The iOS and OS X: Time for a Divorce?

August 9th, 2013

For better or worse, Apple has been busy integrating its mobile and desktop operating systems since Lion arrived in 2011. To some, this move was a bad thing, particularly when it came to redesigning the scrollbars and making them only show up on mouseover as a default setting. Reversing the scrolling behavior to something Apple labeled “natural” was also severely criticized, though both settings can be turned off in System Preferences.

Add to that including Launchpad in OS X, which may be fine on an iPad or an iPhone, but fails to pass the usability test, and you can see where some devoted Mac users complained about the “iOSification” of OS X.

Of course, having similar apps on a Mac and an iOS device can make the user experience more consistent. So if such apps as Contacts, Calendar and Messages for OS X work similarly to their mobile counterparts, that’s a good thing. When iCloud keeps things in sync — and that’s not always the case — this means that you won’t have to cope with having to re-engage your muscle memory every time you switch between the two.

But Apple has kept other key elements of the two operating systems separate. In using his famous mixed metaphor, about integrating toaster ovens and refrigerators, Tim Cook clearly understands a nasty truth that Microsoft has yet to grasp. You do not interact with your Mac the same way you interact with your iPad. Under the hood, the two operating systems share a common origin, and many core features, but are otherwise quite different in look and feel.

With a Mac, you expect OS efficiency, and Apple has promised more of it for OS X Mavericks. But you still expect to use all sorts of apps that will require tons of memory and storage space. The limits are fewer on a traditional personal computing operating system, and you want to want to know you won’t hit the boundaries very often, if at all.

But on a mobile device, you are severely constrained when it comes to storage space and RAM. Apps and the operating system both have to be specially tuned to work efficiently under such restrictions. That is an area where even Google runs into trouble with Android. Many Android handsets and tablets have a lot more memory than an iPhone or an iPad. They also have processors that might, in theory, be better at number crunching. But Apple’s iOS gear still offers a fast, fluid experience, often faster than products that should, in theory at least, be noticeably snappier.

Consider Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone, which, in the real world, seems hardly faster than its predecessor, the Galaxy S3, despite having much better benchmarks. Of course, Samsung has been exposed for cooking the books, making the S4 run faster in certain benchmark apps to produce better ratings.

As for Apple, some suggest the ultimate game plan is for iOS and OS X to merge, to be the same. That may go against what Cook says now, but Apple is notorious for saying they won’t do something, while eventually doing exactly what they once denied.

On the other hand, there seems little indication that a Mac will suddenly blossom into a larger tablet with a touch screen. Microsoft has tried that tact for over a decade with nothing to show for it. While I suppose it’s possible for more iOS interface elements and apps to be brought over for compatibility, it’s clear to me that Apple needs to keep OS X moving in a more expansive direction.

I notice, for example, that The Mac Observer’s John Martellaro has written an intriguing commentary suggesting Apple should make OS X more friendly to power users. He, in part, echoes something I’ve written about from time to time, that OS X should offer an “expert” mode, where power users get additional settings and more features that might otherwise be hidden beneath the command line. This special mode can possibly be engaged in System Preferences or via the Setup Assistant when you first boot a new Mac OS or a new Mac.

Sure, you can access many of these features with a third party utility, which do little more than put a friendly face on a Terminal command. But why should Apple add a feature that’s not going to be used? I don’t think OS X is designed that way merely to fuel opportunities for third party developers. Right now, however, Apple appears to be removing visible features rather than leaving them intact and adding more.

So starting with Lion, if you want to visit the user/library folder to zap a damaged preference file or remove some other file to troubleshoot your Mac, you’ll find the folder is invisible. Sure, you can hold down Option and choose Library from the Go menu, but why? You can also make the change permanent via the Terminal. Maybe Apple sought to avoid mischief from Mac users who were in a little bit over the heads, but there are other folders on your drive that also ought to be hidden for the same reason.

