Mountain Lion Does iOS-ification Right

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

If there was any doubt about the direction Apple intends to go with OS X, it has been erased. If OS X Lion (10.7) felt like a cloudy harbinger of what might be coming down the road, OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) clearly reveals what’s waiting at the end — and takes us most of the way there.

The iOS-ification of Mac OS X

iOS-ification rules

Apple’s plan is to make OS X look and run more and more like iOS.

While I have previously fretted about the potential negative implications of this iOS-ification, I found myself breathing a welcome sigh of relief after playing with the developer preview version of Mountain Lion these past few days.

My hesitations aside, some sort of convergence of the two OS versions is certainly desirable. As long as we continue to use both Macs and iOS devices, the goal should be to maximize the positive transfer between the two platforms. The question has always been how best to accomplish this. It wasn’t clear that moving iOS features to the Mac was the best direction to go. Indeed, some of Apple’s initial moves in this direction didn’t work especially well.

Regardless, with Mountain Lion, Apple has gone full-steam ahead with the iOS-ification of OS X. And it does work. Apple has done iOS-ification right!

Apple has not begun a conversion of OS X to iOS (which would be a mistake in my view). Rather, Mountain Lion maintains its OS X heritage while smoothing out the rough edges between the two OS versions. Mountain Lion eliminates inconsistencies and annoyances that too often gave a clumsy feel to interactions between Macs and iOS devices. It integrates the best of iOS into OS X, giving both platforms a similar interface. Here are two notable examples:

Notes. Prior to Mountain Lion, to view Notes documents created on your iPhone, you needed to launch Mail on your Mac and navigate to the Notes section. This was a requirement even if you were using some other email client and would otherwise never launch Mail. You could also go in the other direction, creating a note in Mail and having it sync back to your iPhone. I’m guessing very few users ever bothered to do this; most users probably aren’t even aware this is possible. If this already sounds counter-intuitive, it gets worse (as I detailed in a prior column).

Mountain Lion chucks all of that. Instead, OS X 10.8 includes a Notes app that looks and feels exactly like Notes on an iPhone. Learn once, know it everywhere! Assuming you are syncing your notes via iCloud (which I highly recommend!), and assuming you are logged into iCloud on your Mac, your iPhone’s notes will automatically appear in the Mac version of Notes the first time you launch it. No configuration needed. Sweet. As I said, iOS-ification done right. At last.

Notes

Mountain Lion’s Notes app
(Click the image for a larger version) 

Reminders and Calendar. Prior to Mountain Lion, you created To-Do items in iCal. To access these items on your iPhone however, you did not use the Calendar app. Rather, you launched Reminders (which itself was introduced in iOS 5; prior to that it was almost impossible to access to-do items at all).

Mountain Lion dispenses with this jumble of inconsistency. There is now a Mac version of Reminders that meshes perfectly with the Reminders app on iOS devices. To further emphasize the cross-platform match-ups, iCal on the Mac has been renamed Calendar. There is also now a Notifications Center in Mountain Lion, where you can see your calendar appointments and to-dos items with just a click, mimicking the swipe-down action for Notifications in iOS. Very nice.

Reminders

Mountain Lion’s Reminders

Documents in the Cloud

My current choice for favorite new feature in Mountain Lion is Documents in the Cloud. It is not exactly an example of iOS-ification. Rather, it is more an expansion of iCloud. Still, a welcome by-product of this option is the promise of vastly improve file-sharing between Macs and iOS devices (something, as I have written about before, that is much in need of improving).

Essentially, this feature allows you to open and save documents directly to/from iCloud via a new section of standard Open/Save dialogs. It appears limited to apps updated to work with the feature (which are very few apps for now). Eventually, I expect it will work with almost every apps. 

