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Hands-on with OS X Yosemite: Mac interface rebuilt for Retina

Jason Snell | June 17, 2014
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.

Apple showed off a new "dark mode" for the OS X interface when it previewed Yosemite at WWDC. Unfortunately, the build of Yosemite I received didn't implement this feature. I'm looking forward to seeing what OS X feels like when it switches to light text on a dark background.

Embracing wide and small screens

Just about every Mac uses a display that's a lot wider than it is tall. So in the Mac interface, height is at a premium, while there's width to spare. (This is why I don't understand why people leave their Dock visible on the bottom of the screen — I've always pinned mine to the right side.) Yosemite's design tries to fit more stuff on your screen by cutting the height of many window title bars in half.

This has a ripple effect on other interface elements. Take, for example, those stoplight buttons that were previously on the same level as the centered name of the window and, far off to the left, the double-headed arrow icon for full-screen mode. Now those buttons share space at top of windows with other interface elements.

In Yosemite's version of Safari, the three buttons are on the same level as toolbar elements such as the next/previous page button, the address/search bar, and the like. In fact, in Safari the name of the window (and, therefore, the title of the page you're viewing) is completely gone.

In Contacts, meanwhile, the entire top window bar is gone. The stoplight buttons still remain at the top-left corner of the window, but that's now at the top of the leftmost visible pane of the application. They hover over the translucent Groups column until you choose View > Hide Groups, at which point they hop over to the top of the Contacts column (which turns from white to translucent in the process). A thin band across the top of the Contacts window is still draggable, but it's not what you'd call a traditional Mac title bar.

This design isn't consistent across all of Apple's apps, either. (Since this is an early developer-preview edition, things could certainly change before Yosemite reaches users this fall.) The stoplight buttons share space with the toolbar in the Calendar, Maps, Messages, and Reminders apps. (Philosophical question: If a bar contains no title, can it still be called a title bar?) Yet Mail, TextEdit, Preview, and iWork all look the same as they ever did.

I don't really mind the trend — I use an 11-inch MacBook Air every day, so I know about cramped working environments. By merging the toolbar and title bar, this approach saves some precious vertical space. Unfortunately, an overly cluttered title bar might be hard to reposition on screen if you can't find anywhere to click that isn't covered by a button. And while those old title bars featured an awful lot of empty space, sometimes such space can be good. Yosemite's new look can lead to situations where windows feel more cluttered.


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