Apple’s next OS X, version 10.10 Yosemite, was released to public beta last week. It’s the first time that Apple has invited one million users, ordinary users outside the developer community, to preview their next operating system before its official release later this year. Many people took to the streets, or the Internet, to take Yosemite for a spin. Me too, of course.
First impressions? Yosemite is pretty. It’s beautiful. The whole interface looks new. It’s actually functionally pretty much the same as before, but it has a refreshing new look to it. Same as before, yet different. Windows have a nice translucent background that allow other window elements under it to peek through. Interface elements are flatter than before. Icons, such as those in the status bar, have thinner, lighter strokes. All these are in line with expectations in modern user interfaces.
One significant factor that is contributing to the refreshing new look is the change in OS X’s system font. Oh yes. Apple has used Lucida Grande since 1999 in what was then known as Mac OS X Server 1.0. Fifteen years later, Lucida Grande is giving way to Helvetica Neue. Font changes might escape most people’s attention, but I’d imagine that people should at least notice that something does look different, and at least more modern.
The above screenshots show the desktops of Mavericks first, then the Yosemite public beta below it. Perhaps the most striking difference is with the dock. Dock icons, at least for the default apps in OS X, have a flatter look. The trashcan is quite a bit different. If you zoom in to compare, you can probably see the status icons have thinner and lighter strokes.
There’s not much you can see in an empty desktop. However, once you start browsing around various parts of the Yosemite interface, you can pick up more visual differences.
Apart from the translucent menus that Mavericks had, Yosemite now also allows parts of the window to also be translucent. Active running apps in the dock are now indicated by a simple black dot.
Beyond just the skin deep visual differences, there are a bunch more functional improvements too. For example, there’s a cleverer spotlight that lets you preview your search results, and it’ll also go out to the Internet to find things for you.
Yosemite brings more integration with iPhones and iPads. For example, you can take calls and send SMS text messages from your Mac through your iPhone. This will be a cool party trick to show. You can start an activity on your iPhone and continue with it from your Mac. Think web browsing sessions that begin from the iPhone when you’re on the move, then picking it up from your Mac when you arrive at home or at the office. It’s really convenient. Now, where does that leave non-iOS users? I suppose this is Apple’s trick to pull users into iOS.
Mavericks introduced many powerful under-the-hood features, like App Nap and Timer Coalescing. You can’t see them, but they are powerful mechanisms to improve energy efficiency. Compressed memory enables the Mac to do more, and do them quicker by avoiding swapping. Yosemite, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have these sort of ass-kicking features.
There’s many things one could have hoped for in Yosemite. My own list starts off with a Time Machine that backs up block level changes, as well as incorporate in-app data intelligence. The latter, obviously, requires support from the app developers. I also want to see more security features, such as a full-fledged anti-malware engine baked into the operating system. You’d think that Apple had enough resources to buy out an anti-virus company and bring the expertise and resources in-house. This could be a big win for Apple. iCloud Drive is cool, but can we think about a cloud (and distributed) storage where the local computer intelligently caches, perhaps with user hinting, portions of the data in local storage?
Then there’s also the laundry list of little bits I’d really love to have. For example, can there be a way for me to tell OS X that I’m connected through a wireless hotspot served through a miserly carrier data plan, so could the computer stop trying to download the Internet? I’m hoping for some OS-level framework, so that all the apps can ride on this. When I tell the computer I’m on a slow network, or a bandwidth-costly network, or perhaps even better if the computer could figure it out on their own, please stop checking and downloading OS and app updates, or a bunch of other cut out other unimportant network activity that has not been specifically asked for by the user.
Yosemite’s visible improvements are important, because people can see them and appreciate that there are new things. Even if it were a simple tweaked interface, people will get excited over a refreshing new look. Yeah, even the font change has got my compliments for a more beautiful interface. Fortunately Yosemite’s changes are not just skin deep, even though there aren’t Mavericks kind of under-the-hood changes.
Yosemite is expected to officially launch in October this year. It will be a free update, like Mavericks. There’s little reason why anyone shouldn’t upgrade.