OS X 10.10 Yosemite - in-depth review

It’s been in beta since Apple previewed it in July, but now Apple has launched OS X Yosemite and we’ve been using it for a few days, here’s how we’re finding it so far.

Read more about Yosemite here:

Watch our Yosemite tips video:

Mac OS X Yosemite 10.10 preview: new look, OS X redesign

One of the biggest talking points when it comes to OS X 10.10 Yosemite is the new design elements. After all, iOS underwent an enormous redesign in 2013, so it was thought that the same might be in store for Apple's Mac operating system in 2014. Many expected a new look because Apple's senior vice president of design Jonathan Ive was working with senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi on the new version of OS X, heading up the redesign of Mac OS X for OS X 10.10. Therefore there is no surprise to see some of the flatter, more minimalist aesthetics we first met in iOS 7 in Apple’s new Mac operating system.

However, iOS and OS X have by no means evolved into a single operating system, as some had feared. While there are some shared elements (translucency, brighter colors, flatter icons, and typography), the two operating systems are still quite separate. This is no surprise to us, back in January, Apple's Phil Schiller told our sister title in the US: "We don't waste time thinking, 'But should it be one [interface]? How do you make these [operating systems] merge together?' What a waste of energy that would be."

At the time Craig Federighi, added: "The reason OS X has a different interface than iOS isn't because one came after the other or because this one's old and this one's new. Instead, it's because using a mouse and keyboard just isn't the same as tapping with your finger."

So, while there’s been quite a design overhaul in OS X - with the key difference being that Apple has dispensed with the 3D design elements of old in lieu of flatter, more colourful surfaces – the interface changes that arrived in Yosemite suggest that Apple still intends to keep iOS and OS X separate. We look in more detail at these interface changes below. Read our review of OS X Server (Yosemite).
 

Here’s some Yosemite installation advice:

Visual changes in Yosemite

One of the most obvious changes to the OS X interface is the red, yellow and green buttons that are used to close, minimize and expand a window. These buttons are now flat circles. The key difference is that when you hover over them, unlike in Mavericks where you see a – and + sign on the yellow and green buttons, the green button will now show a symbol for full screen mode. You will still be able to increase the size of a window as you do now, but you will need to press the alt/option key when you click the green button. Press the Escape key to return to the normal view from full screen view.

This makes absolute sense, after all the old enlarge button was a little redundant and the full screen icon, while useful was hidden over the other side of the screen, which was rather disconnected from the other tools that performed a similar function and therefore quite un-Apple, we thought.

Another change is the way Apple has simplified the menu bars around Yosemite. With most Macs a lot wider than they are tall, Apple has made some design choices that make the most of the limited screen height available. For example, Apple has reduced the height of many window title bars in Yosemite. For example, those red, yellow and green buttons have dropped down so that they are not using up a whole line of screen retail estate.

In Safari these buttons appear on the same level as the address/search bar. Merging the toolbar and title bar will also help people working on a cramped 11in MacBook screen. Our only concern is that this does mean that the title of a page in Safari, and the name of the document you are working on in your word processor will also not be visible. More on this below.

Not sure which Mac to buy? Read our Which Mac buyers guide

What’s the competition doing? Find out How Windows 10 is even more like Mac OS X and Mac OS X Yosemite vs Windows 8 comparison review

Retina display clues in Yosemite, transparancy and more

With the arrival of the Retina 5K iMac it is no surprise that there are elements in the design of Yosemite that appear to be developed with retina displays in mind. Changes include the use of the Thin Helvetica Neue font as the system typeface rather than the thicker Lucida Grande font. The thinner font is suited to high-resolution displays. This is great on Retina displays, but we feel that system fonts on our 2009 iMac seem a little blury now. Hard to tell if we just need new glasses...

Other subtle design changes include an increased use of transparency. Some interface elements are semi-opaque so that a blurry version of the window behind can be seen. For example, the menu bar at the top of the screen is opaque, and the Messages sidebar is translucent. As far as we can see this serves no useful purpose, but at least it doesn't appear to affect readability.

This use of translucency around the operating system is to "give you a sense of place," according to Apple. Some people are bound to hate the translucent elements, if you do it is possible to reduce the transparency in System Preferences > Accessibility > Display > Reduce transparency.

Looking at the menu bar at the top of the screen you will notice the Wi-Fi icon is thinner, and the battery icon on a laptop looks like the iOS battery icon.

You'll also notice that the blue buttons in dialogue boxes are also flatter, featuring a different share of blue that no longer pulses.  

There is also a new Dark Mode option. This offers darker menu bars, perfect for working in dark environments. We’ve got a tutorial on how to turn on Dark Mode here.

The Dock and Icons in Yosemite

As we note in this article: comparing Yosemite icons with Mavericks icons, Apple's design team has been busy redesigning icons the result being that we now have a more attractive bin instead of a wire trash can and the Finder Icon has had a facelift and looks a whole lot more smiley. Those aren’t the only icons to have had an iOS-style, more friendly, facelift: the iTunes icon is now red and closely matches that of iOS, as does the Safari icon. System Preferences is now just one cog, rather than three, Preview is now a generic seaside scene rather than a plastic looking child, etc.

