June 14, 2012
Mountain Lion: Making Friends By Bringing Us All Together
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com
Across every announcement made by Apple during their 2012 WWDC Keynote, from new Retina Display Macs to new Maps in iOS 6, one element remained: Unity.
In every Keynote and in every press event, there are always little holes Apple leaves in their stories to be filled later with new advancements or products. And yet, this year´s keynote seemed more like they were gathering all of their things together and stacking them by the door so when the time comes, they´ll be able to leave at a moment´s notice.
This year´s Keynote was a calm and subtle warning to us all: We´re on the move, and if you want to come along, best you follow our lead.
From the beginning, Tim Cook made mention of 400 million iTunes accounts, complete with credit card information, used to purchase things like apps in either store, music, movies and more. Craig Federighi boasted Apple´s 66 million Mac users, a number which, according to him, is 3 times greater than what they had just 5 years ago.
Since Lion released electronically last summer via the Mac App store, it´s sold more than 26 million copies. In fact, 40% of all Mac OS X users are now running Apple´s latest and greatest, and it only took them 9 months to get there.
Scott Forstall hailed the mobile operating system, saying more than 80% of all iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users are running iOS 5. With these pieces in play, Apple´s newest software offerings are able to do much more than they currently can. What´s more, they will begin to work together and become even more seamless, thanks to the glue that is iCloud.
Apple has long strived to be more than a computer and electronics company, but an ecosystem. In the early years, Steve Jobs talked about the Mac becoming the “digital hub” for all your media, allowing it to be stored elsewhere, such as the iPod. Now that iOS and OS X are becoming more and more like one another, one can´t help but look at the holes in the story and wonder where Apple is going next and what new things they will add to their ecosystem.
As it stands, they are pushing the Mac hard into iCloud, making sure everything syncs and works “like magic.” In addition to bringing over a few familiar iOS apps to the wildcat´s lair, they're also trying to teach the Mac a few new tricks they´ve been learning during their growth spurt in mobile.
It´s a brilliant move, really. Apple has more than once released a great product or innovation into the world, only later to reveal that they´ve been viewing it less as a way to make money and more as a form of informal education. For instance, Apple has plenty of reasons to run and operate their own stores: They control the content, the experience and the message. But as they run these stores, their also able to see how customers interact with their products, learn what customers are asking for, and even quietly test out new technologies on their retail stores before rolling it out elsewhere.
For nearly 5 years, we´ve been playing with our iPhones, taking them everywhere we go and putting them through their paces. We didn´t know Apple was learning about how we like to interact with our devices, how we like to get information to these devices, and how we like to consume our content. Mountain Lion is the product of all this research and rolls some of iOS´ best features into our Macs.
Apple may not be focusing on the “digital hub” anymore, but its spirit lives on in iCloud. In truth, Apple did promise us plenty of iCloud integration with Lion. While Lion was the first step in bringing Mac into the cloud, there was not much more that it did for us. Sure, it could keep our basic Trinity (Calendars, Contacts, Mail) of data together across all of our devices. It even flexed its muscle a little, syncing bookmarks and introducing Photo Stream. But we were promised documents in the cloud. We were promised the ability to work on one document on our Mac and be able to pick it up instantly on our iPad, and this has really yet to happen. Even Music Match, one of iTunes´ legs of iCloud has yet to be as effective as promised. Though it did have limited capabilities in the beginning, iCloud was able to rack up 125 million users in its first months, a number no doubt helped along by iPads and iPhones. Now, just like Siri, Apple´s newest offerings will push iCloud from “promising” to “powerful.”
In Mountain Lion, each of your apps is automatically configured as soon as you log in. Meaning, should you finally give into the urge to buy one of those fancy, new MacBook Pros with a Retina Display, all you need to do is sign into iCloud with your Apple ID, and Mountain Lion will do the rest. The Mac App store is already incredibly helpful by allowing you to download any app you´ve purchased on other Macs, but having Mountain Lion automatically do it for you is even better.
On our iOS devices, iCloud is responsible for syncing some iOS exclusive apps, such as Messages, Notes and Reminders. Now, these apps will make an appearance on the Mac, making your laptop or desktop just as much a part of your daily life as it ever was. Now, if you make a note or create a reminder for yourself while you are away on your iPad, it´ll be there waiting for you when you get back to your home or office Mac; a pretty handy feature for those of us who would forget our own names if it weren´t on our underwear.
