OS X Mountain Lion drops in July for just $19.99. That’s the word out of WWDC in San Francisco. We scoured Mountain Lion’s more than 200 new features to find the 15 best and most useful new features worth getting excited about.
1. Power Nap
ABOUT. FREAKING’. TIME. By far, this is the number one feature I can’t wait for. Anyone who’s ever had their productivity slow to a crawl while Time Machine runs a backup or while system updates are downloaded knows just how overdue this feature is. Power Nap is Apple’s cutesy way of saying that backups and updates will now occur while your Mac is in sleep mode. You don’t have to do anything — it’s all automated. Your Mac will even auto-download updates for your apps and install them, all while it’s sleeping. Brilliant!
2. Documents in the Cloud
Documents are the number one most-used file type when it comes to productivity, so why iCloud launched without document support, I can’t imagine. But now it’s here, and if it works as advertised, it should be glorious. Instead of saving documents solely to your Mac, saving them to iCloud automatically sends them to all of your devices: iPhone, iPad, even other Macs. And any changes you make on any device are made to all versions of your doc on every device. (Microsoft can and will opt to take advantage of this feature with Office/Word for Mac, thanks to Apple’s new API.) A convenient iCloud Document Library gives you direct access to a full list of all of your iCloud docs.
For years, cell phone owners have paid an extra monthly fee (or package fee) for texting to other mobile users. But with the convergence of iChat and iOS Messages, Apple seems to be on a mission to do away with traditional text messaging altogether. And who needs it, when you can quickly and easily message anyone at any time from any device? Not only can iOS devices send wireless messages to one another, SMS style; now your Mac is getting in on the act, too. Messages works with your phone number and/or email address, allowing anyone who has one of those things to send you a text or chat-style message. And given that this is Apple, it does it in an elegant, attractive, super-simple way. Messages also supports third-party chat services like AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, and Jabber. And you can switch from texting to FaceTime video calls with a single click from inside the app.
Messages is more than an SMS replacement. It’s your new hub for direct, one-on-one communication.
Siri may not be ready to migrate to the Mac yet, but we’re getting the next best thing. Dictation on your Mac will work the same way it does on your iPad. Basically, anywhere you’re able to type, you can choose to dictate instead. Using the same speech-recognition engine that Siri is built on, Dictation is easily accessed via an app’s Edit menu, or by double-pressing your keyboard’s Function key. It even understands punctuation commands like “period” and “new paragraph.” Best of all: it works with any app in which you can type. Even Word.
5. Mail VIP
As I type this, the little red bubble hovering over the Mail icon in my Dock says “1015.” Which means there are 1,015 messages in my Inbox currently marked as unread. Needless to say, I get a ton of email. (I work for several websites like this one, and I write suspense/thriller novels, too.) Hundreds of emails a day. A lot of them are press releases and the like. I’m not complaining — those things are a crucial part of my job, and I need them. But being deluged with so much email can make it hard for an urgent one from my editors to jump out at me, or maybe the latest email from my wife. The VIP concept fixes this problem with the kind of obvious simplicity that Apple does so well. It gives more prominent placement to emails received from people you’ve designated as important. You just go through your contacts and mark them as “VIP”s, and Mail takes it from there. Love it!
Twitter is being integrated into OS X the way it’s in iOS, where you sign in once in Settings and can then share and Tweet from inside most apps. Awesome. But the bigger headline is that Apple and Facebook have settled whatever issues kept them apart in the past, because Facebook is being integrated into OS X (and iOS!) as well. Beyond simply being more convenient for Facebook users, there are some genuinely useful aspects of this partnership. Namely, Address Book will now sync with Facebook, so that your contacts will be merged into your personal files. Since a lot of Facebook users post personal contact details on their Facebook profile, you’ll find that phone numbers and email addresses you didn’t have, have been filled in in Address Book. It’ll even update information stored in Address Book whenever a user changes their information on Facebook.
Facebook integration won’t be available in July when Mountain Lion ships, but Apple is promising it to users sometime this Fall. (Probably at the same time that iOS 6 drops.)
