Sometimes, these opinion pieces are a real bear to write. Take today, for example. Knowing full well that my schedule is going to hell in a handbasket soon, I’ve put off writing this article for lack of a decent topic. And here I am, sitting in front of a keyboard, when Apple hits me with news that not only gives me a topic, but pushes the iOS-ification of OS X one step further.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of OS X Mountain Lion by now, but in case you are a boulder-living person, here’s a tip: OS X is getting closer and closer to iOS every day — but don’t expect them to merge anytime soon. Here’s why.
As a caveat, I’ll say that I am not a developer, so I do not have access to a developer preview, nor do I have a fancy Air on loan from Apple with Mountain Lion installed. The information at my disposal is pretty much the same you have, with the exception being that I have friends who are developers, and they give me bits of insight here and there.
Mountain Lion appears to be about seamless transitions, a way to remove friction between our devices and make moving between the two as easy as possible. For example, I have the Messages Beta installed on my MacBook Air, and I can now start a conversation on my iPhone, then finish it on my desktop. And I even get the conversation synced up on both devices, so if I need to go back and check something, it’s all there. Seamless.
The Word is iCloud
With Lion, we saw MobileMe turn into iCloud, and that was pretty much it. Really, features were taken away, not added, leaving many MobileMe subscribers feeling left in the lurch (myself included). With Mountain Lion, iCloud goes hardcore, with everything entering the fray. Saving documents in iWork documents can now be done locally or via iCloud so all of your documents are everywhere. There’s that removal of friction again.
Documents in the cloud will be a huge improvement.
More iCloud-syncing products from iOS make its way here too, like Notifications and Notes that were once part of iCal and Mail respectively, are now individual apps with their own interfaces. Note, they’ve got the same skeuomorphic UI found in IOS currently, one that I’m not a big fan of because even if you like the concept, the execution is just ugly to me. Ick.
Notification Center Gets Useful
I don’t know about you, but I don’t use Notification Center on my iPhone at all. Frankly, half the time I forget it even exists, and I’m only reminded when I accidentally swipe the screen downwards. With Mountain Lion, we’ll all get our own Notification Center for our Macs, and this one looks like something I’ll use.
Admittedly, this is just like Growl, but it seems to be a bit more useful to me. Ever since Growl went on the Mac App Store it’s been broken on my end on both of my Macs. Notifications don’t work as easily and nicely for me, and instead I’m given this ugly roll-up that just looks unnatural on the page and never goes away. Yes, I’ve played with all the settings. No, none of them work.
I’m hoping that this finally gives me an alert system for my Mac that makes sense. Often I’m distracted by an email notification in my Dock that’s just begging for my attention, but with Mountain Lion I’ll see a preview of the email so I know whether or not it’s important to respond or not. And since it’s customizable, well then that’s even better.
One OS to Rule Them All
Lots of people have guessed that eventually, we’ll see just one OS across the Mac, iPhone and iPad platforms. On the one hand, that is a logical conclusion to make what with all of the shifts in OS X lately that have seemed to be very iOS-centric, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I just think it’s more about unifying the platforms, and giving each one their own personality.
iOS and OS X won't become one anytime soon.
Take the iPad and iPhone, for example. Sure, they both run iOS 5, but it’s not quite the same version. On the iPad, I can swipe between apps if I want for a different type of multitasking, whereas that’s not a standard option on the iPhone. Even though this seems obvious, the iPhone has a phone option, the iPad does not. Again, these are just little tweaks to the system, but they’re the types of differences that make the iPad and iPhone the same, but different.
That’s the path that I feel we’ll take with OS X. There will be apps that are cross platform, making it easy for the user to move from one device to another as easily as possible. Things will sync via iCloud so that you can work on the same app or document from multiple devices. And although there will be elements that feel similar, I just don’t see OS X going 100-percent iOS. There’s the obvious touchscreen issues that Steve Jobs showed off with the release of Lion, but also it just doesn’t work the way that people use their computers today. It’s just not practical.
Again, this isn’t about iOS and OS X becoming one giant conglomeration of an operating system. Instead, I think that as the years go on, we’ll start seeing iOS and OS X releases coming close on the heels of each other, with new features heralded in each. Seamless transitions between the devices are the future.
I also don’t think this is something to be afraid of, which is the impression that I get from many of my colleagues when we talk about the subject. They like their OS X the way it is, thank you, and they don’t want Apple to remove the file system or anything else. But I see it differently.
Changes are always going to be scary, but eventually, we all adapt to them and life moves on. If we didn’t, then we’d all be running Windows 95 right now on beige PCs.
So OS X, welcome to the iOS family. Let’s see what else you’ve got in store.