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The iOS-ification of Mac OS X — Mac OS X 'Mountain Lion' — Feeling Like Prey Now

I wrote about the iOS-ificiation of Mac OS X on Feb 6, and how Apple thinks that that a Mac is an iPad or iPhone:

In my view, 90% of the changes in Lion are useless eye candy (good for marketing), but create their own sticky problems: they degrade the user’s ability to get productive work done.

See the in-depth discussion at DaringFireball.com on 'Mountain Lion'.

Now Apple is surging strongly in the iOS direction. which should make anyone nervous who actually uses their Mac for productive work. Final Cut Pro users know this painfully well, when Apple moved to a “better” product that had no way of opening existing projects. Huge investments in training and hardware were thus devalued. Apple has finally moved to address that issue, but the damage was done, forcing many in the video area to start considering alternatives.

One problem is that “making things as they should be” presumes that the target market are teenagers that like Shiny Objects (I like them too, since the iPhone is the most useful phone I have yet used, but I can't get useful work done on my iPhone or iPad, it is just too tediously slow to accomplish basic tasks).

What if the end user relies on time-proven features that are simply better for getting work done, features that don’t fit the new iOS religion? I could see command key shortcuts being eliminated, because [fill in the blank with specious logic from an iOS user]. I don't think that will happen, but as evidence that too little thought is given to the matter, consider the lack of a command-key shortcut for Duplicate in Apple’s Pages progam. Along with the fact that two “Duplicate” commands make it impossible to add a shortcut that works. But that is just a detail, the real issue is the design failure to realize that the conceptually clean Duplicate command (shortcut or not) forces a Duplicate-Save-navigate-rename workflow that is more error prone and time consuming than the near-instant save-as-Enter (cmd-shift-S, Enter) workflow.

Now maybe Apple will get things right in the move forward, but also Apple has already proven that (in Lion) that they will be sloppy and will alter the user interface in ways that degrade usability in all sorts of small ways, and thus add tedium to what have been simple tasks. That is what make me feel like prey; I don’t want an iToy for my daily work; I want changes only if they make my work more efficient. I am eager to change when there is a more efficient way to do things, but I am not happy about spending more of my day on the same tasks— I work every day to make a living, and small things add up.

The new and greatly simplified file system based on iCloud holds potential for making a mess of existing file dialog interfaces for productive work, as do the new security features (AppStore or signed app or a headache). And maybe not— it all depends on the thought given to modifications made around those features.

Maybe what is troublesome about the whole thing is that the orientation of the user interface appears to turn from creative productive work to consumption (chatting, listening to music, watching videos, text messaging, etc). Like the malaise of the culture at large. Certainly my perspective is one of constantly producing for my multiple web sites, with no time to spare for passive entertainment.

Apple needs to move forward, but I hope that considerably more thought is applied to Mountain Lion than the flippant changes in Mac OS X Lion. Bringing iOS features forward for a common experience between i* and Mac OS X is the right direction, but should it result in impaired productivity for professional users, then it’s a game of winners and losers. I hope Apple will make it all “win” at all levels— elegance means simple and easy to use, and efficient, not trading off one for the other. That is why iPhone and iPad have succeeded brilliantly. But just as translating a great work from one language to another poses risks to the integrity of the original, so too does iOS-ifying Mac OS X.

Already, one sarcastic reader has emailed me telling me I am “resistant to change” and “how hard is it to...” because his workflow is better for him (it’s not even a workflow as he describes it, and it’s certainly not my workflow), telling me to make a shortcut for Duplicate (doesn’t work and doesn’t solve the issue, as I documented), and this address my point: when useful functionality is changed without thinking it through, it can permanently degrade efficiency for some workflows, and to add insult to injury, one is a labeled a luddite for not agreeing that worse is better. Think FCP.

It does not have to be that way; forward progress can be made without degrading productive workflow. There is no way for me to reclaim the efficiency of one aspect of my workflow that I enjoyed in Snow Leopard, nor is there any alternative, and it’s not like there is an equally efficient alternative for my particular task, which I must do many times a day. One such thing can be tolerated, the risk of 3 or 5 or 10 such “minor” changes presents a greater challenge. That is what I hope Apple avoids.

Reader comments

Anssi from Finland writes:

Read your piece on Mountain Lion and on Daring Fireball.

I understand your point with Lion but maybe you're being a bit prejudiced with Mountain Lion.

What I read on Daring Fireball on Apple's plans those are not to fit Mac and iPad together and make Mac OS run the same OS as iPad.

App signing isn't hurting pro users. I think it's a major plus for computer users in general. You can still sell your tools without Mac App Store and without signing and people can still install them, but average users (non-professionals, like my parents) are better of with just App Store and signed apps so they don't have to worry so much with their computers. They are not using DiskTester anyway.

Professionals (like the pro-photogs reading your sites) and more tech-oriented can keep app signing off and install whatever they want. So you don't need to register with the Apple Developer ID if you don't see it fit.

About iCloud Documents Daring Fireball says it's possible to still use traditional file management and I think that's great. I don't think Apple is going to require apps like Photoshop leave traditional file management, even if their goal is to hide file management from the average user.

And then the app thing. They're making apps like Reminders (to-dos, now in iCal), Notes (now in Mail) and Messages (iMessages, earlier not found on Mac) the same on Mac as on iOS so that every user can expect the same weather using a computer or a mobile device from Apple.

I do get your point about Duplicate and bad interface with iCal and Address Book in Lion. But that's a bit harsh to judge Mountain Lion on. Maybe you just had such a major disappointment with Lion that you're now being prejudicial against Mountain Lion too? I mean, the voice of your tone did sound very frustrated.

Anyway, don't take this as negative feedback. I find you and your photography and Mac sites essential sources for information.

DIGLLOYD: I mean what I write, but that doesn’t mean that I mean what I didn’t write.

So if it’s not clear, I completely agree that offering i* functionality on the Mac is a Good Thing that further broadens the appeal of the Mac and i* platforms. So long as it does not degrade productivity for professionals and users for which the Mac is a tool for getting work done efficiently.

The devil is in the details. Lion showed a sloppiness that impairs my workflow to this day. Frusrated? Certainly and with good reason, because my workflow remains impaired, albeit in a way that is tolerable. It is more such impairments that concern me— why should I not believe that Mountain Lion *could* make it worse, if only for lack of attention to workflow issues for users like myself

It might not, but the design train has left the station. Witness the Final Cut Pro fiasco for video users, where the new version vaporized the investment in training and workflow (which Apple did finally take steps to address). No laughing matter for video production outfits with millions invested in their processes.

The implications of digital app signing run much deeper than a first glance. Nothing guarantees that Apple will not remove the capability or running non-signed apps, though why not a locked-down Mac OS X for China or Iran, to enable greater government control?

Sure, developers can forgo sales by not using the App Store. Or use the App Store and risk a 100% sales loss at Apple's whim, at any time, unless the developer complies with any Apple demand, subject to an updated “agreement” that Apple can unilaterally change at any time, for any reason.


Max Your Mac Pro at OWC

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