On 6 June, Apple announced three items—Lion, iOS5 and a fruition of a vision Steve Jobs mentioned in the 1997 WWDC closing keynote I linked to a few days back on my Tumblr—iCloud. The keynote yesterday was one of the longest in recent years; the full stream is available from Apple, an 8-minute long condensed version available on Gizmodo.
I have a few thoughts on each of the products that was announced. In this post, I will cover Lion, and in a subsequent post, iOS 5, leaving iCloud to the last post.
10 features were chosen to be presented at the keynote. I believe they were chosen to impact developers more than non-developer customers. 7 out of the 10 features demonstrated required developers to adopt new APIs in their applications in order for the features to work as advertised. Hence, end-users may see the features mentioned “typical”.
Of particular significance to me, I like to highlight AirDrop. It is quite revolutionary despite its easy-to-use looks as the amount of technology under-the-hood to get this feature off the ground is no small feat. If you’ve transferred files between devices via either WiFi or Bluetooth before, you would appreciate AirDrop a lot more. Assuming that it works as advertised, gone will be the days of sneaker-net or ad-hoc wireless connections.
Auto Save, Versions, and Resume
With Apple’s attempt to make computing even easier for everyone else, Auto Save, Versions, and Resume, can be considered the first attempt by an OS to implement a system-wide solution with a user-friendly and transparent interface. While this can be seen as a small technical step, it is however, a giant leap in terms of usability and system resilience. Users can now actually trust their computers to remember their work, and no longer have to shepherd their computers with ⌘-s to save their documents as a routine. After all, we use computers for automation, not the other way around.
As for Resume, this feature removes the concept and requirement for users to manage and remember state in their applications. Everything is just as they were when you’d left it. This, in user experience (UX) design, is the principle of least surprise.
Windows had the ability to maximise windows since Windows 95. The Mac never embraced the one-window workflow as it is a royal waste of screen estate. However, with the rise of non-document-based applications, like iPhoto, it now makes much more sense in providing an immersive app experience.
With the sale of portables exceeding desktops, the average screen size has dropped to around 13-15“. These screen sizes are perfect candidates for full screen applications. On the contrary, it would be stupid to use Safari in full screen on a 23” screen—you’ll be seeing more whitespace than content.
Seen as a novelty by some, a life-saver by others, I believe that Multi-Touch Gestures is a way Apple can innovate and differentiate itself from of their PC competitors. To really understand what I mean, try using a PC-laptop trackpad for extended periods of time. The experience on the PC just feels clumsy and erratic. The most important thing is that Apple is betting against Microsoft. Such gestures cannot be executed easily and comfortably with a touchscreen display, 90º upright, and are best executed on the horizontally, on a trackpad.
Mac App Store
The most amazing of all, technically- or usability-wise, is the delivery of the Lion Mac OS update through the Mac App Store. At US$29.99 with App Store rules (install on up to 10 authorised machines), it is the cheapest non-mobile OS upgrade ever. The price just makes piracy impractical, and largely removes financial friction associated with upgrading. Most amazingly, this is probably the first time that I witness an OS being successfully upgraded in-place without the need for restarting and booting to an alternative boot device.
This delivery method does away with physical 3rd-party retail channels, allowing Apple’s dream of interacting directly with all its customers. This way, Apple would be able to fully own the whole user-experience, from discovery, to purchase, and after-sales support. Assuming that they’ll be able to successfully deliver, this seamless instant-gratification will be hard to replicate by other competitors, i.e., Microsoft. I’ll say that this is one step in eliminating the middleman within their distribution channels, moving towards a fully electronic and seamless distribution method, protecting the environment at the same time.
In short, I believe that Lion is designed especially with portables in mind, especially the MacBook Air. It’s also the first keynote where all the machines used for presentation demonstration were portables.
With that, I conclude my thoughts on Lion, the cheapest and most paradigmatic-shifting OS in the non-mobile sphere. Feel free share with me your thoughts in the commenting space below.