Whither Apple?

So what does it mean that OS X no longer is “Mac OS X” and is now “inspired by the iPad”?1 If you are following all the chatter on shows like MacBreak Weekly and blogs like TUAW there are many who are concerned that Apple is moving to merge iOS with OS X as a step towards doing away completely with Apple desktop/notebook machines. Alex Lindsay of MBW has said this most frequently I think. I am not so worried.

I could prattle on about how I think that Apple will always make some form of desktop and full-service notebook computers because the need will always be there for such devices. I could also make an argument about the fact that they need folks to create apps for their iOS devices and I am sure they would prefer they be developed on Apple machines. I won’t and just leave those arguments at that. Instead let’s take a look at these new apps and features introduced with Lion and now Mountain Lion that are so iOS-like.

If you consider Lion that came out last summer there are a number of changes Apple made that are analogous to how people who use iOS devices now do things. For those using MacBooks or the Magic Trackpad there are now multi-touch gestures, similar to those used to move around the iOS environment. On an iPad or iPhone you can only interact with one app at a time and the app fills the screen. Some like this focused work environment and Apple created full-screen app support at the system level in Lion. The Mac App Store is just like the app store on the iOS (but with its own sorts of problems: no ability to download demos, beta, or updates of software you bought directly from the developer before the Mac App Store existed). Launchpad is meant to mimic the “Home” screen of iOS, but frankly I know of no one who was using Mac’s before iPhones were created who use it. (Of course there are tens or hundreds of thousands who have come to the Mac platform after using an iOS device, perhaps these folks find it comforting and useful.) Fortunately it is easy to ignore. And so on.

In Mountain Lion Apple adds apps that were heretofore only found on iOS: Notifications, Notes, Reminders, and Game Center. Sharing features allowing users to send a webpage or image to Twitter are now baked into the OS as with iOS 5 and AirPlay sharing will debut this summer as well.

In none of these changes to (Mac) OS X, however, do we find a fundamental shift in OS X. This is evolution and it makes a lot of sense for Apple to unify, in so far as possible, the experience of moving from one Apple device to another. This is where iCloud comes in. This is more about interface than architecture.

When I move from using Pages or iMovie on my iPad to the desktop I expect to know “where” I am in the app and, more importantly, to have my documents right there, updated from the last time I worked on them, no matter on which device I was working. Now in my experience iCloud is not yet there but it is getting ever closer and the Mountain Lion announcement makes it clear that Apple knows they have to get this right. The transition from couch to desk needs to be seamless and that is what these OS updates are about as much as anything else.

The fact that they are not about making the OS and app experience the same is exemplified with iMovie. iMovie on the iPad is not exactly the same on the iPad as on the Mac and it can’t be. There are many, many things I would want and need to do in a movie editor that I simply cannot do in the iPad version. The device simply doesn’t have the horsepower nor the screen real-estate to produce much beyond a slide show or quick clips. Yes, amazing things have been done on the iPad but it has very real limits. But those limits don’t mean that moving to the desktop has to be like traveling to a foreign land. This is the transition to which Apple is dedicated.

So I do not see the end of OS X (even if the “Mac” is removed from its name) nor do I expect a touch-screen iMac anytime soon. It might happen, but the iPad and iMac remain different beasts for different tasks and some differentiation will remain. What I do see happening is a better user experience from beginning to end. I can shoot a video on my iPhone, edit the movie on the bigger real estate of my iPad, and add audio and soundtrack on the Mac all without having to “translate” as I go along. That is the goal and I think Apple is moving ever closer to the mark.

  1. See my not-as-brief-as-I-intended rundown of Mountain Lion features. []
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