updated 06:37 pm EDT, Wed July 25, 2012
Latest OS brings deep iCloud integration
As promised, Apple has released the ninth major revision to its OS X operating system, v10.8 Mountain Lion, approximately five months after it was first announced. The update brings deeper iCloud integration, even more features inspired by iOS, and a long list of other tweaks and improvements.
The installation process is simple and straightforward. Lion users can simply open the Mac App Store, approve the $20 purchase, and begin downloading the 4GB file. In our case, the automated installation process took approximately 45 minutes and a reboot.
Apple introduced iCloud after Lion had already arrived, falling short of the full potential for the cloud-based features on the desktop OS. Mountain Lion overcomes any of these limitations and places iCloud at the forefront, syncing data between core OS X features such as Calendar, Contacts, FaceTime, Keychain, Mail, Notes and Safari.
The iCloud integration provides a direct cloud-based save option for documents and other files. When saving such files, iCloud is now the default destination but users can also choose to store content locally on their Mac.
We particularly appreciated the new Apple TV mirroring feature, which is automatically listed in the AirPlay menu without requiring any setup beyond the basic Home Sharing configuration. We already had Home Sharing set up for streaming video and music from iTunes on our Mac, so mirroring the displays only took a single click. We were able to watch Hulu content on our TV, along with disc images from DVDs that were saved to our Mac's hard drive. The feature also eliminates the need to transcode video files for an iTunes-compatible format.
The user interface is mostly the same, save for a frosted Dock platform. The most glaring new addition is a Notifications icon placed at the rightmost position on the menu bar--yet another feature that attempts to make OS X more iOS-like. If the device is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as an Apple TV, users will also see an AirPlay icon for quick access to display mirroring and other features.
When opening Finder, users are greeted with another new icon that resembles the share feature from iOS. The button enables selected items to be quickly shared via associated features such as Message, AirDrop, Twitter or Flickr, among others. The button takes into consideration which type of file you are attempting to share, automatically narrowing down sharing choices. Services such as AirDrop and Twitter are already easy to use, but the deeper integration in Mountain Lion cuts one more step out of the process.
Apple has extended voice recognition technology into its desktop OS, bringing system-wide Dictation. The feature requires a live Internet connection to function properly, following in line with Siri, but this is not a problem in most situations. We doubt the feature will inspire us to toss aside our keyboard, but we found it to be an effective alternative if we maintained a moderate pace. Tapping the "fn" key twice toggles between Dictation mode and standard typing, further simplifying operation.
Mountain Lion is not a gigantic leap forward, but many of the new features represent logical refinements and extensions of the company's ecosystem integration between iOS, OS X and Apple TV. For $20, we feel the update is a good deal and a great upgrade for iCloud users or anyone with an Apple TV.