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First look: OS X Yosemite

updated 07:27 am EDT, Tue June 24, 2014

Apple leverages OS X Yosemite to land a hammer blow on Android

Apple's WWDC 14 was a massive event with many interesting talking points and implications as our team examined. Although Apple has been relatively quiet on the hardware front since the launch of the all-new Mac Pro in late 2013, it is now very clear that it has been doing anything but standing still. iOS has become Apple's flagship operating system, by virtue of the massive success of the devices that the OS powers. Apple's iOS install base is ten times as large as its Mac install base (even though at 80 million users, the latter is now at record levels for Apple too). Consequently, Apple has poured considerable energy in to advancing iOS. However, with OS X Yosemite, Apple has worked hard to bring the Mac OS into line with iOS, but also to make the two operating systems more seamlessly integrated than ever before. In doing so, OS X Yosemite could be the most important iteration of Apple's desktop OS since its inception.

When I wrote a post-WWDC analysis, the thing that struck me most in OS X Yosemite was the new set of features that come under the banner of 'Continuity.' To me, this is one of the strongest assaults on Android that I have yet to see from Apple. With Continuity, OS X becomes the best way to get more from your iPhone than ever before - which is a very tempting carrot indeed, especially for those who want to get everything out of their devices. Automatic hotspot functionality, the ability to take and make calls from your Mac over your iPhone remotely, along with 'Handoff' (which allows you to pick which device suits your needs best at any given moment, whether working on an e-mail or document) all serve to enhance the attractiveness of the Mac platform to iPhone users; and most importantly, would be iPhone users. Coupled with this, AirDrop now works directly between Bluetooth LE-equipped Macs and iOS devices featuring Lightning ports (Lightning port-equipped iOS devices incorporate Wi-Fi Direct functionality).

OS X Yosemite desktop

Why do I think that OS X Yosemite and 'Continuity' represent one of Apple's strongest attacks on Android? Despite the fact that in the post-PC world, many of us can get most of what we need to get done on our mobile devices, personal computers like the Mac still play a leading role in getting things done. When it comes to mobile productivity, it is still hard to beat a notebook (even though post-PC devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 come close to successfully combining the pre- and post-PC worlds). Consequently, there are plenty of Apple Mac users who (perhaps because of a preference for a larger display) have switched to Android smartphones. All you have to do is look at the average Google campus to see that Apple MacBooks are the notebook of choice, even if Apple iPhone's may not be. For iPhone users who don't own a Mac, and for MacBook owners who use an Android device, OS X Yosemite could help to drive both increased iPhone and Mac adoption. For Apple's competitors, the thought of one or two iPhones with larger displays will have already been keeping them up at night. The super tight integration of iOS devices and OS X Yosemite is not something many, if any, saw coming and is like a hammer blow.

OS X Yosemite Notifications Center

Although it is only early days in the beta development phase of OS X Yosemite, there is plenty to like. We have been using it since WWDC and are impressed by how beautiful it looks and how smoothly everything is running. Not all the new features announced at WWDC have been enabled, but the fundamental look and feel of the operating system as demonstrated at WWDC is in place. From the point of view of aesthetics, OS X Yosemite has adopted, as expected, a number of the design cues from Apple's redesigned mobile operating system. Translucency effects that add layers of depth and a sense of context is iOS have been applied to great effect in OS X Yosemite, while the 'flat' design language has also been utilized. Both work to freshen up the Mac experience without alienating long time users, while also serving to attract iOS users to Macs who will also feel instantly at home with some of the familiar touches.

OS X Yosemite Mail markup function

There is a lot more to OS X Yosemite than simply a new look. Core apps like Safari, Mail, Maps, Messages, FaceTime, Reminders and Calendar have also been revamped. Along with the new OS X Yosemite look and feel, they take many of the most effective features fro their iOS 8 counterparts to greatly improve the Mac user experience. As with the changes wrought in iOS 7, your content is now front and center on the Mac too. For example, in Safari for Mac, Apple has taken the minimalist tool bar from Safari for iOS that not only looks more streamlined, but significantly increases the amount of the webpage content that is visible within the window. While this is critical on a smartphone, it is still very welcome on a notebook and even a desktop. There is a new open tabs view that will be familiar to iOS 7 users, but this is now even more powerful, allowing to remotely close apps open on other devices, as well as see what you have open on them. Speed boosts are also apparent not only in Safari, but across the system.

OS X Yosemite Instant Hotspot function via iPhone

Other highlights in OS X Yosemite include a revamped Notifications Center and a much more functional Spotlight system and Internet-wide search facility. The Notifications Center was first introduced in OS X Mavericks, and like many of truly functional enhancements in recent iterations of OS X draws from effective functional implementations in iOS. Its new dark translucent background looks beautiful, while it continues to show you recent notifications from across applications like Mail, Messages, FaceTime, as well as social apps like FaceBook. However, it is now divided between two tabs, with a great new 'Today' view that outlines the day ahead at a glance, including Calendar and Reminders notifications. It also incorporates streamlined Widgets that can be added, removed and easily reshuffled according to preference. Spotlight has been pushed to a larger central window that provides much richer results and previews. At the same time, Bing search has been added to supplement local system results with Internet results.

OS X Yosemite make phone calls via iPhone

However, the killer feature in OS X Yosemite, is as I highlighted earlier, the new levels of integration between Mac and iOS devices. In fact, it is impossible to talk about OS X Yosemite without talking about its integration with iOS. Apple has always had the reputation for providing a seamless user experience between its devices. This move to integrate their functionality in ways that make so much sense is a classic Apple masterstroke. Who would have thought that the in a post-PC world, Apple could have leveraged the Mac desktop operating system in a way that makes owning an iPhone and/or an iPad even more attractive than ever before?

OS X Yosemite send SMS via iPhone

Microsoft, for example, is trying to convince Mac owners that the Surface Pro 3 can give you the best of both the iPad and the MacBook Air in one device - I would argue that it may be giving be giving you 'both worlds,' but not necessarily the best of them. The Surface Pro 3 is neither the best tablet you can buy, nor is it the best notebook that you can buy. The Apple post-PC paradigm has sensibly kept the desktop OS and the mobile OS as two separate and distinct entities, but in a way that does not preclude the two from having a deeply intertwined relationship that actually makes both the better for it. Microsoft, as we know, has been having an uphill battle trying to convince users that its desktop and mobile mashup known as Windows 8 is the best solution. In doing so, it has alienated its desktop user base, while making life unnecessarily complicated for its would-be tablet audience.

OS X Yosemite Handoff seamless device switching across apps

Others may seek to imitate Apple as, they almost always do, but they will not be able to match Apple's level of cross platform integration, execution and singular vision. Microsoft is perhaps the only company that could potentially come close if it gets its act together, but it remains well behind the eight-ball because of a lack of a unifying vision and direction. It is still trying to beat a path out of the fundamental platform incompatibilities between Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 that will take time to untangle. Apple has had the momentum since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 it is has been looking to build on that momentum all the time. OS X Yosemite, and key innovations including HealthKit and HomeKit in iOS 8, coupled with its all-new programming language Swift are continuing to seeing to that. With new hardware launches impending, and with Apple poised to kickstart the wearables revolution too, Apple has never looked to be in a better position.

As Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the WWDC 2014 Keynote, 'Only Apple' can accomplish what it has delivered in Mac OS X Yosemite, and iOS 8. Each without the other is still a great user experience. However, the two are now better together than ever before, making the appeal of the wider Apple ecosystem even more seductive and even harder for Apple's leading competitors to match, let alone try to beat.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



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