OS X El Capitan Review

The new version of Mac OS X is here!  It’s not a major upgrade; Apple said that they’ve got a big focus on performance this year, just like in iOS 9.  However, there are some new features that are definitely welcome.  Interestingly enough, several of them are features that started on iOS.  I think that says a whole lot about the world we live in now: mobile is becoming more important that desktop.

There’s several apps that I use a lot that have gotten new features, but I want to start with an OS-wide feature: split view.  This is actually similar to the new iPad split view features on iOS.  You can now run two apps next to each other in full screen.  Simply click and hold on the green full screen button on the first app, then drag it to one side.  You’re then presented with thumbnails of your other apps to fill the other side of the screen.  Once you’ve got these two apps open, you can leave them at half and half, or you can drag to give one of them more room.  This is definitely a useful feature (one that I’ve missed since coming to the Mac – Windows added this feature in 2009).


Next up is the mail app.  This one’s short and sweet: you can now swipe left and right on messages to mark them as unread or delete them – just like in iOS.  I use this feature all the time on my iPhone, and I’ve definitely wished I had it on the Mac.  Now I do!

After that comes the app I used more than any other: Safari.  Safari has added a feature called pinned sites.  This allows you to leave certain tabs open in the background, permanently, without them taking up lots of space in your tab bar.  It’s great for sites you use all the time.  I haven’t decided which (if any) sites I’m going to put there, but it’s definitely a cool feature.  Also, Safari has added a way to see which tabs are playing sound and mute them, also helpful!


The last thing I want to talk about it the photos app.  It finally allows you to geotag photos!  Both Photos for Mac and iOS already supported viewing geotags, and the iOS Camera app could geotag its photos, but neither one allowed you to edit or add geotags.  I had an app for this both on the Mac and iOS, but it was a pain.  Now, you can finally do this directly from Photos for Mac.

Even though there aren’t any crazy new features in OS X El Capitan, it’s still a solid update.  I mentioned performance at the beginning but I didn’t really talk about it yet: this update hasn’t made my computer feel any faster or slower (although that SSD I put in last spring helps).  Same as iOS 9, I’d say no change is a good thing (last year’s update definitely made it slower).  So all in all, I’m a happy customer, and I’m feeling good about how long my Mac will last.  That’s definitely a feeling Apple should want to cultivate in their customers.  ••

WWDC 2015 Recap

In case you missed it, last week was Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference.  The highlight of the week was the main keynote, which took place Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I had to work during the keynote, but I watched most of it later in the week.  There were four main topics in the keynote: OS X, iOS, watchOS, and Apple Music.

OS X
First up was the latest version of the Mac operating system.  Named El Capitan (for a landmark in Yosemite national park), Apple said that this update would focus on “Experience” and “Performance.”  Basically, what this means is that it’s a relatively minor update, one that will focus more on bug fixes and small features than large ones.  I think this is good; it’s a welcome rest from the breakneck update pace we’ve seen – and suffered from – over the past few years.

iOS
Next up (as to be expected) was iOS 9 – to be available this fall.  There’s a couple key parts to this update.  First are some features focusing on “intelligence.”  These includes improvements to Siri, but also a brand new Spotlight search function.  This replaces the current search in iOS, but also tries to proactively serve you apps and information it thinks you might need right then: everything from the apps you use each morning to news stories relevant to your location.  The next huge feature focuses on the iPad.  The iPad is finally getting a split screen view – the ability to run two apps at once.  This is huge, but unfortunately it’s not available on all iPad models.  iPads from the previous two years can run one app full screen and have another app at iPhone width “slide over” from the side.  The iPad Air 2 can also run two apps simultaneously that each take up half the screen.  Hopefully this will greatly improve productivity on the iPad.  There were two more quick things that are important.  First, iOS 9 will only take 1.3gb to download, instead of last year’s ridiculous 4.6gb.  The final thing wasn’t even mentioned in the keynote, but I think it’s super important: iOS 9 will be available to all devices that have iOS 8.  Normally, Apple drops one old model each year; I’m hoping this change means that iOS 9 won’t slow down older devices as much.

watchOS
Apple also unveiled the latest version of the Apple Watch software: watchOS 2.  This version will allow developers to create native apps that run on the Watch.  Previously, developers could only create apps that technically “ran” on the iPhone and projected their interfaces to the Watch.  This was a cumbersome, temporary arrangement, one which meant that all third-party apps were pretty slow.  Apple is finally giving developers what they were promised last year.

