How to troubleshoot 10 known OS X Yosemite issues

Jesus Vigo reviews 10 documented issues affecting OS X Yosemite and offers troubleshooting tips to work through them.

OS X Yosemite issues

Apple's Yosemite has been the most ambitious OS X release in unifying the desktop and iOS mobile devices. Some of the benefits, however, can only be enjoyed by installing OS X 10.10 and iOS 8 on your respective devices.

As advancements are made, there are certain concessions if the technology is to move forward, and sometimes this requires upgrading older hardware to take advantage of newer features. However, as with any new product, bugs will be identified that prevent some functions from working as advertised.

Thankfully, most of the difficulties surrounding Yosemite can be resolved with some troubleshooting and/or software updates. Let's review below 10 of the more common issues affecting Yosemite and how to resolve them.

1. Wi-Fi connectivity

Symptoms: Wireless connection drops connectivity and goes offline for approx. 30-45 seconds at a time, often at 10-15 minute intervals between loss of connections.

Causes: The issue usually pertains to a buggy Wi-Fi driver. Unfortunately, this relies squarely on Apple's shoulders, as the driver must be updated before a permanent solution may be found. Sometimes the issue pertains to router and/or specific wireless settings.

Solution: As of this writing, the current version of OS X is 10.10.1, which includes better Wi-Fi reliability. While this has been known to resolve some issues, many users are still experiencing trouble and holding out hope for the forthcoming 10.10.2 update.

Additional troubleshooting steps involve reviewing wireless and/or router settings on your home equipment to verify compatibility and check for common wireless issues, such as distance, obstacles (i.e., concrete walls, which are known to impede signals), and interference brought on by multiple wireless access points concentrated in a general area, since the 2.4 Ghz band Wi-Fi typically operates on is susceptible to overcrowding from cordless phones, neighboring routers, and other gadgets operating on the same frequency.

2. Trouble booting OS X

Symptoms: Mac computer powers on and initiates the boot process, yet the progress bar fills up about halfway and then just hangs there for an unspecified amount of time.

Causes: Boot issues are difficult to troubleshoot, since there are so many variables that can affect the process. You could be experiencing hardware failure, software extensions gone awry, or a combination of multiple issues could be keeping your Mac computer from starting up properly.

Solution: Best practices in troubleshooting are the best offense to tackling boot issues affecting your Mac. Combined with a little common sense, boot issues can be resolved relatively quickly and painlessly.

3. Excessive RAM usage

Symptoms: RAM usage is throttled to its maximum capacity, preventing the use of certain applications or features.

Causes: RAM is used by a computer to keep application information moving as it transitions from storage to the CPU for processing and back. Yet, somewhere along the line, a process takes on more than its share of allocated memory or an app has a memory leak that causes it to continue to use up RAM until nothing is left for the system to run stably.

Solution: The quickest way of identifying an offending application or process is by launching the Activity from the Applications | Utilities folder. Checking the memory tab will list each process currently running and the total commit of RAM being used by each app in descending order from greatest amount used.

Many times, unsuspecting applications are loaded when a user logs on to a computer, and these apps continue to run, unfettered and often times needlessly, which negatively impacts memory performance. Quitting these processes will reallocate the previously used RAM back to the systems pool of available RAM.

4. Apple Mail trouble

Symptoms: Apple Mail has difficulty sending/receiving email for previously configured accounts. Also, certain messages can't be viewed when the message is selected.

Causes: Regarding the former, this is a known issue that affects Macs upgraded to Yosemite from a previous version of OS X. Apple Mail seemingly "forgets" email server settings — typically the SMTP server settings — allowing users to only receive email but not send out. As for the latter, one needs to look at how Mail stores messages in the .MBOX format. These files, much like their Microsoft Outlook counterparts, .PST files, become corrupt at times, preventing the retrieval of stored messages in folders.

Solution: Correcting send/receive errors are as easy as contacting your email service provider or searching for the POP/IMAP/SMTP settings on their support page and reconfiguring the incoming/outgoing server settings for the affected email accounts.

Fixing stored messages in Mail requires a bit more work to resolve. If you can see the messages listed in Mail but can't access them, click on the folder that contains the affected messages and select Mailbox | Export Mailbox... from the menu bar. A window will open, prompting you to select a location to backup the file. Click choose, and the messages will be backed to the selected location, including folder hierarchy.

Once the files have been backed up, delete the folders from Apple Mail and import the newly created .MBOX folder by selecting File | Import Mailboxes... and selecting the back-up file to import.

5. Handoff prompts after disconnecting phone call

Symptoms: Handoff prompts you to answer an incoming phone call from your iPhone, and after disconnecting or ending the call, OS X continues to prompt you and does not allow you to end the call.

Causes: The exact cause of this phenomenon isn't exactly known — it can be attributed to OS X, iOS, or Wi-Fi/Bluetooth that's used for connectivity.

Solution: Typically, Continuity-related issues are fleeting. Simply re-establishing a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connection by powering them off temporarily and restarting them resolves the hiccup. An additional step would involve rebooting OS X and iOS, which causes the devices and connection protocols to resynchronize with each other.

6. AirDrop between iOS/OS X

Symptoms: AirDrop service not detected between OS X and iOS, preventing data transfer.

Causes: AirDrop can be a little finicky between iOS and OS X. The majority of the disconnection occurs when the feature is used on unsupported hardware.