The Expert mode would reveal those folders, system settings for power users, and provide other tools to enhance your Mac experience. Sure, a regular Mac user can have the simplified interface and do perfectly well, but maybe Apple needs to differentiate it even more from iOS.

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18 Responses to “The iOS and OS X: Time for a Divorce?”

  1. Ted Schroeder says:

    I like the Expert Mode idea.

    Along similar lines, I would like to see Apple get into some sort of services that would help developers. Since many of today’s app run on databases, I’d like to see Apple provide some sort of Database Service for The Rest of Us kind of thing. Something where Apple would provide the hosting and support for databases and more readily available tools to build iOS and Mac OS apps that provide the interface for managing and viewing the data.

    It seems like there’s some potential in iOS’s penetration of the enterprise space that has yet to be leveraged by Apple. And some potential where smaller businesses and organizations like schools and small city governments could write their own apps. At present, I think the cost of entry into this kind of effort is too high for many of them, but they’d greatly benefit if the cost could be brought down.

    An Expert Mode could be part of a gateway to a sort of Services in the iCloud.

  2. Articles you should read (Aug. 9) …. says:

    […] “The iOS and OS X: Time for a Divorce?: For better or worse, Apple has been busy integrating its mobile and desktop operating systems since Lion arrived in 2011. To some, this move was a bad thing, particularly when it came to redesigning the scrollbars and making them only show up on mouseover as a default setting. Reversing the scrolling behavior to something Apple labeled “natural” was also severely criticized, though both settings can be turned off in System Preferences.” — “The Tech Night Owl” ( […]

  3. Kaleberg says:

    I have a number of friends who are first time Mac users. Some have used iPhones before, some have not. Personally, I think Apple has a pretty good basic interface on the Mac and the iPhone. I’m an expert user myself, so I know how to play around with the library folder, load and unload kext files, deal with access control lists, and use things like hdiutil and launchctl. Having helped a fair number of new users over the years, I know that the very last thing you want to do is let any of these naive users, even accidentally, do any of those things. The only thing worse would be to require them to do any of those things. For an awful lot of them, the challenge is recognizing that they need to log in to use the App Store or download music from iTunes.

    I can understand why an expert might be useful to have a hot key that lets him or her type in short Objective C or assembly language programs and run them as root, but this is really something for a specialty market, and there is nothing in MacOS that precludes providing such a feature for people who really, really need it.

  4. DaveD says:

    Yep, I vote for an Expert Mode.

    First of all if you have the “new” Mac Pro, the Expert Mode in OS X should be the default setting.

    I can see the business case of “iOSsifying” OS X and agree with the change in scrolling behavior as “natural.” Going from a Mountain Lion MacBook to a Snow Leopard one gave me the sense that we were scrolling wrong in the first place.

    Apple should be quite aware that not all users are the same. Going back to the Mac OS days, the Help Bubble could be turned on to learn about the graphical interface. When mousing over the window items, an info bubble would be presented nearby. In addition, there was a special Finder setting for a simplified interface. In the first OS X version, I can recall that the colorful aqua elements could be turned off resembling how it looks today.

    The novice users should be managed and power users unleashed.

  5. Flyboyrls says:

    Balderdash! If you are such an “Expert” you already know how to use the terminal, option click a menu, etc. The other 99% of non-expert users need the protection provided by the OSX defaults.

  6. Jack Webb says:

    Agreed on the idiocy of the hidden Library folder. I suppose it was more to keep people from adding things to it that don’t belong there more than keeping users away from it otherwise. Apple wants developers to hide app data in ~/Library but when it comes to tech support of an issue, the developer has to explain how to get into that folder conditionally stated for 10.7+ and 10.6.x back. I gave up on “permanently” unhiding it on my own Mac b/c ever OS update re-hid it and I prefer to have to live in the same environment as other users so I’m not out-of-touch.

    In all other ways I’m very impressed with the Mavericks emphasis.

