Mountain Lion was released less than two weeks ago, and we’re still finding new features and nice touches Apple put in their latest OS. While you may have read every review, including an excellent one written by Alex Arena here on Mac.AppStorm, there’s still lots to discover in the newest built-in apps.
Notes, Reminders, Messages, and Game Center are Apple’s latest attempt to bring popular built-in iOS apps to OS X Mountain Lion. These apps include connectivity with iCloud as well as some extra features unique to the Mac versions. If you already have other apps you love for taking notes and keeping up with your todos, you may have just ignored these new apps, but there’s plenty included to make them great apps to keep around. Join me as we begin our tour of the latest apps included in OS X Mountain Lion!
Notes will be our first stop on the tour of new built in apps. Notes for iOS can be likened to a basic 4-door sedan with cloth seats, while Notes for Mac is a slightly upgraded version with a GPS navigation system and leather seats. The point being, Notes is still a relatively basic app with little features, improved with a sprinkling of extra customization options.
Perhaps the biggest feature of Notes iCloud sync. Make a note on you iOS device in Notes and it with magically appear on you Mac or vice versa, and it works incredibly quickly thanks to Apple’s massive North Carolina data center. Sync with iCloud is invisible and works dutifully in the background. Best of all, if you’ve already used Notes on an iOS device, your notes will start streaming in from the cloud as soon as you’ve installed Mountain Lion.
Notes has retained the famous yellow legal notepad motif along with the ripped page at the top. Notes can also go full screen as many apps in the new OS can. Once you go into full screen, Notes mysteriously looks just like it does on the iPad. You also have two view options, which are included. These options allow you to see and choose which account’s notes you would like to view.
Notes still includes the “Noteworthy” font that comes standard on the iOS variety; it does however have two other font option for you to use. Along with those lovely fonts Apple was kind enough to throw in, you can choose from the bevy of fonts available to the system by pressing CMD+t. Notes can also pull notes from your various email accounts. In System Preferences under Mail, Contacts, & Calendars, you can choose to display your notes in your available accounts, you could alternately just use your iCloud notes.
While Notes is not the standout application that everyone will be gushing over, it does its job. The integration with iCloud allows Notes to be very useful, especially if you live within the Apple universe. All in all, Notes is essentially the same as in iOS with a few upgrades.
All aboard! Reminders is the second stop on our tour of Mountain Lion’s new built in apps. Reminders is an essential tool in my arsenal and many others. Reminders in its simplest form is a basic checklist app, you put items on the list and check them off once completed. In my opinion, it is a little more than that.
Reminders closely resembles its iOS counterpart. It has a notepaper texture applied to the text background area and a dark black leather user interface. Like all of these apps that started life on iOS, the design has changed very little. We now have buttons at the bottom that pulls up a calendar, hide the search and list area, and create a new list.
Reminders are associated with your iCloud account and other available accounts. You can select which accounts you would like to sync Reminders with in System Preference under Mail, Contacts & Calendars. You cannot sync Reminders and Calendars separately, including when using an iCloud account. This could run you into problems when you would like to sync Reminders and do not want all of the calendars synced into your Calendar app. I found the problem of syncing Calendars to get Reminders a little annoying. So, I just sync Reminders through iCloud to keep confusion to a minimum.
Reminders also includes additional information for your reminders that you can modify. You can set Reminders to remind you on a certain day or even at a certain location. You can also set the priority of a reminder and add a little note, if you so choose.
While Reminders is simple and modest, it is very useful and has the all important iCloud sync capability along with the ability to sync with other services. The interface is nice enough and Reminders gets the job done. It’s a great addition to OS X, and perhaps the best option for people wanting a basic to-do list app without all the bells and whistles of more advanced apps like OmniFocus.
Messages is iChat’s successor in OS X, and it is absolutely better than what it replaced. Although it is better, Messages and iChat are essentially the same, Messages just adds a new interface and the option to message other Macs and iOS devices with the proper OS version. Messages cannot send text messages to any phone number. It connects to iPhones and other devices via the Apple ID, rather than a phone number. Messages, like many of the new apps, comes directly from iOS.
Messages can use a bevy of Internet chat and audio/video services that you may already use. Messages can connect with AIM, Google Talk, Jabber, and Yahoo! Messages also connects to other iOS and Mac users via your Apple ID. Adding services and signing into them via the app is as simple and easy as it has ever been. If you like to add your accounts from System Preferences, you can do so under the Mail, Contacts, and Calendars tab.
Messages has a two pane work interface. On the left you have your conversations and on the right, you have your chat session represented by the familiar Apple style alternating color bubbles. If you want to initiate a video chat, you can do so via the video button at the top of the screen. At the bottom left, you have your familiar status options to change as you please. You can also drop in files up to 100 megabytes to share with others right into the chat window, which is a great way to share without pesky links!
Apple also includes options for you to change the look of the familiar speech bubbles and other parts of the interface. You can alter the background color, change the sender’s font color, and change the sender’s background color. Under “Alerts” in preferences, you can set different audible cues when an event takes place. Finally, you can choose the microphone and camera input that the video and audio chat uses.
Messages is the old iChat turned up a few notches with the same core features. Messages allows a good amount of customization and integration with iCloud. It also integrates well with third party chatting services as well. Messages is a worthwhile addition although it would be nice to see it allow some kind of text messaging so that I can message people who may not have an iPhone running iOS 5 or newer.
Game Center is perhaps the biggest and most important of all of the new built in apps. It ushers in an easy way to play against other players around the world. The Mac has not really been known for its game prowess and Windows based rigs have dominated the scene for a long time. However, Game Center might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and release the floodgates of Mac gamers.
Games you play in Game Center must be downloaded from the Mac App Store and since your Apple ID is connected, all of your stats from any of your iOS devices sharing the ID are also ported over. Games that you or others may be playing on your iOS devices must be available on the Mac to take advantage of Game Center.
If you have already purchased the mobile version of the games and would like to just re-download them on your Mac, you are out of luck. Along with needing to have a specific Mac version of your game, you will need to buy it again, if it is a paid game. If you are playing a game that happens to exist on both the Mac and iOS, then you can find friends and play against opponents through the Game Center app. Game Center also houses your rewards from both iOS and the Mac so that you can bask in them as often as you like!
Overall Game Center is a great addition to the Mac. It has its limitation, the main one being selection of available titles, but is still incredibly fun. Now you may not be doing any intensive gaming with Game Center titles, but for casual gamers, Game Center does the trick! I think its safe to say the Game Center puts Apple in the position of being huge force in the computer gaming industry, especially when you think of the millions of iOS and Mac users who potentially could use Game Center.
Apple has really raised the bar with Mountain Lion OS X 10.8 not only with features, but also with its great selection of new built in apps. Notes has extra functionality built in and still retains the ease and simplicity that many users loved in the iOS version. Reminders while almost unchanged from the mobile version, adds the ability to sync with other accounts and is integrated with Notification Center. Messages takes the old iChat and pumps up the usability and the integration with iCloud. Finally, Game Center has a few shortcomings, mainly from lack of selection, but still adds the ability to game with others on the Mac and iOS platforms with almost no setup. These four new built in apps have further distanced the OS X platform from other competing operating systems by offering great functionality with award wining Apple simplicity.