Prepare for the things on your computer screen to look a lot different soon—if you’re using a Mac, at least. One of the new products that Apple is expected to reveal next week is a radically redesigned version of OS X, its Mac operating system.
The new software likely won’t be available to the masses for several months—Apple’s big unveil is part of its annual Worldwide Developers Conference—and it may not even run on many old Macs. But the new OS X could provide some of the same shock value Apple delivered last summer when it completely redesigned iOS 7 for the iPhone and iPad.
What to expect
The OS X basics—menu bar at the top, Apple logo in the upper-left corner, app dock somewhere on the screen—aren’t likely to change much in this update. But the way the OS looks and moves could feel very different.
Recall the way things changed on the iPhone and iPad in last year’s iOS 7 update: More white space, almost comically simple icon designs, fewer 3D-looking buttons and shadows, and fewer cheesy ties to the physical world, such as the old Notes app’s yellow legal-pad background texture and handwriting typeface.
The Mac’s windows could look similarly different, with shadows and textures reduced, and the system font could change. There may be subtle hints at a future touch-enabled OS X, or further convergence with iOS.
“You will stick out like a sore thumb,” long-time indie Mac developer Craig Hockenberry warned his peers.
It’s not just that OS X is starting to look a bit outdated, though Apple has done a solid job evolving its design since it launched in 2001. (Long-time OS X users may recall the eras of pinstripes, heavy drop shadows, “aqua” blue scroll bars and buttons, and the regrettable brushed metal.)
This year’s changes are largely because Apple has a new executive in charge of software design: Jony Ive, who was previously only in charge of Apple’s hardware design efforts. Ive directed last year’s iOS overhaul, and this year he’s reportedly taken his putty knife to the Mac’s OS.
There’s more at stake now, too. The Mac, and OS X itself—a fast, stable operating system that has evaded most of Windows’ security problems—have played huge roles in Apple’s revival. In the first year after OS X launched, Apple sold 3 million Macs. Last year, it sold 17 million. Mac sales have likely peaked for good, but there are more Mac users than ever, which means more people to impress or disappoint.
Depending on how well Apple delivers, this could be a great update or a lousy one. Judging by how people react to radical redesigns, though, it’s a safe bet that many will act stunned, regardless of Apple’s improvements. Some may even swear off the Mac, the way some iPhone owners used iOS 7′s new look as an excuse to switch to Android. But this change is long overdue.