The most interesting thing about Apple’s newest OS X update? It goes way beyond the desktop.
With OS X Yosemite, which was officially released yesterday, Apple is beginning to unify its desktop and mobile computing platforms. You still won’t be able to run your iPhone apps on your Mac, but there are plenty of other tasks you’ll be able to share between iOS and OS X.
It’s a very different approach to balancing mobile and desktop platforms than Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 and 10, which are more focused on bringing mobile-like apps and interface elements to the desktop.
Yes, OS X Yosemite doesn’t look very different from all of the other OS X revisions over the years. But under the hood, it gives us a glimpse at how Apple is positioning its platforms for the future. It’s not about unifying OS X and iOS — it’s about making them work better together.
After using the Yosemite beta alongside the iOS 8 beta for a few months, it’s clear that this isn’t your typical OS X upgrade. Indeed, Yosemite has fundamentally changed the way I work — especially after the final release of iOS 8 last month.
Here are a few ways Yosemite could do the same for you:
AirDrop files between iOS and OS X
It’s shocking that it’s taken this long, but with Yosemite you can finally wirelessly transfer files and information between your Mac and iOS devices using AirDrop. No more emailing files to yourself, throwing files on cloud storage, or hunting for a USB stick.
Just head to the AirDrop menu (it’s in the share options in both iOS 8 and Yosemite), locate your companion device, and hit send. I’ve used it to transfer hundreds of megs worth of photos and videos, and it’s worked like a charm. Since it’s relying on Wi-Fi, it doesn’t take long for it to transmit big files. You can also transfer location data and links between devices.
Cross-platform AirDrop support isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s something I’ve found myself using every day.
All-powerful Spotlight search
I’m now regularly using Yosemite’s Spotlight search far more than Google — which I’m sure is exactly what Apple wants. Now in addition to searching for files and apps, Spotlight can also search the web, pull up information tidbits from Wikipedia, and even access movie listings from Fandango. I’ve never really warmed up to desktop search apps in the past, but the new Spotlight has ended up being an invaluable tool.
Continue working across OS X and iOS devices
This is the big feature that Apple is touting as part of its new “Continuity” philosophy between Yosemite and iOS 8. With Safari, Apple Mail, and Apple Calendar, you can seamlessly continue tasks between your Mac and iOS devices. For now, the feature, dubbed Handoff, is only limited to those apps, but it won’t be long until we see more developers support it.
I’m ranking this below the refined AirDrop and Spotlight search, because I don’t actually use Apple apps very much. But if you do, I can imagine Handoff being a lifesaver. And there’s certainly plenty of potential behind the idea.
Answer calls and texts on your Mac
When you get a call on your iPhone, Yosemite actually lets you use your Mac as a speakerphone. A dialog pops up showing the incoming call (the same alert that pops up for Facetime calls), and you can choose to answer or ignore the call from your Mac.
This is useful if you don’t always keep your phone nearby, or if it’s stuck by an outlet getting recharged. I didn’t have any problems accepting calls from my Mac, and the call quality sounded about as good as a Skype call.
Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t yet enabled its other new iPhone-to-Mac feature, which allows you to see texts from anyone on your Mac. Previously, you could only view iMessage notes sent from other iOS or OS X users on your Mac.
The cross-device texting feature is coming as part of the iOS 8.1 update on Monday, but it’s easy to imagine how useful it’ll be to chat with your Android-toting friends from your Mac.
It will push you further into the Apple ecosystem
Yosemite is Apple’s greatest ad yet for the iPhone and iPad. If you’re a Mac user who for some reason is using an Android phone, or if you’re an iPhone owner dabbling with Android tablets, Yosemite makes a clear case for equipping your house entirely with iOS devices.
Perhaps even more likely, new iPhone 6 buyers could be tempted towards eventually buying a Mac with the promise of seamlessly integrated cross-device features.
With Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple is doing what it does best: building software that best takes advantage of its custom hardware.