In a very un-Apple like way, Apple announced the next version of OS X by showing it off to select journalists in a one on one style presentation.
Calling it Mountain Lion, Apple is continuing their upgrade process that they started with Leopard/Snow Leopard by building on the path that Lion laid out. What Apple is learning with iOS is further influencing their desktop OS.
That’s when Schiller tells me they’re doing some things differently now. I wonder immediately about that “now”. I don’t press, because I find the question that immediately sprang to mind uncomfortable.
"Now" obviously referring to the change in leadership. While Steve Jobs obviously pushed Apple to be a certain kind of company, Tim Cook and the rest of Apple's Executive team are clearing not wasting any time in thinking differently about how they want to lead Apple into the future.
Now on to some of the key features coming in Mountain Lion.
If you're not using iCloud yet, Apple is going to make sure you are with Mountain Lion. Just like Time Machine for backing up the rest of your computer, iCloud is a great way to make sure users have their data and software even if the hardware doesn't live up to Apple's expectations.
Syncing your information from computer to computer to mobile device in a way that the user doesn't even have to think about. iCloud is working great for me in Lion so I'd expect it to work even better in Mountain Lion.
I've had countless conversations with people about this one ever since Messages came out in iOS 5. People wondering why it isn't built into their Mac and iChat. Now it is.
iChat will be renamed Messages, taking the naming convention that's on iOS. Messages for Mac will finally see the unification of instant messaging across all your Mac devices. Send a message to an iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air or iMac and you don't have to worry about SMS/text messaging fees and settings.
You don't have to wait for Mountain Lion to try out Messages though. There's a beta download available now to try out Messages on Lion.
The key thing to remember right now is if you're using Messages Beta - remember that it's a beta. Don't rely on it for critical communication and then complain if your Message doesn't go through. Save those complaints for when Mountain Lion ships later this summer.
AirPlay Mirroring is also going to be a part of Mountain Lion which is great news for anyone with an Apple TV. It also opens up the possibility of not needing a projector anymore. Buy a $99 Apple TV and hook it up to the Wifi and whatever flat panel TV you can find and you've got a presentation system, ready to go.
This is big and if it works as it's billed, could help sell a lot more Apple TVs1.
Twitter will be further embedded into Mountain Lion - meaning you can tweet from within Apps. Twitter being baked in on a OS level is yet another reason why it's going to be the dominant social networking site for years to come.
Along with Twitter integration, Sharing in Mountain Lion will also be very similar to iOS style sharing. Making it easier for anyone to share the thing they are looking at right now without having to know copy & paste functionality. Share to Twitter, Flickr, Messages, etc. all with a single click.
Reminders, Notes and Notification Center permalink
Apple is finally2 relenting on trying to make Mail.app and/or iCal your one-stop communication and planning hub - while trying to avoid the Microsoft Outlook level of cruft. They've renamed iCal to Calendar, Address Book to Contacts to keep inline with iOS. Notification Center and Reminders have been brought over from iOS and Notes has been given it's own app instead of being half-baked into Mail.
I, for one, like the change by not having to see useless Notes in Mail or to-dos in Calendar. We'll see how regular people take to the separation of tasks into multiple apps - ala iOS. I know of at least one office where switching apps on a Mac is a serious cause for confusion and frustration. This probably won't help make things easier.
While not a huge deal for most folks, bringing Game Center over from iOS helps continue the further syncing of your data from mobile to desktop and back. Cross platform in the sense that you can, with developer support, play a game on your Mac against someone on an iPhone just like you can right now with someone on an iPad. Think Xbox Live for your Mac, with more green felt and you're on your way.
Gate Keeper is basically a way for developers to sign their apps and for Apple to verify that the app you're installing is the one that you think you're getting. It's a big deal for Mac developer nerds and is a big improvement that will further secure your Mac. But it will also further raise the questions about whether Apple is going to make OS X more like iOS where you can only run apps that are approved and installed through the Mac App Store. Read more in Jason Snell's article Hands on With Gate Keeper.
Apple is moving OS X to a annual update cycle, just like iOS. And while most of the features announced right now in Mountain Lion don't seem huge, you have to remember that Apple isn't in this for the now or never approach that Microsoft is with the 3-5 year Windows upgrade cycle where Microsoft has to make sure there's enough reason for millions to justify the cost of an upgrade.
Small, subtle improvements bundled with a few major changes is what you can expect from here on out. Keeping two distinct operating systems that borrow and trade features from each other is Apple's chosen direction for the future.
No pricing or specific release date other than this summer so we'll see when it actually ships and for what price. I'd put my money on the same $29.99 pricing that OS X Lion enjoys and except a ship date of late July, 2012.