OS X Lion and now OS X Mountain Lion (due out this summer) showcase that Apple’s increasingly interested in building global and focussed systems across its various devices. Some pundits misunderstand Apple’s ‘Back to the Mac’ approach as a medium-term goal to merge OS X and iOS. Really, Apple’s instead moving to a place where the OS itself doesn’t matter so much as the equalisation of services, such as messaging, the syncing of notes, and so on.

But one of the big wins on iOS that’s coming ‘Back to the Mac’ is a sense of focus. As desktop PCs have grown in power and monitors have gotten bigger, we’ve rapidly moved from an environment for work to one of distraction. It’s far too easy to end up with a monitor full of windows, each fighting for attention, the net result being that no single window (and therefore no specific task) ever gets your full focus.

As of Lion, Apple introduced a full-screen mode for apps. This went beyond the kind of full-screen mode found in operating systems such as Windows by taking over the entire screen (not even leaving a menu bar or app launcher visible) and also, in the case of well-designed applications, adjusting the interface to be more appropriate for a full-screen view. On first installing Lion, I wasn’t entirely convinced by this new feature, not least due to having a 27-inch iMac, which made many apps in full-screen mode look ridiculous. But the sense of focus was useful, and I started using a handful of apps—Scrivener, WriteRoom, iCal, Mail—in full-screen mode, and I was thoroughly enjoying the experience.

And then I got sick.

Something abruptly went twang in my brain, and I realised I was getting dizzy quite a lot of the time. It took about a day before I realised that I was getting motion sickness from the full-screen transitions in OS X Lion. (I didn’t realise this more quickly, simply because I’d never previously had motion sickness.) I suddenly realised how heavily eye-straining animations are used within Lion, and tried avoiding them entirely. The result of this: significantly less dizziness.

Animations and animated transitions in operating systems are something that’s becoming increasingly common, and Apple’s a huge fan of them. Often, they are extremely useful, because they provide an indication of something that’s just happened or that’s happening right now. That might sound laughable, but for a newcomer to computing, this is a major advantage over the ‘instant’ interface responses older operating systems offered. The problem is that Lion is full of sliding—aside from switching apps in full-screen mode, you also have things like Preview, where moving between pages slides between them, and slide-based navigation in Safari.

From a default standpoint, I’m still not against these animations/transitions, because they are informative and give someone using OS X a sense of spatial awareness in a virtual space. In the case of a page of a PDF sliding upwards, you know which direction to go to get that page back. Similarly, if apps slide around in full-screen mode as you switch between them, you remember which app is where and can easily navigate to it. The problem is that there is no alternative. Whereas the Dock gives you Scale and Genie effects (along with the ‘hidden’ Suck), the sliding in Lion cannot be replaced with something that’s easier on the eyes, such as a cross-fade.

I realise that I’m an edge case, but I’ve received messages on Twitter and by email from people who have similar problems. I’m also currently working on a website for a charity that deals with people who have motion problems, and they’ve said that any scrolling can cause those they care for to have major dizziness issues. To that end, Lion—or at least many of Lion’s features—is entirely inappropriate for them, and that’s sad in an operating system that otherwise strives so hard to be broadly accessible.

I’m not sure what the solution is, and I don’t hold out any hope that Mountain Lion will help me. Apple is, after all, a company that reduces rather than increases options and very much takes a ‘this is right’ approach. I’ve sent feedback to Apple and done that thing and written to Tim Cook, explaining the problem. But I’d love to download Mountain Lion this summer and at least have the option to adjust the transitions that are adversely affecting me and, it seems, other Mac users. By all means leave the defaults as they are, but a crossfade replacement for sliding—even if it’s something you have to activate via Terminal—would be the most ‘magical’ thing Apple could offer me this summer.

Further reading (April 17): ReSpaceApp could solve OS X Lion motion sickness problems.