Eric Leamen

Digital Content Creator and Writer

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WWDC Wish List: iPadOS 15 – Fresh Fruit (2021)

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‘Her’ Begs the Question: When Can I Date My Computer? – Emerge (2014)

Technology, Meet Fashion: Gadgets You Wear Are the Next Big Thing – Emerge (2014)

Evomail+ for iPhone arrives as a rebuilt, redesigned email client for iOS 7 – CE: The Magazine (2014)

Originally published on CE: The Magazine, January 14, 2014.

I think it’s safe to say we all have a love/hate relationship with our email. We either get too much of it to deal with, we hate the way it works, or we hate the app we are forced to use to get it. Personally, I don’t hate email itself, and I usually don’t get very much of it. But like many people, I hate the apps I have to use to get my email. Apple’s Mail.app on iOS and OS X is barebones, tired, and does not support modern email features like labels and stars. I don’t like web apps, so I refuse to use Gmail, Hotmail, or IMAP in a browser. Google’s Gmail app for Android is pretty good, but their stock “other” Mail app leaves much to be desired. And don’t even get me started on Microsoft Outlook.

For a long time Sparrow was my favourite email client. But in July 2012 they were acquired by Google, development of their apps ceased, and I was suddenly forced to search for an alternative. What I quickly discovered in my search is that there aren’t many people making email apps, at least not any really good email apps. I’ve tried Google’s Gmail app for iOS, Airmail for Mac, Mailbox for iOS, and even returned to Apple’s Mail.app for a brief stint. Some of these apps don’t allow me to have all of my email accounts in one place; some don’t support power user features that I use; others are missing design flare; and so far, none of them have stuck.

Then I discovered Evomail, a clean, modern email client with support for every email service and protocol I use. Similar in design and functionality to Sparrow, it seemed that Evomail would put an end to my long and frustrating search. As it turns out, Evomail originally grew out of a similar frustration.

“It was 2012, email was stale, and no clients were taking advantage of the advancements in cloud computing and storage that had happened in the last decade,” explains Jonathan George, co-founder and CEO of Evomail, in an email interview with CE: The Magazine, “Our initial goals were simple: evolve email beyond what it is by building a layer on top of email and a set of gorgeous email clients using that backend.”

Evomail was originally released as an iPad-only, Gmail-only app in May 2013. An iPhone version of Evomail followed a few months later, though at a somewhat unlucky time: it launched for iOS 6 mere days after Apple unveiled the completely redesigned iOS 7 last June. On its launch day, Evomail for iPhone already needed a refresh.

“iOS 7 gave us an amazing opportunity to hit our brakes for a bit and really refresh the things we’re doing,” says David McGraw, Evomail co-founder and chief developer. “We’ve really refreshed our iOS version from several angles that will provide a really fantastic experience.”

Today the company launches Evomail+, an entirely new app redesigned and rebuilt for iOS 7 on the iPhone. Far more than a simple redesign, Evomail+ combines its beautiful UI with intuitive gesture controls, traditional inbox elements, and modern productivity features. That balance of old and new is one of my favourite things about Evomail; it immediately feels familiar, yet also fresh and modern. Unlike competitors such as Mailbox and Triage, the Evomail team has not set out to reinvent the way users think about and manage their email. As their tagline proclaims, their goal is simply to provide “Modern Mobile Mail”.

“Email is amazing, it’s just stale — so we’re modernizing it,” George says. “We’ll always offer the traditional experience, but we want to build an interface that learns about how you use email. That’s the trick: everyone uses email differently, so how do you best service that?”

To accomplish that daunting task, Evomail+ includes a large assortment of features, all welcome. Your main inbox is a traditional list of email messages, sorted chronologically. Tap a message and it opens. You can also swipe messages right to archive, or left to delete. Tap and hold a message and you’re greeted with an action menu with options to Label, Snooze, Favourite, or Mark Unread (which can also be mapped to the left and right swipe gestures in Settings). Evomail+ also includes the increasingly popular “Snooze” function, allowing you to hide a message and have it re-appear later when you need it. Default Snooze options include Later Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, or you can set a custom time.

