macOS Sonoma preview: For the widget wonks

It’s easy to look at every new macOS release and wonder where the upgrades actually are. Unlike iOS and iPadOS, Apple doesn’t often push for bold and visible changes on the desktop (last year’s Stage Manager was a surprising addition, but even that was brought over from iPadOS). Instead, most of the enhancements to the Mac experience are usually under the hood — don’t forget, the company completely rebuilt macOS for its new Apple Silicon chips.

So it goes with macOS Sonoma, an update that doesn’t truly make itself known until you see its new high-res video screensavers (something the Apple TV has done for years), or try to drag over a widget to your desktop. If widgets are a highlight in a new OS, you know it’s a slow year.

This isn’t a knock against Sonoma, exactly. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Apple is saving its bolder UI concepts for iPhones, iPads, and the Vision Pro. Macs are computers that don’t even have touchscreens yet! Playing it safe makes the most sense.

macOS Sonoma lock screen with live wallpaper
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

So let’s talk about screensavers. While not exactly Earth shattering, Apple’s new aerial footage looks great in macOS Sonoma. It adds a dose of elegance to an already refined operating system — having footage from Hawaii or Patagonia pop up in the middle of the workday is like a mini-vacation. (Don’t judge me, I know it sounds sad.)

I also liked being able to turn aerial screensavers into wallpapers. Doing so lets them play as videos on your lock screen, but once you log in, the video slows down and smoothly settles on a static image. I’m sure that’s done to avoid motion sickness from some users, but I’m hoping Apple or some intrepid hacker unlocks the ability to let the video constantly play on your desktop. I’ll risk a bit of squeamishness for more of that slick drone footage.

macOS Sonoma on several Macs

As for the widgets, well… they’re widgets. On your desktop. It’s a pretty straightforward concept. I’ll admit, being able to quickly see the weather or an upcoming appointment under my windows is easier than popping open the notification tray. But it’s not exactly a killer feature. But hey, if you really do love these things, at least you can easily bring over your iOS widgets. And if you also have an iPad, I’m sure it’ll be helpful to have all of your widgety goodness across your devices.

Beyond those two features, Sonoma’s upgrades are a bit more subtle. If you jump into a video chat, you can use hand gestures to kick off some fun special effects. A double thumbs up triggers fireworks behind you, while a peace sign surrounds you with floating balloons. They’re certainly fun at first, but thankfully you can turn them off easily for more professional video chats.

macOS Sonoma FaceTime hand gesture
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The new presenter overlay features, on the other hand, are a lot more useful. In supported screen sharing apps, like FaceTime or Zoom, you can place a small or large window of yourself on top of whatever window you’re sharing. It’s the sort of feature I’m surprised Apple didn’t roll out sooner, as it can help to humanize boring video chats. Instead of just sharing a spreadsheet, for example, your colleagues can also see what you think of your data as you’re discussing it.

Here are a few other Sonoma updates to keep an eye out for:

  • Safari supports profiles for different use cases. For example, one profile could house all of the bookmarks and settings that you need for work.

  • You can also turn any website into a web app with Safari. It’s the perfect way to read Engadget without any distractions!

  • Stickers and Memoji now synchronize with all of your Apple devices over iCloud.

  • A new Game Mode will prioritize resources while gaming. I didn’t notice any major differences with Apple Arcade titles during my testing, though.

  • Autocorrect should be better too, but again, I didn’t notice any major changes.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at