There are a few icons that have changed, but strangely aren’t the same as the iOS counterpart, these include Calendar, which still looks like a desk calendar, but a more modern one, Calculator, which has more detail than the iOS icon, and Messages, which is a blue speech bubble rather than a green speech bubble. It seems strange that Apple would redesign some of its icons to be the same as the iOS but not others. 

The translucency that Apple has added to the interface can also be seen in the Dock, which no longer looks like a 3D shelf, it is simpler and flatter and a black dot below an application now indicates that it is running rather than Mavericks’ subtle glow. 

As you can see, iTunes shares its icon with the iTunes on the iPhone.

Read our best new features in Yosemite article.

Notification Centre in Yosemite

With Yosemite, Notification Center no longer slides a Mac’s entire interface off to the left in order to pop out from the right side of the screen. Now, Dock-like, it slides in on top of the right side of your screen, overlapping folders on your desktop, or apps if they are running on that side of the screen (you can’t activate Notification Centre in full-screen mode).

As in iOS, there are now two tabs at the top of Notification Centre: Notifications and Today. This is more like the iOS version of Notification Centre that shows: Today, All and Missed.

We prefer this new view to the muddle of pointless notifications we used to see in Mavericks – frankly we didn’t use it because it was a mess. Now we can actually see useful information if we click on the Notification Centre icon.

Read about the Notification Centre in iOS 8 here

What's in the Today tab?

All the new additions to Notification Centre can be found in the Today tab. As it does in iOS, Today gives you an overview of what is happening today, including Calendar appointments. It also includes an Edit button, click this and a second column appears beside Notification Centre slides out showing a complete list of items you can add to the Today view, you can also use this list to pick items to remove from the Today view and reorder the ones that are included.

Where are the Widgets in Yosemite?

The list of things you can add to the Today view includes widgets such as Stocks, Weather, Reminders, Calculator, and World Clock. New widgets include Social (for posting to Facebook and Twitter).

If you were hoping for more widgets, you may not have long to wait; more are likely to become available as time progresses. Developers can create their own widgets and sell them on the Mac App Store. In fact there are already some there including a Brightness widget for changing monitor brightness and a widget for Battery diagnostics. You will be able to download these widgets from the Mac App Store and add them to the Today view in Notification Centre. Apps can also export widgets into the Notification Centre Today view. Before long we expect that Apple will add a promotional section to the Mac App Store to show case these new widgets.

Some of these widgets can be configured. If you hover over a widget you will see an i in a circle, if you click it you can change the widget settings, for example, add or remove cities from the World Clock or Weather widgets.

The Widgets that are available by default are similar to those that appear in Dashboard (if you ever go there other than by accident). However, you can add more widgets. When you click on Edit in Today view you will see a link to the Mac App Store and you can download widgets from there. Apps will also be able to supply widgets.

Does this mean Dashboard is dead?

Many of these Widgets are still available in Dashboard, but with the arrival of Widgets in Notification Centre it certainly looks like there will be no need for Dashboard, which was introduced in 2005 with OS X Tiger. Dashboard is from an era when using web-based technologies to write lightweight applets seemed like a good idea. Now we are in the App Store era and we can expect these widgets to be a lot like their iOS versions. Designing Widgets never really took off, but thanks to the popularity of the App Store we can expect many widgets to be vying for our attention.

Here are some of the widgets available in Dashboard. Expect more of the same:

Spotlight in Yosemite

Like Dashboard, Spotlight arrived with OS X Tiger back in 2005. In Yosemite Spotlight gains a new look and much more functionality.

The first major change is that Spotlight has a new location. The Spotlight icon remains in the top right of the screen, but when you click on it the window opens in the middle of the screen, rather than just below the icon. This allows more space for results, but it does seem disconnected from the source. However, you don't have to click on the Spotlight icon to initiate Spotlight. As in Mavericks, you can hit command-space to open Spotlight.

We found Spotlight in Yosemite to be quite slow when we first started using it, perhaps because our system was still re-indexing (indeed it spent a few hours doing this but we only knew this because MDU showed up in Activity Monitor - MDU is the internal indexing OS X does so it knows where everything is on your Mac, it used to show up in the Spotlight window when you used it, but now Apple appears to be hiding the fact that your Mac is indexing (probably because it’s only really something that you will wonder about if your Mac suddenly slows down). We find that when we make a search we have previously made Spotlight is a lot quicker at showing us the location of what we were searching for.

You’ll see a list of Spotlight results on the left, sorted by file types, and a large preview on the left, so there is no need to preview a document to see if it’s the one you are looking for, you can read it within Spotlight’s window. Just highlight the result that matches what you were searching for, click Return, and Spotlight will open the result of your search.

As you type your search the text is auto-filled with what Spotlight predicts you are looking for. Perfect if you want to launch an app this way. Type 'Cal' and Spotlight will predict that you wish to launch Calendar so you will merely have to tap Return to open the app - we can see ourselves eventually switching to this way of working when we want to run applications.

