Regarding the Future of OS X & iOS

When talking about the future of Apple product lines you inevitably hit an intersection. Slowly but surely the iPad (and to some extent, the iPhone) are becoming increasingly powerful and feature rich with each iteration of iOS. While the Mac has slowly become more user friendly like it’s iOS cousin. This leads to speculation about the future of these two operating systems. Will they continue to stay separate? Can they continue to stay separate?

One of the last things Steve Jobs did before handing over reigns at Apple was to demote the computer from being the hub of the digital life to being just a device. With the Mac and iPad now finding themselves on equal footing, where does the software go from here? Some think it’s possible that iOS & OS X will merge. I don’t find that very likely for several reasons.

Reason 1 has to do with the file system. “We’ve been working for 10 years to git rid of the file system”. That was Steve Jobs at WWDC this year. Lots of times when you want to get rid of something, you just erase it. I can press backspace on this keyboard and delete the words I just wrote. When you try to remove a feature (or in this case, a fundamental architecture) people depend on, they get hopping mad. The best way to get them to stop relying on that thing you are trying to kill, is to get them to rely on something else. Something cooler, newer, more exciting.

Keep in mind iOS is technically OS X under the hood, albeit slimmed down. Steve Jobs stunned a very large crowd during the introduction of the iPhone, saying “iPhone runs OS X”. Jobs continued “it (OS X) has everything we need”. Most notably missing from the list of things they needed? The file system. Since Apple was essentially starting from scratch with the iPhone, they had the ability to keep out the stuff they didn’t want. Apple removed previous baggage. They created a new, more mobile OS that didn’t, and couldn’t work the same way.

Reason 2 pertains to the iPad and Mac. People love the iPad’s hardware. The main gripes with the iPad currently (mostly with the more advanced users) is the limits iOS presents. That’s one of the main reasons the App Store exists. If the OS doesn’t have the feature built in “there’s an app for that”.

If running full OS X on an iPad were a good experience, Apple likely would have done it already. The fact is, I’m almost sure it’s not. Without an external keyboard I know it’s not. With an external keyboard it could be, but again, if Apple thought it was they would have done it already.

Despite all that evidence, there are some things about the OS X that confuse this theory of mine. What is the future of the Mac App store? Will is just simply disappear? I don’t know if Apple can do that without upsetting a lot of developers. If iOS and OS X were to merge, would the apps be compatible? Assuming Mac hardware still exists running the combined OS, are devs supposed to retool their apps to work with both mouse and trackpad inputs? Apple hasn’t really expressed a desire for touchscreen Macs. Unless there were a significant reworking of the way the Mac is built and works, input for the merged OS would still use a trackpad and mouse. You can’t design an app for touch and just slap mouse compatibility on it, or vice versa, and still retain a good user experience. It’s just not that easy.

What is the future of the Mac? In my opinion, it’s highly probable that the Mac will just disappear. My personal opinion is if OS X and iOS ever get to a point where they would merge, OS X will simply fade away. Steve Jobs was never one to dwell on past products. If he can do something better, he would be willing to buck the trend and possibly hurt other product lines to move the industry forward. At some point the Macintosh will eventually start getting in the way of Apple’s goals, but will Tim Cook and company be “Steve enough” to move forward. Only time will tell.

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