The Best New Features in OS X Mountain Lion

Apple has officially launched OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and there are a ton of new features in this latest release, including an integrated notification center, better iCloud support, and Messages. Here’s a quick breakdown of these new features, as well as a few other notable additions.

Notification Center

If you use iOS 5 on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, then you know about Notification Center. It’s a handy drop-down menu that consolidates all of your notifications, and it’s finally in OS X. Whenever a notification comes in, it’ll let you know by displaying a small pop-up window in the upper-right of the screen. To see all of your notifications at once, you can simply swipe to the left from the right edge of the trackpad to bring up Notification Center in its entirety or you can click the small menu bar icon at the top-right.

Messages

Messages on OS X Mountain Lion is a lot like iChat, but it lets you send messages to other iOS devices right from your Mac. Your messages will also stay synced between all of your Apple devices, so if you start a conversation on your Mac, you can finish it on your iPhone if need be.

iCloud

iCloud has been available on the Mac since OS X 10.7 Lion was released a year ago, but it just got better with automatic syncing and updating of files, which means anything that you update on your Mac through one of Apple’s default applications will automatically be updated on all of your other Apple devices.

AirPlay

AirPlay Mirroring has finally come to the Mac. This will allow you to duplicate your Mac’s screen onto your television wirelessly. You’ll just have to make sure you have an Apple TV or other device that can receive AirPlay transmissions in order to take advantage of this new feature.

Notes and Reminders

Mountain Lion now comes with Notes and Reminders, which are already very familiar to iOS 5 users, and they work in the same way as iOS but with a little more screen real estate, obviously. They work seamlessly with iCloud as well, so you’ll have all your notes and reminders synced across all of your iDevices.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is a new anti-malware feature on OS X that allows you to control how apps are downloaded and installed so that you don’t accidentally download anything malicious. You can manually choose whether you want your Mac to download new apps from the Mac App Store only, or download apps from the Mac App Store and other places as well.

OS X Mountain Lion is available now for $19.99 in the Mac App Store.

How to insert frequently written text on a Mac with TypeIt4Me

Like many people, I find myself having to type the same bits of text many times throughout my working week.

Various applications already have ways of reducing the labor involved in this. For example, email clients have auto-signatures and word processors have automatic text facilities.

The Mac OS X operating system itself is strong when it comes to automation. AppleScript and the sophisticated Automator utility help many power-users accomplish frequently repeated tasks more efficiently. However, none of the inbuilt features of OS X or my installed applications did exactly what I needed – so I went on the hunt for a suitable solution.

Enter TypeIt4Me, a simple utility from Ettore software. TypeIt4Me allows you to input all your frequently used phrases and chunks of text and assign a short text string to each of them. The program runs in the background and places a small icon in the OS X menu bar. All you have to do is type your chosen string in ANY application and your chunk of text appears, as it you have typed it yourself.

Having used the product for a few months, I have around 20 frequently used blocks of text configured. While this may not sound like a lot, each is something I need to type many times throughout a typical day. For example, a series of three character shortcuts instantly type the full URLs of each website I work on. Given that I probably comment on 20-odd forum threads each day and need to include a URL, that’s already plenty of typing saved.

TypeIt4Me has a Comprehensive Set of Options
TypeIt4Me has a Comprehensive Set of Options

As a freelancer, I often have to apply for jobs. When I sign off an email or online application, I now need only type “ihope” and the utility writes “I hope my application is of interest to you and look forward to hearing from you soon.” I certainly don’t miss typing that several times per week! I also have entries for various sign-offs such as “many thanks,” “best wishes, “ and “kind regards.”

TypeIt4Me includes comprehensive options to assign hotkeys, control exactly how text snippets are used and even to change the behavior of the text macros within different applications. So far, my chunks of text appear happily regardless of what application I am using, the only exception being when I am using my Windows virtual machine. While I would like them to work within that environment, I can imagine the technical challenge involved so don’t expect to see this feature any time soon.

As I said in my write-up of Evernote, I am a cynical techie who isn’t impressed with bells and whistles. I judge applications purely on whether they help me better achieve my day-to-day work. TypeIt4Me scores highly on this basis and I wouldn’t want to be without it. If you frequently need to type the same text across a range of programs, it’s an essential purchase.

What Apple could possibly announce at WWDC 2012

Well, it’s official. Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference will be held from June 11 to 15 in San Francisco this year and it’s going to be a packed house; tickets were sold out two hours after availability when 5,000 anxious developers quickly coughed up $1,600 per ticket.

WWDC is one of the company’s biggest events –if not the biggest– of the year, and if you’ve followed past WWDC events, you’ll know that it’s usually where Apple announces new stuff. It’s where they announced the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, Mac Pro, and even iLife.

So then, what’s CEO Tim Cook and friends going to talk about this year? I went ahead and made a list of possible topics and products that Apple could likely announce and talk about at this year’s WWDC.

OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6

We know for a fact that this will be a talking point at WWDC. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, even said it himself. But what developments will we hear about exactly? It’s possible that they could be announcing and releasing a final version of OS X Mountain Lion, since it’s been through three developer previews already. However, it’s also possible they might wait awhile and take the time to test Mountain Lion against the company’s upcoming iOS 6 software, since Apple has been turning OS X and iOS into a more homogeneous effort nowadays.

As far as iOS 6 itself, there’s definitely been chatter going on, but very little substance to show as far what iOS 6 will be all about. It’s definitely in development and being tested as we speak, but rumors have been a little quiet in this area. WWDC 2012 will certainly be the place where we’ll see a little bit of iOS 6 light.

