Now that Mountain Lion offers iMessage and iOS-like notifications, is keeping everything in sync really all it's cracked up to be?
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Apple's latest desktop operating system, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, became available this week. Some of the most interesting features of the new desktop operating system are those ported from Apple's iOS smartphone and tablet platform. For users of iOS devices, just how well do they work on the desktop?
Like many Mac users, I updated my computers to Mountain Lion on Wednesday. I found the process to be fairly painless on both my MacBook Air, which I bought this year, and my iMac, vintage 2009. The MacBook Air updated in maybe 20 minutes, while the iMac took closer to an hour. It took far longer to customize the software once it was installed, especially features such as notifications and iMessage, which sync between iOS devices and now my desktop computers.
-- iCloud. I've used iCloud on my iPhone 4S and iPad since earlier this year. Once I had Mountain Lion installed, I turned on iCloud on my Macs as well. Since I use Gmail as an Exchange account on my iPhone, that is my master device. Changes I make on my iPhone are automatically reflected in my online Gmail account and eventually make their way to my iPad and now my Macs. I was syncing them before, but through a more clunky route. Using iCloud on all three systems works better--so far. We'll see if it turns up any duplicates or other weirdness as I use it over time.
Beyond emails, calendar, and contacts, being able to sync reminders, notes, and iWork documents between platforms is really, really, useful. The ability to store most types of files in the cloud and access them from any of my devices is something I've longed to be able to do with my Mac gear for ages. Though I've long used other solutions, such as DropBox, Google Drive, and Box, iCloud makes it all easier to manage.
-- iMessage. iMessage has been a great feature to have for my iPhone and iPad. Using Apple's system to send messages between devices--rather than my cellular SMS plan--has been great and saved me at least $5 per month over the course of the last nine months. Adding it to my desktop sounds good in theory, but hasn't worked out so well in practice.
With iMessage active on my two iOS devices and either of my Macs, I am now assaulted by notifications. All three "ding" with new message arrivals. The constant barrage of notifications on the three devices forced me to modify how iMessage works with notifications so that I am not bothered too often during the work day.
On the flip side, it's really nice to be able to send messages to other Apple users' iPhones or iPads from my desktop and have the conversations sync across platforms.
-- Notifications. The notifications center in Mountain Lion isn't quite as useful as I was hoping it would be. Take Twitter, for example. Now that support for Twitter, and Facebook, has been baked into Mountain Lion, interactions with both services can be set to pop up on your desktop. The problem is, I already use desktop software to interact with Twitter, and the Mountain Lion notifications became redundant, so I had to turn them off. I do, however, like being able to send a tweet from the Mountain Lion notification center. I might reevaluate how I use Twitter on my desktop machines.
To my great disappointment, fewer apps on my desktop interact with the notifications system than on my iOS devices. Out of the box, Notifications work with Calendar, FaceTime, Twitter, Safari, iMessage, Chrome, Game Center, Reminders, Mail, and the Share Button. On my iOS devices, Notifications work with literally dozens of other apps, including Skype, DropBox, Instgram, my banking app, CNN, SoundCloud, and on and on.
Last, controlling notifications across three different devices--iPhone, iPad, and Mac--takes some finessing. On my iPhone, for example, new emails and iMessages are the most important to me, while on my iPad, new Twitter and Facebook messages take top priority. I haven't yet found a balance with my Macs that works right. I need to continue to fine tune Notifications.
-- Safari. One of my favorite features of Mountain Lion so far is the ability to sync open tabs from my Macs to my iOS devices. This means any websites that I have open on my desktop or laptop will automatically appear on my iOS devices when I wake them up. It lets me move from one platform to another seamlessly and pick up right where I left off. Chrome and Firefox for Android both have this feature, as does Opera for Android, BlackBerry, and other platforms.
Bottom line? So far, I like Mountain Lion. Many of the iOS features that have been added make the new desktop software from Apple more useful. They also make it more important to take the time to control your settings between devices. Once I work out all the kinks of keeping in sync, I think Mountain Lion will bolster my productivity and workflow.
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