Chances are that most observers were disappointed with announcements emanating from Apple's WWDC 2014. There was no new iPhone 6, new Macs, new iWatch, or iTV. But Apple did announce iOS 8 and the next OS X release. The 10th version of OS X, free and scheduled for fall 2014, will be called Yosemite. Business users will appreciate several compelling new features in Yosemite, which — while seemingly small — will change the way they work.
Secure cloud-based file sharing is no longer a luxury or convenience, it's a necessity for business users, especially for those who travel or work from multiple locations or using multiple devices. Yosemite introduces iCloud Drive, a trademarked Apple feature centered within Finder that enables users to share their iCloud files — videos, photos, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. — with their other Macs, iPhones, iPads and Windows computers. Since Spotlight search is integrated with the feature, business users will find it easier to locate their files, and they won't be burdened with having to remember on which device the file originally resided or was last edited.
One of the most vexing problems facing business users today is the challenge of securely emailing large files to others. SendThisFile and Hightail are among the premium services that have arisen as solutions. Yosemite's new Mail Drop feature, however, integrates secure file-sharing by email within OS X. Using Mail Drop, users can forward large messages that are encrypted and transferred using iCloud to a recipient using Yosemite. The recipient will receive a link enabling downloading files as large as 5 GB.
I can hear some readers complain already that the service will only prove helpful if the recipient is also using a Mac. But such simple conveniences and ease of operation are the type of things that prompt users to switch platforms.
Yosemite includes another new email feature, Markup, that enables Mac users to leverage email in unique ways. Using Markup, business users can sign documents, easily add notes to photos, and annotate formerly locked files such as PDFs. Such a subtle feature possesses significant potential. It's kind of like a rear window defroster; you don't miss it until it's gone.
In the case of being able to edit and annotate images and files on the fly, Mac business users may soon begin wondering how they lived without the feature. Markup is just another example of where Apple spots a problem — users needing to add notes or draw on an item without having to download, install, activate, and open a photo editing or third-party PDF editor — and introduces a better solution.
AirDrop iOS compatibility
One feature Mac business users, myself included, need is the ability to transfer files between iOS devices and Macs using AirDrop. Yosemite fixes the problem of simple local file sharing between iOS-powered phones and tablets and OS X-powered computers by introducing such compatibility.
Business users who frequently meet in conference rooms, airports, coffee shops, and numerous other common areas where client meetings, presentations, department conferences, and seminars are routinely held will find the ability to easily transfer files using Apple's proven AirDrop technology more than helpful. This feature will also reduce their dependency on LANs and file sharing sites, such as Dropbox.
Handoff is another of those features that, five years from now, users will look back and wonder how they managed without. Business users have become accustomed to beginning an email on an iPad or composing a document or spreadsheet while flying. Upon landing, they might forward the draft message or email the incomplete file to their desktops. Back at the desktop, users might locate the forwarded draft message or track down the as-yet incomplete document or spreadsheet in iCloud or within an email message. The process is clunky and inefficient.
Using Handoff, Yosemite presents a small notification window in the lower left corner that indicates the user was working on drafting an email, composing a document, or building a spreadsheet on another device. With Yosemite, a user can choose to pick up right where he or she left off, hand the projects off to the Mac, and continue working essentially uninterrupted. The feature makes it exponentially easier to use multiple devices and manage modern business challenges in which one is constantly moving from office to client site to meeting venue and back.
Yosemite's most important feature, however, may be approaching under the radar. In addition to the Handoff Continuity feature, Apple developers have integrated telephony services within the OS. Assuming both the user's phone and Mac are operating on the same Wi-Fi network, users can use their Macs similar to a softphone. With Yosemite, users can receive Caller ID information for incoming calls on their Macs. Using a Yosemite-powered Mac, users can set up their computer as a speakerphone and even place outgoing calls by clicking on contacts and telephone numbers from within web pages.
A seemingly small update — being able to use the Mac as a softphone — could well change the way business users place and receive telephone calls. With the ability to manage telephony services — see who's calling, answer calls, and place calls — from the desktop or laptop, it's highly likely that users will become less dependent on third-party telephony systems to perform those functions.
Much to like
The more functionality that Apple integrates within the OS, typically the easier those elements become to use. With Yosemite, Apple continues making small but progressive steps toward easing business users' computing challenges with elegant, seemingly minor touches. Add those innovations up over time, however, and it makes quite a difference. Business users have come a long way with the 10th iteration of OS X.
What feature(s) of Yosemite are you most interested in or excited about? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.