macOS Ventura hands-on - a small but important step in an Apple Silicon world

Weather in macOS Ventura
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This week Apple released macOS 13 Ventura (October 24). The latest update to its Mac products brings a bunch of refinements to the operating system and a few new features too.

In a world of iPhone and iPad products, it wouldn't be a stretch to wonder if Apple has been leaving macOS on the back burner to ensure iOS and iPadOS are ready for its millions of users. However, the move to Apple Silicon gave the Mac line a big shot in the arm, and macOS Big Sur began the transition to the M1 chip.

We're up to the M2 line, with all but the Mac Pro now running on these chips, and the differences in performance and battery life are stark compared to Intel Macs. Yet as you use Ventura, you can't help but feel that many of these features have been carried over from iOS, and there are others that have yet to appear on the Mac.

With this in mind, here are our thoughts on the latest macOS release and whether you should upgrade or wait.

A better stage has been set in Ventura

Stage Manager in macOS Ventura

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Let's address the elephant in the room first, which is Stage Manager, a new way of managing multiple apps at once from the Desktop. It works surprisingly well in macOS Ventura, far better than it does in iPadOS 16.1, which was released at the same time. It's a great solution if you like to use a lot of apps on the Desktop and you want a quicker view to access different ones.

As macOS isn't restricted by an invisible grid interface, like iPadOS is, moving windows around the Desktop is a non-issue. You can easily put windows side by side without worrying that one will move to another place on its own.

Having the Dock there with Stage Manager's overview to the left could be confusing to some, though, and it makes you wonder who will use this feature. We wouldn't be surprised if some users end up turning it off and only enabling it from time to time via the Control Center.

The space-time continuity

Apple's Craig Federighi demonstrating Continuity Camera in macOS Ventura at WWDC 2022.

(Image credit: Apple)

There are a couple of features exclusive to macOS Ventura, like Stage Manager, that you won't be able to use on other devices, but there's a good chance you'll take advantage of them on your Ventura-ready machine.

If you've ever been frustrated that the quality of your Mac webcam pales in comparison to video conferencing on an iPhone or iPad, you'll appreciate Continuity Camera. It lets you use your iPhone as a Mac webcam. This is available to any Mac running Ventura, alongside any iPhone running iOS 16 and later. The jump from a 1080P resolution to 4K is stark – you can clearly see the difference in quality.

As our guide for the feature illustrates, you need to be in close proximity to your Mac with FaceTime open on your iPhone for the feature to work. Going to the menu bar will let you switch to your iPhone's camera.

It's an easy process and you don't need to have your iPhone on a vice attached to your Macbook (though I did). You can place the phone on a stand nearby for example, just as long as the phone and Mac are close together.

Setting this up in a coffee shop got me more than a few strange looks, and while that may have been nothing to do with this feature, having my iPhone hang on top of my Mac was odd regardless. It might become more commonplace once more people start using macOS Ventura.

Exclusive features are small, but make a big impact

Settings app in macOS Ventura

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While iOS and macOS are different platforms for significantly different hardware, a level of consistency is expected for, at least, what to call common features. Now, Mac OS's System Preferences, a name it's had since 2000, and Mac OS X is adopting the iOS nomenclature Settings.

As a side note, any app in Ventura will have its Preferences section changed to Settings to reflect this update.

While you could easily pick a setting to configure your trackpad or Dock, here it's a mangled version of how the Settings looks on iPad, and it's confusing, to say the least.

Having a column of Settings in macOS feels like a step back - you can't widen the window, you can only make it taller, so everything feels uncomfortably narrow. This makes sense for the touch-focused OS on iPhone or iPad, but here it's a slower process to find an option. Granted, System Preferences had the danger of overwhelming you, but I found that going to View > Organize Alphabetically helped with finding what I needed to configure much more easily.

Clock app in macOS Ventura

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The Clock app coming over to Ventura from iOS was surprising, but it's a welcome change. It means you can quickly set timers and alarms from within Spotlight, Apple's search feature.

Yes, the redesigned Weather app finally comes to iPadOS and macOS this year, and it's as glorious as you expect. The animations and design are top-notch, and getting notifications for when it's raining is welcome. It would be nice to see this expanded to the menubar, though, as a way of quickly checking the temperature, but it's great to see the app arrive on the Mac regardless.

A neat touch we noticed is when you go to Apple logo > Shutdown, and the Weather shows a rain animation, for example, it slows down in bullet-time style, then speeds back up when you select Cancel.

However, it's a shame that the updated widgets have yet to appear in macOS. They're still restricted to a hidden column, and at this point, especially when you compare them to iOS and iPadOS, they look out of date.

It's time to see widgets return to macOS in a big way

Spotlight in macOS Ventura

(Image credit: TechRadar)

macOS Ventura is a more muted release than what we saw with Big Sur and Monterey, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It's iterating on what's worked before, while building upon features and apps that have been great to use on Apple's other devices, such as Weather.

Yet, there are small inconsistencies that do need work. Settings app is the wrong approach for macOS, and the inability to place widgets on the Desktop is getting to the point where it's an oversight. Some forget that widgets began on macOS in 10.4 Tiger and the Dashboard, so to see it come back full circle soon would be welcome.

Stage Manager, while a much better experience on Ventura compared to iPadOS 16.1, doesn't justify being kept enabled when CMD + Tab and Mission Control help with managing multiple apps in a better and faster way.

Generally, we're happy with where macOS stands and how Ventura ran for us. However, we look forward to the full return of widgets, which could help further the productivity focus Apple has been pivoting to in its recent software releases.

Daryl Baxter
Software & Downloads Writer

Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time, he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider'. His second book, '50 Years of Boss Fights', came out in June 2024, and has a newsletter, 'Springboard'. He's usually found playing games old and new on his Steam Deck and MacBook Pro. If you have a story about an updated app, one that's about to launch, or just anything Software-related, drop him a line.