The iOS-ification of OS X

Posted by | March 02, 2012 | Apps | No Comments

I do not intend here to rehash any of the digital ink already put out there on Mountain Lion. Our own James Cull did an excellent job rounding up what we know about Mountain Lion. And Scott Danielson has had an in-depth look at Messages for Mac. I want to address instead something that might be nagging at all of us Mac users just a bit.

With Mountain Lion, Apple has stepped up the game of brining the two ecosystems of Mac and iOS closer together. The trend started (arguably perhaps) with Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event in which iLife was touted to have taken cues from iOS design, FaceTime was brought to the Mac, the Mac App store was announced, the MacBook Air was introduced, and oh yeah, Lion was announced with many features reminiscent of iOS.

Lion brought with it many iOS like advancements; enhancements to Multi-Touch Gestures, Full Screen apps, Launchpad, Resume/Auto Save/Versions, an iPad like Mail interface, iCal and Address Book highly styled like the iOS counterparts, auto termination of applications again borrowed from iOS, reversed scrolling to better match up with touch screen devices, and many more things that all spell out one thing; OS X is borrowing heavily from the design of iOS.

Perhaps it’s only fitting since OS X spawned the existence of iOS in the first place. They share much base code in common. In fact, Steve Jobs very much emphasized in the iPhone introduction keynote of 2007 that the iPhone OS (as it was then called) was really OS X. But what’s actually going on here? Should we fear for the future of OS X?

Looking Toward the Future

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I love iOS. You will be hard pressed to ever find me without my iPhone. iOS is here to stay, it’s a permanent part of our lives and that’s a good thing. But I, and I suspect many (yea most) of you, love OS X just as much.

Perhaps like me you fell in love with OS X long before iOS was even a glimmer in the eyes of Scott Forstall. That’s why we’re all here, we have a passion for OS X and great OS X apps. My life is built on top of OS X. The films I edit, the writing I do, the websites I design, the music library I organize and play, my movie and TV library, my calendar, contacts, notes — everything. My life is completely centered around OS X. But there’s a lot of fear for the future of this venerable operating system. Will it be phased out in favor of iOS? Is Mountain Lion just another step in that direction? Will Mountain Lion be the last major revision of OS X? So many questions.

I don’t pretend to know what Apple’s plans are for the future, but I think the announcement of Mountain Lion, and the obvious thought that has gone into the way Apple wanted to get the word out are sure signs that OS X still has a big part to play for Apple, and for us. Do I have concerns? Of course I do, but I am also very excited about what the future of the Macintosh landscape looks like.

Gatekeeper — The Right Decision

I want to start with this because it affects the apps we love so much at Mac.Appstorm. There has been much speculation about the direction Apple was headed with the App Store and whether all third party apps for the Mac would need to go through this channel to get to the end user. And I can’t say the fear is unfounded since we’ve become accustomed to installing whatever apps we desire on OS X. And I’m not saying it couldn’t eventually happen. But I think, at least at this point that Apple realizes this is a practical impossibility.

The cat was let out of the bag before anyone had dreamed up digital app distribution. The Macintosh was built with the idea of installing third party apps through whatever means the end user chooses. Reeling that one back in (to mix my metaphors) would be a very difficult task indeed, and one we would all balk at.

Instead, Apple took what I believe is a very wise and logical step. Apple has implemented Gatekeeper. Any third party app can still be installed, but not by default. Instead, if the settings are not changed, apps can only be installed from the Mac App Store or from developers with Apple’s stamp of approval.

Security settings

image courtesy of Apple.com

The reason I believe this is the right decision is because we haven’t actually lost anything — we can always revert to the way it was before where we can run any application we choose, but by default we get quite a bit of protection from the ever increasing threat of malware. This is also pretty much the implementation that Will Shipley argued for, and that I agreed with, which I think means that Apple has their ear to the ground and is listening on this one.

Painting in Broad Strokes

So what about that future? I think we need look no further than the way Apple got the word out about Mountain Lion, and OS X’s new development schedule.

Apple basically called up several key players in the Macintosh community and invited them out to see what was going on with OS X.

I think John Gruber nailed it with this:

My gut feeling though, is this. Apple didn’t want to hold an event to announce Mountain Lion because those press events are precious. They just used one for the iBooks/education thing, and they’re almost certainly on the cusp of holding a major one for the iPad. They don’t want to wait to release the Mountain Lion preview because they want to give Mac developers months of time to adopt new APIs and to help Apple shake out bugs. So: an announcement without an event. But they don’t want Mountain Lion to go unheralded. They are keenly aware that many observers suspect or at least worry that the Mac is on the wane, relegated to the sideline in favor of the new and sensationally popular iPad.

Thus, these private briefings. Not merely to explain what Mountain Lion is — that could just as easily be done with a website or PDF feature guide — but to convey that the Mac and OS X remain both important and the subject of the company’s attention. The move to a roughly annual release cycle, to me, suggests that Apple is attempting to prove itself a walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time company. – John Gruber

Also consider, how are iOS apps developed? The answer is of course, on a Mac. OS X is therefore very important to Apple’s entire ecosystem. Steve Jobs’ sentiment that the Mac would become more of a work truck is, I think, spot on to Apple’s perspective. The Mac is no less important, but it’s importance has shifted.

What About That iOS-ification Thing?

Let’s consider, is this a bad thing? Right now I’m calling it a mixed bag. Personally, I never use Launchpad. It’s ill-conceived for use on the Macintosh. And after the initial newness, I no longer use apps in Full Screen. It defeats the purpose of OS X’s style of multi-tasking.

On the other hand, I love Mail in Lion. It may well be my favorite iOS inspired feature right now. And I love the Multi-Touch Gestures on my MacBook Pro’s trackpad. It’s much more natural and easy to use than Snow Leopard’s gestures. Additionally, I love what I have seen so far of Mountain Lion.

So I say, what about that iOS-ification thing? This isn’t a merger, this is a union. Two operating systems, made by one company to co-exist peacefully. I say let it happen, keep an eye out for bad decisions as Apple walks this line, and love what there is to love about it. I have not found the iOS inspired parts of Lion that I don’t like to be a problem, I simply ignore those things. And those things that I do love, well, I love. There’s nothing wrong with bringing the best parts of iOS, and the things that make the most sense, to the Mac. So let the iOS-ification of OS X carry on.