OS 10.12: Is it All About Siri?

May 19th, 2016

You hardly think a single feature would be sufficient to hang a major operating system upgrade on, but it appears to be that way, at least based on the first predictions for the next version of OS X. Or will it even be called OS X?

If past is prologue, it’s a near-certainty that the next version of OS X will be demonstrated next month at Apple’s WWDC. That, along with iOS 10, watchOS 3 and other goodies. But it’s not at all likely there will be much in the way of hardware announcements, unless a new Mac Pro appears, and that’s certainly overdue. Some even doubt Apple’s commitment to its flagship workstation.

In any case, there is speculation, based on findings of some resources in recent OS X versions, that it’ll be rebranded. In keeping with Apple’s current approach with iOS, watchOS and tvOS, it’ll become macOS. In a sense the approach reverts to the original designation of Mac OS, or Mac OS X. Regardless, that’s just a minor relabeling.

In other words, switching to macOS isn’t going to sell more product. It is, after all, free, and I doubt anyone will be a Mac because of the branding. But it’ll get coverage, although the user experience remains unchanged.

Let me amend that. The Mac Observer’s John Martellaro suggests a capital “M,” because that’s what’s been trademarked, but nothing prevents Apple from applying for more trademarks.

Now each year, Apple demonstrates a set of tentpole features for a new OS. So far, the rumor mills are stuck on just one, and it’s not even that significant an improvement, particularly if you’ve already used Siri on a mobile gadget from Apple.

So if it is all about Siri, color me bored, but obviously it’s not.

No doubt Apple’s competition will decry that feature. After all, for better or worse, Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, debuted on Windows 10 last year. So it would seem, at first glance, that Apple is late to the party. A similar complaint applies to OS X El Capitan, where the Split View feature, also available for some iPads in iOS 9, was evidently borrowed from Microsoft and Samsung.

So what does Apple come up with that will encourage Microsoft to start their copying machines, to recall banners at a WWDC some years back? What major features will Apple craft that will move macOS, or whatever it’s called, beyond the present?

Don’t forget that, other than Cortana, Windows 10 doesn’t have an awful lot that hasn’t been done before. There is a virtual desktop feature similar to Apple’s Spaces, for example. Other features include the return of the Start menu — mostly dispatched in a controversial move for Windows 8 — and features that integrate with Windows smartphones (of which few are sold) and PC convertibles. Hardly anything original, and that might explain why the temporary free upgrade program hasn’t quite been as successful as Microsoft hoped.

It may well be that computer companies are really running out of major features to tout until they can devise ways to revolutionize the experience. A voice assistant isn’t going to do that, nor will be integration with a company’s mobile gadgets. The fundamentals of OS X — excuse me, macOS — and Windows aren’t altogether different.

One possibility I will discuss on the May 21st episode of my syndicated radio show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, is whether Apple might someday — probably not now — consider changing the personal computing metaphor from app-centric to task-centric. I’m thinking of the Star Trek computer that you command to perform certain actions without concerning yourself as to how it’s done.

Now this may not come as a terribly pleasant concept to app developers. After all, they want you to buy their products, upgrade their products, and be delighted by their products. Well, the first is most important, the second is important when there’s a paid upgrade. But it doesn’t hurt to like what you use, rather than being forced to run an app because you need it for a certain project.

I’m not going to argue the concept of app branding. This is nothing that will happen in the near future, and even if it does, there will be compromises.

Say you want to prepare a book, so Siri would load the apps you need in the background to research, write, edit and compile the print and eBook versions. As you complete one step, it would bring up the apps you need for the next step. So it might launch Safari, and keep it running as you move through the task of research. For writing and editing, perhaps it’ll launch Word, and transfer the content to Adobe InDesign to create print/eBook ready documents.

The task might be divided into different parts with different app sets, depending on your work routine.

But would you be expected to configure the specific apps you want? At first, because, of course, developers want you to use their software, not someone else’s. Over time, however, a smarter Siri would make the selection for you based on your needs and tastes, something it’ll learn over time.