7. Share Button
Just like in iOS, Apple is adding the Share button to apps in OS X. So you’ll be able to share photos, video, links, documents, and other files right from inside apps like Messages and Safari. You have four services you can share through: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or Vimeo. Anybody else notice a glaring omission from that list? No YouTube. On top of the whole Maps thing in iOS, it looks like Apple is going out of its way to snub Google (which owns YouTube) in other ways, as well.
I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s homegrown Notes app. The yellow legal pad look has been done to death, and there are a number of iOS apps, web apps, and yes even Mac apps that handle notes and lists far better. But Mountain Lion is set to make Notes a lot more useful by letting you change fonts, add links, photos, and attachments, and other formatting niceties. But here’s the real kicker: you can now pin notes right onto your desktop so that they’re always right in front of you. That’s just a great idea.
iOS lets iPhone and iPad users mirror their screens up on a flatscreen by connecting to Apple TV. Now Mountain Lion is following iOS’ lead, by letting Mac users do the same (sensing a theme here?). Share photos or videos with the whole room, or play a video game and let others watch up on the big screen. AirPlay Mirroring supports up to full 1080p resolution, so if your apps are HD-friendly, they won’t lose any resolution on your television. And it’s not just TVs that are getting in on the action — AirPlay-enabled speakers will also stream audio from your Mac.
It’s not a game-changer for every user, but educators will love it, and for anyone with an Apple TV, it’s pretty nifty.
10. Notification Center
Anyone who uses iOS knows that notifications are a big deal. Any app can be configured to send you alerts for any reason. Mail sends a notification when you have something new in your Inbox. Calendar sends one when you get near to an upcoming event. Facebook sends you an alert if another user so much as thinks your name. (Okay, that’s a lie. But it might as well be true, as often as Facebook sends users alerts for everything under the sun. To be fair, you can change what Facebook alerts you about in the app’s settings.) Other apps use them for all sorts of things — from breaking news to updates to the apps themselves. It’s handy to have all of those notifications in one spot, and now Mac users will get this feature as well.
The flip side to this coin is that if you get a lot of notifications, they can consume your time. OS X’s implementation of Notification Center is a nice list pane that slides out from the right side of the screen, via a swipe gesture, and it can be edited so that you only see the alerts you want to see, and in the order you want them in.
Notification Center is a feature that’s way too useful not to use. But you’ll often find yourself wishing it would just shut up, already.
11. Safari improvements
I’ve never been a Safari fan or user, but the latest advances are tempting me. “Reading Lists” eliminate the need for Instapaper or Readability, providing stripped-down content saved from web pages for you to read later. iCloud Tabs is a smart idea: it transfers open web pages to your iOS devices, and vice versa. The URL bar has been unified with the search bar, Chrome-style. A new “Tab View” feature lets you pinch-to-view a side-scrolling, zoomed-out gallery of your open tabs. Safari even supports the new “Do Not Track” privacy standard.
12. Rename files from title bar
It’s a little thing, but I bet it will come in handy just about every single day. In apps like TextEdit, you’ll now be able to click on the app’s title bar — that bit all the way up at the tippy-top of the app — where the name of the file you’re working on is shown, and change the file’s name right from there.
All the features that no one on iOS really uses are coming to OS X! Woohoo! Okay, I included this one just because you can now play multiplayer games with iPad and iPhone users, which is utterly awesome.
14. Scroll Bars
OS X’s scroll bars have been overhauled so that in Mountain Lion, they expand when you hover your cursor over them. Yeah, it’s a minor change, but if you’re still not down with the whole scrolling-by-gestures thing, it should come in mighty handy.
15. Widget love
It’s been a long time since Apple has made any real noise about Widgets. (I like to think of them as the spiritual predecessor of iPhone Apps, since both are small, tightly-focused programs that typically exist to do just one thing.) Mountain Lion will make Widget-lovers’ day by adding in a Widget browser, the ability to search your own Widgets, and folder creation, so you can sort and group your Widgets however you like.