OS X Mavericks review: Different name, looks the same

Apples new desktop/laptop OS builds on its predecessors, applying polish where needed.

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I'm also happy to see that Dictation has been improved. It no longer has a time limit, and text appears on the screen in near real time instead of waiting for you to stop talking before the text shows up.

Maps arrives in OS X

Maps on the desktop is pretty much the same as Maps in iOS. It includes all of the data sources the mobile version uses and is framed by a standard OS X border and controls. Like the iOS version, Maps uses Yelp for restaurant reviews and other information. Basically, if you've used Maps on an iPhone or iPad, you know what to expect.

Maps on OS X
Maps on the desktop is pretty much the same as Maps in iOS. This is the "hybrid" view showing New York City.

At the top left corner of the Maps window are three buttons with icons for showing your current location, switching to 3D view and showing traffic. Next to that is the Directions button, which slides out a drawer on the right with places to type in the starting point and destination and choose between walking and driving directions. (Bookmarks and recent directions are here, as well.)

And to the right of that is the Sharing menu, which lets you easily share a location via email, AirDrop (to nearby Macs or mobile devices), Twitter and Facebook. The best part of Maps is the ability to send a location to iOS devices, so if you've just looked up a destination on your desktop machine, you can send it to your iPhone wirelessly and let it guide you while you're out and about.

In the center of the toolbar are buttons for Standard, Hybrid and Satellite views. And finally, there's a Bookmarks button, with access to Bookmarks, Recents and Contacts, and a Spotlight menu for all address searches.

There are two icons to the lower right: a +/- button for zooming in and out, and a compass icon. The compass can be dragged around the Maps window to change viewing angle and perspective; if you use Apple's trackpads, tapping and holding three fingers allows you to control the map's perspective and angle.

Maps shines when you use a trackpad, thanks to gesture support. You can use two fingers to scroll, pinch-to-zoom and twist-to-rotate. Double-tap one finger to zoom in, and double-tap two fingers to zoom out.

On the iPad, you can use two fingers to shift your perspective into Flyover mode, but in OS X Mavericks, if there's a gesture for Flyover, I haven't found it. It can be activated via keyboard command (Command-0), by clicking the 3D button, or by dragging three fingers across the compass using an Apple trackpad.

Maps performs smoothly in the less-detailed Standard mode, slightly less so in Hybrid and Satellite modes, which show images of the terrain you're viewing (a la Google Maps). Even so, it doesn't take long for Maps to load.

Maps also offers real-time traffic information by showing red or orange dashes in areas where traffic is moving slowly. The one thing that bugs me -- really irks me -- about Maps is that it shows nothing along streets and highways where traffic is moving along just fine. This does reduce visual clutter, but it makes it impossible to tell whether the roads are clear or Maps was unable to establish a connection and load data. Leaving you uncertain about whether data has been loaded or not is bad design. I would much prefer a visual indication -- such as a green line -- when traffic is moving and red/orange when it's not.

Another new OS X app: iBooks

In this new version, iBooks has made its way to OS X. Think of iBooks as essentially iTunes for books. Just as with iTunes, you have access to books from the iBooks store (there's a button for quick access to the store in the main iBooks window) and in the cloud.

When you first launch the app, you'll be asked to sign in with an iCloud account. Once you do, all of your book purchases spill into the main window, where they display by default.

When you first open up a book, it must download before you can start reading. Bookmarks, highlights and collections are synced across devices if you want to continue reading on an iPad or iPhone. (You can turn syncing off in the iBooks preferences.)

iBooks library
When you first launch iBooks, you'll be asked to sign in with an iCloud account. Once you do, all of your book purchases spill into the main window.

You can authorize and de-authorize computers to use iBooks -- just as you do with iTunes. You can also have content download automatically to your computer and set parental controls to disable the book store or restrict explicit content.

Centered underneath the iBooks title is a toggle for five views: All Books, Collections, Authors, Categories and List. On the upper right is a Full Screen view button and a search field for finding new titles.

The Collections view allows you to group reading material together in individual libraries. Click on the plus sign in the lower left corner of the iBooks window to create a new collection and then drag items over to it. Voila! You now have a collection.

There are three themes for iBooks: white, sepia and night view. You also have seven fonts from which to choose, can adjust text size and decide whether iBooks should display one or two pages at a time. When you mouse over a book and move the cursor toward the top of the window, a menubar fades into view, giving you access (in the upper left corner of the iBooks window) to your library, the book's table of contents and notes and (in the upper right corner) to Appearance, search and bookmark menus.

As you'd expect, you can bookmark, highlight and add notes by highlighting text and then right-clicking on the mouse or tapping with two fingers on a multitouch trackpad to get a popup menu. The same menu lets you define a word or phrase, look it up via the Web or Wikipedia, and even share the text to Facebook and Twitter. There are also options to message or email the highlighted text.

One cool note: If you want to close your eyes, you can choose to have the book read to you in any of OS X's creepy built-in voices.

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