Mountain Lion: making the hardware less important?

With the announcement of Mountain Lion, Apple is making hardware less significant than ever.

A ripple of surprise ran through the Apple community today. A mere seven months after the release of the last iteration of Mac OS X – Lion – they announced a new version, called Mountain Lion. The name gives us a clue that, like Snow Leopard was to Leopard, Mountain Lion is a mere evolution of Lion. And, indeed, it will be released around a year after its predecessor, in the late summer of this year.

The more I looked at the preview site this afternoon, the more I realised that there was something odd about this. This announcement felt different from previous ones, and not just in the way they told the press about it. And finally I twigged what it was. Generally, when any company releases a new software update – or at least a 1.0 upgrade – it makes a big deal of all the new things in the upgrade. And so Apple appears to be doing with this release.

But look closer.

There’s nothing at all here that’s new. Oh, sure, all the major features – the to-do management, the notes, Game Center and Messages – are new to the Mac. But none of them are new. They’re already in iOS, the operating system that runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. This is just bringing the Mac parity in the Apple ecosystem.

Despite that, this is a big deal. It brings a host of great features from the mobile device to the Mac itself. Moving backwards and forwards between the two OSes, between any one of the devices, becomes easier. And because it’s a all underpinned by Apple’s iCloud cloud data storage and syncing system – your information is always there, no matter which device you’re on.

However, what this does is make the device itself less important. The Mac, the iPad and the iPhone all become secondary players in the ecosystem, behind the data itself. Whichever machine you are using, your data, your information, your communications are there. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that Mountain Lion is bringing the Mac parity in the Apple ecosystem. What it’s actually doing is bringing it parity in the iCloud ecosystem.

For all its buzzword-baiting nature, could iCloud actually be another step on the road to a post digital landscape? Apple has demoted the computer from the digital hub at the heart of your digital life, to just another player in the system – the late Steve Jobs made that much clear at the original launch of iCloud. The technology is, in effect, receding. The device is becoming less and less important. You choose the form factor that suits your life, or perhaps the moment in your life. On the train to work, it’s the iPad. In your study, it’s the Mac. In the queue at the ban, it’s the iPhone. But wherever you are, what you’re doing is available to you, be it chatting with your brother on Messages, or finishing the details on a spreadsheet for the office.

The technology recedes. The activity becomes everything.