OS X Yosemite: The Quintessential Review

On October 16, Apple released OS X Yosemite which is version 10.10. I have been beta testing since the first developer release and also testing with iOS 8. Here is everything that I learned and how I've sized up this stellar OS X release.


OS X Yosemite 10.10 is the latest version of Apple's Macintosh operating system. It has descended from a long, distinguished line of Apple OSes that started with a public beta in September of 2000 and then the release of Mac OS X Cheetah 10.0 in March of 2001. Apple has dropped the "Mac" prefix and generally doesn't refer to version numbers anymore. That's why the new release is just called OS X Yosemite.

For a time, we all wondered what would happen after OS X Mavericks 10.9 because that's the end of the 10s. But long ago, Apple let on that it has no problem with versions 10.10 and 10.11 and so on. So much for changing from OS X to OS XI. "Ten" is the thing, and that's where we'll stay. Even Microsoft likes the sound of "ten" with the dramatic jump from WIndows 8 to Windows 10.

As usual, you'll want to make sure you have a Time Machine back-up of your boot drive before you install Yosemite. For a list of Macs that will run this new OS, see Jeff Gamet's "List of Macs That Will Run Yosemite." When you're ready to upgrade, you'll find Yosemite in Apple Menu -> App Store... Yosemite is free.

The goal of this review is to provide a guided tour of my experiences with OS X Yosemite.  It's not a detailed instruction manual. Rather, it's intended to help you size up this new OS from Apple and make an early or deferred decision to upgrade. 

Next - Why Should You Upgrade?

Page 2 -  Why Should You Upgrade?


Apple's history with OS X, a UNIX OS by the way, has been a mix of breakthrough features that have become legendary (like FileVault, Spotlight, Gatekeeper and Time Machine) and a few dud features that never went anywhere. It's hard to be brilliant on schedule.

For some perspective on this, see:

1. The Most Enduring (and Endearing) Features of OS X Throughout the Years. Part I

2. The Most Enduring (and Endearing) Features of OS X Throughout the Years. Part II

In the case of Yosemite, we're back on track with some features that are absolutely designed to make our lives better. Apple says:

The apps you use every day, enhanced with new features. And a completely new relationship between your Mac and iOS devices. OS X Yosemite will change how you see your Mac. And what you can do with it.

I would say that's a fair assessment of Yosemite. You can move documents between your iOS devices and a Mac more easily. At last, you can email large attachments. You can make cellular phone calls from a Mac (or iPad). And you can easily use your iPhone's cellular connection to create an instant, local Wi-Fi hotspot that allows your Mac to jump on the Internet where Wi-Fi isn't available.

These features are not designed to make your Mac look like or operate like an iPhone or iPad. Instead, they're designed to make a Mac and iOS devices work gracefully together in ways that make you more productive.

Along that path, however, Yosemite adds that extra special sauce from Jonathan Ive. His taste in how a graphical user interface (GUI) should look emerges in this edition of OS X. There is transparency which creates a sense of warmth instead of garish, cartoon, saturated colors. Icons are crisper, less skeuomorphic. A cleaner system font and design for checkboxes and radio buttons makes for an simpler, low-key, pleasing appearance. The Notification Center doesn't barge into the display like a bull in a China shop.

Apple has created a great video that highlights what I've described above. (Safari is recommended.)

The video is short, but provides a great feel for what Yosemite is all about.

Perhaps the most important thing to know is that the Unix foundation of OS X has continued to be refined over its 13 year history. It's unlikely that key OS technologies are radically altered in a way that produces an OS that's dangerous to use. (Meaning data loss.) Apple does, however, add new frameworks and APIs that allow it and developers to enable new functionality. I've noticed that refinement over the last few months as I've been testing Yosemite in beta form. Yosemite feels rock solid underneath, but some of these new features have had functional and cosmetic details to work out.

Moreover, with Apple's first public beta of a major new OS release (on July 24) and the corresponding community feedback for several months, it's unlikely that there will be any nasty surprises in this first version. My assessment, having worked through all the betas myself, is that one can upgrade with confidence—regarding the underling safety of your data. Of course, even as of this writing, there will be apps that are not yet compatible. You can check for compatibility at the Roaring Apps website.

Next: The New Features in Yosemite

Page 3 - The New Features in Yosemite


When Apple announced iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite at WWDC in June, it was a good bet that the two OSes would be launched together. After all, many new features invoked close communication between the two OSes.

