By Matthew E. Milliken
May 7, 2015
Earlier this week, I thought aloud about buying a new Apple laptop computer. A lot of the comparisons I made were with my current machine, a 13-inch MacBook Pro that I purchased as a new model in August 2009.
Now, I’m going to replace this computer at one point or another. It’s too old, it’s no longer particularly powerful and it’s too prone to failure.
But I’m actually glad that I didn’t replace my MacBook in April, when it needed a new hard drive — and not just because I’m still not sure what machine I’d want to purchase.
Over time, I find, most computers accumulate cruft — obsolete and/or redundant files and software. These can often slow down the machine’s performance considerably.
I’ve known for a while that I’d be needing a new computer, and I’ve also known that chances are high that my next machine will have a smaller hard drive. The upshot of this, of course, is that, for various reasons, I needed to clean up my hard drive without losing vital pieces.
I’m pretty careful about backing up my computer, so needing a new internal hard drive for my old computer wasn’t a disaster. Far from it; I looked upon this episode as an opportunity.
My repaired computer runs differently than it had before. It’s quite zippy now that it’s got a new, nearly empty replacement hard drive. There’s definitely a tradeoff, however. I’m not running any extra virus-detection software, which I had on my old setup. I’ve also had to fiddle with some of the settings.
That’s been especially true for the trackpad, which I like using in a certain way that differs from Apple’s default settings. My trackpad no longer physically clicks, so I absolutely need to have the “tap to click” setting activated. I’m also accustomed to dragging on-screen objects by double-tapping on one of their virtual handles.
I’ve been approaching things in a piecemeal fashion, figuring that it’s easier to add things slowly than to restore all the data, software and settings from my backups and then weed things out.
One of the first big changes that I made was upgrading from OS X 10.9 Mavericks, which was released in the fall of 2013, to OS X 10.10 Yosemite, which came out last fall. Whatever new computer I buy will run the new system, so I figured it was time to take the plunge.
Visually, Yosemite is much flatter than Mavericks. The difference in the operating systems’ design aesthetics is similar to what iPhone and iPad users saw upon upgrading from iOS 6 to iOS 7: In Mavericks, the frames of Safari web browser windows and Finder folder windows had a textured appearance that suggested brushed metal surfaces; in Yosemite, everything seems to be a flat gray. This isn’t 100 percent true; there are actually slight gradations in the Safari frame, but it’s very subtle — much more so than in Mavericks.
The red, yellow and green buttons in the top-left corner of every window, which respectively are used to close the window or to minimize or maximize the window’s size, have undergone a similar change. In Mavericks, the buttons had a three-dimensional appearance; different parts of the buttons reflected light in slightly different ways, as if because of their physical shapes. In Yosemite, these buttons are just flat, colored circles. These changes bothered me for a few days before I became accustomed to them and decided that they didn’t much matter.
The same was true with Apple’s new default font. In Yosemite, Helvetica Neue replaces Lucida Grande, which had been Apple’s standard typeface since the very first version of Mac OS X rolled out in 1999. Looking at the two typefaces in close proximity — as shown in this detailed examination of Yosemite’s design — I actually find that I prefer Helvetica Neue: It’s a little thinner and more elegant than its predecessor. Yes, there was an adjustment period during which I found the new Neue thing to be too slender, too hard to read, too unattractive. Now, however, it seems fine.
I mentioned earlier that the shift in appearance between Mavericks and Yosemite resembles that between iOS 6 and iOS 7. In fact, Yosemite represents the clearest convergence yet that we’ve seen between the operating system of the computer and that of mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone. That’s partly due to fonts — both iOS 7 and Yosemite feature Helvetica Neue as the standard typeface.
But Apple has made a conscious decision to begin bringing the two systems together, an effort that’s been years in the making, and the results are now clearer than ever. Part of that is manifested in Handoff, the feature that lets linked computers and mobile devices share draft emails, phone calls, text messages and Safari browser tabs. (To be honest, partly because I’ve yet to install iOS 8, the newest iPhone/iPad operating system, I’ve barely seen Handoff in action.)
I think the convergence is clearest in Safari. For the first time that I can remember, the computer version of Apple’s web browser is a dead ringer for the program that I occasionally use on my Parental Unit’s iPad. Thanks to the shared font and a standard design, the tabs look the same on both devices now.
Clicking on Safari’s URL address bar (or accessing it with the command–L, the open location keyboard command) now pulls up a menu of favorites, which is exactly what happens when you tap on the address bar on an Apple mobile device. If the computer and iDevice are logged into the same iCloud account, you’ll actually get the same favorite sites. Opening a new window or tab on the computer brings up a screen very much like what one sees when a new window or tab is added in mobile Safari.
A few years ago, I have to confess, the predicted convergence between OS X and iOS concerned me. I was afraid that Apple computers would lose functionality in order to promote ease of use for mass consumers. However, after a short adjustment period, my early impressions of Yosemite are mildly positive: While I don’t see any major improvements over Mavericks, I don’t see any real drawbacks, either. I’m hopeful that as I continue to use the new Mac OS X — especially after I update my iPhone to iOS 8 — I’ll continue to find Yosemite attractive and convenient.