In our demo, Apple pointed out that the Dock has always had its limitations. It works great for keeping your favorite apps close by, but over time you'll end up with tons of small icons that are hard to see. While adjusting magnification helps somewhat, for a lot of apps, the Dock is not ideal. Now with Launchpad, you'll get the same experience as iOS devices, but we're still not convinced it will be well-received by users. We'll have to wait and see how users respond, but it seems like more of a gimmick (tying the functionality together with iOS devices) than an efficient way to open apps. We think it's almost like a step back from creating an application folder in the Dock, but you will have to decide for yourself which method you think is more efficient.
What's even more impressive is that you now have the ability to look at past versions of your document just like you would look through Time Machine, the Mac's backup system. This means that if you don't like the direction you took on a document, or thought a past version was truly what you wanted, you'll now have the ability to pick a better version from the past. Autosave and versions is truly a welcome addition to OS X Lion that just about anyone will appreciate. Like other new technologies in OS X Lion, versions will only work on core apps like Preview, TextEdit, and the iWork suite initially, but it will be available as an API for third-party developers to add into their own apps, and we suspect most of them will.
Along with autosave and versions, you also never have to worry about closing down your Mac in a rush. With Mac OS X Lion's resume features, you'll always have the same apps open when you launch, just like you left them when you shut down. Even the applications themselves will be in the exact same state as you left them, ready for you to resume work. If you don't want to resume your desktop, system specs, and apps as you left them, or just want to start clean, you always have the option during restart to turn the feature off. We think that depending on the situation, the resume feature will definitely come in handy for getting back to work quickly, but it's also nice that you have the option to start fresh upon restart.
Mail: Apple's Mail app got a complete overhaul in Mac OS X Lion as well. It's clear that Apple listened to users, adding a laundry list of new features to add much-needed functionality and make one of the most important apps easier to use. A new wide-screen view--which many will recognize from the iPad mail app--lists messages (with a short preview) on the left and shows the full message and content on the right. When you compose a new message in full-screen mode, your inbox dims so you can focus on writing in the message window without distractions. A new Favorites bar sits just below the toolbar where you can get quick access to mail folders and see new message counts at a glance. Each of the new additions reduces the amount of digging through file menus and time spent clicking your mouse, so we think users will like most of the changes. For those who like browsing in folders, you're still able to view them by hitting the Show button on the left side of the toolbar.
A new formatting bar in messages makes it easy to make font changes and create formatted lists. Another new feature gives you one-click archiving to let you archive one or several messages, and the Mail app automatically creates an archive folder for you.
Searching in Mail got a major improvement that will be helpful to all users of the Mail app. As you type, Mail adds suggestions based on what's in your inbox. But you can then click a resulting suggestion that creates a Search Token that gives the term a rounded gray outline. When you enter another search term, it searches only the messages that include the term in the Search Token. These additions make it possible to search using a name, then a month, then a subject, and only get the results that include those criteria. Mail in Google already has a very powerful search engine, but with Apple's use of tokens, you have the ability to be much more specific.
AirDrop: Whatever computer you are using, sending a file quickly to a friend or coworker on the same network usually requires opening your e-mail client, composing an e-mail, attaching the file, and sending it off. Many companies have dropboxes to make this a bit easier, but it usually requires several steps. Mac OS X Lion makes this process painless with AirDrop. When you want to send a file, simply hit the AirDrop button in the left navigation field of a Finder menu, and you'll be given a graphical representation of users around you on local Wi-Fi. From there you can simply drag-and-drop the file on top of a coworker's avatar to send the file immediately. Anyone who uses a Mac in a work environment will appreciate this fairly simple, but important feature addition.
Switching from Windows: For those who work on Windows machines who are thinking about crossing over to Mac, Lion makes it easier to make the switch, with tools that import your most important data and personal files. Lion will automatically transfer your Outlook and Windows contacts, Outlook calendars, e-mail accounts (including Outlook and Windows Live mail), and all your music in iTunes. You can also import your home directory folder and contents, so you'll be able to find your most important files right away. It will even import your browser bookmarks from Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari and sync up your localization info and desktop picture.
It's no surprise that Apple would streamline this process to maximize new users, but we can appreciate the lengths it went to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Overall, Mac OS X Lion has more than 250 new features, many of them small, but all seemingly with the idea of making current common processes easier. The strong focus on multitouch gestures indicates Apple's focus on its more popular notebook line, but makes many helpful changes that desktop users will appreciate as well.
Mac OS X is not without its annoyances. We found some features to be a little gimmicky, like Launchpad for launching apps like an iOS device, but we also think carrying over the design aesthetic will probably help new users (whose only experience with Apple is through the iPhone) to acclimate to Mac OS X more quickly. We also believe it's a bad user experience to force people to buy Snow Leopard before being able to buy Lion--it almost seems like a punishment for not upgrading at every available opportunity. Although Apple has a pretty good reason (Snow Leopard introduced the Mac App Store), it seems there ought to be some way for users to upgrade without the additional cost. Still, to get all these features for $60 (if you don't have Snow Leopard) is not all that bad in our estimation--it just feels unfair.
Nevertheless, the features in Mac OS X Lion will make for an excellent upgrade for the price, whether for a Mac desktop or notebook. Upgrades that make the Mail app more useful; the addition of the very well-designed Mission Control; smart innovations like resume, autosave, versions; and AirDrop will all be welcome additions for any Mac user. For Snow Leopard owners, this upgrade is a no-brainer. For those who own an older system, it's probably still worth biting the bullet and adding several new features to the Mac operating system.