Apple announces July launch for OSX Lion

Apple outlined just a handful of the 250 new features of its forthcoming OSX update and one thing became clear from the very beginning.

Lion's new interface tweaks, many of which have been designed with lessons learned from the company's portable operating system iOS in mind, rely almost entirely on multi-finger gestures like sweeping and pinching.

Anyone using OSX Lion on an older desktop Mac will be missing out on much of the fun unless they shell out for either £60 for a Magic TrackPad or £57 for a Magic Mouse.

All of Apple's current laptop offerings come with a large multi-gesture touch-pad, and desktop models come with a choice of the aforementioned peripherals, but Macolytes still labouring away with an old-fangled rodent will get little joy out of the new bells and whistles which are part of Apple's first major overhaul of the OSX user interface (UI) for years.

Anyone without a pretty robust Internet connection might also miss out as the upgrade will only be available as a 4GB download through the Mac App Store. While we're on the subject, it might be worth mentioning that anyone who skipped Snow Leopard and wants to upgrade from Leopard to Lion will also be left out in the cold, as the Mac App Store only works with Snow Leopard.

With those small gripes over, it's time to dig into the few highlights of the 250 new user features and 3,000 developer APIs which will come with OSX Lion when it hits the App Store in July.

Multi Touch Gestures
As you will already have gathered, pretty much everything new in OSX Lion relies on letting your fingers do the working. As is Apple's wont, every swipe and flip and pinch and drop is beautifully animated, with windows bouncing back into place when brought back into the main work area. And it's not just the mouse which Apple is determined to exterminate. With Lion, scroll bars are a thing of the past. In Safari, two fingered swipes up and down the page scroll the content, whilst the same gesture from left to right flips between browser tabs.

The same gestures in the main GUI switch between desktop views or applications.

Full Screen Apps
Apple has been championing full-screen Apps since everyone noticed how well the worked on iOS. Now it seems like the Cupertino company is on a mission to kill the window (as well as Windows) with just about every Apple-made app getting the full-screen treatment. Swiping between full screen Apps like Mail, Safari, iTunes and Facetime is a doddle, as is switching to the new replacement for the age old Applications folder...

LaunchPad
Stab four fingers at your track-pad and Launchpad will pop up, whatever you are doing. It's pretty much identical to the iPhone's home screen with every App on a single page or multiple pages if you have lots, and the ability to automatically create folders simply by dropping one application's icon onto another. Lion will even have a guess at what you'd like to name that folder if, for example, you drop one game onto another.

Mission Control
This combines all the useful bits from Exposé, Dashboard and Spaces - Apple's current quick-key desktop management technologies - into one place.

It shows every window from every open app and every desktop widget all at the same time, grouped by app. Individual documents windows or apps can be selected, grouped, expanded or dropped onto multiple desktop spaces, all at the flick of a finger - or two.

Mac App Store
Apple's online software shop, which now outsells every major software retailer in the US according to Apple, will be built into OSX Lion. Dowloaded Apps will drop straight into Launchpad and new delta updates will allow only the bits of an application's code which have changed to be replaced, making upgrades much faster.

Mail
Apple's home-grown email application gets a facelift with Lion with a new wide-screen layout and conversations feature, which places messages into a scrollable time-line, intelligently hiding repeated text so that the conversation is easier to follow. A powerful new search feature allows users to find messages based on the sender, subject line or content, or any combination of the three. It also includes built-in support for Microsoft Exchange 2010.

Resume
Resume remember exactly what state your Mac was in the last time you turned it off. Applications, windows and even highlighted text are remembered each time you restart your Mac or an application, which is great for those of us with multiple monitors who spend most of the morning shuffling everything back into exactly the right place, not that we're OCD or anything.

Autosave / Versions
A long time coming, Autosave automatically and continuously saves the work you are doing on a document, placing all older versions into an easily-accessible time-line - much like Apple's Time Machine back-up technology - allowing users to revert to any previous version, or even cut and paste elements from older version into the current one.

The Versions feature uses the same principle as delta updates, meaning only the difference between each version of the document is saved, cutting down on the hard drive space eaten up by multiple back-ups.

Airdrop
Put simply, anyone connected to the same network as you can automatically fling a file at you using a simple interface which requires no setting up. The recipent is asked if they want to receive the file in question, if they say 'yes' it is dropped into their downloads folder. Simple as that. It's a peer-to-peer wireless system which finds nearby Macs without even asking it to.

Pricing
If you buy a new Mac after the July launch you'll get it free. If you buy one between now an July, Apple usually has an amnesty period in which new users get a free upgrade.

If you've got an Apple laptop with a multi-touch track-pad running Snow Leopard it will cost you £21.

If you've got an older Mac Running Snow Leopard you'll want to get a Magic Trackpad or a Magic Mouse bringing the bill up to £81 or £78 depending on your choice.

If you've got an older Mac running Leopard, you'll probably have to cough up £20 for Snow Leopard, then add your peripheral of choice making the bill either £101 or £98.

For new Apple owners, the amount of top-notch software bundled free with every Mac is always a bargain. At £21, OSX Lion would still have been a no-brainer. But with the additional burden of new hardware in the mix, we can't help thinking many users will put off buying Lion until their next hardware upgrade comes along.

Here's an idea Mr Jobs! Why not give away a free e-voucher for a Mac App Store upgrade to OSX Lion with every Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse sold?

The things would fly off the shelf.