That turned out not to be the case. iOS had to be released in September to support the iPhone 6 pair, and Yosemite wasn't ready. So we had to wait for iOS 8.1 to get some of those features fully implemented like SMS Relay and AirDrop. This was unfortunate planning and timing by Apple.

iCloud Drive

iCloud drive was available from the outset, but a key gotcha was that if you enabled iCloud Drive right away on your iPhone 6/6 Plus, you'd be locked out of syncing contacts and calendars on all your other iOS 7 and Mavericks devices. That admonition stands to this day, so if you plan to use iCloud drive, you should wait until all your devices are on Yosemite and iOS 8.1. As our Kelly Guimont wrote:

...You can't go back to "regular" iCloud syncing, and your Mac (and any mobile Apple devices running iOS 7 or earlier) can't access anything synced to iCloud Drive. This is a feature coming to Yosemite, the next version of OS X...

Image credit: Apple

This is just another snafu, second only to iOS 8.0.1, that Apple customers need to be aware of and live with. A good strategy is to wait until all your iOS devices are on iOS 8.1 and all your Macs are on Yosemite, then enable iCloud drive.

SMS Messages in iMessage App

Apple also got out of sync with this feature. As our Dave Hamilton wrote on October 21, "How to Enable Apple’s SMS Relay on your Mac or iPad."

When Apple announced iOS 8 at WWDC one feature was met with great applause: SMS Relay. This allows users to send and receive Text Messages (i.e. the "green bubble" messages) on our Macs the same way we've always been able to send and receive iMessages.... When iOS 8 was released and the feature wasn't there, we all waited for Yosemite. When Yosemite came out we realized we needed to wait for iOS 8.1.

This is very simple to set up, as Dave Hamilton explains above, and it works very nicely on my Mac Pro and iPhone 6 with iOS 8.1.

While this kind of interoperability between devices is great, Apple didn't do a very good job of explaining the pre-requisites for each feature. That left a lot of people wondering why things just didn't work in Yosemite with iOS 8.0.2.

Next: More New Features:  Make and receive phone calls.

Page 4 - More New Features


Make/receive Phone Calls

This is a feature that worked out of the box with Yosemite and iOS 8.0. The first thing I tried with Yosemite was to call my wife from my MacBook Air and the iPhone in another room. It's as simple as calling up the person in Contacts and clicking on their phone number. Then the window showb below pops up for the call. Every Mac has a speaker and a microphone, so it's easy to do. I expect this to be one of the signature features of Yosemite and the opportunities for nice enhancements like Continuity Keypad abound.

Instant Hot Spot

This is not something you can just turn on in the iPhone's Settings. For example, I'm an AT&T customer. When I initiated a set up in Settings > Cellular, I got a message like the one shown below.

I surmise that with other carriers, you'll also be presented with some preparation options. For AT&T, I was told that to enable the Wi-Fi hotspot, I'd need to upgrade my plan. For me, my options were:

1. Upgrade to a 5 GB data plan (the minimum). That may be more than you need and are paying for now. In my case, an upgrade to 5 GB of data would be an extra $35 per month on just one line.

2. Mobile Sharing. This creates a data pool that you can share with other lines. For example, to upgrade my line and my wife's line to a 300 MB data pool (the minimum) would cost $20 per line, or extra $40 per month.

You may already be on one of these plans or have a corresponding plan with another carrier that works.

For technical reasons, the mobile hotspot will not work with an AT&T Microcell. Your iPhone has to be in contact with a conventional cell tower. The good news is that if you're traveling and need a mobile hotspot right away, say, at a hotel, you can call AT&T customer support, select one of the plans above, and have it enabled in, I am told, about ten seconds.

AirDrop Between Mac and iOS Device

AirDrop is designed to be an easier way to transmit files from one iOS device to another or to a Mac—and vice versa. From my reading, the feature has been problematic for many during the beta testing period, and I've seen results all over the map. Here's an article that lists the hardware requirements.

The feature didn't work for me on my MacBook Air late 2011 with Yosemite 10.0 release (14A389) and my iPhone 6 and iPad Air, both running iOS 8.1. Even though my MBA meets the requirements for Air Drop, there was nothing I could do to make it work.

This didn't work until iOS 8.1

However, when I installed Yosemite on my 2013 Mac Pro, everything worked beautifully, in both directions. But my iOS devices had to be on iOS 8.1, not 8.0.2.