One of the most unique features of Evomail+ is the One Button, a small blue circle that lives in the bottom left corner of the app. In your Inbox, a single tap of the button brings up the compose window. Pull the button right to open the Accounts and Folders menu, which can be used to switch accounts, jump into the Unified Inbox, or browse folders and labels for the active account. Pulling up on the button in the Inbox invokes edit mode, so you can batch select, label, snooze, archive, and delete messages. Long-pressing on the button opens a menu for filtering your inbox to display only unread emails, messages with attachments, or starred/favourites messages. Long-pressing the button in the message view displays options to reply, reply all, and forward the current message. It’s a unique, intuitive control once you come to learn all of its uses.

Of course Evomail+ has also been redesigned for iOS 7, and it looks great. Since all navigation is accomplished using the One Button, Evomail+ has no top or bottom nav bars, so your email gets a nice, big full-screen view. As you might expect, everything is very simple, flat and white. Email accounts are colour-coded, and inbox messages receive a charming coloured highlight along their left edge to distinguish which account they belong to. In the message view, that colour-coding carries into the subject bar at the top of the screen, a simple but nice touch. The app also displays contact photos in the main inbox and message views, making for a very visual UI (and I love contact photos, so this makes me very happy). Overall Evomail+ is a very well designed app that fits in beautifully with the iOS 7 design aesthetic.

Feature wise, Evomail+ has pretty much everything I want in an email app. Multiple accounts, support for Gmail and IMAP, a traditional inbox, labels and folders, swiping gestures, contact photos, and a beautiful iOS 7 inspired design.

“We’re laser focused on listening to customers–it’s all about them,” McGraw says, “If something exists, and it works well, expect us to seriously consider it. Expect us to experiment with completely new ideas of our own in the near future. In the end, the customer will help guide where we focus our sights.”

I do have some complaints. Evomail+ feels very slow in places, particularly when loading search results, labels, and folders. Many of the animations and transitions are jittery and could use some improving. I’ve also noticed some major server-side bugs; on occasion some old, archived messages have re-appeared in my inbox, and new messages still in my inbox have inexplicably disappeared. New mail doesn’t always show up in my inbox immediately, and I still get an error message when trying to add my Google Apps email account, so I can’t use Evomail+ for work email. (Editor’s Note: these impressions have been updated to reflect the final shipping version of Evomail+. A previous version of this article included impressions of a beta build of the app.)

That being said, we’re in the very early days of Evomail+. The team promises they are hard at work improving their clients and their recently announced EvoCloud backend, and I expect both will continue to improve as time goes on.

“It’s an exciting time! We’re staying modern, making the experience easier, and learning a lot.” George says.

For a small start-up from Wichita, Kansas, Evomail+ is impressive, and definitely worth a look for anyone frustrated with their current email client. At this point Evomail+ still feels quite buggy, and it could definitely use a bit more UI polish. However, I believe that with a little more time Evomail+ can mature into an absolutely fantastic iPhone email client.

Evomail+ for iPhone is available for free on the iOS App Store.

HTC One video review – The Cellular Guru (2013)

HTC One X review – CE: The Magazine (2012)

Originally published on CE: The Magazine, June 22, 2012.

Of all the companies out there making Android phones, I have always admired HTC. Back in the days of Android 1.0 and 2.0, HTC Sense was truly a breath of fresh air. Sense brought beauty to an operating system which was sorely lacking in that department. Not only did HTC innovate with their software design, but their hardware was top notch too! I remember ogling the original HTC Hero when it was unveiled, and dropping my jaw at its stunningly beautiful successor, the HTC Legend.

Then things got a little out of control. HTC started releasing new phones left and right, at a pace that not even an Olympic sprinter could keep up with. These phones were all extremely similar, just rebranded or repackaged for a regional carrier.

