Moving in together

Matt Alexander is the owner and editor of ONE37.net, a writer, a technology enthusiast and a contributing writer for The Loop.

For many, the announcement of OS X Lion was viewed with a great deal of negativity. Perceived as subverting the complexity of OS X, Lion was painted by many as an unwelcome agent of change – an entity seeking to castrate the strength of the Mac. Boasting nascent implementations of iOS features, many were quick to point accusatory fingers at the budding mobile operating system. OS X was courting a younger, sleeker companion, and its personality was starting to change – starting to dress a little better and clean up its act. Many felt betrayed.

As with real life, change is often difficult to comprehend. Particularly when it’s coming from an old friend.

And then yesterday, OS X and iOS announced an impromptu decision. Many had already (reluctantly) seen it coming but most chose to ignore the possibility, hurt that OS X might do that to them (to them!). But now it’s real, the two are moving in together, and that means a lot of things for the end-user.

Of the utmost importance is the fact that such a step does not suggest that the two entities are merging. Separate identities remain, but assets and possessions are shared. The decision comes when two individuals decide that, as a couple, they are better together than they are on their own. Moving in together, the couple is free to communicate more clearly with each other, to really learn about themselves, and to face complex life decisions together. The two are not somehow merging into the same entity, they’re merely moving under one roof, sharing some belongings, and generally learning how to co-exist in a new contextual environment.

While the two might be more closely aligned in such an environment, such a state of affairs does not preclude independent development. Life goes on for them both – it does not simply come to an abrupt and screeching halt.

Despite an evident alarmist response in the press, Mountain Lion makes an enormous amount of sense. Pooling efforts, fostering a simplified environment for the end-user, and ensuring a balanced ecosystem for the future are each affable and logical endeavors. Apple has acknowledged discrepancies in its own ecosystem – arguably its greatest asset – and has taken steps to solidify and smooth the experience for all.

Own a Mac but have no interest in an iPad? Well, lucky for you, you’ll be able to benefit from the same features that make the iPad fantastic on your Mac. Own an iPad and want to stay in tune with your Mac? Fantastic news for you too.

The list of benefits is obvious and it is all possible without any semblance of “convergence.” No matter what the press might have you believe, Macs are not becoming iPhones. Sharing aesthetic leanings and an iCloud backbone does not muddy the definition of OS X, it simply adds to its versatility.

Computing is no longer defined by the complexity you elicit from your machine, it is defined by the degree this complexity is successfully shrouded by simplicity. Looking at Apple’s iLife suite, it’s clear that apps are becoming increasingly easy to use but, for the most part, the complex inner workings remain in tact. Such is the goal of the modern consumer-level software developer, and such is the goal of Mountain Lion.

With a new upgrade cycle and increasingly unified assets, Apple has blurred the developmental lines between two fundamentally different entities. For the consumer, such simplicity is of extraordinary value. It is also a direct shot across Microsoft’s bow.

Considering all of the blustering chatter about the construction of a no-compromise OS in Windows 8, Microsoft has suffered a withering number of attacks on its apparent indecisiveness over its operating system’s aesthetics. Apple, on the other hand, has built two separate operating systems that now communicate seamlessly, appear aesthetically similar, and work in concordance with one another without as much as a second thought.

Whether you’re using an iOS or Mountain Lion device, there are quite literally no practical compromises. Far fewer, in my eyes, than there are with Windows 8.

iCloud facilitates a versatile backbone – one that casts aside the previous bounds of one operating system or another. By focusing on this and encouraging the adoption of its potential benefits, Apple is undercutting Microsoft’s heavy-handed approach with a simple, seamless vision – one that benefits all Apple device users, regardless of their chosen hardware.

As with any relationship, however, there is potential for negativity. Most obvious to me is the evident lack of aesthetic change planned for iOS in the coming months. Considering Mountain Lion is due for a Summer release – around the same time as iOS is traditionally updated – the inclusion of largely unchanged versions of Reminders and Notes betrays an apparent lack of UI change for iOS. While it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that I’m wrong, I tend to think LaunchPad, Reminders and Notes all provide evidence of few significant UI changes awaiting us in iOS 6. Corinthian leather is not going away this year, at least.

