Three months ago Apple senior vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, stood up on the Town Hall stage and said OS X Yosemite would be available that very day. We posted our OS X Yosemite review as soon as it went live, based on almost four months of beta testing. And we've had an additional 90 days to live with the final version. So, what have we grown to love and what has gotten on our nerves? It's time to check in on Apple's latest version of the Macintosh operating system, three months later...
Ren: I remember letting out an audible gasp when Apple revealed the new set of Yosemite icons on stage at WWDC last year. Not out of surprise, necessarily — more appreciation. Yosemite's design has come with a dose of knowledge and experience from two years of working on iOS's flat-color UI, and it shows. I may not be a huge fan of the super-transparency, but I love the icons and the general fit and finish of Yosemite. Anything pre-OS X 10.10 just looks stale and dated — much the way OS 9 felt in comparison to OS X.
I wish Dark mode was more fully-realized, though. I love the dark menu bar, but what about dark Safari, or dark Finder? Give me more!
Ally: I'm ecstatic that the design language on my Mac now matches more closely to iOS. At first I wasn't too sure but after only a few days, the whole experience just seemed more refined. I opened a friend's conputer recently that was still running Mavericks and it just felt "old"
Rene: I'm still loving the Yosemite design. Last year I waited almost 9 months to update my podcast machine from Mountain Lion to Mavericks. This year I took a hard look at those waves and updated to Yosemite almost immediately. And it wasn't for any of the new features — I keep the podcast machine stripped down to the basics — it was for the interface. Yosemite made Mavericks look intolerably outdated.
Peter: Yosemite looks a lot more clean and up to date than Mavericks thanks to a redesign that emphasizes a flatter interface — buttons and user interfaces have been reworked with a more modern austerity that echoes the changes introduced in iOS 7 without parroting them enough to be called "iOSified."
This new design is clearly optimized with Retina displays in mind — it's serviceable on the MacBook Air and older laptops, but looks positively brilliant on the Retina MacBook Air and other machines with the pixel-pushing power to really make it look good.
Rene: Extensibility on iOS changed the way I use my iPhone and iPad. It transformed interface from pull to push. On OS X… not so much. I like the Yosemite extensions well enough, from markup to share to widgets, I just don't use them as much. That could be because the Mac has always been productive enough without them. It could also be that Mac extensions will take some time before they come fully into their own — as a plugin architecture accessible to the masses.
Ally: I am with Rene here. While I love extensibility, I just haven't found very many use cases on OS X like I have on iOS. I may have to attribute some of this to the fact that I am a creature of habit when it comes to my Mac workflow and get anxiety about straying from it.
Peter: I agree with Rene. I haven't found a lot of use for the new extensibility functions in Yosemite. Even some of the hallmark ones, like Markup, which Apple showcases in Mail, really isn't something that grabs me. I'm sure it'll evolve and come into its own, but so far, I'm not finding a lot of use for it.
Ren: Yep, singing with the choir here. I haven't used Markup in three months, and I thought I was going to love that feature. Really want to see a couple of key apps make extensibility something worth caring about.
Ren: I have sung the praises of Continuity's promise many a time, so I'll refrain from doing it at length here. In short: I like what Apple offers, wish more third-party apps would take advantage of the tools, and want the bugs gone.
Ally: I use Continuity calling and texting like crazy. I honestly can't imagine not having it at this point. Sure there are bugs that need working out but I still believe it's the one amazing thing that ties both work flows together. Unfortunately, OS X hadn't yet received the love iOS has gotten just yet. Hopefully that changes soon.
Rene: Continuity is the beginning of something big. We've been able to sync data and content for a long time, but now that we can sync activity, what I'm using becomes less important than what I'm doing. We've been able to tether and transfer files, make voice calls and message, for a long time. We've never been able to instantly tether or filedrop, make calls or send texts from any device as though it was our phone. It's potent enough between iPhone and Mac. It'll be even more so between Apple Watch, iPhone, and Mac.
Peter: Unquestionably for me, the key improvement in Yosemite. For years we've been hearing warnings from hand-wringers that Apple would "iOSify" the Mac. That hasn't come to pass, but something much more important has: Apple's figured out that the sum of the iPhone, iPad and Mac is greater than the whole of the parts.
Continuity represents one of the most fundamental shifts in workflow approaches we could have imagined: The concept that regardless of what Apple product you use, what you're doing with it is the important thing. And Continuity is the embodiment of a concept that Apple's head designer Jony Ive has described as "the interface just getting out of the way."
