I’ve been trying to remember another time when Apple made such a major announcement with so little fanfare. OS X Mountain Lion is this year’s major Mac desktop and laptop operating system update — and it didn’t merit as much as a press conference.
Instead, the Cupertino technology behemoth held a handful of private meetings and briefings with news organizations (including Mashable), unveiling the goods to a select few, then letting the news roll in the dawn hours.
On the one hand, you have to give Apple credit. The company would probably dominate the day’s tech news if it told no one beforehand and launched its product in the middle of the weekend, just as much as it would with a big, splashy, liveblogged-up-the-wazoo event.
On the other hand, the whole affair does run the risk of making Apple appear more selective and elitist than ever.
Last year, Steve Jobs took the stage for the last time at Apple’s developer’s conference to talk about Lion, unveil iOS 5, and reinvigorate Apple’s cloud-based service with iCloud. It’s hard to think of that event and not remember the frail founder giving it his all.
Mountain Lion, however, got none of this. Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, does not appear anywhere near as comfortable on stage as Jobs (at least not from the evidence of the iPhone 4S launch). Are the days of unveiling every new Apple product with big fanfare and a lavish presentation in front of an audience over?
Some might argue that this is just a point upgrade, so there’s no need for a big show. But in case you haven’t noticed, Apple has been doing some pretty major changes under the guise of smaller point upgrades. With areported 100 new features in Mountain Lion, there’s nothing small about this update.
Yet here we are, with a developer’s version of the new OS already in our hands, a beta version of Message (the replacement for iChat) available to anyone with a Mac running Lion, and no event to pin it on.
To know what Cook and company think and feel about these changes, we have to interpret a very few selective quotes. For instance, here’s what Cook told the Wall Street Journal about Apple’s overall strategic vision for bringing OS X and iOS closer together:
“We see that people are in love with a lot of apps and functionality [on their phones]. Anywhere where that makes sense, we are going to move that over to Mac.”
Cook didn’t say that the two operating systems are merging, but he is already thinking about them “as one with incremental functionality.” And, of course, Cook managed to get a subtle ding in about Apple’s biggest competitor in the desktop OS space. “I don’t really think anything Microsoft does puts pressure on Apple,” Cook said; any pressure they feel is “self-induced.”
This puts Apple, and Cook, in the same realm as the Honey Badger: They just don’t care. Apple is now so big, so successful, so powerful, that it really can do everything its own way. This seems to be what the company is saying:
Competing? That’s for dummies. We’re in our own space, competing against ourselves.
Those event-driven product-ganzas you so loved? They were a favor we did for you. But we realized that we put a lot of time and resources into them and are not certain we got all the return we desired. We couldn’t control them to the extent we wanted, so we told only a handful of trusted outlets, to make sure you got our product message loud and clear.
In fact, I don’t think Apple will kill product events altogether. This Mountain Lion drop was almost certainly something of a throat-clearing measure before Apple’s next two or three massive product announcements:iPad 3, iPhone 5 and Apple iTV.
The rumor mill says we should expect the first as early as March 7. The iPhone 5 could come in June, and iTV could be September. Compared to them, it’s likely Apple thought Mountain Lion wasn’t big enough to warrant face time with an audience.
I hope that is the case, because if access to Apple announcements and new products remains this narrow, the company could one day find itself struggling to gain the attention it wants. I know it sounds like a crazy pronouncement now, but the one constant in the tech industry is change. If you told someone in 1999 that the global media would one day care more about product launches from Apple and Google than those of Microsoft, they’d call you insane too.
For the moment, however, Apple and Cook can do whatever the heck they want, and we’ll all still eagerly listen and cover. What choice do we have?
... There'll be more words and characters for Chinese speakers, based on a constantly updated dictionary, and they can integrate English words too. For a fast-evolving language spoken by one-seventh of the world, this is huge.
Previous Mac OS Xs had a more abstract swirl of light in space as their default desktop. Mountain Lion offers a proper galaxy.
Laptop and Desktop
Notifications on the side
Remind anyone of the Facebook ticker?
Your To Do list, synced between desktop, iPad and iPhone.
iMessage Across Platforms
Text anyone from the desktop with Apple's iPhone-to-iPhone SMS system, iMessage -- replacing iChat.
Pages, Meet iCloud
The Mac's word processing app will now be able to access documents from the same iCloud, with ease, as Pages on iPad and iPhone.
Seamlessly mirror your desktop to an HDTV with a click -- so long as you have an Apple TV.
Pin a Note
Here's how it's done, straight from the Mountain Lion manual.
And here's what the new Notes app looks like on the desktop. Previously, Notes were part of Mac Mail.