Mac OS X Lion: What Apple Has Got In Store?

With Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) coming up on June 6th, forums and message boards across the internet are filling up with speculation about what is going to be announced. Apple are inviting us to “join us for a preview of the future of iOS and Mac OS X” and it’s set to be the most popular WWDC yet.

The event was sold out within 12 hours, faster than any other WWDC and tickets for the event were reportedly being sold on sites such as eBay and Craigslist for as high as $4,599, nearly triple the face value of $1,599. This popularity can only mean two things: Apple is planning to release a major new version of Mac OS X and, possibly, a new version of iOS, the sister version of OS X designed for the popular iPhone and iPad.

The new version of Mac OS X, Lion, is set to be a major overhaul of Apple’s default operating system and was announced in October 2010 in a keynote entitled, quite fittingly, “Back to the Mac”.

The last major rework of Mac OS X was seen back in 2007 with the release of Leopard (Snow Leopard, released in August 2009, simply optimized certain areas of the OS), so the OS was in need of some modernization to keep it competitive. Three previews of the new operating system have already been released to developers via private previews and some new features have already been noticed however, in true Apple-style, they will surely save the best bits for the official announcement.

Let’s take a look at what we can expect from Steve Jobs’s keynote on the latest version of Mac OS X.

Launchpad

As promised, Apple wanted to take some features from its popular line of tablet computers, the iPad, and integrate them into Mac OS X. Launchpad does just this. Instead of launching apps from the Finder, your apps appear in a grid (much like iOS) from which you launch them there.

Launchpad

The Launchpad in the developer's preview of Mac OS X Lion.

Launchpad feels more like a bit of eye candy than anything practical and anyone using application launchers such as Alfred may not be amazed by this new feature, however it will be a nice change to simply launching your apps from the Finder or from Stacks.

Mission Control

Think of Mission Control as a mixture of the Dashboard and Expose with some extra bits thrown in. You can see all your apps running as well as allowing easy access to your Dashboard.

Mission Control

A view of Mission Control, showing thumbnails of all the applications running.

Mission Control was designed to bring together Dashboard, Exposé and Spaces and is easily accessible – simply move your mouse to a hot corner. I personally use Expose the most however I feel that with Mission Control, with everything in one place, I will find myself using Dashboard and Spaces much more.

AirDrop

Apple is hoping to rival DropCopy in releasing AirDrop, a service which allows you to send and receive files between Macs. According to Apple’s blurb, AirDrop will be integrated into the Finder and developers have already given positive feedback regarding the new feature, citing its practicality and endless possibilities.

AirDrop

Apple's description of AirDrop.

The only problem is that the Macs all need to be on the same WiFi network (for the time being anyway), but we may see the service expand in the future, allowing you to send documents to any Mac (as long as you know the person’s Apple ID). It’ll certainly be a welcome feature to anyone who does a lot of document sharing over their local network.

Mail 5

There’s another nod towards the iPad here with an overhaul of Apple’s default e-mail program, Mail. Your e-mails are listed in a Conversation view and the interface borrows heavily from the iPad version of Mail (the two are almost carbon copies of each other).

Mail 5

The updated version of Mail, featuring an interface heavily borrowed from the iPad

This overhaul of Mail may be Apple’s way of trying to draw people back to using OS X’s default e-mail client, given the rise in popularity of alternative mail clients such as Postbox and Sparrow. Anyone who already uses Mail as their default mail program will definitely welcome the changes.

Versions

Versions, coupled along with Lion’s new Auto Save feature, saves a version of what you are working on every hour so if anything does happen to your computer, you don’t lose all your work.

Versions

Versions on Mac OS X Lion, showing a document in Pages.

Versions has an interface similar to Time Machine however only works with applications that are specifically designed to work with Lion. This also prompts possible speculation about an iWork update, possibly to iWork ’11 (seeing as the last update was in 2009) and updates to Microsoft Office in order to enable compatibility with Versions.

Server Capabilities

Instead of releasing separate versions for servers and workstations, Apple will release one version of Lion, which contains tools designed to turn your Mac easily into a server.

Lion Server

A preview of the server capabilities of Lion.

Other features include wireless file sharing with the iPad and Wiki Server 3, which makes it easier to share and exchange information over the local network. This will certainly be a plus to business users as server management is simplified and there is no need to purchase a separate version of the OS. It may also encourage home users to delve into the world of home networking!

Bye Front Row

Front Row, Apple’s media center software, will disappear from Lion. Why is anyone’s guess. Maybe because they wanted to force users to buy Apple TV (which has similar features) or maybe due to the rise of third-party media center software. If you’re a die-hard Front Row user, consider free alternatives such as Boxee or XBMC, which both have more features.

Full Screen Apps

iLife ’11, released in October 2010, gave us all a whiff of full-screen apps and Lion promises to integrate this fully into the new release. It will also allow third-party developers to develop full screen apps for the new release.

iPhoto

The release of iLife '11 brought full-screen app capability to the Mac.

The support of full-screen apps in Lion is another nod towards to the iPad and will be a welcome addition to most users as it allows distraction-free work and takes advantage of the whole screen.

Find My Mac?

Developers who pulled apart the preview of Lion found a hidden feature in it, entitled com.apple.FindMyMac, hinting that Apple may well be planning a service which allows you to track your Mac wherever it is, handy if your Mac is stolen.

