With the addition of new mapping software and turn-by-turn navigation in iOS 6, Apple's addressing one of its mobile operating system's last glaring flaws. Android's had a leg up with free turn-by-turn in the form of Google Maps Navigation since 2009. That changes this fall, assuming Apple Maps is up to snuff. Out of all the updates announced for OS X and iOS on Monday, a homegrown map solution is probably the biggest. But in a lot of ways, the smaller updates are more interesting, and taken as a whole we can see how little changes point towards the future of both platforms.
OS X Lion introduced some features pulled straight from iOS--like Launch Pad and full screen apps--that were clearly aimed at a new crowd buying Macs for the first time. That didn't work out quite so well--Lion drew considerable criticism upon release last summer for tinkering with popular features like Expose and awkwardly shoehorning mobile features into OS X. Mountain Lion will arrive almost exactly a year after Lion, and there are even more features migrating over from iOS.
The difference is, this time around Apple seems to be patching up Lion's mess by creating some consistency between the two operating systems. Maybe it's only a matter of time until Apple's mobile designs swallow up OS X, but with features like Notification Center, dictation, and AirPlay leading the charge, integration doesn't seem so bad. As OS X plays catch up, iOS is focusing more and more on mobile's next big thing: location-based services.
The Future of OS X: Mobile Apps on a Bigger Screen
Every noteworthy feature coming to Mountain Lion was born for an iPhone. And you know what? That's perfectly okay, when implemented properly. Interacting with iOS and OS X can be a similar experience thanks to Apple's great multitouch gestures, and porting apps like Reminders and Notes to the Mac will enable cross-platform syncing between devices. Documents in the Cloud works towards the same goal. Apple is rapidly approaching a point at which every basic service you use will tap into iCloud and sync whatever you're doing to phone, tablet and computer.
Messages, which has been available on Lion in beta form for months, also helps pull the two platforms together. It replaces Apple's old iChat service and does its best to blur the lines between phone-based SMS communication (which iMessage replaces, in iPhone-to-iPhone communication, by sending data over the Internet) and classic instant messaging. Game Center offering cross-platform play fits into the same category: if Apple is able to encourage iOS developers to release more great multiplayer games like Ticket to Ride on Mac and iOS, the Mac App Store's gaming section could really take off.
Notification Center is perhaps the biggest no-brainer addition of them all: Macs have been using Growl for years to push application-based notifications, and the popular unified Notification Center from iOS will condense that experience in a swipeable notification list. Growl will still exist, and its developers are encouragingly building in Notification Center support. Apple's site notes that the notification center will be triggerable with an edge gesture: "Swipe to the left from the right edge of the trackpad to visit Notification Center anywhere in OS X. Even from a full-screen app."
We hope that gesture and the addition of Launchpad search imply Apple is dedicating more thought to the desktop implementation of mobile features. Launchpad was a poor addition to OS X because it took oversized icons designed for touch screens and placed them on a device that primarily relied on a keyboard and mouse/trackpad for productivity. Adding in search plays to that strength and integrates the popularity of Spotlight while still providing Mac newcomers with a familiar grid of apps.
Dictation, while certainly useful, feels like a placeholder for a Mac version of Siri. By the time Mountain Lion's successor arrives, just about every aspect of the computer experience will tie into the cloud and be familiar for iOS users. The more popular iCloud becomes, the easier it is for Apple to abandon hard drive storage and sell solid state systems--they'll have trained all their users to store everything in the cloud and access it all from within dedicated apps. Who needs the Finder?
iOS 6: Location, Location Location
Google Maps is out, and Apple's homemade mapping solution is in. Data from TomTom and other sources (including users, since Apple can leverage anonymous crowdsourcing for traffic info) is powering Apple Maps and turn-by-turn navigation, which will have to be awesome out of the gate to fill the void left by Google Maps. Updates and improvements to this map service may become a running trend over the next few years, and at the same time Apple's going to start doing a lot more cool stuff with location-based services.
In iOS 5, Apple combined its Location Services with Siri to do some really cool things with notes and reminders. They made it easy to set reminders for home or the office--even if Siri doesn't always work as well as intended, the location-based aspect is brilliant and natural.
That technology will keep showing up in new apps every year. It's like the positive flip side of creepy targeted advertising in sci-fi films like Minority Report, except it's actually real. We can use it right now. And it's getting better.
A new iOS 6 app, Passbook, looks like a nice little convenience at first glance. It organizes things like movie and airline tickets and gift cards and coupons into a colorful app. But here's the cool part: "Wake your iPhone or iPod touch, and passes appear on your Lock screen at the appropriate time and place — like when you reach the airport or walk into the store to redeem your gift card or coupon."
Passbook doesn't allow you to import information yourself--app developers will have to build in support for the service--but the concept is awesome. Go to Starbucks, pull out your phone, and see a coupon. Show up at the airport and have all your flight information in-hand immediately without digging through emails. This is the kind of technology Apple should be integrating into every service it fits with.
Why not pair it with AirPlay, so that music starts playing when you get home, or turns off when you leave? Or to adjust call settings based on locations--at the library? Do Not Disturb clicks on. Location Services are the most exciting forward-looking technology Apple's built into iOS, and we expect them to do come up with even better uses for it in the future. Reminders, To-Do Lists and Passbook are a good starting point.