Even HTC admitted that they got carried away with device launches in 2011, and they promised that 2012 would see a smaller flagship line of phones launch across the globe. I was so happy to see them fulfill this promise at Mobile World Congress this year with the launch of the “One” line; a family of three phones consisting of the low-end One V, mid-range One S, and powerhouse, top-of-the-line One X.

Today I’m taking a look at the HTC One X, the matriarch of the One family. As HTC’s flagship superphone for 2012, the One X has to stand out as “the phone to buy” in a market largely over-saturated with Android phones. So, is the One X deserving of this title? Is this the best Android phone available? Let’s find out.

Hardware & Design

The HTC One X definitely starts out strong: this is one of the most beautiful phones I have ever used. In fact, I prefer this design to both the iPhone 4S and the Lumia 900 which I reviewed last month.

The One X is constructed from a unibody polycarbonate shell that feels extremely durable. The back features a matte, soft-touch finish, while the edges are smooth and polished. The entire body of the phone is actually curved, as are the edges of the glass display, which makes the phone really comfortable to hold in hand or against your face while on a call. It has a very smooth, ergonomic feel, which I really like. It was a pleasant change from the sharp, straight edges of my daily driver, the iPhone 4S.

A gorgeous 4.7” HD Super LCD display dominates the front of the device. While the One X is a really big phone (measuring 134.8 x 69.9 mm), it doesn’t feel huge in hand. It does, however, feel pretty bulky when you slip it in your pocket. Despite it’s large footprint, the One X is very thin and lightweight, measuring just 8.9mm thick, and weighing in at just 130g. It’s a wonder that HTC managed to pack everything they did into a phone this thin and light.

Simply put, this hardware is superb! I can’t think of a single complaint to make against this design. It looks great, and it feels great. The HTC One X is definitely one of my favourite smartphones when it comes to design.

Internals & Display

Once again I’ll keep things simple: I am in love with the gorgeous 4.7” display on the One X. The display is bright, vivid, and the quality is remarkable! This is a 1280 x 720 display at 4.7” inches, putting the pixel density well within Retina territory at 312.5ppi. While the iPhone does have a higher pixel density, the difference is virtually indistinguishable. To the naked eye, the One X screen looks super crisp, and you can’t discern individual pixels. This is a killer display, definitely on par with the industry leading Retina display on the iPhone.

I also really like the added screen real estate that the 4.7” display provides. Browsing the web, reading and responding to emails, and keeping up with Twitter is really enjoyable on a large yet still pocketable display. The only downside of having such a large touchscreen is that it can be difficult to use with one hand. While I expressed similar concerns with the Lumia 900’s 4.3” display, the one-handed problem really becomes evident with the extra large 4.7” display on the One X. It’s nearly impossible to reach across the screen with just one thumb, so at times you will need to use your other hand.

One other minor complaint I have about the display is that some colours appear too bright. This is particularly evident in games like Draw Something, in which colours appear visibly more “neon” when compared to iOS. I also noticed this at times in the web browser or when viewing photos.

The One X is packing some future-proof internals. The North American LTE variant runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960 processor and 1GB of RAM. All of that adds up to a phone that screams! I didn’t notice any serious issues with performance, save for some minor lag when loading widgets on the home screens. While some may find themselves envious of the quad-core Tegra 3 found in the international variant, a 1.5GHz dual-core SoC is still cutting edge, and future-proof enough that the phone won’t feel slow anytime soon.

Internal storage is limited to 16GB, with no microSD slot for expansion. HTC has partnered with Dropbox to offer One X buyers 25GB of storage free for 1 year, which unfortunately won’t be of much help if you need extra room for apps or multimedia.

HTC is touting Beats Audio integration as a selling point for their smartphones these days, but I don’t understand why. It’s nothing more than a gimmick, offering no real enhancement to audio coming from the built-in speaker or through your own headphones. Perhaps this would prove useful if you actually have a pair of Beats headphones? I’m not enough of an audiophile to own a pair.