Wait a few seconds longer and Spotlight will expand to show detailed results from numerous data sources including news headlines, maps, the App Store, iTunes, Wikipedia, and (shock horror) Bing's web search (take that Google).

Randomly we didn’t always find Bing search results in our Spotlight window. A search for Apple News showed us Apple.com hot news and the Telegraph, but nothing else, and a similar search for Mac news bought up macworld.co.uk along with MacRumors and MacDailyNews. But a search for iPad news gave us three ‘News’ results in a section of their own, rather than in Bing section. Similarly a search for Weather gave us “Suggested Website” of weather.com as well as Bing results further down the listings. This all seems a little random right now.

A search for a location returns a Map of said location including the tools to find directions to that location. You’ll also be able to do things like send an email or make a phone call from the Spotlight interface.

Spotlight also supports unit conversions, so you can find out what 80F is in centigrade, or how may dollars you get for a pound. You’ll also see various other conversions in the results window. We may even stop using xe.com to do our currency conversions.

There are also some limitations compared to the US Spotlight search results. Over there if you searched for a movie you can expect to get a “Now Playing in Theatres” results with movie poster, its Rotten Tomatoes rating, run times, trailers and more. We get no such results here in the UK.

It looks like you can only do one Spotlight search at a time (unless you search through the Finder).

In the past we predominantly used Spotlight to locate documents when we had forgotten where we had filed them. We wonder if the results will now be a little overloaded with Wikipedia links and other web based data. It immediately struck us that we were only seeing a few results in the Documents section, which made us wonder if Apple is implementing a clever algorithm to only show us the most likely documents to match those we are looking for, or if we would not be able to find things we need in future. For example, a search for the word ‘The’ bought only five document results and we are pretty sure we have written that word a few times. A few minutes later we discovered we could click on Documents to see more results in a Finder window.

The results do appear to be a little random, but there are certainly some useful new features in Spotlight search.

Calendar in Yosemite

The Yosemite Calendar app doesn't offer many new features, but there are a few that are worthy of note.

As you can see from the image above, the month view of Calendar in OS X is almost identical to the Calendar in iOS 7. The key change to this view in OS X is that the Today and Month details have switched sides compared to Mavericks.

Calendar will learn from the previous events you have set up so that when you create a new event it will autocomplete with the likely date and attendees. If you regularly hold a meeting with team members, then when you set the event up for Team meeting it will offer to invite the usual attendees.

The Calendar has a new look for the week view which is reminiscent of iOS 7. There is also an all-new day view. You'll still see a two-pane view, but rather than the slightly pointless two column view (where all meetings for the day are shown on the left, and details on the right) you'll see a single schedule pane and an inspector pane that shows the details of a selected calendar event. This inspector pane allows you a lot of space to create new events or change existing ones – certainly preferable to the cramped space in the floating inspector palette of old.

Changes in Mail in Yosemite

Mail in Yosemite doesn't appear to have changed much from Mail in Mavericks, apart from a few slight interface changes. For example, the Show/Hide toggle that displays your mailbox list is now labeled Mailboxes, which makes a lot more sense if you weren’t aware what it would show.

However, underneath the surface Mail has been given a much needed upheaval in OS X Yosemite. Along with a new look user interface, Mail is has also gained some useful new time-saving features.

Markup in Mail

The first of these Mail time savers is the ability to notate a PDF or image from within Mail. This Markup feature is supposed to allow you to add annotations to images and PDFs from inside Mail. We expected this to be more simple to use than it is. You should be able to receive an email with a PDF, click reply and then be able to edit the PDF or Jpeg inside the email before you click send. That’s how it should work.

It took us a few attempts to get the Markup information to show up and it was only after we dragged and dropped a PDF to an email that we were able to mark it up. Certain that wouldn’t be the case that the only way to make MarkUp work would be to grab the PDF someone has sent you and reattach it by dragging it back into Mail, we discovered that we just needed to make sure that Include Attachments from Original Message was selected when we clicked Reply. But even this didn’t work every time we clicked Reply. We were slightly more successful with Forward. Still, with this much messing around in Mail you might as well be editing in Preview after all. Apple needs to work on this aspect of Mail, it’s flakey and nobody is even going to realise it is there. When MarkUp is working as expected, you should see an icon appear in the top-left of the preview of the PDF or Jpeg you have been sent. If you click this icon and select Markup the item should zoom out into a separate window, and a toolbar will appear above it.

When you do finally get MarkUp to work you will have a few tools at your disposal. There is a signature tool that lets you use the trackpad on your laptop to create a signature or alternatively you can sign your name on a white piece of paper and hold it up to the camera. The best result we got was from the paper representation of our signature although it was very difficult to click Done when we had the best representation because our paper was covering the result. We thought it would be great if we could use something other than our finger on the trackpad, but no luck. Stubby signature it is then. There are also various tools for straightforward squiggles, shapes, text and text formatting, speech bubbles, and a colour picker. You will not be able to edit text in the PDF itself, for that you would need a dedicated PDF editor. It could be handy for drawing attention to certain elements, and of course for signing documents.

