WWDC 2014: Mac OS X Edition

I realize Apple doesn't call it Mac OS X any more. Deal with it nerds.

Monday's keynote for WWDC 2014 was jam packed with software announcements. The first of which was OS X Yosemite. This marks the second release of OS X named after a location in California (previous version of Mac OS X we're named after species of cats).

Yosemite is a massive update. I'm going to a quick run down the changes (not having used it yet), and then follow up with what I think they mean generally.

System Changes

Redesigned Interface

Before today I'd seen couple of concepts of what OS X styled after iOS 7 could look like. This visual update is massive but definitely on the safe side as far as potential changes go. It definitely looks different but the changes tend to be mostly skin keep. The menubar, toolbars, buttons and controls are all in the same place, the just look different. Colors are brighter, everything is whiter, and more transparent in general. It's clearly a Mac but it draws heavy inspiration from iOS 7. This redesign, like iOS 7, appears to touch every pixel of OS X.

Notification Center

Notifications have been a great addition on the Mac. I like being able to know when I get a new iMessage or tweet. Notification Center is almost useless. I assigned it's activation to a hot corner and use Bartender for Mac to hide the icon from the menubar. It's terrible. In Yosemite, Apple has made some changes to hopefully make it more useful. They've added the Today view from iOS 7's Notification Center to get an overview of upcoming events, weather and traffic. Widgets are here now too and presumably Dashboard (the former location for widgets on OS X) will be eradicated (and good riddance).

iOS Integration

The past few releases of iOS and OS X have brought a bit of a feature exchange. New features are created in one version, and then brought over to the other in its next release. This year we have a different type of relationship between the two. System-level integration.

Phone Calls

Your Mac now has the capability to dial, and receive calls from your iPhone, even when it's not right next to your computer. It turns your Mac into something like an external speakerphone, or Bluetooth apparatus like you'd find in most modern cars.

SMS

SMS conversations will now display on your Mac. You can read and reply via your Mac as well. As far as I know the Mac can't send SMS messages (since cell carriers would never allow this). My understanding is that pressing enter to send an SMS from your Mac then instructs your iPhone (which does have SMS capabilities) to accomplish the task. It's just supposed to occur seamlessly so that it doesn't appear like that's what is happening.

Handoff

This is one of the biggest new features. Start an email draft on your iPhone, finish on your Mac. Start an important spreadsheet on your Mac, finish it on your iPad. All you need to do is approach the device you want to work on, with the one you started working on. If it works, this will be incredible. It's going to make owning various Apple devices into more joyful experience, as opposed to the tolerable one it is right now.

Instant Hotspot

This one is particularly interesting to me since bandwidth caps on cell plans tend to limit tethering's usefulness. Still, one click to setup a hotspot is a far cry from the present situation.

Spotlight

Over the last few releases of OS X, Apple has decided it will incorporate features for popular apps on its platform. They tend to implement the bare minimum necessary as far as features go but have incredibly good core integration into the OS. The new Spotlight is exactly that. It's a simple launcher app, akin to Quicksilver, Alfred, or my personal favorite, Launchbar. I would expect the launcher app market to persist similarly as it does today. Generally getting people to switch apps is a difficult prospect, and all of the previously listed apps have well-developed feature sets. The new Spotlight may, however, discourage any potential new entrants into the launcher app market.

iCloud Drive

iCloud drive is a big deal. Before, any files you stored in an app's iCloud storage were stuck there. Now they're accessible from the iCloud Drive section of the finder. This removes one of the major limitations iCloud was presenting and makes it more useful as a potential replacement for Dropbox if you want to do some simple document syncing between devices.

AirDrop

AirDrop is a little strange for me. It sounds like a great feature but I don't think I've ever used it. It's a service that lets you share files between devices that are in close proximity. It used to only work between iOS devices. Now the Mac has it too. I haven't found a huge need for it. I have enough other syncing services so I seem to be covered but I've heard this is big for some people.

App Changes

In addition to the already mentioned visual updates, the apps in OS X Yosemite have also received various feature modifications and enhancements.

Safari

Apple always seems to be updating Safari. Yes it got faster but this time it's also gotten a visual refresh. It brings in the favorites view you may already see when you have an empty tab on your iOS 7 devices. There's also a iOS 7 style tab view that's more spread out. Tabs are grouped by site. You can also type in query's in the search and go directly to sites like Wikipedia without taking the obligatory stop on Google's first search page.

Mail

Mail seems to be one of the most oft-updated app on OS X. Apple seems to focus on it in almost every release. Sometimes they redesign it like they did is OS X Lion. Sometimes they make it more reliable like that have here in Yosemite. Apple claims to have worked incredibly hard on reliability of the simple things. Syncing accounts, and sending mail etc. They've had problems (not entirely their fault but still problems) with that over the past year. It's good to see them addressing it.

They've added a feature called Mail Drop that makes it possible to send large attachments without bouncing email. It inserts a link to allow a file to be download, as opposed to trying to cram a video or high resolution photo into the message itself and hoping it goes through. The upper limit is 5GB per message. A feature called Markup allows for making quick annotations, notes, or scribbles on pictures and PDFs before sending.

Messages

Messages is turning into a pretty large platform for Apple. Many of the enhancements I'm about to talk about also we're added to iOS 8 (so I'm probably just going to lift this paragraph and copy it into the my iOS post which is next.

You can now record simple audio clips and send them via Messages. You can name conversations, and add people to conversations already in progress. I also mentioned earlier the ability to send SMS messages if you iPhone is nearby.

Photos

Photos was previewed at WWDC for the Mac but won't be included with Yosemite. Apple pegged its release date at early in 2015. It appears to mostly be a port of Photos for iOS to the Mac. At this point I'd take anything. iPhoto is an old piece of software that is a bit of a mess. I'll be happy to have it replaced.

Wrap-Up

I'm a pretty political guy. The politics of this were like any party convention in a Presidential election year. The RNC and DNC conventions are about firing up the base and the vast majority of this year's announcements addressed items that continued to cause pain for many loyal customers. WWDC '14 was about playing to the Apple base and shoring up their products for a big push against competitors in the future.

Reagan Knopp