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MacTech 2010: Andy Ihnatko on the coming of Lion


Commentator Andy Ihnatko took the stage at this week's MacTech conference here in Los Angeles today to give the conference keynote. In his talk, Ihnatko spoke about the upcoming new version of OS X, Lion, and specifically three different features of it.

First, he talked about the Mac App Store, and what he thought would be the outcome of Apple bringing an App Store system to its desktop platform. Then, he spoke about what he called "unitasking," and how focusing on just one task at a time both changes the way computers work and the way we do, and finally he mentioned Apple's changing hardware, and how the new MacBook Air embodies Apple's ongoing curve in hardware creation and production.

First up was Ihnatko's opinion on the Mac App Store so far, and he said that though he'd been "trying to get upset about it," he actually liked the idea. "The good news," he said, is that "Apple really doesn't care about" developers. Instead, it cares about users, and from users' point of view, the Mac App Store is actually a great idea. Though developers may have issues with it, Ihnatko said that anything that allows more than the around 200,000 (he estimated) Mac users out of 40 million to actually purchase and use apps will end up being a good thing.

All of that said, Ihnatko admits that there will probably be issues with the Mac App Store -- he said that if the iOS App Store is any indication, he expects three months of messy apps, six months of good innovation, and then about three more months for Apple to figure out just how to guide and regulate app releases after that. "Provisionally," Ihnatko concluded, "the Mac App Store is not evil."

Secondly, Ihnatko talked at length about what he called "unitasking" -- the drive towards a "full-screen mode" that Apple seems to be headed towards in the current implementations of iOS and beyond into Lion. He said that computers traditionally are actually designed against the way our brains work. We're distraction oriented -- while our minds can figure out very complex problems with solid attention, we're also very tuned into distractions, to the point where even a little stimulus can wreck our productivity. Ihnatko said plainly that "multitasking is 95% a lie" -- you may think that you can do more than one thing at a time, but science has said that you can not. Eventually, something will give somewhere.

Thus, Ihnatko actually appreciates unitasking -- he said he already uses his iPad for concentrated writing, and showed off Plaintext as an example of an app that allows him to focus on writing with little to no distraction. Scrivener also has a "fullscreen" mode that targets just one function as cleanly and as well as possible. And that's the big deal here, said Ihnatko -- when software is used one app at a time (as it is on iOS and will likely soon be on OS X), it cuts right to the heart of what the purpose of the app is. A great app should "tell a story with a screenshot," said Ihnatko. If you can't figure out what an app does just by looking at one screen of it, then perhaps it isn't focused enough to work as well as it should.

Finally, Ihnatko talked about how Lion will embrace the hardware changes Apple has brought to the computing ecosystem since the introduction of the iPad and the iPhone. Hardware is shrinking and changing all the time, said Ihnatko, and one of Apple's big strengths is that it never holds on to hardware that it doesn't need to. At the same time, "openness," said Ihnatko, "is not a feature" -- while there may be complaints about Apple locking down a system like the App Store, Ihnatko compared it to Walt Disney's theme parks.

Disney wanted to make sure park visitors didn't have a bad time when they showed up to the parks, so instead, he went over the line and didn't give them permission to have a bad time. In the same way, Apple is locking away and removing any parts of the computer that might cause problems in any way. Traditional users might be disappointed to lose that control, but users in general appreciate just not having to worry about settings that seem to only harm them when wrong.

Ihnatko's talk was quite interesting -- in a short Q&A after the speech, even he admitted that he hadn't seen much of the Mac App Store, and in fact, only a very small number of people in the world actually have. But he shared enthusiasm about Lion and what it can do in the future -- like the rest of us, he'll be waiting to see what the next iteration of OS X brings to Apple computers.

TUAW is a media sponsor of the MacTech Conference 2010.

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