When we tried to use the Markup tools we didn't find them as simple to use as we would have liked. We felt like we were using a separate program but without access to the accompanying email. For example, when we wanted to jot down some questions about the PDF in our reply email we were unable to do so while MarkUp was open. 

For all it’s faults, Markup is a great example of the Extensions technology that Apple is introducing in Yosemite and iOS 8. This new technology means that code from one application can appear in another application's window. Hopefully Apple will figure out how to make it work better soon.

Mail Drop and Yosemite 

The other new time saver in Mail is Mail Drop, a new feature that will automatically upload an attachment that is larger than 5MB to iCloud when you try and email it. When the recipient receives the email the large file will automatically be downloaded - as long as they are on Yosemite. Everything happens behind the scenes. 

We sent a 5.6MB folder from one Mail account to another, this folder then appeared in the other account as a zip file before gradually downloading - it was by no means instantaneous but that’s most likely because we were testing it at home rather than in the office where the connection is faster. Once downloaded the zip file turned into a normal folder icon. It was a lot easier than uploading and downloading from DropBox.  You can drag and drop the folder onto your Mac, or simply open it from within Mail.

If you send it to someone who doesn’t have Yosemite then they will receive a download link for the file.

Mail Drop will likely be a godsend if, like us, you frequently send to, and receive large files from, colleagues. Before Yosemite the only way to share these oversized files without breaking your mail server was to upload them to DropBox or use another file sharing service, like Mail Big File. This was simple enough, but it wasn't something you could do in one step – inevitably you had to upload the file, and then cut and paste a link for the download into the email you were sending, hoping that the person at the other end would then download the file.

In Yosemite this whole process has been simplified to such an extent that you won't really know it's happening and nor will your recipient. Everything is handled by Mail. If you wish to send a large file just drag it into the email to attach it as you would a smaller file and send. In the background Mail will upload the large file to a temporary holding bin on Apple's servers and then when the email is opened at the other end the download of the large file happens, but it's all behind the scenes.

Note that your recipient has 30 days to download the file before it disappears.

Safari 8 - Safari in Yosemite

The new version of Apple's web browser that arrived with Yosemite is Safari 8, and with it comes a simplistic new look. Safari in Yosemite gains a clearer, cleaner interface that is designed to make navigation simpler. The red, orange and green buttons have dropped down to the same level as the address/search bar and the forward/back and share icons. Read How to use Safari on the Mac, Yosemite Safari tips.

As a result there is a lot less space for the full URL so you will only see the name of the host. You will only see the full URL if you click on it. This may not make a big difference to many people, but if you were visiting apple.com/uk for example, all you will see of the URL is apple.com, so it would be easy to spend time on the wrong country’s website.

This minimalist look is actually a lot like what you see in Safari for iOS on the iPhone. However, where minimalising the URL bar is logical on the iPhone where space is limited, on a large screen it doesn't really make sense to take useful information away from the user.

This minimalisation of the toolbar also means that some of the features you expect to see don't appear to be there - but they are. The first time we opened Safari it showed us an iOS 8-like grid of our Favourites - with icons instead of the menu bar we were previously used to. If you prefer the Top Sites view you can switch to that if you click on the icon on the top right. The star is for Favourites, the grid of dots for Top Sites. It strikes us that both views are a bit similar and essentially do the same thing.

Now that both are presented in such a similar way we think that they are likely to merge into one in use. Mind you, with last year’s Mavericks we started using the Reading List bar for our frequently accessed webpages, so we already need to do a fair bit of retraining. We’ve a suspicion we will start to use Favourites as all you have to do is click in the Smart Search Field and you will see a drop down menu with all your Favourites. Handy. The one failing is that it only shows up when you are already on a webpage - you don’t see the dropdown favourites when you are in Top Sites view.


Tab View in Safari 8

There is yet another view to choose from. You can see previews of all the tabs you have open if you click the icon on the right (two overlapping squares). In this view you will see a birds-eye view of all your open tabs pages on all your Apple devices. If you have opened multiple pages on one site, those tabs will be stacked.

When we closed some browser windows on our iPhone the new status was quickly replicated on our Mac version of Safari.

The Tab View is similar to an existing feature that you may have seen in Mavericks, if you use a trackpad. If you pinched on a trackpad when using Safari in Mavericks you would see the contents of all your open tabs in a slideshow view and you could swipe through each one. This view is now gone and the new Tab View can only be accessed by clicking on the new Tab View. It can’t be accessed by pinching on the trackpad - but this is no bad thing as the pinch action is associated with zooming in on images and that was inevitably when we would activate the Tab View in the past.

The addition of iCloud Tabs to Safari on the Mac could certainly prove useful.

With all these new views we will probably find ourselves using the sidebar that shows Reading List, Favourites and Twitter a lot less. We’ve already hidden the Favourites bar from above the Tab bar because our Favourites are now accessible in better ways.

