We take a look at the next OS X

Mac Format - - CONTENTS -

The in­stant that iOS 7’s strik­ing new look was re­vealed last year, it felt in­evitable that the Mac would fol­low in the same di­rec­tion. Though in many ways Yosemite’s new look is a less dra­matic change from Mav­er­icks than iOS 7 was from iOS 6 (Ap­ple was al­ready mak­ing its apps’ win­dows sim­pler aes­thet­i­cally on the desk­top), it’s still the big­gest change OS X has seen since its re­lease – at least vis­ually. It’s also one of the best changes.

Though the de­sign lan­guage is the same as iOS 7, Ap­ple hasn’t just trans­lated the look to the desk­top. There are flat but­tons and frosted glass, yes, but it all hews closer to its pre­de­ces­sor than iOS 7 did – the icons have a lit­tle more tex­ture, there’s more al­lowance for el­e­ments such as but­ton edges. And, cru­cially, it all works the same as Mav­er­icks. Parts of iOS 7 were a change in how you in­ter­acted with the de­vice as well as a vis­ual change, but Yosemite just looks dif­fer­ent, for the most part; there are new fea­tures, and Spot­light is more in­ter­ac­tive, as we’ll come to. This means that Yosemite’s most ob­vi­ous change isn’t a big learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – but is it a big up­grade?

On the Retina MacBook Pro we had run­ning Yosemite, we found it much more pleas­ant to look at, and ul­ti­mately to use be­cause of this. The smaller space of lap­top screens feels like it may have been a par­tic­u­lar con­sid­er­a­tion – el­e­ments such as tool­bar but­tons be­ing col­lapsed into the ti­tle bar of apps (free­ing up pre­cious ex­tra space for the con­tent of apps) re­ally helps at 15 inches or less. Not all of the in­ter­face changes have prac­ti­cal ad­van­tages like this – in most cases, it’s just… nice.

All that said, the new look cur­rently has a few in­con­sis­ten­cies. The trans­parency ef­fect feels like it’s ap­plied a bit hap­haz­ardly – you won­der why Maps and Sa­fari have the ‘frosted glass’ tool­bars, but Preview isn’t deemed wor­thy. In Mes­sages, the left-hand pane (the list of con­ver­sa­tions) is translu­cent, while the right-hand one (the con­ver­sa­tion) is solid, with the di­vide between the two stretch­ing through the tool­bar. Then you have Mail, which also has two panes (your list of emails and the email con­tent), yet both are solid – you only get translu­cency if you open up the Mail­boxes pane – but that doesn’t di­vide the en­tire app like it does in Mes­sages.

A more ac­tively con­fus­ing in­con­sis­tency is in the green traf­fic light but­ton. Its nor­mal use in Yosemite is to make an app fullscreen, but in some apps, it still does its old behaviour – mak­ing the app fit its con­tent. The only sign as to which it will do is whether it be­comes a ‘+’ or two tri­an­gles when you hover the mouse over it. We sus­pect Ap­ple is still plan­ning some iron­ing out of Yosemite’s in­ter­face, even if it largely works well so far.

It’s also worth say­ing that Yosemite isn’t quite as pretty on non-Retina screens. It’s eas­ily us­able, and is mostly just as strong, but the new font in par­tic­u­lar is just bet­ter suited to the higher-res screens.

Sub­stance over style

Of course, the new de­sign isn’t all there is to Yosemite. There are new fea­tures both in the OS it­self and in its apps – though the most in­ter­est­ing are the new ways it can con­nect with iOS 8 de­vices. Ap­ple calls this ‘Con­ti­nu­ity’, and it in­cludes the abil­ity to re­ceive and send text mes­sages (rather than just iMes­sages) and make and re­ceive phone calls from your Mac, and send files between iOS and Mac us­ing Air­Drop.

Most im­pres­sive, though, is a fea­ture called Hand­off. This lets you start a task in an app on your Mac – say, writ­ing an email – and then pass that task to your iOS de­vice, to con­tinue from where you left off. It means you don’t need to worry about fin­ish­ing tasks at your desk when you’re tight for time – you can just send it to your iPhone and con­tinue on, say, your com­mute. It works the other way too, so you can send some­thing to your Mac from your iPad. Most of Ap­ple’s built-in apps will sup­port it, and third-party apps will

be able to in­clude it, too. It will only work with newer Macs with Blue­tooth 4.0, though.

iCloud Drive turns iCloud from an in­vis­i­ble, in­scrutable stor­age op­tion to one you can browse like any other. Files can be di­vided into fold­ers based on the app they work with. Files cre­ated on iOS are stored here as well, so they’re easy to find, at last! Sadly, we weren’t able to test th­ese fea­tures in our ver­sion of Yosemite. We’ve seen them all in use in the flesh, though, and they look in­cred­i­bly slick, even if still works-in-progress.

