The Wallpapers of Mac OS X

The Mac has long been famous for its deep focus on human interface design. When Apple introduced the Aqua interface, they made sure to juxtapose it with the “clownish” GUI of Microsoft’s Windows XP. Design is paramount to these guys, and so it comes as little surprise that everything – right down to the default wallpaper – is meticulously sourced or crafted to create the ambience of the overall experience.

The default wallpaper for each edition of OS X becomes the marketing standpoint for that generation of Mac computers. Apple markets their Macs with the default OS X image prominently displayed on product boxes, promotional material and on their website. So users become acquainted with their new Mac (and  thus the OS) through the wallpaper at first glance. And besides, Mac’s wallpapers have always been beautiful, and in my opinion, far better than most default offerings found in the Windows world.

Being an Apple aficionado, I decided to investigate the wallpapers of OS X, and see how they correlate to the experience of each iteration of the OS.

OS X: The Aqua Years

The early releases of OS X had a user interface called “Aqua.” Steve Jobs is famous for remarking that the interface looked so good, you wanted to lick it. While I won’t go that far in superlatives, I will mention that it was a very good-looking and well-designed interface. And it was in this era that Apple shipped the blue-hued wallpapers with ambiguous swirls and abstract shapes.

These wallpapers emphasised the fluidity of Aqua’s concept: a glossy, dominantly blue interface.

Here’s a look at the wallpapers of OS X 10.0 “Cheetah” – 10.4 “Tiger.”

The Leopards: A galactic shift

With OS X 10.5 “Leopard”, Apple shifted their wallpapers to a more “galactic” tone. Leopard featured the pink-tinged “Aurora” wallpaper, which was greatly softened by its power successor, Snow Leopard.

While Aqua still prevailed, it was slowly being tuned down.

The Lions: At the end of the universe

With the Lion and Mountain Lion operating systems (10.7 and 10.8), OS X made a leap into the galaxy: these two iterations had the images of the M31 Andromeda galaxy (Lion) and the NGC 3190 galaxy (Mountain Lion) setting the tone of the OS. More importantly: Aqua was now dead. In its place were UI elements taken from the wildly successful iOS platform (inertial scrolling, skeumorphic elements…). Here, the wallpaper’s celestial theme now alluded to OS X’s new direction, focussing on powering-up the system while taking all that worked on iOS and integrating it into the older desktop code (a task of galactic proportions in its own right – making relevant a system constantly threatened by the young upstart that is iOS).

And now, the future: 10.9 onwards

10.9 Mavericks
10.9 Mavericks

With Mavericks (10.9), Apple’s done some radical changes to OS X. Most importantly: the naming scheme shifts from big cats to famous landmarks in California, the birthplace and development home of the Macintosh operating system. It comes as no surprise, then, that the lead image of the first in this new series of OS X, called Mavericks, has a beautiful green-blue wave – the famous swells of the Mavericks surfing spot that is a paradise for surfers the world over.

One can thus assume that subsequent iterations, each carrying a landmark from California, will be heralded by an image directly related to that name. Gone are the ambiguous, abstract images of the Aqua years. Apple’s rooting their flagship OS, and in so doing, setting the tone of a whole new era for the Mac.

Apple is Back

A lot has already been written about Apple’s major announcements at Monday’s keynote to kick-off WWDC 2013. So I’m not going to go over what was announced – that can be found at almost any blog covering tech. What I’m going to write about, instead, is what I felt and thought after dutifully watching Monday’s live stream, as the future of Apple unfolded before the eyes of their devout fans.

“Designed by Apple in California”

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, one of the things he did was create a branding campaign to re-assert Apple’s image in the eyes of the public, but also strengthen resolve from within the company. At that time, Apple had been struggling – badly. They were near bankruptcy. Jobs managed to rescue the company with a number of radical changes, but the campaign – “Think Different” – a poetic, rousing anthem to the world, best encapsulated all that he stood for and believed in regarding Apple. “Think Different” was very much a Steve Jobs manifesto, a strategic move to associate Apple with the great thinkers, leaders and inventors of the past.

So when Tim Cook premiered Apple’s new branding campaign, “Designed by Apple in California,” I was immediately struck by its similarities with the “Think Different” videos, and also by the fact that it was, essentially, Tim Cook’s vision. His affirmation to the public and to Apple itself that the company is back, that it will continue to prosper and innovate as it always has, and that, despite its new leadership, Apple will continue to be Apple. The new campaign reasserts Apple’s roots in Cupertino, adds direction to their new vision for OS X (more on that just now), and confirms their stance as an American technology company that cares for where it comes from (Mac Pro production based in the U.S.) It’s Tim Cook’s manifesto, in much the same way “Think Different” symbolised Steve Jobs.

