Thursday, February 16, 2012

Many Devices, One Operating System

On Thursday February 16, Apple released to developers Mac OS X 10.8, the newest incarnation of their operating system, dubbed “Mountain Lion”. Wildlife enthusiasts and users of Mac OS X 10.1 “Puma” may quibble that Apple has already released an OS with this name, but that point aside, Mountain Lion is making quite a stir in the media. Apple is attempting to tightly couple Apple’s flagship operating system with uniformity of access and cloud storage of data. The apple operating system will now be called just “OS X”, while “iOS” will refer to versions targeting iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad. Mountain Lion emphasises iCloud functionality, Apple’s solution for storing user data remotely, and facilitates easy backup and sharing across devices. Most of Apple’s revenue (72%, actually) comes from sales of mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone, so it does make sense that Apple is bringing some of these mobile features to their desktop OS client.

With this release, Apple is taking consumer electronics one step closer to having a single interface available to your data, access even being independent of the hardware. When a user creates a note, a reminder in his todo list, or an appointment in his calendar, the data is automatically updated on every device synced to the user’s account. Some critics call this an “iPadization” of the Mac. Some features familiar to mobile app users, like a share button in a video game that posts a high score to Twitter or Facebook, are making a possibly alarming appearance in a desktop operating system. Preview, the default reader of PDFs and images on Mac OS X, now has a built-in buttons for sharing any content on the screen. Irrespective of any privacy concerns, these new features make it very easy to share content (whether it’s text, an image, a PDF, or nearly anything else) with anyone on the OS X platform. Preview isn’t alone, similar functionality is built into the native Apple photo album manager, message client, and many other programs that previously had little online interaction.

Personally, I find it a little disturbing that nearly anytime I’ll be using my Mac, a button urging me to share on some social networking site will be confronting me. However, other aspects of cloud-centric personal computing are very attractive, most prominently automatic saving of content. Apple’s Microsoft Office competitor iWork is a suite of software providing word processing, spreadsheets manipulation, and presentation creation similar to Microsoft Office. Under Mountain Lion, creating presentation-grade documents stored in the cloud with the ease of use of Google Documents is no longer a dream, and will be a productivity boon to users with multiple devices supporting this system. While I feel that we’re uncomfortably close to the day when the operating system bundled with every new computer has an advertising system built in, I hope to see cloud-centric personal computing becoming the norm, and I believe we can all benefit from iteration on this new attitude towards operating system design.

New Apple Operating System Aims to Knit Together Its Products (New York Times)

Apple's Mac Makeover (Wall Street Journal)

Apple’s Toughest Competition in the Fourth-Quarter Tablet Market Was... Apple (iSuppli)

-Robert Karl

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