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Wednesday, 22 February 2012 09:25

The iOS-ification of OS X


Apple's latest big cat, Mountain Lion, continues the iOS-ification of OS X. While some Mac fans feel that Apple is slowly making the Mac into another iDevice, it's a logical move and might be pointing to a new device category from Cupertino.

When Apple released its first iOS device, the original iPhone (yes, we know it wasn't called iOS then but what's in a name?) it reflected a fork in the road for Apple. Not only had they made the shift from computers and iPods to the mobile phones but they also created a split in the OS X development path.

The first version of the iPhone wasn't just the first time Apple released a phone or mobile OS - it was also the first time the world saw OS X 10.5, aka Leopard. The iPhone OS was built on a version of OS X that wasn't yet released to the public. Leopard hit consumers about three months after the first iPhone.

Over the next five years Apple continued to develop the iPhone OS and renamed it iOS as it moved from the iPhone, the iPod touch and iPad. In parallel, OS X continued to move along. But in 2010 Apple released OS X 10.7 - named Lion. With that version, Apple introduced an App Store for OS X and LaunchPad. Those changes signalled a shift and the desktop and mobile devices started to share more and more features.

With Mountain Lion, more iOS features are sneaking into OS X. iCal and Address Book have been renamed Calendar and Contacts so that their names match the equivalent iOS apps - a smart move as the halo effect converts iOS device owners into Mac owners. However some features, such as the Notification area, have made the switch as well.

From a management point of view, bringing the two forks together or closer makes good sense. Fewer differences between OS X and iOS means users can flip between devices more easily and Apple's developers can focus on improvements that benefit both codebases.

Before the iPad's release, analysts and speculators expected Apple to release a tablet computer. Although none envisaged the path Apple took it became quickly clear that Apple wasn't going to take the same route as Microsoft and its partners who retrofitted the OS to fit on smaller devices. Even handheld devices, until Windows Phone 7, looked like a squashed version of desktop Windows.

With the iOS-ification of OS X now in full swing, one wonders what Apple plans to do. Are these changes in OS X simply the result of Apple consolidating features and the user interfaces of its two platforms? Or, is Apple getting ready to release a new hardware platform that can use the best of iOS and OS X. Certainly, this would overcome one of the biggest gripes we have with iOS - the lack of an accessible file system.

Perhaps the iPad, despite its great success, is not part of Apple's long term strategy. Apple's not be afraid of cutting successful products so perhaps the iPad is a transitional device. Either way, the iOS-ification of OS X is well underway.

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