Camera

At the introduction of the One series, HTC touted a number of camera improvements that together they call “ImageSense”, which does present an innovative software experience for photo taking. Photo and Video buttons are integrated into the same viewfinder, so you don’t need to toggle a switch or change camera modes. Press the shutter button to take a still, or the video button to shoot video. You can even press the shutter button while shooting a video to take a still shot without interrupting your recording. ImageSense also features zero shutter lag for near instantaneous capture of still shots. The insanely fast shutter did lead to a few problems with motion blur, but most of the time worked really well.

While the camera software is top-notch, image quality isn’t a game changer. Don’t get me wrong: photo quality was good, comparable with most high-end smartphone cameras these days. Indoor shots were clear and detailed, while outdoor shots were bright and vibrant. Likewise, 720p video capture resulted in good quality video with a smooth frame rate. On the other hand, low-light shots appeared visibly grainy and discolored in spots, so you will still need to rely on the built-in flash from time to time.

Overall, the One X packs a good camera for a smartphone, but it won’t be replacing your point-and-shoot. For a closer look at the camera, check out these uncompressed test shots taken with the HTC One X.

Performance

To be honest, my experiences with Android in the past have been less than stellar. I always found the OS to be slow and filled with lag and jitter. I was worried that the One X would suffer from some of these performance deficiencies as well. I’m pleased to say that these Android performance fears were squashed by the One X.

As I mentioned before, the 1.5GHz dual-core processor inside the One X is more than capable of powering the software. Sense 4.0 was generally very fast and zippy, with almost no lag or stutter to speak of. There were a few times when I encountered some home screen lag directly after unlocking, though I suspect this was caused by the number of widgets I had running at the time.

Games run really well on the One X as well, very smooth and responsive. Unlike the Lumia 900, games feel “native” on Android, and I encountered no stutter or lag.

In terms of call quality, the One X performed admirably. The built-in earpiece produced clear, loud audio during calls, and reception on Rogers’ network was always solid. Exactly what you expect from a modern smartphone. The external speaker was a little quiet, and its placement is quite odd; it is located on the back of the device near the bottom. I found that my hand would cover the speaker when holding the phone, muffling the audio. Likewise, setting the phone down on its back covers the speaker and distorts the audio.

Battery life was good on the One X. Most of the time the phone would last through a full day of mild use, though I did notice that the battery seems to drain at a consistent pace even on standby. You’ll notice that the screenshot on the right confirms that the 720p display of the One X is a serious battery hog, topping the list by a wide margin. As with most smartphones, the One X will need to be charged every night.

Software

Android really has come a long way since the last time I tried it; it feels a lot more polished and responsive than it used to. HTC has also taken steps to tone down Sense with this latest incarnation, Sense 4.0, which looks fairly similar to stock Android.

Ice Cream Sandwich with Sense 4.0 is very smooth and responsive, which is probably the most important thing for me. I hate encountering lag when trying to do something simple like scroll through a list or zoom into a webpage. Luckily, Android 4.0 handles all of these tasks with ease.

While previous versions of Sense were actually nicer looking than stock Android, Google stepped up their game with Ice Cream Sandwich. The role of Android skins has diminished, and luckily HTC has acknowledged that with Sense 4.0, which has been severely toned down compared to previous versions. Sense 4.0 is a very unobtrusive skin that looks like a slightly skinned version of stock ICS. The home screen dock is much better than the old Sense dock, providing 4 user customizable shortcut icons and a button to launch the app drawer. These 4 icons also appear on the lock screen, providing a convenient way to jump right into those apps. Speaking of, I really like the Sense 4.0 lock screen as well. HTC’s unlock ring is really unique, and users can also choose from a number of lock screen themes that will display weather, stocks, or even photos.

The software works well, looks nice, and there are no major problems with Sense 4.0 or Android. Though I was very impressed by the software on the One X, I do have some small complaints as well.