Apple Music
The last part of the keynote was dedicated to Apple’s new music streaming service: Apple Music.  This service will replace both iTunes Radio and Beats Music.  For $9.99/month, you get unlimited streaming of everything Apple Music has, including many playlists handmade by music experts, not algorithms.  This was one of Beats Music’s key selling points, and Apple is making sure that it doesn’t go away.  The second part of Apple Music is an enormous, worldwide radio station called Beats 1.  This is set up like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  It will be broadcast from three studios worldwide (in LA, New York, and London).  I’m actually kind of excited to try Beats 1; it sounds intriguing.  The final part of Apple Music is called Connect.  This is almost like a social network for music artists.  Connect allows artists to post photos, videos, lyrics, and even demos directly to Apple Music.  Fans can follow artists to get access to this bonus content.  Apple seems convinced that this is the next big way for people to follow their favorite artists, but I’m not sure that people will adopt it in place of Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

So as you can see, Apple had a lot to talk about last week.  They released updates to their big three operating systems, and also unveiled their new attempt in the music streaming industry.  Unfortunately, there were no updates to the Apple TV, but I’d still say we still got plenty of cool new stuff.  I guess we’ll just have to hope again for a new Apple TV next year.  ••

The S-Cycle for Software

Have Apple software updates seemed a bit… rushed lately?  With both iOS and Mac OS X on yearly release cycles, we seem to be getting more quirks and bugs than I’d like.  When this topic is brought up, the solution always seems to be to just do big software releases every two years, or do small pieces throughout the year, instead of having a monolithic update every 12 months.  However, I suggest that Apple’s software team do what their hardware team does: use the s-cycle.

What is the s-cycle?  The s-cycle is the way Apple releases their iPhones.  For example, the iPhone 4 (2010), then the iPhone 4s (2011), then the iPhone 5 (2012), then the iPhone 5s (2013), and so on.  People say, “Well the software team needs to get it together, because the hardware team releases a new iPhone every year with no problems.”  But they really don’t.  They really only release a totally new iPhone every two years, and then release a small update the years in between.  This is the s-cycle.

And it seems to work great.  People still get excited about the -s models, and it’s less demanding on the hardware team, which allows them to make something truly great every two years.  I think that this is what Apple should do with iOS and OS X.

Let’s focus on iOS here.  Suppose that only every other version of iOS had big changes.  The other years would just include some minor updates, and maybe one new headline feature.  But instead of making the -s year the same for the iPhone and iOS (because those years would be a little boring), maybe they could alternate.  That would mean that this fall, we’d get the iPhone 6s (a minor update), and iOS 9 (a big update).  Then next year, we’d get the iPhone 7 (a big update) and iOS 9s (a minor update).  iOS 9s could just include the new features required by the new iPhone hardware, things like Touch ID and Apple Pay, but not much else.  This would allow the software team to slow down a bit, pay more attention to quality control, and make the features they do add really count.

The main problem I see with this alternation is that it’d be sort of confusing.  Because of this, maybe it’s better to just keep calling it iOS 9, 10, 11, etc., but then apply the principle of the s-cycle.  (Another thing: say “iOS 9s” out loud.  Exactly.)  The last thing you want to do to your customers is confuse them – confusion kills excitement.