For the sake of parity and consistency, Apple must now make aesthetic decisions with a view to both OS X and iOS. Ridding iOS of the traditional homescreen interface, for instance, would presumably prompt significant changes to LaunchPad in OS X. Apps, now mostly sharing names, also share aesthetic dependencies. Although this certainly does not hint at the stifling or stagnation of innovative UI design, it provides a definite moment of pause when considering the future of each platform.

Aside from this potential stumbling block, OS X may be edging closer to iOS in a cosmetic sense, but that is not to say the two are becoming one. Furthermore, OS X is most certainly not becoming “like” iOS. Features remain wholly exclusive to each platform dependent upon the various benefits of the hardware and the interactive paradigms. Gatekeeper, for instance, makes perfect sense for OS X but, for iOS, I doubt we’ll see its implementation any time soon. Ultimately, the enormous discrepancy between the two operating systems – touch and cursor – remains constant, and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon.

Despite any hesitance in the press, the alignment of iOS and OS X is a wonderful thing. Although some advances might offend a handful of power users, the changes on display in Mountain Lion are of the utmost service to the average consumer. Simplifying, unifying, and stabilizing a broad ecosystem is an admirable thing – something that we will all inevitably regard with fond reminiscence over the course of the next few years. Together, iOS and OS X present a formidable computing environment – a relationship that, built upon iCloud, is likely to bring a whole lot of innovation to the marketplace.



  • Guest

    Well put! Familiarity is not the same as usability. I wish more people would get that.

  • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

    Very good overview.

  • http://www.theuniversalsteve.com SSteve

    Where were you when we were trying to break the news to my girlfriend’s (now wife’s) father that we were moving in together?

  • numpty

    “Well, lucky for you, you’ll be able to benefit from the same features that make the iPad fantastic on your Mac”. But unlucky for you, features that work well on a (basically) single-tasking touchscreen tablet tend to suck on a 30″ mouse-driven desktop.

    • thenewperson

      Then don’t use it I guess :/

    • http://twitter.com/colinmat Colin Mattson

      Which is why Apple has been adapting concepts to the desktop rather than cramming round tablet UI pegs into square desktop holes. 

      If you’d like to see your complaint actually in action, download a copy of the Windows 8 developer preview.

  • cmac2020

    A marriage of convenience or one made in heaven, to extend your metaphor…and really who knows the why’s and how’s of the mind set that is 1 Infinite Loop.

    Yet we all do seem to care,if the take up numbers of Lion are anything to go by…with less of us rushing to the 10.7 altar.I wonder why? Tongue firmly pressed against cheek.

    Of course change is inevitable but that doesn’t mean to say that all change is “good.” Not everyone was happy with what was “broken” or introduced,Launch Pad and reverse scrolling to name but a few.

    But what really upset a lot of “Mac” folk is the manner it was done in and in such a “Microsoftian” way.  Do it or die seemed to be the order of the day.With little consideration for those who actually use the OS X, daily.

    Ideally this union of the two,iOS and OS X would be much more powerful and synergistic if and when they really do become one…if that is possible. Not anytime soon.

    Until such time we all just have to get along I guess and mature gracefully over time. Perhaps talking to Siri might help speed up the unification process. But a marriage guidance councillor so early into the union!

  • Lmac

    A good marriage requires compromise. As I see it, OS X is inheriting lots of iOS features, but very little seems to be going the other way. I don’t see a problem consolidating across the two platforms, but I dislike it when a tool gets dumbed down to make them more palatable for the iOS consumer crowd. The new Airport utility for Lion is a good example. I’m sure Apple will continue to sell Macs for some time to come, but I’d argue for more separation of divisions and some real vision on the Mac side of the house. We haven’t seen a Mac on the front page of Apple’s website in years, and the Apple folks seem to be spending most of their creative energy on iOS devices.