Apple merging iOS and Mac OS X, how about that


I arrived to this article by AppleInsider via this article on Wired News, and my curiosity was piqued by the title of the latter: Analyst Predicts iOS and Mac Will Fully Converge by 2012. I immediately raised not one brow, but two. As a perfect link-bait victim, I went on reading the piece at AppleInsider:

Peter Misek with Jefferies & Co. said in a note to investors on Wednesday that he sees such a transition possible with a new MacBook Air running Apple’s custom next-generation “A6” processor. The theory, first reported on by Barron’s, would have a new iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air all running the A6 in 2012.

A new iPad in 2012 is possible, and if it’s going to have a big Retina Display, it’s probably obvious that it’ll need a more powerful processor (I’m also curious to see the impact it’ll have on battery life).

A new iPhone in 2012 with an A6 processor looks a little unlikely to me, considering that the last (and probably most credible) rumour is that the iPhone 5 will be introduced in October 2011 and will have an A5 processor. I believe that this iPhone will remain in production at least until late 2012 — early 2013.

A new MacBook Air in 2012 with a completely different CPU architecture, requiring a rewritten version of Mac OS X to run on it looks a little too early to me. And even if Apple does introduce it, who’s going to buy a Mac whose only compatible software is its system software? What about third-party applications? There has to be at least another WWDC before such a move, so that Apple can announce this intent and invite developers to start rewriting their Mac applications (again!).

We believe Apple is ready to start sampling the A6 quad-core app processor and will be the first to such multi-device platform capable of PC-like strength,” Misek wrote.

For Apple’s more traditional and more powerful computers, like the MacBook Pro and Mac desktops, the analyst sees Apple sticking with Intel processors and the current Mac OS X software. But by 2016, he sees all of Apple’s Mac devices running on an ARM-based processor like the ones found in the iPhone and iPad.

Ah, so now we’re talking of 2016, not next year. Making this kind of stretched predictions, no matter how truthful they turn out to be, doesn’t make much sense, in my opinion. Five years is indeed a long time in technology. Look back: in 2006 the iPhone and the whole iOS platform didn’t even exist.

But anyway: from what I gather, this analyst thinks that Apple will start featuring the A6 processor on its less powerful machines first (the Airs) while sticking with Intel processors and Mac OS X as-we-know-it on the most powerful Macs. But what operating system will the ‘consumer’ Macs feature during this transition, exactly? An ARM variant of Mac OS X? If so, without third-party compatible apps, these Macs will be islands. Unless they’re able to run iOS applications natively. But they’ll also have to sport a touch-screen display, because iOS makes little sense without direct multi-touch.

Our preliminary view is that Apple can use a 32-bit ARM architecture to address the vast majority of the OS X ecosystem’s needs in 2012–13 except for high-end professional devices,” he wrote. “When 64-bit ARM is available in 2016, we believe Apple will have a single OS and hardware architecture.”

After all the efforts to get to a full 64-bit Intel environment (hardware and software), what’s the point in making a step back to 32-bit ARM architecture as a temporary ‘solution’ to a non-existent problem, until 64-bit ARM architecture is available 5 years from now? I think this analyst should study past Apple transitions a bit better. I’m not excluding the possibility that one day Mac OS X and iOS will converge somehow, but for now it just seems too far-fetched.

iOS and Mac OS X are both solid, optimised platforms, each taking care of specific needs and tasks. iOS is tailored to work with mobile devices that have a touch-screen display and no physical keyboard or external input device. Mac OS X is the best a Mac can have. A complete merge of the two OSes makes sense only in combination with (or as a consequence of) a major hardware transformation. If it made sense to have the same OS on Macs and iDevices, Apple would have introduced the iPhone or the iPad running a full-blown version of Mac OS X in the first place. In my opinion, there has to be a big change in the devices themselves (and in the way we use them) before such a merge can occur. And let’s don’t forget that for now, from a business point of view, it’s more lucrative for Apple to maintain two platforms, each with its own App Store, rather than force a complete architecture redesign on developers of both platforms just to have a unified one.

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