Saving Documents in the Cloud

Saving to Documents in the Cloud

Although I have not seen Apple confirm this, I expect that, for apps that have matching Mac and iOS versions, a document saved to iCloud from a Mac will be accessible to the iOS version of the app — and vice versa. You can already see the beginnings of this in Lion with apps such as Day One. Mountain Lion takes this iCloud-sharing to the next step, providing a built-in way for all apps to accomplish this task. Hopefully, this will be the death knell for the annoying iTunes-based file sharing method. More generally, when this transition is complete, we should see the near total end to local saving of documents.

How does iCloud document sharing work? Essentially, it uses the Mobile Documents folder that already exists in Lion (as I have covered elsewhere). This does raise a concern: The Mobile Documents folder is in the Library folder, a folder that is normally invisible in the Finder. Will you be able to search for and locate your iCloud-saved documents in the Finder, without having to make the Library folder visible? Happily, yes. Documents stored in Mobile Documents show up in Spotlight searches as well as in the All My Files view.

On the other hand, this method limits your ability to combine documents from different applications into a single folder — or otherwise use folders to organize files. For example, I am currently saving all sorts of files related to Mountain Lion in a folder of the same name. There is no way I could accomplish this via iCloud. With iCloud, each document type must reside in the folder for its creating app in Mobile Documents. We may see some added flexibility here in the next iteration of OS X. But I am not expecting much. Apple’s goal is to free OS X from depending on a Finder-like hierarchy of folders, making it function more like how iOS works. As such, I believe it has no interest in making iCloud work more like the Finder.

One final question mark: The current versions of Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) do not support Mountain Lion’s Documents in the Cloud Open/Save feature. Presumably, updated versions of iWork apps will add this support. However, it is not clear how this will work with syncing of iWork documents between Macs and iOS devices. The iOS and Mac versions of iWork apps currently use different file formats for documents. Apple’s current work-around is to have users copy Mac versions of iWork documents to the iCloud website in a browser — and do the reverse for downloading iOS documents to the Mac. Going through the website accomplishes the necessary file conversions (especially critical for downloading back to a Mac). Not only is this a pain, it means that there is no true syncing of iWork documents between Macs and iOS devices; just copying. Will Mountain Lion’s Open/Save approach incorporate this iWork file converting so that the web-based approach is no longer needed? Or will Apple go one better and find a way to unify the differing file formats so that the conversion is no longer needed and true syncing can occur? The latter would certainly be preferred. We’ll have to wait and see.

Despite such concerns, my conclusion is clear: When you add up all the pros and cons of file sharing in Mountain Lion, the total comes out on the positive side of the ledger. Apple is finally on the road to solving the problems with iOS-Mac file sharing that have bedeviled the company since the iPhone was released. The other point that becomes clear is that iCloud is almost essential in Mountain Lion. It will be a rare Mountain Lion user that will not be enrolled in iCloud.

Gatekeeper 

There’s one more feature in Mountain Lion that I want to cover today: Gatekeeper. Apple’s press release states:

Gatekeeper is a revolutionary new security feature that gives you control over which apps can be downloaded and installed on your Mac. You can choose to install apps from any source, just as you do on a Mac today, or you can use the safer default setting to install apps from the Mac App Store, along with apps from developers that have a unique Developer ID from Apple. For maximum security, you can set Gatekeeper to only allow apps from the Mac App Store to be downloaded and installed.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper settings in Mountain Lion, as seen in the lower half of the Security pane

Essentially, you set your level of protection in the Security System Preferences pane. You can override the general setting for a particular app via a contextual menu option. Overall, this approach appears to be a satisfactory compromise. It allays fears that Apple is intent on completely blocking apps from outside the Mac App Store from running in OS X. At the same time, it improves the app security that Apple offers to end users.

A few points remain murky:

• There appears to be no requirements or any review process for getting a Developer ID and signing apps. In other words, Apple is in no way assuring that an app is safe just because it is signed. A signed app that is approved for download simply means two things: the app has not been altered by someone other than the developer and the app has not yet been flagged as malware. Assuming my assumptions are accurate, it is not a giant leap from what already exists in Lion. Still, it’s a move in the right direction.