Watch the video:

Apple is Back

There’s no doubt that after Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO, and then his untimely death in October 2011, Apple’s future was left with a big question mark over it. Jobs was very much Apple. The break between two incredibly inextricable entities left a void, and the new CEO, Tim Cook, was given the enormous task of bridging it, of assuring us that Apple would continue to innovate. But what followed was a series of somewhat lacklustre attempts – sure, we had incredible new MacBook Pros with Retina displays, an amazingly thin iPhone 5 and iPod touch… but the spark seemed to have gone from Apple.

Until now.

You could see it in the energy displayed by the executives on stage: Craig Federighi, debuting the new OS X, was enigmatic and reminiscent of Steve Jobs in his presentation skill. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing, made the statement that best encapsulated the message Apple was trying to send to the world: upon revealing a radical new design for the much-anticipated new Mac Pro, he remarked: “Can’t innovate any more, my a**.”

The Mac Pro reveal itself was done with the drama and panache that only Apple can do: set to the tone of Muse’s “Supremacy,” it exuded cool. Watch the reveal here:

But it’s the new design for iOS that signifies Apple’s true leap forward. They’ve managed to let go of the past, of the “skeumorphic” design tendencies that Steve Jobs himself was a big fan of. Skeumorphism links software ideas to their real-world counterparts in a very literal way. This allusion makes things look gaudy, overdone, and just unintuitive. It’s what dogged iOS for its entire existence, making it look old and creaky in the face of sleek interfaces from competitors like Samsung’s Android implementation and Windows Phone.

The new, minimalist interface from Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive is clean, well thought-out and befitting of a mobile operating system that runs on devices that pride themselves on distinct industrial design. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the UI, but this is just the beta phase. Much will be altered before iOS 7 gets gold-master certified for public use later this year. For one thing, I’m not too convinced about the icon design; it looks a bit inconsistent and makes for a jumbled home screen appearance. This, and other UI and UX elements will be tweaked, I’m sure. But overall: I’m impressed. The beautiful use of typography, the subtle animations and parallax concept bring life to iOS without reverting to skeumorphic ideas that come across as plain tacky. This iteration of iOS indeed looks classy, refined, and downright stylish – just the kind of thing you’d expect from a company that prides itself on working at the intersection between good design and groundbreaking engineering.

Here’s Jony Ive talking through the thought process behind iOS 7’s new design:

New Direction: OS X

There’s no more big cats in the name. That’s kinda sad. But OS X is now going to be named after places in California, the birthplace and development home of the Mac operating system. That does seem befitting, and works right into Apple’s new strategy with their “Designed by Apple in California” theme.

The new OS X is called “Mavericks”, version number 10.9. It’s named after the popular surfing location in California, and sets the tone for a new generation of OS X. As with iOS, OS X is also departing from its little stint with skeumorphism, and I like what I’ve seen so far. My favourite features with 10.9 are definitely App Nap, a system that intelligently manages application resources to maximise system performance and battery life. It’s also impressive to note that this OS will be able to run on Macs as old as those from late-2007. That’s what I love about Apple: the longevity of their products.

Closing thoughts

This keynote has made me excited to be a fan of Apple again. I’m confident in their future, one that now has a concrete direction, is rooted once again in good design and innovative engineering principles, and that opens the doors to interesting and compelling new product avenues. I can’t wait to finally get my hands on iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, and I look forward to what the Cupertino company has in store for us in the near future.

Wozniak on Siri

“I start telling everyone I knew and speaking around the world about how this was the future of computing, speaking things in normal ways, feeling like you’re talking to a human.”

–Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, inc.

 Woz has constantly “needled” the company he once founded. Here, according to Boy Genius Report,  the Woz has lamented on how Apple has “dumbed-down” Siri, making it less cooler than it was before the Cupertino behemoth scooped-up the humble startup and turned it into the biggest selling-point of new iOS devices.

From the BGR article:

Wozniak said that he used to be able to get Siri to list prime numbers greater than 87, but when he asks Siri to do that now it thinks he’s talking about prime ribs.

Wozniak was the engineering powerhouse behind early Apple computers such as the Apple II. He founded the company alongside his close friend Steve Jobs, who was able to brilliantly package and market Wozniak’s inventions and together, they revolutionized the personal computing industry.