Last Thursday, Apple caught us all a bit off guard with the announcement of OS X Mountain Lion, the next major version of OS X. Now that I’ve had a few days to sit down and take a look at it, I can confidently say that this is no small upgrade. Mountain Lion is a huge leap forward in the unification of iOS and OS X (Apple has officially dropped “Mac” from the name), bringing over many much-loved features including iMessages, Notification Center, AirPlay Mirror, and a whole host of new applications.
Follow along as we dive in and take a look at all of the great new features, updates and tweaks of your next operating system.
One of the most important new features in OS X Mountain Lion is Notification Center, which unifies notifications throughout the entire OS. If you’ve ever used an iOS 5 device, you should feel right at home using Notification Center. Right now only a few Apple created apps support the notifications, but from what I’ve seen, it does everything you’d expect.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Notification Center is the ability to have notifications pushed to you even when apps are not running. Make no mistake: this is a killer feature. Usually I have Twitter, Mail, and a Facebook Notifications app running at all times, but with Mountain Lion those can all be replaced by push notifications.
If you’d still like to use Growl notifications in Mountain Lion, check out Hiss, it integrates the user experience of Notification Center with the ubiquity of Growl Notifications.
Not only is this a huge benefit to your system’s performance, but it also goes a long way towards simplifying your OS X experience. Clicking the “dart” icon in the righthand corner of the menubar launches you into the Notification Center, which shares more than a passing resemblance to it’s iOS brethren, but Apple also went one step further by introducing a new finger gesture, a two finger swipe from the right of the touchpad.
This is the first OS X gesture to take advantage of where your fingers are on the touchpad, and it’s pretty intuitive. All things considered, Notification Center should make the switch to Mountain Lion worthwhile for almost any user, from beginners to professionals.
Notes has been a familiar face in the Apple world since the original iPhone, but for whatever reason Mountain Lion is the first time its been included on the Mac. Notes is essentially identical to what you’re used to on an iPhone or iPad, it has the same aesthetic, and the same basic feature-set.
In my opinion, this is a really nice stealth addition to OS X, it syncs seamlessly with all your other iCloud devices and I actually wrote a good part of this article within the app. Notes is also really lightweight, as a dedicated user of WunderKit (which takes almost 15 seconds to load), it’s nice to have an app just open an up in a split-second and get your thoughts written-out. It doesn’t do much, but thanks to the iCloud integration, I can see Notes becoming an integral part of my daily workflow.
Messages is the most obvious addition to OS X Mountain Lion, finally allowing you to send and receive iMessages from your Mac. Sadly, right now it’s a just mess of good ideas that are poorly executed.
First off, Messages is really just a new skin on top of iChat, with some iMessage goodness mixed in. Right now, that’s not quite a winning combination. iMessages often failed to reach both my Mac and/or iOS Device, and when they did get delivered, the experience was too buggy to be useful.
In addition, FaceTime is still a separate app, which can be activated from within Messages. This really makes no sense, but that seems to be a reoccurring theme in this particular app. Messages is not doomed to fail, in fact, it has the potential to be an essential part of OS X, but in order for this to happen, Apple needs to clean up the interface and focus more on utility instead of aesthetics.
Apple is really pushing their online gaming platform, Game Center, and there seems to be no exception in Mountain Lion. Once again, if you are familiar with the iOS version of the service, the OS X version shouldn’t be too surprising.
Since Game Center is only currently available among developers, I couldn’t really try it out, but if it works as advertised you’ll be able to play against friends and strangers in a platform-agnostic experience.
In plain english; if you have a game on your Mac and your friend has it on iOS, you’ll be able to compete head-to-head. This might present some gameplay issues, but thats really up to developers to fix. It’s nice that Apple has included the ability to use Game Center, and it’s certainly a good sign for the future of gaming on OS X.
Twitter and Share Sheets
In OS X Mountain Lion, Apple has included their version of OS-wide sharing, aptly named “Share Sheets”. It works nearly anywhere with Twitter and Messages, and for photos and videos it supports Flickr and Vimeo, respectively.
You’ll probably notice that Facebook and Youtube are missing, among others. Apple is very picky about what services they’ll allow on their platform so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is intentional, but hopefully it’s just an oversight that will be eliminated when the OS is released.
While certainly not groundbreaking, Share Sheets should be a pleasant addition to your OS X experience, despite the fact that Apple seems to have been rather picky about which services to allow.
If you’ve ever used a PC with Intel’s Wireless Display technology, you probably understand how much Mac users are missing out on. Luckily, Apple’s own variation on the same idea of wirelessly extending your computer’s display onto your TV works just as well, if not better.
