Apple dumps big cat OS X nicknames, zips lips on price and release timetable

Fall launch suggests reports of shanghaied engineers were on the mark

Apple on Monday trumpeted OS X 10.9, or Mavericks, but made a U-turn from past practice and declined to name a price for the upgrade or tap a ship date as anything more specific than the fall.

The departure from tradition lends credence to reports a month ago that Apple had pushed back the release of OS X 10.9 because it shuffled engineers from that project to reinforce the iOS team. The last time Apple shipped an OS X upgrade in a month other than July or August was in 2007, when it delayed OS X Leopard for similar reasons in the run-up to the first iOS, called iPhone OS at the time.

Also non-traditional was the name Apple picked for OS X 10.9. While the nine previous editions were tagged with feline nicknames -- from Cheetah and Puma through Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion -- the company believed the trend had run its course.

Or the remaining cats were too small a pool to continue the pattern, said Craig Federighi, head of OS X and iOS development, during Monday's keynote at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). "We do not want to be the first software in history to be delayed due to a dwindling supply of cats," Federighi joked before revealing that Apple had shifted to a naming convention honoring California, "in the place where OS X is designed and built."

OS X Mavericks, or more prosaically 10.9, was named after a big-wave surfing spot on the California coast about 35 miles northwest of Apple's Cupertino headquarters.

Federighi showed off only a handful of the more than 200 new features Apple claimed it had added to Mavericks, including Finder tabs -- for collecting several file manager windows into one view -- file tagging and improved support for multiple monitors. That last feature will be welcomed by power users, for Mavericks will put a menu bar on every screen and the Dock on the screen currently in use, tasks that now require third-party programs.

"Tagging files is about 30 years overdue," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in a Tuesday interview, about the feature that will let users label files with keywords for more efficient document organization and faster search. "Good for Apple that they're trying to make a traditional personal computer easier to live with. Maybe it will stimulate others to [add file tagging], and not just Microsoft, but the online storage services, too."

Mavericks will include OS X versions of the iOS Maps and iBooks apps -- continuing Apple's practice of seeding Macs with software that originated on the iPad or iPhone -- as well as a new password maker and manager, iCloud Keychain. As the latter's name suggests, it's stored in iCloud, Apple's free online storage and synchronization service, and from first glance it could threaten the livelihood of top-tier third-party programs like 1Password and LastPass. And like the new iOS 7, Mavericks will automatically update programs in the background that were purchased in the Mac App Store.

But the main push of OS X Mavericks, at least based on Federighi's presentation, was aimed at the No. 1 complaint of notebook owners: too-short battery life.

OS X tags
OS X Mavericks lets users tag files in the Finder, on iCloud, or as shown here, when saving a document. (Image: Apple.)
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