Nothing could have prepared me for Gruber’s description of his one-on-one demo of Mountain Lion, Apple’s next version of OS X. It wasn’t the software, but the way that Apple is approaching folks like Gruber:
This is an awful lot of effort and attention in order to brief what I’m guessing is a list of a dozen or two writers and journalists. It’s Phil Schiller, spending an entire week on the East Coast, repeating this presentation over and over to a series of audiences of one. There was no less effort put into the preparation of this presentation than there would have been if it had been the WWDC keynote address.
What do I think so far, Schiller asks. It all seems rather obvious now that I’ve seen it — and I mean obvious in a good way. I remain convinced that iCloud is exactly what Steve Jobs said it was: the cornerstone of everything Apple does for the next decade. So of course it makes sense to bring iCloud to the Mac in a big way. Simplified document storage, iMessage, Notification Center2, synced Notes and Reminders — all of these things are part of iCloud. It’s all a step toward making your Mac just another device managed in your iCloud account. Look at your iPad and think about the features it has that would work well, for a lot of people, if they were on the Mac. That’s Mountain Lion — and probably a good way to predict the future of the continuing parallel evolution of iOS and OS X.3
But this, I say, waving around at the room, this feels a little odd. I’m getting the presentation from an Apple announcement event without the event. I’ve already been told that I’ll be going home with an early developer preview release of Mountain Lion. I’ve never been at a meeting like this, and I’ve never heard of Apple seeding writers with an as-yet-unannounced major update to an operating system. Apple is not exactly known for sharing details of as-yet-unannounced products, even if only just one week in advance. Why not hold an event to announce Mountain Lion — or make the announcement on apple.com before talking to us?
That’s when Schiller tells me they’re doing some things differently now.
I wonder immediately about that “now”. I don’t press, because I find the question that immediately sprang to mind uncomfortable. And some things remain unchanged: Apple executives explain what they want to explain, and they explain nothing more.
My gut feeling though, is this. Apple didn’t want to hold an event to announce Mountain Lion because those press events are precious. They just used one for the iBooks/education thing, and they’re almost certainly on the cusp of holding a major one for the iPad. They don’t want to wait to release the Mountain Lion preview because they want to give Mac developers months of time to adopt new APIs and to help Apple shake out bugs. So: an announcement without an event. But they don’t want Mountain Lion to go unheralded. They are keenly aware that many observers suspect or at least worry that the Mac is on the wane, relegated to the sideline in favor of the new and sensationally popular iPad.
Thus, these private briefings. Not merely to explain what Mountain Lion is — that could just as easily be done with a website or PDF feature guide — but to convey that the Mac and OS X remain both important and the subject of the company’s attention. The move to a roughly annual release cycle, to me, suggests that Apple is attempting to prove itself a walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time company.
And all of this without any rumors — like those swirling about the iPad 3. Apple comes across as deadly serious, very carefully moving forward, one major battle at a time, pursuing a grand strategic vision, and unconstrained.
Gruber’s description of Mountain Lion — specifically the close integration with iCloud — is also worth a long read.