June 26, 2013 at 4:58 p.m. PST
Apple announced a new version of OS X, Mavericks, at its WWDC. OS X is no longer named after felines. Instead, California locales will inspire names for upcoming versions of the Macintosh operating system. While the naming scheme is new, the operating system demoed at the WWDC looks a lot like Mountain Lion. Apple holds true to small, incremental changes in OS X. There is some speculation that the Mac operating system has yet to undergo the same makeover as iOS 7. Jon Ive is also in charge of OS X design, after all. The OS is scheduled to debut in the fall, giving Apple time to redesign the user interface. I expect it to look much like iOS 7.
This article examines the new features in OS X Mavericks. We’ll also take a look at what’s missing in this release.
Apple announced that there are now 72 million Macs. While this is only a fraction of Microsoft Window’s market share, they pointed out that Windows 8 is not getting much adoption. The Mac is now the best-selling personal computer. Of course, when you add up all Windows PC sales from different vendors, there are still more Windows machines being sold.
The Mac, while gaining ground, has never been about market domination. The Mac is growing market share in the home and office, but it remains the choice for many software developers, recording engineers, video editors, and graphic designers. For most people, the inexpensive Windows PC still gets the job done, at a fraction of the price. Many people are opting out of computers and choosing tablets instead.
Mavericks looks much like Mountain Lion. The 3D dock is still central to the design. There have been some changes. Skeuomorphism has been stripped from this release. The Calendar is no longer bound in virtual leather. It looks like the iOS 7 Calendar. No other skeuomorphic apps (Contacts, Notes) were shown, suggesting that Apple hasn’t had time to redesign them. Linen has also been removed, in favor of a simple grey background.
Finder has undergone a major overhaul that most users will appreciate. Finder now has tabs. This makes it much easier to move files between folders. Simply drag the file over the tab, and the tab will open. Then drag the file to a folder. One can also keep AirDrop open in a tab for easy transfers.
Tags have also been added to Finder. These allow assignment of multiple user-defined categories to a file. For example, a document can be tagged as “draft” and “financial”. Then these tagged files can be pulled up by selecting the tags in Finder, Spotlight, or apps. Tags increase the productivity of the professional Mac user.
Notifications now allow for direct user interaction. When a notification appears, the user can reply to a message or email within the panel. A user can even accept a FaceTime call directly from a notification. Notifications sync with iOS. To some extent this was already true. If you make a calendar event in iOS, it will show up on your Mac. Now, virtually any iOS app can send a notification to your Mac, if you choose to do so. Mac users will also see notifications appearing on the screen when they wake their Mac. Once again, we see the convergence of iOS and OS X.
Mavericks adds amazing support for multiple displays. Each display is completely independent, instead of being a mere “extended” display. You can now have an app in full screen on one monitor, while using the other display. Mission Control, the menu bar and dock can be invoked on any display. You can even use Apple TV as a fully functional display. This goes beyond screen mirroring. Apple demoed this multiple display support with three monitors, one being an Apple TV. It is unclear how many displays Mavericks will support, but one user has a beta version running 6 displays.
Safari has a new look, as well as new features. The top sites view has a simpler look. I liked the previous concave 3-D mirrored design. Tops sites now shows your frequented sites in a grid of boxes, much like Google’s Chrome browser. Safari has support for managing shared links, which are links acquired through social networks. Reader has been redesigned. Instead of an overlay, it is a new page with a cleaner, easier-to-read font. It also features Twitter and LinkedIn integration, but is missing the other social networks.
iCloud Keychain is a feature which is central to Safari, but extends well into the Apple ecosystem. This is a re-invention of the MobileMe keychain. The new security technology can store your user name, password, credit cards, and even wi-fi authentication. Data are protected with 256-bit AES encryption, which is virtually unbreakable. The iCloud Keychain can also generate passwords with heavy-duty security.
Safari adds some under-the-hood improvements, in addition to the more visible features. Safari now uses less memory and energy. This is great for MacBook users. I don’t use Safari, but instead use Chrome for most of my browsing. However, if I were using a Macbook, I would probably go with Safari. Safari is a fast and elegant browser. It just doesn’t work well with some sites, such as Gmail, Google Docs and even my bank’s web site.