Speaking of Twitter, Sharing is designed to be simpler in OS X Yosemite - when you click the Share icon (which is now identical to the Share icon of iOS) to share a webpage you will also see a list of recent recipients, so you can send to one of them with one click. We had a weird glitch where it showed the address we emailed as ‘Contacts’ however, rather than the name of the recipient. It’s useful that once you have forwarded a webpage to a group you can select that same group again another time - it would be useful if it was labelled slightly differently, but its a move in the right direction.

What is more annoying for owners of websites is the fact that users aren’t merely emailing a link to the site but Apple is scraping the text in its entirety from the Reader View of the page. So basically Apple is allowing users to scrape and share webpages without the recipient ever having to visit that webpage. Why don’t you just kill the internet Apple? You do get various choices as to how you share the information, be it as a webpage, PDF or link only. This isn’t actually a new feature in Yosemite, it also existed in Mavericks, but we’re still a tad annoyed. We need people to visit our website because otherwise we will be out of jobs. (If you are reading this in an email please visit our website: macworld.co.uk thank you).

The way the webpage is rendered in Mail will depend on the way it is constructed in the first place.

As for your Shared Links view, where you can see Twitter posts (and LinkedIn if you ever set that up) this will now include RSS feeds you have signed up for. Just click on Subscriptions at the bottom of the Shared Links view, find the RSS feed you wish to add, and agree to add it to your Shared Links. Now you should see any new content added to that website.

Searching in Safari for Yosemite

One useful feature in Safari in Yosemite is an enhancement to the autocomplete options when you type in the URL/Search bar. Safari will search Wikipedia, Maps, iTunes and news, just as happens in Spotlight. It makes using the browser as a reference tool easier. You can jump straight to the relevant Wikipedia page, for example.

As with Spotlight it’s a little random, some times you will see a Wikipedia result, other times you won’t. Sometimes you will see a Suggested Website in the results, other times you won’t. It would be good to know how to get listed as a Suggested Website.

Private Browsing for Safari

Those who are concerned about just how much Google knows about them might like the new Private Browsing mode in Safari. These new privacy settings make it possible to create a new private window for browsing the web. Private Browsing, which has been a feature in Google Chrome for some time, allows you to search privately. The contents of your window and your webpage history will not be saved and your cookies won't be shared. You can tell if you are using a Private Window because the address bar is dark.

To browse in private you need to select File > New Private Window from Safari’s menu bar. You can open up multiple tabs in this window and those tabs will not appear on your other iOS devices.

Previously, if you wanted to browse privately you needed to enable the Safari-wide Private Browsing mode from the Safari menu. This feature no longer exists in the new version.

Safari’s Private Browsing won't completely obscure your browsing habits. Your device’s internet address and some other basic information about your computer will still be passed on to servers.

This isn't the only way Apple is helping us to surf in secret. Apple will integrate of the DuckDuckGo search engine, which is committed to not collecting or tracking the personal information of its users. To set DuckDuckGo up as your default search engine you need to go to Safari > Preferences > Search > DuckDuckGo. You can also switch to Bing or Yahoo from Google here as well.

People are going to get the impression that Apple doesn't like Google very much.

System Preferences


We were hoping for a bit of a simplification of System Preferences, but apart from the new look icons inside System Preferences and the new look menu (a back button rather than ‘Show All’), and apart from the new Extensions tab within System Preferences - which allows you to enable and disable the extensions that appear in the Services and Share menus and widgets for the Today view within Notifications, nothing else has really changed.

Well, actually if you really dig deep you will find a few new things, such as Scrapbook and Snapshots options in Screen Saver, which allows you to choose from Apple’s beautiful desktop images, or your own recent iPhoto events. Scrapbook didn’t seem to work at all for us, but via Snapshot we were able to show photos from a recent holiday. Of course you have always been able to view your photos as a Screen Saver, and the various presentation options are still there. Rather than adding random Scrapbook options to an already crowded variety of ways of seeing your own photos as a Screen Saver we think it would be useful if Apple allowed you to select a Photo Album rather than an Event, but the likelihood is this will all change in the new year with the arrival of Photos for Mac. Read our complete guide to System Preferences in Yosemite.

Other slight tweaks include the ability to choose to see Dashboard as an ‘Overlay’ rather than a separate space, which means you can see your widgets in front of the windows you have open. This is a great idea, but seems a bit pointless now widgets are in Notification Centre.

New in System Preferences > General is the option to switch on Dark Mode, which turns your Dock and menu bar at the top of your screen dark. Perhaps it will make a big difference if you are used to working in a darkened room, as presuming you aren’t typing into a white window your screen will be darker in general while still being usable (you can always turn down brightness if you need to).

There are also a few changed in Accessibility, including the option to Reduce Transparency mentioned earlier. 

Energy Saver gets a new “Enable Power Nap while on Battery Power” option which means that your Mac will be able to check for emails and other updates while sleeping.

These few changes will not be enough for some, when we asked readers what they want from OS X 10.10 one suggestion was that System Preferences could be more like Control Centre. Probably Apple feels it would be a mistake to make System Preferences too easy to manipulate as users may make changes they didn’t mean to, as we did when we accidentally changed the contrast in Accessibility.

