Ten improvements we'd like to see in OS X

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As part of last year’s surprise release of Mountain Lion, Apple promised that it would begin delivering yearly updates to Mac OS X, much as it has to iOS in recent years.

With the approach of summer—the season of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, at which the company often makes big announcements—it’s time to start considering what additions might make their way into the next version of Apple’s already very mature desktop operating system. Now, if only we could be sure what big cat was next.

Yes Siri

Siri's virtual assistant capabilities would be valuable on Macs, helping users make calendar appointments, send messages, and more.

In the world of iOS, Apple’s virtual assistant has fans and detractors, but I’ve often wished that Siri was available to help me with something on my Mac. Though the dictation feature that Apple added with Mountain Lion certainly has its uses, a degree of artificial intelligence would come in handy for more-complicated tasks such as making calendar appointments, adding reminders, and performing Web searches. For example, being able to tell my computer which song or album to play next might not alleviate my frustrations with iTunes 11, but it sure wouldn’t hurt. Besides, Star Trek promised us a future where we could talk to our computers, and I still want that delivered.—Dan Moren

Speak up

Mountain Lion added Dictation, but there are still several ways that it could be improved.

Speaking of speaking to our Macs, Mountain Lion’s Dictation was a nice first effort, but the feature could be a lot more powerful. Right now, Dictation automatically stops listening after just 30 seconds, even if you’re still speaking; Apple ought to loosen that time restriction. Also, providing a live transcription as you speak would be a great addition. Right now, words don’t appear until you’ve finished talking and Mountain Lion has had time to process what you said. But some of that processing could happen as you speak, and OS X should show it as it happens.—Lex Friedman

“Pro” tour

As part of its campaign to incorporate the best elements of iOS into the Mac OS, Apple is making it harder for long-time Mac users to tweak the OS and skirt newly implemented features designed for less experienced users. Thus we have Gatekeeper, Documents in the Cloud, “natural” scrolling, and sandboxing restrictions that prevent applications from talking to one another as fully as they formerly could. These improvements in ease-of-use will certainly be attractive to new users, but they frustrate older users who want to dig into the guts of their Macs. Solution: Implement a “pro” switch that, when enabled, lets users remove some of the most annoying hand-holding features.—Christopher Breen

Rule the galaxy (of email)

Mail's Rules could use some buffing up, especially when it comes to the lack of nested conditions.

It’s the tiniest bit sad that you can filter your iTunes library more finely than you can your email. If iTunes can support nested conditions, so could Mail. A stronger relationship between Mail and Contacts would help considerably. Specifically, Mail would work better if, with a simple key command, you could add a sender to a group, and any rules affecting that group would immediately apply to the sender.—Christopher Breen

iCloud for all

Documents in the Cloud is a poor man's Dropbox. Apple should expand it to accommodate more file types, and should improve its sharing capabilities.

iCloud needs to store more than just the documents that Apple currently allows. Open the Save to iCloud option to all types of files; and more importantly, make it easy to share those documents with others. Dropbox, as terrific as it is, should not be eating Apple’s lunch. Not content with killing Dropbox? Maybe Apple could kill CrashPlan and its ilk too, by offering online backups for the Mac. Apple has made both of these things available in the past (in the form of .Mac and MobileMe’s late, no so lamented iDisk and Backup), but they weren’t well implemented. Try again now that people understand the need for them.—Christopher Breen

Go back in time...farther

Time Machine has helped many users back up their Macs, but it needs to be more accommodating once backups accumulate.

Time Machine is a dead-simple way to back up your data. Yet eventually your backup drive runs out of space, and you’re left with a technology that either starts deleting old files that you may want to keep or refuses to back up anything. Why not extend its plug-and-play ability by allowing the user to tack on another hard drive? Do so and up pops a message ‘Would you like to add this drive to your backup set?’ Click Yes and Time Machine continues backing up to the new drive while maintaining the backed-up data on the original drive.—Christopher Breen

Preinstall the installer

Preloading Mountain Lion's own installer on the OS's recovery partition would save users a hassle.

It’s terrific that you can reinstall OS X by booting from the Recovery HD partition, but that capability would be even more powerful and convenient if Apple also included a copy of the installer in that partition—thereby saving you the trouble of downloading a multigigabyte installer. Given the number of people who download our instructions for doing exactly this, it’s clearly a feature that many people want.—Christopher Breen

Embrace multiple monitors

OS X's handling of multiple monitors and full-screen mode is linen-tastic.

Yes, we know that most Mac users have but a single screen, even though Apple sells an external display. Unfortunately, multiple-monitor options languish in the dark ages: Ever try using Mountain Lion’s full-screen mode on a machine with two displays? Hope you like linen. Extending your desktop onto an external display is all good and dandy, but it’d be great if OS X went beyond that and let you devote the second display more intelligently to information such as notifications, or even Dashboard widgets.—Dan Moren

Mend Messages

Messages: The Apple app that keeps on driving you crazy.

It’s the app that many of us love to loathe. Despite being out of beta for many months, Messages is still a mess. Not everybody agrees with me that it should be split into separate apps, but most people would like to see Apple’s all-things-messaging app get a little more stable (when it comes to messages that are out of order or delivered hours or sometimes days late, for example), a little smarter (especially in dealing with messages that arrive on multiple devices), and a little more polished. Unlike most default OS X apps, it often feels as though Apple didn’t make it.—Dan Moren

Contact our calendars

Nothing says technological progress like rich leather and ripped paper.

It’s hardly a stretch to describe many of the recent “improvements” to Apple’s Contacts and Calendar apps as cosmetic. After all, Lion gave us rich Corinthian leather and the equally skeuomorphic book design of Contacts. But neither of these additions did much to change the underlying functionality of the apps. I want smarter contacts, like the ability to manage contact information from multiple sources more easily, not just a prettier wrapping. As for calendars, why can’t our computers be more intelligent about managing our time, instead of barraging us with boxes, labels, and the same calendar input pane we’ve had since time immemorial? Third-party apps like Fantastical have shown us the way; now it’s up to Apple to push things forward again.—Dan Moren

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