My thoughts on Day 1 of using Mac OS X Lion

This is not a review of Mac OS X Lion. (Ars Technica has written a brilliantly, 19-page review, if you’re interested.)

Instead, I want to note my initial thoughts as day one of using Lion. I’m sure things may change as I become more familiar with the operating system. But as it stands, here’s what I think:

Mac OS X Lion 10.7

Ultimately, it’s not a matter of what Lion has to currently offer, but rather it’s a window peek to Apple’s vision of the future. Sure, Lion provides a series of refinements over the previous operating system, but the concept of turning your laptop from a primary device to just another smart device, is entirely new. And because of that, I don’t think it’s fair to judge whether or not Lion is a successful follow-up to Snow Leopard until a few updates down the road.

Through Lion we’ve learned that the Mac App Store is now the default software digital distribution method. Apple is no longer tolerant of bulky and increasing venerable optical drives. And looking at the bigger picture, I welcome the change. I’m fully aware that there will be a transition period where it will be a pain in the ass to install software that exists only in a DVD format, but over time I think this is a smart move not unlike when Apple first abandoned the floppy drive in the original iMac back in 1998.

On top of that, it’s clear that with the arrival of Lion, as well as the MacBook Air and Mac Mini released today, Apple is changing the install and recovery system completely. Instead of providing users with setup and restore DVDs, everything is now stored in a hidden harddrive partition. And in case users truly messed up the computer, Apple also offers Internet Recovery in their newer hardware, where they are able to connect to an Apple server directly and reinstall the OS that way.

The scrolling direction is reversed in Lion. Like the iPhone and other touch screen devices, when you scroll your fingers upwards, so does the content. I understand everyone’s frustration in having to unlearn what they are familiar with, but again, I think it’s a smart move to do now rather than a few years down the road. It’s important to make the user experience consistent, especially for those who are growing up with smartphones in hand.

The way it helped me is to rethink the concept of scrolling: instead of scrolling down in the window, I’m pushing up the content directly.

Full screen apps. It’s funny how for years Mac users have complained that full-screen apps sacrifice valuable desktop space and effective multitasking, only to find that to be the prominent feature in the latest version of the Mac OS X Lion. Then again, that was before mutli-touch gestures became a standard in user-device interaction. Instead of shuffling between countless windows in the Windows taskbar or to repeatedly hit alt/command-tab to get to the desired application, users simply have to swipe on their multi-touch mouse or trackpad in order to pull up Mission Control and be able to move from one full-screen application to another. Now that I have access to full-screen apps at the swipe of my (three) fingertips, It’s hard to imagine editing pictures in iPhoto or trimming footages in iMovie without taking advantage of my entire computer screen.

Speaking of Mission Control, it’s basically a combination of Spaces + Dashboard + Exposé. Like I said in the WWDC post, I’m always happy to see Apple consolidate some of their key features in the sea of has-beens pet projects they’ve developed over the years.

Mission Control in Mac OS X Lion 10.7

The thing is, technology is now different compared to what it once was five, maybe ten years ago. I grew up bragging about processor speed and hard drives storage capacities. Those hardly matter anymore, so as a “modern operating system”, Lion is focusing on what’s important today (ie: digital distribution, cloud access) as opposed to holding on to what once mattered. And as much as I’m not a fan of Launchpad, Lion’s version of an application launcher, it’s a clear sign of direction Apple is adamant in going.

From abandoning floppy drives in the late 90s, to the myriad transitions (ie: Classic/Carbon/Cocoa, PowerPC-to-Intel, 32-to-64-bit architecture), Apple has always been forward thinking that way, stubbornly so, even at the risk of frustrating and alienating their most-loyal customers. To me, Lion is yet another gear in the transition in pushing Mac OS X (or would it be iOS?) another step forward.

