It’s the year of tens: OS X 10.10’s unveiling is likely on tap for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote next week. As we hit 30 years of the Mac OS (and 13 years of OS X), Apple’s desktop OS has become a mature piece of software: the slow-and-steady tortoise to the excitable hare of iOS.
Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of opportunity left to improve the venerable operating system. As the OS kicks off its fourth decade—and in keeping with the ‘tens’ theme of this year’s update—we’ve assembled ten areas where OS X could use some sprucing up, all in the service of keeping the Mac chugging along well into its forties and beyond.
Listen up, Siri
Maybe we’ve just been watching too much Star Trek, but even after lo, these many years, we’re still waiting to give directions to our Mac with our voice alone. Yes, the Mac OS has long had a limited capability for voice commands, but with Siri on all our iOS devices these days, we long for the ability to ask our computer a question and have it respond in kind. (Apple could even borrow a cue from its older Speakable Items technology—as well as what Google’s doing these days—and have Siri respond only when addressed by name.)
Imagine if your Mac would understand your request to play that new album you bought without you having to look up from whatever you’re working on. Or give you a weather report when you wonder aloud if you’ll need umbrella later today. Now that’s the future we’re interested in.
AirDrop is a technology that’s always been rife with promise. Easily exchanging files over the air, without having to know the other person’s email address or phone number, or making sure they’re using the same file-transfer app as you? Sounds like the kind of magical, transparent technology where Apple excels. Unfortunately, even though we have features going by the name AirDrop on both iOS and OS X, they seem to be stuck at an impasse, unable to communicate with each other.
Instead of being able to quickly drop a photo from our iPhone onto our Mac, we’re forced to use workarounds involving printing, third party apps for Photo Stream, or the old tried-and-true tactic of email. It’s a silly omission, and one that we hope Apple will fix with OS X 10.10 and iOS 8. And while they’re at it, options to speed up the process by letting us remember trusted devices (like our own) and having an always-on option would greatly increase its utility as well.
Mailing it in
For many of us, Mavericks’s version of Mail was an unmitigated disaster. It took several updates before Gmail users could get back to the same level of functionality and reliability they had in Mountain Lion, and even now some users of both Google’s service and Microsoft Exchange continue to have problems. Given how much most of us still rely on email every day, it’s up to 10.10 to make Mail the reliable bulwark that it needs to be.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want improvements—we are, at heart, greedy little users. Some of those could be simple: the ability to specify a default address for those of our contacts who often seem to acquire them in bulk; the addition of categories that allow us to better weed out all that email that we don’t want; and more powerful filtering rules. But, from a more zoomed-out perspective, Apple might want to reconsider exactly how we’re using email these days. On the iOS side, we’ve seen interesting entries from the likes of Mailbox, Dispatch, and Accompli—it’s time for the Mac to see if it can’t learn something from its mobile sibling.
Return of the QuickTime Pro
Once upon a time, QuickTime Pro was among the Mac OS’s best kept secrets. Not only did the $30 upgrade to Apple’s built-in media player let you play movies to your heart’s content, it also featured a surprisingly powerful bevy of editing tools, letting you quickly trim movies, work with multi-track MOV files, and more. QuickTime Player X might shine at the content-consumption side of the equation, but as an editing tool it leaves a lot to desire. Surely, there’s some middle ground between the basic features it offers and the often-unneeded complexity of iMovie. If nothing else, we’d like to see some more powerful upgrades to some of the capabilities it already has—the ability to do a screen capture of a single window, for example, would be a boon to those of us in the screencast business.
For your (multiple) displays only
Apple made strides with its multiple-display support in Mavericks, but given the state of said functionality in Lion and Mountain Lion, the bar was pretty low. Still, there’s further room for improvement here: The feature often works unreliably, with apps launching on an unexpected screen, or windows failing to correctly remember where they were when switching between single and multiple monitor setups. Given that many power users are buying the new Mac Pro for its ability to support multiple 4K monitors, we’re guessing that robust multiple-display support might soon be a priority.
Messages for you, sir
Oh, Messages: Much as we’d love to ask why we can’t quit you, it’s actually all too easy to give you the old Command-Q. Apple’s iMessage service and instant-messaging app are both still kind of a hot mess in Mavericks. There are reliability issues with iMessage as a service—messages arriving out of order, or hours, sometimes days late—but there’s also the somewhat confused nature of this app. Mavericks’s ability to respond to iMessages via the Reply button in notifications has certainly reduced our reliance on Messages, but we still find ourselves frustrated when using the app. Messages needs to decide whether it’s primarily there to support iMessage, or the legacy IM systems—hint: It’s the first one.
Find My Mac Friends
We’ve seen a lot of iOS apps make the jump to OS X—most recently iBooks and Maps—and Find My Friends is one more we’d like to see join that exclusive club. Apple’s app for letting us share our locations with our friends and family often has proved to be a useful one, and we’d like to have access to it on our desktop as well. Besides being able to check in on folks’ location from our Mac, we’d love the ability to get notifications when any of our Find My Friends geofences are triggered—just in case we don’t have our iOS devices close at hand. At the very least, a Web interface on the iCloud site would go a long way to assuaging this particular need.
A folder for iCloud to call its own
You gave the whole “we don’t need a filesystem” thing a good shot, Apple, but for many of us the whole simplicity angle never quite took off. For one thing, it’s annoying to be limited to only opening files from iCloud in the app with which they’re associated. To make matters worse, apps like TextEdit and Preview still have no iOS equivalent, making iCloud document storage for text files and PDFs of limited use.
Dropbox, for its flaws, has the right idea: a big folder where we can drop whatever files we want and have them automatically show up on all our devices. If nothing else, just give us an iCloud folder at the root of our home directories and call it a day; we’ll take care of the rest.
Accounting for iCloud
As long as we’re putting the file system into the cloud, what about taking that a step further. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to log in to your account on any Mac you sat down in front of? Much as you can access other Macs on your network (or screen share into them) by using your Apple ID, imagine entering those credentials on any Mac’s login screen to have access to your account—set up just the way you like it—with all of your files. A longshot it may be, but it’s the kind of forward-thinking feature that we expect from the folks at Apple.
Look, we’re not saying change for change’s sake: The basic concepts of the Mac OS have served us well for the past three decades. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t stand a fresh coat of paint here and there. (The stale-looking Reminders and Game Center apps in Mavericks suggest that a larger revamp must be in the offing.)
In the same way that Apple refreshed the classic Mac OS look with Aqua at the debut of OS X, and later went through several different design phases—you’ll forgive us if we don’t mourn the loss of brushed metal—OS X 10.10 could be a good turning point to refine the design of the Mac OS into something more in keeping with the modern-day aesthetic. Though maybe err on the side of conservatism, Apple: The full iOS 7 monty isn’t going to win you any plaudits here.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.