It's been almost exactly a year since Scott Forstall left Apple and Jony Ive and Craig Federighi were put in charge of both iOS and OS X. That gave Apple a chance to create a single, unified design, to make the iPad and Mac into one. Apple's long talked about “bringing together the OS teams” and bringing iOS features “back to the Mac,” and converging the two operating systems seemed like a logical move.
But that's not what happened. Not really. Version 10.9 of OS X, called Mavericks, is just a gentle evolution of the Mac operating system Apple's been building for years. It comes with a long list of new features, plenty of under-the-hood tweaks, but a look and feel that is distinctly Mac. Even as Ive and Federighi reimagined iOS, and as Microsoft bet big on an entirely new way of interacting with our computers, the Mac has stayed the course.
Mavericks is a free upgrade, available to a wide range of people. But is this really the future of the Mac?
Like Mountain Lion, Mavericks is available for download in the App Store. But unlike Mountain Lion, which cost $19.99, Mavericks is simply listed as a "free upgrade," available to anyone currently running Snow Leopard or newer on a wide variety of machines. Once the 5.29GB download finished, it took a little less than 30 minutes for my mid-2013 13-inch Macbook Air to update, after which I was prompted for my Apple ID. Like Mountain Lion, the OS is smart enough to know if there were any incompatible apps, a nice touch that helped me know which needed to be manually updated.
Then you’re let loose in the new operating system, which pretty much feels exactly the same as the old OS, except for the new aquamarine wave desktop wallpaper.
A facelift for your dock
Apple’s Craig Federighi quipped that "no virtual cows were harmed in the making" of the new Calendar app, which is to say the gaudy fake leather and torn-paper aesthetic is completely gone. It’s a big improvement, making the interface feel much more clean and modern. It’s not exactly flat — buttons and checkboxes still have depth and shading — but it feels a lot more open. It's also much easier to sync, share, and manage Google calendars, which means you won't be driven to third-party options like Busycal
Contacts and Notes also received much-needed facelifts, but little more. Contacts now looks more like an email client, with a column of names on the left and detailed information in a larger window on the right — a big improvement over past versions’ book-like design, complete with fake binding stitching. Notes has also lost its skeuomorphism, replacing the fake yellow-lined paper with a subtly-patterned off-white sheet — though it’s still just an ultra-simple app that syncs with your iPhone.
But for all the design changes, Apple forgot about the icons. The Notes icon is still a yellow legal pad, which looks odd against the improved design. As much as people disliked iOS’ new icons, there’s a certain cohesiveness about having all the styles match up. Apple’s redesigned apps should have received redesigned icons, and the result leaves things feelings slightly old-fashioned.
Most of the other core apps haven’t changed much, and Messages and Mail are more basically the same apps as ever. Instead, Apple focused this time on new apps for OS X.
THE IOS PORTS
Apple is freeing iBooks from the iPhone and iPad and bringing it to the Mac. It’s hard to get excited about reading novels on a full-fledged laptop or iMac, but Apple's execution is pretty much all you could ask for, with a built-in store and a really nice interface. Some may find yet another standalone store to be annoying — it might be better to have iBooks built into iTunes, but it’s nice to be only a click away from the all-important New York Times bestseller list.
.It’s not the only app that feels out of place on a desktop, either. Apple Maps is a strange cross between Google Maps and Google Earth, and doesn’t seem to need its own spot in your dock. While Maps makes perfect sense on a mobile device (and has improved a lot since iOS 6), its usefulness in Mavericks is much less apparent. There’s no benefit over maps.google.com, and I can’t see anyone switching from Google’s established website to Apple’s new Maps app, regardless of how pretty it is.
Reminders is still exceedingly basic and poorly designed, just like on Mountain Lion. The main thing I wish it had is Siri, which makes it easy to set time- or location-based reminders on iOS. The mobile Reminders app is one of Apple’s most poorly designed applications, even with the iOS 7 improvements, and much of the same clunkiness has made it into the desktop version.
Everything is synced through iCloud, so if you have your phone or tablet within reach, you can dictate a reminder that will show up everywhere. In fact, iCloud is a virtual necessity with Mavericks, since SyncServices, which used to govern the syncing between devices, is now gone. You can use protocols like CardDAV and CalDAV, but iCloud is the easiest, and most integrated, solution.