In the index, “what’s new in Yosemite” gives you a pretty comprehensive listing. But here are the big-ticket items:
A massive redesign. This is the big one, the one that will make people freak out just a little. Things look very different in Yosemite: sparser, simpler, flatter. Compare the old and the new, for example, in Figure 1.
Truth is, things mostly look different; they work just as they always have, and the features are pretty much in the same places.
If you really can’t stand the new look, you can turn off the transparency and beef up the razor-thin button and menu edges (see Zoom). But, the truth is, the new design grows on you. The sparser, cleaner look makes it easier to spot what you’re looking for when you’re in the middle of your workflow.
Continuity features. If you also own an iPhone, you’re in for a real treat. In Yosemite, Apple turns the phone into something of a cellular accessory for your Mac.
For example, the Mac can now be a speakerphone, taking and making calls over a wireless connection to your iPhone. You can send and receive standard text messages, too, right from the comfort of your full-sized Mac keyboard. Your phone relays them.
Then there’s Handoff, which passes documents between the iPad or iPhone and the Mac. If you’ve been writing a message on your iPhone, for example, you find a new icon at the left end of the Mac’s Dock that you can click to open the same email on the Mac, ready to complete and send.
The same feature works for other Apple programs like Safari (opens the same Web page), Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages. It works the other direction, too; if you start something on the Mac, an icon appears on the lower-left corner of your iPhone’s lock screen that opens the same item.
Figure 1. Top: OS X the way it looked from 2001 to 2014. Bottom: Yosemite’s new look. The new system font (used in menus and dialog boxes), from the Helvetica Neue family, is very thin and light and elegant, designed to show off Apple’s very high-resolution Retina screens. Toolbars and buttons look flatter, less 3-D. In many programs, the controls on the top toolbars have been compressed and condensed, giving more of your screen space back. There’s a lot of transparency in Yosemite, too. Whatever photo is on your desktop faintly shines through your open menus and certain areas of your windows.
AirDrop works between Macs and phones. AirDrop is Apple’s file-transfer system. It requires no names, passwords, permissions, or setup: You just tap the icon of the nearby Apple machine, and whatever you’re trying to send (a photo, map, Contacts entry, file, whatever) goes wirelessly. But until Yosemite, it worked only Mac-to-Mac or phone-to-phone.
Now, at last, you can shoot files and photos between Macs and iPhones/iPads.
iCloud Drive is Apple’s version of Dropbox. It’s a folder, present in every desktop window, that lists whatever’s in your iCloud Drive—an online “disk” that holds 5 gigabytes (more, if you’re willing to pay for it). Better yet: Anything you put here is also available on your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or other Macs, wherever you go. It’s a great backup, too.
Bigger, better Spotlight. The Mac’s search box now appears in the center of the screen, not the upper right, with an automatic preview of what it finds. Spotlight searches can now bring you information from Wikipedia, Bing, Maps, and so on.
A new Today view in the Notification area (a panel that pops out from the right side of your screen) rounds up your upcoming appointments, reminders, stock prices, weather, and so on. You can install new panels (“widgets”) onto it, too, like news headlines or social-media feeds.
MailDrop is brilliant. It lets you attach huge files (up to 5 gigabytes) to any outgoing message in OS X’s Mail program. The recipient gets the attachment right in the message (if she uses Yosemite Mail too) or gets a link to download the file (if she uses any other computer or Mail program).
MailDrop shatters a limitation that’s been in place since the invention of email. What took the world so long?
Mail also lets you draw or write on PDF files and pictures, and other attachments right in the message. Great for signing contracts.
Family Sharing is a great solution to a long-standing problem: how family members, each with a different Apple account, can share their Apple purchases, calendars, and photos.
In Family Sharing, up to six family members can all buy stuff on your single credit card (oh, joy!). Fortunately, you, the all-knowing parent, can approve each person’s purchases. There’s also a new shared family photo album and a new auto-shared Family category on the calendar. Any family member can see the location of any other family member, or find their lost iPhones or iPads using Find My iPhone.
The Messages app has been tweaked in many ways. You can give names to group conversations; you can see every photo that’s ever been shared in a conversation thread, all in one place; and screen sharing is back—great for trying to help someone with a computer problem over the Internet.