Basically, if your Mac is currently running Sierra, it can run High Sierra. So, it was time for something new. Something that was born for modern storage on state-of-the-art devices, and that could meet the needs not just of now, but of the near future as well. What Apple's doing specifically for macOS deserves a closer look. That limited the available features. APFS includes native support for encryption so Apple can offer it directly and in a way that allows for new features to be added over time.
There are differences in opinion about whether or not you should encrypt your home computer. Security experts believe fiercely in encryption, especially for work computers and laptops, and failing secure so, in the event of theft, no one can get your data.
Backup experts believe encryption isn't always practical, especially for home computers and desktops, because theft is less likely than corruption, and failing safe means you may be able to recover irreplaceable photos and documents.
I believe in encrypting main drives and, for large personal photo and video albums, backing them up locally and to the cloud. That way, hopefully, data is safe from both theft and corruption. And APFS makes all of that easier and better. Sapshots, for example, capture the state of the storage at a moment in time, without risking changes or collisions like HFS. APFS, which should come as no surprise at this point, supports it natively.
No problem, no wasted space or time. Some basic actions are also wicked fast. Because of cloning, APFS doesn't have to produce duplicate data when copying files. It can copy the metadata and and point back to the original. That takes almost no time and uses only a tiny amount of space. As changes accrue, it can record the differentials, making the process as efficient as possible.
The mental hurdle you have to clear, of course, is that if you make five copies of a big video, you save tremendous space… but if you then try to recover space by deleting those 4 extra copies really clones you won't recover much space at all. At least unless and until you delete the original, which you might not want to do. Apple does some smart interface and reporting work, including fast directory sizing, command line directory size tracking, and not hooking some of it up to the Finder, all to help make it file system magic more human understandable.
For the most part it works. The rest is just coming to terms with the new normal. If you use multiple partitions, which is something I used to do a lot but haven't in a while, APFS lets those partitions dynamically resize. Partition size used to be a huge pain when I rocked virtual machines galore, so past me appreciations this even if current me is long past rehab.
The dynamic resizing does come at the expense of absolutely knowing the real size at any given point in time, but I'm a fan of abstracting away as much of the old comp sci cruft as we can from the computing process anyway. For most people, it's better. It means no one else in my circle of family and friends can use it until High Sierra goes into wide release, but such are the sacrifices of the preview process.
And it works just fine. The process seems to be working extremely well now but, if you have any concerns whatsoever, make a backup. During the beta there was a checkbox, on by default, for the conversion — that's gone in the release version.
It's a complete pain in the apps but better safe than sorry. It can make better, more intelligent decisions about what kind of data goes where. For example, it can make sure metadata is always on the SSD so random access is always faster.
I've been using a fusion drive on a iMac and… it's not my favorite. So, every time the platters spin up, so do my nerves. Even if only slightly. Even on solid state only, APFS has been working great. I've converted several systems over without any issues. In daily use, I can't say I've noticed tremendous differences yet.
But that's the point. Converting however many hundreds of millions of iOS devices and, now, however many tens of millions of Macs, without issue, and with a file system ready for the next decade? That requires an incredible amount of chutzpah and hard work. And damn if Apple didn't pull it off. It was fast and it was good. It let us download and stream our p and p video in seconds and minutes instead of minutes and hours.
But now our video has grown four times bigger with 4K p and gotten deeper with high-dynamic range HDR. It's possible Apple is still in negotiations with the notoriously paranoid and DRM-crazed Hollywood over Mac licensing. Hopefully, we'll hear more about later in the year. HDR is technically separate from 4K, so it's possible we'll get the better color gamut and gamma regardless of the resolution. So, the consortium of licensors feel free to think of more colorful names to call them have given us H.
Very little in life, and nothing in video, is free. On a Skylake Mac late and , you get the 8-bit Main profile which handles 4K. The hardware is what takes care of the acceleration.
It turns the greater amount of knobs available in HEVC to provide as high a quality with as high a performance as possible. That frees up the main processor for other tasks, improving the overall feeling of speed and responsiveness.
