OS X Lion: Features, Thoughts and Analysis

The announcement of a new operating system is no small deal, so today has proven to be an exciting time for Mac enthusiasts everywhere. OS X Lion seems set to be a huge step forward for the Mac operating system, and there are some significant changes to be expected.

A few of the top highlights include a Mac App Store, Launchpad, full-screen apps, and “Mission Control”, but read on for the full lowdown on what to expect from Apple’s next big cat.

Mac App Store

The Mac App Store app has a very simple interface, reminiscent of the same experience on the iPad. There’s a simple one-click download button that grabs the application, automatically installs it, and places the icon in your Dock.

A really slick process, and one which will delight most mainstream Mac users. In addition, licensing is handled by the Mac App Store itself. Purchase an app, and it’ll be automatically licensed for use on all your personal Macs.

The Mac App Store isn’t just an OS X Lion feature, though, and you don’t need to wait until next Summer to try it out. Developers are being invited to submit their software to the store in early November, and it’s going to be available on Snow Leopard within the next 90 days.

The Mac App Store

The Mac App Store

Apple cited their iPhone and iPad App Stores as the “best place to discover and download apps”. They have certainly been very well received by iOS users, and definitely make the process of buying, installing and upgrading your software very straight-forward.

Are they the best place to find new apps? That’s debatable. It’s easy to find popular, high-revenue apps on the App Store, but it can be a real challenge to discover those small-budget indie apps that can be equally delightful.

Regardless, many developers are likely to embrace this new medium through which to sell their software. Unlike on the iOS App Store, there’s no requirement to sell exclusively through Apple (not yet, anyway!), which means that they’ll receive many of the benefits of the App Store without the negative aspects.


If you’ve ever wished for an “Home Screen” on your Mac, akin to that present on your iPhone or iPad, you’re in luck. Launchpad shows a translucent overlay across the whole screen, listing the different applications installed on your Mac.

Launchpad in action

Launchpad in action

You can drag and re-arrange them in exactly the same way as on iOS, create folders, and manage multiple screens. In short, it’s a good way to launch new applications without requiring an over-cluttered Dock. It’s also the perfect use of multi-touch; I imagine that flicking through these screens is a visual and interactive experience.

But is it really necessary? For me, no. The fact is that I don’t use 100 apps every day. I barely even use 10! All the software I actually open every day fits comfortably in my Dock, and anything else is just a few keystrokes away courtesy of Alfred. Launchpad will be great for some users, but I don’t foresee myself using it a great deal.

Full-Screen Apps

If you’ve ever been a little frustrated at the half-assed functionality of the green button on each Mac window, you’ll be pleased to know that it now has a useful function. Clicking it will transform the app you’re currently using into a “Full-Screen App”.

Generally, it seems that this has more of an impact than simply enlarging the window you’re currently viewing. The notion of a full-screen app becomes a core feature of the OS. They’re handled separately from a regular app window, you can swipe quickly between them, and they essentially take on their own state.

A Full-Screen App

A Full-Screen App

Swiping left on your trackpad or mouse will take you to Dashboard, part of OS X that seems to essentially have become a full-screen app itself. Rather than an overlay, Dashboard is an ever-present full screen app that remains easy to access at any time.

I’m actually quite excited about this idea. Although there’s a time and a place for software to run in full-screen mode, I’m glad that developers will need to give this more thought when designing their apps.

I often do want to be immersed completely in any given application, with the distraction of other open software completely removed. This functionality will do just that – hopefully with the added bonus of an interface that has been carefully crafted and optimized by the developer for full-screen use.

Mission Control

Mission Control seems to be a fantastic effort on Apple’s part to trim down the number of window management features that are present in OS X. It presents one unified view of everything that’s running on your Mac. This will include:

  • Expose – all your currently open windows, sorted by app
  • Spaces
  • Dashboard
  • Full-Screen Apps – these are treated differently to regular “windowed” apps, as I mentioned before
Mission Control

Mission Control

The part of me that strives for minimalism really likes this approach. One gesture immediately shows you everything, and lets you hone in on what you’re looking for quickly. It strips out the complexity of requiring a myriad of different shortcuts, and really helps to keep things simple.


This was hinted at by Steve during the keynote, but he didn’t elaborate any further on the concept (and nor does the Apple website). It’s clearly going to be present in OS X Lion, though, and it’s another feature that I think will be very well received.

Many people have noted in recent years that the notion of being required to manually save a document is incredibly archaic. We haven’t ever needed to do this on the iPhone, so why should we need to on a Mac?

I suppose the dilemma comes when you consider where a document should be saved at the outset. Auto-saving after you’ve already hit “Save As” is easy, but where is it stored up until that point?

This isn’t an issue on the iPad as there’s no file system (that we can see, at least). It’ll be interesting to see how Apple approaches this problem in OS X Lion.

Multi-Touch Gestures

Apple made a point of discussing how touch surfaces aren’t made to be horizontal, and that multi-touch on a laptop screen simply doesn’t work (hence multi-touch being built into MacBook trackpads, the Magic Mouse, and the Magic Trackpad).

It was said that Multi-Touch is going to play a greater role in OS X Lion, but in what way, we weren’t explicitly told. Swiping between different pages in Launchpad looks great, as does a system-wide gesture for Mission Control.

But what else does Apple have up it’s sleeve?

Pricing and Release Date

If you were hoping to get your hands on OS X Lion today, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. The actual OS release is slated for sometime in Summer 2011, and even developers haven’t yet been given a preview copy to try out.

Snow Leopard was an unusually budget-friendly release, on account of the fact that it was mainly a “tune and tweak” OS upgrade, rather than a feature-packed affair. OS X Lion falls back under the umbrella of a major release, and is likely to be priced as such. Nothing has been announced yet, but I’d expect it to be around $99-$129.

Thrilled or Underwhelmed?

So what do you think of today’s announcement? Has Apple managed to shock and awe you into blind anticipation of their latest OS upgrade, or did you expect something more impressive?

Personally, I’m disappointed that we didn’t hear anything about better “cloud functionality”, or syncing with the internet and iOS. This is really proving to be a long time coming, and I sincerely hope that it’s one of the features that Apple held back to announce nearer the release of the OS.

Have your say in the comments, and let me know whether you’ll be thinking of upgrading next year!