The infamous Maps application will appear in OS X Mavericks. The furor over Maps has died down. I used it from the very beginning, and found it to be accurate. Even Consumer Reports rated the app as competent. Now, these same breathtaking 3D views can be enjoyed on your Mac. You can even send directions to your iPhone, which will appear on your lock screen for easy access. Apple has included a Software Development Kit (SDK) for Maps, enabling developers to integrate the technology into OS X apps. Maps has also been integrated into core OS X apps, such as Calendar.
iBooks is another iOS app ported to OS X for the Mavericks release. The app no longer features wooden bookshelves. Instead, it has a simpler design. The WWDC presentation made it clear that iBooks is geared for students. There are many e-book platforms available. I typically buy Kindle e-books, because they’re inexpensive and have good enough features. However, Apple made it clear that their e-book technology goes beyond all others. iBooks allows readers to take notes and highlight text, like most e-readers. However, the videos, interactive simulations and flash cards trump other e-book products. The student with a brand new, shiny MacBook has a good reason to buy textbooks in iBooks format. Like with many products, Apple can’t always compete on price, but they usually offer better functionality.
Calendar has been redesigned to resemble its iOS 7 counterpart. There’s no leather binding. Instead, it features a simple white background with mostly pastel colors. Calendars boasts some clever system integration. It connects to Facebook. It also connects to Maps to provide directions and add travel time to appointments. Calendar can even suggest restaurants if you make a meal appointment. Apple excels at designing integrated systems. All of their products work well together, providing a synergy that makes life easier.
The new features are a modest improvement on Mountain Lion. Like past OS X releases, Apple makes small, incremental changes. OS X is revised every 6 to 22 months, unlike Windows, which is released rarely and has sweeping changes. Apple offers these upgrades at a nominal fee, making it difficult to be critical of gradual, incremental changes. Nonetheless, Mavericks introduces some innovative system features that MacBook users will surely appreciate.
MacBooks already have amazing battery life. With Mavericks, this gets even better. New features, such as Timer Coalescing and Compressed Memory help users get more out of the battery and limited memory.
Timer Coalescing is a method of compressing CPU cycles into bigger chunks, allowing the CPU to idle. This saves power and improves battery life. Compressed Memory allows a Mac with limited memory to make better use of available resources. The feature shrinks the footprint of inactive applications. This reduces virtual memory pages, which speeds up a memory-deficient Mac. Both of these features are great for users who have low-end MacBooks with limited RAM.
The new version of OS X will automatically update apps in the background. For those who find this disruptive, it can be disabled. I prefer to update apps manually. If it’s a critical app, I need to know that the new version doesn’t introduce new or regressive bugs.
We didn’t get to see any significant UI design change with Mavericks. It is expected that Mavericks will look more like iOS 7, as Jon Ive is also in charge of OS X user interface design. This will surely arrive by the time the OS debuts in the fall. At the WWDC, only a few apps were demoed. Calendar featured the iOS 7 redesign, so it’s presumed the rest of the OS will follow suit.
Mavericks does not have Siri. This is a glaring deficiency. The personal digital assistant would be a desirable addition. It is doubtful that Siri will be present in OS X Mavericks by its fall release. More likely, the voice activated assistant will be available in the next OS X release. Apple is reluctant to bite off more than they can chew. OS X releases are small and incremental, valuing stability over an abundance of new features.
Mavericks is supported on all computers that can run OS X Mountain Lion. The minimum system requirements enable Mavericks to run on: Mac Pro (early 2008), Xserve (early 2009), Mac Mini (early 2009), MacBook Air (late 2008), MacBook Pro (17″ 2007, 15″ mid 2007, 13-inch mid 2009), MacBook (13″ early 2009, 13″ aluminum late 2008), and the iMac (mid 2007). One must have Snow Leopard or greater installed in order to upgrade. Expect Mavericks to debut in the fall, probably with a different look than what was shown at the WWDC.