Of course, there's currently very little content available yet for HEVC. Even the big media players, like Amazon and Netflix, are barely trickling out support for it, and not at all on the Mac.
So, right now, HEVC support will appeal mostly to video professionals and transcoders. Nightwing to its Batman. Where previously the depth data for Portrait Mode or the still and motion elements of a Live Photo were stored separately, HEIF bundles them all together.
And that's where the advantage of HEIF come into play. Filters, for example, can now apply different effects based on the depth or motion data. It's also going to be important as we continue our march towards things like Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, and the computational photography that'll go well beyond lenses in the future.
Some of this does come at the cost of compatibility with older systems. If you simply grab the raw files and copy them around, sneaker-net style, older apps might not know what to do with them. Early adopter be warned.
You'd think Adobe would make it a point-of-pride to have HEIF added early on in the beta cycle, if not well in time for release.
With Metal 2, the company is claiming a 10x improvement over the original, for a total of x over GL. That's ballsy to say the least. Apple really wants to deliver on the promise of technologies like Core ML, its new, high-level common format for machine learning models, and the lower-level computer vision kernels for image processing, linear algebra, convolutional neural networks, and algorithms behind it.
To do that, it has to make it easier to get the CPU out of the way and tap into the computational power of modern graphics processors. I can't even pretend to understand all this, but the way that it's been explained-to-me-like-I'm-a-three-year-old by much smarter friends and colleagues is that it's offering new commands that allow more to be submitted and referenced in advance, it no longer needs to reset so it can copy less data and send fewer commands, and all of that reduces overhead and increases performance.
Also, where the original Metal varied in some areas between Apple's platforms, Metal 2 is unified. There are still a few differences because Apple's devices remain different, but there's now feature parity wherever possible, which means code can be shared more easily whenever possible. The macOS windowing server in High Sierra is implemented on top of Metal 2, so everything on screen from draws to compositing to animation to scrolling is smoother.
I didn't say "buttery smooth" so you can't drink! Of course, all that buttery smooth d'oh! I use it all the time on the inch MacBook, same as I do on the iPad, but while the iOS version started better and has become much, much better, the macOS version has been left in the same frustrating state as it was at launch — with no ability to change the apps in an existing Split View, only to destroy it and start over. Speaking of being bummed, I know some people are still grumpy that Apple is using an Apple-specific framework for all this new graphical goodness, and not something standards-based like OpenGL was, and that's fair enough.
Sometimes Apple chooses to control its own destiny and sometimes that lets Apple move faster, more efficiently, and more specifically than standards-based process or cross-platform technology would allow. Famously, Apple's lack of investment in Mac graphics hurt the platform when it came to virtual reality VR. When Oculus first announced the Rift, I bought one. Because of course I did. Then, when I found out it wouldn't work on the Mac, I lent it to a friend so she could have fun with it on her PC gaming rig.
I'm not PC angry, but I didn't want to have to set up and maintain another computer system just to enjoy the occasional VR experience. The whole time, though, I hoped — and complained about the lack of support — for VR on the Mac.
High Sierra is beginning to answer those hopes — and shut up those complaints. That requires a hefty helping hand on the software side too, which again brings us back to Metal 2. For VR, Apple is doing everything possible to provide for extremely low latency and solid, high frame-rates between the Mac and head-mounted displays like the HTC Vive. As soon a s VR display is connected, macOS High Sierra will detect it and get as much of the rest of the software stack out of the way as possible.
Then, an optimized rendering path takes over. There are also new performance tools for developers building VR applications, including system trace for VR timelines and per-eye visualization in the debugger. Much of that is as over-my-head as Metal, but it excites the VR nerds I've spoken with and that excites me.
What's not as clear yet is how much support there'll be for native VR gaming on the Mac. Worst case, there's always Boot Camp, but I'd prefer not having to maintain that environment if I don't have to either. I love how integrated it is with Photos for iOS, and how well it excels at basic photo and video management and editing.