OS X 10.10 Yosemite preview: Welcome to infinite connectivity and seamless productivity

Summary:The tight integration with your iPhone packs a powerful productivity punch, bringing the best of mobile to your desktop and notebook. It does, however, leave one question in mind. Who needs an iPad now?

When Apple introduced the iPad, many questioned the cannibalization of the PC market, which included (at the time) the Mac desktop and notebook range. When the iPad mini rolled out of Apple's door after several iterations of the popular tablet, many asked the same question of its larger slate-like sibling.

Apple's cloud-based power-melding of the iPhone with its latest desktop and notebook operating system, OS X 10.10 Yosemite, packs enough productivity punch that left me wondering what the point of my iPad is.

While many thought the iPad, or any other tablet, was the "mobile meets notebook" that we had so long been waiting for, a tablet — at least in my eyes — can never replace the trusty MacBook that has been by my side since 2011. 

For those unwilling to budge or embrace this sweet tablet middle ground — think, "notebook meets mobile" — Apple is finally bridging its various platforms to bring infinite connectivity and seamless productivity from iPhone and iPad to the Mac. 

The software at this point, which ran through several updates over the course of 30 days, is buggy and clunky in places. This preview is not intended to focus on crashes and bugs, as these were expected and do not represent the full, final and finished state of the software. The purpose of this preview is to capture the visual differences, the productivity changes, and whether it will stand the test of time. 

A logical, visual extension of your iPhone, iPad

Make no mistake: The first thing you will notice when you open your MacBook lid for the first time after installing Yosemite is the new interface and user experience. Different enough to feel new and fresh but not so much that it's jarring to the eye, as the subtle changes to the dock and the typeface are reminiscent of the iOS 7 upgrade.

#dock
The flatter Dock menu Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The overall user experience has greater depth, but the native application icons appear flatter. Icons and apps appear brighter and rounder. Even the "traffic lights" for minimizing, maximizing, and closing windows are more vivid, and no longer user shading. The green maximize button now brings windows to full-screen — and it's about time. But window depth remains, with 3D shading and blurring around each window you have open. 

But what stands out the most, more than anything, are the fonts. Gone are the Lucida Grande days, when the older operating system's text looks somewhat Comic Sans-esque by comparison. The font is now Helvetica Neue throughout the software. It's wider and feels more professional, perhaps an edge towards the more business-minded user? It's enough to make the entire operating system feel fresh from the ground-up.

#fonts
Rounder, wider fonts across the operating system Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The new killer detail in the user experience is the translucency across the board on a number of apps — including native and third-party, such as Skype, which blurs the background through your app, adding an extra layer of depth.

#translucency
Translucent sidebars Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The left-hand panel now lets you see through, à la Windows Vista (back in the day), to the background. There's no practical functionality here except for a lick of paint to the outdated flat and opaque windows in prior versions.

Yosemite only allows you to see the translucency through the one active window at a time. While it was a little jarring at times on iOS 7 when the translucency effect was first introduced, the larger screen makes it far more palatable to handle. That is, with the exception of Safari, which has an entirely translucent top-third of the app, so when you scroll down, it blurs everything from above the line of open tabs.

As with its mobile counterpart, you can always reduce the transparency in the Accessibility menu. 

Dark mode, though its purpose remains unclear, may well benefit those working in the dark? Maybe — just maybe. But it's a new feature nonetheless, though far from finished and polished to Apple's aesthetic standards. Some fonts remain jagged, though this preview software was running on a MacBook Air without a Retina display.

#dark-mode
Switch into 'dark mode' and menus and sidebars dim Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Aside from the visual overhaul, it remains the same-old OS X, and you won't feel lost, or out of your depth.  

Continuity: Here to stay, but more to come

The widely lauded feature that will bridge the Mac with iPhones and iPads has been slowly trickling through the developer builds.

Currently working on the fourth developer-only iteration and public beta (although sporadically it seems — Apple is far from finished with building the software), enough has percolated through the various versions to show off some of the core functionality to Continuity.

Continuity, the umbrella term for your iPhone and Mac working together, has benefits for both the desktop and notebook user, and its hundreds of millions of smartphone and tablet users, by unifying the two platforms through a common connected thread. It works in conjunction with iOS 8, to which there is no public beta.

The full feature set of Continuity — including Handoff — lands later this year when both Yosemite and iOS 8 are launched. 

It's as though any discrimination between the two platforms has finally been resolved. Though Apple has been keen to stress there's no unification of the two platforms in the near or distant future — though, anything can change in a year or two — the two platforms now talk to each other better than ever before.

Now speaking the same common language, the two are separated only by a regional dialect.

Handoff, the feature that allows you to work on one device and "hand-off" to another, such as emails and work documents, works well but when it wants to. And application support seems limited for now, though developers can tie in hand-off features to their own apps and services.