In practical applications, Continuity features like Handoff can make your life much better — I use Call Relay every day to make and take calls from my iPhone using my Mac, for example. But it's experiencing some growing pains: Features don't always work consistently. I've had a lot of trouble getting Mac to iOS AirDrop work with any regularity, for example, and had to jump through hoops before the Mac would recognize my iPhone as an automatic hotspot. I hope Apple gets all these issues ironed out before they put the full court press on whatever succeeds Yosemite.
Ren: Spotlight in Yosemite is a great upgrade — and with third-party plugins like Flashlight, almost worth giving up third-party launchers for. I do wish you could move the search window around, though; I use Spotlight a lot for calculating figures, and I often end up typing over the numbers I want to consult. It's something that Alfred does very well, and Apple's default, not so much.
Ally: I like pretty much everything about the new Spotlight search except its placement. I frequently use Spotlight as a calculator and having it in the middle of the screen isn't very convenient. I wish there was an option to relocate it back to the top right again. Other than that, it has worked as advertised for me, and then some.
Rene: I really dig the new Spotlight. Center screen is where it's at and giving me the app launch possibilities and file finding powers front and center is exactly what I want. The new smarts are great as well. Sure, there's a privacy price to pay for letting Spotlight be that smart, but it's a small one and the improvement is well worth it. I'm using it even more than I did previously, and I wouldn't have thought that possible.
Peter: Spotlight gains a new look, going front and center into the middle of your Mac's screen, and adds some important new functionality and usability, with search results popping up as you type. Full previews, Wikipedia entries, movie results with Fandango, unit conversion, iBook searches and more now populate in the Spotlight window.
I find myself more and more reliant on Spotlight for tasks that I'd otherwise relegate to web searches, Dashboard widgets or applications. So the added functionality is great. What I like the most about Spotlight, though, is that as soon as you're on to the next task, it disappears from view and gets out of your way. Smart design from Apple.
Ren: I am so grateful that Mail.app works again for me in Yosemite. The Mavericks horror days were dark days indeed, and while I tried to love Airmail and other third-party clients, it just wasn't the same. Strangely enough, I've never used Mail Drop, not even to test — I've already integrated Dropbox so thoroughly into my workflow that it never even occurs to me to try out Mail's new iCloud feature.
Ally: I don't use Mail.app. I've been terrified of it since Mavericks ate my Gmail account last year. I did launch it and play around with it for a day or so on just my iCloud account. Nothing was compelling enough for me to switch back. Sorry Apple, I'll just stick with Airmail and Mailbox.
Rene: Mail.app is my jam. No, seriously. I like IMAP, I like multiple account types, and I like a unified inbox. I don't like sharing my login with middle-mail providers. Put all that together, and it makes Mail made for me. Unlike Peter, I didn't have many problems with Maverick's mail — I don't sync that many folders — and the same has held true for Yosemite. I haven't had occasion to use Markup or Mail Drop more than a handful of times but I like that both exist. Mostly Mail has just been working for me the way it always has, and that's exactly what I want.
Peter: Mail in Mavericks was a mess. Apple went back to the basics with Yosemite to make sure users didn't have the same sort of problems with Gmail-based accounts and other systems that didn't seem to play too well with Mavericks. On balance the results have been okay for most of us.
One of Yosemite's great innovations for Mail was the introduction of the Markup extension, which enables you to, as the name implies, mark up graphics and images included in e-mail attachments. It does have some handy features, like the ability to attach a signature to a PDF using your trackpad as the signing surface, which I've actually used on occasion. But for the most part Markup is a snoozer for me — I often forget it's there entirely.
The other tentpole feature of Mail is called Mail Drop, and it uses iCloud to store and forward large file enclosures so they don't get caught in mail server relay hell. It's a good idea; for my purposes, it really hasn't been an issue, but I can image it's making the lives a lot easier of people who have never heard of Dropbox.
Ally: Chrome for life yo.
Ren: Oh, Safari. I love your new interface and features, but you're still such an extraordinary memory hog. My MacBook Air loathes you, and yet, I use you still. Chrome just doesn't do it for me — you're fast, your rendering is beautiful, and iCloud Keychain is just too useful, especially when paired with 1Password.
Peter: Safari's streamlined toolbar leaves more space on the page for actual web content, and the new Tab view makes it easy to navigate to different tabs you already have open. I tend to pile a ton of tabs in each window, so I use this feature quite a bit. Apple's also made private browsing — a feature it pioneered — even easier to use by making it window-specific, rather than something that has to be on or off entirely.
Rene: Since iCloud, the only thing I use iTunes for is adding metadata to the podcasts. For that reason, I still long for the day when Windows no longer required a native app and we can have iTunes for iCloud, and just access our music, TV shows, and Movies from any browser, anywhere.
