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7 iOS features I wish Apple would bring to the Mac

With OS X Mountain Lion arriving sometime this summer, Apple(S AAPL) is continuing the strategy begun with OS X Lion of integrating some iOS features into OS X. It added things like iMessage, system-level Twitter integration and notifications, but there are still features not in Mountain Lion that I’d like to see migrate from iOS to OS X some day.

Siri and Dictation

These two are obvious and practically certain additions to the Mac, as they’ve become flagship features on iOS — Dictation has already migrated from the iPhone 4S to the new iPad. The only questions are when they’re coming and how they’re going to work. I have no idea as to the former, but the latter is something we can have a little fun with. The way Notification Center is implemented in the Mountain Lion developer previews gives us some hints as to how Siri will be implemented as well. Notification Center slides out from the right side of the screen, triggerable with a two-finger gesture. The same design would work well for Siri, except on the left side, with a similar gesture.

As for Dictation, I would imagine that Apple could add a new dictation key to the Mac keyboard, similar to how there’s a key on iOS’s virtual keyboard. Apple has historically made slight changes to the Mac’s keyboard to reflect new features in OS X, such as adding a Launchpad key to new Macs running Lion.

Siri and Dictation on the iPhone gave us a glimpse of a future where we’re surrounded by technology that can recognize and understand our words. Bringing them to the Mac would make many tasks far easier and more accessible.

iBooks, Voice Memos, Maps, YouTube

In OS X Mountain Lion, Apple has ported over the Notes and Reminders apps from iOS. It would be useful and make sense for Apple to do the same with the remaining Apple-developed apps on iOS, like Voice Memos and iBooks. On Lion, you can manage voice memos and iBooks within iTunes, but you can’t create new voice memos or read iBooks. Separating these features into apps would rectify this.

Then there’s Maps and YouTube(s GOOG), both of which are Google services, a company Apple has a somewhat frosty relationship with at the moment. It seems possible that Apple could switch to using its own mapping solution, and build an OS X Maps client from that. Apple’s bought several map companies over the last few years, including Poly9, C3 Technologies and Placebase. They’re also using data from OpenStreetMap — which is in the iOS version of iPhoto rather than Google’s map data. A dedicated YouTube app for the Mac, on the other hand, is pretty unlikely. Building a competing service would likely take too long and cost too much, and wouldn’t provide much utility over just loading YouTube in a browser.

An invisible file system

Apple is in the delicate transiton period on the Mac, slowly making the Finder easier to use. In OS X Lion, the Home folder is hidden by default in favor of including all the folders within in the Finder’s sidebar, for instance. Apple’s logic is that nobody opens their music folder to play music, or their pictures folder to look at photos. They open iTunes and iPhoto instead. So, why are we keeping those folders around?

With the Finder, you can’t interact with a file in the best way that suits it; each file is presented in the same way. This is the opposite of what the iPhone is: a screen that transforms to suit whatever task is being done. If Apple can pull off a similar system for the Mac that’s better than the Finder, I’d be all for it. It won’t be easy to upend such an old and entrenched feature of computing, but if any company can do it, it’s Apple.

A decentralized iTunes

On a Mac, iTunes is the end-all, be-all for managing media: music, TV shows, movies, device syncing and a media store are all wrapped into one application. The opposite is true of iOS, which separates the functions of iTunes into mutiple apps: Music, Video and iTunes. Apple’s current strategy of migrating features of iOS to OS X gives them the opportunity to trim the fat and “decentralize” iTunes, breaking it into multiple apps in the same manner as iOS.

A decentralized iTunes would be make Macs more familiar to iOS users, playing to Apple’s strength of tight integration between products. It’s the same thing they’re doing with Mountain Lion by bringing the Reminders and Notes apps over.

Apple already has the pieces in place to do this. With iOS 5, the Music app on the iPad was redesigned with a skeuomorphic look, unlike its predecessor which closely resembled iTunes. To me, this seems like possible preparation for a future OS X port. I’ve made a simple mockup of how this might look, to illustrate:

Universal apps and automatic app downloads

There are apps that are made for the iPhone and iPad, as well as the Mac, like Apple’s iWork and iLife suites. Currently, you can buy an app on the iPhone and it works on the iPad as well, but the same doesn’t apply to the Mac, so you end up paying for the desktop version too. Allowing universal apps would solve this. Mac apps couldn’t truly be universal, as iOS apps are compiled to run on ARM’s architecture and not Intel’s(s INTC). That doesn’t mean Apple can’t create the illusion of universality, though. Developers could mark their Mac apps as universal with their iOS counterparts and have the Mac App Store download them for free if the user already has the iOS version.

Which brings me to automatic downloads, another feature that I’d love to see on the Mac. Download an iOS app, and its Mac counterpart automatically downloads as well. Of course, this feature would only be available for Mac App Store apps, leaving developers that haven’t adopted it out in the cold, even if they also develop iOS apps.  It would make a stronger case for adopting it, however, though it would mean forking over a 30 percent cut of sales to Apple.

iCloud backup

We can already back up our iOS devices to iCloud, so why not our Macs? Of course, you’re thinking that most Mac hard drives are far too big for Apple’s servers to handle. iOS backups don’t back up the entire OS, however. Instead, they back up important settings, such as app data and the layout of the home screen. The backup for my 16 GB iPhone only takes up 1.3 GB of space on iCloud, and my 16 GB iPad’s backup takes even less at 280 MB. Granted, a Mac’s hard drive can be quite a bit bigger, but I can’t imagine its backup would be so much more than an iOS device that iCloud couldn’t handle it in the future.

