8 Features Mac OS X Lion Borrowed from its Little Brother, iOS

It has been a few days since I was contemplating whether to update to the new Mac OS X Lion. I decided to take the leap, pay the $30, and give it a go. From the second I hit that download button, no scratch that, from the second I realized it was a regular download from the Mac App Store and not on a CD like other operating systems, the whole experience has been a pleasure.

The one thing that sticks out from the whole Lion experience is that Apple is slowly but surely, making the transition from iOS or the mobile world as a whole, over to the Mac. We already know that Apple is selling more iPads than Macs, but what we did not know is that Apple is replicating the iOS experience on its Mac lineup, but that is clearly the case. Much has been said about the “post PC era” and we have seen many new features over the past few months making their way to mobile first and only Web or desktop second.

The following 8 features, or should we call them functionalities, that are built into Lion are clearly taken from the iOS experience and ported over to the Mac:

1: Multitouch Gestures

OK, this is a no-brainer. Apple’s iPhone first introduced the concept of touching the screen in more than one place and thereby affecting the outcome of your gesture. In Lion, you can swipe between desktops using three fingers, go Back or Forward in Safari using two, and activate Mission Control using three fingers. These gestures took some time to get used to, but after years of using a mouse and laughing at every TechCrunch article that declared the mouse dead, I am now using the Trackpad on my Macbook Air exclusively.

2: Multiple Home Screens

While Lion did not introduce the concept of multiple desktops, as we had Spaces before, the new Mission Control system behaves exactly like many mobile devices do in that you can easily swipe between active applications and work in parallel on different projects. In fact, this specific feature actually reminds me more of the Playbook multitasking system than the iPad’s. By simply swiping left or right, you can navigate between all your open apps. This contributed to a definite boost in my productivity over the last few days, and is one of the most impressive aspects of the Playbook and its QNX operating system.

3: Scrolling Method

If you are about to install Lion or if you just did, you can expect a huge headache when you try to scroll using the mouse or trackpad. You know how on every computer on earth, when you want to scroll down, you drag your fingers down or roll the mouse’s scrolling mechanism in a downward motion? Yea, well on Lion, you have to do the opposite. You kinda feel like an American driving in the UK, or basically completely confused. However, if you are an iOS user, that confusion should disappear fast. Basically, just like on iOS, in Lion you are dragging the content and not the scroll bar. So if you want to go down on the page, you take the content and flick it upward just like you do on iPad. Again, this causes some initial confusion and since it can easily be disabled, many users do just that in the first few minutes using Lion. Personally, it has completely grown on me and now my PC is what seems foreign to me.

4: The Mail UI

I have been using Outlook for Mac since I made the transition from PC to Mac, but the new Mail app in Lion is seriously tempting me to abandon Outlook. The main reason is because of the UI, which is pretty much identical to the iPad Mail app, which is one of the best email UIs I have ever used. The new Lion Mail resembles the iPad Mail app in so many ways including the simple setup, the side by side user interface, and much more.

5 Jiggling Icons and Folders

I totally missed these features until someone on Twitter pointed them out to me. When you are in your LaunchPad in Lion, a long press on an icon will cause all the icons to jiggle (out of lack of a better word) and you can then move them around or delete them from Launchpad. You don’t need a good imagination to see that this is identical to iOS. Of course, you can also drag one icon on top of another and create a folder, again, exactly like in iOS.

6: Air Drop

Of course transferring files is not something new to computers, but Airdrop enables you to share a file with another Mac in your nearby vicinity. This is of course something we were able to do for years on mobile devices with some old school devices using Infrared and the newer phones using Bluetooth to share files. Yes, computers also have Bluetooth and can share files, but if you have used Airdrop, you must have felt that the experience very much resembled that of a mobile device sharing with another one in its proximity.

7: Full Screen Apps

I have been running Safari in full screen mode for the past few days and I can safely say, I cannot go back to the non-full screen mode. This new option of running Mac apps in full screen and certain options appearing as you hover over a certain location on the screen is yet another feature borrowed from iOS. Just think about the Photos app on your iPhone and how the pictures appear in full screen until you want the navigation options to appear and bring you back to the album or onto the next picture. Not convinced? Check out the Reader option in Safari on iOS5. That is exactly the same as full screen on Lion minus the removal of ads, which is not something included in Lion’s full screen mode.

8: No Wire Download

Maybe this one should be first on the list, but when have we ever seen a computer’s operating system that the user can download from an app store on the current operating system? Just trying to wrap my head around the concept is starting to give me a headache. How can I download the OS as an app within the current OS and then install it over the current OS without an external disk or USB drive? Yet, Apple pulled it off and made the whole upgrade process as seamless as any upgrade I have ever done. The whole experience of the app store and downloading updates over the air is so mobile-like, and just a few days ago, Apple enabled OTA updates for iOS with iOS5 beta 4.

In conclusion, Mac OS X Lion is definitely a HUGE step forward when it comes to computer operating systems on the one hand, and on the other, it brings a lot of features we have all been using for years on our mobile devices and tablets. Maybe that is what makes it so great!

To use a phrase Jobs himself coined “There is one more thing”. If you are using Lion, press any letter on your keyboard for a few seconds and look what shows up. Accented characters. Sound familiar? If you are using iOS, it should, since Lion copied this feature directly from its mobile OS along with the others mentioned above.

Have you discovered any other Lion features that are present in iOS? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I am @hilzfuld.

Author: Hillel Fuld

"Hillel is a tech blogger who manages multiple sites such as Technmarketing, Appboy, and inneractive. In addition, Hillel has written on many leading online publications such as Mashable, Gigaom, and others. In addition to his blogger hat, Hillel is an active Twitter personality who defines himself as a "Social media addict". When Hillel is not blogging or tweeting, he is the Head of Marketing for inneractive, a mobile startup that deals with app monetization across all mobile platforms."

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  • MLo

    You can turn off the backwards scrolling in settings. I’m really surprised that most reviews don’t mention this.

  • http://www.frontsidebus.net David – Front Side Bus

    Nice article. I’m not so sure about taking features from a mobile device and putting them on a desktop. But hey, if they work in practice and make the OS more usable, more power to ‘em.

  • http://twitter.com/HilzFuld Hillel Fuld

    “Again, this causes some initial confusion and since it can easily be disabled, many users do just that “

  • Marc

    All the features mentioned are great additions. The change in scrolling may confuse people initially but once you get used to it you quickly realise it makes more sense.

    I also like the double tap in Safari to zoom into content (same as on iphone) or was this a feature that previously existed that I did not know about?

  • Keithoeds

    you can also invert it in Settings