June 10 ,2015
Apple’s latest version of OS X 10.11, El Capitan, landed with an unsurprising thud at the company’s WWDC 2015 keynote. Compared to Yosemite’s massive number of new features it’s a bit disappointing, but savvy fans already knew to curb their enthusiasm. This year’s update is about refinement rather than innovation.
Refinement isn’t exciting, but it is often needed, and it can provide opportunity to add the small, mundane conveniences that make an operating system more pleasant to use day-to-day. Apple’s decision to name OS X 10.11 after a rock formation inside Yosemite is supposedly symbolic of the company’s focus on the core experience. Has Apple conquered the challenges introduced by its last major update, or is the operating system hanging on by its fingertips?
The revision of Spotlight was my favorite addition to OS X Yosemite. It made the operating system more usable by negating the difficulties of Finder — which I’ve always found inferior to Windows’ Explorer — and drawing in results from the Web when appropriate. I had no major complaints about it when I reviewed Yosemite last year, but Apple has found new ways to improve it.
Natural language search is intuitive, but there are limits to what Spotlight will understand.
Natural language is the big news. Like most search functions online and off, Spotlight let users refine results by date, file type and other filters, but using those filters can be difficult and often requires memorization of annoying booleans. That’s no longer the case. Want to find documents from April? Then type “documents from April.” Need April of 2015? Add 2015 to the end of the sentence. It’s that simple. Spotlight is hooked into Apple’s Mail app, making mail search far easier.
Still, the feature isn’t perfect. Natural language input is useful, but it also blurs the line between what does and doesn’t work. You might think, for example, that “show me contacts with the last name of Smith” could draw all relevant hits from the Contacts app, but Spotlight isn’t connected to that app yet. Some frustrating trial-and-error is required.
A number of smaller improvements come alongside natural language. New types of content can now appear in Spotlight including Web video, stocks, and weather. And the Spotlight window can now be moved and re-sized. Desktop users will love that — having search stuck in the middle of the screen was pointless on a 27-inch iMac.