Yet another big cat has descended from Apple's elusive mountaintop laboratory, eager to spread its wisdom, to further empower users, to lighten their burden, and ultimately move the industry forward. Considering its bold and rather wild nature, one thing is for certain: this lion's got courage, and a lot of it. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has used the words "revolutionary" and "game-changer" quite a few times to describe Apple's products – in the case of Lion, the changes it brings to the table are indeed quite profound (their implications even more so).
With Mac OS X Lion, Apple has sought to take what the company had learned from the realm of mobile (iOS) and figure out ways in which to implement those same UI-dynamics into the traditional desktop/laptop user interface. Steve Jobs has himself described Lion as simply a first step, a mere precursor to a radical rethinking of interfacing with computers. It seems as though the iOS elements inherent in Lion are just a first step toward an ultimate marriage of iOS and OS X (some are saying in a very near future where nearly all computing is done via touchscreen – that I don't know about). Jobs has also said that for the past 10 years he's been trying to get rid of the entire file system that we've been using for decades. This in mind, applications like iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie, along with OS X Lion's Versions all allude to Apple's daring vision of a brave new world in computing devoid of any trace of the traditional file system we've grown to see as an unquestionable and self-evident characteristic of any operating system.
All conjecture aside, one thing is for certain: Mac OS X Lion is perhaps one of the most substantial Mac OS releases in many, many years. Containing 250+ new features, the new iteration of OS X is literally brimming with refinements and shortcuts. My aim is to outline the fundamental UI changes and highlight the features which stand out most to me as an avid Mac user.
One of the key features of Lion is the ability of applications to go full-screen, wrapping themselves across the entire screen from corner to corner – no menu bar, no dock, and no scroll bars (in fact the entire OS has gotten rid of the once-intrusive permanent scroll bar system, opting instead for an appearing/disappearing bar, mimicking iOS). Full-screen mode makes browsing your Mail inbox or iTunes library quite a bit more enjoyable, weeding out other visual distractions and making use of the entirety of your screen's realestate. I myself was not sure that full-screen mode could be anything more than a gimmick or an erraneous assumption on Apple's part that users secretly wish for their desktop OS to reflect the single-task format of iOS on the iPad and iPhone. But upon using it for the first time, I found that it simply clicked and felt natural.
Up until now, the prevailing logic of scrolling has been to scroll the navigation bar – that is, scrolling upwards moves the content upwards. However Apple has taken touchscrolling from iOS, where you are literallly pushing the content up or down, and integrated it into OS X Lion. It's what is known as "natural scrolling" as opposed to the predominant inverted-scrolling. Although Lion comes defaulted with natural scrolling, it can be turned off in System Preferences. A bit like driving on the opposite side of the road than you're used to (say in a foreign country), initially the experience can be jarring, but once you've done it for a few days it begins to makes sense.
Mission Control is the hybrid of what was previously Exposé and Spaces. An upwards three-finger gesture brings up this new navigation platform of all open windows, full-screen apps, and desktops (what were once Spaces). The lower majority of the screen is dedicated to open windows within the current (or last opened) desktop. The top bar displays all open full-screen applications (dashboard is by default it's own full-screen app, however this can be disabled) and desktops. Moving the cursor to the top right brings up a "+" tab for created a new desktop. All of these changes are a joy to use, and make me feel like I have gained more control over my workflow than I previously thought possible. Mission Control has made the rarely-used Spaces something not clunky and awkward, but instead natural, inuitive, and unobtrusively ever-present.
The other major addition to the OS is Launchpad. The idea is to display all of your applications in a grid-organized tapestry of icons, 2-finger swiping left and right carries you to other pages of apps. To get there simply 4-finger pinch on the trackpad (unpinch with 4 fingers to exit). Just like in iOS, applications in Launchpad can be organized to your liking, folders and all.
Resume is another great feature that seems almost obvious after you've learned about it. This feature allow your Mac to remember exactly what windows you had open, what you were viewing (even where your cursor was located), etc., before you logged out or shut down your computer. This way you can go right back to what you were doing beforehand without having to remember everything you were doing. Auto Save is just that – OS X Lion automatically saves documents as your typing/editing them. Result: no more loss of progress because you forgot to save. Versions takes this logic a step further – now you are able to flip through (à la Time Machine) previous autosaves, meaning you can get back text/media that was previously edited out. Giving the user further control is the ability to lock a document (stopping autosaving), or break off in a new direction in the form of a new document ("Duplicate"), or in Apple's words "...creates a copy of your document and places it next to the original. So you can start a fresh version using the original as a template."
Airdrop enables the user to wirelessly share files with any nearby Apple device – be it your iPhone or your friend's MacBook Air, and there needn't be a WiFi network. Also new to the scene is Reading List, Apple's own take on the likes of Instapaper and Read Later. However instead of saving offline versions of added webpages' text, Reading List merely acts as a queu of bookmarks of which you want to eventually read.
On top of these major additions and alterations, it seems as though every nook and cranny of OS X has been put under the microscope – every day so far I find some delightful new refinement or tweak.
Additional notable features include:
- numerous aesthetic refinements (such as entirely new buttons, including more subtle exit/min/max buttons)
- a word-prediction system (less obstrusive than the one in iOS)
- a more fleshed out word-correction system
- a new downloads system (now a drop-down list next to the search bar in Safari, from which items can be directly clicked, dragged, and dropped)
- stacked search results in Spotlight, Finder, and Mail (among perhaps others)
- Quick Look animated .gif playback (one of my personal favorites)
- Mail now threads emails into conversations (like on the iPad and iPhone)
- a brand new Address Book app that is far more easy/enjoyable to use
- See the full listing.
List of new multi-touch gestures:
- 3-finger gesture up: Brings up Mission Control (swipe again or click on negative space to go back).
- 3-finger gesture left/right: Swipe through full-screen apps and desktops (works in Mission Control too).
- 4-finger pinch: Brings up Launchpad. 4-finger un-pinch (or clicking on negative space) takes you out – it also spreads out a cluster of app windows on your current desktop in Mission Control.
- 2-finger swipe left-right: Backward/Forward in Safari (replacing the old 3-finger swipe).
In you're interested in a full review, check out Paul Miller's from This is my next (soon to be The Verge). But if his article doesn't satiate your techie curiosity, John Siracusa of Ars Technica has written a beautiful and fascinating piece disecting every last minute detail of the new OS (including highlighting Apple history and the most esoteric changes in the new OS' aesthetics). The review is 45,000+ words long, and includes a full table of contents from which to navigate. Definetely not for the light-hearted, but well worth checking out.