So Where Does the OS X Go From Here?

July 24th, 2012

The original announcement about Mountain Lion came as a surprise to many of you. Before the first preview of OS 10.8 went live in February, odds were that there wouldn’t be another Mac system upgrade until the middle of 2013. After all, this was all in keeping with the “plan,” that new versions of OS X would arrive every two years.

Why should it be otherwise?

That is, except for the very first four versions of OS X, which arrived fairly quickly. The original 10.0 release, code-named Cheetah, arrived on March 24, 2001 (a Public Beta arrived six months earlier). Within six months, there came 10.1, Puma, to add critical missing features, such as DVD playback, and begin to address particularly sluggish performance, even on the speediest Macs. OS 10.2, Jaguar, shipped on August 24, 2002, and OS 10.3, Panther, arrived on October 24, 2003.

Before you could set your clock to Apple’s schedule, the mold was broken with OS 10.4, Tiger, which arrived roughly 18 months later, on April 29, 2005. OS 10.5, Leopard, went on sale on October 26, 2007, and OS 10.6, Snow Leopard, landed on August 28, 2009. At this point, it appeared that Apple’s OS upgrade schedule would slow down considerably from then on. Snow Leopard was meant largely as an under-the-hood update, without many visible new features, largely designed to pave the way towards a slimmer, more powerful OS.

So when OS 10.7, Lion, arrived on July 20, 2011, you might have become accustomed to biannual upgrades. Lion, as you know, was a full-feature release, representing the shaky beginnings of iOS integration. As usual, Apple released several maintenance updates, the latest being 10.7.4. There is also a 10.7.5 reportedly under development, but all eyes are on Mountain Lion.

Now one thing you should never do with Apple is assume you can guess their release schedule. Just when you’re certain you have it nailed down, they will change the rules. Consider the iPhone 4s, which arrived nearly four months later than many expected, resulting in slower sales in the September 2011 quarter, because of all those fence sitters. But Apple more than made up for that sales dip the following quarter.

With Mountain Lion, Apple is adding to the pace of iOS integration, at least in terms of certain key features and app names. It’s all quite different from Microsoft’s curious vision of the PC+ era, where some version of Windows is destined to run everywhere, rather than making them create unique OS environments for each device.

Yes, it’s true that Mountain Lion more closely resembles the iOS, at least superficially. Contacts are Contacts, not Address Book,. There are Notes, Reminders, a Game Center, a Notification Center, and other similarities. It’s all consistent with making it easier for users of an iPhone or iPad to move to the Mac and back again more seamlessly. It doesn’t mean the iOS and OS X should look and work the same, however, since the ways you interact with a Mac and a mobile device are supposed to be different.

You can see, for example, how Microsoft has screwed the pooch in trying to make Office 2013 friendly for Metro under Windows 8. If you use a touchscreen, the ribbon buttons will grow, to make it easier for your fingers to find the functions you want. But that’s a very partial solution, since most of what you do in the Office suite still requires a traditional keyboard and input device. This sort of schizophrenic behavior gives you the worst of both worlds.

As far Apple: Now that Mountain Lion is just about to be released, speculation will no doubt grow over the successor, presumably 10.9. Maybe a lot of the chatter will be all about the possible feline names Apple might use. Certainly the list is getting terribly short of the more common species. But the real issue is whether Apple can actually come up with roughly 200 fancy new features each and every year, or maybe we are going to see an OS 11 next.

Now the mobile computing universe moves a lot faster, so it makes sense to see iOS upgrades every single year, since Apple has to compete with such fast movers as Google. Sure, the list of new features in iOS 6 seems far more extensive that the ones advertised for Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” and Windows Phone 8. But it seems most critics seize on a handful of tent pole features, while largely ignoring the rest.

With OS X, it’s certainly clear that Apple has a long-range game plan. They do know when new versions are going to be announced, and the probable release dates. But they will never release a long-range roadmap for anyone, as much as people, particularly in the enterprise, would hope to receive that information.

But there is something to be said for expectations. After Mountain Lion is released, you’ll read lots of reviews and analyses of the individual features. You’ll see articles on how those features can be improved, and the ones that Apple hasn’t gotten to yet. Since iOS integration is on the table, examining iOS 6 may provide some clues as to what you might see in OS 10.9, or perhaps not. Such features as Map, and the enhanced personal assistant capabilities of Siri, which mostly provide a wider range of information at your beck and call, don’t really seem appropriate for a traditional computer.

Apple, obviously, is going to keep OS X and the iOS distinctly different in a number of ways. That’s something Microsoft doesn’t understand, but it makes sense.

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8 Responses to “So Where Does the OS X Go From Here?”

