Apple's annual WWDC conference, where Catalina announced, Apple's Tim Cook said the new Mac experience was "Inspired by pro users but designed for everyone."

So let's talk about the Top 3 features that will make the upgrade worth looking forward to for most users.

1. Sidecar

By far, the biggest and most useful feature in Catalina is the ability to connect an iPad as a second display for your Mac using a new feature called Sidecar. Apps like Duet Display and Luna Display have been doing this for years, but Apple has made it fast, easy and seamless. And it's added Apple Pencil support, which means creatives can now use their iPad as a drawing tablet for the Mac.

There are a ton of other uses for Sidecar, from using it to view documents while you're writing a message to viewing videos on the side to just having more windows open when you're multitasking. Even if you've never been a multiple monitor person, you'll probably find a lot to like about this feature and it's way to give your iPad a lot more use.


Sidecar lets you use your iPad as a second monitor for your Mac and as a drawing tablet.


2. iOS apps on the Mac

There's been plenty buzz, as well as some confusion around Apple bringing iOS apps to the Mac. Last year's first four apps (Apple News, Stocks, Home, and Voice Memos) were disappointing. But, the new generation of iOS apps on Mac -- including Twitter, TripIt, Rosetta Stone, DC Universe, Jira Cloud and Gameloft's Asphalt 9 racing game look a lot more promising. 

You won't see these until the final version of Catalina comes out in the fall, but the early previews look like they're going to add a lot more interesting, helpful and fun stuff to the Mac experience.

iOS apps on the Mac

3. The replacement of iTunes

It's no secret that iTunes has been called out in recent years as a bloated and cumbersome way to manage music, movies and other media. So in Catalina, Apple has finally delivered its successor in the form of three new apps: Music, Podcasts and Apple TV. All in all, this is a much cleaner and simpler way to access your entertainment, and it automatically syncs with your other Apple devices. 

So your progress on a podcast or a movie, for example, is carried over from your iPhone or your Apple TV to your Mac. It also automatically imports your whole iTunes library (even old CDs you burned). And when you plug in your iPhone or iPad to your Mac, your backups and updates can now be handled through the Finder rather than the iTunes app.


Catalina has split iTunes into the Apple Music, Podcasts and Apple TV apps.


Other noteworthy features

Other interesting Catalina upgrades worth noting include:

  • Voice Control has been greatly expanded as an accessibility feature
  • The new Find My app for locating a lost Mac even if it's offline
  • A redesign for the Reminders app
  • Shared folders and a new gallery view in Notes
  • Screen Time is now on the Mac
  • Safari now lets you screenshot a whole web page and export it as a PDF

One thing Apple still needs to fix

The biggest disappointment in the Catalina beta is that Apple News still hasn't gotten enough of an overhaul to make it as good as it is on iOS, let alone take advantage of extra capabilities on the Mac. With the launch of Apple News Plus, this makes a Mac overhaul for the News app even more urgent.

Final word

Catalina takes the Mac forward in ways that a lot of Mac users will appreciate, especially when using your Mac for entertainment and for the new bridges it builds between Macs and iPads and iPhones. Again, just remember not to install the public beta on the production machine you use to get work done everyday. Wait for the final version this fall before you do that.