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OS 10.12: Is it All About Siri?

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.