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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.

I have to admit I'm also a little nonplussed about the disappearance of titles from the top of many windows. In apps that never really have more than one important window (Calendar and Maps come to mind), the title is unnecessary; labeling my Calendar window with the word Calendar seems pointless. But in many other contexts, the title of the window imparts important information, and there's a danger that some of that information could be lost if Apple takes this approach too far. It's something worth keeping an eye on, especially given the radical changes Yosemite has in store for Safari. (More on that in a future installment of this series.)

More subtle changes

As with most OS X releases, Yosemite has its share of subtle design changes. The most notable is probably the system's increased use of translucency, in which some interface elements are semi-opaque, allowing a blurred-out version of whatever is behind the window to show through. It's a style iOS 7 uses in abundance, and it's now sprinkled here and there in Yosemite. The Messages sidebar, for instance, is translucent. It's subtle, so it doesn't harm readability, but it doesn't really seem to serve any useful purpose. It's a light design flourish that isn't offensive, but it's not particularly bold either.

Up in the (still translucent) menu bar, the bars on the Wi-Fi icon are thinner, and a simplified battery icon on laptops feels more like the one from iOS. The Spotlight menu bar item remains anchored next to the similarly immovable Notification Center icon, despite the fact that the Spotlight window itself now floats in the center of the screen. I sense a disconnect here.

Beyond the occasional window pane, translucency effects pop up in a few other places in the system. When Exposé is triggered, the background now fuzzes out, and there's a similar effect on the login screen, which shows a fuzzed-out picture of Half Dome.

Several other interface elements have been flattened in the same style as the stoplight buttons, as well. Most notably, the pulsating blue glass-textured button in dialog boxes has lost its texture (the glass texture that still remained from OS X's "aqua" interface is gone), it's darker (with the text in white), and it doesn't pulsate anymore.

Apple's engineers have taken a trip to The Container Store, and the result is that the system's trash can is now a white translucent plastic job rather than the metallic wire basket previously favored. (Oscar the Grouch demands a return of the big metal trash can from the classic Mac OS, but nobody listens to smelly muppets.)

And the Dock, which in recent versions of the OS had become a 3-D shelf at the bottom of your screen upon which your icons sat, has reverted to something simpler. Like the Dock that you can still find in Mavericks if you set it to display on the left or right side of your screen, Yosemite's dock is merely a 2-D background with a hint of translucency. It's a great improvement, but seriously folks, consider pinning your Dock to the left or the right side. (Try it, you'll like it!) The subtle glow beneath running applications in the Dock is now a more noticeable black dot.


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