Also with Continuity, you will be able to take and make calls on your Mac so long as your phone is nearby and connected to Wi-Fi. Despite occasional connectivity issues, and while this wasn't tested fully, the functionality exists — and aims to save time when your iPhone is on the other side of the office or your apartment. 

#mac-to-iphone
Call someone through your Mac, via your iPhone Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

And, you can send text messages — not just Apple's own iMessage — through the desktop interface. It routes messages to your iPhone and sends them onward from there, but the process is seamless and requires zero thinking.

It's yet another inconvenience created by earlier versions of OS X, and solved by Yosemite.

Working on a Pages document, or browsing on Safari? So long as you're within range of your MacBook, you can pick up where you left off.

Another bright spark feature aims to allow your MacBook to switch between networks without a second thought. Previously, one needed to select, try and hope that a Wi-Fi connection would work; however, Yosemite will soon be able to connect automatically to the Web through your iPhone or iPad. And when you're no longer active, it will switch off to save your device's battery.

#mac-sms-2
You can now send text messages through your Messages app Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The bottom line is the Mac-plus-iPhone combination means your MacBook now retains connectivity so long as your iPhone does. A lot of "ifs" and "buts" remain, however. What if your iPhone doesn't have connectivity? Then you are pretty much cut out of the outside world's loop. But enough exists in Yosemite, with its iPhone counterpart, to allow you to work anywhere, do anything, and at your own pace, without having to compromise on battery life or keep a constant eye on where your iPhone is.

iOS-ification continues: New apps on deck

The physical connection between your desktop and your mobile isn't the only change. The new iconography you may recognize from your iPhone. New updates to iOS 8, which is expected to be released later this year with the iPhone 6, somewhat refine the icons more. New apps, including iBooks and Podcasts, come as standard. A new Tips app, offering — guess what, tips — on how to use the new software lands in the beta version, but may not stay in the final version. 

launchpad
The new icons in Yosemite Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The operating system's core but peripheral features, such as the Notification Center, built-in from previous iterations of the software, is now more customizable. Long gone are the days when you needed a world clock sitting on your desk, or bolted to the wall in your office. That comes as standard in your peek-in sidebar — as do other third-party and customizable widgets. Your calendar is displayed at a glance, and you don't need to look outside or open the Weather app to see whether or not it's raining.

#notifications-2
The Notification Center is now customizable and more granular than before Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

And for those who need to find something in a hurry, Spotlight, Apple's own desktop and device search engine, now encompasses a number of other different sources, including many from the Web. It covers Safari pages, music, other media, emails, and anything else it can search for. Spotlight quietly indexes your entire hard drive (and other devices) in the background, offering search results on the fly and near-instantaneously.

#spotlight
Spotlight now has a broader range of indexing sources Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Almost everything, including the Notification Center and Spotlight, now come with the translucent view so your wallpaper gently seeps through, adding a layer of depth to the slide-out display.

If anyone likens it to the widely criticized and underperforming Windows Vista, they may have a point in terms of style and aesthetic. But under the hood it runs as fast and as stable as any other Apple operating system on its own dedicated hardware.

"Despite its iterative nature and long-standing features and apps, it's like no other version of OS X you've ever used."

One thing not mentioned yet, in any particular detail, is the cloud — specifically iCloud, which ties everything together. Underpinning the entire operating system, it draws in your iPhone when it needs you (and you need it). Long awaited and finally added into this software release, a new Finder sidebar option, iCloud Drive, is exactly what it appears to be.

Many apps already store data in iCloud, which when it was first released was not an option. It was reserved for photos and contacts, and now and then email — if you ever used it.

Converting to the drive itself is a one-way process, so reversing it is impossible. However, it does come with certain (albeit less seamless) benefits, such as document sharing with Windows machines. Data from apps is sandboxed and segregated into separate folders. With iCloud enabled on Windows, you can access that data relatively easily through your third-party apps, such as Microsoft Word, hit save, and open it up in Pages on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad later.

The bottom line

Despite its iterative nature and long-standing features and apps, it's like no other version of OS X you've ever used.

You'll be connected wherever you are — so long as you have your trusty iPhone with you. You'll be more productive with better search, features, notifications, customizable sidebar widgets, and apps that don't look like they were designed by a five-year-old. The interface is nicer, and easier on the eye. You'll be able to reply to your friends, family, colleagues and co-workers regardless of platform, because text messages can be sent through your desktop.

And if you're working on something on the go and need to switch devices, you can do that with a simple swipe-up from your iPhone or iPad's lock screen or from the conveniently placed icon in your Mac's dock. 

OS X 10.9 Mavericks saw your Mac grow up with work features and iOS integration. Yosemite loosens your Mac up a bit with a plusher interface, granular controls, and seamless transitioning between desktop and mobile devices. 

Constantly connected and better productivity? What more could a business user want?

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Laptops

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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