Back to the iPad: What Apple should take from OS X Mountain Lion and give to iOS 6
Apple is clearly bringing the best parts of the iPad to the Mac, but how about bring iOS some of the best parts of OS X as well?
Yesterday Apple released the OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion developers preview, and like OS X 10.7 Lion before it, front and center was a drive to take what worked best in iOS in general, and the iPad in specific back to the Mac. To make an Apple experience that's more consistent across their two platforms.
But how about a little quid pro quo? There are several aspects of OS X, including some of what's being implemented in Mountain Lion, that I'd love to see in iOS 6.
Messages for OS X replaces the venerable iChat and brings iMessage to the Mac, including the ability to send text messages, as well as picture, video, and audio messages, and to share location and contact information. Just like in iOS, you get delivery and, if enabled, read receipts.
You can literally send an iMessage from your Mac at your desk, pick up your iPad and send a reply from the couch, then grab your iPhone and continue the conversation out the door. It does test the boundaries between connection and noise, staying in touch and being just to much, but it's there on the Mac if you want to use it.
And unlike the iPad, it also handles AIM, Jabber, Google Talk, and Yahoo! Messenger protocols. Can we have this for iOS?
The ideal would be a webOS-style Synergy, where Apple would collect all your IM accounts in silos and present them in a unified view, so it doesn't matter to the user what protocol anyone else is using, they just see it in iMessage. (Sort of like the unified inbox in Mail doesn't care which account anyone is sending from, or which account you're receiving from.)
One Messages app to rule them all, however, would be a good start. (Especially if they could figure out the iMessage overload issue.)
Notes has been around since iOS 1 (iPhone OS 1) and works in the best tradition of the venerable [http://www.treocentral.com](Palm OS) memos, automatically saving anything entered into it. Aside from some typeface choices added to settings, however, and rich-text options made system-wide, it hasn't had much attention over the years.
The Mountain Lion version keeps the iPad aesthetic but adds some functionality, including rich text formatting options, the ability to add images, and to tear off pages to stick to the desktop. It's not TextEdit-type functionality, much less Pages, but it's... something.
It's going beyond simple notes but not entering the realm of true text editor. It's closer akin to the very basic image editing features added to Photos in iOS 5.
I don't know if we'll see anything so "widget"-like as page tearing in iOS any time soon, but the ability to do rich text, basic formatting, and paste images would be nice. What would be even nicer would be more typeface choices, like the Mac.
Marker Felt, Chalkboard, and Helvetica make for a rather anemic selection. iBooks offers more for reading than Notes does for writing. iOS in general, now that it has far more processing power and bigger storage options, could do with more typographic options to go with it.
Both iOS 5 and OS X Lion make abundant use of the linen texture, but its inconsistency in iOS has caused some consternation in the design community. Given linen's use in the fast app switcher and folders, it seems to signify a layer beneath the Home screen -- something literally in the background. Yet Notification Center slides down on top of the Home screen.
Mac Notification Center uses linen, but is visibly beneath the scenes, just like folders and the iOS fast app switcher. It's more consistent, which is far from a mainstream problem to to be sure, but it's something Apple usually nails. So, yeah, want that.
The stacked banners shown off for Mountain Lion could work on iPad but not the limited screen real estate of the iPhone. Already on the iPhone the banners often obscure buttons at inopportune moments (until they automatically go away or you manually dismiss them.
Again, webOS does this better by making notifications much easier to dismiss with a quick swipe.
So take the background layering from the Mac, but take the functionality from webOS.
This is the big one. The thing most power iPhone users have probably dreamed of since the original, no-third-party-apps iPhone launched in 2007 -- the thing that led to the jailbreak scene. The ability to run apps not approved by Apple. The ability to run app that come from outside the App Store.
The Mac has always been able to do that. (The Mac App Store is a very recent development). With Mountain Lion, however, Apple has given users the choice -- run only App Store apps, run App Store apps and non-App Store apps signed by identified developers, and run any app, no matter where it comes from.
The App Store provides a lot of security -- it minimizes the chance for malware or other malicious software. For all the hoops developers have to jump through to get their apps approved, it creates a trusted environment that makes users not only confident and willing to buy apps, but eager to.
Non-App Store apps signed by identified developers is a good middle-ground. They don't need Apple approval but if any of them are found to be malicious, their certificate can be revoked.
Unfortunately, I don't think this would mean much for iOS. It still wouldn't allow the tweaks that jailbreak users enjoy, the ones that hack into notification center or the dock or folders or the messages system, or otherwise modify the system itself. It could potentially allow porn, copy-cat or other intellectual-property violating apps, GPL-licensed apps, and the few remaining things Apple still blocks or removes from the store, but what else? Tethering apps? Apple may yank certificates for those anyway. And unlike the Mac, the potential market doesn't seem worth the effort on iOS.
A few more things
There's more from OS X and the Mac, past and present, that I'd like to see on the iPad and iOS. In no particular order:
- FaceTime conference calls. Like the iChat that Mountain Lion kills off, the big iPad screen -- especially a Retina display on a quad-core iPad 3! -- should allow for multi-person calling.
- iPhoto. The built-in photos app has basic editing now, but it doesn't have the range of tools iPhoto offers. Aperture could be an App Store app, but unifying Photos and iPhoto, like iChat and Messages, should be on the agenda.
- Print to PDF. A built-in PDF printer option, built into AirPrint, that goes right to Documents in the Cloud, would be great for everything from Mail to Safari.
- Per-account mail signatures. No reason the current signature setting can't be moved down a step in the Settings hierarchy. Work and play can't always have the same signature.
- Top Sites for Safari. I could do without the forced curve effect, but quickly getting my most common sites as thumbnails is very convenient.
- Launch center. Or Expose. Apple originally tested a more Expose-like fast app switching system before settling on the current, dock-behind-a-the-dock approach. Visually, it still seems like a better metaphor, especially for a larger display like the iPad. Apple used it in Safari (well before webOS cards), and they could still take it system-wide.
I'm sure others would add multi-use login, or even guest login, to the list, but it's fairly clear Apple means for iOS devices to be personal devices at this point.
While iOS is based on the same core as OS X, and they share many of the same concepts and ideas, if different implementations at times, there's a lot about the Mac that should now go back to the iPad. Hopefully Apple has that planned for iOS 6.