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  • The OS X Report: Do We Need New Features?

    June 8th, 2016

    As you might expect, the tech pundits are now working overtime trying to guess what the next operating system for Macs will contain. Notice that I’m avoiding discussion in this column on whether it’ll be branded macOS, or Mac OS, or remain as OS X. I really don’t care all that much what it’s going to be called. I’ve mentioned it on the radio show, but only in passing.

    So what can we expect from the big event June 13, when Tim Cook and his lieutenants reveal all to a waiting public during the WWDC keynote? Whether any of it means anything also depends on your priorities.

    First among equals in expected tentpole features is Siri. I can see, from a marketing viewpoint, why it’s there. Microsoft added its virtual assistant, Cortana, to Windows 10 last year, so Apple may seem to be behind the curve not to have a similar feature for your Mac.

    The details don’t matter so much unless you care about talking to your Mac. I don’t. Don’t forget that you can already perform dictate functions on a Mac, and that’s a feature that has existed for a while. I suspect some people will play with the Mac version of Siri for a while and give it up, and a smaller number might agonize over every feature and every failure if things go wrong. Or I might just be totally off the mark on this, but that depends on the degree to which it’s touted by Apple, and what advantages it’ll offer over the competition. Will, for example, VocalIQ technology acquired by Apple last year fuel a Siri on steroids?

    In any case, you should expect that the core apps for OS X will be upgraded, and that includes Calendar, Maps, Mail, Messages and Safari.

    For now, I’m perfectly happy with Safari. I settled on it as my preferred browser years ago. I keep Chrome and Firefox around for compatibility, plus whatever Microsoft is pushing in the Windows 10 environment that runs with Parallels Desktop. I need to know that my sites are all working properly or at least reasonably well regardless of which browser or computer you’re using.

    Mail is a very mixed bag. It is simple, fast, and does most things well. But the El Capitan version was notorious for stalling for a 30-second timeout from time to time. I’ll let you know if the 10.11.6 betas helps; the second beta shipped this week to both Mac developers and public beta testers.

    Other than that timeout issue, Mail can be aggravating because it is stupid at performing some basic functions. Take setting up an email account. If you use a standard free email system, such as Gmail, iCloud or Outlook, the setup process is fairly seamless. Microsoft Exchange support is also pretty good. But when it comes to adding a standard private IMAP email account, Mail is brain dead.

    I’ll single out the email accounts I’ve used on my web server and a third-party provider, Polaris Mail. The DNS settings for my domains include features known as “autodiscover” and “autoconfig” that allow an email client — well a smart one — to automatically select the incoming and outgoing servers and, usually, map the local folders with the server’s folders for Drafts, Junk and Sent. Except for Mail, which does none of this. Mail for iOS is equally brain dead, meaning I have to engage in wasted manual labor whenever I configure an account of this sort.

    What about the competition? Well, Microsoft Outlook for Mac is somewhere in the middle. It continues to create bogus folders for the standard three. So instead of mapping the local folder to Sent on the server, it creates a folder called Sent Items and the Mac versions of the app doesn’t let you change it. At least not for me.

    Are you with me so far?

    Thunderbird, however, seems to guess the “autodiscover” and “autoconfig” settings and it gets all the IMAP folders correct. Maybe Apple’s developers should talk to the Mozilla people about this. Why Mail hasn’t been fixed is anyone’s guess. I’d rather have a solid, workmanlike feature of this sort then being able to annotate messages in Mail, which doesn’t even seem to work anymore.

    To put things in perspective, Mail dates back to the NeXT days.

    When it comes to instant messaging, I use three apps on my Mac, because of the lack of interoperability among various systems. So there’s Messages, which also manages such extras as the original AOL/AIM system, plus Jabber, Google and SMS messaging courtesy of my iPhone.

    It used to handle Facebook messages until the powers-that-be at that company decided to discard Jabber support. So I use something called Messenger for Facebook, which is not actually published by Facebook. The third is WhatsApp, largely because a few of my contacts, including my son, Grayson, use it. But since Facebook owns WhatsApp, why not integrate both systems in a single app? Is that a branding or marketing issue?

    Ideally, I’d like all these messaging systems to work in a single app. It’s about efficiency, which is what Messages used to be until things changed for the worse. Whether Apple can manage this is anyone’s guess. I suppose it depends on the company’s relationship with Facebook and the latter’s intentions. Clearly the customer comes last.

    Then there’s the potential for Touch ID support. Future Macs might have a fingerprint sensor, but what’ll probably happen is that there will be a Bluetooth link with an iPhone so equipped, and it will be able to wake up your Mac. One hopes Apple will keep it simple.



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    3 Responses to “The OS X Report: Do We Need New Features?”

    1. KiraK says:

      Personally, I think Apple should pull out an old copy of the HIG and rework macOS from ground up. It’s forgotten a good many of the user interface concepts that made the Mac such a joy to use. I pine for the days when I could fire up a major update on the operating system or in-house apps and use them without referencing a manual. The new Apple is simply Sculley Apple 2.0. Apple can do better. So much of the change today seems to stem from a desire to do something different rather than producing a clear benefit. The “Save As” flap is a perfect example. It’s not that the latest versions of macOS are particularly bad or its features are no longer discoverable, but it’s definitely more complex to use and requires an occasional Google search just to do a basic operation. The devil is in the details. And that is what is being lost; the refinement that only laser-like attention can solve. And iOS, don’t even get me started.

    2. DaveD says:

      The things I want in an OS are stability, responsiveness, and ease of use. Because it is all about getting things done with the OS not in the way. Apple when decided to reboot an app, it should be just as good or better than the replaced one at the time of release and not a work-in-progress. Introducing new working features and good quality assurance should be the goals.

    3. dfs says:

      Of course improving quality ought to be Priority One. But there’s something else Apple could be doing: conduct a survey of the best and most popular third-party utilities available and consider incorporating them directly into the OSX package, by designing equivalents, by buyouts, or some combination of the two (Apple has already done exercises like this in the past, for inst. by adding Mission Control). My own top candidates would include (in no particular order) Keyboard Maestro, Default Folder X, Phone Amego, Overflow, Hyperdock, Shades, Smart Scroll, Fantastical, some simple but effective multiple clipboard app, and App Trap, all of which either add some important new feature to the Mac experience or significantly improve and expand on what Apple has to offer. You of course probably have your own similar list, but the principle remains the same.

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