It’s that time of the year again. Apple has delivered the opening keynote of WWDC 2013, and with it, developer previews of OS X 10.9 and iOS 7. I’ll most likely be reviewing iOS 7 tomorrow (well sort of… these posts aren’t actually reviews as I don’t give final rankings as they are developer previews, although I will give my opinion on where Apple is going).
For starters, Apple ditched the cat names. This is so jarring that I feel the immediate need to purchase a cat and name it Mavericks. This is the end of an era. But does it signal the end of the OS X platform? Does it signal a merge with iOS? I think not (I’ll explain why in a bit).
Okay, so remember how a bunch of people have been fantasizing about iOS on the Mac? It’s not happening. Along with the Mac Pro updates, Apple has proven with the updated Finder that they do indeed still see the value of real tools like file systems, as instead of trying to minimize its presence, they’ve improved one’s ability to use it. Goodbye TotalFinder and PathFinder. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Most noticeable here is tabs! Yes, a file browser in a mainstream OS finally has tabs! Apple has heard my pleas! Remember the days of web browsing back when IE ruled both PC and Mac? Back when you had to have a different window for every page? How did we live? Oh wait… we’ve still had to deal with that in our file browsers. But no more! The greatest UI enhancement to come to web browsers in the last decade has also come to Finder. If you manipulate large numbers of files often, this will be a life-changer. And of course, for those times when you do need multiple windows, that’s still supported. And just like in Safari, you can split and merge them to your heart’s content.
Okay, enough on the tabbed Finder. Yes, that alone would make Mavericks the most important OS X release since Snow Leopard to me, but there are other things that are also important. Like tags. Remember those kind of useless colored labels that you’ve been able to tag your files with since who-knows-when? Well now you can search by them.
Oh, and it turns out that you can indeed assign arbitrary tags by right-clicking a Finder item then clicking the Tags label itself. That’s much more useful. It took me awhile to realize this. D’oh.
And while on the topic of not useful, what’s with the full-screen mode? There are many applications I resize to fill my screen. Finder has never been one of them. Despite needing to manage legions of files, I’ve never found the need to do this, despite being incredibly liberal about the amounts of screen real estate I give the application I’m working with. So… yeah, I don’t get it. As a matter of fact, I dare say it’s entirely impractical. When working with a file manager, you often want to drag and drop things into other applications. But when they aren’t in view, you’ve got a problem. Ah well. I suppose the fact that it’s there doesn’t do any harm, but I just can’t see any practical use for it.
Death to Skeuomorphism
Yes, this gets its own point (I’m obviously going to have a field day in the iOS 7 review…). And the most screenshots of any point in this post. Scott Forstall has been ousted from Apple, and with him, skeuomorphic design principles. And if you didn’t watch the WWDC keynote, you missed it. They thoroughly roasted Forstall. But sadly not literally. Suffice it to say I was hoping they were leading up to a burning of his effigy. The result? Apps that look more clean and less gaudy. Take a look. First the old 10.8 apps, then the new 10.9 ones.
I’ve long been wondering when iBooks would come to the Mac. Long have I struggled to find an app suitable for reading stuff. And maybe I’ll still struggle for awhile. Maybe it’s a bug in my upgraded install, but it seems to me as though it’s not included in this developer preview. (apparently it’s not just me)
Safari has been updated to version 7, bringing with it a few new features, most of which are somewhat obtrusively visible by default on the Top Sites page.
Apple touts the “revamped” Top Sites page itself as a major feature, although the news is you can basically customize it a little. It isn’t really a big deal in my opinion.
Safari also now includes half of a fully-featured Twitter client, in the form of Shared Links. It displays tweets from people you follow in the sidebar if the tweets have links in them.
This might be a pretty good time-waster. How much time have you spent browsing through links people have posted on Twitter? Now that functionality is built right into it! Considering I’ve got a full Twitter client open most of the time anyway, I’m not quite sure it’ll change much, but depending on your work/time-waste flow, maybe it’ll appeal to you.
