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Summary:

Mac OS X Lion, version 10.7 of Apple’s venerable operating system, has been released to developers. A summary glance at the features it brings indicates a fairly minor update. But what seem like mostly cosmetic changes actually indicate a significant new direction for OS X.

osx-lion-feature

The much-anticipated MacBook Pro refresh came today, to a somewhat mixed reception, but I suspect the real story today is the product being overshadowed by that shiny new unibody hardware. Mac OS X Lion, version 10.7 of Apple’s venerable operating system, has been released to developers.

Like the MacBooks, Lion is, in many ways, an evolutionary step for the operating system. Cast your eyes down the list of new features on Apple’s dedicated Lion web pages and it’s easy — at first blush — to be dismissive. Sure, fullscreen apps might be nice (particularly on the smaller screen of the MacBook Air) and features like Versions and Auto Save are a nice addition, but let’s be honest; they’re not going to set the tech world on fire.

But then I had a new thought: Apple is always telling us, year after year, that more than half of all new Macs are sold to first-time Mac buyers. And for more and more of those consumers, the thing that brought them to the platform is iOS. Whether it’s the iPhone or an iPad flavor, iOS is something of a gateway drug to the world of Apple technology.

With so many iOS-fluent users buying Macs for the first time, it makes perfect sense that Apple wants Mac OS X to feel equally familiar and comfortable to first-time buyers. After all, you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

Simple Things

Making the Mac feel like an extension of the iOS experience doesn’t necessarily require obvious and dramatic changes; simple things can make all the difference. Look at the way Apple is bringing gestures and animations to the Mac. We’ve seen all of this before, right there in iOS. Some Mac stalwarts might declare the animations ‘eye candy’ — while iOS users will consider them an absolutely essential part of the experience.

The same is true of Lion’s Auto Save feature; a system-wide automatic document save feature that absolves the user from ever having to remember to save anything (pending developer cooperation).

Isn’t this precisely the same experience users have in iOS? Even after 30 years, the traditional file system is still a challenge for many people to understand. One of the great successes of iOS is that it does away with the File System. And while Auto Save isn’t the same as an invisible File System, combined with the iOS-inspired app model we know is headed to at least Apple’s own software with Lion, it’s definitely a step in that direction.

iOS-style multitasking is also coming to the Mac with Lion. Consider the following juicy morsel from AppleInsider’s Neil Hughes, describing the new Resume feature in 10.7:

After a restart, Lion automatically relaunches applications that were open when the user chose Log Out or Shut Down. The system also automatically restores the state of applications [...] after a restart, including the size and location of a window, selections and contents.

Mac OS X may terminate an application behind the scenes when it goes unused or has no open windows. The application usually relaunches instantly when the user accesses it again.

Users can still choose to manually quit an application, but Apple has reportedly told developers that quitting is no longer necessary.

In fact, it seems that open apps no longer even display a glowing dot underneath them in the dock, a clear indication that Apple isn’t thinking about desktop apps in the way we traditionally have.

Now think about how your iPad or iPhone behaves; the best apps not only remember what you were doing the last time you used them, but are right there, in memory, waiting to be used even after a full system restart.

Trucks

Back in June 2010, at the D8 Conference, Steve Jobs said;

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm… PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.”

I look now at the flexibility of iOS, and how it’s shaping user expectations of how consumer electronics should work. I also look at how dramatically iOS is shaping the next iteration of the Mac operating system and I can’t help but think that, rather than drawing a clear line in the sand between desktop “trucks” and iOS “cars,” Apple is trying to make the line between the two far less distinct.

The trucks will get more streamlined, nimble and sporty (the Mac App Store and MacBook Air were the first steps in that direction — Lion takes us ever closer) while “simpler” iOS devices will inevitably grow and evolve until, beneath their slimline shells, they possess engines at least as powerful as any truck available today.

I know I’m taxing that analogy, but you get my point. Apple isn’t committed to ease-of-use at the expense of raw power; nor are they committed to ramping up power at the expense of awesome — and refreshingly simple — user experiences.

