When Apple’s Craig Federighi gave a relatively short but highly-praised demonstration of OS X Mavericks at this week’s WWDC, I had to ask, “Is that all there is?” You see, Apple has traditionally promised over 200 new features with recent OS X upgrades. Here there are a few dozen at most, including the backend features, such as compressed memory, which are designed to speed up performance and boost note-book battery life.
Considering that iOS 7 got a huge upgrade with flat icons, layers and translucency, I had to wonder whether such a look would also migrate to Apple’s desktop OS. But all the screenshots shown so far of the Mavericks beta, released for developers this week, merely revealed a look that is very much the same as OS X Mountain Lion. Sure some “real-life” or skeuomorphic elements that inhabited such apps as Calendar were removed with a humorous flourish. But otherwise, things don’t seem altogether different as far as the look and the feel is concerned.
Now the theme isn’t as important so long as it’s smooth, uncomplicated and simple to navigate. Major changes in looks may suit from a marketing point of view, because they announce difference, and the differences appear to be huge for iOS 7, although most functions work the same as they did before.
However, Apple has already been dogged with criticism over adding iOS-style scroll bars to OS X, so I can understand that some of you may prefer that things stay the way they are. Apple seems, for now, more focused on features that actually make OS X work better.
The Finder tabs are a case in point. It’s not a feature that’s unique in a file browser, but it does offer a solution to organizing the Finder that should have appeared years ago. The Tags feature expands upon the original Labels concept in a useful way.
One key question: Will such enhancements eliminate the need for third-party Finder replacements, such as Path Finder? Not completely, as Path Finder is a far more inclusive product. But it will help your organize your work more efficiently. The enhanced Multiple Displays feature, which essentially makes each screen work identically, will please content creators who were irritated over the way it was organized, or not organized, in previous OS X versions.
Assuming most of the serious bugs have been fixed, adding Maps seems to be a good concept, particularly in the way key functions are integrated into Calendar. This is the sort of thing for which Apple is famous, but they don’t always do well.
Some suggest iCloud Keychain, the ability to store and encrypt passwords in the cloud, and have them automatically update on Macs with OS 10.9 and mobile gear with iOS 7, may reduce the need for password wallet apps such as iPassword. As usual, it’s a question of having extra functions that justify the current $24.99 purchase price for a single user license for iPassword.
But the most significant enhancements may well involve what Apple calls Advanced Technologies, a title for all the stuff that’s supposed to give your Mac a performance boost. However, some of the tools are apt to require that developers get with the program and update their apps to support the key Mavericks features, and that may be a problem.
As it stands, many of the features in Lion and Mountain Lion are not supported by critical app suites such as Office for Mac 2011, the Adobe Creative Suite, and even QuarkXPress.
Microsoft promised Lion compatibility within a few months back in 2011, but the best I see is Full Screen Apps. Auto Save and Version remains missing in action.
Now with a promised fall release date, which means as late as December, it’s quite possible Apple will flesh out the feature set to be more inclusive, and provide a few things you might not expect. In a sense, Apple is four months behind the schedule of Mountain Lion, where developers had a beta in February 2012. So it’s quite possible Apple will call a media event this fall to launch the Mac Pro, refresh other Macs now that the MacBook Air has had its update, and perhaps offer a few surprises for Mavericks.
Will that mean that there will, indeed, be a new, flatter interface in our future? I wouldn’t presume to guess. It may just be that, considering all the work that had to be done to get iOS 7 ready, Apple will postpone OS X interface changes until next year. I suppose it’s also possible that system requirements will change from what developers are reporting, which essentially means that any Mac that could run Mountain Lion is compatible with Mavericks. That includes models introduced from four to six years ago.
The final question is the price. Will Apple ask $19.99 for OS 10.9? Or will they do the right thing and make it free for everyone? I would rather see the latter, which would guarantee that all or most eligible Mac users will download the upgrade quickly, particularly if there are no serious compatibility issues.