The iOS-ification of OS X

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.


  • Daniel

    I wish Gatekeeper could make its way into iOS, that would be really great. Apple is criticized for being a very closed company, and the lack of alternative app sources in iOS is more than a half bad, even if it has its own advantages.

    I use half of my apps full screen, and I found out it is indeed a great way to focus. Full screen mode gets out with many UI elements you don’t need to see, focusing on functionality and content. Safari, Reeder, Evernote, Terminal, MacVim, and the list goes on. For full screen apps to work best, one has to configure cmd-tab window switching properly, instead of just changing the app by the title bar (likemI did in the past), when there are no windows of that app in the workspace. I used workspaces with the activity metaphor, so I had, for example, many Safari windows in many workspaces, so it was hard and multi-step to switch to a specific window in some workspace, even if that method seemed to be more organized. OS X, like iOS, is an app-driven operating system by nature. So it works best the way it was really designed, even if it offers the user other options. Now I use only one window per app, and my life is simpler and slightly more productive. That was some of the IOSification that made its way into my workflow.

    I really like Lion and all the features brought from iOS, and try to make the best use of the them, well… except maybe Launchpad, which I ocasionally use. I spent some time organizing it, but one has to be very patient to acomplish this kind of work. Maybe I will use it more in mountain lion, as it is implementing a search box. Why use launchpad for launching apps instead of spotlight? The gesture feels comfortable to me, it is specifically made for launching apps and I love OS X gestures. It just needs to be more useful and easier to organize.

    • http://www.pobox.com/~meta/ mathew

      I asked for something like Gatekeeper in iOS years ago via Apple’s feedback mechanism. I predict that as long as people are lined up to go to jail and give Apple a 30% cut, iOS won’t be opened.

      And that’s why I still think it’s the logical next step for OS X. Once all the big developers have started signing their code with a key known to Apple so that it will run without the user needing to select that third option in Gatekeeper–which they inevitably will–Apple can take away the third option and charge you $99 a year to develop and run your code on “your” Mac, just like they do on the iPad.

      Why wouldn’t they do that?

  • Obsidian71

    People should be talking about the OS X’ification of iOS as well. Things like OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch started on a Mac first and then came downstream.

    The converse had technologies like AV Foundation starting on iOS and moving to the Mac.

    Both maintain a symbotic relationship yet OS X will always have user accounts, a filesystem, and a windowed environment. iOS will be full screen apps with no user accounts or filesystem.

    There is enough differential between the two architecturally but at the application and document layer they need to be unified because my documents and data really need to be portable and that’s what Mountain Lion does better than Lion is keep my data traveling across devices.

  • http://www.lasse-e.dk Lasse

    I think this is a bad idea for the professional user, since we know how the Mac works, we like the way the Mac works, getting more and more like iOS is a bad thing, imo.
    On the other hand, if you look at Apples income, the Mac is only a small income, and all their money comes from iPhone & iPad. With that being said, most Mac users now, are mostly pros, but Apple is pushing all their customers into their eco-system, which means, they have to make OSX look like iOS, so they can catch all the new users, who are not professional users. I do believe they should make a second solution, so you would have 2 OS X, 1 for everyday users, and 1 for professionals, but that strides against the whole Apple mindset.. Im not a fan of Lion, i still run Snow Leopard.. I have friends who upgraded, and downgraded again. I’m kinda lookin’ forward to what Windows 8, has to offer, even though my Apple mind tells me otherwise.

    • Daniel

      Like the author of the article said, iOS features don’t hurt. Sure there are some minor annoyances in Lion, but besides that, the new features don’t affect your workflow – you can choose to use them or not. Except for Mission Control, if you don’t like it you can’t enable spaces or expose back. Features like full screen apps give the user more choices… why would that be bad? I always missed in OS X a full screen terminal, and my dream has just come true. Now the system natively supports full screen apps, and they’re just as useful to the pro user. What is really a joke to the pro user is Launchpad. Hope it gets better in Mountain Lion.

      Mission Control is great because it integrates with trackpad gestures in a very natural way. The “swipe feeling” is great. And there are useful hidden features, like double tab in the trackpad to get back to the previous space. Fast desktop switching works very well with ctrl + number pad, or with a complete/mechanical swipe gesture. With spaces you had to use a hot screen corner, a key combo or something like that. It just didn’t feel as much integrated with the system as Mission Control. We lost the good old grid, and some of the flexibility to move windows between workspaces with Mission Control (maybe that’s my only complaint about it). But we gained power in different ways. I didn’t like expose, specially when I had many windows opened. Many of that tiny thumbnails were indistinguishable. For me, once I got used to it, the combination of expose and spaces is killer.

      Well, when you get used to something it’s harder to adapt to changes, or to perceive how they can be useful or better. But Lion is not that bad, really.

      • Thomas Wolf

        I don’t mind change – as long as it’s for the better. That’s why I welcomed the new mail app and don’t mind the full-screen capability (although I never use it). But I absolutely detest “Mission Control”. I had a workflow that works very well for me: I have 4 separate spaces in which I do different things and I easily navigate between them using keystrokes. Occasionally I will need to drag a window from one space to another to be able to compare stuff (e.g. I might have to drag a window from my “browsing” space to my “IDE” space in order to see an applet’s behavior inside my IDE). Before Lion this was easy: just bring up spaces (or whatever it was called) and drag the little window representation from one to the other space. In Lion this is impossible. Worse yet, if the original window was on a secondary monitor, in Lion, you first have to move it to the primary monitor in the second space – which is already more difficult than before – and THEN you can move it from there to the secondary monitor.

        Just horrible.

        Apple really screwed up with Mission Control – I hope they fix it up a bit in Mountain Lion.

      • Daniel

        Multiple monitors in Lion do not work well. Dragging windows between spaces got worse too. You have to option-click the space which you wanna drag a window from, and then drag it to the destination space. No rearranging windows in Mission Control mode. Hope they fix it… option + drag should be able to do that.

  • j

    I work with audio files, and I need to be able to scroll by milliseconds in sound files that last for 15-30 minutes. Finally I tried that on Lion, without scrollbar arrows. It was even worse that I had imagined.

    I can probably live with monochrome and poor graphical cues for edit status (hey, I remember DOS, right), but it would also be nice to be able to decide on my own when to save (especially with destructive editing), and when to quit an application.

    I’ve used Macs (and only Macs) since 1993, I’ve been in love with them since System 7, and there are many that have switched to Mac because of me. I won’t be guilty of any switches in the future. I love my iPad, but I also need a computer.

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