Predictably, Apple has taken the iOS experience to heart in crafting Mac OS X Lion. In the first preview of 10.7, Apple focused on four major features, or "tent poles," if you want to use the label applied to the initial demonstrations of iOS 4 earlier this year.
In keeping with that tradition, the first Lion preview made it clear how the iOS has influenced Mac OS X's developers. This is particularly true of the first features to be revealed, one of which will actually debut for Snow Leopard users within 90 days.
That new feature is the Mac App Store, which is totally reminiscent of the iOS App Store. You'll be able to search, browse, purchase, and, of course, download the titles you want. You'll also be able to upgrade in place without having to run special installers, copy files from a disk image or anything of that sort.
How this will integrate with existing apps is a good question. I suppose many will be readily adapted, but I wouldn't necessarily regard it as suitable for a sprawling productivity suite, such as Microsoft Office or the Adobe Creative Suite. Then again, I've been proven wrong before, and, frankly, I was hot and cold about the rumors of a Mac App Store when the rumors first arose some months back.
A key Lion feature is clearly influenced by an app from the Classic Mac OS, known as Launcher. Launchpad, however, lets you observe and launch all of your available apps from a full-screen of icons that will supplant your regular desktop and open document windows. It's heavily influenced by the iOS Home page.
You'll also be able to categorize apps into folders, just as you can with the iOS, so you're not confronted with hundreds of confusing app icons to manage. You'll also be able to use a swipe on a trackpad, or Magic Mouse, to switch from one screen to the next.
It's not clear at this point whether you'll have to manually add apps to the Launchpad — and they will be there automatically if you get them from the Mac App Store — or the system will scan your hard drives and put them there automatically. Without knowing much about the implementation, I'd prefer to just pick and choose the ones I want, perhaps by dragging them onto the Launchpad icon.
Lion's full-screen capability simply extends a feature already available in some apps, including QuickTime, and makes it system wide. Click the Green "maximize" button on document window and you should, in theory, be able to view any open document in this fashion, free of menu bars and, I suppose, toolbars. I'm not at all certain how this feature is supposed to work with floating palettes, which may be necessary for you to do anything more than look in some apps.
The Mission Control feature evidently takes Expose, Spaces, the Dashboard, and full-screen app windows, and lets you see everything neatly organized on a single screen, with various and sundry tricks to get to the apps and documents you want.
In passing, I wonder if Mission Control wasn't designed, in part, to make Microsoft look foolish for touting the ability to pin document windows at the ends of the screen as a compelling feature of Windows 7. I mean, you have to wonder how lame an operating system must be if the best they can say about it is how you manage document windows. With Mac OS X Lion, Apple is clearly using Mission Control simply as an introduction to what's forthcoming.
Among the "lesser" features of Lion include:
- Improved Multitouch Gestures: These appear to be confined to recent MacBook and MacBook Pro trackpads (plus the new MacBook Air), along with the Magic Mouse. So if you're using another input device on your Mac desktop, you may want to get with the program.
- Auto Save: This is actually a feature that should have been on the Mac OS from Day One. Inspired by the iOS, your documents are automatically saved as you work on them. With your Apple mobile device, an app is simply suspended when you switch to another, at which point data is also saved. The biggest bugaboo on any personal computer is forgetting to save your stuff. Your system crashes, and you lose all your unsaved data. You shouldn't have to remember to press Command-S every so often to protect yourself, or keep lots of recent backups.
- Auto-Resume Apps: Also reminiscent of the iOS, apps will be suspended and reopen immediately once you launch them again. As with Auto-Save, it is likely that developers will have to update their software to support these new features.
All in all, it's clear you're only seeing a small part of the picture here. Apple is going to have to deliver a full palette of changes and improvements to justify a full upgrade price with Lion. Adding a handful of features from the iOS, however useful, won't cut it.
I'm expecting a lot more, and, in the months ahead of Lion's promised Summer 2011 release, there will be plenty of meat and potatoes to talk about.
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