New Mac Hardware

The rumors of a newer-generation MacBook Pro lineup have been exhausting to say the least. There’s been talk that Apple will oust optical drives on all of their MacBooks, except for possibly the 17-inch model. The last time Apple announced anything Mac hardware related was in 2009 when they announced the 13-inch MacBook Pro unibody to replace the white plastic model. Honestly, I would say it’s very likely that Apple will announce something new in the MacBook lineup, whether it’d be completely new MacBook Pros or an updated MacBook Air; the push towards Ultrabooks by Intel is too much for Apple to ignore.

As far as desktop Macs, a new iMac is certainly possible and it will be interesting to see if they talk about their Mac Pro lineup, since there have been talks of getting rid of the Mac towers as of October 2011, but are rumored to be updated with Ivy Bridge chips and Nvidia’s Kepler graphics this year.

iPhone 5

This one’s a tricky one, but the current stand inside the rumor mill is that the next iPhone will come out in the fall, so for Apple to announce a new iPhone in June and wait all the way through the summer until the fall to release it just doesn’t seem like their thing. I don’t see the iPhone 5 making an appearance at WWDC 2012 at all.

Overall, this year’s WWDC will be all about software (it is a developers conference after all), so I honestly think that the only talking points will be OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, with possible announcements regarding Mac hardware, but that’s just me. Let us know what your predictions are for WWDC 2012 in the comments.

Apple’s Natural Scrolling Feature Catches On

Apple’s introduction of “natural scrolling” with OS X Lion was a controversial move. Apple effectively decided that computer users had for years been scrolling the wrong way around. They changed things so that, by default, OS X Lion users would “push” content up to move it up the screen, and “pull” it down to move it downwards – the same way that everyone scrolls on popular iOS devices.

It’s hard to argue with the logic, but Apple clearly realised that some people would find it hard to change a lifelong habit. They presented Lion users with the option to change things back to the old way via OS X’s System Preferences.

I have to admit that I am of those stubborn old-fashioned users. I gave it a day, but having scrolled the traditional way for near-on twenty years, I was quite happy with the way things were.

The other day I was surfing the Web on my iPhone and I remembered that I could reconfigure my Mac to scroll in the same way. I changed it to “natural” for a while, but, once again, I struggled to get used to the change – even though it does feel perfectly natural on my iPhone. It wasn’t long before I again reverted back to the “unnatural” configuration.

This got me thinking. I wondered whether natural scrolling on a Mac had caught on with the masses – so I made it my business to find out.

Apple's Natural Scrolling
Apple's Natural Scrolling

I asked the question on a popular Mac forum and collated the results.

From my mini survey, I ascertained that while most people acknowledged that there had been a learning curve, 71% of the responders now use natural scrolling on their Macs. It’s perhaps worth adjusting the figure downwards slightly as Mac forum members are likely to be enthusiasts, but even with this adjustment, the indication is that people have largely taken to Apple’s new way of doing things.

The people not adapting to natural scrolling all gave similar reasons. Some simply preferred the old-fashioned way, and others commented that while the natural scrolling feels natural on a track pad, it feels wrong with a mouse wheel. Others (and I count myself in this camp) also use Windows computers regularly, and have difficulties switching back and forth.

The results of this (admittedly rather small) survey seem to suggest that Apple got it right with natural scrolling, and proves that Mac users aren’t resistant to significant change. I, however, will be sticking with the way things were. I’m old school.

[poll id=”11″]

Make your Mac More Like Windows 7 with HyperDock

I’m a Mac, but I used to be a PC.

(Just in case you haven’t seen them, I am referring to the popular series of TV adverts comparing the Apple and Microsoft ways of doing things.)

This is an app review, so it’s not the place for a Mac vs. Windows debate. For the sake of context however, I should say that after switching and enduring a sharp learning curve, I personally came to appreciate and prefer the Mac OS X way of doing things.

Little niggles remained, however. In the course of my working day, I often have many documents open at one time. Windows 7 introduced a great preview feature that shows all of the files open in an application when you hover the mouse over its taskbar icon. Earlier versions of Windows had opened each file in a separate instance of the application, so even without the Windows 7 preview, it was still easy to quickly switch between several different Word documents.

On my Mac, I became frustrated with having to go to the “Window” menu or cycle through windows in an application to quickly move between open documents. I also missed Window 7’s desktop snapping features, particularly the ability to instantly make one window take up exactly half of the screen.

Enter HyperDock, an app that appears to have been specifically designed to add these features to Mac OS X.

Hyperdock for OS X
Hyperdock for OS X

On the evening that I first investigated HyperDock, I was put off by the price. £6.99 ($11 USD) seemed like an awful lot to pay for some OS tweaks, despite a host of 5-star App Store reviews. I put it to the back of my mind. By lunchtime the following day, I realised that I had needed to use the cumbersome way to switch between documents at least ten times. I swallowed the cost and downloaded the app.

Though it’s probably a little histrionic to say that HyperDock has changed my life, it has certainly made it less frustrating. Windows 7’s window preview was a great feature from Microsoft. HyperDock basically provides OS X with the same, but better. The app lets you change the preview size, the animation, the behavior – and even adds some cool extra features such as advanced previews for iTunes and iCal.

HyperDock gives me the window snapping features too. I can now drag a window off to the side to make it take up half the screen – perfect for comparing documents, or using one to refer too while writing. It’s the perfect example of a feature you didn’t know you needed until you had it – and after Windows 7, I was missing it.

To come down firmly on one side of the Windows vs. OS X debate is somewhat missing the point. There are always going to be things that one OS does better than the other. Utilities like HyperDock give you the best of both worlds, and what I like best about this app is that it works seamlessly, without the flaky unpredictability that I associate with Windows UI enhancements that I have tried in the past. It’s turned out to be worth every penny.