The new Mac OS X Lion – Apple® (affiliate link) upgrade has been one of the least hyped products from Apple, but it includes some of the best features I’ve seen in any computer operating system on the market. For the price of just $29.99, it is, in my opinion, one of the better operating system upgrades.
In all, Apple claims to have instilled Lion with over 250 new features. The chatter online and in social media circles seems to focus on the reverse scrolling direction, and while that is a new, more intuitive feature of Mac OS X Lion, it doesn’t even come close to being the best feature, or the most productive.
Over the past few days I’ve had a chance to play with the system and test the functionality, and the following list is my top 20 new features in Mac OS X Lion, some good, some bad, and they’re listed in no particular order.
(Also, if you’d like to see a few of these in action – view my YouTube video feature.)
There were several changes made to the trackpad in Mac OS X Lion. Here are the major differences, some good and some not so distinct.
Let’s get this one out of the way. The standard scrolling feature has changed in Mac OS X. Most people regard this as reverse scrolling. Some love it, and some hate it. To me, it’s a more intuitive scroll, and it helps not think about which way you are scrolling (either up, down, left, or right) but which way you want to move the content that is currently on the screen. If you want to push the content currently under your mouse upward you scroll upward pushing two fingers on the trackpad upward. If you want to move the content down you scroll two fingers down. The same works in the left and right directions, which works extremely well when zoomed in on a web page or other document. It’s essentially the same functionality installed on the Ipad and Ipad 2.
I can understand why people are getting confused, especially if you use a PC at work but a Mac at home. The constant switching could get annoying real quick, but with just a few days practice you should be ab;e to get the hang of it. If you must have conformity, you could always change the preferences on your mac by going to the Apple Logo in the top left of your screen, click on preferences, then trackpad, then Scroll and Zoom. Un-click Scroll Direction: Natural.
2. Pinch and Zoom
The pinch and zoom feature of the trackpad in Mac OS X Lion has also been improved. In Safari browser, this is particularly handy because the pinch zooms in directly under your mouse, whereas before, it simply zoomed in the entire page regardless of your mouse position. This upgrade makes zooming in on pictures quicker and much more efficient.
3. Finger Swipes
In Mac OS X, the three finger swipe up would clear you active windows and show you the desktop, but as soon as you released the trackpad the windows would fall back into place. It wasn’t really a functional swipe at all, just a quick way to get a glimpse at the desktop. The same finger swipe sideways would reveal an icon bar of active windows. The icon bar was good because you could switch to a different program, but if you had several windows open of that one program there was no way to tell which one you were switching to. Now, in Mac OS X Lion, a three finger swipe up reveals the desktop and a smarter view of the active windows as well. Removing your hand from the trackpad doesn’t snap them back into place. You can actually see the individual windows of each application and switch to them by just click on the window you want to make active. If you don’t want to make any changes, you simply swipe three fingers down again and you are returned to the same active window. This allows for faster application switching.
The icon launch pad is gone altogether, but the 3 finger swipe right and left has better functionality as well. The new swipe in Mac OS X Lion scrolls you through active windows and programs without minimizing the current view. Applications stay full size (or full screen) and if you scroll all the way to the left you can also access the widget dashboard, which is preset to show the weather, date and time, and a calculator.
4. Three Finger Tap Dictionary and Web Search
I love this next feature of Mac OS X Lion. With a triple finger double tap (not swipe) you highlight the word currently under the pointer, and you are shown a dictionary definition for that word along with a quick snippet Wikipedia entry for that word. It is amazingly helpful when reading a word you do not know, or to get clarification on how a word should be used. The triple tap works in native mac apps like Safari, and the IWork applications. (Visit the Cool Mac OS X Lion Features YouTube video to see this feature in action.)
Most of the cooler updates come by way of improved functionality. I’m not a coder, so I don’t know how involved these changes were to make, but I do know they save me a bunch of time on my side, writing, editing, and even viewing content. There are no earth shattering improvements, just some simple common sense tweaks, but they go very far in creating a more user friendly workspace. For me, the improvements in overall functionality make the upgrade well worth the price.