Saving web apps

In mobile Safari, you can choose to save a web page to the home screen, where it’ll run in its own web view and act as its own app. This feature was actually in the first developer preview of Safari 4 for OS X, released back in 2008. There was an extra command in the File menu that allowed you to save a web page as an app in the Dock. Apple removed the functionality from the final version, for unexplained reasons.

It’s possible that Apple removed the feature because it wasn’t the right time. Maybe they’re waiting for a bigger parity in features between OS X and iOS. Either way, I hope they bring it back.

What do you think? What other features do you want Apple to bring to the Mac?

10 Responses to “7 iOS features I wish Apple would bring to the Mac”

  1. I agree with most, apple already has voice command but they need to update it to Siri, the current voice command doesn’t even understand my Australian accent. Adding dictate would be great as well, except I wouldn’t use it very often.

    I completely disagree with hidden files and iTunes decentralisation. Having one go-to app adds to the ease of functionability for many people, especially newbies. If you want to use other apps for doing the same things, then you will. I use VLC as a movie viewer rather than QuickTime and iTunes, mainly because it supports so many formats. I only use iTunes for music and the odd purchased-from-iTunes movie, rarely ever would I want to search around for anything else. Hidden files should only be enabled for children’s accounts and for those who have no idea what they’re doing. I’m already happy with finder, it’s made easy and clear, I prefer it tenfold over explorer!

  2. I see two things in here I agree with. iBooks on the Mac, and backing up settings to iTunes. It sounds like you want your $2,000+ MacBook Pro to be an iPad. Seriously?

    I don’t know one person who uses Launcher. Fortunately the only time it ever shows up is when you download a new app from the App Store and a quick touch of the ESC key makes it go away. If I could uninstall it completely from my system, it would be the #1 first thing to go. A completely useless app.

    Personally I don’t understand the fascination with Siri. As far as I can tell, the only people who use it must live on a deserted island with no background noise whatsoever. It’s fun for the “Where can I hide a dead body” question, and other ridiculous questions like that, but otherwise it’s useless unless you are in a totally quiet room. Try using it at a gate of a busy airport. Good luck!

    I suppose an invisible file system would be fantastic if you only have one Mac. I use the finder constantly and can’t imagine ever being without it.

    As for decentralizing iTunes? That drives me nuts on iOS. Having to decide what I want to do and which app I want to do it with. If it’s all about simplicity then it seems that having them integrated makes more sense. Quite frankly, I find the apps on iOS annoying at best to use. And what’s with the landscape version of “Music” on the iPhone? Useless in landscape mode.

    You can already save a webpage. It’s called a bookmark. Or you can click file, save as in Safari.

    Speaking of Save As, getting rid of that in other apps drives me crazy. It’s replaced with Save a Version. Call “Save a Version” Save as that is what it really accomplishes, and change export back to Save As. What a bunch of hooey. That God Office 2011 hasn’t implemented that yet as Save As is my most used feature with that.

  3. iOS is more like an Apple for the dummies. If OS X becomes like iOS, my Macs won’t be running OS X.

    Most people I know considered Snow Leopard great, a finely polished OS X. OS X Lion broke everything and the same folks think it’s a total failure.

    Try searching “ship” on this blog entry with Safari — yep, Safari won’t find it from “flagship”.

    • What are the specific differences between SL and Lion that make the former “great” and “finely polished” while the latter is a “total failure”?

      On a side note, if you want Safari to search for words that contain strings rather than start with them, you just have to set that option by clicking on the magnifying glass in the find bar…

  4. rabensam

    I agree with this list almost entirely. My one disagreement is that I wouldn’t wish for an entirely invisible file system. Instead, I think it’s time for the Finder and the OS X Launchpad to trade places. Launchpad should be what users boot into, replicating the user experience of iOS, with the thing we now call Finder (preferably renamed “Desktop” or somesuch, because after all these decades new users still assume “Finder” is a search function) as a “file explorer” type app that can be launched and quit as needed. I say all this as a Mac user since 1987 so I’m well aware of how drastic a change it would be, but the benefits in ease of use and eliminating confusion outweigh any potential drawbacks — especially if the file system were still accessible for those power users who actually need it.

  5. Jonathan West

    I agree with everything but the invisible file system. I don’t like that Apple removed Finder options in Lion and have run commands to restore them. In fact I wish I had Finder-like file access on iOS. The choice of accessing a file directly or through an app interface is what makes OS X so great. Removing one or the other would cause me to evaluate other operating systems.

    • I don’t think Apple will completely remove the Finder. It’s more likely that it’ll be just be disabled by default. I don’t use the Finder often, and wouldn’t mind being able to remove it from my Dock.

    • Agreed Jonathan West. I use Finder ALL THE TIME and can’t imagine trying to organize my THOUSANDS OF FILES without it. What is Apple thinking?

      • Please read the headline again.
        There is no way of knowing if Apple is even considering an invisible file system.
        If they did it would be another nail in the Mac coffin for Pros who DO NOT use apps to manage their files.