Solution: Verify that both your Mac and iOS device meet the minimum requirements for cross-AirDrop support. Once that's done, check to make sure AirDrop is enabled on both OS X/iOS devices and that both devices have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled. If AirDrop is still not communicating, try these troubleshooting steps to mitigate the issue.

7. App-specific issues

Symptoms: Applications not working as advertised or certain features/functions are disabled.

Causes: Changes in OS X, particularly with all the new API additions for developers to utilize when coding their applications, bring a host of random issues when it comes to app compatibility.

Solution: Most of the time, developers have time to sort out any bugs that present themselves by the time an OS is ready for public release. However, as stated before, some issues are unforeseen and require updates or patches to correct. The best practice is to ensure that OS X is fully updated, plus any applications that might be experiencing trouble with Yosemite. Checking the vendors' support pages will often yield download links for updated versions of software or patches and workarounds for known issues affecting users.

8. Battery life

Symptoms: Battery life is drastically reduced when compared to its current use with Yosemite and the previously installed version of OS X on your Apple laptop.

Causes: Any potential hardware defects aside, such as malfunctioning cells in the battery themselves, changes in battery life for typical usage is usually a direct result of a driver issue within the OS itself and/or the use of software that may not be optimized for Yosemite.

Solution: Similar to issue #7 above, ensure that your MacBook is using the latest version of OS X 10.10.x and that all software applications are also updated to their latest versions, since this code typically has been optimized for use with the latest version of OS X.

An excellent technique that one could use to deduce any offending apps is located in the Energy tab of the Activity in Yosemite. A listing will be presented of all the applications currently running on your device, along with the Energy Impact — updated in real time — and the average Energy Impact as determined by use over a period of time. Additionally, with certain apps, like Safari for example, plugins are also included by selecting the arrow to expand and display such services and their respective impact on your systems power consumption.

Any outstanding offenders displayed here might be unknown to the software developers, and you may be able to submit a bug report on the developer's website explaining the problem so that they can issue a patch or rework the code in a future update.

9. Lag brought on by Spotlight indexing

Symptoms: Yosemite may, at certain times, become extremely slow and lag while you're trying to work on the computer.

Causes: Spotlight — Apple's system-wide search function — must index data located on your computer in order to be able to report lightning-fast searches. This indexing builds a catalog of all the data on your device. Depending on the amount of data, completion of this process may take some time, which will impact the resources on your computer while it's building the index.

Solution: If Spotlight is not used and you wish to turn the service off, it can be done so by executing the following command in Terminal:

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

However, since Spotlight is a useful piece of technology, you may wish to keep it enabled and just limit what is indexed. To do so, launch System Preferences | Spotlight and select the Search Results tab. There, you'll find a number of search categories. Uncheck the selections you wish to exclude from indexing, and they'll be removed immediately. Similarly, if there are specific files or folders you wish to exclude, or even a particular drive, click the Privacy tab and use the plus sign [+] to add paths you wish to have excluded from Spotlight. All paths added will immediately be excluded from indexing and removed from the index catalog to keep Spotlight optimized.

10. Upgrade vs. clean installation

Symptoms: Prior to installing Yosemite (and perhaps given the number of issues affecting this latest version of OS X), users must decide how they wish to install the newest OS to maximize the operating system potential and minimize any possible issues.

Causes: Installing the latest version of OS X offers two paths: Upgrade and Clean Install. Which one you choose will depend on your specific needs, available storage space, and whether data has been backed up.

Solution: Upgrading is the easiest solution and the one most will choose. It allows end-users to keep their data, apps, and settings in place while replacing the previous OS with Yosemite.

The downside to upgrading is that any issues that existed with OS X previously will continue to plague the system after upgrading to Yosemite. Also, possible incompatibilities with apps or corrupt files might be enough to destabilize OS X Yosemite, and it may lead to some of the known bugs users have been experiencing.

Clean installs effectively format the HDD/SSD and installs a fresh copy of Yosemite on your Mac. During the format process, all data is lost — as are settings, preferences, and pretty much everything else. But once the process is complete, you have a brand new installation of your OS, and none of the previously installed apps or settings will be there to conflict with OS X.

The main caveat to clean installs is data loss. This isn't much of a problem for users who practice regular backups of their data. However, it will be an issue for users who haven't backed up, since they'll have to first backup any data they don't want to lose, which adds considerable time to the overall process. Any settings will also be lost, passwords remembered, email configurations, etc. You'll basically be starting from scratch, which might be a deal breaker if you use your Mac for work or critical functions.

I personally advocate for a clean install, since the payoff of having a sanitized system far outweighs any time it will take to reconfigure certain apps or settings. Plus, since my data is regularly backed up, it's easy to restore my files once my clean copy of OS X is ready for use. However, I do recognize that it's less than ideal for some solutions, so tread lightly and consider benefits vs. time before making the decision either way.

Lastly, troubleshooting is going to be essential with any OS — Apple, Microsoft, or Linux. Things happen, updates may fix one problem only to open another issue somewhere else. Such is the way of computers and code generated by humans — they are both prone to occasional error. The silver lining is that it keeps IT working and certainly never makes for a dull moment.

What other troubleshooting tips would you recommend for OS X Yosemite? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

About Jesus Vigo

Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

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