Ren: Die, iTunes, die! I can't believe I'm saying that about an app I used to cherish in the early OS X days, but it's become too bloated and too much of a beast to launch on a regular basis. I've turned to playing my music through my iPhone to AirPlay speakers over using the iTunes client, in order to keep free memory available on my computer. I'm waiting for a reimagining, Apple. Please tell me 13 is iTunes's lucky number.
Ally: I rarely launch iTunes except to make backups occasionally. I still don't completely trust iCloud. Other than that, it rarely gets any use. For music I depend on Rdio. All other media is consumed on one of the many Apple TVs we have floating around. I would have rather seen Apple spend time making iTunes useful instead of throwing on a new coat of paint. In so many words, I have to agree with Peter here.
Peter: Every time I think Apple can't make iTunes any worse, they find a way to completely crap it up even further. That's what I think about iTunes 12, in a nutshell.
iTunes doesn't need streamlining or reworking — it needs to die. It just needs to be taken out to a field and shot, and left there as an example to other apps never to become the fat, broken, slow, bloated mess than iTunes has become.
God, I hate iTunes with an almost pathological loathing.
Ally: Do Not Disturb, SMS relay, and the ability to leave conversations is like unicorns and chocolate covered rainbows. AMAZING. So many group threads are less annoying and obnoxious. Location sharing and groups are also awesome. I rarely use the audio message feature but every once in a while it has been convenient in a pinch, and I guess that's exactly the point.
Ren: Golly do I love me some updated Messages features. Like Ally, I find that SMS relay has only improved Messages's ability to function as a desktop replacement for the app on your phone. It's slowly become an AIM replacement for me — something I never thought possible a few years back.
Rene: The new group messaging features in Messages are great. We have an iMore group, we had a CES group, and my family and friends and I have a couple groups. The ability to name them, mute them, and leave them have made them much more useful. Likewise, Continuity means all my Android Central friends can now be replied to from my Mac as well. The other stuff, like soundbites, is either something I'm too old and nervous to employ, or needs some interface tweaks to make me feel less old and nervous. I'm hoping for the latter.
Peter: Paired with Continuity's SMS relay feature, Messages provides uninterrupted messaging between the Mac and non-iPhone texters. This is such a great innovation — now I can use Messages to talk with anyone, regardless of whether they're part of the Apple ecosystem. Provided my iPhone is within range, of course.
I really haven't found any excuse to use Soundbites, which enable you to send automatically expiring audio files to other Messages users, though it's a cool feature for those for whom typing something out isn't the right solution, either because of nuance, security or for whatever reason.
Group messaging is the other place where Messages really stands apart — features like the ability to mute or exit group messages and title group chats are long overdue, and welcome.
Ally: I'm extremely happy with Yosemite not only aesthetically but with how it minimizes the gap between iOS and OS X. However, I hope 2015 is the year developers take advantage of OS X. The Mac App Store isn't nearly as robust as it could be and I sincerely hope features like Continuity and Handoff give developers more reason than ever to develop amazing Mac apps that knock our socks off.
Rene: I like Yosemite a lot. I've used it through the betas in June and the release in October and now, three months later, I'm still delighted with it. There are some bugs, of course, and some odd behavior, but I've had that with every version of OS X. More importantly, there's a new flag in the ground from Apple — more than ever it feels like they know where the Mac fits in, and they've made it fit in there better than ever.
Ren: Like Rene, I've used Yosemite since the early betas, and I'm very happy with it; it's a much more stable release in my opinion than Mavericks, though it does have its bugs and quirks. (Dark mode in particular is still very half-baked, which breaks my heart.) I also wish Apple would just acknowledge that the majority of its "Accessibility" display preferences should really just be "Display" preferences — hiding away things like high contrast make it more frustrating for users who'd prefer not to deal with muted colors or transparency.
Peter: My complaints and comments about growing pains aside, I think Yosemite is a very impressive release. Apple's modernized the Mac user interface while still keeping it uniquely Mac-like, and Continuity is the biggest thing to happen to the Macintosh since the Intel switch — it's something that increases the value of getting a Mac to millions upon millions of iPhone and iPad users.
Apple's had a pretty relentless schedule of OS releases now for a while. And some of the stumbling blocks we've faced with Yosemite have made me wonder if it's not time for Apple to take a breather — to really sit down, assess the landscape and make sure that OS X is as tight, reliable and thoroughly user-friendly as it can be — before piling on more features. I wrote about this in November, and I know I'm not alone — other folks like Marco Arment have chimed in with similar sentiments. Maybe Apple should take a page from its own history with Snow Leopard and make 2015 the year of Snow Yosemite, so to speak.