Apple's Mountain Lion shows personal cloud trumps personal computer

Surprise announcement pegs Mac OS upgrade this summer

Apple's move to update Mac OS X this summer shows that the company sees its software ecosystem, especially its iCloud service, as more important than any one product line, analysts said today.

In a move that surprised many, Apple announced it was seeding developers with a preview of Mac OS X 10.8, dubbed "Mountain Lion," today and would offer the upgrade to customers late this summer.

"Apple's not merging Mac OS X and iOS," said Michael Gartenberg of Gartner research. "But they are making them feel the same. And that shows that the ecosystem is more important than the device or even the platform."

Gartenberg cited the central position that iCloud plays in Mountain Lion -- the first time the operating system launches, it asks for the user's iCloud credentials, or if the user hasn't yet used the service, asks if he or she wants to create an account. He also noted the renaming of several integrated applications to match their iOS labels and the introduction of features and applications previously available only to iPhone and iPad users.

"The net is that the personal cloud is becoming more important than the personal computer," argued Gartenberg. "The whole idea of a personal cloud is what's most important to consumers. The rest is just a bunch of connected screens."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agreed. "It's the idea of wherever you are, there you are," said Gottheil of cloud-stored information. "Basically, you can't lose your data that way."

In a statement today announcing Mountain Lion, Apple called it "the first OS X release built with iCloud in mind."

Apple introduced the free iCloud service last year alongside iOS 5, although the service shared traits with its ancestor, the problem-plagued MobileMe. Earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said iCloud had collected 100 million users since its launch.

At that same Goldman Sachs-hosted event, Cook touted iCloud's fundamental role in Apple's strategy, and in hindsight, foreshadowed today's Mountain Lion announcement.

"I would view iCloud not as something with a year or two product life," said Cook. "It's a strategy for the next decade or more ... [and something] I think is truly profound."

Mountain Lion renames Mac OS X's iCal as Calendar, its Address Book as Contacts, and iChat as Messages to sync the labels used by iOS. It also adds several of the services and apps to the Mac that debuted in the mobile operating system, ranging from Game Center and Notifications to Reminders and Notes.

"It's going to be a whole lot more iOS," said Gottheil of Mountain Lion, "and shows that the iPhone is basically the gateway drug to all things Apple."

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