Initial Impressions of Mac OS 10.11 El Capitan

Today was the first time I’ve ever watched an Apple WWDC keynote in a room full of developers. I did not get a press pass to the actual event itself but instead attended a remote viewing down the street. There’s definitely a different dynamic when watching with developers than back at home.

Updates to the Mac and iOS operating systems look good. They are not as dramatic as they were last year but that was expected. Last year Apple turned the Mac and iOS operating systems upside down and shook them vigorously. It was a big, painful (but necessary change). This year’s updates feel more like course corrections after a big maneuver. That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting things to see.

Performance is a Feature

The discussion about improved performance felt like a direct response to the challenges faced with the big changes brought by Yosemite. Except for Metal (discussed below), there wasn’t a lot of detail but if they truly can add an hour of battery life to my Mac with these performance adjustments, count me in.

Smarter Spotlight

One of the running themes throughout the Mac, iOS, and Watch talks today was this idea that our devices can get smarter using the data they already have on board. While I’ve never been particularly eager to turn all my data over to Google, I’ve always liked the way they try to have your devices do some thinking for you. Multiple times today Apple presenters explained that they are aiming for the same target but instead of relying on cloud data, they are relying on the data you keep on your device. This approach is less creepy, but harder. I don’t think the machine-thinking will be as advanced in iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 as Google is pulling off but Apple is moving that direction and that, in my opinion, is a good thing.

The fact that this appears to be a directive across all platforms is great. I’m looking forward to trying it out.

Split View and Mission Control

Split view is a new window management system that automates a lot of the same tricks I’ve been doing with Moom for years. To me, the most interesting part of Split View on the Mac was the possibility of Split View on the iPad. More on that later.

Mission Control also got further tweaks. I need to get hands on to fully understand exactly what changes. It feels to me that Mission Control has been in a constant state of evolution since it first appeared. Since I’m using a 12″ laptop, it would make sense for me to sort that out.

Full Screen Mail

Composing messages in full screen Mail on your Mac has been pretty rough for a few years now. The compose window is modal, which means once you start composing a message, you can’t go back to look at other mail. That’s fixed now. They even showed tabbed compose windows, which seems kind of nuts but I may just love it.


The announcement that Mac is getting Metal support makes perfect sense and shouldn’t come as a surprise. To me, the shocker was that it came on the Mac second since, presumably, it was more difficult to put the graphics improvements on iOS. Either way, this is going to benefit both gamers and professional graphics apps users.

New Notes

I was pretty surprised that the Notes app got as much attention as it did. There are a lot of third party Notes apps out there and I still can’t look at Apple’s Notes app icon without thinking of how it used to use the marker felt font. Nonetheless, the improvements are substantial, particularly with the use of importing different data types. I’m looking forward to trying this one out but after going through multiple trials of other apps over the past several months, I’m pretty happy with nvALT on my Mac. Notes would have to really impress me to change my mind. (It looks like there is no tagging support in the new Notes.)

Safari User Interface

The upcoming changes to Safari feel very incremental but at least look like improvements. 

Photos Improvements

They didn’t go into this at great length in this morning’s presentation but Photos for Mac appears to be full steam ahead. References on the Apple website indicate Photos for Mac will get third party editing application support and location support, which were my two biggest gripes with version 1.0. 

Overall, I think we got what we expected today–and what Mac OS needed–a solid update with some new shiny things and a lot of spit and polish. You can learn more on Apple’s website here. I’ll wait a month before trying the beta but I’m genuinely looking forward to trying it out. I’ll also  write more about iOS, watchOS 2, and Apple Music later this week after I get to talk to some developers about the changes.