FindMyMac

9to5mac.com found a hidden feature in Lion, entitled "Find My Mac".

This service may use location services over WiFi to determine the exact location of your Mac (unlike the similar service in the iPhone, which uses the in-built GPS). There is also speculation of the possibility of remotely wiping your Mac if it does fall into the wrong hands, a service which will give peace of mind to many users.

iCloud?

Apple recently purchased the domain name icloud.com off the Swedish technology firm Xcerion AB for a cool $4.5 million, hinting that this feature may be announced at the WWDC. Rumours hovering around on the Net cite that iCloud is a complete synchronization service for all your computer, backing up your e-mails and other information to Apple servers.

iCloud

iCloud's domain name has now changed to cloudme.com

The possible introduction of iCloud along with Lion may also be the final nail in the coffin for MobileMe, Apple’s current online service, touted mainly due to the high annual subscription fee of $99. Apple stopped selling MobileMe in its stores in late February, which may hint that the service is gradually being phased out.

Pricing?

Most people are thinking that all these fancy new features will come at a cost, however the official price of Lion has not yet been announced. It is most likely that Lion will be priced somewhere around the $99 mark, however Apple may offer a discounted version to anyone upgrading from Snow Leopard, as they did with the previous Leopard to Snow Leopard upgrade.

It is important to note, however, that Lion is a major overhaul of Mac OS X, unlike Snow Leopard, therefore Apple may be slightly inclined towards charging a higher price. Anyone who has recently bought a Mac (i.e. in the last three months), may benefit from a cheaper upgrade however this has yet to be announced.

Conclusion

Of course, all these changes are probably just the tip of the iceberg and Apple surely has a few tricks up their sleeve for the upcoming keynote at the WWDC. I am certainly very excited about the announcement – I’m sure the proposed changes will add to the functionality of OS X, and reiterate its position as a stable, functional and practical operating system.

With all these new features plus a promised overhaul of Aqua, the default interface of Mac OS X, Lion is set to be a landmark release and one that people will be talking about for a long time. One thing can be certain though: when Steve Jobs gets on the stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco dressed in his trademark St Croix turtleneck in just over a week’s time, all eyes will be on him, waiting with baited breath to see what the staff at Apple HQ in Cupertino have been cooking up.


  • Connor Turnbull

    Just to note, iLife ’11 was released last October, not in January.

    • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

      Thanks – Fixed!

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/james.cull James Cull

        Apologies, and thanks David :)

  • Ahmed

    Of course I’m definitely feeling a little excited about Lion (and more so about iOS 5), but with what Microsoft showed off with their Windows 8 demo, I really hope Apple has something as slick to compete. One reason why I more or less ‘converted’ to Apple was the fact that they are the leaders in innovation, quality, reliability and slick design. Having seen the Windows 8 demo, it’s clear Microsoft is playing Apple at its own game a little and as a consumer that wants the best service and products, I will be honest and admit that if this new line taken by Microsoft as signaled by Windows 8 continues and grows into something great, a switch may well be worth considerin.

    Of course, I am probably (or definitely) just speaking way too early based on assumptions. Windows 8 could be a total flop, and even if it isn’t, I’m expecting that it can be run via bootcamp in the future so I guess we’d get the both of best worlds as usual!

    My overall observation is that Apple users have become very complacent with the obvious lead they’ve had in terms of design, innovation, etc. But with recent strong competition from Samsung (e.g. Galaxy S2 and the Tab 10.1), ASUS (and it’s Padfone innovation – albeit slightly dodgy), and Microsoft (with Windows 7 Phone Mango and Windows 8), for me at least, that complacency is beginning to be replaced with curiosity and interest at what others have to offer, and how Apple will try and remain king of the jungle.

    • David Ferguson

      I doubt Windows 8 will be a complete flop. I think after Vista bombed, Microsoft probably learned a few things. I will say though, Windows would have to undergo a complete rewrite for me to swap back. After being a Windows user from 3.11 all the way up through 7, after I swapped to OSX, I don’t want to go back. Everything feels a 1000x more stable in OSX, everything seems to run faster, it’s prettier, it’s simple/easy to use, etc. User interface and experience are big. Just my personal opinion, but Microsoft doesn’t’ have it. Also after swapping, with some of the things I do, I have found myself to be WAY more efficient at tasks on the Mac.

      • ahmed

        I guess you’re right there. It’s true that using a Mac has been one of the most efficient and stress free technology experiences ever.

  • Jeffrey

    Great write up! One thing about AirDrop though, it doesn’t seem to require both party on the same WiFi network.

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/03/10/inside_mac_os_x_10_7_lion_airdrop_local_file_sharing.html

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/james.cull James Cull

      Cheers for that. I read somewhere that it would only be over the local WiFi network, I guess we’ll just have to wait until Monday to find out for sure.

      But thanks for pointing that out :)

  • ChrisM

    Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of “save state” to apps, so they will open exactly where you left them, similar to iOS? I thought that the little “lights” were removed from the dock because you never have to really close anything anymore. This intrigues me because it seems extremely complex to pull off with large footprint apps without taking major memory/performance hits.

  • Matt

    There last OS release was priced at the $29 mark so I find it hard to believe they will price it at $100.

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