Mac OS X Leopard's Core Animation Could Make Apps More Intuitive

The technology takes advantage of the multiple cores in most new Intel-based Mac computers, which run on dual-core or quad-core processors.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on Monday highlighted Core Animation, a major feature in the upcoming version of Mac OS X that promises to give developers the tools to build more intuitive interfaces for Apple's computers.

Jobs used Core Animation as one of 10 Leopard features highlighted during his keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. The media-agnostic application programming interface uses OpenGL and Apple's Quartz graphics engine technology to simplify the process of adding graphics and animations to user interfaces. Both Spaces and Time Machine use Core Animation.

However, the new feature does more than just add pretty pictures to a UI. The use of animation can result in a more intuitive interface that reveals more of the capabilities of an application.

During his keynote, Jobs showed how the technology could be used to display thumbnails of all the video files in a Mac. Clicking on a file would expand and play the video, but what made the demo most interesting was the ability to search for videos that fall under a particular category.

For example, searching for water, which would have to be a tag associated with the video, would get a stack of thumbnails of all the related videos in the forefront. Although Jobs focused on video, Core Animation could be used with text documents, 2-D graphics, and other media types.

The technology takes advantage of the multiple cores in most new Intel-based Mac computers, which run on dual-core or quad-core processors. On a multicore Mac, the application runs on one core, while Core Animation runs on another, a process that's meant to improve performance of the graphics-heavy UI.

The use of visuals to build a more intuitive interface is a big plus, because it allows for more flexibility in helping users get exposed to more of the features of an application, according to Michael Bayer, president of Computer Telephony Solutions, which builds Mac applications for small and medium-sized businesses on top of an IP-PBX system. One such application would make it possible for customer service reps to route calls to the right account managers.

"Looking pretty is a very important part of making the user interface more intuitive," Bayer said in describing the benefit of Core Animation. "The user gets more insight into what's actually happening in the software."

Another feature introduced by Jobs that would help Bayer's business was Time Machine, an automatic backup system that would be a part of Leopard. Time Machine would make it possible to back up all data on the Mac, or on a separate hard drive attached to a local area network, or wireless network.

The system is a one-click setup for the Mac and uses Leopard's new preview feature, called Quick Look, in finding lost files through the backup's search function.

"It's about making the Mac more attractive to my customers," Bayer said. "My customers have more money to spend on custom solutions, if they're not spending money on backup solutions."

Another benefit of Leopard for many independent software developers is that the OS will be 64-bit "top to bottom," Jobs said. "Leopard will be the first that 64-bit has gone mainstream in the PC world." The OS would also run 32-bit applications.

Apple handed out beta versions to developers at the conference. Scheduled to ship in October, Leopard will cost $129, Jobs said. "We have one version of Leopard with everything in it, and it will cost $129."

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