During the WWDC 2014 keynote, Apple spent a lot of time showing off the next major version of OS X, Yosemite.
With Yosemite, the company is taking yet another step toward bridging the desktop with mobile. Not only does OS X Yosemite have a brand new interface, it’s designed to more seamlessly integrate with iOS 8.
SEE ALSO: The 18 Most Important Features in iOS 8
We’ve already highlighted the main features inside OS X Yosemite, but we thought it was worth look taking a deeper look at what’s new and different in the new operating system.
OS X Yosemite is still in beta, so lots of details could change between now and its final release this fall. Still, we feel like we have a good idea of what Apple is going for with this big update.
Brand new look, still feels like a Mac
OS X Yosemite’s new look is the most radical design change since OS X was first released in 2001. But unlike Microsoft’s approach with Windows 8, Yosemite isn’t a jarring, foreign change. It still feels like OS X under the hood.
Although the design change might take some getting used to, I don’t expect it to be too disruptive to users. After all, many Mac owners have already had a year to get used to elements of the new look by way of iOS 7.
The iOS 7 (and iOS 8) influence is clear. Intricate skeuomorphism is dead, replaced with a brighter color palette and flatter designs. Flatter does not mean totally flat, however: There are still plenty of shadows, subtle textures and gradients throughout the operating system.
A design area that OS X Yosemite really plays up is window transparency.
A design area that OS X Yosemite really plays up is window transparency. The sidebars in apps such as the Finder and Messages are now semi-transparent. The effect lets you see more of what is happening in application windows in the background, especially while multitasking with lots of apps.
The effect is reminiscent of Windows Vista’s Aero Glass effect — but a bit more refined. These transparencies are similar to what you see in iOS 7, but the larger screen view of OS X makes them more visible. Apple goes into a lot of detail on thenew look on its webpage.
It’s interesting to see the dock return to 2D. In 2007, Apple made the dock 3D with the introduction of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Seven years later, the dock is two-dimensional again, yet it somehow looks more modern.
The system font has also changed, moving from Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue. That means the font for menus and preferences throughout the system are now Helvetica Neue, just like in iOS 7.
Another big change: the new toolbar icons. The icons are all redrawn and have a nice mix of design elements between iOS 7 an OS X Mavericks.
Apple has also done a lot of work to reduce the footprint of the toolbars. This is most notable in Safari, but is visible in other apps too.
Notification Center gets a big upgrade
Notification Center was introduced with OS X Mountain Lion, and it’s a way to keep track of alerts from applications and social networks. With OS X Mavericks, the ability to respond to messages directly from a notification was added, too.
With OS X Yosemite, the Notification Center takes on many of the same elements that are available on iOS 7 and iOS 8. Namely, the “Today” screen, which shows a list of appointments, weather conditions, reminders and stock quotes.
What makes Notification Center really great, however, is that it now takes on a lot of the same feature that were originally available in the OS X Dashboard: Widgets.
You can add a calculator, converter, news updates and other plugins directly to the Notification Center. With this move, Apple finally makes widgets relevant again.
Even better, the code process for widgets will be the same for iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, so developers who have apps on multiple platforms can build widgets that work both places. Plus, for the first time, Apple will let developers sell widgets through the Mac App Store.
iCloud gets real
With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, iCloud is finally becoming more of a real cloud service. Built into the Finder is a new area dubbed iCloud Drive, which finally gives iCloud a proper file system. That means you can actually view the files you have stored in iCloud across devices — including the data stored inside app folders on your iPhone or Mac. As the name suggests, iCloud Drive can also be used as more general cloud storage for files that can be accessed anywhere.
Apple has also added AirDrop support between the Mac and iPhone and iPad. Again, we sayfinally. Anyone who has ever struggled with trying to transfer files from a phone or tablet to a Mac knows that despite a myriad of third-party programs, the easiest way would just be to use AirDrop. Now you can.
With Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, Apple introduced a fantastic feature dubbed Spotlight as a way for users to quickly search their Macs for files, folders and even documents or data stored in email attachments or other messages.
Over the years, a number of third-party tools have offered enhancements to some of Spotlight’s abilities — adding options to search the web, Wikipedia or IMDb, perform calculations and do other types of tasks.
The granddaddy of these programs is called Quicksilver, and popular apps such as Launchbar and Alfred continue to gain new users.
Those applications have had a clear impact on the new Spotlight inside OS X Yosemite. As with Quicksilver/Launchbar/Alfred, typing the Spotlight keys or hitting the search button calls up a search window in the middle of the screen.
Type into it and, in addition to seeing data from your Mac or connected hard drives, you can also pull up meta data from top searches on the web, Wikipedia entries, iTunes files, maps and even movie listings.
The idea is to give users the information they want based on what they type.
The idea is to give users the information they want based on what they type. You can also perform quick calculations and pull up a contact to make a call or send an email.
Spotlight uses a lot of the same information that powers Siri, but uses search terms for input rather than voice. It doesn’t look like Apple will officially make these Spotlight input mechanisms extensible — so fans of Launchbar and Alfred will still have a reason to use those apps — but the new design and the new functionality makes OS X’s already superior search options that much better.
Safari is redesigned and refreshed
Apple’s web browser Safari gets a major redesign. The new design is partly a mixture of what you see in Safari for iPad, and partly a more modern take on the browser itself. By default, there is just one toolbar visible in Safari. This lets the system look clean and crisp. You can still optionally add the Favorites toolbar to view, but the default is minimalism.
Safari also uses an iOS-style favorites bar for easy access to your favorite sites. You can access them directly from the omnibar (the search bar/URL bar) and also quickly see frequently accessed sites.