We could, how­ever, try out Yosemite’s other fea­tures. Spot­light has seen some of the big­gest changes, mov­ing from a small search box in the cor­ner to a large source of in­for­ma­tion in the mid­dle of the screen. You still hit Space­bar] to in­voke Spot­light, but it now searches lo­cal busi­nesses, Wikipedia and things like movie times, bring­ing the re­sults up right in its win­dow where you can in­ter­act with them like an app in its own right. It can also do live con­ver­sions (in­stead of just sums), and is smart enough that you don’t even need to type in what you want to con­vert to – just type in ‘30cm’ and it will in­stantly bring up ‘=11.8 inches’ af­ter (with other mea­sure­ment op­tions un­der­neath). It’s re­ally slick, and very use­ful. It feels like the prin­ci­ples of Siri, ap­plied in a way that makes sense for the Mac – in­for­ma­tion avail­able in­stantly, ac­cessed in the fastest way. On the iPhone, Ap­ple con­sid­ers that to be your voice; on the Mac it’s your key­board.

No­ti­fi­ca­tion Cen­ter is also up­dated to put use­ful in­for­ma­tion at your fin­ger­tips. The new To­day view in­cludes wid­gets to give you a cus­tomis­able over­view of what’s go­ing on. Ap­ple’s de­faults in­clude things like cal­en­dar ap­point­ments, re­minders and weather, but it’s also open to de­vel­op­ers, so there will prob­a­bly be ev­ery­thing from sports track­ers to server sta­tus no­ti­fiers. It feels like a rein­ven­tion of good ol’ Dash­board in many ways, but be­ing less in­tru­sive and more con­cise, it also feels more use­ful.

Hand­off: you can start a task on your Mac and then pass it to your iOS de­vice to con­tinue work­ing

Sa­fari is usu­ally one of the apps to get a lot of at­ten­tion from Ap­ple, and Yosemite is no dif­fer­ent. The search/URL bar has been tweaked, with a new way to quickly ac­ti­vate Reader view, and the use­ful abil­ity to see your Fa­vorites when­ever you click in the URL search bar, mak­ing them more ac­ces­si­ble.

One key ad­di­tion to Sa­fari is the new tab view. This ar­ranges all your open tabs into stacks based on their site, mak­ing it much eas­ier to sift through them if you tend to keep dozens open at once. It’s not per­fect, though: you can’t ac­tu­ally see thumb­nails of the sites at the bot­tom of the stacks, only snip­pets of their ti­tles. Hope­fully Ap­ple will add a Quick Look-like op­tion for brows­ing through th­ese.

Mail gets two new fea­tures in Yosemite. We weren’t able to test send­ing huge files as down­load links, but the abil­ity to an­no­tate images or sign doc­u­ments from within a mes­sage is a nice touch. That said, Preview has all the same abil­i­ties (and a few oth­ers), so it’s more of a time­saver than some­thing you can’t do else­where on your Mac.

The Mes­sages app also gets new fea­tures, to bring it into line with its iOS 8 equiv­a­lent. There are more fine-grained con­trols for group con­ver­sa­tion (in­clud­ing, cru­cially, mut­ing them), and sup­port to re­ceive and send Soundbites, which are short au­dio clips you record to send to some­one. Not ev­ery­one will get much use out of Soundbites, but we like the idea – send­ing a quick au­dio mes­sage to some­one can be fun, and at times ac­tu­ally quite con­ve­nient.

We’ve loved us­ing Yosemite even with­out tak­ing ad­van­tage of its big­gest new fea­tures. It looks fan­tas­tic, and things like the new Spot­light make it gen­uinely more use­ful – af­ter only a few min­utes, Mav­er­icks seems old-fash­ioned in com­par­i­son. This could be one of OS X’s most im­por­tant re­leases yet.

Mail’s an­no­ta­tion tool is bril­liantly easy to use, and saves you having to jump in and out of Preview if you want to add notes to an im­age or PDF.

Sa­fari’s re­vamped Smart Search Bar brings up more in­for­ma­tion di­rectly now, start­ing with your Fa­vorites when you click on it.

No­ti­fi­ca­tion Cen­ter’s new To­day tab in­cludes cus­tomis­able wid­gets. Ap­ple pro­vides a few, but more will be avail­able through the Mac App Store.

You can name group con­ver­sa­tions in Mes­sages, eas­ily add new peo­ple into a con­ver­sa­tion, and si­lence no­ti­fi­ca­tions for noisy threads.

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