I’ve spent a week playing with Apple’s new desktop OS and while it still feels a lot like the OS we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years, there are a lot of visual tweaks.

I was a little hesitant at first of applying for the public beta of Yosemite. I still remember the Tweets from many users I follow who installed the beta of Mavericks and got themselves into a pickle with serious bugs and incompatible software. After looking through the landing page from Apple and the big change in design I thought “what the heck”. I’m not going to go through every single updated app but pick out some of the key things that I’ve used over the past week. This post will be about visuals and nothing regarding the backend updates that Yosemite has implemented.

The system font

Yosemite Font

Yosemite’s new default font Helvetica

As you will now know, Yosemite ships with a different system font for the first time in ages and has ditched the Lucida Grande font for the designer clich├ęd Helvetica Neue. It was introduced across iPad and iPhone in iOS7 last year and this is a clear indication that Apple wants to join up mobile and desktop UI as much as possible. It immediately feels cleaner and more modern than Lucida which is strange seeing as the trend for using Helvetica has wound down in the digital design industry over the years. I can’t say that it feels too much like the mobile UI largely down to the fact that unless you’re using a super high res desktop retina monitor it will feel samey to a lot of typography on the web around 2010. I personally don’t mind the change and it’s more of a cultural thing to get used to rather than a usability thing.

The dock

Yosemite Dock

The new Dock with flat UI and minimal open indicator

As with most OS X updates the Dock has had a refresh and is now completely flat and falls in line with Apple’s new design direction. There’s no faux-dimensional look here and all we get is a “top down” view with the icons either flat and straight or skewed to the left. Talking of icons they’ve had a facelift too and range from subtle updates like Mail (which still looks really dated) to things like iTunes which still incorporates the musical approach but is now a bright red colour rather than the typical muted blues. They look quite cool but I’m still not too sure on all of them at the moment. The background to the dock is now part of Yosemite’s translucency approach which you’ll notice on a lot of the background elements like the sidebar in Finder windows, drop downs and other elements and is essentially a semi-transparent look that blurs whatever is behind it. Microsoft did the same thing years ago with the launch of Vista but this feels a bit more natural and the higher blur radius makes it feel less distracting.

Notification Center

Notification Center

The new Notification Center in all it’s grey glory

The fly out Notification Center has had a big visual tweak and no longer sports the blue/grey fabric texture of old. It’s now a flat designed affair with the new translucency effect. More than that it’s a lot clearer what’s going on due to the increased spacing and breathing room around each section. The Calendar is now integrated a lot more and it works well for seeing a brief snapshot of what’s coming up in your list of events. You can also shove other sections in there like weather etc. I personally don’t use Notification Center a great deal but I might be inclined to do so with this new look and feel. Will reserve judgement on this one for now.

Other bits

Yosemite Calendar

Odds and sods

Some other things to note that I’ve picked up on are the close, minimise and “whatever the heck the green button does” buttons. These are now simplified and clear what they do, as in, that pesky green button now simply makes the app or window full-screen or not. Simples. The Calendar and Mail apps are now looking sweet with fully flattened design and muted colours. I was never a fan of the torn-paper calendar look and thought it looked awful but this new look sits nicely with the new Yosemite design. Same goes for Mail, although this was less of an issue in Mountain Lion and previous it still felt a bit dated and clunky but the new version is actually quite nice to use. The Messages app is very similar to Mail and FaceTime features a darker UI which emphasises the video window. Overall the design updates to Yosemite are welcome and push the OS towards a more joined up experience with iOS. With features like the new Phone app meaning you can make and receive calls on your Mac when your iPhone is nearby is a big win along with a fully fledged SMS app it’s easy to see why Apple are joining the two worlds together. I’ll give another update with a more full review once the final public version of Yosemite is live.