• It appears that you will be able to download and run apps that are not signed, even if you select the setting to only allow signed apps. The setting means only that you will get a warning; it’s not a blockade. Similarly, if you have previously downloaded and run an app that Apple later identifies as malware, revoking its certificate, this will not prevent you from continuing to run the app. You won’t even get a warning about the change in status. The security setting will only affect new attempts to download the app. Again, this is how I am interpreting what Apple has posted thus far; I may be wrong.

What does this all mean about the future of apps sold outside the Mac App Store? Aside from the good news that Apple is not outright blocking such apps, the future does not look very bright. Gatekeeper will encourage more and more users to restrict themselves to App Store apps, making it harder for developers to sell outside apps. Non-App Store apps will also not be able to access all of Mountain Lion’s features; one notable example is the Documents in the Cloud feature described above. This will make outside apps even less attractive to endusers. Over time, even without any enforced blockade, outside apps are on course to become second-class citizens and ignored by all but a small minority of users.

While there are obvious security advantages to Gatekeeper (as well as to sandboxing, a related controversial Mac App Store feature already supported in OS X Lion), this is not a trend I entirely welcome. There are great Mac programs that will never make it into the App Store for one reason or another. It will be a sad day if such apps all but disappear from the landscape over the next few years.

Bottom Line

After the release of OS X Lion, I became concerned about the negative implications of iOS-ification for the Mac. I still have some of these concerns. For example, Launchpad (an attempt to bring iOS’s Home screen concept to the Mac) is a failure in my view. I never use it. Still, there is room for Apple to improve even this app, by giving users more control over what and how apps appear in Launchpad. Perhaps Launchpad will be a welcome addition some day.

That was then. With the forthcoming Mountain Lion, Apple has done a much better job of transitioning iOS features to the Mac. As a result, I am now much more optimistic about the future direction of OS X than I was a few months ago.

Going forward, Apple plans to come out with yearly updates to both OS X and iOS. This is another piece of good news, as it will allow the two OS versions to keep pace with each other as new features are introduced. Apple clearly intends to maintain, perhaps even accelerate, the rate of evolution of its two OS versions. For starters, get ready for Mountain Lion. It’s coming soon to a Mac near you.

Comments

Gene King

Mountain Lion = OS X 10.8 and if OS X is indeed updated annually, will OS X 11.0 arrive in 2014?
And will there still be Macs in 2014?

geoduck

I brought this up in John M’s article today. He said that Apple has told him that they have no problem with 2 digit versions. 10.8, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, 10.12, etc.

mrmwebmax

+

David Pogue brings up a good concern with ongoing versions of OS X: Version numbers aside, how many more big-cat names are left? A cat lover myself, I have to wonder what comes after Mountain Lion: Ocelot? Lynx? Serval? Of course, if they went with names of smaller cats—think Abyssinian through York Chocolate Cat—they’d be safe through about OS X 10.42, or thereabouts….

iVoid

Mountain Lion = OS X 10.8 and if OS X is indeed updated annually, will OS X 11.0 arrive in 2014?
And will there still be Macs in 2014?

I kind of doubt we’ll see 11.0 anytime soon.

With them shifting to “OS X”, I can see there being a 10.10 (maybe calling it “OS XX” then.  smile ) and then 10.11, 10.12

My main concern is Apple’s continued removing of features for the sake of making Mac OS X easier to use. I’ve always called Mac OS X a powerful OS that’s easy to use. Lately, Apple has been taking a lot of the power away from us and I can’t say I like that or that it really makes it easier to use. “OS X, a powerful OS, when we let you use that power”

I might have been excited about Mountain Lion if they fixed Mission control (i.e. put if back to what Leopard/SL had for Spaces and Expose and all windows, which WORKED PERFECTLY AS IT WAS). Hopefully they will do that, but I’d have preferred to know they were going to fix it now and not hope they come to their senses.

geoduck

Ocelot? Lynx? Serval?

