The brand new OS X Yosemite is perhaps the most dramatic redesign of Apple's operating system to date. Tomorrow, Apple's launching a public beta (Sign up now!) of its forthcoming desktop OS. Here's what you can expect to see.
At this stage in the game, it's not fair or appropriate to give the new (very beta!) version of OS X a real evaluation. Some of the features aren't fully-formed, while others—ahem, iCloud Drive—seem barely present at all. At least not in the final form we were expecting. But after using Yosemite for almost two months, we've got a pretty good sense of where the operating system is headed as we approach the final release this fall. Here's a rundown.
A more elegant design
At the very least, OS X Yosemite is all about aesthetics. It manages to look both vastly different yet not entirely unfamiliar. Every button, font, and app icon looks different to the benefit of usability across the board. To be more precise, the button and icon design has been "flattened" so that there are no false contours or shadows to make everything look like it's from the real world.
The operating systems' font has been updated from Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue, this time to a Helvetica variant that's a little easier on the eyes and matches the typeface on iOS.
In fact, from a design point of view the overhauled look can be seen as a follow up to the changes introduced to the mobile operating system in iOS 7: From the flatness to the semi-transparent windows. It all looks cleaner. Even if the trashcan and finder icons look ultra dopey.
More robust notifications
Notification Center has been updated with a new look that borrows its black transparent design from iOS's pull down notification pane.
Last year, Mavericks added a Notification Center and with Yosemite, Apple made it way more useful. Though the Mavericks notifications worked very well as popups, I never found myself peering behind the pane very often to check my notifications. Now, Apple has divided its Notification Center into two different categories. One shows notifications as we were used to them before, the other shows a "Today" view with a combination of upcoming events, reminders, current weather, and stocks. In addition to replicating some of the functionality of automatic assistants like Google Now, it also signals that Apple might be phasing out widgets even more than it already has.
Overall, Notification Center has been improved, but in my experience using it since the beginning of June, I'm still not using the panel much. I love the popup notifications, but the panel doesn't do enough to be using it all the time.
A totally new Spotlight
The new Spotlight search, and file browsing in general, have been greatly improved in OS X Yosemite. The first thing I noticed made me giggle with glee: Previews of animated GIFs now automatically animate in the preview pane. Hurray! But don't worry, the improvements go much deeper.
If you're like me, Spotlight is your default application and file launcher. Just hit Command + Space to pull up the search bar and peck out your query, rather than navigating through windows hunting for the exact location of the file you're using. In Yosemite, when you go through this motion, the search pops up in a small pane directly at the center of your screen, which when you actually see it pop up makes so much more sense than the old search bar in the top right of your screen.
The new update isn't just conveniently situated; it could turn Spotlight into your default way of searching for information that you'd ordinarily go to a browser for, like for example...
...looking something up on Wikipedia....
...finding delicious food nearby...
I suppose what's sort of weird about Apple's strategy here is that it's using what you've entered to predict where you want to search for something. Sometimes Spotlight guesses sort of wrong, and I wish I'd searched in a browser instead. But powerful universal search of the web and your local computer and your emails is the future, so it's nice to see Apple firmly heading in that direction.
As I noted during Apple's announcement, the Mail app has been boring for years. In OS X Yosemite, it's getting a cleaner overall design as well as some neat features that seem aimed directly at some popular current third-party apps.
The first is Markup (above), which works a lot like Evernote's Skitch annotation tool, except that it's stuck in the Mail application. It works functions or less as you would expect: you can easily annotate images and documents. Additionally, you can add a little scribble signature to sign stuff. Very handy. It's not as powerful as Skitch, but it shows at least, that Apple's trying to be where its users are.
The other slick new feature is Mail Drop, which allows you to bypass attachment size constraints by uploading files that are too big and sending the recipient a link.
For a long time, Calendar like some of the other core apps in OS X has lost ground to some web based versions. At the very new version is significantly better looking and easier to read at a glance, owing to the design improvements that have been introduced across Yosemite.
As with Calendar, Safari lost the power users long ago. The new version takes a cue from the rest of the OS and scales back the interface and lets the content really shine forward. The typography and icons in the UI are minimal and greyed or partially transparent when not in use. It's an aesthetically pleasing browser, but definitely doesn't have the utility of a Chrome you've loaded up with extensions.
The best is yet to come
If you do sign up for the public beta, you won't have access to some of the best that OS X Yosemite has to offer because many of the best features integrate OS X with the forthcoming iOS 8. Amongst these:
Handoff: Allows you to pick up a task on your Mac from your iPhone or the other way around. So if you're looking at something in Safari on your phone you can seamlessly grab that page on your computer.
Instant Hotspot: Share your phone's internet connection with your Mac easily. As long as your phone is nearby, it'll show up in your Wi-Fi options on your computer.
Get calls and SMS on your Mac: Exactly what it sounds like. You'll be able to pick up your phone calls on your Mac. And in addition to being able to get iMessages through the Messages app, you'll get SMS as well.
iCloud Drive: iCloud storage is going to at long last become a lot more like Dropbox storage, allowing you to easily access your documents across devices without a pain.
Bottom line: It's all coming together
OS X Yosemite definitely isn't finished, but even if all the newly announced features work exactly as they're going to in their final versions, we've got a pretty clear picture now of what the final version will be. Yosemite isn't the full-on mobile-desktop convergence we've been predicting for years so much as a step in that direction. We've got a long way to go before the desktop and mobile platforms are truly, and to use Apple's parlance, "continuously" integrated. Maybe Apple doesn't want to go all the way, but it seems that the halfway approach leaves us with a product that's almost cluttered with a mixture of old and new. For all its merits, Yosemite only gets us part of the way to where we need to be.
What's certain is that what we're looking at here reflects Apple's biggest ideas in recent memory about what the desktop OS can be. It's more than a pretty face—it's facing in the right direction.