macOS Catalina

macOS Catalina

Last updated: 2 months ago

macOS Catalina is the next step in Apple's modern initiatives to control the user experience from top to bottom. This update closes off more walls, builds up more security, and offers more ecosystem parity across devices. Mac Catalyst was also introduced; a system that will allow developers to bring more iPad apps to Mac, including Apple's own apps. This update also ditches iTunes in favor of three new apps; music, podcasts, and TV.

● Mac Catalyst
● New Apple Apps
● Sidecar
● Apple Arcade
● Screen Time
● Apple Watch authentication
● New security features
● New and improved accessibility features
● Public release on October 7, 2019

macOS Catalina is an update that adds almost as much as it takes away, and is one of the Mac's most important updates because of it. We lose 32-bit app support, the iTunes app, and even dashboard, but we gain iPad apps, new coding frameworks, and more ecosystem driven features. macOS Catalina not only benefits Mac users but iPad users as well, because of initiatives like Sidecar and Mac Catalyst.

What new features are on macOS Catalina?

Mac Catalyst

Twitter via Mac Catalyst Twitter returns to macOS with a Mac Catalyst app.

Mac catalyst is a developer system that lets developers take advantage of existing iPad app frameworks and implement the app in macOS with very little rework or alteration. Apple hopes a low barrier to entry will be enough to cause a large developer adaptation. The introduction of Mac Catalyst seems to be a direct reaction to the slow decline of the Mac App Store because developers who make iOS apps had very little incentive to develop for Mac.

Apple pushing for developers to make iPad apps run on macOS should see a trickle-down effect that improves the app on iPad as well.

In an update released in February 2020 added the ability for developers to bundle their iPadOS and macOS apps under one price. This extends to tvOS, iOS, and watchOS as well.

So now with a single purchase, you can have access to the same app across all of your Apple devices. This was introduced as a part of Mac Catalyst, but can be applied to any apps that exist across app stores.

New Apps

Apple very rarely adds first-party apps to macOS, but in Catalina, there were several additions in the wake of Mac Catalyst and the death of iTunes.

Apple Music and Apple TV are both full Mac apps meant to replace iTunes. Podcasts also helps with replacing iTunes, and is a Mac Catalyst app built from the iPad app. These apps all share the same design language as their iPad counterparts, with the addition of Mac UI norms like sidebar navigation.

Podcasts and TV Podcasts and TV will look familiar to iOS users, but feel at home on the Mac.

Two more Mac Catalyst apps were introduced as well: Reminders and Find My.

The Reminders app was rebuilt from the ground up to replace more modern task systems and has an all-new design layout for better scaling to large screens. Find My is a combination of Find My Friends and Find My iPhone. Both of these apps are good examples of properly executed Mac Catalyst apps.

One other note on apps: the three Mac Catalyst apps that were introduced in macOS Mojave did not receive any significant updates. Stocks, Home, and News remain in their not-so-great release forms. Hopefully, this will change in the future as Mac Catalyst evolves.

Reality Converter Apple’s Reality Converter app will let developers manipulate objects like this in 3D on Mac

Reality Converter was introduced, in beta for developers, by Apple on January 13th, 2020 as a new Mac app capable of viewing and customizing USDZ 3D objects. This will allow developers to create objects to implement AR quick view of them on websites or apps.


Sidecar brings new functionality to the Apple ecosystem, further binding iOS and macOS devices together. Now owners of both iPad and Mac products can take advantage of the unique use cases of both devices in several ways.

The iPad can act as a mirrored or extended desktop display for the Mac, a drawing tool with the Apple Pencil, or a digital annotation tool for notes and documents.

Sidecar. iPad acting as an external display for this MacBook using Sidecar.

When using the iPad as an extended or mirrored display, you get access to new controls. A digital Touch Bar is added to the bottom of the iPad screen, and a sidebar with shortcuts to macOS functions.

Multi-touch gestures that work on the iPad still work in Sidecar. An especially savvy user might consider using scripts to launch Sidecar via Siri Shortcuts, which would allow a mirrored desktop to show up on your iPad from anywhere in the home.

