The new Mac OS X: What Apple has in store for 2011

A bevy of iPhone-inspired features will find their way back into the Mac OS; Apple also has two new MacBook Air models

With all the attention focused on the iPhone and iPad, you might have forgotten that Apple has a computer called the Mac. Today, Apple previewed the new Mac OS X operating system, to be released in summer 2011, about two years after the release of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, a refinement of the previous version, Leopard. It also announced a Mac application store and revised versions of its MacBook Air laptop.

New Mac OS X capabilities
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will bring to the Mac some of the features that recently debuted in the iPhone's iOS, which itself is based on Mac OS X. One feature to be added to Mac OS X Lion is multitouch gesture capability. Others are the autosave, autoupdate, and autoresume capabilities in iOS apps, as well as full-screen applications. The new LaunchPad capability will provide to the Mac OS the same kind of home screen access and folders arrangement found in iOS devices, so users can create app groups and arrange their appearance as desired. The new Mission Control feature extends the existing Exposé windowing capability to provide a single mechanism for finding apps, documents, and windows across the Mac OS.

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For personal Macs, apps will be licensed for all computers you own, a significant change in today's typical one-license-per-computer software license.

As InfoWorld discovered a year ago in its testing of Windows 7-based touchscreen PCs, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed today that the use of vertically oriented monitors "doesn't work" for gesture-based controls. But it does work in horizontal surfaces, such as touchpads, so Jobs said touch UIs will be added with that orientation in mind to Mac OS X Lion and future Mac hardware, such as trackpads.

Jobs promised that Apple would share more details on Mac OS X Lion as its development progressed.

Changes in store for Mac OS X Snow Leopard
Apple will also create an App Store for Mac applications, similar to the App Store used for the iPhone and iPad. That Mac App Store will be available in mid-January on the current Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and developers can submit applications beginning next month for inclusion in the store. The Apple website will post information for developers on how to do so today.

Another capability being added to the current Mac OS, Snow Leopard, is support for FaceTime, Apple's videoconferencing application introduced as part of the iPhone 4 and late-2010 iPod Touch. The beta software will be available today from Apple's website. The company also previewed a new version of its Mac software video and audio editing software, iLife.

New MacBook Air gets smaller -- and a small brother
In keeping with Apple's fixation on ever-thinner devices, Jobs announced the new MacBook Air, a thinner version of the device using the unibody aluminum construction found in newer MacBook models. It has a 13.3-inch screen, a Core 2 Duo processor, an Nvidia graphics coprocessor, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a FaceTime camera, a full-size keyboard, and solid-state storage (no DVD or hard drives).

Apple is also offering a smaller version, with an 11.6-inch screen. Jobs claims that the new MacBook Airs can stay in standby (sleep) mode for 30 days before depleting the battery, versus a few days for the current model. The 2.9-pound, 13.3-inch model costs $1,299 with 128GB of flash storage, and the 2.3-pound, 11.6-inch model costs $999 with 64GB of flash storage; both come with 2GB of RAM. Versions with additional storage and RAM are available. Both hit the stores today.

Apple CFO Tim Cook today noted that Mac growth is 2.5 times as fast as that of the overall PC industry and that the Mac's sales have doubled over the last five years. IDC recently reported that Apple is now the No. 3 PC vendor in the United States.

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