Some Thoughts Before the Leap
Update 7/19/11 4:30 pm: Apple has officially announced Lion’s release for tomorrow.
As those of you who, not unlike myself, are eagerly awaiting the launch of the next major release of Mac OS X (10.7 Lion) know we are at the verge of some major changes in how we view and use our desktop computers (this term technically includes notebook computers as well). If rumors that I hardly care to trust turn out correct, not even 24 hours from now that new version of OS X, and not version 10.6 Snow Leopard, will be the current operating system for all modern Macs. Even if not, we’re likely within two weeks of its release at this point. Before we experience this leap in what desktop computers are I wanted to spend some time talking about some thoughts on all this that have been swirling around in my mind the past few weeks. Since these thoughts could have been tweets of mine this post may seem a little unorganized, but I hope you enjoy this these thoughts anyway.
One of Apple’s core tagllines for Lion has been one that embodies most of what the new release is all about: “The power of OS X; The magic of iPad” (or something very similar to that). Of all the main new features that Lion brings many of them come from iOS. Expanded multi-touch gestures closely resemble the iPad (as do the new scrollbars and scroll style); Full-screen apps will make our Macs feel a lot like the iPad, to the extent that apps like Address Book, iCal, and Mail will even look almost identical to their iOS counterparts; The Mac App Store has already made getting apps onto our Macs in Snow Leopard much simpler, but under Lion it will further gain iOS features like push notifications and the lawsuit-friendly in-app purchasing; Launchpad will resemble the iOS home screen, as a developer I like to toy with the idea that Launchpad actually shares code with Springboard (the app that runs the home screens on iOS); Resume will give our Macs the ability to quit apps (and even restart completely) without losing time getting things back to how they were before, much like how iOS manages apps, in fact the notion of quitting apps will fade away in Lion.
There are a lot more I could list but for now I won’t. Moving OS X in the direction of iOS may be a good thing, but for now it feels a little like it may make our Macs too simple, there may be more permanent defaults and less settings than we expect based on what OS X has been thus far. At WWDC when Steve Jobs demoted Macs to the status of devices in presenting iCloud we got a hint of this, but now we’re actually on the verge of it being reality. In my life Macs and iOS devices both have their distinct roles, roles that I think could be merged into one, but not without entire daily workflows changing at the cost of my productivity for a few days.
Since Lion takes so much from iOS (and only iOS 5 will see if it gave anything back in return) I’ve been realizing that as an iPad owner I may have an easier time getting used to the look and feel of Lion than the measurable portion of Mac users who haven’t ever owned an iPad. If that turns out to indeed be the case this may prove Lion to be a problematic upgrade for those users. Is Apple’s decision to morph this decade-old OS into something that resembles one less than half its age a good move? I think so, but that doesn’t mean that in a few weeks we’ll see it as one overall. Apple is trying to simplify the Mac OS, but they may have done the opposite when it comes to those unfamiliar with iOS. We’ll just have to see…
Technology is man-made, it isn’t organic material. So why, might I ask, are the first and fifth results in a Google search for “Lion” about OS X? I understand that as Google is a silicon valley company that makes some distorted sense, but it still strikes me that simple codenames for technology have managed to put themselves in front of the original, dictionary-definition, topic that word refers to. The popularity of these secondary uses for these words can explain this, but it is still a little odd (even as an avid Mac user) that man-made creations are metaphorically taking over what nature provides us.
The other thing that Lion will bring is a larger focus on the cloud. Through various free and paid services we are increasingly storing more of our content in the cloud, accessible all the time yet safely stored off-site. In the lifetime of iOS the upcoming iOS 5 release is the first to coincide with a major OS X release and a new set of free cloud services from Apple. iCloud will bring Lion increased reliance on the cloud, everything from document and photo storage to the ability to track where our Macs are. The need for large amounts of local storage, and even local backups, are going to start disappearing as we store our key files in the cloud for our own convenience. As an owner of an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro I see the situations where these cloud services will vastly simplify my life.
Possibly starting as early as tomorrow morning we will be in the midst of a transition of how we view and use our digital lives. When the lion roars we will leap full-force into our main devices, our Macs, transforming into something new, something that is more advanced then they are now yet with the ease-of-use that our iOS devices have gotten us used to. These thoughts are just the cream on top of the thoughts that I’ve had regarding how much more will be changing for us Apple device users, so not just Mac users, over the next few months. Feel free to discuss the thoughts I invoked here both before and after each individual leap Apple will throw us into soon.