So I might be a proper candidate for Firefox — Siri would have to be agnostic about its selection or otherwise be accused of favoring Apple. But my particular writing needs with advanced search might best be served by Nisus Writer Pro. As an old hand at desktop publishing — I was doing it in the 1980s — Siri would decide I should use QuarkXPress rather than InDesign. And, by the way, Nisus Writer Pro can save your documents in Word format, which is supported in both desktop publishing apps.

When it comes to my radio shows, the act of starting a project would, if it’s not running, launch my preferred browser, plus Audio Hijack and Skype. When my shows are ready for post-production, it would launch Sound Studio and Amadeus Pro to create completed audio files. Once the shows are ready to post online, Feeder and Transmit would be at my beck and call. But I would also need to download completed MP3 files from the network, GCN, to post to my sites, iTunes, and other services.

Yes, I know there are utilities that can store automated keystrokes to launch apps, including Apple’s Automator. But a smart Siri would take over full responsibility to organize your projects for you.

I do realize that the ultimate goal of such a scheme would free you from concerns about individual apps altogether. But that’s not something developers would allow Apple to do for now.

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8 Responses to “OS 10.12: Is it All About Siri?”

  1. dfs says:

    There are still some areas where Apple could do a lot to improve the Mac experience. Take telephony. Face Time is a lot better than nothing, but it still has some problems: a.) it was primarily designed as a piece of chat software and the telephone bit was added on more or less as an afterthought. That’s why you can’t dismiss that video pic of yourself talking, no matter how little you want to see it or how much you might to reclaim the area of the monitor it’s hogging; b.) it only works with iPhone. After Apple discontinued the UBS modem it used to make it seems to have lost signt of the fact that plenty of us still have landline phones instead of or in addition to our iPhones. And also, of course, there are smartphones made by other manufacturers. And then of course there are internet-based phone services such as Skype, which are neglected too. To my mind, FaceTime looks suspiciously like it was created as a marketing gimmick to encourage Mac owners to buy an iPhone and the hell with anybody who has other needs; b.) it lacks capacities that some users would probably value, such as the ability to record calls in progress. And FaceTime only depends on the message-recording capacity of the iPhone, it scarcely allows your Mac to be used as a fully-functioning answering machine. Nor does it have any built-in capacity to do such things as call forwarding and conference calls.

    Sure, there are some third-party telephony apps out there. The best known of these is PhoneAmego, which does accommodate other kinds of telephony besides the iPhone, including Skype and landline. But it has a klutzy interface and a dauntingly steep learning curve. It doesn’t record, record incoming messages, or facilitate conferenc calls, and if you are using a mixture of more than one telephone technology it would be very handy to be able to assign different ringtones to the different phones it is currently set up to manage. So, despite its intimidatingly complex interface, PhoneAmego really isn’t very sophisticated at all, not nearly enough so to justify its relatively high price (at least in comparison with PhoneBox, which does nearly all these same stuff, has a very simple interface, and only costs two bucks). All in all, the Mac is not exceptionally telephone-friendly, and could be made considerably more so.

    This is only one area in which the Mac experience could be made a whale of a lot better. I’m sure other readers can dream up some more.

  2. degrees_of_truth says:

    Cloud storage is something that has been tacked on and should be made a fundamental part of the OS.

    Consider the examples of photos or other personal data thought deleted but hackable because of an unknown cloud copy, or conversely a cloud backup that no longer exists because of events outside user control. The difficulties of understanding whether a file edit or deletion will be affect only a local copy or other cloud copies and which ones. Conflation of syncing and backup.

    There needs to be a file management framework that tracks the location of every copy of a file. An API to allow third party apps like Dropbox to cooperate. Graphical displays throughout the UI that let the use see where files exist, starting with the File Save dialog. The assumption should be that a file will have multiple copies; the UI should consider having only a single copy as a warning condition.

    MacOS should be made cloud-aware.

    • Apple could, I suppose, set up a large capacity cloud-based backup system for Time Machine. It would be their answer to CrashPlan and other third party systems. And another way to build on services.


