Interface and Desktop changes in OS X El Capitan

The name isn’t as important as the ways in which the interface is changing in OS X El Capitan, though. While the interface changes in El Capitan are minor compared to the complete overhaul of Yosemite, there are some very notable tweaks.

The first thing you will probably notice when you start up El Capitan is that when you wiggling your finger on the trackpad, or shaking your mouse, as most of us do when we want to locate the curser the curser will make your curser jump out at you so you can see it clearly. It's one way that demonstrates that Apple is taking note of user behaviour when updating the operating system.

A significant change to the desktop view that Apple didn't demonstrate during the keynote is the fact that a new option in System Preferences > General allows users to "Automatically hide and show the menu bar" in a similar vein to the way that users can choose to hide the Dock. This will be especially beneficial to users of smaller laptops such as the 11-inch MacBook Air or the 12-inch MacBook where every pixel counts.

During the WWDC keynote Apple's vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federaghi showed off some new (and old) ways of managing your desktop. Currently when you have lots of things open you can use Mission Control (probably F3 on your Mac keyboard) to view a minimised version of all the documents and apps you have open along with any desktop Spaces (where users can gather particular programs). We’re pleased to see that the older Exposé behavior has returned to the Mission Control view - currently in Yosemite when you press F3 you see documents associated with apps all gathered together. We preferred the was Exposé used to show you minimized views off all the documents you had open so you could see them - rather than having the Word document you were looking for hidden behind another. The old behaviour will return in El Capitan: pressing F3 will show all your open apps making it easy to find the right document amidst the multiple documents you have open.

In addition, a new Spaces Bar will make it easier to create and manage multiple desktops - a + appears in the far right of the Spaces Bar, click on that to create a new desktop. This isn’t new behavior, you can add new Desktops in Spaces currently by clicking on the desktop image poking out of the top right corner of the Mac, but the new way is a lot more intuitive and the new design take up a lot less space.

There are also better options for working with multiple apps at the same time coming thanks to an improved full-screen mode. Clicking and dragging the green window-resize button will activate a new Split View that fills the screen with two apps at once. Users can choose the amount of space given to each app.

Another change not mentioned by Apple during the keynote is the new system font. As anticipated, the new San Francisco font found on the Apple Watch will be making its way to OS X (and also iOS 9). Currently, the system font in iOS 8 and Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite is Helvetica Neue.

If you are wondering what the San Francisco font looks like, the typeface is very similar to Helvetica Neue but the capital R is less rounded. At least that’s how we can tell the difference.

We’ve had heard that the new font may not look great on non-Retina screens, but we can confirm that it looks absolutely fine on the 12-inch MacBook screen. We haven’t viewed it on a 17in Retina iMac yet though.

OS X El Capitan: Spotlight

Spotlight search is gaining some longed for enhancements: namely the ability to move the new Spotlight window around the screen. In Yosemite the Spotlight window moved from the right hand side of the screen to take prominence in the centre, which is a problem if it is overlapping other applications you are working with. In OS X El Capitan the Spotlight window can now be dragged away from the screen center. You can also resize the results window. 

Our other wish for Spotlight hasn’t been fulfilled (yet) - the Spotlight window still disappears as soon as you click into another application. When using Spotlight to perform calculations or conversions it would be useful to be able to see the answer when you are trying to add it to the document you are working on.

Spotlight does gain a few other improvements, though. The most notable is probably the fact that Spotlight now lets us users write queries in natural language. Search for "documents I wrote last July" for example and Spotlight will find those documents. We think that this new intelligent Spotlight could hint that Siri is coming to the Mac since that is exactly the phraseology that a user would use to ask Siri the same question.

Spotlight also gains access to weather, stocks, sports, travel, and web video, so searches cover a wider variety of places.

Read: How to use Spotlight in Mac OS X El Capitan

OS X El Capitan: Photos

Apple rolled out Photos for the Mac earlier this summer. It's a companion app to the iOS version so we weren’t expecting a big change in OS X 10.11, however, there are some new features and enhancements to the editing options, including support for third-party editing tools and third-party image-editing extensions, which you will be able to download from the Mac App Store.

When El Capitan arrives geotagging will return - the ability to tag a location is absent in Photos currently, but was in iPhoto so it is missed by many. Users will also be able to sort albums by date as well as title, and batch-change titles. Photos will be better at handling Faces too.

You will also have the ability to edit image data both individually and in batches. You’ll be able to add location information, batch-organise faces and batch-change title.

You’ll also find more flexibility for sorting albums - currently it's date only, but you'll be able to search by date, title and more.

Read more about Photos on the Mac

OS X El Capitan: Safari

Apple spent some time showing off two new features in Safari during the WWDC keynote, first, the ability to pin your favourite sites, and second, the ability to spot audio playing in tabs. These features are both known to Chrome users, so they aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but they are welcome.

Pinned sites are like tiny tabs. shortcuts to those sites you visit every day, like Facebook or YouTube. It struck us that this is yet another way to store our favourite sites - we already have Favourites and Top Sites which essentially do the same thing. Apple needs to decide which of those we should be using (I stick to Favourites since those come up when clicking the URL field).

