Mountain Lion Highlights Apple’s Growing Irrelevance

There are two ways to look at Apple. The first is to view Apple as product with its corresponding parts. Play nice by owning each part and Apple will reward you. The second is Apple as a service and its web-based tools. Deviate from the plan and Apple will ignore you.

The company has done a fantastic job over the past 10 years of getting you to buy into the system by owning every part and allowing Apple to play nice. But as more is demanded of web-based tools, Apple’s reluctance to truly venture into the cloud may cost them down the road. This could never more true than with Mountain Lion.

To the iPhone and iPad owner, Mountain Lion offers new functionality across all of its parts. To the exclusive Mac owner, Mountain Lion offers many features you’ll never use. Since Lion, the past two incarnations of OS X have put more frosting on a cake that really just needed a new recipe.

The biggest disappointment is iMessages – probably because of the missed opportunity. There’s a three-way war going on with Facebook, Google and Apple over web-based messaging. This is one place Apple is the underdog, with the biggest reason being Apple’s locked-down approach. The other two competitors (Facebook and Google) are cross-platform, which allows them to reach more users for obvious reasons. Although iMessages is barely off the ground, the failure to reach people out of its product environment will always keep it trapped dead last in the war over messaging.

Twitter integration is also nice, but will you ever use it consistently? Probably not. Many sites offer built-in social plugins right from each article, and with Safari holding only a four percent market share among browsers, social integration and knock-off omnibox features are hardly anything to convince people to switch to it.

I think what’s concerning for Apple is the disconnection. There just isn’t that buzz about Apple that we’re used to feeling. In a Connected Monster poll (as of publish date) last week, 62 percent of respondents were more excited about Google’s plans for the next Nexus smartphone device over the 34 percent anticipating the new iPhone 5. With the iPhone just over 30 percent of the global smartphone market share, two thirds of smartphone users use something else.

So unlike the past 10 years, the importance of cross-platform services is truly essential with the growth of the cloud. Other apps like Mountain Lion’s “Notes” I can’t ever see taking off. With the biggest reason again being more comprehensive apps like Evernote, Google Drive, and Dropbox that are cross-platform alternatives with already large user bases.

Mountain Lion is a welcome upgrade for someone like myself – who had a variety of issues with Lion. But for those using Snow Leopard, it might be a harder sell. Boot time for me still took over a minute on my two-year-old MacBook Pro – and although improved – its UI still seems clunky like its Lion predecessor.

Many cooler features, like Power Naps, will never see the light of day for users without SSD-equipped Macs – which is a disappointment. Dictation is probably the most usable feature within this upgrade. Although it had its problems with Google Drive, it worked flawlessly on more traditional apps.

The Game Center could also be interesting, but many might find better alternatives elsewhere. All-in-all for $20, I’d recommend the upgrade, but Mountain Lion from a bird’s-eye view shows a company falling out of relevance and plateauing rather than one rising with innovation.

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