Software Put Back in Focus in WWDC 2011

I really liked the WWDC presentation this year. It has been a while since Apple put the focus on software instead of using the spotlight to announce their latest iPhone or hardware lineup. This year, however, it’s all about the software with an adamant declaration that the PC age is over.

The presentation was separated in three areas: Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud.

Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion

Out of the three segments, I was most impressed with Mac OS X Lion. I’ve been a big skeptic with how Apple was going to seemingly marry iOS components while throwing away years of what Mac OS X was built upon. I thought the move to full-screen apps means sacrificing the ease of use and the multi-window-working nature that separates Mac OS from Windows.

But what I had forgotten was the arrival of Multi-Touch gestures. More than Exposé, more than the Windows Start menu, and certainly more than using alt/cmd-tab, gesture-activated Mission Control gestures look like it’ll be the de-facto way to navigate between screens and applications in Mac OS X Lion. Mission Control looks like a mash-up of Exposé and Spaces, which I applaud Apple for combining two key features in the sea of has-beens pet projects. (Anyone still remembers Widgets or Sherlock?)

Mac OS X Lion will only be available via the Mac App Store, which is bad news for me since I’ve been looking forward to upgrading my MacBook from Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger to Lion. According to Apple’s site, it seems like the only way that’s going to happen is if I upgrade to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopord first, before upgrading to Lion via the Mac App Store.

iOS 5

iOS 5

I have a feeling we haven’t seen the killer feature of iOS 5. Don’t get me wrong, the features covered are definitely welcomed, if not necessary. But showcased features like the Notification Center, camera, calendar, and PC-free setup seem so reactive instead of proactive. Specifically speaking, these features are all reactive to what Android is already doing. What ever happened to “Others are busy just to catch up to this version, and we’re going so much farther in our next version”?

That said, iMessage and Newsstand is what I’m most interested in. What will iMessage do to Texting plans as we know it? What will eventually happen to the concept of email if we can now send text, videos, contacts, locations and more instantaneously?

Newsstand is important because this can take Apple where the iBooks Store hasn’t. Amazon Kindle is great for reading books thanks to its e-ink technology, but magazines are designed to be flipped, skimmed, and tossed, and the color-richness nature of magazines is where the iPad will shine.

iCloud

iCloud logo

Apple made a huge deal about this, but I just can’t seem to care all that much. Steve Jobs revised his analogy of a digital hub he once used for the iMac years ago and is now applying it iCloud, declaring this “the post-PC age.” I understand what Steve is saying, but I just don’t find his presentation to be anything new.

Maybe it’s because I’ve already have all my information living “in the cloud.” I’ve been a MobileMe customer for years and already have all sorts of information pushed to me automatically. On top of that I also use Dropbox for my documents, Amazon Cloud Player for music, and Gmail as my primary email.

What’s missing for me is how iCloud is different from anything I just mentioned. Unlike the original iPod or iPhone in that even though they were not the first products introduced in their respective markets, those devices also offered groundbreaking features that we hadn’t seen before: a 4GB hard drive for the original iPod, multi-touch display and revolutionary music app for the iPhone. Instead, iCloud looks like a me-too product. The only thing interesting I saw in iCloud is that it is ad-free and free; certainly a jab to Google.

iTunes Match

Steve’s “One More Thing”. Too bad I just don’t get it. Basically it’s $24.99/year to convert all my non-iTunes purchased songs to DRM-free 256kbps AACs. But why is it on a per year basis? Does that mean the second I stop paying, all my songs will revert back to non-iTunes status? If not, can’t I just pay for one year to convert all my songs to paid status and have it pushed to my devices from that point on?

Also, does the $24.99/year price tag means I can now pirate unlimited songs since iTunes Match will change to legal, iTunes status anyways? Is that why they’re charging iTunes Match on a yearly basis, because piracy will never go away? The concept of iTunes Match just doesn’t seem very well thought out.

What did you think of this year’s WWDC? What are you most looking forward: Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, or iCloud? What are your thoughts on iTunes Match?