OS updates should be like good cinematography: Yes, an important backbone, but not one that stands out too obviously. Change the user interface or device features too radically and you lose the muscle memory and personal workflow developed over time. But at the same time, change too little and no one will feel the need to update.

The a new version of MacOS from Apple called Ventura, is due later in 2022, but the public beta is available now. Everyone always says don’t install beta operating systems on your main devices, and I’ve offered similar advice in the past. But honestly, once it hits the public beta phase (as opposed to the locked developer beta), things are usually in pretty good shape.

So with that in mind I downloaded and installed MacOS Ventura on my Macbook and iOS 16 on my phone. I didn’t even back anything up, I just did it. Yolo, I guess.

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MacOS Ventura Public Beta: The 3 Best New Features

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The next part of the unspoken truth about an OS update is that most people will never see, use, or even know about most of the updates, especially since so many are small tweaks that work behind the scenes, or add functionality that probably won’t even you are not looking for.

But Ventura does little more than most OS updates and when combined with iOS 16 or iPadOS 16, you get access to some really useful features. So while most of Ventura probably won’t make much of a difference in your day-to-day life, here are four new features in the beta that stand out the most.

MacOS Ventura Stage Manager

Stage Manager places your open apps on the left sidebar.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Stage manager

The biggest visual change in Ventura is this fresh new way to sort and organize different windows in different applications. Instead of the traditional Command-Tab or four-finger swipe up, Stage Manager places your active apps in a column of thumbnails at the far left of the screen.

Click on the app you want and it jumps to the middle of the screen, making it easy to switch between apps on the fly. Sure, it wasn’t hard to jump between apps before, but this is a new, very visual way to do it. If you have multiple windows open in an application (such as multiple browser windows), clicking the thumbnail on that left rail will jump between those windows.

Now that I use Stage Manager, I can’t imagine going back to not using it. However, this leaves us with what I would call the Double Dock problem. You now have a horizontal dock at the bottom of the screen and a second quasi-dock that runs vertically down the left side of the screen. If you want a really clean desktop view and need to hide the Stage Manager, open the Command Center (the two pills icon) and turn it off.

Dan Ackerman sits at a patio table and looks at a laptop

Using iPhone as a wireless webcam with camera continuity.

Liebe Ackermann

Continuity camera

This is something I have been waiting for for many years. The elevator pitch is that you can now use your iPhone as a wireless webcam. Sounds simple enough, but previously you had to use a third party app like EpocCamwhich just isn’t simple and bug-free enough to rely on for everyday use.

Now, with Ventura on your Mac and iOS 16 on your phone (both currently in public beta), it’s suddenly easy to do and works in Zoom, FaceTime, and many other apps. Simply select your phone as the camera from the app’s camera selection menu. You must be signed in to the same Apple ID on both devices and to the same Wi-Fi network with Bluetooth enabled.

iPhone mounted on MacBook.

The iPhone makes a great webcam in MacOS Ventura.

Liebe Ackermann

Why do you want this? Unless you don’t have one new M2 MacBook Air or 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro, your MacBook has a rather unimpressive 720p resolution camera. These newer Macs have much better 1080p cameras, but your iPhone’s rear camera will still be much, much better than that. Looking at the 1080p camera on the M2 MacBook next to video from the iPhone 13 Pro via Camera Continuity, the iPhone was clearly superior.

There are some additional tricks available in the Command Center under Video Effects, including a center stage that follows your face around the frame; Portrait mode, which slightly blurs the background; and Studio Lght, which darkens the background and brightens your face.

Potentially more interesting is Desk View, which uses the iPhone’s wide-angle lens to capture what’s going on right below the laptop’s wrist rest and touchpad, even though the phone is pointed directly at your face. It’s a stand-alone video app, so you’d screen share it on Zoom, for example. Right now it’s pretty limited in what it shows and how it applies, but I’m interested in experimenting more with it.

MacBook, phone and clip on patio table

This 3D printed bracket helped secure the iPhone to the MacBook lid.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

But wait, there’s more.

How do I position my phone to use it as a webcam, you ask? I’m sure there will be plenty of mini tripods and phone mounts available to attach your phone to the top of the MacBook.

But I went ahead and designed a simple one using TinkerCad and printed it on a 3D printer. This particular stand is designed for iPhone 13 Pro Max with case and the new M2 MacBook Air. You can try to download and print it if you think it will fit on your phone and laptop; I also provide the CAD file so you can adjust the measurements to your liking.

If you you don’t have a 3D printer, our list of the best is a good place to start.

The the TinkerCad public file is hereand The 3D STL file is here on Thingiverse.

The screen list of settings

System Preferences is now… System Settings.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

System Settings/Preferences

Am I the only one who finds the traditional Mac System Preferences menu confusing? It’s a bunch of icons that seem to change with each version of the operating system, and the tools you want are inevitably buried in submenus. I find some of the organizational decisions confusing and question some of the internal logic.

The new look and feel of the menu, now called System Settings, is delightfully basic. It’s just a list. The actual functionality isn’t really any different, but I find it’s much easier to navigate because you can still see the other entries in the list while you’re in a specific menu. The somewhat opaque icons and category names are still there, and things like click and drag for the trackpad are still buried in the accessibility menu submenu, but it’s nice to move the UX needle towards utility over design.

The CNET site with a video of Dan Ackerman captioned at the bottom of the screen

Live Captions adds real-time transcription to almost anything.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Live captions for videos

As a bonus fourth favorite feature, I love the real-time captions that work across apps and audio sources.

YouTube videos now offer closed captioning, which is pretty good, but live broadcasts, for example, can be a problem. Other video or video-related services offer a wide range of captioning and subtitling options, some good, some less so.

Live Captions adds just that, live captions, in a pop-up window and works with real-time spoken content from many video sources, including FaceTime calls. This is great for extending reach, but it’s also handy for situations where the person on the other end of your video call can’t be heard clearly, has a bad microphone, etc.

I’ve tried it a few times and you really do get an almost instant on-screen transcription of what the other person is saying. It’s not a feature I’d use all the time, but it’s both impressive and useful.

Entering Ventura

There are many more features in MacOS Ventura, including improvements to Mail, Safari, Spotlight and how passwords are handled. I honestly find them less interesting than the parts I’ve highlighted above, considering what would make an actual difference in my day-to-day workflow. Some of them are working fine now, while others need more time to fully bake in, which is understandable given that this is a beta version.

The official version of Ventura should be available this fall, based on when Apple has released updates to the operating system previously.


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