Pole?
and if it wasn’t 64 bit clean then we could call it a Dirty Polecat

iJack

Lately, Apple has been taking a lot of the power away from us and I can?t say I like that or that it really makes it easier to use.

And how exactly have they been doing that?
I can do everything now that I have ever done in OS X, and in previous OSes for that matter.  I run sophisticated CAD, edit video, retouch photographs, create and maintain complex spreadsheets and publish.

Tell me what you are missing now, that you had before.

wab95

Ted:

Just a couple of thoughts.

While I have been quietly amused by your clever moniker, ‘iOS-ification’, I think it risks conceptual misapprehension - at least as I interpret your articles on the same. I do not believe, nor have I interpreted your comments to imply, that Apple are trying to ‘make OS X more like iOS’, (your comment,

Apple has not begun a conversion of OS X to iOS (which would be a mistake in my view). Rather, Mountain Lion maintains its OS X heritage while smoothing out the rough edges between the two OS versions.

attests to this), but rather harmonise the user experience across both platforms.

The distinction is not a simple semantic one, but an important conceptual and strategic distinction with implications for the growth and adoption of Apple’s co-existing platforms, and how both are increasingly integrated, in both the personal consumer and enterprise spaces, with iCloud - Apple’s silent secret weapon.

As the majority of Apple clients are iOS users, it simply makes sense, strategically, to port features and services that these clients are not simply familiar with, but rely upon for their productivity, to the OS X platform. It makes the latter far more relevant and appealing to these users, and may lower the threshold, if not accelerate their adoption of, the Mac. To conceptually conflate the importation of these features with making OS X more like iOS, even when adding other features such as Gatekeeper and Mac app registration, hiding the System folder and reducing customisation options to the analysis, is to be woefully off-target and miss the point of the direction Apple are taking.

This is the second point, Apple’s lofty ambitions as indicated by these moves. Specifically, Apple are heading to the cloud as the anchor of their ecosystem, if you will permit that mixed metaphor. Through their iOS devices, Apple have a pretty good idea of what features and services people are using and how they are using them. Like you, I am not surprised but pleased by which of these they are porting to OS X. Increasingly, people are going to start a task (production or consumption) on their portable iOS device, and complete it on their Mac, particularly as those iOS devices become more capable - which they are about to in a big way this year.

Given this level of potential productivity, if you are a busy professional or even an avid personal user, to own a Mac as your ‘PC’ to complement your iOS devices makes sense. Add to that the upcoming form factor changes to Apple’s computer line, and the whole package is simply compelling. The cloud, to paraphrase Picard, just ‘makes it so’.

You will no doubt continue to use the term ‘iOS-ification’. I only hope that it does not lend to misunderstanding and confusion in the larger community. It should not, if people take time to read your posts. Thus, I am confident that it will not at TMO.

Werner

Question is: when can we expect the release of mountain lion for the normall public?

Jaap

@Werner:
Apparently summer this year.

Current version is the first Developer Preview, with a pretty large list of bugs that need to be ironed out before putting this Mountain Lion in the wild!

vpndev

Ted - I seen signing of apps as close to a giant step than you do.

It’s true that it does not confirm that the developer is “good”. But it does confirm that no-one has tampered with it since it was built. For me, that is a very big step up in confidence.

Lee Dronick

As the majority of Apple clients are iOS users

Good point.

As a user of both OSX and iOS there are features in each that I like and wish that I had in the other.

Anyway, a few of us here are old enough to remember the OSXification of OS9. We will adapt, we will adjust, to new operating systems.

Pashtun Wally

In the Daring Fireball piece, Gruber says the point of Gatekeeper & app-signing is to enable Apple to deal directly with purveyors of malware.

Seems like an *excellent* middle course to me.

iJack

Gruber says the point of Gatekeeper & app-signing is to enable Apple to deal directly with purveyors of malware.

Well, only purveyors of malware on the App Store.

