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  • The OS X and iOS Integration Freakout

    July 29th, 2014

    In recent years, Apple has turned topsy-turvy for long-time Mac users. Whereas the Mac used to be the cash cow, now it's relegated to third-rate status, just behind the iPad when it comes to quarterly revenues. So there's been the wrongheaded perception that Apple doesn't care about Macs anymore, and would just as well have you switch to an iPhone or an iPad and be done with it.

    As a practical matter, Apple has been selling more than four million Macs per quarter in recent years, which is quite enough to sustain a sizable business. Lots of companies would love to earn a fraction of what Apple pulls in from Macs. Besides, with double-digit sales growth, there's little incentive to give up on the platform. Indeed, the Mac was the surprising winner in the June quarter.

    The iPod? Well, that's another matter, although Apple is selling enough to a smaller market to keep them in production.

    But one of the main reasons for the Mac-is-dying freakout is the fact that OS X has, beginning with Lion, taken on a few interface features that are derived from iOS, along with a few apps that have the same names, such as Contacts rather than the venerable Address Book and the addition of Maps in OS X Mavericks.

    Now changing the name of an app, and maybe even the decorative abstractions, but not necessarily the functionality, or adding some new apps doesn't mean that Apple is minimizing the Mac. If anything it represents further investment in the platform.

    The controversial interface elements include the new look and part-time appearance of the scrollbars, and the "natural" scrolling direction that reverses tradition. These are features that are easily restored to previous functionality in System Preferences, so it's not significant.

    You see, the argument a purist needs to consider is the fact that Apple wants to entice more iPhone and iPad users to buy Macs too. As with the iPad, most users of iOS gear are running Windows, so this would be a great way to enlarge the Mac user base, last estimated at 80 million.

    Since Apple wants Mac and iOS users to move back and forth across devices with as little downtime or relearning as possible, there are going to be things that are changed in the former to ease the process. This doesn't mean OS X is going to make your Mac look and operate as an iPad. It simply means that switching between them is going to be easier.

    This convenience factor is greatly improved with OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. The Continuity feature links with your iPhone to send and receive phone calls and SMS messages. Handoff, on Macs using Bluetooth LE (mostly from 2011 or 2012 and later), lets you start a document or email on your Mac and continue on your iPhone or iPad. Or vice versa.

    None of this ought to be a deal breaker. Having used prerelease versions of Yosemite, I didn't feel that I, a long-time Mac user, was somehow being neglected. Different artwork schemes, with flatter buttons and new transparency effects, and even a new system typeface, aren't going to force you into a new work routine. There are significant new features, of course. In addition to Continuity, Spotlight is far more functional and now may even replace some third-party app launchers. That's a good thing that enhances the Mac user experience.

    This doesn't mean that I like everything about Yosemite. I've commented about the lack of proper title bars for sites in Safari, which are now only seen in tabs, meaning that some of the contents may be truncated to fit into the proper width. I also don't know if I like engaging full-screen mode by tapping the green button. I prefer to have it fill to the size of your working document plus toolbars and other interface elements. An Option-click restores previous functionality. I see where Apple wants to make things more convenient for users of Macs with smaller displays, such as the 11-inch MacBook Air, but this choice may be confusing.

    Maybe the green button functionality should be reversed.

    Now remember that we are very much in the twilight of the PC era, where you can get a good part of your computing experience with other devices. Some have pointed to the phablet, a smartphone with an oversized display, as the ultimate solution for those who only want — or can only afford — one gadget. That might even explain why Apple will allegedly release a 5.5-inch iPhone this fall.

    That Mac sales continue to grow ahead of the PC market, however, indicates there's plenty of life left in the platform. Apple has no motive or excuse to suddenly ditch Macs, or even devote fewer resources.

    Yes, that may happen some day. You may find that personal computers, in general, are consigned to a few demanding assignments, while most people get by with smartphones or tablets. But that time is not yet at hand, and Apple isn't forcing you to go there by any means.



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