5. Full Screen
Apple has installed full screen viewing capabilities in most of its name brand programs like mail, calendar, safari, and the IWork suite of programs including Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. In my opinion, this is one of the cooler features of Mac OS X Lion. While other operating systems allow full screen viewing, once you enter a full screen program you are stuck using only that program. Switching to another program requires you to exit full screen, change program windows, and then enter full screen in the new program. It’s a tedious process for writers and web surfers who like to fill their screens with as much content as possible. The process is worse for people who used multiple monitors, because once you put a full screen app on one monitor and clicked over to another app on the other monitor it would bring down the full screen app on the first monitor as well. Mac OS X Lion changes all that and allows multiple full screen apps to run at the same time. To switch between them you employ the same finger swipes mentioned above. Three fingers left or right scrolls you through active windows and applications, keeping them in full screen the whole time. Also, the 3 finger swipe up still gets you to the application switcher page and desktop view. What’s more, is that hitting the escape key is not required to exit full screen or to view the menus again. Simply hover your mouse over the top part of the screen and a simple menu interface drops down for you to make selections.
The new spotlight has some great features too. Before, when searching with spotlight you had the ability to search the web right from your spotlight text search. That functionality still exists, thankfully. But, before when you searched for a file name, say a pages document called “My Resume,” it would show you all the documents with the keywords “My Resume.” If you wanted to view that file you’d have to open it and view inside the application. The extra steps can be a pain, especially if you have several documents with the word “My Resume” in the title, or inside the document itself. Now, Spotlight added a preview feature, which shows you a small clip from inside the document just by scrolling over the document title right in the spotlight results window. This cuts down a ton of searching time and makes finding the right document alot more efficient. Another improvement to spotlight is a drag and drop feature. Sometimes when you search spotlight you don’t actually want to open the file, you just want to find it, and maybe copy it to another folder. In Mac OS X Lion, you can drag and drop right from spotlight onto the desktop or into folders without launching finder to complete the move. (Visit the Cool Mac OS X Lion Features YouTube video to see this feature in action.)
7. Quick Time
Quick time was formerly the ugly step child of the media viewing programs on the market. Windows Media Player, VLC, and just about every other viewer seemed to offer more functionality and be less buggy than quicktime. But not with the Mac OS X Lion update. Quicktime was completely retooled. It’s much faster to load, and includes a few new fantastic features like:
- ability to rotate video
- merge clips into one video
- Screen capture, with voice over audio
These are game changing updates for Mac OS. Here’s why. HD cameras have gone mobile, and have completely flooded the market. Most camera manufacturers now offer a full HD camera, packet size or camcorder, and they’re cheap. Most start at just over $200, and can be purchased at nearly any electronics or office chain. Cell phones also have video capability now, including android phones and Iphones that shoot HD Video at 720p and 1080i. The only problem is that each device has a standard orientation, and very few people know just what that orientation is. That’s why there are so many sideways or upside down videos uploaded to Youtube and on peoples’ blogs. Previously, there weren’t any applications that could translate those video clips and turn them right side up. At least not any video applications that did that for free. Higher end video editing applications could do it, but that software would often cost more than the camera itself, and sometimes into the thousands of dollars. it just wasn’t practical. Now, with Lion, anyone can edit a mixed up clip and with Quicktime sharing, you can also upload it directly to Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, Itunes, MobileMe, Facebook, Mail, or Imovie. This one new tweak from Lion helps even the novice video editor to create and share his own videos online.
Merging clips copies somes of the functionality from Imovie, but makes video editing possible without needing to open that additional application. This is a great feature for those with digital camera that limit their shoot times to just short clips.
Screen capture is my favorite Mac OS X Lion update. It gives the user the ability to video capture his entire desktop or just a small window selection, plus it allows for audio recording at the same time. This replaces much of the functionality of more expensive screen capture programs like Camtasia and Screencast, both expensive premium video screen capture programs. While quicktime doesn’t give you the ability to add graphics, call outs and text, you can export that movie into Imovie and continue editing there for more advanced features. Including this kind of functionality in the new OS update makes it worth the $29.99 upgrade price, and then some. (Visit the Cool Mac OS X Lion Features YouTube video to see this feature in action.)