In some places, HTC’s Sense 4.0 skin does clash with Google’s Holo design of Ice Cream Sandwich. Google’s stock apps utilize the Holo design language, which doesn’t match HTC’s Sense aesthetic. There are aspects of the operating system that HTC has skinned for seemingly no reason. The Sense 4.0 icons look cartoony and out of place next to the default Android icons, and HTC’s re-skinned checkboxes are hard to see and difficult to press. Another needless change that HTC made with Sense 4.0 was re-skinning the Ice Cream Sandwich multitasking tray. Sense 4.0’s task switcher only shows one app on-screen at a time, and I found the horizontal scrolling awkward and sometimes difficult to land on the app you want.

A particularly sore spot for me was the Sense keyboard, which I really didn’t like. Some keys, such as the Numbers key, were oddly placed compared to other software keyboards. In iOS, stock ICS, and even Windows Phone, the Numbers key is located at the bottom left of the keyboard, but HTC put their number key at the bottom right. I also found the space bar to be too small, and I often missed it when I was typing. HTC also saw fit to include a row of navigational keys for some reason; perhaps had they removed those they could have made a larger space bar. These seemingly minor annoyances really screwed up my typing speed and productivity. Looking back, I wish I had installed a stock ICS keyboard from Google Play, which could have fixed all of these problems.

Another text-related issue came when trying to summon the text cursor or select a misspelled word to correct it, neither of which I ever figured out how to do. In iOS, if you’ve misspelled a word, you simply double-tap the word, it gets highlighted, and you can then change it. I could never figure out the proper way to do this in Sense 4.0, so most of the time I ended up frantically tapping the text area hoping a cursor or highlight would appear somewhere.

I had a very pleasant app experience with the One X. I always assumed that the iOS App Store was ahead of Google Play, but I found that be largely untrue. Browsing through Google Play, it looked very similar to the App Store, in that many of the same apps and games were present. I tried out a bunch of apps, namely social apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which all worked really well. Scrolling was smooth, loading times were quick, and feature wise they are on-par with their iOS counterparts. I also quickly replaced HTC’s reskinned Android Browser with Google’s Chrome Beta, a far superior choice both in terms of usability and functionality.

The gaming experience on the One X was great as well. I played Angry Birds Space, Cut The Rope, Draw Something, and Fruit Ninja, to name a few. Games ran super smooth and felt like native games, as opposed to the emulator-like games I encountered on the Lumia 900. Though, interestingly enough, one of my favourite gaming experiences on the One X was Pokémon Yellow running on the GBC A.D. GameBoy Color emulator. That’s one thing I wish the App Store had.

As a whole, the software experience on the HTC One X was great. Everything was super smooth and responsive, which are the biggest positives in my eyes. Sense 4.0, while toned down, still goes too far in unnecessarily skinning the OS. HTC’s apps and widgets don’t match Google’s stock Ice Cream Sandwich design language, leading to a veritable mish mash of UI styles. HTC is on the right track with Sense, though, so perhaps we will see an even more refined version next year in Sense 5.0. For now, the underlaying Android experience is really good, which outweighs most of the negatives of Sense.

Wrap-up

It isn’t hard to judge a phone that flirts so closely with perfection. The One X is packaged in a beautiful body that looks fantastic and feels great to hold. Performance-wise the phone screams, with little to no stutter or lag to report of anywhere. The cameras take decent pictures, though nothing mind-blowing. Android has really matured as an operating system, and despite being somewhat held back by Sense 4.0, most of the issues I had with the software were cosmetic, things that could easily be changed with a replacement app, keyboard, or launcher.

In short, I loved the HTC One X. To answer my own question, the One X deserves the title of “best Android phone available”. This is the one to buy. Whether you’re looking for a new Android phone specifically, or a new smartphone in general, I have no qualms about recommending the HTC One X.

OS X Mountain Lion in-depth preview – CE: The Magazine (2012)

Originally published on CE: The Magazine, March 3, 2012

Apple is a company that consistently manages to surprise; not only when it comes to their products, but in terms of how the company itself operates. It seems like just when you thought you had them figured out, Apple goes and does something new and exciting and entirely unexpected, leaving you completely blind sighted. This is what happened just a few weeks ago with the announcement of the next version of Apple’s Mac operating system: Mountain Lion.