Screen Time

Screen Time was originally released on iOS as a time management tool for iOS users and family administrators. Now on Mac, users can see a breakdown of each app and website visited throughout the day.

Using this data you can set limits, and even control what content can be viewed. This was created with the hope that parents would no longer need to rely on app services with upsetting privacy concerns.

Screen Time controls and overview. Screen Time controls and overview.

Just like its iOS version, Screen Time will let users adjust downtime and app limits on the Mac. A usage report is generated so users can see what they have been using across all devices.

Pro Mode

Upcoming feature discovered in macOS Catalina 10.15.3 beta. When turned on users will be able to bypass built-in limits that prevent battery exhaustion and force the computer to operate at maximum potential.

This setting does come with some risks however, and the user is presented with a dialogue confirming that battery life may decrease.

More details have not surfaced about expected performance increases or what sustained operations in this manner will do.

Security changes

macOS Catalina rebuilds the app permission system across the OS. Now when installing any app, it must request permission to access specific folders, contacts, and location data. The system is a little too overbearing, however, and offers no good way to manage these permissions on a wide scale. 

App dialog boxes App dialog boxes will appear much more often in macOS Catalina.

This means users will likely spend a lot of their initial run of macOS Catalina fighting with dialog boxes. To ensure all apps are secure and operable, macOS will also check for proper app notarization.

Apple required by February 3, 2020, that all apps running on macOS Catalina be notarized by Apple for security. Users worried about "Windows Smartscreen" levels of abuse need not because the feature that looks for app notarization can be disabled if needed.

Accessibility features

Voice Control received a major update across the entire Apple ecosystem with macOS Catalina. Now a user can reliably navigate and control any app entirely with their voice.

Text selection and zooming are both easily done with natural voice commands. If a user wants to click on a link, the "show numbers" command will place numbers by every link on the page.


Voice navigation innovations like these are a game-changer and greatly enhance the use case for many users. Other accessibility additions include tinting the display, filtering color, and iCloud sync of accessibility settings like custom punctuation pronunciation.

Apple Arcade

The addition of Apple Arcade to macOS Catalina is as much a boon for the nascent service as it is for users. Now more than ever, gaming has taken center stage in consumer electronics and Apple is finally jumping in headfirst, not with a console, but with a gaming service. It is yet to be seen if any games will be "Mac only" on this service, but some hope that including it in macOS will mean more robust gaming experiences in the future.

What did macOS Catalina remove?

The iTunes app

iTunes iTunes had only become increasingly complex and bloated with time.

iTunes had been clinging for life with each and every update, and Apple just kept shoveling new tasks at iTunes over the years without much change in how it looks or operates. Finally, with macOS Catalina, we see Apple dump iTunes, for better or worse in some cases, for the new fresh apps inspired by iOS.

This was partially the fault of Mac Catalyst since it was a prime opportunity for Apple to show off its own system. It was discovered, however, that only the new Podcasts app for Mac was a Catalyst app. Apple Music bore much of the same structure as iTunes, and syncing was handed off to finder.

The death of the iTunes app does not mean the end of the branding though. The iTunes Store lives on as a digital marketplace where you can buy music, movies, or TV for your digital collections. 

32-bit app support

Apple ended 32-bit app support on macOS with this release and had been telling users of this transition for a while now. The death knell for 32-bit architecture rang when iOS dumped support for 32-bit apps in iOS 11. This transition will only affect specific types of users who cling to old versions of software that now require subscriptions or deprecated apps that are no longer developed. Apple is confident that the transition will be smooth for most users upgrading and bolsters this choice with the addition of Mac Catalyst apps.

Be sure to find out what every application and system function will disappear once upgraded to macOS Catalina. The most comprehensive list can be found in the Mac System Information menu, and AppleInsider covers how to do this in detail.


Dashboard as it looked on older versions of Mac OSX

Dashboard was initially released for OSX 10.4 as a way to view widgets and web snippets all in one place. By OSX 10.10 it was disabled by default and widgets were placed in the Notification Center. Now Dashboard is completely deprecated, but widgets still live on. 


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