Apple also claims that Safari now uses less memory. This, if true, is a very good thing, as in my experience, Safari is a memory whore. Anyway, that comparison is nearly three and a half years old, so let’s do a new one. I’ll compare Safari 6.0.4’s memory usage on OS X 10.8 with Safari 7’s on 10.9, with the same tabs open on each (my blog, The Verge, and my email).
Also worthy of note here is that each tab finally seems to have its own process. Ever had one tab freeze, and had Safari proceed to tell you that you must reload all of your tabs to fix it? And you were probably right in the middle of something important. I’ve yet to manage to get a tab to freeze, but if my theory is correct, it won’t do that anymore. Now for the memory usage comparison. Not counting the third-party Flash plugin (which is irrelevant to these tests anyway), Safari in 10.8 has a total memory usage of 763.4MB. For a mere three tabs. None of which are anything particularly intensive. Meanwhile, in 10.9, the total usage for Safari is 392.3MB. This is an improvement of nearly 49%, and possibly the most important improvement in Safari in general. Also, the new Activity Monitor. It shows a lot more information. I think I like it.
Apple has brought its (controversial) Maps app to OS X. I find the gestures to manipulate the map a bit… awkward. I suppose it’s a limitation of using a 2D screen and touchpad to navigate 3D objects. And I knew my town’s skyline was pathetic, but I didn’t realize the tallest building in Downtown Lake Charles was almost completely flat.
The primary use case of this will probably be to plan routes that will later be navigated using the mobile app, and of course Maps supports this scenario (although I can’t get it to work). At some future point when it does, it’s supposed to allow you to plan a route, then send it to an iPhone.
Another massive improvement is the ability to run full-screen apps on multiple monitors. (for those of you who haven’t used 10.7 or 10.8, yes, this was an actual thing we couldn’t do, hence why we never used full-screen apps) This should’ve been around since the beginning, but running an app in full-screen mode no longer blacks out the contents of your other monitors. Or… linens out. It actually showed the linen texture thing across the other monitor. Maybe it’s just a part of the whole skeuomorphism removal thing.
You’ll have to just picture these things side by side. Grab can only screenshot one screen at a time, and if I stitched them together, it would be hard for me to fit the image in this post. Just believe me when I say I saw both of those things at the same time. Which is unbelievably awesome. I personally still don’t see why I’d prefer a full-screen app over an app resized to fit the screen, but now I don’t have to loathe the idea anymore.
OS X Mavericks now also includes actionable notifications (notifications that you can interact with), iCloud Keychain (basically a cloud-based password manager), and numerous performance and power enhancements. I haven’t done in-depth testing, although everything does seem faster. And that can only be a good thing.
One of the performance and efficiency related improvements in Mavericks is a feature called App Nap. Basically, what it does is cut CPU usage to apps that aren’t active. I haven’t been able to test its effect on battery life, but it does have an obvious effect on CPU usage, as seen below. What’s more, it’s impossible to tell when “resuming” the “paused” app that its state had even been altered, so congratulations to Apple for accomplishing a seemingly impossible feat here.
OS X 10.9 Mavericks is quite the interesting update to Apple’s desktop operating system. It brings with it a lot of things that it should’ve had long ago (proper multiple monitor support) as well as things that are much-appreciated in the first mainstream OS to have it (Finder tabs). iBooks and Maps are also fairly common-sense additions, as are the performance and power tweaks, some of which are fairly impressive. As some of these are more difficult to examine in practice, you can read more about them at Apple’s site. Other things, like full-screen Finder, are kind of pointless in my opinion, and the omission of a new design for the Reminders app still boggles my mind, as Apple seems to have desired to banish skeuomorphism completely from its software. Actually, I would’ve liked to see a complete visual redesign of the OS to match iOS 7. The current design has been around almost completely unaltered since Lion and is getting a little long in the tooth. Ultimately, the things Apple did do are good (or harmless), but the things they didn’t are a bit disappointing. They’ve got until the final release to redesign stuff, and I’d say that’s likely for the Reminders app, but I doubt a full visual redesign of OS X will happen between now and then.