OS X 10.10 (Yosemite): New look and tighter iOS integration, but wi-fi issues remain

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Improvements to iCloud and Apple's bundled apps are welcome, but Yosemite's introduction is marred by erratic wi-fi support.

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PROS
• Free download from the Mac App Store
• iCloud Drive enhances online file sharing and backup
• Major update for Mail app
• Tighter integration between Yosemite and iOS 8

CONS
• Wi-fi bugs still need to be addressed
• Pointless graphical redesign
• Won't run on all Mac models


Business users are typically cautious when it comes to adopting new versions of Microsoft's Windows. That's partly because Windows upgrades can involve radical changes to features that that have been in use for many years - the removal of the traditional Start menu from Windows 8 being a recent example.

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Apple's approach when updating its Mac OS X operating system, by contrast, tends to be relatively conservative. New features may be introduced, but there are rarely major changes to the underlying operating system, or to its basic interface design. This evolutionary approach means that OS X updates tend to be less troublesome for IT managers to deal with. The fact that the last two releases have been given away for free, doesn't hurt either.

Wi-fi woes

The release of Yosemite - full name OS X version 10.10 (and yes, that really is pronounced 'ten-point-ten') - initially seemed to follow the pattern set by its recent predecessors. Available as a free download from the Mac App Store, Yosemite was estimated to be in use by around 36 percent of all Macs within just one month of its release in October, according to a survey of internet traffic conducted by Net Applications.

Yosemite introduces many new features, as well as updates to key applications such as Apple's Mail client and Safari web browser. But unlike some of its predecessors, Yosemite does seem to have suffered from some teething problems that may hinder adoption - particularly among business users.

The two key issues here are widespread reports of slow or unreliable wi-fi connections, as well as problems when syncing with mail systems that use Microsoft Exchange Server. Apple released an update, version 10.10.1, on 17 November that was intended to solve both these problems, and also to eliminate a handful of security flaws.

The complaints about Exchange in Apple's support forums do seem to have calmed down since the 10.10.1 update, but the wi-fi problems persist and Apple has already released two beta versions of a second update that will again attempt to address this lingering problem. Unreliable wi-fi may not be a make-or-break issue for iMacs and other desktop Macs that can use a wired office network, but it's obviously a serious problem for laptop users, and IT managers may well prefer to wait a little longer before adopting Yosemite.

Free download

If you do decide to upgrade to Yosemite, then the basic installation process is very straightforward. Yosemite itself is available as a free download from the Mac App Store. The download is 5.2GB in size and requires 8GB of disk space for installation, and Apple states that it will run on most Mac models released since about 2007. It's also possible to upgrade a standard Yosemite installation to the latest version of OS X Server for just £13.99, and this can be used to deploy and manage Yosemite on multiple Mac systems across your organisation.

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Yosemite has a new-look interface, with new icons and system font.
Image: Apple

At first glance, Yosemite looks quite a bit different from previous versions of Mac OS X. There are some major changes to the appearance of the Mac desktop, with flatter, two-dimensional icons and a new system font that's intended to improve visibility on Macs with high-resolution Retina displays.

Yosemite makes greater use of transparency, with elements such as the Dock and Finder windows showing a fuzzy view of whatever lies behind them. There's also a new 'dark mode' that reverses the colour scheme of the Dock and the main toolbar at the top of the screen, so that they display white text on a dark background. This improves visibility in low-light conditions - when you're using a laptop in a darkened airline cabin, for example.

In the Spotlight

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The redesigned Spotlight provides a more detailed preview of your files.
Image: Cliff Joseph/Tech Pro Research

These interface changes are mostly cosmetic, and don't make any real difference to the way that the core operating system functions. There have been some more important changes, though. The Spotlight search tool now appears right in the centre of the screen, rather than its traditional home in the top-right corner; it also provides a larger, more detailed preview of files that it locates. In addition to performing a local search, Spotlight can now pull in information from web sources such as Wikipedia and the Bing search engine. It can even perform quick conversions for currency, weights and measures - which I've already found a handy timesaver.