You’ll need an Apple TV to use AirPlay Mirroring, but at only $99 it’s not a hard purchase to justify. The ability to beam your music and video content to the TV wirelessly is just another amazing addition to Mountain Lion. Of course, since I was using a developer preview, the connection dropped occasionally, but Apple usually has these minor kinks worked out before the OS hits market, so I’m not worried. So if you’ve been holding out on an Apple TV, OS X Mountain Lion might just be enough reason to take the plunge.
Reminders is another app taken almost verbatim from iOS, and for most people, that’s a good thing. Functionally, it’s almost the same as the iOS app, allowing you to set reminders for yourself -and that’s it. You’ll lose the geo-fencing capability, but that’s probably just because your Mac doesn’t have GPS anyway, so we won’t shed to many tears over that lost feature.
In addition, you can export your reminders as Calendar events, which should be nice if you plan to take your task management full circle. Unfortunately, since Reminders is directly taken from iOS, it also includes a less-than-stellar interface which, in my opinion, looks a little childish. While some people may like it, i wish Apple would stick with classic UI elements instead of attempting to clone the physical world.
Security Settings (Gatekeeper)
Gatekeeper is perhaps the most controversial addition to OS X, as it locks down your Mac from potential security threats by preventing non-Apple approved apps from being installed. While this setting can be changed in System Preferences, it is symbolic of the shift towards an App-Store-centric universe.
If are a developer looking to make sure your app isn’t rejected by Gatekeeper, you’ll have to get a security certificate as part of the Mac Developer Program.
If you’re reading this article, you probably know a little about Macs, so Gatekeeper is probably more of an inconvenience than a feature, but from grandma’s point-of-view, it’s a lifesaver. Honestly, it’s not unrealistic to imagine that OS X 10.9 will do away with non-Apple approved apps altogether, but until that day comes, Gatekeeper is just one more setting for the true Mac geek to change when they set up their computers.
If there is one thing I can say definitively about Apple’s strategy for the coming years, it’s that iCloud is really important. It’s everywhere now and Mountain Lion really pushes that concept.
For the first time, iCloud is beginning to dig deep into system level operations and that’s led to a far more robust user experience. When you first install the OS you are asked to set up iCloud and from that point on it is integrated into nearly every possible part of the experience; from syncing your notes to playing your music.
Although I found it to be considerably more useful than iCloud in Lion, there are still some glaring omissions. For example, “Documents in the Cloud,” isn’t really much better than it was in Lion. One notable addition is the ability to save files to iCloud directly from the “Save” dialog in some apps, but oddly enough though there’s no way browse those files you’ve uploaded. This particular feature might just need to be updated from within iWork, but I hope Apple addresses it before the OS is released; documents could use a little TLC. Otherwise iCloud in Mountain Lion is just plain useful; it works almost without fail in the background, and most users won’t even know it’s there.
Mountain Lion is really a huge update to OS X, and there are dozens of little tweaks you’ll likely notice. Below are the ones that stood out the most.
- Safari – The URL bar and search bar have been combined, Chrome style.
- Dashboard – For whatever reason, Apple hasn’t integrate the Dashboard into Notification Center, but they still seem interested in updating it. In Mountain Lion the interface to add and manage widgets is now similar to that of Launchpad, and the remove widgets feature has been updated for the 21st century. It looks like Apple still has a place in its heart for good ol’ Dashboard.
- Launchpad – You can now search in Launchpad. Why you’d want to do this instead of using Spotlight is really beyond me, but it’s there if you want it.
- Chinese Services – Since China is Apple’s fastest growing market, it makes sense that in OS X Mountain Lion they are integrating some popular Chinese services. Baidu now works in Safari and services like 126 and 163 are also included. I obviously didn’t test any of these, but they seem to really be Chinese extensions of Share Sheets.
- Software Update – Software Update is dead. In its place, Apple is managing system updates through the App Store. This is a pretty common sense move, and it works pretty well. It’s also a little zippier than what you’d expect from the old dedicated update app, so I’d imagine it will be a welcome change for most users.
- Mission Control – Hovering over fullscreen apps or spaces now shows you a zoom effect similar to the one in the dock. It’s not much, but at least it looks pretty.
Mountain Lion is a really impressive update to OS X. The sheer number of new apps and features is almost unbelievable for what Apple considers an incremental update. I’m excited, but I’m also more than a bit worried. Is this the end of OS X as we know it?
While I love many of the new features, the similarities to iOS are pretty outstanding. So one has to wonder, is Apple determined to unify their operating systems, at the expense of their power users? Sadly, that seems to be the way things are headed. Hopefully, though, that’s in a distant future; for now we can enjoy the massive improvements Mountain Lion brings to the operating system formally known as “Mac” OS X. Come this summer, Mountain Lion will be a must have update.