OS X Mountain Lion - Bringing iOS features “back to the Mac” (Part 4)

11/23/2012 11:27:20 AM

Power Nap

When an iOS device is asleep, it’s still doing stuff – checking your mail, making alert sounds, and even backing up your system. That’s why you can wake up an iPad and get an up-to-date count of messages in your inbox. With Mountain Lion, Apple is introducing a version of this iOS feature to the Mac, called Power Nap.

First, the restrictions: While I’d bet most future Macs will support Power Nap, right now it works on only a handful of systems. When Apple released Mountain Lion, Power Nap worked only on mid-2011 or 2012-vintage MacBook Airs or the new MacBook Pro with the Retina display.

Description: Power Nap

By default, Power Nap is turned on when your laptop is connected to a power adapter and turned off when it’s running on the battery; but you can turn Power Nap off completely or turn it on for both scenarios in the Energy Saver preference pane.

Power Nap works by periodically waking up a MacBook even when it’s closed. But this isn’t the usual wakeful state. Fans don’t spin and the screen doesn’t come on. And since Power Nap works only on systems that use flash storage instead of spinning hard drives, disk access is silent, too. From the outside, you’d never know your MacBook was awake.

When in this dark-wake state, your MacBook will (once an hour, if it’s connected to a power adapter or has more than 30 percent of battery life remaining) check your mail; update calendars reminders, notes, and Photo Stream; and sync contacts and Documents in the Cloud. If you have Find My Mac on, it’s also phone home with its current location.

A few other Power Nap features work only if your MacBook is plugged into a power adapter. In that case, your laptop will also run time Machine backups and download software updates (assuming you’ve set it do so in the background).

Description: Working in your sleep: If you have a MacBook of relatively recent vintage, you can enable Power Nap in the Energy Saver preference pane.

Working in your sleep: If you have a MacBook of relatively recent vintage, you can enable Power Nap in the Energy Saver preference pane.

The next step for Apple would be to give third-party apps access to Power Nap. Users of online backup services, for example, would love that. But Apple would have to be judicious about it; you don’t want to wake up to find that your laptop’s battery hasn’t recharged overnight.


When Apple first announced Mountain Lion in February, it didn’t make a big deal about changes to Safari. But several nice additions in Safari do in fact make it a much better browser.

The biggest addition is actually a subtraction: The search box next to the address bar has vanished. Instead, as in Google Chrome, the address bar is also your search field. If you know an address, you can type it there, but if you don’t, you can enter your search terms in that same field, and Safari performs a search using your preferred search engine.

Description: Pinch To View Or Select Tabs In Safari Mountain Lion

 Pinch To View Or Select Tabs In Safari Mountain Lion

Another new Safari feature I like is iCloud Tabs. Click its icon on the toolbar, and you get a list of all the webpages you’ve loaded across all your devices. This feature will become much more useful with the release of iOS 6 this fall. Then you’ll be able to start reading on your Mac and pick up where you left off in your iPad.

The new Tab view is cool. If you have more than one tab open in Safari and you pinch on your trackpad, Safari zooms out until you see the current page on a gray background. You can the swipe left or right and view the contents of all the other tabs. But while this view is pretty, I don’t see how I’d ever use it. Clicking on tabs already works great: If I want to see a page in Safari, I click its tab. Pinching, then swiping, then clicking just doesn’t seem efficient.

There are several more nice additions to Safari, too. As I mentioned earlier, a new Share button appears in the Safari toolbar. The Safari Reader button, now much larger, sits just to the right of the address bar, turning blue when a page is eligible for Reader. The Reading List feature now offers an offline mode, so you can save articles to read later even if you’re not connected to the Internet at that time.

Although this update is generally a good one, webpages seem to load more slowly than they did before although I don’t think they actually do. They probably seem to because the blue progress bar creeps across the URL window more slowly, and the status bar no longer tells you what it’s doing. When a page is slow to load, it’s frustrating to have no indication about what’s happening Maybe other Safari users won’t care, but I found it disconcerting.

Description: What’s open where: Sarafi’s iCloud Tabs button shows on your other devices.

What’s open where: Safari’s iCloud Tabs button shows on your other devices.

Description: Sharing and more: Safari’s Share button lets you share and save URLs.

Sharing and more: Safari’s Share button lets you share and save URLs.


I have a tolerate-hate relationship with Mail. During the Snow Leopard era, I got so fed up with it that I switched to Gmail, but the improvements to Mail in Lion lured me back. Mail hasn’t received a major upgrade in Mountain Lion, but its support for Notification Center meshes nicely with its one big new feature: VIPs.

It’s logical that you’d want Mail to notify you when you get new mail. But if you get a large volume of mail, that’s a lot of alerts. In Mail’s Preferences window, you can specify when want to be notified: every time a message comes in, when a message comes to your inbox, when you get a message from someone in your Contacts list, or when you get a message from a VIP.

To mark someone as a VIP, you just open a message he or she has sent you and move the cursor over that name. To the left, you’ll see the faint outline of a star. Click it and it darkens slightly. That’s it. That person is now Very Important. Little stars show up next to his or her messages in your mailbox.

Simply limiting notifications to people in your Contacts list would have been a pretty good feature, but this is even better. The VIP system makes it easy to be alerted when you get emails from the people you care most. I set Mail to notify me only when I get VIP messages, and after a few days of granting little gray stars to people, the system really started to work well.

There’s even a VIPs filter in the toolbar, so I can quickly see just mail from all my VIPs or even one particular person. This fall, with the release of iOS 6, this feature will also appear on iPhones and iPads and presumably your VIPs will sync across your devices, which will be even more useful.

Now, even when I’ve got Mail in the background, I get a subtle reminder that someone important has sent me a message. Given the volume of messages I get in a day and my tendency to forget to check it, that’s invaluable.

Description: Mail

This is not to say I don’t still have issues with Mail. I find its search functionality occasionally brilliant and occasionally useless, and I can’t figure out why. It sometimes takes forever to check for new mail, especially over slow connections. But, though it undoubtedly marks me as an old-school email user, I still prefer using an app to reading my mail in a Web browser. Mail suffices for that purpose, and with Mountain Lion, it just got a bit better.

The VIP system makes it easy to be alerted when you get emails from the people you care about most.

Buying Advice

Traditionally, at the end of an operating-system review, you’d expect a discussion of whether the upgrade is really worth the money. But at $20 (and that’s a one-time purchase that you can install on every Mac you won), the money isn’t the issue.

Do you have an iPhone or iPad that you’re going to upgrade to iOS 6 this fall? Or are you going to buy Apple’s next iPhone when it comes out? Do you want to have access to the latest features Apple is rolling out across its entire product line? If any of that describes you, installing Mountain Lion is a no-brainer.

Mountain Lion is the next step after Lion. It’s a rock-solid upgrade and it’s Apple’s current state of the art. If you’re running Lion (or even if you’re holdout running Snow Leopard), I recommend hopping on board.

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