A nice touch: Reminders for Mountain Lion uses location data, meaning, just as on iPad or iPhone, you can set a reminder to call a colleague or send an email whenever you get to work. You´ll also be able to send iMessages from your Mac, especially helpful if you need to keep your hands on the keys all day long. After all, nothing can throw off your productivity like going across the room for your iPad to respond to a well-timed text.
Mountain Lion will also (forgive me) finally introduce documents in the cloud, a feature iCloud users have been waiting on since Lion first roared onto the scene. Just as it sounds, documents in the cloud will keep every Pages document, (or Word, if you swing that way) PDF, presentation, spreadsheet, etc synced and matched across all devices. When iCloud first launched, many had wondered what this meant for popular syncing service Dropbox. After all, iCloud is little more than a native Dropbox for Apple devices. In the beginning, it didn´t seem to be much threat to Dropbox, as it was still a bit clumsy to get things to work the way they should. Now, Mountain Lion looks to be pitting iCloud directly against Dropbox, and if it works as well as it did for Mr. Federighi in the demo, iCloud may become the syncing service of choice for many Apple fans. After all, it´s already baked in“¦
Often the butt of many Android users´ jokes, iOS´ Notification Center very much resembles Google´s solution to notifications. This may be one of those rare instances where there are only one or two really good solutions to the problem of “how do I get my notifications delivered?” After all, it does offer an elegant solution, storing all manner of notifications just under (or is it over?) the rest of your screen, waiting to be called up (or is it down?) with a simple swipe. Mountain Lion will bring this same solution to the Mac. Much like iOS did to Android, Mountain Lion is ripping off this solution from another company called “Growl.” Growl has long been available to Mac users, giving them the ability to funnel their notifications–thanks to third party support– through their system. Instead of ignoring alerts or missing them altogether, Growl displays a small, unobtrusive box in the corner of your screen“¦much like Mountain Lion´s Notification Center. The New Notification Center can be called up with a swipe gesture as well, just like its iOS cousin. Also like those solutions which have gone before it, Notification Center offers two different kinds of notifications: Alerts and Banners. Alerts are persistent, and will hang there in the corner of your screen until you manually interact with them. Banners, on the other hand, gracefully slide in, hang there for a few moments, and then slide back out, easy as they came. Even though these notifications are out of sight, they aren´t yet out of Notification Center´s mind, as they´ll be stored away until you delete them. Incoming emails and messages, app updates, even Facebook and Twitter notifications will find their way here. (A word to southpaws: So far, it looks as if Notification Center will hang out on the right hand of the screen. I´m not sure if it will be configurable or not. Such is the right-handed world“¦)
Speaking of Facebook and Twitter notifications, you´ll be able to post updates to both of these services right within Notification Center. Now, the tedium of opening a new window or switching over to another tab won´t get in the way of posting that clever quip your brilliant mind just spontaneously created. Indeed, it will be a better world for us all.
Not only will you get a special “free-pass” on having to open another app or window to share your innermost thoughts with your closest acquaintances and grandparents, you´ll also be able to speak your Tweets to Mountain Lion, another trick learned from the iOS children. The fun doesn´t stop with Tweets, either. As Craig Federighi says, anywhere there´s a text box, you can speak, even in third-party apps. Just as in iOS, you´ll be able to speak emails, messages, web searches, anything to Mountain Lion, and it´ll take care of it for you. While it´s not exactly Siri, it´s as close as we´ll get for the time being. Besides, the Mac is just one more device to add to the family of Apple Machines We Can Speak To. One more, and the stage will be set. Maybe we´ll see something like this come Autumn“¦
Sharing and the New Safari
Like many iOS apps, sharing is being built directly into Mountain Lion, just look for the familiar icon. Depending on which app you´re working with, you´ll be able to share to different services. For instance, if you find yourself reading a particularly good article on redOrbit.com, (as often happens, I´m sure!) you´ll be able to click the familiar share button, select Twitter, and send it out. You´ll also be able to attach some text and throw in a witty Hashtag-as-a-punchline. Just like iOS, once you give Mountain Lion your login info, it´ll store it and allow these apps the ability to go a´sharing as often as you please. One thoughtful touch in sharing is the ability to send documents away from quick look. If you know which document you´re looking to share, there´s no need to launch the app to open it, just open it in quick look and share away. Apple also integrated their new AirDrop here, another convenient addition for when you need to get a file to someone sitting right next to you.
