I remember seeing a demo of a dynamic desktop that changed picture based on the time of day on the Mac. Very cool idea. How can I set up something like this on my MacBook Air?
There are two primary ways you can set up a dynamic desktop on your MacOS X system, depending on what operating system you’re running and your aversion to having third party apps always running in the background. MacOS X Mojave (10.14.*) introduced system dynamic desktop wallpapers but only ships with two options. You can add third-party desktops and use the Mac system to change them as needed.
The other possibility is through running third party software like 24 Hour Wallpaper, which will work correctly regardless of what version of MacOS X you’re running. A bit more flexible, but it is running all the time (even if it’s just sitting and waiting for specific time-based triggers to rotate wallpapers) which some people don’t like much. Me? I actually have 24 Hour Wallpaper running on my computer and have become quite a fan of the handy utility.
To start, however, let’s actually download a couple of image collections, New York City and San Francisco, from the 24 Hour Wallpaper archive. Don’t worry, they encourage you to do this if you want to use these image collections with the Mojave dynamic desktop capability. To gain access to the downloads, simply sign up for their email newsletter.
They show up as ZIP archive files, thusly:
If you’re not familiar with ZIP archives on your Mac, no worries. Just double click on them and MacOS X knows how to unpack them and in just a few seconds you’ll be looking at folders instead of archive files. Here’s what the San Francisco folder contains:
The README explains what to do, but you can just proceed with my instructions instead. 🙂
Right-click on the image. The HEIC suffix stands for High Efficiency Image Container, and it’s a new image format that lets you create highly compressed but still high resolution images. Anyway, here’s what happens when you right click:
As you can see, one of the options tucked into the “Services” menu option is “Set Desktop Picture“. That’s what you want to choose. Since it’s a series of images, the Mojave desktop wallpaper utility should automatically recognize it as a dynamic desktop, but you can double check by choosing Apple > System Preferences… > Desktop & Screen Saver:
The preview image is inconsistent with the actual dynamic desktop being shown (not sure why that’s the case, but it’s likely a bug in this particular facet of MacOS X) but what you really want to look for is the phrase “This desktop picture changes throughout the day, based on your location“.
Oh, and here’s what my desktop looks like mid-afternoon with this new view of San Francisco:
A few hours later, here’s the very same desktop. I’ve done nothing to update it for time of day:
You have to admit, that’s a pretty cool effect (and a lovely vantage point of San Francisco looking south too!)
There are a few image collections you can download from the 24 Hour Wallpaper developer, and some other archives online, but I decided I’d actually grab the commercial 24 Hour Wallpaper program from the App Store and check that out too. It’s kinda spendy at $6.99, but then again, how much time do you spend each month staring at your desktop?
Once you have that installed, turns out that there’s a lot more flexibility about settings and a whole lot more photo collections too, as you can see in this preview:
That’s it. Now you know the two ways you can work with dynamic desktops on your Mac. If you want to build your own collection of images so you can use a custom dynamic desktop, check out these instructions: Make your own dynamic desktop.
Now have fun and don’t get too distracted!
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