It was only a few days earlier that I found myself ruminating about the future of OS X, and what the next version of the operating system would bring. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 had recently caught my eye, and I began to wonder how Apple would go about further blurring the line between iOS and OS X. Would the next version of OS X even feature a desktop? Would it look anything like the OS we know now? It was an exciting thing to think about, though I knew it shouldn’t be expected for quite a while.

Like every version of Mac OS X before it, I expected 10.8 to be announced at a lavish June press event during Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The company only just released 10.7 Lion last summer, so I assumed there would be quite a wait before 10.8 would show itself, most likely at the June 2013 WWDC. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Apple announced OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion out of the blue on a Thursday morning. Publications went live with their “Mountain Lion hands-on” articles in the early hours of the morning, and I – like many others – was stunned. Did Apple really just announce the next version of Mac OS X without a press event? Yes, they did.

Two weeks later, I’ve spent a significant amount of time testing Mountain Lion and all of the new features it will bring when it arrives sometime this summer. In short, Mountain Lion is already fantastic. It’s fast and smooth, and brings with it a bunch of awesome features Mac users have been waiting for.

The Basics

Like the upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion looks and feels very similar to Lion. While there are a ton of new and useful features in Mountain Lion, don’t expect a monumental shift in the user experience akin to what Windows 8 is aiming for. Instead you’ll find what feels like a highly polished version of Lion, that already runs tremendously fast and smooth despite being in its first Developer Release.

Though I have Mountain Lion installed on an external drive (just to be safe) I could easily see myself running it as my primary OS and getting by fine. It appears that having Lion as a launching pad has allowed Apple to craft an almost bug-free and extremely smooth first beta that runs great – even on my relatively old 2008 Core 2 Duo MacBook.

However, unlike Snow Leopard (which was essentially a polished and stabilized version of Leopard), Mountain Lion introduces a plethora of new features and apps to the Mac. Apple has focused on bringing even more great features from iOS to the Mac, including Notification Center, Notes, Reminders, and Documents in the Cloud. So let’s take a look at the new features you can expect when OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is unleashed later this year.

Notification Center

One of the major new features in Mountain Lion is Notification Center, continuing the trend that began with Lion of bringing the best and most popular iOS features “back to the Mac”. Just like in iOS 5, Notifications for apps like Messages, Mail, Safari, and Calendar will appear in semi-transparent white boxes in the top right corner of your screen just below the clock on the menu bar. So far, there is no way to change the placement (or otherwise customize) these notification banners, though I suspect Apple will change that in the final release.

Notification Center can be accessed with a two-finger swipe from the right of the trackpad to the left. Your desktop will slide to the left and out of the way, as Notification Center appears – linen texture and all – underneath. Apple wasn’t kidding when they said that multi-touch would be the future of computing, and with Mountain Lion there is definitely an increased pressure for desktop users to abandon their mouse and switch to Apple’s Magic Trackpad (in fact, I can see Apple discontinuing the Magic Mouse entirely this year). For those who really dislike the trackpad gestures, Apple has included a new Notification Center icon right next to Spotlight on the menu bar. It lights up blue when you’ve got a new notification, and clicking on the icon, as you would expect, opens Notification Center.

Notification Center on Mountain Lion looks and works just like in iOS. Clicking on a notification will take you directly into that app, and you can clear notifications by clicking on the “X” button next to the app name, though there is still no way to delete individual notifications. Notification Center opens without so much as a stutter, and animations are smooth.

What else can I say? It’s Notification Center. Seamlessly integrated with OS X’s built-in apps, users don’t even have to think about it, yet they will wonder how they ever made do without it.

Launchpad

Apple has made a few minor changes to Launchpad, which was first introduced in OS X Lion. The app icons appear significantly smaller, a welcome change, as I always felt they looked too big and awkward in Lion. Apple has also included a Spotlight-eqsue Search bar in Launchpad, allowing you to quickly search for and locate any application on your machine. Launchpad also feels a bit faster and more responsive in Mountain Lion.

