The macOS Ventura public beta is now available; these are the main features

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Back at WWDCApple has promised to release a public beta of macOS Ventura in July. The company kept its word by releasing a lucky number of macOS 13 (along with the rest) this morning for anyone who likes to live at the limit after several rounds of bug testing.

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We’ve been fiddling with the latest build for the past few days and are mostly satisfied with the updates it contains. I should add here the standard disclaimer associated with using beta software, although I didn’t find this latest version to be very buggy.

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The continuous camera was the main feature at WWDC – both in terms of functionality and just general novelty. It builds on an earlier feature of the same name, bringing something much more useful to most of us day in and day out. Download Ventura on your macOS and iOS 16 on a compatible device and your iPhone will act as a webcam.

I was, frankly, a little surprised at how seamlessly they worked together. Once the update is complete, your Mac should automatically detect the connected device and suggest it in the drop-down menu of compatible video chat platforms. I tried it on FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Hangouts and they were all able to use the iPhone. As you can see below, there’s a noticeable difference in quality between the built-in camera on the 14-inch M1 MacBook (left) and the rear camera on the iPhone 12 (right).

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Big difference between the 14-inch MacBook M1’s built-in camera (left) and the iPhone 12’s rear camera (right). Image credits: Brian Heater

Belkin sent me an early version of his Continuity Camera clamp to test the system and that worked too. It uses the phone’s MageSafe magnets to snap into place on the back. A small rubber tab allows you to place your phone on top of your MacBook. Or you can use a metal ring to put it on a table – although the former makes it much easier to make eye contact while looking at the screen. Like the Ventura, the clip is still in beta, though again it hasn’t given me any problems.

To be honest, my biggest concern is the strain the full weight of the iPhone will put on the lid/hinge in the long run. The MacBook was not designed with this in mind, but I think we have to trust that the company thinks it won’t create too much of a burden if they actively encourage users to do so. Obviously, ideally there would be an improvement to the built-in cameras, but despite the company making the jump from 780p to 1080p on newer systems, the iPhone still wins.

Apple Belkin Continuity Camera for macOS. Image credits: Brian Heater

Sure, it’s a nice upgrade for those with older compatible MacBooks, but even putting an iPhone on top of a Mac isn’t the most elegant solution. This is a good option in these days of remote work. Center Stage works with a feature to follow you as you move and include others in the frame. Desk View is an interesting, if not particularly useful, addition that can shoot your hands through the top view. More useful is the addition of a handoff for FaceTime, which allows you to quickly switch between devices during a call.

Stage Manager is another feature I’ve used the most since booting up Ventura. I’m always skeptical about any new workflow feature. I tend to find these things interesting in my initial review, but they never stay the same. Maybe it’s my own flippant way of doing things, or maybe the features weren’t built into the end user’s work in a way that would stick (maybe both?). After a few days or weeks, I forget about them altogether.

Image credits: Brian Heater

As a rather chaotic user of desktop windows, I’m optimistic again. This is partly because the feature is enabled by default. It uses macOS real estate to create a kind of sidebar where the rest of your open apps are. Windows are organized in stacks and your messy desktop files disappear into the air. When the windows are minimized, go to this left sidebar instead of the toolbar.

Double-clicking the desktop causes this feature to disappear and the desktop files to be displayed. Click on the left sidebar and the Stage Manager will reappear. You can also manually drag windows in and out of the Stage Manager if you want multiple applications front and center. Some other little functionality would be nice, like the ability to drag and drop windows to reorder, but again, I’m cautiously optimistic that my unorganized app will be able to incorporate this feature into my workflow.

Image credits: Brian Heater

These two features are the most exciting everyday additions, but there are a few others that deserve attention. Undo Send for Mail is a welcome feature that gives you a few extra seconds to rethink that message. It’s saved my ass in Gmail more than once, and it’s nice to see it added to Mail. This is due to improved search, which fills the panel as you type.

Spotlight’s system search has also been improved, with improved indexing of images found in messages, notes, photos, and more. Spotlight also gets a shortcut that allows you to perform simple functions like setting up and enabling Focus sessions from within the browser.

OS system settings have undergone a long overdue revision. The new version is cleaner and more importantly similar to iOS. Freeform, meanwhile, is a whiteboard feature the company announced at WWDC. However, this one is still listed as Coming Soon, so we can’t share hands-on experience with it. More soon.

macOS 13 Ventura is already available as a public beta.

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