    • dfs says:

      I don’t quite see what you mean, degrees_of_truth. Whenever you store something on the Cloud, your Mac stores a local copy in User>Library>Mobile Documents. Or, put differently, whatever you put in User>Library>Mobile Documents gets added to iCloud. I suppose there’s a technical question which is the master copy, but this is pretty theoretical because whatever gets changed in one automatically gets changed in the other (. And of course whatever is in User>Library>Mobile Documents can be included in Time Machine backups. And, if you are a true paranoid (which I am myself when it comes to my most critical files), you can create a symbolic link between User>Library>Mobile Documents and a second Cloud service such as Dropbox. Sorta like wearing suspenders and a belt at the same time. And if course if you have multiple Macs or a combo of a Mac and one or more mobile devices, any alteration on a Cloud-stored file made on one of these will be reflected immediatly on all the others. Maybe I’m missing the point of your posting, but it seems to me that Apple has us pretty well covered.

      • gene says:

        You can currently buy 1TB of storage space in iCloud for $9.99 a month. But what if you could buy more, storage specifically allocated towards Time Machine backups and restores? It would be similar to third-party online backup systems in that regard, such as iDrive and CrashPlan.

        So in addition to backups on your local drive, you could backup in Apple’s cloud-based system.

        Are we clear now?


        • danasutton says:

          I’m with you on the backup issue, Gene, I always consider yet another layer of protection a good idea. I was responding so the posting of somebody else, who seems to think Apple’s present scheme of storing data locally and remotely on iCloud is faulty and in need of an overhaul. I just don’t see that as an issue.

      • degrees_of_truth says:

        @danasutton: It’s not so much that I think Apple’s iCloud feature is faulty; it’s that it’s inadequate. It doesn’t give the user a good enough understanding of where his/her data is being stored and the consequences of changing it or deleting it in one of multiple locations.

        I know of people whose entire backup strategy is Dropbox. Then there is the recent claim of mass accidental deletion of music files, attributed to Apple Music or iTunes Match or iTunes itself. The concept of cloud storage is complicated but portrayed as simple: “it just works”. Except when it doesn’t, and it may be that the mechanism works as designed but does something different from what the user expects.

        I have only an outline of a beginning of a solution in mind. The File Save dialog should present a graphical display that shows all locations where the file resides or will reside. A similar display should be available from a Get Info dialog. File versioning should be included. It should ideally allow for cooperating non-Apple services like Dropbox or CrashPlan to be displayed. Also local backup devices. Also IOS devices. With a graphical convention distinguishing currently offline devices/services. I could see this supplementing or (preferably) replacing the Time Machine UI.

        The personal data storage environment is very different from what it was a decade or more ago, but the OS X/iOS way of handling it is basically the same as when the Mac was invented.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    Apple could also do a lot to improve workflows. My workflows often involve several applications that I want running together. When I update a web page I want Photos, Pixelmator and Sandvox running. When I do 3D modeling I want Cheetah3D and Blacksmith Paint-3D running. When I do research I want Excel, Firefox and Pages running. When I do my taxes I’ll want Excel, Quicken, Macintax and Firefox running.

    Right now, I have to start up each application, move windows around and set everything up as needed. Applications tend to remember window positions, but not always, and it is possible to specify a space for an application, but that isn’t always the right one. It would be nice to set things up as a workflow and save it. Then, when I want to work on a certain project I can pull up everything I need quickly, even Finder folders and specific web pages.

    There’s probably a lot that can be done to make this easier.

    I think the voice recognition market is going to fragment. Will Google make it easy to buy something on Amazon? Will Amazon let you navigate Apple’s iTunes or iTMS? Will Apple let you specify that you want your route in Google Maps? A lot of speech is about market capture. I suppose someone could create an application or gizmo that waits for you to say “Cortana, do this”, “Siri, do that”, “Alexa, buy this” and so on, but I’ll bet the various voice companies are going to fight that.

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