Apple OS X Yosemite review with 10.10.3 update

Updated: Review updated to reflect new additions of 10.10.3 OS X update.

The latest version of Apple’s desktop OS is finally here. Like last year’s Mavericks, Yosemite is a free update available from the App Store for all recent Macs (dating back to 2007 iMacs and MacBook Pro models). We’re sure most Mac owners will upgrade as a matter of course, although as usual, if your livelihood depends on specific hardware or applications you’ll want to confirm compatibility before taking the plunge.

In practice, this iteration of OS X shouldn’t shake up desktop workflows too much: Yosemite’s emphasis is rather on the mobile side of things, the idea being to make the Mac a better partner to Apple’s mobile devices.

That focus is obvious as soon as you boot up the new OS. The Finder and Dock come populated with new, flatter-looking icons, more redolent of iOS 8, while subtle, soft window-translucency effects further echo the mobile look. Most symbolically, the system font has been switched from Lucida Grande – heretofore a keystone of Aqua – to the sober Helvetica of iOS.

The OS X 10.10 Yosemite desktop has flatter icons, a flatter Dock and a new system font

Apple OS X Yosemite review: Finder, Mail, Calendar & Safari

Wisely, Apple has stopped short of trying to transplant actual iOS interface elements onto the desktop. The changes in Yosemite’s Finder and native applications are mostly modest and practical: they include the ability to annotate emails in Mail; a new layout for Calendar; and a cleaner look for Safari, with a new tab overview and purportedly lower power consumption in multi-tab browsing. Full-screen mode, for applications that support it, is now accessed by clicking the green window-control button, while the wayward window-zoom function of old is demoted to an Option-click.

One notable update is the behaviour of Spotlight. Previously tucked away at the top-right of the screen, the search field now appears as a large floating bar in the upper middle of the screen. As you start to type the name of an application or document, Spotlight’s top suggestion appears alongside your typing, ready for you to open instantly by hitting Return. For searches where you know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s a much cleaner experience than what went before. Otherwise, after a second or so, a drop-down list of alternatives appears, with a preview pane so you can inspect options before opening them.

Spotlight now puts search results at the front and centre of the desktop

Another big change is to the Notification Centre. Previously a dry list of events and messages, this has become a two-pane affair, with the addition of the new “Today” view. By default, this shows the date, calendar events, reminders and other timely information – very much in the iOS style – and can be customised with a selection of widgets. Bundled options include a calculator and a world clock, and developers will also be able to create their own and distribute them via the App Store. The Dashboard does a similar job, of course, but its full-screen interface always seemed clumsy; we find the Today view much less intrusive.

Apple OS X Yosemite review: OS X meets iOS

Where Yosemite really reaches out to mobile devices is in its new features. A new technology called Handoff allows desktop applications to share user-state information with any nearby mobile device running iOS 8. This means you can now start writing an email or document on your MacBook, then switch to the iPad and pick up where you left off. It works with a wide range of applications, including Safari, Pages and Maps, and a public API means cross-platform developers can use Handoff in their own creations too.

Communications features become more device-agnostic too. Mavericks brought FaceTime to the desktop, and now in Yosemite it’s possible to send and receive text messages, picture messages and even regular voice calls from your Mac – so long as your iPhone is on the same local network. The process of tethering a Mac to an iPhone has meanwhile been streamlined into a one-click operation, a feature Apple calls Instant Hotspot.

Subtle translucency effects hint at Yosemite's relationship with iOS

Arguably the most significant development in this area is iCloud Drive, which lets you use your 5GB of iCloud storage (or more if you’ve paid for it) as a general-purpose Dropbox-type repository for your own files and folders. There’s a Windows client too, so that files can be easily synchronised across platforms, but what’s really interesting is that it also works on iOS, providing for the first time an effortless way to move files back and forth between desktop and mobile clients. An updated AirDrop client means it’s also possible to beam files directly from iOS 8 to OS X clients and back.

New 10.10.3 update brings more iOS similarities

Apple has just pushed out a new update to Yosemite, delivering a refined version of Spotlight, updated Safari, a new Photos app, and a fix to Wi-Fi issues that some users have experienced.

The update to Photos from iPhoto is the most notable change. No longer are you forced into using a slightly reskinned version of a rather terrible photo management application, Photos brings Yosemite’s image experience in line with that of iOS 8’s. Now it’s easier to browse and organise photos based on time and location, and you can upload photos to iCloud at the original resolution, instead of seeing your precious pictures suffer at the hands of compression.

Photos also allows you to edit images, albeit in a very simple way. It’s not going to replace Photoshop by any means, but it’s perfect for those who want to partake in a bit of light editing work to get the most from their photos.

If you’re already a Yosemite user you can download the update for free from the App Store, otherwise new users will have it bundled in when they make the move over to Apple’s latest Mac OS.

Apple OS X Yosemite review: Verdict

In the past, some have suggested that Apple’s long-term plan for confluence might be to evolve OS X into a variant of iOS. But Yosemite points in the opposite direction. In Apple’s vision, desktop and mobile platforms build on their distinctive strengths – yet work together, so that you and your files, projects and communications can hop freely between them as whim and convenience dictate.

That might sound like idealistic marketing-speak, but the reality hangs together surprisingly well. If your focus is on desktop applications, the move from Mavericks to Yosemite might seem fairly inconsequential. But if you already own an iOS 8 device, it’s an irresistible upgrade – and if you don’t, it’s the best argument we’ve yet seen for switching to an all-Apple line-up.


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