Apple's Mountain Lion preview: iCloud, apps, and new Power Nap for $20

Apple logoApple's next iteration of Mac OS X received its share of attention at Apple's keynote today. Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi covered Mountain Lion during the keynote and said that it would come with 200 new features. It will ship next month for $19.99.

As far as the OS's features, Federighi talked about eight which (with one exception) were old news. Mountain Lion marked a major departure in one way for Apple: it's the first OS X release that was provided to reporters while still in an early beta stage, and Apple placed a page detailing many of its planned features up on its website. With so many details already available, it was an open question as to whether Apple would actually say anything about the OS that wasn't already widely known.

The big exception: Power Nap, an automatic system for making sure your machine is aware of all the changes that might be going on while it's otherwise asleep. If you plug your laptop in overnight, it will wake itself up, grab software updates, sync with iCloud, and back itself up through Time Machine. Provided the laptop remains silent during this process, it sounds like a very handy feature. Unfortunately, it will only work with the most recent generation of Mac laptops.

In a separate release, Apple highlighted another new feature that didn't make the keynote cut: systemwide dictation. Any app that uses standard Mac text controls will now accept voice input.

Beyond these features, Mountain Lion continues a trend, started with Lion, of providing a Mac user experience that should be more familiar to those who have experience with one of Apple's iDevices. The Mac will now have its own Notes, Reminders, Messages, and Game and Notification Centers, all with interfaces that are similar on the desktop and portable/mobile devices. Integration with iCloud will ensure that these applications are even working with the same data on all of a user's individual devices.

That said, there are some benefits beyond simple consistency. Messages, which will replace iChat, will gain the ability to send SMS-style messages to portable devices, even as it retains its chat functionality. (Hopefully, the consistency will operate both ways, and iOS 6's Messages will gain the ability to act as a chat client, as the offerings from AOL and Google are sorely lacking on that platform.)

Safari will also see an update, introducing a greater number of multitouch gestures and the ability to view open tabs on other devices you have set up through iCloud.

Apple had previously announced that third-party developers will gain access to iCloud storage, provided they're willing to offer their applications via Apple's App Store (Apple already has it baked into the iWork suite, Text Edit, and Preview). But the company did go into a bit more detail on how that would work, showing that it's possible to easily browse all documents of a given type on iCloud, and any changes would automatically propagate across devices.

OS X Mountain Lion

There are a couple of additional features planned for Mountain Lion that aren't iOS-derived. One is the ability to share your Mac's screen with anything that is hooked up to an Apple TV. The remote screen can show your desktop, presentations, or movies, which may provide another hint that Apple is ready to turn its TV hobby into something a bit more serious. The other major new feature that has been announced is the Gatekeeper security system, which will allow users to limit the applications they install to those signed with an Apple-provided developer certificate, or to only those downloaded from the App Store. Users can also override these settings on a per-app basis. It's another method of getting users to think a bit before launching an application, which is always a helpful security measure.

OS X 10.8 with Facebook

The WWDC keynote has a history of being a bit awkwardly placed. Despite the meeting's developer focus, the announcements have always been targeted at the consumer-focused aspects of the hardware and software; the new features that developers will use to create compelling platform-specific applications are only revealed in the private sessions afterwards, and kept from the public through non-disclosure agreements (Apple claims there are 1,700 new APIs). If Mountain Lion will be up to something surprising in this regard, we'll either have to wait for rumors or the product's actual release.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Apple, Mac OS X, OSes

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