Yosemite Continuity: Better integration between Mac and iPad/iPhone

Perhaps the most exciting of all the new features in Yosemite are those that bring the iPhone, iPad and Mac closer together. Apple bundles these new technologies under the banner of Continuity and they include features that aim to make it easier to work with, and switch between, all your Apple devices: Mac and iOS. This collection of features being introduced for this purpose should also help the company sell Macs to iPhone users, and vice versa.

These new features include AirDrop file transfer between Macs iPads and iPhones, Handoff, so you can switch from a task on the iPhone to complete it on either the Mac or iPad, or vice versa. We’ll start with AirDrop.

AirDrop in Yosemite

As we all hoped, Apple has made AirDrop work between some Macs and iPads and iPhones. You’ll note that we said some: AirDrop does not work with all Macs, iPads and iPhones, and in our experience it doesn’t actually work all that well with devices that Apple claims it should work with. We feel that AirDrop capabilities are still very much a work in progress as we experienced a lot of issues getting it to work with various devices that should be supported, however we did eventually get it working as you will see if you read on. Read our guide to troubleshooting AirDrop.

AirDrop is a way to transfer files between devices that arrived on iPhones and iPads iOS 7. It has existed on Macs for even longer, but Macs and iOS devices were unable to communicate due to differences in the technology required (the iPhone and iPad use Bluetooth in conjunction with WiFi, while the Mac just used WiFi). This difference meant it wasn’t possible to easily drop files from mobile to desktop or laptop. With Yosemite all that was supposed to change as long as you had a Mac purchased after 2012 (or the 2013 Mac Pro), and an iPhone 5 or later, iPad (4th generation), iPad Air, iPad mini, iPad mini with Retina display, and iPod touch (5th generation).

We spent a lot of time trying to get AirDrop to work between a 2012 MacBook Air and a iPhone 5s, and when we did get it to work we were unable to maintain the connection reliably.

We had slightly more luck AirDropping files from our Mac to our iPhone than the other way round. When we opened AirDrop on our Mac via the Finder and chose be discovered by Everyone, we could see the iPhone in the Finder window, and dragging and dropping files onto it seemed to work ok. This is a handy way of transferring images and documents to your iPhone - perhaps a file you wanted to work on during the commute home. We found that it is possible to drag and drop Pages and Text Edit documents to our iPhone this way. Once received on our iPhone the files opened in the relevant app. Initially we got error messages when we tried to drag Word documents over to our iPhone, but this appears to have been rectified by the new iOS versions of those apps. One thing we would say about AirDropping files this way - we find it quicker and easier to copy files to our iPhone via iCloud Drive. Rather than spend half an hour trying to get AirDrop to work, just drag files to the iCloud Drive folder on your Mac and catch your train.

We often need to transfer screenshots taken on the iPhone to our Mac - and we imagine many people would find it useful to drag and drop their photos from their phone to their Mac. This wasn’t as straightforward. When we turned on AirDrop on our iPhone we didn't see the Mac at all. We tried all sorts of things to get the Mac to show up and eventually we only got it working after introducing the new 5K iMac we had on review into the equation, on a 802.11ac network.

We have no idea if this somehow kick started things, but following this we have been able to see our Mac in the AirDrop options on our iPhone. However, we don’t think that we will be switching to transferring images from our iPhone to our Mac by AirDrop any time soon, it’s quicker to grab a cable and use Image Capture. It’s a shame but AirDrop just isn’t living up to our expectations. It is steadily improving though, so we are hopeful for the future.

Handoff in Yosemite

AirDrop isn't the only feature that should provide better integration between your Apple devices. If you are running OS X Yosemite on your Mac and iOS 8 on your iPhone the software on both devices will be aware of some of the actions you are performing on the other device. So, for example, if you are composing an email message on your iPhone, and your Mac is nearby, it should be aware of this and the Mail icon in the Dock will prompt you to continue composing the message on your Mac.

Similarly, if you are browsing a webpage on your Mac, you will see a Safari icon in your iPad's lock screen which will give you easy access to the same page on your iPad.

In practice we had similar problems to the ones we had with AirDrop, in that the process seemed to work one way and not the other.

We started composing an email in our iCloud account on our iPhone, half way through we looked to our Mac screen, and low and behold there was a extra Mail icon to the left of the Dock indicating that there was an email we could open and continue on the Mac. Click that icon and, as long as the iPhone remains awake when the Mac attempts to load up the in progress email, you should be able to continue drafting your email from your Mac. When our phone was asleep Mail just hung searching for the mail and we had to quit the app. The other slightly annoying thing was that the email kept it’s ‘Sent from my iPhone’ signature.

Could we get the email to hand-back from our Mac to our iPhone? Waking the iPhone we expected to see a icon on the lock screen indicating an in progress email on our Mac, but there was nothing. This might be an issue if you needed to get the email back to the iPhone to continue to draft it, because once it has departed your iPhone for your Mac it appears that you can’t get it back so the only solution is to continue to draft it on your Mac.

