Apple macOS updates, combo updates, delta updates and other downloads

How to download combo and delta updates of macOS, plus a look at what's new in the latest version of macOS

Apple just released a new version of macOS and there are several ways to download it and install it. Why? Which is best? Here’s how to download anything from Apple, plus a look at what’s new.

Update from the Mac App Store

Using the Mac App Store is the most common way to update macOS and it is the best option for many people. Open the Mac App Store, click the Updates tab and then wait while it checks to see if there is anything new.

Updates for other apps might be found in addition to macOS updates. If so, update your other software first because apps might need to be updated in order to work with the new macOS update.

After updating everything else, install the macOS update. The Mac may need to be restarted to do this and it could take up to 30 minutes or even more depending on the size of the update and the Mac’s specifications. Choose a time when you are not doing anything else because the Mac will be out of action for while.

Use the Mac App Store on the Apple Mac to get macOS updates

If a restart is required, it says so under Software Update.

Manually download Apple updates

Some macOS updates are small and are quickly installed, but sometimes they are huge. The macOS 10.12.4 update for example, is around 2GB.

If you have several Macs that need to be updated, it could require 10GB or more of downloads. This is fine if you have a fibre optic internet connection with unlimited data downloads, but if your internet connection is not particularly fast, those downloads could take a very long time. If the connection is metered and there is a data limit, it could bust the limit and cost you money.

For these reasons Apple lets you download an update and save it to disk. It can then be transferred to other Macs over a local network or by saving it to a USB thumb drive.

One download and you can update as many Macs as you need to. Here’s how to download anything from Apple.

Go to the Apple downloads country selector and click your country.

Choose the country for downloads from the Apple website

This page is where you will find manual downloads for every update from Apple. A few popular ones are highlighted on the home page and clicking a product displays all the downloads relating to it.

Get downloads for macOS updates from the Apple website

Click macOS to view all the downloads. 

There are lots of updates, but the ones you want are at the top. Here are two downloads to take macOS to the latest version. Why two and which is best?

macOS delta update and macOS combo updates from the Apple website

The first one is a combo update and the second is a delta update.

Download macOS delta update

Let’s look at the delta update first. This is the one on the right labelled Download macOS Sierra 10.12.4 update.

This contains only the differences between macOS 10.12.4 and 10.12.3. You must have 10.12.3 in order to update macOS and any other version will not work.

This is basically anything new or changed in macOS and because only the differences between this and the previous version are downloaded, the file size is the smallest.

Smallest does not mean small, it just means smaller than a full macOS download and smaller than a combo update download. macOS 10.12.4 is still a crazy big 1.79GB download!

Delta updates are rarelky this big and they can be can be as small as 100MB, so macOS 10.12.4 is unusually large. If your Mac is up to date, choose this update.

Download macOS combo update

There have been four previous versions of macOS - 10.12.0, 10.12.1, 10.12.2 and 10.12.3. If you have several Macs and you are not sure which version each is running, download the combo update because it can update every version to the latest.

A combo update contains every update since the current version of macOS was released. It upgrades every macOS Sierra 10.12.x installation.

Because a combo update contains multiple updates all rolled into one, it is a big download. It is bigger than a delta update, but smaller than a full download of macOS.

macos 10.12.4 combo update is 2.04GB. This might not seem that much bigger than the delta update, and in this case it is not, but delta updates can be very small indeed. macOS 10.12.4 is a bad example and delta updates are usually much smaller.

If you are having problems updating macOS using the Mac App Store or with the delta download, the combo update download will sometimes fix the problem.

What’s new in macOS 10.12.4

What has Apple changed in macOS 10.12.4? There are many security updates and these fix known problems with macOS that could potentially allow hackers or malware to access the system.

There are some bug fixes, such as fixes for PDF rendering and annotation problems, improving the visibility of the subject line when using Conversation View in Mail, and a fix for a bug where Mail would not show the content of messages.

The most visible changes to macOS are the addition of cricket information to Siri. You can now ask Siri all sorts of questions relating to cricket, such as the latest scores. This is great for cricket fans, but if you don’t know what cricket is, it won’t make much difference to you.

A new feature that everyone can use is Night Mode. This is a feature that subtly alters the colours on the screen at certain times of the day.

The nature of light changes from dawn to mid-day to sunset and the changing colours and brightness affects how we perceive the colours and brightness of the Mac’s screen.

Night Mode compensates for the light changes in the evening and makes it easier on your eyes when using your Mac when the light is dim.

This isn’t something Apple just invented and f.lux is a macOS utility for adjusting the colour temperature of the screen that has been around for years.

There is some evidence that blue light prevents you from sleeping at night and red light, as seen in the setting sun, helps you sleep. Night Mode makes the screen redder.

The effect on your sleep, if any, is small. What is more likely to keep you awake is worrying about work and other things!

Go to System Preferences and click Display. Select the Night Shift tab.

Night Shift features in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Set a Night Shift schedule by clicking the menu and choosing Sunset to Sunrise, or Custom. With Sunrise to Sunset macOS will automatically update the time Night mode is active as the length of the day changes from summer to winter.

Customise the Night Shift features in macOS Sierra

With the Custom option you can manually set the hours night mode is active.

Customise the Night Shift features in macOS Sierra

There is a new Night Mode switch in the Notifications Today view. Open the notifications panel on the right, click the Today tab and pull down with two fingers on the trackpad to expose the switches at the top.

Turn on Night Shift in the Today panel in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

If you are photo editing or doing other tasks where colour is important, it is best to turn off Night Mode or you might not be seeing the right colours. Use it for web browsing, word processing and similar tasks.



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