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The Notifications panel includes a 'Today' view with all the latest updates.
Image: Cliff Joseph/Tech Pro Research

For news junkies and stock-market watchers, the Notifications panel that appears on the right-hand side of the screen gains a 'Today' view that displays the latest updates for stock prices, calendar events and other information. The AirDrop feature that allows you to quickly transfer files between Macs over a wi-fi connection has been extended to work with iOS mobile devices as well, while the Safari web browser gains a useful Tab view that displays previews of all your open web pages.

However, the most significant change to the core operating system is the - long overdue - arrival of iCloud Drive.

iCloud Drive

Apple's iCloud service is very useful for synchronising information between Macs and iOS devices - but only as long as you're using Apple's own apps, such as Mail or the Numbers spreadsheet. Its limited ability to handle files from third-party software, such as Microsoft Office, means that many Mac users still rely on rival cloud services such as Dropbox for online back-up and syncing.

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You can now backup and sync non-Apple file formats using iCloud Drive.
Image: Cliff Joseph/Tech Pro Research

The arrival of iCloud Drive goes some way to correcting those limitations. You can now open a new iCloud Drive folder that appears on the Mac desktop just like any other folder. You can upload any type of file to iCloud, including Microsoft Office documents, simply by dragging and dropping them into this folder. Those files are then uploaded to your personal iCloud account and can be opened and edited using any application on a Mac or iOS device that supports the relevant file format.

This means that it's now possible to upload a Word document created on a Mac, and then edit it using Apple's Pages word processor on an iPhone or iPad. That eliminates the need to pay for an Office 365 subscription in order to get the full versions of Microsoft's iOS apps, as well as simply making it easier for Mac users to backup and sync their work files.

In the Mail

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Mail Drop simplifies the handling of large file attachments in Apple's Mail app.
Image: Apple

The improvements to iCloud don't stop there. Apple's Mail app receives a major update in Yosemite, including a new feature called Mail Drop. Many corporate email systems place a limit on the size of files that can be attached to incoming or outgoing emails, but Mail Drop gets around this limitation by using iCloud to store large attachments, which can be as much as 5GB in size. If the recipient of the email is also using Mail and Yosemite, then they will receive the file as though it were an ordinary email attachment. People using other mail clients, or older versions of Mac OS X, will receive a link that allows them to download the attachment via a web browser. Attachments uploaded to iCloud are also encrypted for extra security.

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Markup allows you to quickly annotate images and PDF file attachments.
Image: Cliff Joseph/Tech Pro Research

Mail gains a number of other new features too, including a Markup option that allows you to quickly annotate photos and PDF files. There's also a 'signature' option that allows you to write your signature using a trackpad or mouse, or to scan your signature off an existing document using the Mac's built-in webcam.

iOS integration

Mail also supports a major new feature called Handoff, which is part of Apple's strategy to provide ever greater integration between OS X on Macs and iOS on its mobile devices. Handoff allows you to start work on a document on one device, and then switch to another device and immediately carry on working on the same document. You could start to write an email using Mail on your Mac, for example, and then pick up your iPhone or iPad if you need to leave the office and you'll find the same email waiting for you to finish at your convenience.

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Handoff allows you to quickly switch between Macs and iOS devices when creating documents.
Image: Apple

Handoff works with other apps as well, including the Pages word processor, and is part of a wider set of features that Apple refers to as Continuity. Using Continuity, you can send and receive text messages on a Mac via your iPhone, or even use your Mac's built-in microphone to receive or make phone calls.

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Continuity allows you to make phone calls on a Mac via your iPhone.
Image: Cliff Joseph/Tech Pro Research

The ability to seamlessly transfer documents, messages and even phone calls between devices is something that many business users will appreciate. However, Handoff and Continuity don't 'just work' quite as easily as Apple claims. You'll need a combination of wi-fi and the latest version of Bluetooth - 4.0/LE, which has only been available on Macs released since about mid-2012 - to get Continuity and Handoff working properly. So while Yosemite may run on many older Macs systems those specific features will only be available on relatively recent models.

Progress report

Taken as a whole, Yosemite is an attractive update - most notable for the increased integration between Apple's Mac computers and its iOS mobile devices. That will have undoubted appeal for the many business users who also own iPhones and iPads. However, the persistent wi-fi connectivity issue is something that Apple clearly needs to address, and IT managers may decide to put their foot down and delay adoption until they have had time to properly assess the forthcoming 10.10.2 update.

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