Do you want to know where Apple is taking us in the next five years? Then take a good hard look at Lion — the clues are there for all to see. Mac OS X 10.7 might appear to be evolutionary, but, like the new hardware it unveiled today, it’s setting the stage for the real revolution to come.

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  1. Nice documentation of what I was thinking about OS Lion’s direction. Personally, I Love all new features & design.

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  2. GigaOM this is the 2nd typo I’ve seen today in one of your apple articles. First it was calling Thunderbolt “thunderbird” Now in the third paragraph under “Trucks” you misspelled “were” (wer).

    I dig the article though. Apple is the future.

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    1. Thanks for the note. The copy editor doesn’t always get to articles before they are published.

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  3. I am glad and didn’t expect less from apple. I came across something similar myself while trying to deal with the one thousand versions of the same document I made just in case and now I don’t dare throw away, just in case some text has a better letter than the other. So I thought: “what are computers waiting for to copy Google Docs way of managing documents: with auto-save and history of revisions??”
    My poor wallet is awaiting.

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  4. Sadly, unless there are some hidden features it seems that Apple is deserting the power user. Where is:

    a: auto-unmount/mount drives when I shut/open my laptop so that I don’t have to manually unmount (close and run). (I’m going to try the SleepWatcher app for this).

    b: quicksilver in the os, although I’m using Alfred now having something better than Spotlight would be nice.

    c: More Quicklook extensions. It would be really nice to have a ‘default’ Quicklook that would open non-registered apps (like ‘Readme’ and other files with non-extensions).

    It would be easy to do and make the OS much more usable for people who see through the fluff..

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  5. The Windows fanbois or maybe computer nerds in general hate not having total file access. It seems to be really important to them. I doubt if most consumers feel the same. I think they prefer not having to keep track of files and let the OS take care of that.

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    1. I dont think you can say that having no access to your filesystem is a good idea. There are times when I’ve wanted access to the filesystem on my iPad before, and If apple were to ever get rid of finder I would lose all faith in them as a company. Its nice however when apps like say iTunes for example keeps track of things so I dont have to. But its times when the apps dont do their job (like iTunes losing music file locations) that I want to have the ability to look through my files.

      As long as finder is still there I’m happy with however apps manage files.

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      1. Andrew MacDonald Friday, February 25, 2011

        +1. Totally agree.

        Im happy to go along with these changes, as they all look pretty cool, but if they were to ever take my ‘computers’ overall control from me – i.e. filesystem access – I would loose faith in their direction.

        Im not saying I would defect back to Windows, I hate that thing with a passion, but I like to feel that I am in control of my Mac, and it isn’t being limited in any way by the corporates. I don’t mind so much with my iPhone and iPad – but my computer is another thing entirely.

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  6. Good article.
    An intelligent article from gigaOMG at last.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in an interesting, well written way. It is very appreciated, and too rare.

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  8. Liam

    I think you hit the nail on this one.

    iOS was in fact my gateway drug that finally led me to Mac (3 months now and no regrets). I found much comfort in those areas that iOS and Mac operate similarly. Fortunately, I have used a variety of Linux/Unix distributions as well as DOS/Winders. For me, iOS was an important factor to making the transition more comfortable but understanding the underlying *NIX subsystem was also a factor.

    For others, with less experience outside of Winders, or for the large portion of computer users who have no desire to understand the underlying technical aspects of their computer, anything that bridges user interfaces will serve to promote both platforms. Removing the need to understand the mundane aspects of the OS will only serve Apple well as reinforcing the original reason for many adopting Macs, ease of use.

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  9. Having been involved with personal computing for many decades, it is fun to see features within MacOS X and iOS revisit the past functionality.

    The “new” restore feature was fully implemented in the Apple Lisa “desk top” computer in 1983 – including maintaining window sizing and open applications. The persistence/auto-save functionality was there too.

    And using iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad is at least familiar from my Apple Newton days in the min-1990s.

    How stark the contrast … now that Windows is (klunk) running on a mobile phone. Did the Windows-powered toaster ever ship?

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  10. [...] alongside the official public release of OS X Lion, the next iteration of its Mac operating system. Lion has a lot of features that make the Air the perfect platform for showing it off, like the ability to resume state on [...]

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