For a few years there, it felt like major changes in OS X's look and behavior were imminent. The conventional wisdom during the Lion and Mountain Lion eras was that Apple had placed OS X on a collision course with iOS, and inevitably the two would come together to form...well, if not a single operating system, then two variations on a single theme.
In the past year, though, it's become clear that Apple no longer believes in that approach, if it ever truly did. iOS 7 took big, bold steps in one direction — and OS X Yosemite takes smaller steps in a different one. After spending several days running Yosemite (on a Retina MacBook Pro provided to me by Apple and pre-loaded with the first developer release), it's clear that Apple has a very clear and distinct future in mind for the Mac — even though some of today's Apple hardware might not be up to delivering it.
The year of Retina
During 2012's WWDC, Apple unveiled the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, and a few months later the 13-inch models arrived. But two years into the Retina Mac era, there are still no Retina iMacs or MacBook Airs, nor are there affordable external Retina displays.
For a while now, I've thought that 2014 would be the year that Retina spreads across the Mac product line. After spending time with Yosemite on both Retina and non-Retina systems, I'm more confident than ever in that guess. Yosemite's new design feels like it was built for Retina displays: Thin Helvetica Neue replaces the long-serving but chunky Lucida Grande as the system typeface. Transparency is more present than ever before, inside app windows and underneath toolbars and even on the login screen itself.
There's no doubt that within a few years, most Mac users will be using high-resolution displays. That's the direction Apple is heading in, and while it will take longer to happen than it did in smartphones and tablets, it will happen. And three-quarters of the Macs Apple sells are laptops. As a result, it's a wise decision for Apple to consider, say, the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro as the reference Mac for design purposes.
OS X Yosemite is gorgeous on such a display. So here's hoping Apple rolls out high-resolution iMacs, MacBook Airs, and (dare I hope?) an external display later this year; if it does, Yosemite's refined look will be able to shine up and down the product line.
Beyond the system font, the most obvious visual change in Yosemite is that the gray light-to-dark gradient atop most windows is now a single gray tone. In addition, the red, yellow, and green "stoplight" buttons on the corners of windows — the ones you use to close, minimize, or zoom that window — have been stripped of the shading effects that made them look like pieces of candy. They're just flat circles now. (When you move your cursor over them, you'll find the same X in the red circle and minus-sign in the yellow circle. The green circle no longer displays a plus-sign, however; instead, it shows the two-headed arrow that indicates full-screen mode. If you want to zoom a window's size in and out, old-school style, you'll now need to hold down the Option key before clicking the green button, or just double-click on the window's title bar.)
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