Last week Apple announced that again this summer there will be an OS X update, this time code-named “Mountain Lion,” and again they are bringing over aspects of their extremely successful iOS platform. “Inspired by iPad. Re-imagined for Mac” is their slogan. I will briefly discuss the highlighted features
and then consider some to the fears that are being expressed over whether such moves mark Apple’s ultimate plan to abandon “traditional desktop” computers.1 Now that I have completed the roundup I realized this post is long enough. I will create a separate post with my musings of what this means about Apple desktop computers.
There are a number of apps and few services that are coming directly over to OS X.2 The apps include Messages, Reminders, Notes, Game Center and Notification Center. The services include “Share Sheets” (integration of sharing websites, etc. via Twitter), AirPlay mirroring to your TV, and greater integration of iCloud.
Starting with the last first, iCloud is really the key to the whole enterprise for Apple now. This is what allows you to be able to add a bookmark to Safari on your iPad and have it automatically sync with your other devices, including your desktop. That aspect already works now and if you haven’t signed up for the free service, it is worth it. What is changing in Mountain Lion is, apparently, deeper integration and the ability for third-party developers to now hook into iCloud. If you use something like Evernote then you already have a good sense of how it all works. Apple is apparently going to try and also get right, something they have not yet done, document syncing as well. I will wait and see. In my opinion Dropbox is still a far better solution for managing documents across devices at this point in time. Still, having tighter integration across these devices is better (also IMO, but you should feel comfortable assuming where opinion is expressed in this article it is my own, I will let you know otherwise) and when I set up my new MacBook Air last week I simply logged in with my iCloud account and much of my data was populated. Handy.3
Reminders & Notes
Since we use an Exchange server in our college I use those services, but for those who do not you will now have automatically updated and synchronized copies of your notifications and reminders on all your Apple devices. (Your Notes do update automatically now, they are just in your Mail app where no one thinks to look for them. Now they will be a free standing app.) For the many people who use the Note app on their iPad rather than something more robust like Evernote this will be a nice change. You will even be able to add photos and attachments, but I believe those will not sync back to iOS devices.
Do you use Growl to notify you of emails, iTunes songs, AIM messages, etc.? You won’t need to any more which is, no doubt, a bummer for the folks who developed Growl. (Of course it also means I will be able to get rid of the annoying reminders to upgrade to the now-no-longer-free version of Growl.) Just as on iOS devices on OS X you will now have a nice little one-stop-location for all your notification needs. This was a much needed feature on iOS and rightly borrowed/stolen from Android and I think will be very nice to have on the desktop as well. It will appear on the right hand 1/4 of the screen when you click on a menu button in the top right corner, or a floating notice will appear (remember Growl?). A swipe of the trackpad will make it go away, just as on your iPad. This is perhaps the most iOS-like addition, but it simple replaces various third-party offerings as already noted.
Share Sheets & Twitter
Ho hum. This will be convent, since I do share lots of stories, photos, and via twitter and of course email. This will certainly be handy, but it doesn’t seem like a top billing, unless of course I am the CEO of Twitter in which case I am thrilled.
iOS 5 brought an integrated Messages app that allowed you to send SMS messages, just as always, but if your friend was on WiFi you could also send messages that way as well. What do I mean? Just this: I have an iPad that I use for taking notes in meetings. My wife can “text” me from her iPhone 3GS and it pops up in the Messages app on my WiFi-connected iPad (and my iPhone). I can now reply to her from the iPad without getting out my phone. Now, as in right now since you can download the beta, you can do the same thing from your desktop. When you install it iChat is replaced and you can use Messages for all your AIM, Google Chat, Jabber, and Yahoo! conversations and I do. I really do like this addition. I am able to keep working at my desktop as messages come in from my wife and my colleagues (we are on AIM in the office). Nice integration.
If you use it on the iPhone or iPad you know what it is and will look forward to it on your Mac. If you don’t…carry on.
This has raised some questions about how much Apple may be controlling the OS environment and I will leave that to others. What it means (or is supposed to) in short is greater security as the OS will only install software from Mac App Store and “Identified Developers” but you can override the gatekeeper so it should not rule out side-loading.
This is actually quite exciting. If you have an Apple TV connected to your HDTV or, say, your classroom projector (and remember this is only a $99 device, not much for many IT budgets) then you already can mirror whatever is on your iPad. With Mountain Lion you will be able to mirror from your OS X computer as well. The “mirroring” is already quite sophisticated on iOS so that, for example, games can have one view up on the TV and other on your iOS device. With one driving game that my son and I play, when we go into mirroring mode the TV has both our cars in their own window on the TV while our iOS devices (an iPod Touch and iPad) have the steering wheel, accelerator, etc.
Now, why is this exciting? Imagine this in your classroom. You walk in and without making any connections simply open up your Apple notebook and begin your presentation through the Apple TV. (There are other wireless solutions, but most if not all cost far more than $99.) Even the sound and HD video will be wirelessly streamed to the projector in the room. As I said, you can already do this with the iPad, which is liberating enough, but soon you will be able to do it with all your OS X bells and whistles (say the full Accordance application maps and fly throughs).
If you read my opening paragraph and still got all the way down here you know I am going to write another post with my analysis. I will simply say now that some see this iOS “inspiration” as a move towards merging the two OSes and Apple moving away from desktop computer. I don’t think so…
- Of course “desktop” also includes notebooks like the MacBook Air. [↩]
- Note that Apple no longer refers to it as “Mac OS X” but simply “OS X.” This too has led to anxiety, see MacBreak Weekly #287. I see this more as simply cleaning up the nomenclature. After all, it isn’t “iPhone iOS 5.” [↩]
- But I also ran into other problems I should address another time. [↩]