OS X Mountain Lion: 7 Out of 10 Ain't Bad
The preview of OS X Mountain Lion that Apple has released contains 10 major new features. They're not all equally impressive, but these seven already have me drooling for OS X Mountain Lion, which won't arrive until late this summer. It seems like a world away. Almost makes me want to become a developer to get the developer preview.
Not long after I expressed my irritation and desire for a converged iOS and Mac OS X experience, Apple announced its OS X Mountain Lion sneak peek. I claim no influence over Apple, of course, just the fact that OS X Mountain Lion is bridging the rift between iOS and Mac OS X. Of the 10 major new sneak-peek features revealed by Apple, seven are freaking awesome. The other three? Eh, whatever. Maybe.
But these seven already have me drooling for OS X Mountain Lion, which won't arrive until late this summer. It seems like a world away. Almost makes me want to become a developer to get the developer preview. Here they are:
- Reminders: This little clean and elegant app that appeared with iOS 5 has quickly become one of my favorite apps on my iPhone. It handily replaced other to-do apps (sorry) because it hits the right blend of ease of use with cool power.
I can use it for task lists, as well as create reminder notices on my phone based on dates and times ... or my location. My biggest beef with it? Right now, it's limited to my iPhone in that I have to tap out my list items on the phone. There's no Mac version that syncs with it, and that means I can't seamlessly move from my Mac to my iPhone. But now, with OS X Mountain Lion, I'm going to get that experience. And I can't wait.
- Notification Center: Again, this built-in feature of iOS 5 is awesome. With a simple downward swipe, I can see my Reminders, Calendar, weather, and recent Mail activity, among other features I don't use, like the stock ticker. Boom, it's always there for me, no matter what app I'm in, no matter when I wake up my iPhone. As new email comes in, I'm not fond of the little rotating banner notification occasionally getting in my way, but I'm willing to let it slide for those few times I like it.
In OS X Mountain Lion, a swipe will reveal a right-side column of Notification Center material, as well as small notification banners that will appear in the upper right corner of your screen. If you're in an app in full-screen mode, a swipe will also let you show Notification Center. How cool is that?
- Notes: Wow, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Notes app from iOS 5 get a Mac-friendly makeover and a cocktail of caffeine and B vitamins. Notes on my iPhone can get a bit cluttered. I welcome a syncing mechanism to let me refine quick thoughts and ideas while I'm at my desk using my Mac. In addition, I'll be able to pin notes to my desktop as well as let iCloud keep them all automatically up to date across my iPhone and iPad, too.
- Messages: I've been playing around with the Messages Beta preview, and while I like it, I'm still getting used to how it works with my Mac and my iPhone together. And part of that integration also has to do with friends who may or may not have iPhones, Macs and even iOS 5 on their iPhones.
What's clear right now? Messages is pretty cool when someone catches you on your Mac -- I very much enjoy chatting and texting from a real live keyboard. On my iPhone, I've got limited stamina and short attention span for texting. Handy tool, no doubt, but I rarely am willing to text anyone when I'm sitting in my office in front of my Mac. Messages not only opens up this handy way to communicate for me, but it also integrates other instant messaging services like Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger.
- Share Sheets: Basically with Share Sheets, Apple is giving us a handy little button to push out content to other people. You can email a Web page, Message it using Messages, or even tweet it via Twitter. You can also use Share Sheets to post photos to Flickr or send videos to Vimeo. The Share Sheets functionality and button will appear in apps, too, like Notes, Reminders, Photo Booth and iPhoto. What's so cool about this? This functionality will be built into the entire OS X experience, instead of some feature that's connected to a Web page or iOS app. It will make engaging with friends, family, and colleagues fast and easy.
- Gatekeeper: This new security setting feature lets you decide how to install applications on your Mac. Right now, you can install apps in a variety of ways, which also opens up a small door for the possibility that you could install malware -- for instance, if you were tricked into downloading and installing it, perhaps even through some ingenious social engineering and not nefarious file-sharing.
For most people, this isn't such a big deal. For a whole generation of socially connected teenagers and kids, I don't have a lot of trust in their abilities to discern what might be safe or what might not be safe. It's not that the Mac is inherently unsafe, it's just that you shouldn't be stupid. There's a reason I lock the doors to my house. The odds of a criminal walking in are small, but the risk is high. Anytime you have either high odds or high risk, even if paired with low odds or small risk, you need to lock your doors, so to speak.
Gatekeeper lets you choose to only allow users to download and install apps from Apple's curated App Store. Bad guys can still kick in a door, but any extra margin of safety that users can choose to use or ignore on their own is always welcome.
- AirPlay Mirroring: If you have an Apple TV, you can now stream what's on your Mac to your HDTV via an Apple TV. This is so cool! You can do this now with an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S, as well as stream some content via your iPhone 4. Instead of huddling around a small screen, you can share with family members or work colleagues. The limitation is a need for an Apple TV, but the unit is small enough that I've considered packing it around to some work meetings.
If a Mac-friendly office shelled out $100 for the connectivity in a conference room, it's easy to see AirPlay getting a lot of use. Having Apple TVs available in classrooms ... well, you can imagine the possibilities.
What About the Other Three?
Of the 10 major new features Apple chose to highlight, there are three that fall flat with me. Here's why.
- iCloud: How can iCloud fall flat? Am I kidding? Nope. The promise is fantastic for iCloud, that it can seamlessly connect all your apps across your devices, sync them immediately, and provide you online storage and synced files.
But how easy will it be, really? The answer is that it remains to be seen.
For instance, while I so far mostly like iCloud, I'm not always sure what it's doing or why I have to keep entering in my Apple ID and password all over the place. For a few days after I first started using iCloud, I had iTunes on my own Mac tell me I could not play songs that existed on my own Mac hard drive via some iCloud snafu. After updating iTunes and such, the problem went away. But in that moment, I was pretty freakin' irritated. And confused. It made zero sense.
At another time, I was trying to play songs from a playlist on my iPhone, and it was as if my iPhone was trying to operate from within a freezer -- a bit slow to start playing a new song. Finally I realized that somehow the resident songs stored on my iPhone 4 had been replaced by a virtual playlist that was streaming from iCloud -- I think. After you struggle a bit, you stop trying to skip through songs in a playlist and just listen. That's not an answer. But then the symptoms also disappeared after my last iTunes update.
The result of iCloud glitches? Supreme irritation. Have all these things been settled? I think so. Then again, they've worked just well enough that I haven't made the time to go over each and every iCloud setting on all my devices. But if I lose one important note, one important Reminder, either on accident or via an errant click ... iCloud will get my blame, rational or not. iCloud is like fire. It could be fantastic and probably will be, or it could be painful. Or both.
- Game Center: If you're into social gaming, and a lot of people are, fantastic. For kids? Great. For adults who barely play? Utterly meaningless.
- Twitter: It's a social media force, no doubt, but if you're not tweeting, you barely care. However, if you tweet and follow fellow Twitterers, you will probably love it. It's just that a relatively small population of Mac users also want Twitter integration with OS X.
All in All, Wow!
The ability to swipe your way around OS X is pretty handy, and it makes MacBooks with small screens suddenly usable again. Throw in Reminders, Notifications and Notes, and our next-generation version of OS X will be more efficient than ever.
In fact, all of these new features have me seriously considering re-training myself to work solely on a MacBook Pro, using the touch and swiping, along with multiple desktops and full-screen apps to segment my work. Instead of using a big 24-inch monitor that only is awesome when I'm at my desk, might I be a better worker while on the go too? OS X Mountain Lion is finally the OS that gives me hope that being mobile might be nearly as good as being chained to a desk.