OS X Yosemite: Now you can make phone calls from your Mac
A MARTIAN with a keen eye for intellectual property visiting Earth might think he had stumbled across the plagiarism of the year.
"This new computer operating system," he might think in his otherworldly way, "is entirely derivative. Look at the way you can send voice files in the Messages program exactly as you can on my smartphone."
And he'd be right. Don't worry, the lawyers aren't waiting to pounce, because these overlapping features come from the same company, Apple.
Yosemite, the name for the new Apple Mac operating system version, has gathered together a bunch of features from iOS, Apple's mobile phone and tablet operating software. More than ever before, the new edition of Mac software brings the tablet, phone and desktop software closer together. Though there are still plenty of differences - this is not Microsoft, the company that is designing one software for both laptop and tablet.
There is, for instance, no touchscreen version of the MacBook or iMac, whereas Microsoft encourages PC manufacturers to put touch interface into phones, tablets and laptops running its latest OS. Apple believes that the two experiences are different enough to warrant separate interfaces.
Still, the overlaps between iOS and Yosemite are striking. AirDrop, the excellent feature which allows you to send files between nearby Apple computers even if there's no wi-fi network available, is now available to transfer stuff between iPhones, iPads and Macs.
The new computer software has had a design upgrade which embraces the layered, translucent elements found on the iPhone, and shortcut icons have been enhanced to be simpler. So, for instance, the calendar which used to be a fussy facsimile of a tear-off desk calendar with ring top and curling date page is now an unassuming but more attractive square block that's easier to read.
There are many other design updates and most are successful, though the new folder icon takes simplicity a little too far, looking smudgy and basic. Except if you have a Mac with a Retina display, which makes all elements look good.
Spotlight, the search feature on Macs (and iPhone, as Martians will have spotted) has been amplified so that when you tap on its magnifying glass icon a big text box appears front and centre onscreen. It now offers more results, including external sources such as Wikipedia as well as documents, images and more on the hard drive.
Mail, already an excellent and capable email program, is improved with a splendid extra called Mail Drop. If you have a big file to send to someone by email, you probably reach for WeTransfer to avoid email inbox rules (yours or your recipient's). Now, with Mail Drop you can transfer them within Mail. You drag them into the message as before but the system recognises the size, uploads the files to iCloud and sends a link to the person awaiting it. It's effortless and works well.
Another new feature is iCloud Drive, a cloud-based repository for your files which you can access from any of your machines, such as iPhone and iPad as well as iMac. This is the great advantage Apple has in making software for all its machines, and only its machines - it can ensure seamless and problem-free connections between everything.
And there's further connection between iPhone and iMac thanks to something called Handoff. It means that if you're tapping an email out on your iPhone screen and realise it's going to be an extended message, you can continue it on the MacBook or iMac with its more appealing pressable keys. The same set-up also means you can answer calls on your computer - handy if the phone is charging downstairs and you're at your desk upstairs. Though note that this means that multiple machines can start ringing at the same time which isn't always quite convenient. Instant Hotspot also makes it easier to use your phone as a hotspot for your computer to link it to the internet when there's no wi-fi around.
Last year's iOS7 were a new start for the iPhone and iPad. The new functions on Yosemite feel like a fresh beginning for the Mac that's attractive and full of useful extra features. Oh, and the price (it's free) makes installing it a no-brainer, even on Mars.