iOS Morphing Into a Desktop OS?
During the Apple WWDC, I was really struck at just how many features were added into iOS 5 and just how few new features had been added to Lion. Don’t get me wrong here, I like Lion a lot but after using many of the 250 new features, few altered how or what someone can do with a computer or already to with a tablet. The one exception was AirDrop, which makes peer-to-peer sharing easier. Also, many of the iOS features seemed like desktop features, and the new Lion features appeared to make it look more like iOS features. Let’s take a look.
New Desktop-Like Features in iOS 5
Tabbed Browsing: I remember some apologists explaining away the lack of tabbed browsing with the iPad 1. Now Safari has tabs…. on its 9.7″ display.
- Basic Photo Editing: No longer an add-on app like my favorite, Photogene, photo enhancements are available right inside the Photos app. Users can use auto-enhance, remove red eye and even crop photos.
- Reading List: Previously available on the Mac, the iOS Safari browser has the Reading list, a place to save articles you wish to read later.
- Mail Features: Now users can edit email text, add or delete email folders, and even search all the email text, not just the subject line for topics. All of this in the new Mail.
- Calendar Features: Like on Lion, users can drag time bars to set meeting time, can view attachments inside the calendar app and even share calendars.
- Mirroring: Via a cable to wirelessly through an Apple TV 2, see on a monitor or TV exactly what is on the iPad 2 or iPhone 4s.
- Improved Task Switching: With new “multitasking” gestures, users no longer need to click the home button to return to the home screen or switch between apps. They use a four-finger left-to-right gesture to switch tasks and what I call the “claw” to go to the home screen.
New iOS-Like Features in Lion
New Gestures: Every iOS user is familiar with finger scrolling, tap to zoom, pinch to zoom and swipe to navigate. Now this is available on a Lion Mac.
- Full Screen Apps: By design, every iOS is full screen. Now Lion has this capability.
- App Store: Required since the first iPhone, now ships with Lion.
- Launchpad: This is Lion’s fancy name for iOSs Home Screen. A bunch of app icons.
- Mail Improvements: Yes, even desktop Mail is getting more like iOS. In this case, adding full height message panes.
So What? Why Should we Care?
So what does this mean, if anything? It is too early to tell, but it could signal a few alternative scenarios:
- Unity of UI? By uniting many of the UI elements across phone, tablet and computer, quite possibly it could make switching between iPhone, iPad and Mac easier. Also, as advanced HCI techniques like voice and air gesture emerge, do input techniques get even closer? Can one metaphor work across three different sized devices?
- Easier Switch to Mac from Windows? The logic here says, even if you were brought up on a Windows PC, if you can use an iPhone or iPad, you can use a Mac.
- Modularity? I’ve always believed that a modular approach could work well in certain regions and consumer segments, but only if the OS and apps morphed with it. For example, a tablet with a desktop metaphor makes no more sense that a desktop with a tablet metaphor. What if they could morph based on the state but keep some unifying elements? For instance, my tablet is a tablet when it’s not docked. When docked it acts more like you would expect with keyboard and mouse. They two experiences would be unified visually and with gestures so that they didn’t look like two different planets, but two different neighborhoods in the same city.
- Desktop OS Dead or Changing Dramatically? What is a desktop OS now? If a desktop OS is a slow-booting, energy-consuming, keyboard-mouse only, complex system, then Microsoft is killing it with Windows 8 next year anyways, so no impact.
- Simplicity Dead? If phone and tablet OSs are becoming more like desktop OSs, is that good for simplicity? Or are desktop operating systems getting more like phone and tablet operating systems? How do you mask the complexity and still be able to do a lot?
Where We Go From Here
We will all get a front row seat next year to see how users react to one interface on three platforms. Windows 8 will test this next year and Metro UI will be on phones, tablets and PCs. The only caveat here is the Windows 8 desktop app for traditional desktop which will server as a release valve for angst and a bridge to the future. Whatever the future holds, it will be interesting.