Mobile devices are already responsible for the bulk of Apple’s sales and profits. Now Apple is making the new Mac system even more like the iOS software that powers its iPhones and iPads. It’s also casually dropping the “Mac” name from the Mac OS X operating software, though computers will still be called Macs, not “Super-sized iPads.”
The new system, formally OS X 10.8 and dubbed Mountain Lion, went on sale Wednesday as a $19.99 download from Apple’s App Store. It builds on the previous system, Lion, which came out last July.
Mountain Lion is made for a world where your computer is just one of your computing devices, along with your iPhone and your iPad. Apple wants to make it easier to switch from one to the other, several times a day.
It’s already easy to switch between iPhone and iPad. For instance, songs and apps you buy on an iPad will automatically pop up on your iPhone through Apple’s iCloud online-storage service. Lion has some iCloud features, but Mountain Lion really brings the Mac into the iPhone-iPad family.
Thus the best thing about Mountain Lion: It borrows a lot from its mobile cousin.
The Mac already had such mobile-like features as the ability to zoom in or out on a MacBook by pinching your fingers on its touchpad. Mountain Lion goes a lot further:
A notification center slides out from the right of the screen to offer calendar reminders and the latest mail items. It mimics, down to the background color, layout and font, the way you get Facebook updates, news alerts and other notices on your iPhone.
Facebook integration is coming this fall. You'll be able to limit who sees your post and add your current location through that share button. No longer will you have to cut and paste links. Mountain Lion will also sync contact information on Facebook friends with your Mac’s address book. You need to sign on to Facebook only once, and Mountain Lion takes care of the rest. That “single sign-on” feature is available right away for other services, including Twitter and Flickr.
As for iCloud, the best thing about Mountain Lion, all you need is an Internet connection and an Apple ID — the same one you create for free to buy songs and apps on iTunes. That Apple ID links your experience across the various devices. The iCloud service comes with five gigabytes of free storage; you can pay for more.
That means your documents follow you wherever you go. If you’re a Windows user, see what Microsoft has in store with Windows 8, which comes out Oct. 26. That system also promises to work well with tablet computers, but will it be as seamless as Mountain Lion?
If you already have a Mac, you can upgrade directly to Mountain Lion only if it’s running Lion or its 2009 predecessor, Snow Leopard. It took a colleague an hour and a half to download and install Mountain Lion. You can upgrade for free if you bought your Mac since June 11.
Otherwise, shell out the $20. That’s $20 for all your Macs, not each one. It’s well worth the price just for the integration with iCloud, and you get a whole lot more.