15 Features Mac OS X Lion Borrowed from iPad (and counting)

Jun 8

This is the list of features in the upcoming Mac OS Lion that are directly inspired by Apple’s success with iOS, specifically with iPad as a computing appliance:


Lion’s new app launcher behaves like iOS springboard, showing you all your apps in a full-screen layout. It is a very familiar implementation to iOS users, with multiple pages of icons, icon grouping just like in iOS (drop an icon on top of another to create a group), deleting apps by clicking-and-holding until they start to jiggle, etc.

Full-screen Support

Mac OS now natively supports full-screen mode for apps, with a new window widget that controls full-screen zooming. New API allows developers to add support for it, while many of the system apps already implement it. Multi-touch gestures that support switching between these full-screened apps are also there, à la iOS 5 four-finger gestures.

Auto Save

Apple is moving quickly to eliminate the concept of “files” for casual computer users, just like they did in iOS. New API will allow developers to skip the Save File dialog and make their apps easier to use. And if third-party developers take to it then it’s not a huge leap to see Apple allowing those data stores to move to the iCloud at some point in the future, something like DropBox for those who don’t understand DropBox. I don’t doubt this transition might take a long time, but I for one am sick of staring at that little floppy disk icon in MS Word.


It seems that apps will no longer be shut down when you hit Quit, but suspended to disk instead. The user will not think of Starting and Quitting apps any more but simply using them, the app state will persist between runs and between restarts. This is another usability enhancement borrowed from iOS, and iPad in particular. Apple has taken this a step further so that restarting your system will restore it to the same state it was in before the restart, including any running apps or open windows (iPhones and iPads don’t have this problem as they are rarely restarted).

Mac App Store

The functionality of the Mac App Store has mirrored the iOS App Store very closely. Mac OS is now also getting in-app purchases through the App Store, something that has not been successfully done on any desktop OS platform to date. Subscriptions next, please.

Push Notifications

This is another big change for a desktop OS: apps will now be able to subscribe to Apple’s Push Notifications and show messages to users even when the app is not running. MacOS itself is also getting Push Notifications in all sorts of places, from Calendar events to Device Management notifications.

Location Services

Breaking more new ground for a desktop OS, Lion will add a system-wide Location icon to your menu bar any time an app requests Location data. Even better, a new section of the Privacy preferences will let you toggle which apps get to ask for your Location data and which don’t.

Multi-touch Gestures

Where to start? From the simple but obvious “double-tap in Safari to zoom into relevant text”, to rubber-band scroll-bounce and support for iOS5-like gestures for switching between running apps, or pages in documents, most of these gestures are clearly iOS inspired. Also, Lion’s graphics engine has been beefed up to support all the snazzy transitions and effects that come with all this scrolling around.


Mistyping words on Lion will be even less of a problem, as it features the auto-correction mechanism very familiar to users of iOS devices.

Overlay Scrollbars

Do you love the fact that iOS has no scrollbars? They gently fade in and out only when scrolling, to show you where you are in the document. Well, soon you will be able to enjoy this in Lion. I can’t think of another desktop OS that has tried to do this.

Dock Indicators

This is a subtle shift, but the Dock will now be able to hide the glowing “app is running” indicator below the app icon. This change is related to making Lion work more like an appliance: as a user you will switch between apps without worrying if they are already running or not, similar to how you would use an iPad. By default this setting will still show the running indicator, but I bet Apple changes that in the next Mac OS X revision after seeing how users respond to it.

Emoji Support

This one is probably related to iMessage launch on iOS, possibly in preparation to extend iMessage to Mac OS X: Lion now supports colour Emoji characters, heavily used by Japanese SMS users.


The video chatting application that started its life on iPhone is now properly integrated into Mac OS. If someone calls you via FaceTime, both your computer and your phone will ring at the same time – pick up whichever is closer.

OS Delivery

In what could be the biggest statement of iOS inspiration, Mac OS will now update itself just like an iOS device. As a user, you will see that a new version is available and for a nominal fee your Mac will update itself in a few clicks, without you having to go to Best Buy, handling disks and worrying about what will break after you emerge on the other side of the upgrade process. To support this, Apple has added a slew of OS restore features that create a separate Restore partition, and even adding Safari with network connectivity to Recovery mode to help any unforeseen problems.

I feel like I just touched the surface here, especially when we see what happens with iCloud and the new services like iMessage, currently focused on serving iOS. This is a major shift in desktop OS development, there’s no doubt about it. Will Microsoft be able to respond with Windows 8, even if only on price? The Metro UI skin Microsoft showed off last week no longer seems competitive.


As noted in HN comments, the default scrolling direction when flicking two fingers across the touchpad has changed too: now it mimics how iOS would track your finger, moving the page in the direction of the flick, rather than the old way of moving the scrollbar in the direction of the flick. As Daring Fireball noted, it seems the PC is getting demoted in favour of iOS.

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