  7. Bernard says:

    In Mavericks, there’s just a simple check box in the Presentation menu > Presentation Options that one can check to reveal full time the user Library Folder. NO nedd to do nay thing more, no Terminal, no option click on Go menu. Just a check box.

  8. Bernard says:

    Sorry, I ‘am French, so the menu is called “Presentation”, it is perhaps called View ??? It is the menu where you change Finder Views and you can choose also what tools you get in the windows title bar. There is an perhaps View Options, and in that sub windows there is a checked box as I told you, at lest in Mavericks beta 3 and 4.

  9. Bernard says:

    Yes, It is called View in the English version of OS X. And the sub menu is something like Show View options – should be the last one down in the menu. Then you get a sub window to parameter options of that view.
    I don’t understand why Apple placed this check box (for full time visible Library) ther, as it is for me a “main” view option and should be in the Finder Prerefences.

  10. Bernard says:

    No Gene, this is different.
    When you go in the Go menu with [alt], you can access to the Library for this time and only this time.
    When you do what I do in Mavericks the checkbox (it is not complicated to get a loo at if you are working under OS X 10.9), the user Library is fully and permanently shown everywhere in the Finder as it was before Lion.
    Have a good weekend.

  11. Bernard says:

    Hi Gene, I just sent to you screenshots from DP5 (in French, sure, but easy to discover where it is in the English version, it is not hidden anyway.
    Nice weekend.

    • @Bernard, Without going into exquisite detail, which will happen after Mavericks is out, and everyone knows the final feature set, let me just say that, after working this over with Bernard, it seems that, “the option appears by itself when the window of the Finder that is active is the window of the active user account.” Otherwise it’s not there.

      It’s just too bad that a feature of this sort can only be enabled in the Finder if you follow a very specific step.


  12. Usergnome says:

    I do work on my Mac. If it turns into something intended for Grandma to share pictures and nothing else, it will be of no use to me. Give Grandma an iPad. That’s what it’s for. Grandma should keep her picture sharing hands off my OS. (With apologies to Grandma’s who also do work on their Macs)

  13. gopher says:

    I’m not as anti-Launcher as I am the scrollbars. The key to having the Launcher as a good thing, is having a good Launcher icon populator. Ideally Apple would do what it did with Mac OS 9, and allow you to drag and drop in folders, and the Launcher become a reflection of what is in the folders. But since it didn’t, it opened the opportunity for third party software vendors to come up with the idea. In fact for awhile the Cocoa Launcher program was a great alternative to what was there in Mac OS X. Now I use to control Mountain Lion’s Launcher. Not the most elegant solution, but it is better than depending on Apple’s method of populating the launcher based solely on using the App Store to download new applications.

  14. Bernard says:

    Thanks Gene to force me to find the solution. 

    I always have seen this option as, by default, I always open any Finder window on my user account (an option in the Finder Preferences General pane), so the checke box in the View Options inspector was always there ! But as you didn’t see any thing yourself I try to understad a bit more it was different on my Mac.

    In fact, the option appears “by itself” when the window open and active in the Finder is the window of the active user account. 
    If you open any other window and ask to see the View Options Inspecteur (from the View Main in the main menus bar), the check box “Show the Library folder” will not be there. But if you click back to the User accournt windos, the check box will instantly eapper in the inspecteur, then you can check it and even the, move it to the side bar to have access from any other window (of any types) !

    It is really a bit weird but, when you think of it, it is also very logical that this option is only visible when your are viewing your account and not viewing other area of the hard disk.
    I still think that this option would have been in a better place in the main Finder General preferences pane, not in a so tricky sub options window, but the options will be to easy for “common user” to checek, the solution that proposes Apple (and it has to be confirmed in the final release, yes) is subtle and in fact will reserved it to the only people who spend time the have a look at personnalised options, which I guess is no mre than 10 % of the Mac users. Apple Care staff will remain “safe” from users that, with no idea of what they do, will destroy something from their library then call for help.

    Bernard. Editor-in-chief of “Vous et Votre Mac Magazine”

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