Neil Anderson

GateKeeper works with all developers that have a unique Developer ID from Apple ... not just ones that are on the Mac App Store.

mrmwebmax

+

Regarding Gatekeeper: I think Apple is doing a very nice balancing act here. Mac sales keep breaking records, and no doubt iOS devices are a big part of that: People use an iPhone and/or iPad, and decide to make their next computer an Apple product, too. (I’m seeing this in droves where I work, as I’m the acknowledged Apple expert and the one who gets all the questions from new Mac users.)

So if you graduate from iOS to OS X, why do you do so? For a “just works” experience, no crashes and malware…in short, for everything you get via iOS. Gatekeeper keeps that pristine experience for non-power-users coming in from iOS (and wanting the same experience on a full PC), while also enabling us power users to use our Macs and install software as we always have.

Kudos to Apple. The Mac isn’t becoming less of a tool anytime soon, but at the same time, its becoming even more user-friendly for new users to the platform. I look forward to upgrading to Mountain Lion (still on Snow Leopard), although much will depend on Creative Suite compatibility.

iVoid

And how exactly have they been doing that?
I can do everything now that I have ever done in OS X, and in previous OSes for that matter.  I run sophisticated CAD, edit video, retouch photographs, create and maintain complex spreadsheets and publish.

Tell me what you are missing now, that you had before.

Really? You haven’t seen all the power and features Apple has been progressively taking away? They’re being clever and doing it in slow and small ways to avoid a complete backlash, but they are obviously doing it intentionally to lock down Mac OS X (sorry OS X) to iOS levels of control.

iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Quicktime X, Mission Control, Airport Admin
All have been ‘upgraded’ with versions that stripped a lot of functionality out of the previous versions. Sure some you can continue to use the old version, until something breaks with a OS upgrade or 10.x.x update.

3rd party software makers that have to decide about not taking features out of their applications or selling in the Mac App Store.
For example: 1Password has had to remove features (you’re restricted on where your password file is stored and you can’t directly install the browser plug ins from the app. Even if you buy it outside the app styore.

And don’t say “Then don’t upgrade to Lion/Mountain Lion.” Don’t really have a choice since Apple won’t let you run Snow Leopard on many of the new Macs.
BTW, I am running Lion, but every time I have to use Mission Control I curse Apple and their removing the powerful features from the OS (the old Spaces/Expose functionality).

They don’t HAVE to remove all the powerful features to attract the iOS hordes, they can keep both the features that make Mac OS X the best operating system out there and still add on iOS interface elements. The fact that they are dumping old features that work great for many people is disturbing to me.

iJack

You simply listed apps, nothing about the OS features being removed that has hampered you.

FCP is still around and was recently updated.  I still use it and Quicktime Pro. I never used Spaces, but Mission Control works exactly the same as Expose, at least for me.

They’ve added some iOS-looking stuff, but for the life of me, I can’t see how (you think) they’ve hobbled OS X to make room for these new tools.

I think you just feel like bitchin’, so I won’t be offended if you decline to reply.

iVoid

>You simply listed apps, nothing about the OS features being removed that has hampered you.

Sorry, I didn’t feel like writing a 10 page examination of all the changes Apple has made.

Mission Control is a OS feature. And the loss of the spaces/expose functionality HAS hampered my productivity. If you’re okay with it, fine, but don’t assume because you’re okay with it that everyone is and anyone who disagrees with you must be bitchn’.

>FCP is still around and was recently updated.

And is still missing features many professional video editors need and want that Apple removed.

>I think you just feel like bitchin?, so I won?t be offended if you decline to reply.

And you apparently like bitchin’ about people who disagree with your views. Does it make you feel superior to dismiss people like that?

Jamie

Anyway, a few of us here are old enough to remember the OSXification of OS9. We will adapt, we will adjust, to new operating systems.

Some of us are old enough to remember the OS 9-ification of System 7. wink

I’ve had my misgivings about Lion and what it brought, but it’s light years ahead of those days. smile I’ve found Lion to be pretty solid now that I’ve ‘fixed’ it with things like Lion Tweaks, I’m pleased Apple has taken our feedback seriously/assuaged our concern with Mountain Lion.