Audio can be muted with a single click on its tab, which will be welcome to anyone who’s had multiple web pages open only to suddenly hear audio blasting out of their Mac. The new version of Safari will make it obvious which of those tabs is responsible and you will be able to hit a mute button on that tab. If you have more than one audio stream open Safari will make it easier to manage that too - just click on the speaker icon in the address bar to see a list of all the tabs playing audio. You’ll be able to shut down the audio on the tabs you wish from this view.

Not announced during the keynote, apparently the Safari Reader has four colour themes and eight typefaces, plus Safari’s top hit will show now when you search in Spotlight.

Read more about Safari on the Mac here

OS X El Capitan: Notes

Notes gets a much needed refresh on the Mac - that app has been far too limited to be useful other than as a way to share text between the Mac and iPhone quickly.

Now it can now handle media including photos and PDFs, URLs, and map locations as well as text. It will sync with other devices on the same account. And it will allow formatting of text.

There’s also a new formatting option that will turn a list into a checklist. You will also be able to share to Notes from other Mac apps.

Also in Notes is a new attachments browser which you can flick through to fins all the media, websites and other attachments you have added to Notes, similar to how you can look at all the images sent to you in Messages.

In iOS 9 Notes synced with iOS via an IMAP mailbox, rather than using the iCloud infrastructure to sync, like every other app on your Apple devices. In El Capital  Notes will get the full iCloud treatment.

Read: How to use Notes on the Mac

OS X El Capitan: Maps

The big news as far as Maps is concerned is that it is gaining transit directions, so if you aren’t walking or driving you will be able to find your route (presuming you live in London and are using the tube or bus - as yet trains are not included, and the data doesn’t go beyond the M25).

You may be thinking that the update to Maps is more likely to make a difference to you when you are out and about with your iPhone, but it appears that the OS X Maps version includes detailed maps of tube stations so that you can plan which exit to use.

Here's what you need to know about using Maps on the Mac

OS X El Capitan: Mail

Apple’s Mail app will also gain some new features, many of which are reminiscent of the iPhone and iPad versions of the app. For example, new gestures include swiping to delete an email, just like in iOS. You can also swipe right to mark as unread.

There’s also an option to hide windows within the app without minimizing them – just click on the inbox to minimize the message you are composing to the bottom of the screen, a bar will indicate its presence. You can click on that bar to open the email again, but you may not need to: you can drag attachments into this minimized window to include them in the email you are composing.

Mail also gains better integration with calendar and contacts - this means that if you receive an email from someone who isn’t in your contacts Mail will offer to add them. If a friend invites you to meet up Mail will offer to create a calendar event for you.  

Other new features include tabbed windows to manage different email threads and natural-language search so you can search for “emails from Ashleigh including photographs” for example.

Data detectors mean Mail will offer to add events to your calendar and contacts to your address book. This isn’t a new feature, but it is improved in El Capitan Mail. It will adds banners in between the address field and the body of the message with data Mail's detected and possible actions you might like to take.

IMAP support is also set to improve in Mail 9, thanks to a new engine that makes it twice as fast, according to Apple. Mail will change the say it downloads messages, prioritising the ones in the inbox you are viewing, so you shouldn’t have to wait for Mail to synchronize your messages before you can read any of them.

Here's how to use Mail on the Mac

Apple Metal updates

There is one more significant change coming to OS X El Capitan, Metal, the graphics technology that was announced with iOS 8. Metal will bring improved game performance and improved performance in processor hungry apps.

Metal is a core graphics technology that gives apps near-direct access to the GPU. According to Apple, Metal will make graphics rendering 40 percent more efficient and games drawing performance is 10 times faster.  Apple also claims better battery life because of a 40% reduction in the CPU require to do graphics.

Metal combines OpenCL and OpenGL into a single API, bypassing the OpenGL framework. OpenGL runs slowly on OS X, dragging professional Mac apps down in comparison to their Windows counterparts, so bypassing OpenGL and making apps run natively on top of Metal is good news.

Adobe has already committed to adopting Metal for its OS X apps and demonstrated how Metal has improved After Effects and Illustrator. During the presentation, Federighi claimed that Adobe has confirmed it is able to deliver eight times improvement in rendering in After Effects. Illustrator also offers "flawless interaction", apparently.

Autodesk and The Foundry have also committed to using Metal and it is thought that using Metal will also drastically speed up the likes of Autodesk’s Maya.

Metal for OS X is also great news if you're a Mac gamer. According to Apple, thanks to Metal, users can expect up to ten times performance improvements in games.

Major game developers have already confirmed commitment to Metal, including Unity and Blizzard, as well as Feral and Aspyr who specialize in bringing Windows games to the Mac. Thanks to the update users should see accelerate graphics in high performance games - plus games will get direct access to underlying graphics hardware.

Apple says that Metal will pave the way for "new levels of realism and detail in games and other apps". This means faster and more efficient rendering performance across the system.

Along with the performance enhancements coming in El Capitan we expect Metal to have a real impact on processor intensive work.

Read more: Complete guide to Metal, and what it means for Mac gamers

On the following page you can read the rumours from before WWDC - many of which may still prove to be true...