And that excitement is why Apple should continue to do something every year, instead of every two years.  Why?  Simple psychology.  When something happens every year, people remember it.  Around September, people know that there will be a new iPhone and a new iOS update.  Releasing iOS every two years makes things more complicated.  Come September, people will have to try to remember whether there was an update last year, and whether they should be excited for an update this year.  This sounds trivial, I know, but you want people to be excited about your brand, not hesitantly excited.  You also don’t want to let down the people who thought this was an update year but it wasn’t.  This same psychology also applies to, oh I don’t know, say, weekly blogs and the like.

As you can see, adding an s-cycle to Apple’s software production could slow down the sometimes-breakneck train we call iOS.  Don’t get me wrong, I love new features as much as the next guy, but the last two iOS updates in particular (7 and 8) have been enormous.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dialing back iOS updates just a little bit, especially if they can do it in such a way that still appears to be a yearly update.  Hey, it’s worked for the iPhone.  ••

OS X Yosemite Review

Last Thursday, Apple released the latest update to the Mac operating system, OS X Yosemite.  After using it for the past week and a half, I must say that I really like it.  Most of the changes were aesthetic, giving OS X a new, iOS 7-style look and feel.  In addition to these changes, we also saw some new features, most notably Continuity.


As you can see from the screenshots, much of the UI has gotten a flatter, more transparent look.  This is actually what I expected when I upgraded to OS X Mavericks last spring.  I bought my Mac used, and it was running OS X Mountain Lion when I got it.  Since I didn’t have a Mac when Mavericks came out, I hadn’t paid much attention to what it looked like.  Seeing the similarities to iOS 6 in Mountain Lion, I just assumed that Mavericks would have iOS 7-like graphics.  I was wrong.  This seemed odd and disjointed to me, and I’m glad that OS X and iOS are back on the same page visually.

Aside from the UI, the other really cool feature in OS X Yosemite is Continuity.  Continuity is actually a collection of features that makes the Mac, iPhone, and iPad work closer together.  For example, before Continuity, you could send iMessages (text messages to other Apple products) and do FaceTime calls (which, again, can only happen between Apple devices) on the Mac and iPad.  If you wanted to call or text someone with an Android, you’d have to use your iPhone.  Now, with Continuity, you can use your Mac and iPad to make calls and send texts to any number, as long as you do still have an iPhone.  The feature of Continuity that I’m most excited about though is called Handoff.  I talked about Handoff in iOS when iOS 8 came out last month, but now that the Mac can participate, Handoff is really going to be useful.  Basically, with Handoff, your devices are aware of what you’re doing on your other devices nearby.  This works over Bluetooth.  Say, for example, that you start writing an email on your iPhone, then decide that you’d rather not use that tiny little phone keyboard.  Normally, in order to switch to your Mac, you’d have to email the draft to yourself, then pick it back up on the Mac.  With Handoff, your Mac notices that you’re writing an email on your iPhone, and puts an extra “Mail” icon to one side of your dock.  This icon represents the draft you’re working on.  To move the draft to the Mac, all you have to do is click that icon, and you’re good to go.  This is really cool in principle, but I found that it doesn’t always work correctly in practice.  Still, I hope Apple irons out the kinks in order to make this new feature shine.

The last thing I want to talk about is speed: OS X Yosemite seems slower than OS X Mavericks.  Believe it or not, I’m actually willing to cut Apple some slack here.  As operating systems advance, they are designed to be run on computer hardware that is advancing as well.  This means that new software will always be slower on old hardware.  Another thing to consider is that all new Macs now ship with solid state hard drives, so Apple engineers are creating software that is designed to be run on a computer with a solid state.  My Mac does not have a solid state, so it’s bound to be an extra little bit slower than newer Macs.  Even with this speed decrease, in general, I’m happy with OS X Yosemite.  There weren’t too many huge changes, but on the whole, the operating system seems to be getting slowly better.  Now all we need to do is convince Apple to start naming their operating systems after national parks in Georgia, instead of California.  How does OS X Kennesaw Mountain sound?  ••