WWDC 2011 – Part 1: Lion

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Apple did something uncharacteristic this year in the lead up to WWDC, they announced what they were going to show at the conference. We knew they would be covering Mac OS Lion, iOS5 and iCloud at the event. Normally they have kept quiet even when the cover had all but been blown on an upcoming product.

Everything they announced was exciting in some way. I want to just go through each of them in turn now.

Mac OS Lion

In this era we’re in that people increasingly call the “post PC world”, you would think it would be tough to excite people with an update to a traditional desktop operating system.

If anyone could do it though, it’s Apple and they didn’t disappoint. The main new features in Lion which interest me are Launchpad, resume (includes auto save and versions) and full screen apps. All of these three new features are great additions for obvious reasons. Auto save is always going to be useful, and launchpad takes the best of iOS and brings it to the desktop.

In the past I’ve used several ways to launch my apps that weren’t in my dock. I’ve used quicksilver to type the first letter of an app to launch that way, by using a special launcher app I found, as well as what I do currently. This is to use the stacks feature of leopard to have an apps folder on the far right of my dock next to the downloads stack. Even though this works well, launchpad takes this further and really delivers the optimum app launching experience. It utilities the entire desktop and folders are a great way to organize desktop apps, just like I swear by them on my iPod Touch to keep me on top of my ridiculous number of apps.

If Launchpad becomes as successful as I think it could do, then we may see Apple make a change to the dock itself in future. They may make it restricted in how many icons can fit in it, just like on the iPhone, and then just give you a launchpad icon on the left to get to the rest of your apps. It would definitely tidy up the desktop and give it a more simplistic look, but I’m not sure if they would commit to this as it could upset some users who like their desktops to be a certain way.

Despite all of the great little changes that Apple have made in Lion, there are a few which I think may be overkill for most people. Most notably, mission control and the increased number of multi-touch gestures.

I’ve always loved the double finger scroll on my MacBook and I can certainly appreciate why gestures are useful for pinching, zooming and rotating for image manipulation. These are natural gestures and the work well. Where it gets to be overkill is with complex gestures involving up to three fingers. This isn’t really intuitive and I doubt many people will use these. I first realized this when Craig Federighi was demoing gestures at the back to the mac conference last year. He was struggling a bit with getting the gestures to work correctly. It may be true that he was doing it with a magic mouse, which isn’t so easy to manipulate as a track pad on a macbook, but I still don’t see it as a feature most people will make use of.

This brings me on to Mission Control. This feature seeks to combine expose, spaces, dashboard and full screen apps into one overview of your system. Personally, I really like expose so I hope they keep that as an option as well, as I don’t use spaces at all. With that said, it is still similar to that feature except that it groups windows of the same app together rather than spreading everything apart. You can spread open these groups but it’s not as easy as it used to be. I’ll have to reserve judgement until I can get to use it myself, but it definitely has potential for mainly power users I would assume.

It looks like Apple have done a good job here with Lion. It still looks a lot like Snow Leopard but looks can be deceiving. There’s definitely been a lot of good changes made. In the past, these upgrades have been on discs and cost around £80. This time, there are no discs, the price has been slashed by three quarters to just £20 and also gone are the family packs to enable the OS on all of your computers. Now, you just download it from the Mac App Store on every personal Mac you own.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to install it on my current MacBook as it’s 5 years old and isn’t fast enough to run it, which is a disappointment, but maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to upgrade to one of those new MacBook Airs that look great.

Come back for parts 2 and 3 where I’ll talk about iOS5 and iCloud.