Messages

Apple introduced iMessage – their answer to RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – back in June 2011 at WWDC, as part of iOS 5 for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. One notable omission from the list of iMessage-capable platforms was the Mac, though many assumed it was merely a matter of time before iMessage made its way to OS X. That time is here.

Mountain Lion’s new Messages app replaces the old iChat application, and brings cross-platform iMessage support to the Mac. Users on a Mac can send iMessages to their family and friends no matter what device they are using – Mac or iOS. Conversations are synced across devices, so you can start a conversation on your Mac and resume it on your iPhone when you leave the house.

Messages is by far the buggiest app in the Mountain Lion Developer Preview. I find it sometimes deletes my conversations if I close the application window, and it doesn’t always sync all of my messages properly across devices. Messages I’ve received and read on my iPhone all pop up individually the next time I open Messages for Mac. Instead of silently syncing my messages and updating my conversations, it “receives” each message as new, quickly realizing a second later that I’ve already read them. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding… it gets annoying quickly. Hopefully this bug is addressed, as the app should simply download all of my new messages, realize I’ve already read them, and silently update my conversations.

Messages for Mac is currently available for Lion users as a beta, which you can download and try out right now.

Sharing & Twitter

Apple has also introduced a system-wide Share feature into Mountain Lion, allowing users to quickly share almost anything using Mail, Messages, AirDrop, Flickr, Vimeo, and Twitter. Users can share directly from Finder by using QuickLook on movies, music, and photos and then selecting the Share button. You can set up your accounts for Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, and other sharing services in System Preferences.

Curiously, Facebook and YouTube are also included, but only in QuickTime Player, allowing users to share movies through these two popular social networks – but nothing else. A strange limitation, given that both services are currently integrated with iLife apps like iPhoto and iMovie. I’d like to see Facebook and YouTube extended to the system-wide Share Button, as having quick access to share a photo or URL on Facebook, or a video file on YouTube, would be nice.

Twitter is also integrated system-wide in Mountain Lion just like in iOS. You can Tweet a URL from Safari or a photo from Finder using the Share button and familiar “Tweet Sheet” seen across iOS 5 devices. Apple says that users will also receive notifications for DM’s and Replies directly in Notification Center, but this does not appear to be working in the Developer Preview.

Apple has promised an API for developers to integrate the Share Button into their applications. The API will only provide access the Share Button, and developers will not be able to integrate any new services into the sharing feature.

Notes & Reminders

Two more apps making the jump from iOS to OS X in Mountain Lion are Notes and Reminders. Though the functionality of these apps has (to some degree) always been present in OS X, they now exist as standalone apps.

Notes, which used to be integrated with Mail, looks much like it does on the iPad, just scaled up for the Mac. A list of your notes can be found in the left column, while clicking on one opens it in the yellow legal pad on the right. As you might expect, Notes syncs with iCloud, keeping all of your notes synced across Mac and iOS. The Share button is present here as well, allowing you to send a note via. Email or iMessage. Individual notes can also be torn out of the notebook by double-clicking on them in the list on the left. They pop up in their own window, and you can close the main Notes window while keeping an individual note (or notes) open (so long as you keep the app itself running). This all works great; Notes sync instantly if you change, add, or delete one, and like Mountain Lion itself, Notes feels like a very complete app. It will be very familiar to anyone who owns an iOS device.

Reminders has been pulled out of Calendar and is now its own app as well. Like Notes, Reminders looks like a scaled up iOS app, and includes all the same functionality; adding Reminders, creating new lists, marking Reminders as complete, and even a Calendar view. It also syncs with iCloud, so Reminders you create or complete on your iPhone or iPad will sync to your Mac as well, and vice versa. It is a simple app – so simple that it doesn’t even include a preferences pane – but it’s nice to have a dedicated app for quick reminders that syncs with your phone.

