Apple Update

Hands on: OS X 10.10 Yosemite beta shows off a new look and features

Apple's latest OS promises a sparkling new design and some very useful features.

Apple Update

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The system-wide font has changed from Lucina Grande to Helvetica Neue. The Dock has lost its faux-3D look and is back to a flat look not seen since the 2005 release of OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

If Yosemite's interface is too bright for your tastes, there is now a Dark Mode, which can be activated under the General System Preferences. Dark mode is not (yet?) as comprehensive as it could be; it doesn't change the look of the windows, only the menu bar, menus and Dock; the right-click menu and window toolbars retain their normal, lighter colors. Currently, when you enable the Dark mode, third-party menu items need to be updated to appear properly, a problem that hopefully will be sorted out by the time Yosemite is officially released.

Yosemite has updated the stoplight metaphor located on the upper left of every window: red to close, yellow to minimize and green to maximize. While the red and yellow buttons always worked as expected, the green button was always a bit of a crapshoot -- one never knew the result it would yield. It was originally supposed to expand the window, but the results always seemed random, sometimes maximizing the window around content, and other times configuring a window size seemingly arbitrarily.

After all this time, the green button is finally working and is officially a full-screen on/off toggle, as it should be.

The new look of some of the Yosemite apps shows a noticeable effort to provide clutter-free toolbars. System apps like Safari, Preview and TextEdit have even had the toolbar size reduced and consolidated. Something similar happened with iOS 7 in an effort to make content more prominent while removing distractions and superfluous elements.

A new Continuity

By far, though, the best feature of Yosemite is the integration between Macs and iOS devices, known as Continuity. Continuity is a set of services that makes each Apple device aware of what the other is doing and lets them exchange tasks and data. Essentially, Continuity puts data and tasks at your fingertips no matter which device you're using.

Here's the major problem with Continuity as it stands in the beta: Unless you have access to iOS 8, which is also currently being prepped for release in the fall, you won't be able to test the Continuity features. To get access to iOS 8, you have to sign up for an iOS Developer account and pay $99 a year.

Having said that, Continuity currently consists (more or less ) of AirDrop, Handoff, SMS message syncing, Instant Hotspot and integration with the iPhone's ability to make and send phone calls.

That's right, file transfer fans: As of Yosemite and iOS 8, file transfers via AirDrop work between Macs and iOS devices. About time.

Handoff allows devices to take over current tasks. For instance, if you're reading a Web page on your Mac but have to go somewhere else, a swipe of the Safari icon on the lower left of an iPhone or iPad Lockscreen will automatically load your last page on that device. Handoff works the other way, too: If you're writing an email on your iPhone but make it back to your Mac before you finish, you can click on the left-most icon on the Dock and pick up on the Mac exactly where you left off on the iPhone.

Less awesome but still welcome is the update to Messages. iPhone text messages are labeled blue for secure and encrypted iMessages, and green for messages sent via the SMS protocol. Until Yosemite, SMS messages stayed localized on the device that received them. With Yosemite, any SMS message received comes across to Messages on all the devices you're logged into, just like the texts sent with Apple's iMessaging service.

Another great feature of Continuity: If you've ever had your iPhone charging in another room when it rings, you know how annoying it is to have to sprint to your phone, hoping you don't miss the call. With iOS 8 and Yosemite, not only does the Mac display the caller ID information of the person calling your iPhone, but you can answer the call from your Mac, as well. And if your Mac isn't in range but your iPad is, you can use that, too.

As described in the WWDC keynote, I didn't think the Instant Hotspot feature was that big of a deal; at least, not compared to the other features. But recently my neighborhood was hit with a power outage and my MacBook Pro was running on battery power. On a whim, I clicked on the Wi-Fi menu and noticed that my iPhone and my iPad -- both of which use LTE -- were being displayed as options for Internet connections. After selecting one, I was back online in an instant with no configuration necessary on my part. Now that's cool. Instant Hotspot will be a life-saver for many Apple users, just from sheer convenience and no need for configuration.

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