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El Capitan's 5 biggest improvements

Michael deAgonia | June 22, 2015
When Apple execs took the stage last week for the company's annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), they covered a lot of ground -- discussing changes to iOS 9, updates to watchOS, details about the company's music-streaming plans and specifics about OS X 10.11, better known as El Capitan. All three platforms will see improvements focused on performance, privacy and refinements when they arrive later this year.

el capitan

When Apple execs took the stage last week for the company's annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), they covered a lot of ground -- discussing changes to iOS 9, updates to watchOS, details about the company's music-streaming plans and specifics about OS X 10.11, better known as El Capitan. All three platforms will see improvements focused on performance, privacy and refinements when they arrive later this year.

With El Capitan, Apple continues the pattern it set first with the Leopard and Snow Leopard releases: That is, the naming convention signifies that the new version of OS X is more about refinements to its predecessor -- in this case, 2014's Yosemite -- than it is about new features. (El Capitan is named after the famous rock formation in Yosemite National Park.)

While El Capitan offers a slew of smart changes to Yosemite, it does offer a dash of useful new features, too. Here are the ones I'm looking forward to most.

Siri, is that you?

Spotlight gets some needed enhancements and can finally be moved around the screen instead of being locked to the center of your main display. You can also now check on stocks, sports data (including schedules, standings and information on favorite athletes), as well as current weather conditions and forecasts. But that's not what makes the updated Spotlight so interesting.

By now, most Apple users know Siri's voice and what "she" does: Siri answers questions. But Siri is actually a collection of background services designed to respond and offer results based on natural language queries. In El Capitan, Spotlight now seems to be capable of doing much the same.

On stage at WWDC, Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, demoed a search for emails from Phil Schiller that Federighi had ignored. Spotlight quickly found the emails. The primary difference between using Siri on iOS devices and using Spotlight on the Mac is that the Spotlight commands are typed in. It looks like some of the software running Siri behind the scenes on mobile devices has been injected into El Capitan.

Apple engineers have also created a new API for use by developers that will allow non-Apple apps to display search results of in-app content. This will open the doors for better search results and is evidence of Apple's efforts to bring its personal assistant to the Mac. Given how often I use Siri and how much better it has become, this is a welcome step.

Managing windows and apps

Window management via Finder and Mission Control also gets some welcome improvements in El Capitan. Last year, Yosemite offered applications a full-screen toggle, finally giving the Green Finder button something useful to do. This year, El Capitan lets you double-up your full-screen apps in a split-screen view; this view is activated by dragging a Finder window to the top of the menu bar and then dropping that window on an existing full-screen app Space in Mission Control. (A divider separates the apps on screen, and both apps operate independently, even though they're sharing the same Space.)

 

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