Apple is also taking this opportunity to release a new version of their Safari web browser as well. Though many iPad and iPhone users do plenty of browsing on their handhelds, it´s a bit of a stretch to try and bring aspects of mobile browsing to desktop browsing. As such, Apple made moves to unify this experience more so than integrate anything from one side to another. The first announcement–which was met with great applause–was a new, unified search bar. Gone are the days when we had to type our searches into a second field. How barbarian. How archaic. Yes, just like Google´s Chrome, the only bar we need to interact with is the URL bar. There, our words can turn into either a proper URL or a web search, depending. Apple even went the extra mile, integrating bookmarks and history into the search results. Finding that old cookie recipe should be even easier. Just type “Cookie” and you´ll probably find it, one way or another.
Tabs are now also a part of the cloud, meaning if you´ve got a page on your iPad in your bathroom that you want share with your wife in the living room, all you need to do is click the “cloud” button in Safari. Just like that, you´re able to see all the tabs you have open on your other devices and pull them up on your Mac. Very slick, indeed.
And here is where the unification of both systems is best seen: AirPlay Mirroring. Don´t forget, Mountain Lion is as much about unifying these two operating systems as it is getting them to play nicely together. It´s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the Apple TV is an iOS device when we are awash in the glow of the sexier iPad and iPhone. No matter, in the same way games and videos can be shared between the iDevices and the Apple TV, so too will Mountain Lion mirror exactly what´s on your screen to your television. And they were very clever about announcing this new function, too. They even brought out a Stig look-alike to distract us from the capabilities of this feature they don´t want us thinking about yet. Sure, barring some kind of corporate intervention, Mountain Lion will mirror exactly what´s on your screen to your television. Apple, however, just wants you to think about the cheap and simple things first. You can play racing games via AirPlay Mirroring! Challenge your friends, no matter which iOS device they´re using! Need to give a presentation? No worries! Simply pack an Apple TV and you´ll be set! Notification Center will even cleverly understand that you´re in the middle of important business and temporarily shut itself off! These are all very real options with the new AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion, but it also leaves a giant question unanswered:
“So, does that mean if I watch Amazon Instant Play, HBO or Hulu Plus on my Mac, I can watch it on my TV as well?” So far, it appears as if anything on your Mac´s screen will be broadcast to your television. Not the most elegant cord-cutting solution, but then again, there´s still time for Apple to announce something else. What that something else is, we´ve yet to see. It´s also worth mentioning that iOS 5 brought this feature to iDevices, though some apps, such as HBO and Netflix are able to block the mirroring feature. This could happen with Mountain Lion“¦we simply don´t know yet.
Certainly not least“¦
There are tons of other features packed into Mountain Lion, such as Power Nap, (which allows newer Airs and the new Retina MacBook Pros to continuously keep appointments, contacts and mail up-to-date, as well as automatically perform system updates when plugged in at night) Gatekeeper, (which adds a strong hedge of security around your machine) and geofencing. Apple is even catering to their new Chinese friends by adding Chinese fonts, a new Chinese dictionary, and the ability to add Baidu as an Internet search provider. Mountain Lion does as much to unify every device as it does to tidy up a few loose ends around the OS, as few as they may be. For all the questions left unanswered and all the winks and nudges no doubt given to developers during this week, Mountain Lion looks to offer Mac users more than extreme efficiency and productivity, it gives those Mac-curious iPad toters a reason to make the plunge into the Mac ecosystem. As much as Apple has been learning from us as we carry around our devices, it only benefits them even more if they can talk those on-the-fence customers into jumping into a $1000-plus purchase of a new Mac and bring them into the fold. In the end, Mountain Lion´s crowning achievement may be this very feat. And with Windows 8 making an appearance sometime this year (we still don´t know exactly when) it´s likely some PC users will be ready to make a change anyway. Make some room at the dinner table, friends. It´s likely we´ll have several thousand new family members joining us in the near future.