The Mac in 2012: What It Means for Windows

Apple commanded much of the technology industry’s attention today, as its CEO, Tim Cook, took the stage (naturally, only after Siri welcomed the crowd by video) at Moscone West in San Francisco to talk to an audience of thousands. One of Apple’s main announcements was OS X Mountain Lion, the next version of their desktop operating system that was shown off to a select few earlier in the year.

Even if you’re a diehard Windows user, it’s difficult to argue against the fact that the user base of Mac users is growing. With Microsoft readying to release a pretty different version of Windows, let’s take a recap over the key features of Mountain Lion, and how it stacks up with what Microsoft has on the table.

Hardware

Apple took WWDC as a platform to announce a refresh of its notebook lineup, an area that’s been pretty rapidly changing in the past few years with the rise of tablets and the MacBook Air-inspired ultrabooks. It’s not hard to realize that PC makers have scrambled to produce the thin, light notebooks that Apple kicked off with the MacBook Air.

Apple announced an update to said MacBook Air, with Ivy Bridge CPUs up to 2GHz on the i7, up to 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of SSD storage and USB 3, while reducing the price. The MacBook Pro also got a boost up to Ivy Bridge (at up to 2.7GHz quad-core i7), with a “new generation” of Nvidia graphics.

Apple also announced a new model, the next generation of MacBook Pro, a mix between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. With a svelte, thin form factor that’s “thinner than my finger”, the model features a Retina display, which will no doubt set an industry standard, being the highest resolution notebook ever available. It’s something leading PC makers are going to have to respond quickly to, and we’ll no doubt see CES 2013 littered with high-resolution notebooks.

The next generation MacBook Pro. (Image courtesy: The Verge).

App Store and GateKeeper

The App Store is something Apple’s been pushing on the Mac platform a lot, in an effort to emulate the success of the iPhone/iPad model. Apple enhances this experience in Mountain Lion with GateKeeper which, as the name suggests, locks down your device to make it more secure. It can be disabled, but most people will leave it on, pushing them into Apple’s app ecosystem on OS X.

Microsoft is introducing an App Store in Windows 8 too, which shows that the model is becoming more popular. However, Apple has so many people involved in its ecosystem that pushing out an App Store on a new platform is an easy process for them. Microsoft might have more of a challenge getting people to use and support the feature.

The Mac OS X App Store remains a popular way of discovering and buying apps.

iCloud and the Ecosystem

Apple has the strongest ecosystem out there, and Mountain Lion only highlights that. Apple’s brought over much of the key stock apps preloaded into iOS to the Mac, such as Notes, as well as core features like Notification Centre. All these work on the Mac in conjunction with iCloud, which is a feature that’s almost default on any Apple device.

Ultimately, this isn’t something Microsoft can boast about itself. Thanks to Windows being used as a part of many PC maker’s ecosystem, it doesn’t really have its own, unfortunately. This means it’s pretty hard to bring some of the super awesome stuff coming in Mountain Lion, such as the iCloud-powered Safari.

As I talked about in my recent op-ed, Microsoft is strengthening Windows and consolidating it into a core experience. There’s no doubt that Microsoft will be envious of Apple’s ecosystem, but with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, they are going somewhat far into trying to produce a better, consolidated user experience.

Mountain Lion on an iMac and MacBook Air.

What It Means for Windows

With Mountain Lion, Apple’s essentially boasting about its tight ecosystem and cross-integration of its different product lines. From a design perspective, Windows 8 is a world away, but it should be worrying for Microsoft that Apple is continuing to push such a strong ecosystem.

Windows 8 is certainly an improvement as an individual product, adopting increasingly popular models like the App Store, but Microsoft, or any rival for that matter, lacks anything like iCloud.

Plus, with the bar-setting next generation MacBook Pro, Apple’s setting the standard for notebooks. PC makers better be listening if they’ve got a chance of competing with it and, hopefully, they can on a price level faster than they could with the MacBook Air.


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