The same contextual search features that are available in Spotight are also available in Safari. That means you can type in a movie title and see information about it in the web search — including movie times from nearby theaters — as a suggestion. Likewise, typing in a more general term, such as “Yosemite,” will bring up a Wikipedia preview that you can click on, in addition to just doing the standard Google search. The feature is reminiscent of the old Inquisitorplug-in for Safari (for those of you that remember back that far), and it adds a nice contextual view to doing web searches.
Apple has also added DuckDuckGo as a search option to Safari — which is great for users who value their privacy.
Apple has also redesigned how tabs can be viewed. Instead of truncating the titles to fit in the window’s width, you can now scroll across the tab list to view more tabs. This makes it easier to see what is actually open. Additionally, Safari also has a new tab view where you can get a birds-eye view of all your open tabs. This view will even arrange tabs from the same site together in “stacks” for easier visualizations.
The Safari update is a big one, and it is clear Apple is hoping to bring back users who have moved away from Safari in favor of Google Chrome. Whether it will work or not is to be determined, but the new features look great.
Apple made some big redesigns to Mail in OS X Mavericks, which means that in Yosemite the changes are more functional.
The big news is that there is a new feature called MailDrop for sending huge attachments to other users. You can send files up to 5GB in size, without having to go through your mail sever. Instead, the file is uploaded to iCloud and then a link is appended to the message. If a user opens it in Mail for Mac, they can see the attachment and download it. For users on other mail services, they get a handy link.
It’s basically exactly the same as how services like Hightail work, but integrated into your Mac. Even better? It’s free. Links last only 30 days, but for most users, that’s more than long enough. MailDrop isn’t limited to iCloud accounts; if you have a Gmail, Yahoo or Exchange account configured in Mail, it can take advantage of MailDrop too.
The other big feature in Mail is the ability to do markup — or annotations — directly in messages. What happens is that the annotation features from the Preview app are available inside Mail. That means you can fill out PDF forms, add your signatures, and even add annotations and text notes to images.
The annotation tools are very similar to Skitch and Ember — but being built-into Mail means that they might be faster for some users to access.
Frankly, I’m just looking forward to being able to fill out a PDF and insert my signature from Mail, rather than having to open it up in Preview, fill out a form, save it, reply to the original email and add in the new attachment.
One of my favorite parts of OS X is the fact that I can send and receive iMessages from my computer. With OS X Yosemite, Apple is making that experience even better.
All of the group messaging improvements that are coming to iOS 8 — voice messages, video messages, location sharing and the ability to see all media in one place — are in Yosemite. And like iOS 8, you can choose to mute a conversation or even leave a group, if things get too hectic.
But the big news, at least for most users, is that in addition to iMessages,
SMS messages from your phone will also appear in the Messages app.
SMS messages from your phone will also appear in the Messages app. You can even send SMS messages back from the Messages app.
Of course, there are a few caveats. All SMS activity actually occurs on your iPhone. OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 simply route the message over via Bluetooth. That means that sending an SMS message is technically taking place on your phone (so it will cost money if you are on a limited SMS plan). It also means your phone must be in close proximity to your computer.
Still, it’s worth it.
The SMS integration with Messages is just one part of a broader feature set for OS X Yosemite that Apple is dubbing “Continuity.” The idea behind Continuity is to better bridge the worlds of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.
Perhaps my personal favorite Continuity feature is the ability to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone from your Mac. Over the years, I’ve used third-party apps such as Phone Amego and BluePhone Elite to do similar tasks, but the interfaces can be kludgy and in the case of BluePhone Elite, development actually stopped.
It’s incredibly useful for users who spend a lot of time at a computer — especially during the work day — to be able to answer a phone call or make one using the headset on their computer and the interface on their Mac.
My only suggestion: add in an option to record phone calls
My only suggestion: add in an option to record phone calls (with a vocal indicator that the call is being recorded). That would make Apple the hero for journalists and anyone who needs to record calls for future access everywhere.
But phone calls are just one part of Continuity. The real landmark feature — which we’ll discuss in-depth in the future — is called Handoff. The idea behind Handoff is that you can start a task on your Mac or iOS device, and hand it off to another device, exactly where you left off.
Say you’re composing an email on your Mac and you need to get up to leave for a meeting. With Handoff, you can pick up that action, exactly where you were, on your iPhone. Using Bluetooth proximity features, apps that support Handoff can let the other devices near you know what you’re doing. Just swipe an icon on iOS or click on an icon in your OS X doc, and you’re instantly where you were on the other device.
The best part about Handoff? Apple isn’t limiting this just to its own apps. Third-party developers can build it into their tools too. And if you don’t have a Mac app but you do have a website, Handoff can still work. That means if you’re doing something on a website in Safari and there is an iOS app, you can seamlessly hand off to the phone without any friction.
In addition to Handoff, Apple is also making it super easy to connect your phone or tablet with your Mac as a hotspot. This feature greatly reduces the number of steps required to connect your computer to your phone. With the feature, once its setup, you can activate the hotspot function from your phone from the Wi-Fi menu icon. It will automatically activate Hotspot mode on your phone or tablet and connect. When you’re done, it’ll turn Hotspot mode off.
This is a big update
OS X Yosemite is a big deal. It’s not just about a new look, it’s also about a ton of new features. Apple is taking a decidedly different approach than Microsoft when it comes to bridging mobile and desktop. I actually think this is the model that makes the most sense.
We still use our computers and mobile devices differently, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want them to work together better. A similar — but not identical look — and more feature parity for seamless transition from device to device, might be a more conservative approach, but it also feels right.
Of course, for all of this to succeed, it needs to work seamlessly. Over the next few months, we’ll be following the progress of of OS X Yosemite. If you want to beta test OS X Yosemite yourself, sign up here.