I work with alot of modular documents in IWork and also PDF. Often times I need to combine documents to create a larger presentation, or to mix modules to send out over email. Preview update makes it much easier to combine and save multiple documents. It also allows you to print the documents without having to open the program to which that file is associated. This functionality has existed in PC operating systems for awhile, and is a time saver now that it has come to the mac.
9. Save a Version / Revert to Saved
Perhaps the coolest feature of preview is the ability to save multiple versions of a document or to recover from a previous version. This one confused me at first, but here’s how it works: Basically, any time you change a document, preview assumes you are going to save over the document, so it doesn’t even give you the option to save any longer. Your files are auto saved at intervals you can choose. When you close the file it will auto save a version for you. If you want to make a point of saving your progress into another file, you can also go to the File Menu and select “save a version.” If you made a mistake or want to go back to a previous version, all you need to do is go to the file menu and select “revert to saved.” This will black out your active screen and show you a smaller window with two documents; the one you are currently working on in preview, and the last, most recent previous version of the same document. It will also show you a timeline on the right side of the screen through which you can select a virtually unlimited number of previous versions to view and possible restore to active status. These previous documents are not saved or displayed through your active finder window or in your document storage anywhere. The Revert to saved feature is embedded functionality, which works similar to how time machine works, though no external drive is required. As an added bonus, the revert to saved feature allows to you not only view the older files, but also edit them live, right next to your current file, so if there was, say, just a simple graphic you wanted to pull off a version and copy that to the current version of your document you can do that from this screen. It’s an amazingly helpful feature worth spending some time in.
10. Time Machine
Speaking of time machine, Lion includes a few updates here too, two of them being the ability to recover your OS if you suffer a crash, and the ability to recover from a backup drive. Most macs include a hidden recovery drive by which you could recover your OS, so this update doesn’t change the functionality in that way. Also, I’ll admit, I did not test this feature, thankfully I didn’t have the need, and hope never to need it in the future, but I can imagine the new time machine feature makes it easier to access and simpler to deploy a restore, if necessary.
The changes to finder are some of my favorite, and they include:
Merge files into new folders – As I mentioned before I often combine smaller documents into larger binder documents. Sometimes I need to move those documents into their own folders, and this was a task with the old operating system. I would have to first create the folder, place it where I wanted it to live in the finder file tree, and then drag each document into that new folder. The new merge files functionality is great. Simply highlight two or more documents, two finger click (right click) and choose “New Folder with Selection.” This places the highlighted documents into a new folder automatically. A huge time saver, especially when organizing pages documents and photos. (Visit the Cool Mac OS X Lion Features YouTube video to see this feature in action.)
Drag and drop with file count – Sometimes I drag and drop files from one folder to another, and I’m constantly checking back to make sure I got the right files into the right folders. Now, drag and drop shows you the number of files you are moving, which eliminates the guessing game of whether the right number of files made the transfer.
Finder Views – Finder adds two new views to your file structure on the left sidebar; Icon view and All Files. Icon view looks much like what you’d see on an ipad, it shows your documents as file type icons with the names of the file below the icon. You can swipe or scroll left or right to move through your list of icons, and scroll up or down through a list of documents sorted by type. The all files view basically shows you everything on your computer, helpful for sorting and viewing based on last modified.
12. Apple ID
Having an apple ID was fairly useless before. It allowed you to access some of Apple’s online content like mobile me, and Idisk, two features being phased out as I write this article, in favor of their new ICloud platform. But, with the Mac OS X Lion update, an Apple ID is made useful. For one, you can use it to remotely access any mac on which you have a registered Apple ID. Apple takes it a step further and makes it a mirror, by allowing you to access that computer without disrupting its user, who might be working on something else while you access it. You can also have the ability to observe what that person is doing on the computer, and even to control their screen, two options great for helping someone remotely. You can also use another contact’s Apple ID to share your screen in a peer-to-peer sharing session without having to worry about that person getting access to your computer or your files. A gain, I see this being well traveled in student circles and in educational institutions.
