The Natural Evolution of OS X

Lion has been out for nearly a month now, and like many of you, I upgraded immediately on release day. There has been much discussion and consternation over some of the new UI/UX conventions introduced in 10.7, which have borrowed heavily from its iOS counterpart. There are many places all over the OS — some subtle and others more obvious — whereby it can be plainly seen the new direction Apple is taking with OS X.

Last November, at the “Back to the Mac” event, we were given an early glimpse at what was in store for us with the future of OS X. Learning quite a lot from their foray into touch computing, the OS X team was bringing some of the best UI/UX conventions from iOS back to OS X. And so here we are, playing with that OS, however, I’ve been thinking about where the next release of OS X is going to take us. This article isn’t intended to be purely speculative, and so I’d like to openly discuss some of the things I have observed over the past 3 weeks.

I think it’s plainly obvious to many that the iOS’ification of OS X has just begun. 10.7 seems to be just barely scratching the surface of what Apple has in store, and I imagine they have much larger plans in mind for 10.8.

App switching

The quickest and perhaps most commonly used method for switching between running apps is the keyboard shortcut, command + tab. This method simply presents the user with a visual cue of what apps you can switch to, by displaying the apps icon in a horizontal strip. This UI has been ever present in past versions of OS X, and is actually not entirely different than what you get in other operating systems like Windows or Linux. In 107. If you were to compare how this UI looked to say Snow Leopard or even Leopard, you wouldn’t find a difference.

Contemplating the nature of command + tab app switching UI got me thinking about how Apple wants people switching between running apps. With 10.7, we now have Mission Control, which is a replacement and major improvement over Exposé, yet we also have Launchpad as a brand new piece of UI.

De-emphasising the file system

With Launchpad, it appears that Apple is trying to collectively resolve several issues:

  • Having an easy to access place to go to if you want to to view installed apps.
  • Quick way to launch installed apps.
  • Quick way to uninstall apps easily.

Overall, I think Launchpad does a great job of resolving these usability issues that obviously were a problem in the past for the typical non-tech savvy user. I’m sure Apple has left command + tab in simply because it’s too early to remove it, but I can see 10.8 at the very least having this disabled by default. It’s clear the new way method Apple wants you to use for switching apps is gestures to switch spaces, or by simply opening Launchpad. So what’s to come of command + tab in the future? I can only say that I can see it being relegated to a hidden preference, and it being switched off by default. Love it or hate it as a power user, it’s probably here to stay for the foreseeable future. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this is really only the beginning of further simplification of the OS as Apple iterates on the design. Let’s just look at the de-emphasis on the file system itself as a good example of this.

If you’re a power user, you’re probably very comfortable and use to navigating through the folder structure of a file system. In fact, you’ve probably spent a ton of time in ~/Library. Since 10.7 has removed the ability to see ~/Library by default (you can get it back by entering “chflags nohidden ~/Library” in Terminal), the message Apple is giving us is that it wants the vast majority of people to to not even have to think about the file system.

What’s next?

So far we’ve seen:

  • A major de-emphasis on the file system
  • A new way of launching apps
  • A new way of switching between running apps

These three items seem to be the catalyst for what will eventually evolve into a more iOS-like operating system. This isn’t to say that Apple is simply planning on capacitive touch Macs in the near future, however it shows that they have a lot of work to do to make the desktop computing experience simpler — perhaps bringing it on the same playing field as iOS. I’m confident that both Apple and everyone else realizes that desktop computing has it’s advantages. I don’t believe what we’re seeing here is merely the first attempt at Apple ditching OS X entirely, however, I do believe this is a huge transitional period into something really new and exciting for desktop computing.