Lee Dronick

Some of us are old enough to remember the OS 9-ification of System 7

Remember when apps were touted as being System 7 Savvy, we have come a long way since those days.

mrmwebmax

+

Remember when apps were touted as being System 7 Savvy, we have come a long way since those days.

I only ever wrote one true Mac application. I wrote it using Think C, with full use of the Mac toolbox, UI, you name it. It was one of the hardest things I’d done in my life. I wrote it on System 6, and no sooner did I finish it when System 7 came out. It never worked on System 7, and I wasn’t about to rewrite it!

Kenny Mann

Still wish Apple would slow down on “advances” and linger on more compatability in all directions. Question of immediate self-interest over goodly unintended consequences—“all boats rise” kind of thing.

DrScott

One problematic aspect of using iCloud for every document is the synchronization process.  I like to l keep copies of some emails on both of my Macs. At present, if I delete a me.com domain email on my iPad, it no longer appears in the Inbox of my iMac or MacBook. Likewise, if I delete it on either Mac, it’s no longer on the other Mac. 

I have to forward the email to an address other than the me.com domain in order to either retain a copy on both of my Macs or to move the email to a folder for better organization. The only alternative is to not delete the email on my iPad (or either MacBook if it arrives on one of them first). This leads to bloated Inboxes and poor email organization on each device.

If other documents are also synced this way, can the same problem arise?

Lee Dronick

DrScott, no mater the email service used, be it IMAP or POP, I highly recommend saving important emails to disk.

DrScott

I back up the contents of my email using MailSteward. This gives me a database of my emails that I can search easily. I’d rather not save individual emails to disk because I’d have to be extremely careful to tag all of them if I’m going to search them easily.

Ted Landau

For a more “political” discussion of these issues, check out my recent Slanted View column rebutting postings on The Loop website.

DrScott

If OS X is in fact becoming more iOS-like, this could be beneficial to developers.  In the creation of Cocoa Touch, Apple was able to clean out some of the cruft in Cocoa.  Perhaps moving more towards a common code base is an opportunity to streamline Cocoa for the Mac as well.  Carbon is being deprecated; some Cocoa classes or methods also could be deprecated for future versions of OS X so long as the runtime is not changed.

Tom Rose

I switched to Macs for home use over 10 years ago, when OS X appeared and seemed to be just what I had always wanted in an OS. Snow Leopard is the (for me) the nicest, most easily managed, most powerful OS I have ever used (and I have been a professional software developer for 35 years).  Lion takes away several of the things that make it so good, and gives me a lot of crap that I neither want nor need.

I have done my research, and I have the knowledge and skill to reset all the configurable items how I like them, to disable all the new features that I don’t want, to re-implement Spaces in Applescript, and to get Snow Leopard to run in a VM under Lion, despite the attempts of VMWare and Parallels to prevent it.

But I can see the direction. A future version of OS X might be further dumbed down and locked down, only able to run apps from the Apple store, removal of powerful optiuons for “upgraded” applications, mandatory use of iCloud, even more standard applications removed (following Samba, X-Windows, etc.)

Apart from the objective losses, I especially hate Apple’s “Take it or leave it attitude”.

Don’t tell me to “Get over it” I am already over it.  WHen my current hardware dies I’ll move to Open Source on Free BSD.  I now wish I had done this a decade ago.

For the last 10 years I have recommended the iMac with OS X to disgruntled WIndows users, and anyone else that would listen.  I will not be recommending it again.  My faith in Apple is destroyed.

I doubt that apple cares. I would like to see the company crash as punishment for taking this direction, but the reality is that Apple will probably sell a lot more Macs and make a lot more money, at lest short-term, and maybe indefinitely. For every old Mac OS X that feels as I do there’ll be a dozen newbies, coming to the Mac from the iPad or iPhone that will think Lion is the best thing since sliced bread.

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