This may be the way Apple intends it to work, but we found that the opposite was true in Safari. When we were reading a webpage in Safari on our Mac, we turned to our iPhone lock screen and saw a Safari icon, tapped on that and unlocked the iPhone and the Safari page we were viewing on the Mac opened. This worked once and then we couldn’t get it to work again, at all. In fact we started to wonder if we’d imagined it.

After leaving a webpage open on the iPhone for a few minutes we noticed the extra icon pop up beside the Dock, which allowed us to view the webpage on our Mac. Things seemed to work in that direction without issue.

We wondered if the issue was the time it takes for the devices to form a connection, and the fact that in order to save battery and to maintain security our phone goes to sleep after a minute of inactivity. However, even having changed that setting we never saw the Safari icon on our lock screen again. It’s a mystery, and the more we try and get this stuff to work, the more we feel like we are beta testers.

Phone calls in Yosemite

Being able to take and make phone calls from our Macs also interested us when it was announced as a feature in Yosemite. After all the trouble we’d had with the other Continuity features we didn’t hold out much hope for this one. On the contrary, it worked the second time we tried (the first time our Mac reported that our iPhone wasn’t on the same network, it was).

Placing a call from a Mac should be a case of opening contacts and tapping the phone handset icon, or clicking on a number on a web page. The sound quality is a little iffy, and we don’t imagine many people will take calls like that in a busy office, but it’s great to take a call hands free via your Mac. We’re not quite sure whether it’s all that practical though, we’d say it’s more of a novelty feature that could become a problem if your Mac starts ringing every time you get a call on the mobile phone in your bag - or worse, if your Mac starts ringing and you aren’t at your Mac at the time. People are likely to be a whole lot more curious about a Mac ringing than they would be a phone.

If you are at your Mac, accepting a call is easy. When our phone rang a few seconds later our Mac joined in. We clicked accept on our Mac and the phone continued to ring for a couple of seconds more but the connection was there and we were able to take the call on our Mac.

When we didn’t answer the call both the phone and our Mac showed a notification that we had a missed call. We were able to open Notification Centre on the Mac and return the call. All very smooth. If only the other Continuity features worked as well.

SMS text messages

One final feature comes under the Continuity band, SMS text messages. With the arrival of OS X Yosemite you will also be able to view SMS messages on your Mac, not just iMessages that come in from the Apple servers. This will mean that even text messages that come in from your friends who don't use iPhones will be viewable on your Mac (and you will be able to reply to them from there).

Messages in Yosemite

That’s not the only change to Messages. The new Soundbites feature lets you save short audio clips to send to friends. It’s the same Soundbites feature that has been added to Messages in iPS 8, and it is activated via a microphone button next to your chat window. Click the microphone and you can record a brief audio message and send it via iMessage.

We're not sure that we will use Soundbites rather than sending text messages – to leave or receive a Soundbite you would probably want to be in a reasonably quiet location where you were unlikely to be interrupted, and in such circumstances you might as well phone. It's why we tend to type text messages rather than use the built in dictate function. Still, you might prefer to send a quick audio message rather than phone and disturb your recipient.

We believe these Soundbite features are likely to be more popular in countries like China, where typing is more complicated and therefore sending voice messages is popular.

In our testing Soundbites worked well, although the audio quality wasn't great, like with phone calls placed via our Mac the audio was more like a lousy telephone connection than computer audio.
Soundbites that appear in the Messages don’t give much away either – all you see is a bubble with the play button and the waveform. If you wanted to track down a particular audio message it would likely be a case of listening to a few until you found it. We'd like to see Apple integrate its voice recognition technology into this so you could search the Soundbites.

Soundbites isn't the only new feature in Messages. Group iMessaging gets a boost. Group messages gain a new Details button, which, when tapped, brings up a number of options. These options include the ability to share your locations using the Find My Friends infrastructure and a shortcut to a map that shows where everyone taking part in the conversation is located.

You can also place a phone call, start a new chat, FaceTime your friends, or add and remove participants from the Details window. You can also give the chats a distinct name to make locating them easier, such as “bank holiday plans".
One popular feature is likely to be the ability to leave the conversation, or just turn off conversation notifications. If you have talkative friends you can select Do Not Disturb on that particular conversation and you will no longer receive a notification every time someone in that discussion replies.

 

iCloud Drive in Yosemite

One final addition to Yosemite that will make it easier to move from iPad or iPhone to Mac (or Windows PC) and back is iCloud Drive, Apple’s answer to DropBox.

iCloud Drive allows you to save and store all your presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs, images, and other kind of document in iCloud. You can access these files on all your devices, and everything will be kept up to date, whether you access them from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or PC.

You can access files stored in iCloud Drive in any supported web browser at iCloud.com, on your Mac via the Finder, on a PC running Windows 7 or later and iCloud for Windows 4.0, or on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 8.
If using iCloud.com you can click on a file to open it in the relevant iCloud based app - for example the web version of Pages, or you can select the file and click the Download icon to save it to your Finder. This is a handy way of getting files onto a computer you don’t usually work on, but remember that once out of the cloud that file will no longer be kept in sync across your devices. Nor is this a way to share files with friends as they would have to log onto your iCloud account, instead Apple has introduced the Mail Drop feature mentioned above as a way to share files simply. However when you turn iCloud Drive on you will notice a new feature called Look Me Up By Email. This feature doesn’t seem to do a great deal at the moment, but as Apple expands the iCloud.com sharing features it will enable people to look you up (and share documents) using your iCloud.com email address.

