Apple Talk: Is Apple's Back to the Mac the first hint of a new OS?

Are we about to hear the roar of Lion, the next big cat version OS X?

Are we about to hear the roar of Lion, the next big cat version OS X?

After all the headline-hogging by the iPhone 4 and iPad, it's about time Apple did something for OS X users, so it's good news for Mac loyalists that important events seem to be in the offing, says Seb Janacek.

Last week was truly celebratory. First, the triumphant rescue of the Chilean miners managed to bury news of Margaret Thatcher's birthday.

Then Apple sent us a reminder that the company is about more than iOS devices with news of an event next week entitled Back to the Mac.

Apple's Back to the Mac invitation

The lion on Apple's Back to the Mac invitation is fuelling speculation about a new version of OS X
(Image credit: Apple)

The invite-only event will take place on Apple's US campus in Cupertino. The invitation features a cutout of the Apple logo with a lion behind it. This image may give the merest inkling that the next version of the cat-themed Mac OS X operating system is on the way and will be called Lion. Call it a hunch.

Long-time Mac users, such as this one, will relish the chance to see new OS X announcements from Apple. It's been a while, after all.

The last upgrade to OS X came way back in 2009 with the launch of 10.6 Snow Leopard. This release was largely an under-the-hood update to the OS, which, while low on shiny new features, delighted users by removing dozens of tiny irritations they'd learned to endure and replaced them with elegant and swanky little finesses.

Disappointments at Apple WWDC
Traditionalists were left deflated after Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in June. The event had always belonged to the Mac OS. This year, the conference was totally dominated by the iPhone 4 and the iOS software platform. Mac OS X wasn't even invited to the party.

Since then the iOS devices have taken centre stage and to spectacular effect. The iPhone blazes a trail and the iPad has become one of the fastest-selling new technologies ever. Apple announced its latest...

...quarterly results on Monday evening and iPhone and iPad sales have inevitably dominated headlines.

Yet the company also sold almost four million Macs in the same three-month period. The 3.89 million Mac units sold represent a 27 per cent year-on-year increase - more than twice the industry average.

As for what 10.7, or Lion, has in store - the speculation is already rife.

Speculation about OS X 10.7 Lion
Touchscreen support, 3D user interfaces and further improvements in performance are all cited as possible new features, as is greatly improved integration with the cloud, something Apple simply hasn't nailed yet.

A new corporate job listing from Apple earlier this year boasted about a "revolutionary" new feature for Mac OS X that would "truly amaze everyone". The ad mentioned HTTP and large web architecture. The company has also invested over $1bn in a new datacentre.

Nothing out of the ordinary for a standard Apple missive but this was a job ad and the ad used the word "revolutionary" on three separate occasions, which even for Apple seems to challenge the limits of hyperbole.

New hardware may also be in the offing. The company's flagship Mac product, the MacBook Pro, is aching for an update.

Likewise, its elegant but recently overlooked MacBook Air could do with a facelift. Rumours persist about a smaller form factor for the wafer-thin notebook, although how Apple will differentiate its mobile devices in an increasingly crowded area remains to be seen.

New MacBook Air model?
According to Mac rumour website AppleInsider, the new MacBook Air model will feature an 11.6-inch display and do away with existing options for a conventional hard-disk drive or even a solid state drive (SSD) in favour of a new 'SSD Card' resembling a stick of RAM. The site's sources speculate that this approach could give the notebook an instant-on response time like the iOS devices.

We shall see. Personally, it is the refresh to Mac OS X that excites the most. Despite being an iPhone and iPad owner and advocate, the Mac remains closest to my heart.

Snow Leopard was a worthy update and featured some long overdue fixes for system performance and stability but nothing warms the cockles like new Mac OS goodness.

You have to go way back to October 2007 for the last major update of Mac OS X with Leopard, which featured a host of useful updates including the excellent Time Machine back-up facility, which has saved me from losing all my data after a burglary.

Either way, the return to traditional values will delight many long-time fans - fans who remember an Apple before the App Store and white headphones. The old school endures and hopes that lion will roar.

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