Future Lion hints inside the latest iOS beta

Blink and you may have missed it (only joking, the yards of coverage gave it away) but Apple has begun beta-testing a feature-packed iPhone/iPad software update, iOS 4.3. With iOS features set to prowl over to Mac OS X Lion, what do these new mobile features suggest may be coming to the Mac?

Let's look at the new iOS features first, as revealed by the usual coterie of NDA-denying developers and Apple afficionados in all the usual places. We also learn that the iPhone 3G and iPod touch second-generation aren't supported in the release. Here's a list:

  • The iPad 2.0 camera app, also video app
  • Photo Booth for iOS, new camera effects too
  • Find My Friends
  • No more Home button
  • Three iPads coming
  • Two iPhones
  • New Multi-touch gestures for iPad
  • Personal Hotspot feature for all iPhones
  • New Message alert settings
  • iPad's physical orientation lock switch returns
  • Apple TV update allows AirPlay video from third party apps

This list suggests Apple's working away toward the release of two new model iPhones (one GSM, another CDMA) for later this year, (iPhone 5). It also shows us there will be WiFi, WiFi + 3G and WiFi + CDMA iPads and so on, all as expected. Some of these features appear iOS-specific.

But what do these implementations suggest about the future of the Mac OS? In the video below there's a chance to refresh your memory on what Apple has confirmed on its new OS so far, and here's a selection of earlier conclusions drawn from the introduction of iOS 4.2:

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AirPlay stories

The Apple TV gaining support for AirPlay video streaming from third party apps will be an excellent thing. If you have an iPad in the family, you'll be able to share freshly downloaded video content, and also video from Hulu or iPlayer or other supported sources on your TV. This also suggests you might be able to, you know, stream those games you're playing on your iPad or iPhone to the TV screen for a Wii-like console gaming experience.

For the Mac, I'd suggest we can look forward to AirPlay support inside the OS, so you'll be able to share what you see on your Mac via your TV or other supported device -- including Macs? At present the Apple TV grabs content from your Mac, to enable a user to transmit content using the Mac via the Apple TV is simply to make that relationship two-way. I think it just completes the circle.

New Message alert settings

Skip the return of the iPad's physical orientation lock switch, though I know many Apple followers will be mildly excited about this. The new message settings are far more interesting. These improvements include a new font and new alert tone controls.

I think alert messages will migrate from iOS to Mac OS X. This means you can expect new Twitter or Facebook messages (for example) to discreetly pop-up on your Mac screen, unless you don't want them too.

It is also possible you'll receive messages to let you know when lengthy computational processes (such as video encoding) are complete. Think an Apple version of Growl that just works and doesn't incessantly pester you when it wants to be updated (I deleted Growl for that).

New Multi-Touch Gestures

Here's what Apple says about these new features:

"This beta release contains a preview of new Multi-Touch gestures for iPad. You can use four or five fingers to pinch to the Home Screen; swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar; and swipe left or right between apps. We are providing this preview before releasing them to the public to understand how these gestures work with your apps. Test them and give us your feedback on the Apple Developer Forums."

We know Multi-Touch is on the Mac, so it really is a no-brainer that some five- and four-fingered gestures will become part of the Mac user experience. Indeed, these already exist within OS X, where four-finger gestures can be used to invoke Expose and App Switcher commands. This suggests you'll be able to swipe between Apps, images and iTunes content using a four or five finger gesture on your iOS device.

Ultimately, it must be considered highly likely that Apple will attempt to unify touch commands on both iOS and Mac machines, so you'll use the same basic gestures on both.

Find My Friends

Like Loopt, Find My Friends will be like Find My iPhone for your friends. Think about it like this, you'll be out and about and all your MobileMe buddies will be easy to find so long as they have given permission for the location features in their phone to operate.

Recall earlier this week when I proposed a notion of an Apple social network? Find My Friends could be part of this. Really useful for iOS users -- but also useful for anyone on a Mac. Think about it: you might be in a Starbucks working on your MacBook Pro and want to see if your buddy is around so you can arrange a short catch-up. At home you'll be able to do the same thing. Sure, it is only of slight use, but expect more location-awareness and sensing abilities to reach your Lion-powered Mac.

And there's another opportunity for Mac App Store developers here, of course, because surely it is only a question of time before Apple exercises that patent on an ads-supported OS and launches iAds for the Mac.

Photo Booth for iOS, new camera effects too

This is coming to Lion. Macs already have PhotoBooth, expct all the iOS imaging effects to reach Lion, along with a few Lionesque surprises. It won't stop there -- all these effects are likely to reach FaceTime for Mac and for iOS. You'll have an extremely powerful video conferencing tool. It would be far more powerful if the software is also released for other smartphone and computer platforms. Communication software always is more useful if it is comatible with many systems. As such I'd predict FaceTime for Windows will make an appearance, potentially also including a version for Windows 7 phones. In the smartphone world, Google is the enemy, one which Microsoft and Apple both share.

A personal wish

I'm a Mac user who likes to use the Dock. Given that Apple now automatically pops new Mac App Store apps into the Dock, I want the Dock to develop a technology like Spaces. In other words, I'd like a primary Dock for the apps and processes I use the most. I'd also like to be able to switch to different Docks, for games, say, or utilities. I'd like to be able to achieve this inside three gestures. Five fingers to invoke Finder prefs, four fingers to invoke dock prefs, and then a choice of docks to select. This will enable users to continue to use uncluttered Docks while also having access to more complex App collections going forward. After all, ultimately we'll be making less use of the Finder. And more of Expose, Dashboard and Mission Control.

So, there ends my short gleanings on some of the new features I presume will appear within Mac OS X Lion on strength of their future debut within Apple's other OS, iOS 4.3. Can you imagine any other iOS/Mac convergences that could make sense? If you can, please do pop them into comments below, and you know I'd be ever so pleased if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new posts appear here first on Computerworld. Have a great weekend.

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