You can also access a file in iCloud Drive from the Finder on your Mac. Go to the Finder > iCloud Drive. We were slightly confused to find that some files in iCloud Drive had the words ‘In iCloud Drive’ beside them while others didn’t. Presumably the status depends on which device the file was created on.

There is also more flexibility for creating iCloud Drive folders in the Finder, which can make it easier to locate files that are associated with particular projects. One of our issues with earlier versions of iCloud, was the fact that every file we had ever created in Pages lived in a folder in Pages - which over the years has become full of random files that make locating the one we need frustrating. Apple’s spent the past few generations of Mac OS trying to change our filing habits, encouraging us to rely on Spotlight to locate files rather than folder-based filing protocols. Sorry Apple, we like to be in control of the way we group our files.

Nor is iCloud Drive limited only to files that have partner applications on the different Apple devices you own. You can now store any type of file smaller than 15GB in iCloud Drive, everything is kept up to date across all of your devices.
There is equivalent to the Finder in iOS and hence no way to browse your iCloud Drive file structure on an iPhone or iPad. Here you will find the same system as before, with all your Pages files shown when you open the Pages app. However now even those that are saved in project folders you have created on your Mac will appear in the list. We’d love for Apple to introduce a way to view the iCloud Drive from our iPhone so that we can locate the files we want and open them in the relevant application, but Apple prefers for us to do things the other way round.

However, there is some more flexibility in iCloud Drive for iOS. The difference between iCloud as it was in iOS 7 and Mavericks, and iCloud Drive in iOS 8 and Yosemite is that files are no longer locked inside the application they were created in - you can now access a file from one application and use it in, or open it in, another compatible application. For example you could create an illustration in one app and insert it in a document in another. Having created a Yosemite Review folder in the Finder on our Mac and added various screenshots we were then able to open a Pages document on our iPhone and insert a screenshot from this folder just by tapping + and choosing Insert from… which revealed the iCloud Drive folder structure as seen on our Mac.

There was one key problem with iCloud Drive - Apple introduced it with iOS 8 one month before Yosemite arrived. This shouldn’t have mattered, but iCloud Drive is incompatible with Mavericks and hence for a month Mac users confronted with a message that “iCloud Drive is incompatible with Mavericks” were left out in the cold. Whether you upgraded to iCloud Drive or not, it was not possible to collaborate on iWork files in the cloud. Not the best introduction to the new service.

If, because of the issues with iCloud Drive in Mavericks you held off updating to it in iOS 8 you can now upgrade to iCloud Drive. In iOS 8, go to Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Upgrade to iCloud Drive. On your Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > iCloud, sign in with your Apple ID, then select iCloud Drive. You will only be able to use iCloud Drive on devices running iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite.

Now that these issues have been ironed out we recommend updating to iCloud Drive, you will get 5GB of storage for free, and that will include space for your documents, your photos and your backups. If you need more storage you can get it, and luckily it's quite cheap. For 79p a month you will be able to get 20GB, or for £2.99 a month you can get 200GB. 600GB is £6.99 a month and 1TB of storage is £14.99 a month.

WiFi issues in Yosemite

This is one major flaw that is really letting Yosemite down. Reports of WiFi connectivity issues cropped up within hours of Apple releasing Yosemite on 16 October, and have continued to pour in since. Apple has been trying to address these WiFi issues but the first update, Yosemite 10.10.1 failed to fix them for everyone. ON 24 November it released the beta of build 10.10.2 (14C68k) to developers. Read more about the Yosemite updates and the problems with WiFi here.

Read our iCloud alternatives article and 6 things you need to know about Apple iCloud Drive for Mac

Mac OS X 10.10: price

In a surprise move, Apple made OS X 10.9 Mavericks free when it arrived last year, and Apple did the same again for Mac OS X 10.10. Mac OS X Yosemite is completely free to download from the Mac App Store.

If you want to find more about how to prepare your Mac for OS X 10.10 and whether or not your Mac will be able to run it, visit our 'Should I upgrade from Mavericks to OS X 10.10' article.

Want to try our Yosemite for yourself? Find out how to get Yosemite now in our article: Top 5 ways to get OS X Yosemite for free.

You can read all about the new features in Yosemite over in our Yosemite Topic Zone. Including the following:

OUR VERDICT

It's unfortunate that we struggled to get many of the continuity features to work in Yosemite, as they were the features we were most excited about. However, as we have spent more time with Yosemite, we have found that Mac and iOS Continuity has become more reliable. Over time we hope the issues with WiFi will be rectified. There is a lot of good in Yosemite, but it is the flagship Continuity features that offer the biggest difference when compared to Mavericks, and without them it is hard to view the update as any more than a much needed update to the Mail app, and some nice new icons (and some people don't even like them).

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