“OS X El Capitan—it takes the Mac experience to new heights.”
That’s the pitch for this year’s update, which Apple officially introduced on Monday. There aren’t any Earth-shattering changes; rather, Apple is focusing on improving the experience, while also making some much-needed changes for power users. Things are simplified, performance is better and more.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to get excited about. While Apple spent a lot of time emphasizing how El Capitan is meant to refine on last year’s Yosemite update, the company also introduced some cool new features, like Split View, a more powerful Spotlight, and improved full-screen support.
Here are the top five features of El Capitan.
Performance: Say hello to Metal
El Capitan promises to offer a more fluid and powerful experience, and that’s thanks to the introduction of Metal. “Metal is a new graphics core technology that gives games and apps near-direct access to the graphics process on your Mac, delivering enhanced performance and a richer graphical experience,” Apple said.
It’s more of a technical update for developers, who can then use Metal for Mac to make their apps and games faster and more optimized. For you and me, the new technology should make El Capitan a much smoother experience overall. Apple claims Metal will allow for 1.4x faster app launching, 2x faster app switching, and 4x faster PDF opening in preview. Not humungous improvements, but these are little actions you perform everyday, so it all adds up.
Think of Split View as Microsoft’s snaps feature. Now you can run two apps in full screen side-by-side, allowing you to browse the Web and email a friend, for example. Sure, you could do that anyway on a Mac, but being able to fill the screen with multiple apps will ensure that you aren’t distracted by everything else that’s going on. Just open a few apps, run them in Split View, and get work down. This same feature will be available to iPad users, too.
Photos: Third-party extension support, better organization
Photos hasn’t been available on OS X for very long, but it’s going to get even more powerful in El Capitan. Right now, users are only able to use Apple’s built-in tools to edit photos for things like rotating, adding filters, cropping, and more. In the future, though, you’ll be able to use third-party editing tools from within Photos, making it a much more capable alternative to other editing software on the market.
These extensions will be available from the Mac App Store, and run right in the Photos app. I’m already hoping VSCO will offer some of its tools for Photos. Meanwhile, the experience has also been tweaked slightly so your library of photos is easier to manage; you can add a location to a single image, for example, and sort albums by date, title, and more.
Safari: Pinned tabs, mute audio and AirPlay
Every year Apple makes significant changes to Safari, and every year I go, “I’m going to switch.” I never do, but these latest features might finally convince me. There are new features like Pinned Sites, the ability to quick mute audio, and new AirPlay features.
For starters, Pinned Sites lets you keep the websites you visit often (like TechnoBuffalo.com) pinned so they’re always open. Even when you close your browser, your pinned sites will be there when you open Safari again, making it easier to stay connected. This is by no means a new feature for browsers—you can do this in Chrome already—but it makes Safari a more powerful alternative.
The coolest feature, though, is the ability to easily tune out a tab. Safari will indicate to you which tab is playing audio, but rather than hunting for that tab and then muting audio manually, you can now mute it right from the smart search field. And if there is audio coming from a tab while you’re already listening to audio in another, you can mute the one you don’t want to hear.
Finally, AirPlay will let you play video from a web page to your TV without showing everything that’s on your desktop. I mean, what do you have to hide? It saves you from the embarrassment of a messy desktop.
Find your cursor
And, last but not least, El Capitan makes it easier to find your cursor. How often have you found yourself furiously shaking your mouse back and forth because you couldn’t find your cursor? I do it all the time, and it’s especially frustrating when you’re trying to get something done right this second. That’ll never happen again thanks to El Capitan’s new feature.
Going forward, when you shake your mouse or move your finder over a trackpad, the cursor will get bigger so it’s easier to spot. I never thought such a small tweak would make such a big difference. I’ll never frantically search for my cursor again.
Apple pretty much just breezed over its El Capitan update, because, really, not much is changing. Metal is probably the biggest addition, but only developers were really excited about its announcement. (We’ve actually already seen Metal over on iOS.) Instead, this year’s update is more about making small tweaks and creating a more powerful experience.
“OS X El Capitan builds on the groundbreaking features and beautiful design introduced in OS X Yosemite, refining the experience and improving performance in lots of little ways that make a big difference,” Apple said.
We’ll see if that holds true when El Capitan launches for free this fall.
There are a lot of other features coming to the update Apple didn’t get a chance to talk about onstage, including the switch to San Francisco font, Safari top hit in Spotlight, autohide menu bar, improved autofill, and more.