This is a cool feature that some web browsers have added in over the past few years. When you put your computer to sleep or even when you power down completely, you can choose to have all the active apps that were running before the shutdown open up again after the relaunch. This is a handy feature if you use much of the same apps every day, as it saves you some time opening them each up.
14. Air Drop
Airdrop is an update on some native functionality already installed in the Mac OS X software. Most macs will pickup other macs within wi-fi range, and you can share files through your public folder if you have enable file sharing in your preferences. That’s why Airdrop isn’t anything new really. However, what it does add, is a much better GUI for sharing, and less options to fumble with when trying to send or receive files to or from friends. Rather than having to dig down into a shared folder through the finder window, you simply access your airdrop menu in the finder sidebar and see all the contacts within wireless range. Sharing is as simple as dropping the file right on their head. Mac is already very popular on college campuses, and I can see this addition being popular among students as well.
15. Launch Pad
I’m not wild about this addition to Lion. It’s another copy from Ipad, but its utility really ends with being able to group applications into their own folders. Technically you could already do this within your own custom applications folder. Launchpad just makes it look nice and neat.
The Facetime camera application must have gotten only a lipstick remodel, because it’s functionality doesn’t seem that different than before. If you have an older mac with a lower resolution camera, the new Facetime program isn’t really going to improve your experience. Plus, is anyone really using Facetime to connect with other people when both google and skype are much more ubiquitous?
There really wasn’t much added in terms of new applications, just a few new features added to existing applications which come native in the Mac OS. Outside of the Iwork suite of programs, I don’t use many of the native mac apps, but for people who do, they will see a few new features that both same time on common tasks, and make for a more pleasant graphic user interface.
17. App Store
The App store is another bit of functionality borrowed from Ipad, and it continues to improve everyday as more and more applications are added. I always hated trying to setup all my programs for auto updates, or worse, actually trying to manage which updates are installed and which are just superfluous bloatware. Now, with the OS update, the App Store icon will show a number highlighted in a red circle badge, letting you know there are updates to one or more of your applications. Simply click the app store icon and choose which, if any, applications you feel the desire to update.
I like less windows open on my screens and Mail is just another window, so to be honest, I really don’t use mail to it’s fullest capacity. Rather, I choose to use Gmail. There are more frequent updates to Gmail and it integrates better with the other Google services I use. With that said, this most recent update includes a few cool features, like conversation viewing, similar to functionality started by Gmail. The thing I like about Mail’s conversation view is that it numbers the emails in the order which they were received or sent. Sure, it’s pretty obvious that the email on the bottom is the most recent, but it’s still nice having those page numbers. There is also a small margin separating the actual mail items in conversation view, which is also a good design feature. Gmail just uses a collapsable panel, and all the emails touch. Apple also includes a conversation view in the preview window at left. This shows which emails were replies and which were standard sent mail from your side. In my opinion, this feature is just overkill and serves only to make the preview screen more confusing. With that said, I plan to stick with Gmail.
Apple touted this update more than any other in their Mac OS X Lion web page, and I can’t understand why. The people I know who use Cal use it for basic meetings. Rarely do they use it for invites, or more advanced functionality. Whatever the updates are in this program, I just don’t see the amazing utility.
20. Address Book
This is similar to my feeling with Calendar. Apple claims to have updated the contact view area of the address book, but the functionality of the program remains virtually the same as the previous OS. I don’t like it nearly as much as Gmail’s new feature showing the contact information of the person who sent that email, along with their google profile and any other information Google can garner about them from the web. Also, there is a google plugin called Rapportive, which enhances the Gmail contact pane and gives you the ability to search your contact’s online profile without going to your contacts tab.
That’s my top 20 new features in Mac OS X Lion. If you enjoyed the article, you might also like the article I wrote on changing your social media security settings on applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Google +. Also, consider getting other cool articles updates via rss. You can subscribe in the Connect box at the top left of the page.
Also, if you have another tip that I missed here, or just want to mention a feature that you like OR dislike in the new Mac OS X update, please leave a comment below.