Calendar and Mail

iCal has been renamed to Calendar, bringing Apple’s built-in Mac app names in-line with iOS. While Calendar keeps the same faux-leather UI design Apple introduced in Lion, the company has made a few minor interface changes. The Calendars list, which appeared as a pop-over in Lion, now slides out from the left of the app, accompanied by a miniature Month view.

Mail has remained relatively the same, but there is one new feature that I am personally happy to see; clicking on the grey bar at the top of the inbox jumps to the top, just like in iOS. This is one of the major annoyances I have with Apple’s Mail app in Lion, and a big reason why I’m currently using Sparrow.

However, Apple’s native Mail app is still quite buggy. I’ve always had an issue in Mail on Lion, wherein a new message will arrive but the “new mail” chime does not sound right away, sometimes ringing after I’ve already read the new email. This is another bug that caused me to switch to Sparrow, and one that hasn’t been remedied (as of yet) in Mountain Lion. I’ve also seen instances in Mail of a new message arriving, accompanied by the red icon badge, but no notification appears in Notification Center. As far as I’m concerned, Apple’s Mail app can join Messages in the “buggiest apps” category; these two need a lot of tweaking before the public release of Mountain Lion.

Safari

Safari has also seen some minor updates in Mountain Lion. For starters, Safari now features a combined Address and Search Bar – a feature I’ve been dying for! It makes browsing a lot faster and more convenient, and it just makes sense. Sure, this is a feature that has been available on other browsers for a while, but it’s a first for Safari (which is still my default browser thanks to Top Sites).

The other change to Safari in Mountain Lion is the inclusion of the Share button. Located to the left of the Address Bar, clicking on the Share button summons a drop down menu of sharing features. You can add a page to your Reading List, Bookmark a page, or share a page via. Mail, Messages, or Twitter.

Dashboard

Dashboard has seen a small change in Mountain Lion as well. Still occupying its own Space to the left of your desktop, adding and removing widgets has been revamped. Alongside the standard + button on the Dashboard is now a – button for, you guessed it, deleting widgets. Adding widgets now brings up a Launchpad-style interface that looks very similar to an iOS homescreen.

Apple has also added a “More widgets…” button that appears when you click the + button. This takes you to the Dashboard section of Apple’s website, where you can download more widgets for your Dashboard. I find it odd that Dashboard Widgets have not yet been moved to the Mac App Store, though I suspect we will see that change when Mountain Lion is released.

iCloud

Mountain Lion is Apple’s first OS X release since the launch of iCloud, and they’ve integrated the service directly into the OS. Upon first boot you will be asked to enter your Apple ID and set-up iCloud, which will automatically set-up iTunes, FaceTime, Messages, and the Mac App Store, as well as auto-sync all of your Calendars, Contacts, Bookmarks, Mail, and Documents. Imagine getting a new Mac and having all of this data on your machine and ready to go before you even reach your desktop. Astounding.

Apple has also integrated Documents in the Cloud into Mountain Lion, allowing apps to save and access files on iCloud. It syncs seamlessly across devices, so if you edit a document on your Mac and save it to iCloud, you can then open and edit it on your iPad or iPhone. Documents in the Cloud is built-in to the “Open” dialogue in many apps like TextEdit and Pages, presenting a new iPad-like user interface. Though there is currently no user-facing file system for iCloud, meaning you can not browse through your iCloud documents in Finder, only through specific applications.

Wrap-up

Unlike Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion is not just an updated version of Lion. Sure, the Developer Preview already feels more stable and polished than Lion, but Mountain Lion introduces a heft of new features that users will enjoy. Seamless Notification Center, system-wide Sharing features, deep iCloud integration, quick and easy messaging, and a bunch of new and much needed apps will make Mountain Lion feel like a whole new ball game. Mountain Lion already feels like a huge step up from Lion, and I expect that we haven’t seen all there is to see in 10.8. I can only hope Apple pulls out the big guns and surprises us with more goodies at WWDC in June.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion will be released this summer. Apple has promised yearly OS X updates from now on, once again taking a cue from iOS, so we can expect OS X 10.9 to be released sometime next year.