At a Wednesday “Back to the Mac” event, tech journalists got their first peek at some of the concepts driving development of Apple’s next desktop operating system, dubbed OS X Lion.
Primary among those drivers, as Apple chief executive Steve Jobs announced, was bringing to Lion what Apple had learned from its experience with the successful iPad tablet. Like the iPad, Lion will run apps from a similar central app store. A new Launchpad for apps and a Mission Control feature will combine the talents of Spaces, Exposé, and Dashboard.
Jobs announced that Lion would emerge in the summer of 2011, but the Mac App Store will open within 90 days. Another anticipated Mac OS feature is coming along much sooner: Facetime for Mac, which will let Mac users make video calls with iPhone 4 and iPod touch users. It is available now. So it’s not part of Lion, but coming already for Snow Leopard.
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Multitouch support was another much-predicted feature for Lion, but Jobs was careful to state that it wouldn’t be in the form the pundits expected. Apple researchers determined that multitouch doesn’t work on vertical screens, because of arm fatigue. Instead, Lion’s multitouch support will be for larger trackpads. If you want multitouch on an actual screen, you’ll have to get an iPad.
Over 7 billion iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch apps have been downloaded from the Apple App store, and the company saw that and wondered, why not the Mac, too? Jobs noted that there will still be places other than the store to get Mac apps. Installation will be as easy as it is on the iPhone, and developers will get the same 70 percent of revenue on paid apps. Updating will be automatic, and you can use an app on any of your personal computers. You’ll also be able to see ratings from users and popularity of downloads. But it remains to be seen how traditional Mac apps not obtained from the new App Store live comfortably side by side. One wonders if their developers will have to recode them for the new system.
Not only will you get the apps from a store, similar to that for the iDevices, but you’ll also page through their icons using a Launchpad, which resembles the home screen of an iDevice. Launchpad also lets you group apps into folders the way you do on those smaller machines. The apps themselves will behave more like iPad and iPhone apps—running in full-screen, autosaving when you leave them and auto-resuming next time you start them up. Full screen in particular is something that Windows has long been able to do easily with a tap of the F11 key. But Lion will use multitouch gestures to navigate between full-screen apps and the desktop.
Another major new interface feature in Lion, Mission Control, could actually can change the way you use the surfaces of your Mac. This will combine the goodness of four desktop organization-navigation features: Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces, and the aforementioned new full-screen apps. Apple vice president Craig Federighi demonstrated the feature at the event. Mission Control gives you access to apps and widgets and lets you flick through them with multitouch gestures. This organizer makes it easier to navigate between your Spaces, full-screen apps, and Dashboard in an elegant and clever way typical of Apple.
“We think bringing some of these things back [from the iPad] to the Mac, with some fresh new things like Mission Control, will really delight Mac users,” Jobs said. With all the attention bestowed on the iPad and iPhone, it’s about time Mac users get to enjoy some of the delight. This was just a first glimpse, but it’s promising. We’ll be there when it debuts.