I think the user interface could be improved here. When I tap on a photo on my iPhone 6, the account image on the Mac, in the AirDrop folder, gets a blue activity ring, then the file is dropped into the downloads folder. The Download folder does bounce, but you have to be alert to catch it. Because there are no Preferences for AirDrop on the Mac, (that I could find) it's all too easy to miss that the file was uploaded. At first, one wonders: "Where did the file go?" I think it should go into the AirDrop folder itself on the Mac.

Apple customers have been waiting for this for a long time. Personally, I was a bit tired of emailing product photos from my iPhone to my TMO Mac. This is most welcome and likely become a signature Yosemite feature for all users.

Next: More New Features:  Dramatic Improvement in Search Concept

Page 5 - More New Features


Dramatic Improvement in Search Concept

Apple's Spotlight search feature has continued to evolve, and now it goes far beyond searching your Mac for apps and files. The philosophy of Yosemite is to put all kinds of Internet information at your fingertips, which is good, but it also has the added feature of bypassing Google. This is not just being contrary, instead it's part of Apple's plan to make your computing life more private, as with Apple Pay.

The initial launch of Search, the magnifying glass at the top right of the Yosemite menu bar, shows the resources available.  After that, the graphics below will go away. You can search Apple maps, restaurants, movie showings, the App Store, your iTunes library, and the Internet—such as Wikipedia.

For example, if you want movie times, there's no need to fire up Flixster. Just type, say, "Fury" (a current movie) into the search field, and you'll get the Fandango page with movie times in theaters near you. (Yes, Search initially knows your location, but you can turn this off in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Details.

The idea here is that Yosemite users should have a lot of the integrated, one stop power for finding things easily, something that iPhone users have enjoyed with their apps. I think it's part of the resurgence of the affection for Macs and recent, record breaking sales.

All kinds of new things are now at your fingertips in Search.

Widgets Moved to Notification Center

Let's face it. Only a few fanatic widget fans used the widgets page or did much collecting of widgets. Recognizing that widgets can be useful and that developers have put some work into widgets, Yosemite now places them on the Today tab of Notifications. (Notably, Notifications doesn't barge in on your display as in Mavericks. Rather, it just overlays.) Widgets are added to the tab pretty much the same was as iOS 8: just click the edit button at the bottom of the Notification pane.

Edit widgets in "Today" just like in iOS 8

I don't know if this will breathe new life into widgets, but one things going for it is the similarity to iOS, and it's very useful there. See, for example, "iOS 8: How to Enable Notification Center Widgets."

Next: More New Features:  Handoff

Page 6 - More New Features


I have always been skeptical of this feature, and it's not on my list of winning features. Also, it requires a very careful set up, and even if you do nurse it into action, it can be dodgy in my experience, and I have some pretty new equipment. In fact, this feature didn't work for me at first, and why it started working after a few tries remains a mystery.  But once it kicked in, it kept working.

The idea here is that you can start an activity on one device and then finish on another compatible device, for example, email. For example, I started a message on my iPhone 6...

Start on iPhone

Image of mailer on iPhone ... and as soon as I started composing, I saw the handoff alert on my Mac Pro on the left side of the dock. As soon as I clicked on that, the mailer on the iPhone closed and everything was transferred over to the Mac. I sent the message from there.

Finish on Mac...

In the process of moving that screen shot from the iPhone to the Mac, I used AirDrop and it worked nicely. But not immediately—I had to remember to open the AirDrop folder on the Mac first. These are new habits that we'll need to learn in order to make for easy use of Yosemite.

In summary, Yosemite makes significant strides in making our devices work together in time-saving ways. I really like SMS messages on the Mac, AirDrop from iPhone to the Mac and making phone calls on my Mac. However, the system requirements and setup can be tedious at first, and new habits will need to be formed. But it's always been that way with new OS X features.

Next: Yosemite's New Look and Feel

Page 7 - The New Look and Feel of Yosemite


In every release of OS X, going back to version 10.0, there have been minor cosmetic tweaks to the GUI. But Yosemite is the first OS X release that has the distinctive feel of Jonathan Ive, Apple's Senior Vice President of Design. The result has been a significant improvement in the appearance of 10.10 in my opinion. As I mentioned above, the refinement, transparency, subdued colors, and departure from the Windows XP-type of garish colors makes this OS a delight to look at.


It's hard to explain how the idea of transparency adds warmth and appeal to a graphical user interface. Perhaps it's a type of skeuomorphism itself. I see it as related to glass objects. A beautiful Waterford crystal glass, sitting on a shelf can both enhance color from behind and reflect and refract color. That's as close as I can get to how transparency in an OS feels.

Notice how Finder sidebar takes on color of background.

