The Lion Report: Did Apple Do Too Much?

September 9th, 2011

One of the biggest complaints about OS X Lion these days is that Apple tried a little too hard to embed iOS elements, forgetting that long-time Mac users might be confused. Or they might object to being confronted with such choices, such as scrolling that proceeds in a direction opposite to what you’re accustomed to.

So we take this further: Lion has more gestures, so if you have an Apple Magic Trackpad, a MacBook or MacBook Pro, a Magic Mouse or similar device, you can let your fingers do all sorts of fancy twists and turns and pinches to make wonderful things happen on your Mac’s screen. Launchpad is supposed to mimic the app display on your iPhone or iPad, at the expense of creating tremendous opportunities for screen clutter if you have lots and lots of apps, as I do. And, yes, I did discharge it from the Dock on the first day I installed Lion.

Apple also wanted to simplify such menial chores as saving and checking previous versions of your document. In the Auto Save feature, Save As is replaced by Duplicate/Save. But this is a specific area where Apple’s best intentions are not good enough. Far too many apps do not support Lion’s features. While many will be updated in the next few months, you may have to wait a lot longer for some, such as the components of Adobe’s Creative Suite. But I do expect Microsoft Office’s Lion updates will come far sooner, since they are at least promised, along with some 10.7 bug fixes.

The Mission Control feature, an Expose variant that puts all of your document windows and virtual desktops in a single place for quick perusal or access, has potential downsides. With lots of stuff opened, it could also create the climate for clutter and confusion, particularly if you are just getting by on your 11-inch MacBook Air.

Some of the interface changes, such as gray scroll bars, and gray icons on Finder windows and such, seem compromises to serve some unknown design ethic. Apple seems to want to make the OS so minimalist you won’t know it’s there, except when you engage functions that require its presence. You shouldn’t have to know where your files are located, since the All My Files folder in the Finder’s sidebar will let you keep tabs on your recent documents without having to figure where you put them. That can be a good thing when it comes to alleviating confusion. But it won’t keep you from dropping those files in the usual unlikely locations.

Of course, some of the extras in Lion can be tamed. You can restore the direction of scrollbars in the Mouse preference pane. Scrollbars can be displayed all the time under General settings. At least the menu bar hasn’t been hidden, as Microsoft has done with its treacherous ribbons. Indeed, the early scuttlebutt about Windows 8 has it that the Windows Explorer file manager will eschew menu bars and replace them with ribbons too. Sure, you’ll be able to change it back, but Microsoft seems to think you’d do better to locate the commands you want collected among loads of icons, rather than click on a specific menu.

The power users who write blogs and other tech content have mixed ratings about Lion. They regard the changes as a sort of dumbing down of the Mac OS, in a sense betraying experienced users who don’t want or need all that extra fluff, and would prefer to stick with the old ways of doing things. But since Lion’s excesses can usually be tamed in System Preferences or banished from the desktop, I suppose it really doesn’t make a difference. Giving customers a choice isn’t a bad thing, so long as they aren’t confronted with too many changes. But these are, at least, non-destructive.

With Apple, you are usually forced to face the future, even if you had other ideas, although there are occasional ways to revert to your previous habits. When the floppy disk was banished from the iMac, there were external drives that suited the purpose mostly, except for the inability to read single-density floppies. But who had those in 1998? Raise your hands (I know I did).

With Lion, I suspect Apple has a larger goal than simply blurring the differences between the iOS and OS X. At the same time, new Mac users will find a shorter learning curve, not to mention less time adapting from one interface to the other when moving among different Apple gadgets. That seamless integration is designed to entice you to go all Apple. If you’re used to the way it’s done on your iPhone or iPad 2, guess what? The Mac is sort of similar, and may become more similar as time goes by.

Yes, Microsoft realizes that some level of integration between mobile hardware and desktop hardware is also a good thing. But they will likely accomplish the goal in a typically clumsy fashion, whereas Apple will continue to make it seem almost natural. You can take that to the bank, because that’s where Apple is going with all their profits.

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9 Responses to “The Lion Report: Did Apple Do Too Much?”

