Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm.

Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion: The Important Stuff

Apple OS X Mountain LionApple announced the latest version of its Mac operating system, OS X Mountain Lion, this morning. It’s set to ship this summer — earlier than I’d expected a new version of OS X, but I’ll take it.

  • The big story is that Apple continues to make the Mac look and feel more like iOS. Given that Apple sold more than 150 million iOS devices last year, and 18 million Macs, this makes sense: If people are going to “halo” over from iOS to the Mac, give them a system they can understand and be immediately comfortable and integrated with. (Related: Cool chart by Horace Dediu at Asymco, showing how Apple sold more iOS devices in 2011 than all Macs sold ever.)
  • Important distinction: Apple isn’t merging iOS and Mac OS, just the experience. Many observers seem to think that Macs and iPads will run the same software in a few years, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.
  • AirPlay, one-way. You’ll be able to share your Mac’s screen with a TV/projector using AirPlay and Apple TV. This is cool for keynotes, meetings, teachers, etc. But unfortunately, you can’t — Apple confirms — beam the movie that’s playing on your iPhone to your big iMac screen. (I’d love that sort of “AirPlay-catching” mode for Macs.) Update: Bing! That was quick. Check out third-party AirServer (via Jordan Golson).
  • iMessage support is an obvious and welcome addition. I’m going to install the preview on my MacBook Air today (I still don’t run Lion on my main iMac, though this might force me to finally upgrade). The idea of being able to manage my phone’s iMessages from my Mac seems like a great idea. Though as Matt Galligan explains here, the iMessage cross-device experience is pretty goofed up. (I still have no idea which messages are going to show up on which device. Although it’s great to be able to consistently iMessage on a plane over wi-fi, or using a different SIM card overseas, which I couldn’t do with SMS.)
  • The iPad 3 is way more important to Apple than the Mac OS. Apple could have made a bigger deal out of this. But with the iPad unveil event expected in a few weeks, it’s smart to save up the big bang for that. Anyway, duh:  At $25 billion, the iPad business was $3 billion bigger than the Mac last year, and Apple sold more than twice as many iPads as Macs.
  • iCloud is becoming more obviously the center of everything. I haven’t really used iCloud much on my Mac, but forthcoming Reminders and Memos apps — with iCloud sync among devices — seem like simple ways I could start using it daily. (Goodbye, Simplenote?) Remember: iCloud’s biggest success should be its ability to “just work” behind the scenes with everything you do. The less you notice it’s there, the better.
  • Apple is gradually nudging developers toward the Mac App Store. John Gruber reports that two Mountain Lion features — iCloud document syncing and a new Notifications center — are for App Store apps only. A third feature, Gatekeeper, is installed by default to only allow users to install apps from the App Store or from developers that Apple has certified. (You can manually change it to allow all apps, which adds security risk.) Some developers might see these as reasons to finally just use the App Store as their sole distribution point. (Also, interesting idea from Gruber: Could this certification process be expanded to iOS, so approved developers could distribute apps without using the App Store? My guess is no, because it takes control away from Apple, but maybe there are good reasons to allow it?)
  • No sign of Siri, or iBooks. Maybe Siri will require new Mac hardware with a special sound chip, or something? Maybe Macs are offline too much for Siri to be a perfect feature? Maybe 4G LTE Macs in the future can help solve that problem?
  • But there’s a whole section devoted to special features for China, which is now very obviously Apple’s second most important market after the U.S.

So, if Lion was “Apple’s Vista”, is this its Windows 7? Har har. As I said earlier, I still haven’t felt Lion compelling enough to install on my main machine, but it also hasn’t generated the widespread gag-reflex reaction that many Windows folks felt about Vista. This does seem like an opportunity for Apple to really polish some things, though, so I’m looking forward to trying a stable version of Mountain Lion when it’s ready. (And given that Apple doesn’t seem to have reverted to Snow Leopard versions of any major features, it seems Apple is happy overall with Lion.)

Btw, Apple pre-briefed some of its preferred outlets on Mountain Lion earlier this month, so here are some reactions from folks blessed with early access: MG Siegler at TechCrunch; Jason Snell at Macworld, and David Pogue at the NYT, among others. And John Gruber shares a nice account of the novel way Apple personally presented the software to him, which seems to be a rather different way of handling things than when Steve Jobs was alive. Full coverage, of course, at Techmeme.

Also: Apple’s Monster Christmas In Charts