Window Management: Split View & Mission Control

Although Apple’s application updates are likely to have the greatest impact for day-to-day users, that’s far from the only place the company has been working on improving the state of the OS versus Yosemite. As it turns out, Apple has also been busy working on window management, adding some new features here and revising the operation of other systems to bring about new functionality.

To address the elephant in the room first, Apple has added an interesting solution to the problem of finding the mouse cursor. With El Capitan, shaking the cursor – be it waving a mouse around or moving your fingers quickly about the trackpad – will cause the cursor to momentarily enlarge. Bad (and obvious) jokes aside, this feature is exactly as stupid as it sounds like. And in the process it becomes stupidly clever.

Cursor Magnification

Although OS magnification is nothing new – OS X has had it practically forever – using magnification on just the cursor, and just temporarily at that, is a clever way to momentarily increase the visibility of a cursor. And the thrashing about is exactly how most people go about finding their cursor if they lose it (since humans are more sensitive to motion than detail), which makes this a very natural action. At the end of the day it strikes me as something that an engineer came up with in whatever Apple’s equivalent of “20% time” is, but it’s a dumb, effective little feature.

Moving on, let’s talk about what’s new with window management in El Capitan. Apple’s Mission Control feature is receiving some well-deserved attention with the latest version of OS X, and while there are no major changes here, Apple has made a number of smaller changes in an attempt to improve window management through it.

Mission Control: Now With A Single Layer

Window tiling in Mission Control has been adjusted to be flatter; no longer do windows belonging to the same application stack on top of each other, but instead they are laid out separately like another application. This is a pretty straightforward binary choice – you either stack windows or you don’t – but Apple seems convinced that hiding windows by stacking them was counter-productive (and they’re probably right). Meanwhile, how Mission Control and Spaces interact has been improved, and it is now possible to drag an application in Mission Control mode up in to Spaces to have that application put in its own space as a full screen mode application. Previously it was possible to drag applications into other spaces, but the option to go immediately into full screen mode is new.

The reason for that change makes a lot more sense when we talk about the other major window management change in El Capitan, which is a new feature Apple calls Split View. Similar to Microsoft’s (Aero) Snap feature, Split View is based around the idea of setting up applications side-by-side such that each application goes full screen and takes up one side of the screen. The intention being to make it easier to focus on just using two applications side-by-side, with each application as large as it can be.

Split View: Safari & Notes

Given that background, Split View is unsurprisingly an additional function of full screen mode. Activating it is simply a matter of holding down the full screen button rather than tapping it, at which point it becomes possible to move an application to either side of the screen and to engage Split View. Doing so will then cause all other application windows to be tiled (ala Mission Control) in order to pick the other application to be used in Split View mode. It’s also possible to engage Split View via Mission Control and Spaces, dragging an application to a Space that already has a full screen application. Finally, split View mode also automatically creates a new space for the view (assuming it wasn’t already a full screen application in its own space), so the desktop remains available in another space.

Split View: Adjusting Ratios

As far as compatibility and adjustability go, in Split View each half of the screen is adjustable, at least up to a point. This seems to depend on the application, but we have been able to increase the split to 66/33 or so. Meanwhile compatibility is fairly good with Apple’s applications, but it’s clear that this feature can only work with applications that have a full screen mode and have the ability to be resized to fit. System Preferences, for example, can’t go Split View.

Split View: Picking The Right Application

Overall Split View is an interesting take on what else to do with full screen applications, and while it lacks a high degree of novelty since it has been done elsewhere before, Apple has clearly put some effort into polishing it and using Spaces to resolve the blindness that comes from filling up the screen. That said, given the fact that one of iOS 9’s marquee features for the iPad Air 2 is multitasking, which implements the same Split View feature, I’m not sure how much of Split View’s presence here is out of its usefulness in a desktop environment, and how much of it is based on the desire to keep iOS and OS X in harmony. I’m curious to see just how often it gets used on OS X as a result.

Applications, Cont: Mail & Photos Spotlight Gets Smarter: Web & Natural Language Search
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  • Dorek - Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - link

    "some new features for the OSes major applications"

    Should read "OS's". Or just write "operating system's" which is less confusing.
  • nils_ - Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - link

    It sounds to me that they still didn't do any work at the technological foundation of the OS, which is fairly outdated compared to even current BSDs. Still focused only on flashy things.
  • blackcrayon - Thursday, June 18, 2015 - link

    There's never been an OS X release that didn't make improvements to the technological foundation of the OS. And obviously OS X's foundation covers a hell of a lot more than just the BSD layer. Do you really think this preview is a comprehensive list of all of the changes?
  • - Thursday, June 18, 2015 - link

    My macbook air came with Maverick after installing yosemite it got slow, so went back to maverick, any idea about this version?
  • tipoo - Friday, June 19, 2015 - link

    How long did you have Yosemite on it? For the first week or so after a major OSX update macs are frequently slow as everything is optimized.
  • Motion2082 - Sunday, June 21, 2015 - link

    As much as I love innovation with OS. You just develop something and then they change it. Makes keeping up with the jones even harder
  • Rod_Serling_Lives - Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - link

    I am very happy with the initial release. The window management is much more polished than Windows in my opinion. The OS has consistently improved with very little fault.

    Also, the name is fine. Apple's campus is in the United States, so if you don't know what El Capitan is, I understand. However, that doesn't mean it should be written off because you have never heard of it. That is what a search engine is for.
  • MassiveTurboLag - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    I've been using Mail in full screen since Lion. Can't see why this is surprising to you.
  • G-Tek - Saturday, July 4, 2015 - link

    I really hope they fix the performance issue I have with Yosemite.
    My 2013 MacBook Air have been fast and perfectly fine until Yosemite came out.

    It had 10 seconds boot time before and after I got Maverics, and launched applications pretty fast of my opinion.

    When I got Yosemite it suddenly had a boot time of 1 MINUTE (62 seconds)!! Holy crap! I just could not believe an ssd could boot a os so incredible slow! I installed further updates of the os but still the same problem.
    Launching applications was a bit slower, but the os boot time was the main difference.

    I just sitting here with a sad face and regretting that I did not do a Maverics Time Machine backup. :,(
    Now it is quite a bit more stress for me to get back to Maverics.
    So I really hope That El Capitan would fix the issue.
  • JimK85 - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    there are only so many cats in the world.

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