This year's macOS refresh is macOS Catalina (version 10.15), and we've been getting hands-on with the public beta of Apple's latest macOS. 

There's plenty to explore and we've been using the new OS - check out our preview of the key features below. It features the ability to turn an iPad into a second display, new Music, Podcasts, and Books apps, new security features will keep you better protected, and Voice Control so you can control your Mac with your voice. Here's everything you need to know about macOS Catalina.

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macOS Catalina release date and download details

The public beta of Catalina is now available to download, with the final release set for the fall/autumn. Go here to learn how to get the public beta. Be warned though - it's a 6.45GB download, so be prepared to wait a little bit for it to drip onto your machine. 

We advise to never install beta software on your primary machine - it does run fine, but there are some bugs and selected third-party apps have problems. We can't currently open the WhatsApp desktop app, for example, while Apple Music has some problems displaying in the Music app. That's beta software for you. You have been warned! 

macOS Catalina key features

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New Music, Podcast, and TV apps

Probably the headline feature - macOS 10.15 includes new Apple Music, Podcasts, and TV apps, as well as a major redesign of the Apple Books app.

These apps replace the iTunes app, which is no longer present. However, Music - above - offers basically the same functions as iTunes did, while you can still access the iTunes Store (which remains called the iTunes Store). And the app is basically the same as iTunes in look and feel, too, just with a little bit of streamlining. 

The key thing about these apps is that they're made with Marzipan, Apple’s new effort that makes it easier to port iOS apps to the Mac without any complicated changes.

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Here's the Podcasts app - again very similar in look and feel to the older interface. Naturally all your podcasts will sync between your Mac and iOS or iPadOS devices.

If you still sync your media from your Mac to an iOS or iPod device with a cable, you can still do this in the new apps. When you connect a device to your Mac, it will immediately show up in the sidebar of these new apps so you can backup, update or restore your device in exactly the same way you did before.

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Finally, here's the TV app. For now this is basically a window onto "TV and movies you can buy from iTunes Store" but it is clearly an app-in-waiting for Apple's subscription TV service - TV+, out later in 2019. 

For more on what these new apps mean for iPod, iPhone and iPad devices as well as iTunes music and movies purchases, check out iTunes isn't dead, it's just being replaced

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Sidecar (iPad external display)

If you own a Mac computer and an iPad, then you've probably heard about Luna Display before. The app enables you to use your iPad as an extension of your Mac desktop. Now, Apple is going to bring this natively to macOS. And yes, it's wireless as with other features of Continuity

You can hover over the green maximise button in the macOS window bar to access options like full-screen mode, new tiling options, and the ability to send the window to an external display. There's also a main control in the Displays menu in the Mac menu bar. 

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Naturally, Sidecar works with Apple Pencil, so you can draw on your iPad screen and see that appear on your Mac. There's also a Touch Bar at the bottom. A nice way around sticking to your guns and not bringing touch to the Mac, Apple. 

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Screen Time

Screen Time is very similar to the iOS app and is now available on Macs with Catalina. You can choose to restrict it to just use it on your Mac or sync your Screen Time data with iCloud. There's a breakdown of app usage, but as you can see this is of limited use currently because you tend to have several apps open simulateously. 

There's also a new “One more minute” feature that gives users more time to save their work or log out of a game.

You can also schedule time away from your Mac and determine how much time you want to spend within apps, websites or categories of apps. Family Sharing also incorporates new tools for parents to control device access even including who children can communicate with.

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Find My

A new app. Well, not quite - Apple is merging Find My Friends and Find My iPhone into a single app called Find My. All of Apple’s tracking tools are now in one place, so you can locate both missing devices and loved ones using the same interface - split simply into People and Devices.

The new app can also locate devices that are offline - by sending a secure Bluetooth beacon to other Apple devices, then relaying it back to Apple, and to you - it's a bit like Tile, really.

It's all end-to-end encrypted, too.

Voice control

As on Windows, Voice Control will enable those who can’t operate traditional input devices to control Macs entirely with their voice using on-device Siri speech recognition. That's not uploaded to iCloud, so there are no privacy implications as with other virtual assistants we could mention. 

Voice control could be useful for the masses as you can dictate to your machine. You'll also be able to do this on iOS and iPadOS. 

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macOS Catalina: More enhancements 

  • Photos (above): redesigned browser to showcase your best pictures
  • Safari: an updated start page that uses Siri Suggestions to select frequently visited sites, bookmarks, iCloud tabs, Reading List selections and links sent in Messages.
  • Mail: block email from a specified sender, mute an overly active thread and unsubscribe from commercial mailing lists.
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  • Notes (above): brand new Gallery View, more powerful search and collaboration options.
  • Siri Shortcuts: Apple is also planning to bring the Siri Shortcuts feature to the Mac. Shortcuts enable you to create unique Siri voice commands that trigger actions in an app. Learn more about Siri Shortcuts.
  • Approve with Apple Watch: One of the new security features enables you to approve many security prompts on your Mac simply by pressing the side button on your Apple Watch. This will come to all Macs that have a T2 security chip.
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  • Reminders (above): redesigned with a new user interface to create, organise and track reminders.
  • System Preferences (below): a refresh in layout, with Apple ID and Family Sharing at the top.
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