In Yosemite, if apps are designed for it, certain regions, say, a sidebar, can take on the colors of the background. The Finder's sidebar is designed to do this. If you don't like it, you can turn it off in System Preferences > Accessibility > Reduce Transparency. But give it a try; it'll grown on you.

Dark Mode

This feature turns the Menu bar and dock black and meus gray with white text. It's used primarily by photographers and probably won't be of interest to the average user. The Control is in System Preferences > General.

That Green Button

Throughout the history of OS X, that green button in the top left of any windows has meant just one thing: Maximize the windows to the display. See, for example, "OS X Yosemite: What Does That Little Green Button do NOW?" where the new operational meaning is explained—and how to recover the default.  Basically, the green button now is the full screen button instead of the maximize mutton. Hold down the option key to recover the old usage. What a bad idea.

Not a good thing to change.

I found significant cosmetic issues using this full screen function, and I doubt if I'll use it much. What's worse is that Apple has introduced new functionality in a habit that's been formed by users for over 13 years. This meddling needs to be rethought. Those two expanding arrows on the top right of any app served their purpose well.

The Dock and Icons

In Yosemite, the Dock takes on the color of the background. It doesn't try to skeumorphically represent a shelf. Instead, the icons themselves have been cleaned up and the marker for running apps is easier to see. This is Apple at its best in design.

The new Diock is easier to read, icons are crisper.

Change in System Font

It's been discussed elsewhere in great detail about Apple's change of System Font from Lucinda Grande to Helvetica Neue, the same font used in iOS 7 and 8. I've seen some expert discussion of why the change may not be a good thing, and why it is a good thing, but as an ordinary user, I like the new font. I'll leave it at that.

Checkboxes and Radio Buttons

I can't explain the affection I have for the new design of these controls. Perhaps it's Mr. Ive's intuitive feel for how a modern computer should present itself. Basically, the watery, aqua look is gone and the design is more, shall I say, low key. I liked it right away, but then perhaps I like it because it's new, not better. I know not everyone will agree.

Checkboxes and buttons seem cleaner, more low key.

Next: Wrap up.

Page 8 - Concluding Remarks


Yosemite, like any new version of OS X, will be a bit rough around the edges until we see version 10.10.1. But, the period of public beta has made this release one of the smoothest installs I can recall.

What's most important is this release is full of useful features that will go down in history as signature features that we'll talk about for years. While we'll need to develop some new working habits, the number of downright obnoxious changes, such as OS X Lion's infamous meddling with Save As... have been minimized. In that sense, I found Yosemite a delight to use from the very first beta.

Yosemite is a stellar release and deserves a 4/5 great rating. Features like Wi-Fi Hotspot, phone calls from a Mac, AirDrop and the new Spotlight search will be recognized as milestones for all time.

Deductions were in the area of inconsistency in some new features still being worked out with iOS 8 ad 8.1, the extreme details of the set up for Handoff and Continuity that can trip up an inexperienced user, unnecessary changes to the full screen operation, and the snafu with iCloud drive at launch.

Follow good practices to prepare for the upgrade, then go have some fun with Yosemite. 


Postscript. Everyone seems to have a different experience with a new OS X release. It's always considered wise to wait until the dust has cleared. If you're of the conservative bent, or have institutional customers or students to worry about, take your time and test for every mission critical app. Then read the Bob LeVitus article, "Don’t Upgrade to Yosemite or iOS 8.1 Before You Read This Column." There's certainly nothing wrong with waiting. As Bob says, a good option is to install Yosemite on an external bootable drive and see how things go. You can always revert to Mavericks on your internal drive.

In my case, things went smoothly on the MacBook Air for months of betas, and I installed the released version on my Mac Pro without a hitch. But then, I tend to run a lean, mean system and try not to load my Mac up with lots of software that could have bad interactions.

The best advice I have is to pay close attention to the Mac Observer and other Apple oriented sites. As we discover things, we'll always pass our knowledge on. That's your best defense.

Product: OS X Yosemite 10.10

Company: Apple

List Price: Free



Lots of very usable features that will likely become signature OS X features: AirDrop, making phone calls via the iPhone, SMS messages via the iPhone, better search, and iCloud Drive. The public beta made for good install experience at launch. A quantum jump to a beautiful, low-key GUI. Not heavy on agenda and annoyances. A free upgrade.


Some features require a meticulous set up and can be unreliable or slow in operation. Change in full screen operational method unnecessary. AIrDrop with IOS didn't work until iOS 8.1.