Apple's World Wide Developers Conference starts on Monday, and while the main focus appears to be on updates to iOS (read my iOS 7 wish list here) and various Mac hardware, it's highly likely we'll get an update for Mac OS X 10.9 as well. At this point, we don't know what will be announced and we don't even know which "cat" will be associated with the release. Even the picture above (a giant banner currently displayed at Moscone Center) is suspiciously free of any cats at all, so it's hard to tell where Apple is going with Mac OS X. But one thing we do know is that this year is a little different than past releases of Apple's desktop operating system.
Over the past few years, Apple has followed a fairly regular schedule for OS X releases, with the announcement of a new Mac OS in February, and then the release date announced during the WWDC keynote (with an actual release soon to follow). This year, there was no announcement in the early part of the year, but a report form Daring Fireball said that Apple had pulled developers from the OS X team to work on the big changes in iOS 7, pushing the Mac OS X release to later in the year.
There have been a few stories about what to expect in Mac OS X 10.9, such as features that will benefit power users and the possible addition of Siri and Apple Maps to the OS. So the theme seems to be about better integration across all Apple devices, but there are a few things I think should be included in Apple's next big OS to make it worth the upgrade.
Expand the iClouds
iCloud is useful for backing up and syncing already, but what it needs are more granular controls for permissions and sharing. There should be some way in a work setting to share a folder, a document, or group of files that lives in iCloud, and give a co-worker read/write permissions if needed. This would also come in handy with family members, keeping some parts of your cloud space private while making some things accessible. Hopefully, these features would come with a way to easily search what's in the cloud, no matter what device you're using.
File and document sharing should be first in line, but I think iCloud should be open to collaboration, too. I think we should be able to list a group of users who access a document and create a shared space for working together. Certainly there is software that does this already, but Apple should make it part of the OS and make it easy.
I think if Apple makes these and other new features available in iCloud, it would put it in direct competition with Google Drive.
Let me read on my Mac
iBooks has been immensely popular on both iPhones and iPads, and it only seems logical that Apple would bring it to the Mac. While not as portable as iOS, any of the MacBooks could function well as a reading device and there are certainly people who would like iBooks to sync across all their Apple devices.
'Siri, remove duplicate photos'
There have been several rumors that Apple's AI assistant would finally make its way to Macs, and if it's done well, it could be a useful tool on both MacBooks and desktops. Don't forget that Mountain Lion brought dictation tools to Macs, so it would be a natural step to bring Siri over to Mac OS X.
The question is, how much will Siri be able to do? If Siri is limited to asking for sports scores or checking the weather, the addition would only be a novelty ("Look what my Mac can do!"). But if Siri is involved in more-complex automated tasks like organizing photos in iPhoto or helping you create genius playlists with a couple of voice commands, it could be pretty useful.
So why do I want Apple Maps on the Mac? In a word: convenience. If you had the maps app on your Mac you could do things like find directions to a place on your desktop, then immediately sync to your iPhone for turn-by-turn directions once you're on the road. You also could be browsing your contacts and get immediate directions to a friend's house that would sync across all your devices.
If you believe the rumors, part of the reason Apple would bring Maps to Mac OS X is to give app developers a chance to come up with uses of their own and have it only a click away on the desktop whether they are developing for iOS or Mac.
Fix full-screen apps, please
Mountain Lion brought full-screen apps into the fold so you could focus on the task at hand without a lot of distractions. But the problem I discovered over time was that the feature had some significant flaws. The main problem is, even if you work on multiple screens, you can only have one app running in full-screen mode at a time. This means your second screen becomes useless if you decide to run an app in full-screen mode. Obviously, this needs to be fixed to support users who have more than one screen.
The second issue is much more specific, but annoying nonetheless. While in full-screen mode, if you receive an alert (perhaps you plugged in your iPhone and it demanded an update), suddenly the full-screen app becomes useless, with every click giving you an error beep and no notification anywhere that says there's an alert hidden behind your full-screen app. If you get out of full-screen mode, you'll find it, but that's hardly a good user experience. Hopefully Apple has listened to some of the big complaints about full-screen apps and is making changes for Mac OS X 10.9.
Remove Launchpad or make it the default
In Lion, Apple brought Launchpad to Mac OS X, then later with Mountain Lion, we got Messages, Reminders, GameCenter, and the Notification system. From what I'm hearing, even more iOS features are making the move to Mac OS X 10.9. But I have never loved the addition of the iOS experience of LaunchPad to desktops and laptops. It's certainly not a bad way to find software on your hard drive, but I feel like it should either be the primary method for doing it or it shouldn't be there at all.
It's one thing to bring over features that people already know from iOS. It gives people a sense of familiarity when making the switch to Mac, and there are certainly useful iPhone features that work well on a desktop. But I don't think Apple should shoe-horn features into Mac OS X that are already pretty easy to understand the way they are. In other words, if the feature doesn't make it easier or more efficient, just leave it alone. I think it's unlikely Apple will get rid of Launchpad, but I hope the company fleshes out how it wants people to interact with software and sticks to it.
What about the other Apple apps?
With another Mac OS X update on the way, I'm starting to wonder why both the iLife and iWork suites of software haven't received updates for desktop in so long. iLife's most recent major update was two years ago in 2011, while iWork has received the least attention, going all the way back to 2009 when it last got a face-lift.
These are some of the most useful suites for Macs made by Apple, so I really hope this is the year the company announces upgrades to bring them back into the fold.
Like always, Apple is not telling us what to expect at the big event on Monday morning, but rest assured there will be new features and functionality in Mac OS X that neither you nor I have probably thought about. It seems like Apple's mobile and desktop devices are continuing to move closer together for better or for worse, but it will be interesting to see if the unification of features is something people will embrace or wish Apple would keep as two separate entities.
With the focus on iOS 7, there will probably be a lot bigger news for iOS devices on Monday, but hopefully Apple has also put in the time on its original operating system and keeps the Mac as an integral part of the Apple device ecosystem.