  1. dfs says:

    Whether or not you think Lion goes to far in implementing the iOS look and feel depends on who you are. If you are a newbie to the Mac, attracted to the Mac platform because of previous experience with one of the Mac iOS portable devices, it’s obviously greatly helpful to meet familiar interface elements in the Mac. If you are heavily into touch-based navigation and have decided the Magic Trackpad or whatever it’s called is the right pointing device for you, then you’ll presumably be thrilled with the larger vocabulary of gestures Lion has to offer (at least if you haven’t already acquired some third party utility to do this already). And I must admit this is a large chunk of people, not to be ignored. But for those of us who are already quite able to get around on a Mac and prefer some other pointing device (I, for ex., am not about to give up my beloved Kensington Expert Mouse), Lion is not so exciting or even particularly relevant. And I suspect that for newbies even some of the iOS-like features such as Launchpad will be like training wheels on a bicycle, they’ll use them a little while then realize they don’t really need them. In short, I think that Lion has a lot of iOS-like interface features because Apple made a commercially-based decision to aim it a particular kind of user. And in catering so much to the newbie market, they managed to forget that they should also have been addressing the needs and interests of their already-established user base, which by and large Lion fails to do. There are some Lion features I like (the sandboxed Safari, and, away overdue, across-the-board 64-bit implementation). But as soon as I installed it I busily went around selecting options to make it as Snow-Leopard as possible (bringing back the scrollbar, restoring the old look of Mail, etc.). Since I have two monitors I never used Spaces very much, but the the few experiments I’ve made with Mission Control haven’t convinced me it has anything useful to offer for my particular needs. And Air Drop is cute and might actually be useful for certain situations, but it’s not relevant to Macs networked on a LAN and is no substitute for the simple drag-and-drop that Screen Sharing desperately needs (this is a single example of the ways Lion COULD have addressed the needs of those of us already in the user base, there are dozens of others one could name, such as a built-in phone dialer in Address Book, multiple clipboards and the ability to program f-keys that’s been missing since OS9).

  2. tommy says:

    I was thinking that Lion featuring iOS UI is the 2nd step to move all iOS apps to OSX. Magic touchpad is 1st step.

    the 3rd step is that Apple will offer iPad HD(iPad 3) as an upgrade version of hardware and push iPad app developers to work on HD app.

    the 4th one is the big plan, OSX 10.8, which integrates iOS as a part of OSX, allowing iOS apps natively run on OSX

    Do those steps make sense?

  3. George says:

    “Some of the interface changes, such as gray scroll bars, and gray icons on Finder windows and such, seem compromises to serve some unknown design ethic. ”

    I do think Apple is trying to wean users from the old ways and on to the new. I have seen numerous complaints about Safari not having enough contrast between active and inactive back and forward buttons. I found this annoying until I started using swipe gestures with the mouse to move forward and back in Safari and now seldom even think of using the buttons. Maybe “gray” means “soon to disappear”.

  4. Alexis says:

    I have a latest generation MB Air (11.1″, 1.6 GHZ i5, 4 GB 1333 GHZ DDR3 RAM, 128 GB SSD). I have to say I absolutely love my baby (Yes I call my MBA a baby because I love it to pieces). I don’t mind all the iOS elements in Lion. If one doesn’t want to use a particular iOS feature then they don’t have to. For the record: The scroll up to scroll down, and scroll down to scroll up is not a new feature. Check out previous OS X versions if you wish to check the veracity of my claim. I also love the gestures in OS X. On the few gestures in Windows (7) I found them to be annoying resulting in me disabling all of them. The only machine I now own is a MBA.

  5. dfs says:

    If Apple wanted iOS apps to run on Mac, surely it could do this much more easily by creating a piece of software that provided an emulation environment. In fact, I’m surprised nobody has cooked up one yet. I would imagine app developers would eat it up.

  6. Richard Taylor says:

    I love Airdrop. There are four Macs in my office and Airdrop gets used quite a lot.

    I really dislike the ‘versions’ aspect of Pages and other Lion-ready software. I make a lot of copies of whatever I’m working on, and add the date to the name as a way to keep track of things. Apple’s way is not my way. If I want to start another draft, I’ve found the easiest way now is to duplicate the file outside of Pages, rename it, and then work on it from within Pages. It’s worse than going back to OS6. Give me back ‘Save As’ and the option to work as I please.

    As for the interface changes, I know the scroll bar will be there as I mouse over it. I have a copy of Snow Leopard on an external drive for games that were tanked by Lion. All in all the frustrations are minor EXCEPT where Apple decides for me that I’m going to work a certain way. I came to the Mac because it allowed me to work my way, not MS’s way.

  7. John says:

    I’ve spent some time at the Apple store trying out Lion and so far I don’t find a reason to change from SL. The new autosave and versioning features are annoying. All I hear about is how buggy Lion is and all the ways to workaround the new Lion interface and how to get back to SL. This is the first time in a decade that I have not been an early adopter of an OS X release. I feel like Apple is trying to work in some sort of new schema to support new users, but in the process they are making life more difficult for experienced users.

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