But how much of an impact on your daily life can these new features have? I’ve compiled some thoughts after using them to help you get an idea.
Before we jump into anything, I want to point out that the purpose of this article isn’t to focus on the bugs or problems that (obviously) plague beta software, but rather to examine the usefulness of the features added in the most recent updates. For that reason, there won’t be much discussion of stability or other potential issues unless they directly relate to how the features work, and the impact they’ve had on my day-to-day usage.
OS X El Capitan: The latest version of OS X includes new features like a more powerful Spotlight search, a new split view for fullscreen apps, and tweaks to Mail and Safari, among other things.
Apple’s updated web browser finally introduces a way to track down and eliminate ads that have started playing audio without your permission, and the implementation of this feature works really well. Tabs with audio playing get a speaker icon next to the title, and a similar icon in the location bar allows you to quick pull up a list of offending tabs and mute them.
When that feature was announced, I was excited that there would finally be a way to eliminate those obnoxious video ads that sometimes start playing audio unexpectedly, or embedded music players that are set to start automatically. Interestingly, it’s a not a feature I’ve had to use too often. It’s certainly a great addition, and it works as advertised, but I can’t help but feel it’s something most people may not need as badly as they thought.
Pinned sites are an interesting addition that allow users to keep their favorite websites open and updating in the background constantly. While that’s likely useful for sites like Facebook that don’t have a native Mac client, it’s not a great choice for sites like Twitter, which you can access from several native Mac apps with a much better experience than the web. I personally haven’t used pinned tabs, since it takes just a second to load up my Facebook feed when opened from my bookmark bar, and I use Tweetbot for browsing Twitter.
Finally, Apple has added a feature I’ve been wanting for quite some time. On compatible web video players, you’ll now find an AirPlay button that lets you send the video directly to your Apple TV. This is a big improvement over the old method, which required you to share your entire display and often resulted in choppy video. The only issue I’ve run into with this feature is that setting a video to AirPlay then sets every video you watch to AirPlay automatically, even if your Apple TV is sleeping and your television is turned off and in a completely different room. It’s a simple fix, just click the AirPlay button and turn off the setting, but I’d prefer if videos defaulted to the built-in display unless I chose to AirPlay them.
The other issue that exists with AirPlay is compatibility. There aren’t a lot of websites that work with the feature just yet. You’ll be able to use it on YouTube and a handful of others, but video players on most sites, like those of TV networks, still aren’t able to take advantage of this update.
The Mail app hasn’t gained a whole lot of new features in El Cap. You can now swipe messages to quickly trash them or mark them as read, but there’s currently no option for swiping to archive Gmail messages (something you’ve been able to do on iOS since iOS 7). I’m hopeful that capability will be added in a future version, but for now I’ve had to stick to using the toolbar buttons and keyboard shortcuts.
Unless you’ve been using a third-party mail app that supports gestures, however, you may find it hard to get used to the using them in the new Mail app. I’ve been using Mail for so long that I instinctively reach for the archive toolbar button rather than swiping away a message. When iOS 7 launched, the habit was easy to pick up because I had been swiping emails to show the delete or archive button since the days of the original iPod touch. With the Mac, it’s a gesture I’m used to using, and as a result I’ve barely taken advantage of it at all, and doubt I ever really will. For those using apps like the beta version of Mailbox, however, this feature could help pull them back to the default application.
The Mac’s new split view for fullscreen apps was hailed as a big boon for multitaskers, and while it may be just that on the iPad (I don’t have one, so I can’t try it, but 9to5’s Chance Miller went hands-on last week), the view doesn’t particularly translate well to the desktop. There has never been anything holding users back from putting two, three, or any other number of windows next to each other on the screen in any configuration they want. Confining users to one of three or four different window setups (with each different one changing only how large each window is, not their locations on the screen) doesn’t really do much to help.
There are also some other interesting limitations on the split view. Not every app can take advantage of it, for example. I got Tweetbot 2 for Mac to sit next to my work HipChat room at one point, but I’ve since been unable to get Tweetbot to use the split view again. If I needed to put Safari next to Tweetbot, it would be far easier for me to just open a new Safari window on my main desktop and shrink it down to whatever size I wanted next to Tweetbot.
To put apps in split view mode, you just drag any supported app on top of a fullscreen app in the Mission Control interface. It would stand to reason that you could also drag a window away from a split view in this interface, but as it turns out, you can’t. The only way to get an app out of split view is to switch over to it and use the green fullscreen button.
There are other Mission Control quirks that I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure if they’re bugs or by design. One such case is putting apps in fullscreen mode. You can grab any fullscreen-capable app from the desktop and place it in the row of desktops above the Mission Control screen to create a new fullscreen window. However, you can’t actually drag that fullscreen window back into the desktop area to take it back out of fullscreen mode. Hopefully this is simply a glitch and not actually the intended implementation, because it seems very inconsistent.
The new Notes app in OS X 10.11 is absolutely fantastic. The app is now more of an “Evernote killer” than ever, with the ability to embed web links, checklists, images, and more. The only real issue I’ve faced with it so far is finding a reason to use checklists. Anytime I’ve previously needed to create a checklist, I turned to the reminders app. Having nearly identical checklist functionality (without the ability to set useful alerts) seems a bit odd to me, and I haven’t been able to find a reason to stop using Reminders.
The app also gained support for rich text, which has made it a much more useful tool. Overall it’s probably one of the best new additions in El Cap.
Apple added some new features to the Spotlight search function, including sports and weather data. The addition of sports data will be a big deal for fans tracking their favorite teams and players, but the weather function seems a bit pointless. Users who need quick access to weather information can just pull up Notification Center with a swipe and have weather info for all of their added cities available at a glance. It’s a lot easier than pulling up Spotlight and typing in “weather” followed by a city name, and takes much less time.
Natural language support seems to be a much bigger deal, allowing you to search for whatever you need with plain English rather than trying to make your query try to fit the proper syntax to track down that elusive file. You can also move and resize the Spotlight window, allowing you to see what’s under it for reference while you search.