Goes in here, comes out there

There arent that many different ways to say, Heres a feature that youve seen on iOS thats also now on the Mac. But here we are again: AirPlay mirroring, a feature introduced in iOS 5, has arrived on the Mac.

For a while now, Macs have been able to play back iTunes audio and video to Apple TVs (and audio to AirPort Expresses), but in Mountain Lion, you can mirror the contents of your Macs display on any video device connected to an Apple TV (so long as its the the small black version).

When a 2011-vintage or later Mac running Mountain Lion senses the presence of an Apple TV on the local network, an AirPlay icon appears in the menu bar. Click and select an Apple TV, and your desktop will be duplicated on the TV its connected to. By default, the contents of your screen are scaled down to fit on the TV, but you can adjust the Displays preference pane so that the video on your Mac screen is scaled to match the shape of the HDTV. (Basically, youre choosing which display you want to be the clearestyour Macs, or the TVs.)

If youre in a Mac-centric office, equipping every conference room with an Apple TV seems like a no-brainer. And I found myself using this feature all the time at home. The other day I found a funny Internet video show that I wanted to watch with my wife while we ate lunch. It was on a Flash-only website, so there was no way for me to play it on my Apple TV or on an iPad, but it played just fine on my Mac. So I turned on AirPlay Mirroring, pressed play, put the video into full-screen mode, and we sat back and watched as the video (and its accompanying audio, of course) streamed without a hitch.

Theres one other nice AirPlay addition in Mountain Lion: Now all of the AirPlay devices your Mac can see appear as options in the Output tab of the Sound preference pane. If you want to channel all your system audio through an AppleTV or AirPort Express nearby, all you have to do is switch to that device in the Output tab. Its simple and works exactly as youd expect.

Safari makes strides

The biggest addition to Safari has been done by subtraction: The search box next to the address bar has vanished. Instead, as in the style of Googles Chrome browser, the address bar is also your search field. If you know an address, you can type it there, but if you dont, you can just enter in search terms and Safari will perform a search using your preferred search engine.

Now if you type eleventh doctor into that box, youll get a bunch of links about Matt Smith instead of an error message telling you that Safari cant find the website http://eleventh%20doctor/. Much more useful, right? As you type, Safari will also make suggestions, including search terms and pages from bookmarks and other pages youve visited, including a Top Hit area with the most likely pages youre looking for based on your previous browser history.

Another new Safari feature that I like a lot is iCloud Tabs, an icon on the Safari toolbar that displays a list of all the webpages youve got loaded across all your devices. This feature is mildly useful today for people with multiple Macs, but it will become much more useful with the release of iOS 6 this fall. At that point, youll be able to start reading on your Mac and then pick up right where you left off on your iPad.

The new Tab View feature certainly looks good: If youve got more than one tab open in Safari, and pinch on your trackpad, Safari zooms out until you see the current page on a gray background. Now you can swipe left or right and view the contents of all the other tabs. Its a pretty, visual way to see all your currently open tabs, and it makes a great demo. That said, I dont see how Id ever use it. Clicking on tabs works great. If I want to see a page in Safari, I click on the tab. Pinching, then swiping, then clicking? It doesnt seem efficient, but I admit that sometimes efficiency is boring.

There are several more additions to Safari, tooits a solid upgrade. As I mentioned earlier, the new Share menu appears in the Safari toolbar. The Safari Reader button has gotten large and now 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 youre not connected to the Internet later.

Apple claims that JavaScript performance is improved in Safari, and that its got the fastest performance of any major browser when measured using the SunSpider benchmark. I ran SunSpider on my 11-inch MacBook Air and found almost no difference between Safari, Chrome, and FirefoxFirefox was actually slightly faster than Safari, with Chrome just as slightly slower than Safari.

I spend an insane amount of time in Safari, and in general this update is a good one. However, Apple has changed the Safari interface so that it feels like pages load more slowly than they used to. I dont think they actually load slower, but the blue progress bar creeps across the URL window more slowly, and the status bar at the bottom of the screen no longer points out that its looking up domains and loading various web-page elements. Most of the time, its not a big deal. But when Im faced with a slow-loading webpage, its a little frustratingtheres no indication about whats happening, so I just have to wait and hope that Safari loads the page eventually. Maybe most Safari users wont care, but I found it disconcerting.