All Part of The Plan: Further iOS-ification of OS X

I woke up this morning to the pleasant surprise of Apple announcing the next version of OS X: Mountain Lion.

Last year I wrote about the iOS-ification of OS X with the release of Lion. At WWDC 2011, Apple made it clear that they wanted to bring some of the great work they had been doing on iOS to OS X. With five years of iOS development and iteration under its belt, Apple is poised to continue its focus on bringing even more of what we love about iOS into OS X.

The Mac is far from dead

Steve Jobs made that very clear in an email reply to a customer last year (pre WWDC). But like any complex piece of software with many moving parts, OS X needs to evolve over time. Sure, sometimes uncertainty can be troubling during a major period of change. Many of us who have used Macs over the years have always had some sort of gripe with whatever UI changes Apple decides to make to the OS, or even core apps themselves. Remember when pinstripes were a thing? All of a sudden it was pinstripes everywhere.

I have yet to install the developer preview of Mountain Lion, however, after having a look at the feature overview that was published this morning by Apple, I realize now just how incomplete Lion was as an OS. I don’t mean incomplete in the sense that Apple intended to ship it with more features than it did, but more in the sense that they were only scratching the surface of what they wanted to accomplish. iCloud has been a huge deal to Lion as of 10.7.2. Cloud services in general have been at the forefront of Apple’s priorities, as they wanted to clean up the mess that was MobileMe. The much larger picture for iCloud is that it’s really that invisible friend that hooks you into the iOS ecosystem, tying all of your devices together: i.e., iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch.

Let’s recap on Lion. It shipped with some great new features, and gave us a taste of what’s to come. Foreshadowing if you will, where Apple was taking us in the future with OS X. Some of those features were: auto resume, versions, full screen apps, and the App Store. There were others that were important, but I will only emphasize the features that already make iOS really great.

As Apple tends to do, ship with a small set of new features and iterate to perfection, Mountain Lion looks like the next natural evolution of OS X. iOS 5 gave us Notification Center, iMessage, AirPlay mirroring, enhanced Game Center, built-in Twitter integration, Reminders for to-do lists, and of course who could forget iCloud. A large portion of features from iOS 5 are now being snagged from iOS and are being brought over to OS X Mountain Lion. Make no mistake, these apps will not be half-hearted and lazy ports. Apple will put their usual fit and finish into making these features more well suited for OS X. We can argue about Apple’s penchant for stitched leather and linen, but regardless of design tastes, I’m confident all of this stuff that will end up in 10.8 will be polished.

Further Mac App Store lock-in

I have discussed ad Nauseam the potential benefits for Apple locking down OS X as it does iOS–meaning shutting out third party apps, unless of course they go through Apple’s App Store approval process. I still don’t believe there is any danger at the moment that Apple wants to pull the plug on third party download sources, however, it’s intriguing–albeit unsurprising–that Security and Privacy system preferences have been updated to include a few new options. Apple is calling it Gatekeeper, although their screenshots still show it as “Security and Privacy.” Gatekeeper gives you three new options to choose from where applications can be downloaded:

  • Mac App Store
  • Mac App Store and identified developers
  • Anywhere

Once again, I haven’t installed the developer preview yet, however, the screenshot that’s on the Mountain Lion overview page shows the “Mac App Store and identified developers” option as the default choice. Assuming this ships as the default choice later this year–which I have no other reason to believe it won’t–this raises a red flag that Apple wants to start training users to use the Mac App Store only. I will give Apple the benefit of the doubt, as they give me no other reason to assume otherwise, that these options in Gatekeeper are really targeted at helping Mac users stay more secure. One only need look at Apple’s nomenclature on the Mountain Lion overview page for Gatekeeper, such as: “A More secure Mac. Under your control.” The cynical way of interpreting this statement is that Apple just wants to eventually lock everyone into the Mac App Store. Sure, I suppose that would purely benefit Apple. The optimistic, and perhaps more cautious approach is that Apple really means what it’s saying. They’re only doing this because they care about users and their security. Any way you look at it, the Mac App Store certainly does try to enforce security, and arguably you’re probably better off by only buying approved apps.

I wager that 99% of users will probably only know to download apps from the Mac App Store. That, or that’s the first place they’ll always look. Why would they do otherwise? If you’ve been an iOS user since 2007, you’ve spent 5 years acclimatizing yourself to only downloading apps through Apple’s approved method–the App Store. I’ll admit that even though I do still want the option to be able to download apps from unsigned sources, I still try to buy my apps through the App Store for purely convenience. It’s just one less software licence I need to search for.

As for the 1% of us that are Mac nerds, we’ll just leave our preference set to “Anywhere” so we can control our own destiny. Let’s hope that things stay that way.