Why Apple Won’t Merge OS X and iOS Anytime Soon
Apple’s new OS X Mountain Lion integrates many iOS features, but the two operating systems will remain freestanding for the near future.
An interesting rumor floating around the Valley lately is that Apple is on track to merge OS X and iOS and move Mac users over to its ARM-based processors, leaving Intel. If you follow Apple and know its history, you understand that the company is more than capable of doing this. Over the Mac’s lifetime, Apple has actually moved the Mac OS to three different chipsets and has migrated its core OS from one processor core to the other quite seamlessly. Some suggest that Apple could merge the two operating systems to run on its own chipsets, saving the company from having to pay Intel for its chips; Apple could instead use its own ARM processors to run a single OS and UI environment.
Although this is a plausible idea and could possibly happen some day, the most recent release of its updated OS X Mountain Lion suggests that it will not happen any time soon. The new OS, which brings a lot of the greatest features and apps of iOS 5 to Mac OS X, actually makes the two operating systems even more alike than ever before. Each OS, however, still serves a purpose and these enhanced cross-OS functions make it possible for both operating systems to coexist and complement each other for some time.
In fact, I think we are seeing more of a pattern in which OS X will continue to harness the robust power of Intel’s Core architecture. Intel’s forthcoming 3D chip architecture could perpetuate Moore’s law in ways that would still make sense for the Mac OS to mine the Intel chipset for years ahead. I have a good handle on Intel’s roadmap and I don’t see anything coming from ARM in the next two to three years that could match what Intel will have. It is much more likely that Apple will continue to use Intel for many years to come and thus will need two distinct operating systems to meet the needs of both sets of customers.
Keep in mind that the Mac is still optimized for what I call “heavy lifting computing.” While iOS can handle simple word processing, email, and even some involved applications, the more power hungry applications still require the advanced power of OS X and advanced processors. This is especially important for those using it for graphic design, electronic publishing, advanced photo editing, engineering applications, and IT management, especially in educational environments.
Yet, many who use the Mac for these intensive applications also use an iPad and iPhone and have enjoyed some of the features of iOS. They want those same features on Mac OS X and this is where Mountain Lion comes in. Although it adds more than just iOS features, a lot of its value is in bringing these features over to the Mac.
Here are a couple of really good examples of this cross-OS functionality at its best:
•iOS apps excel in the ability to share info from an app or Safari via a drop down menu to Twitter, AirDrop, Flickr, Vimeo, email, and iMessage. Now, that little arrow that indicates info sharing in iOS is in the tool bar in Safari on OS X. More importantly, Apple is publishing the API for this feature so developers can also include this handy sharing function on apps for Mac OS X.
•Mountain Lion now also syncs documents to the cloud automatically, an iOS feature OS X users formerly missed out on. That means that documents created on any iOS device or Mac is synced in the cloud and available on any iOS or Mac devices.
•Now, any message that comes up on an iOS device is also displayed on the Mac in the Messages app.
•Many times, I jot a note on the Reminders iPad app, but to access it while working on the Mac, I have to pick up the iPad to see it. Now, the memos that I enter on an iOS device will also show up in my Reminders app on the Mac.
•I use Notes constantly to make lists and record meeting notes, but it was previously available only on iOS devices. With Mountain Lion, all of the notes I have created on my iPad or iPhone will now be readily available on my Mac, as well via iCloud sync.
•The Notification Center, one of the greatest features of iOS, lets users set alerts and notifications, which can then be accessed by a drop down scroll page even when the device is locked. With Mountain Lion, it too will come to the Mac when the OS update ships this summer.
•iOS customers use AirPlay Mirroring to “push” their pictures and videos to their Apple TV and now this type of mirroring comes to the Mac.
•Gatekeeper is a new security feature that helps protect against malware and gives you control over which apps can be downloaded and installed on your Mac. It is a very important advancement in software security and I believe it will be viewed as one of the most significant changes in Mountain Lion.
These are just a few of the iOS features that come over to the Mac to make it even more functional and in ways, an extension of your other iOS devices. At the same time, the Mac keeps its own powerful OS structure and supports the thousands of apps built for use on the platform as-is. This is important to understand if you look at the future of the Mac.
Mountain Lion really does bridge the gap between the two operating systems and delivers productive functions of iOS to the Mac. It makes sure that, at the same time, all apps written for the Mac continue to work out of the box.
If you look at the advanced tools Apple has to create Mac apps and at the new Mac App Store (which in many ways mirrors the app store for iOS devices), you see that both operating systems could coexist and keep users of both content. But the Mac OS, with its greater horsepower, will continue to be valuable to power users. Mountain Lion will give Apple more time to focus on other short-term innovations, relieving the pressure of trying to even do an OS X port to its own ARM chips, especially if ARM can’t keep up with Intel’s offerings.
As Tim Cook has pointed out, the real growth and profit center for Apple has shifted from Macs to iOS devices, and I think it will devote most of its resources here. Although the Mac is still important and continues to grow, innovation with iOS software and iOS-driven devices seems to be the priority. Mountain Lion will allow Apple to continue to have cross-device functions but still give its power users and its consumer audience everything they want and need.
By Tim Bajarin, PCMag