  1. Kaleberg says:

    One thing I’d like to see is something like Spotlight, except for time. I’d like to know what I looked at (folder, url, contact, open file, import, download) around when I created something new. It’s hard to keep track of one’s sources and influences over the years. (You’d be amazed how useful having ten years of internet browsing history can be.) I’m not sure that Time Machine and Lion’s Versions provide quite the interface, especially since it would also be nice to search both textually, as with Spotlight, as well as temporally.

    Another idea would be to allow one to annotate anything – call it Annotate Anything-TM – so one can write notes as one browses the internet, files, diagrams in a PDF, photos and albums, music tracks, video snips, offline disks, drop box items, spreadsheet lines and so on. Various applications provide various annotation features, but this should really be a system wide API, one that could sync over the web, so that there is one coherent annotation and search facility database at its heart.

    Also, as more people have multiple devices, VNC should be more tightly integrated. Why can’t I VNC to my iPhone or iPad or the machine in the guest bedroom using Mission Control? In fact, why shouldn’t I be able to do this on my laptop from a Starbucks? If Apple provides the API, I’m sure some vendor will provide a WIndows interface, and that could provide even more platform transparency. Ubiquitous computing was a big thing back in the 80s – look at the X Window System. It’s good to see it coming out of the lab and into our homes.

  2. DaveD says:

    With the quicken pace of mobility OS upgrades, I see Apple keeping the pace as a way of maintaining the Mac OS X presence. By incorporating popular features from iOS into a usable features for the Mac, OS X becomes a familiar platform.

    When things go wrong on a Mac (so much fewer problems than the bad days with Classic OS 9), it can become a pain to deal with (though not as much with a PC). There has been a couple of times over the last several years when I needed to launch DiskWarrior to fix the directory. In Classic Mac OS, that CD was always near. Stuff happens. After all in Lion, there is now a Recovery Partition. I believe Apple is hard at it to make the Mac even more user-friendly by trying to make it less-complicated in dealing with issues and perhaps, minimizing the issues.

    From what I’ve read, Mountain Lion still brings up a familiar face and place, the Desktop and Apple is still moving forward with OS X.

  3. degrees_of_truth says:

    I continue to find the iOSification of OS X…disturbing.

    Mac OS’s have always been document-centric, in contrast to Windows’ application-centrism, and that has been a huge advantage. Created around the concept that a window mapped to an application, Windows followed that rat hole through the UI atrocity of multiple document interface (windows nested inside windows) and back out again.

    With mobile devices, Apple created iOS for hardware that was severely restricted by screen space and CPU power. Running only one application at a time, occupying the whole screen, and using every trick to save screen space was the practical solution.

    Modern scroll bars are not only for scrolling; they give concise visual feedback of relative position within, and length of, a document. Making them disappear unless moused over removes, or at least makes cumbersome, that very useful functionality. (Plus I really dislike in general UI design that make you scrub the screen to find hidden features.) Thin scroll bars work fine with iOS’s clever touch sensitivity, but they’re harder to hit with a cursor.

    The design of iCloud seems to be complicit with the iOSification trend. It abandons the iDisk concept of a file system in the cloud, for application-sandboxed storage. The alleged advantage in ease of use comes at a big cost in functionality (document centrism, being able to access a document with more than one application). I wonder if iCloud users will even eventually be tortured by the equivalent of the MDI: having to deal, in effect, with a file system within each application to manage the sandboxed files. I can easily see Microsoft Office and Adobe everything going this way.

  4. degrees_of_truth says:

    Gene Steinberg wrote:

    “Remember that the mouseover scroll bar feature can be turned off in System Preferences….”

    Yes, and you can also buy a MacBook Pro with an optical drive…for now 🙂

  5. dfs says:

    I’m not losing sleep over the scrollbar issue. If Apple takes away the Preference option, a Terminal command will probably do the trick. Or shareware hacks will start appearing within days.

  6. Sponge says:

    All the so called iOSification of OS X seems overblown to me. Sure, Apple had added features that mimic iOS, but I’m still able to use my Mac pretty much the way I always have. I’m not forced to use Launch Pad, I can have scroll bars if I want (and I do), and I can easily switch scrolling back to the way I’m used to. I still have an easily accessed file system, and my apps don’t have to be approved by Apple (although they won’t be sold in the App Store if they’re not). It seems to me that Apple has put these features in place for those who are used to the iOS way of doing things without forcing the rest of us to abandon the way we’ve been doing things for decades. As long as it continues this way, I don’t see the big deal.

    I would like to see Apple add options to the setup app that runs when you start a new Mac that explains the scrolling direction and scroll bar issues and allows you to choose what you want from the setup app. This would make it a lot less confusing for users who don’t know to go to System Prefs to make the changes.

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