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OS X Yosemite Impressions: Apple’s Most Exciting Update In Years

by Brandon Russell | June 5, 2014June 5, 2014 12:30 pm PDT

Apple’s OS X Yosemite update is among Apple’s biggest ever desktop redesigns. Lion, Mountain Lion and Mavericks were all about under-the-hood enhancements, optimizing the experience for a wide range of machines. Yosemite, on the other hand, builds on that while taking many of the design cues introduced in iOS 7 and transitioning them over to the desktop environment, creating a kind of synthesis between the two.

We knew OS X would be a focal point at the company’s WWDC keynote, but Apple still managed to introduce plenty of surprises. Now, your Mac and iOS device are connected like never before, and there’s a new iCloud Drive feature for all your storage needs. For those of you with multiple Apple devices, Handoff allows users to pick up from Mac to iOS and vice versa—and it’s all done automatically. Messages, meanwhile, will now let you make and receive phone calls, and you can even text non-Apple handsets.

We already shared our Top Five favorite features in Yosemite, so we aren’t going to take a deep-dive into all of the changes. For a refresher on what’s new, you should definitely check that out. Here, we’re just going to take you through a very simple walkthrough of some things we noticed—as if we were experiencing Yosemite together for the first time. This is a very early beta, so we’re not really going to judge its performance. (Though, to be fair, it seems to work just fine thus far.)

Most people will notice that Yosemite is a big change in terms of design—and it looks good! The iOS-ified translucency isn’t overbearing, and the new flattened icons ditch Apple’s favored skeuomorphism once and for all. It all manages to look different without feeling unfamiliar—you can use it as you normally would without feeling like you need to learn an entirely new OS. When iOS introduced iOS 7, users struggled to familiarize themselves with the redesign, but I don’t see that happening here.

The dock is the first thing you’ll notice; it’s now a flat bar instead of a reflective shelf—not really a huge change, and something that’s been present throughout OS X’s history, but it simplifies the look, and the new icons match it perfectly. You can do this in Mavericks with some know-how, but the change back to the flat dock is nice—definitely better than the quasi-3D. This flatness pervades throughout the OS, and matched with Apple’s new Helvetica variant, it all looks really fresh (to the point where Mavericks on my MacBook Air looks pretty boring).

Inside applications like Safari, the changes are really noticeable compared to the existing version. It looks a lot cleaner, easier to navigate, and now there’s a new tab view that allows you to see everything at once. Trust me, when you have have a few dozen tabs open at once, this is the kind of feature that’ll make browsing much less frustrating. The search bar also works with Spotlight, giving you multiple suggestions at once, and Apple claims Safari is faster than the competition, though we weren’t able to test for speed this early on. Safari has always been decently fast but, for my money, Chrome just always seems that much quicker—and certainly more satisfying to use.

Moving into Notifications, the new window pane has been completely redone to match what you’d see in iOS. Notification Center in Mavericks has really been hit or miss—it’s something I rarely use, and I’m sure most users can relate. There’s really nothing there to look at, but in Yosemite, there’s more information, and a new Today view that provides information such as weather, stocks, calendar events and even third-party widget support. It seems a lot more dynamic, and might be something people actually use now. Before, the rare time I did look at my notifications, it was usually by accident.

Spotlight is probably my favorite enhancement coming to OS X Yosemite. Spotlight has always been pretty decent, but it always felt unfinished, like it was tacked on at the last minute. For the past few years, I’ve been happily using Alfred, which is a powerful productivity app that lets you search for files on your computer and online—the new Spotlight is the same idea, allowing you to search for pretty much anything (online and off) without opening an app.

By hitting Command + Space, the search bar will now appear in the center of your screen, and be divided into two panes. When you start searching, your queries will show up to the right, with the source showing up on the left. As you can see in the screenshots, when searching for Edge of Tomorrow, the two sources (movie times and Wikipedia) show up as a list on the left, while big, beautiful information appears on the right. You can pretty much search for anything, too, giving you glanceable information whenever you need it. I searched for a pizza joint, for example, and a ton of hits appeared, which I could then launch in Maps.

It’s much more powerful than the existing Spotlight, which is powerful in its own right, but it’s great to see Apple giving you even more information—it might even make me ditch Alfred. When it hits, you’ll be able to do simple conversions, launch apps, find music and much more by simply typing in a query.

Moving onto Mail, the app now has a cleaner design that’s subtle at first, but you’ll begin to see the changes as you use it. Mail has always been the kind of app you use because it’s there, but it might actually turn into something you enjoy. Apple has added things like Markup (similar to Skitch in Evernote), and there’s also something called Mail Drop, which allows you to send files too large to email. The Markup feature was neat—I created a quick document without issue; I wasn’t able to test Mail Drop just yet.

Yosemite promises to be one of Apple’s most significant changes in years, and not just because the OS looks different. We haven’t even had the chance to test out Handoff, nor have we been able to use the phone or messaging improvements, which we’re really looking forward to.

This is a smart update on Apple’s part. OS X is still OS X, and iOS is still iOS—neither is trying to be the other, despite them looking similar. This early on, things definitely aren’t finished (as expected), but we thought we’d take a quick tour to see what all the fuss is about. It’s certainly looking nice, but the most powerful and best features, like Apple’s promise of continuity, have yet to come.

Yosemite (and iOS) is a big shift for Apple, but already things are looking promising. Look out for Yosemite and iOS 8 to hit later this fall for free.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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