Mac OS is the new Apple II, iOS is the new Mac OS

This is a thought that I’ve actually had for a while now, but I thought I’d put it in a blog entry.

There’s plenty of signs, in my opinion, that within 5 years, there will be no more Mac OS, or it will be a niche OS for developers and such. Instead, iOS will be Apple’s main platform. And, Apple’s target market will embrace this change.

So, you’re asking, what evidence do I have for this happening? Read after the break, and you’ll see my evidence. Some of this is sourced from rumors, but some isn’t. It’s not in any particular order, either – just because I have it listed earlier doesn’t mean it’s more important.

Touchscreen Mac patents

On June 13, 2007, Apple filed a patent, application publication US 2008/0165141 A1, showing what was believed to be a touchscreen Mac’s UI. Nowadays, this looks more like an iPad, but some references are made to desktop computers. (Some are made specifically to tablets, however.)

The first real clue that something is happening can be found in patent application publication US 2010/0207858 A1, filed February 13, 2009. This patent, for display technology shows a touchscreen Mac laptop. More on that later.

Next up is patent application publication US 2010/0007613 A1. This one is actually older, having been filed July 10, 2008, but it explicitly shows an adjustable iMac that can act as a tablet and a desktop, and a convertible tablet MacBook. Also, it shows a UI that looks remarkably like Lion’s Launchpad.

Finally, patent application publication US 2011/0078624 A1, filed September 25, 2009, shows a touchscreen OS X device, although it does mention that the touch surface and the screen could be decoupled.

All of that demonstrates that Apple is working on the hardware for a touchscreen desktop-style computer, and some of the software to make OS X touch-friendly. This could very well be used for just that – OS X-based touchscreen machines, but I don’t think it will be, at least in the long run.

Apple’s denial of touchscreen Macs

I know what you’re going to say next – “But Steve said that there wouldn’t be any touchscreen Macs!”

However, at the Back to the Mac event, Steve Jobs said:

¬†We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives a great demo but after a short period of time, you start to fatigue and after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off. it doesn’t work, it’s ergonomically terrible. Touch surfaces want to be horizontal, hence pads. For a notebook, that’s why we’re perfected our multitouch trackpads over the years, because that’s the best way we’ve found to get multitouch into a notebook. We’ve also, in essence, put a trackpad — a multitouch track pad on the mouse with our magic mouse. And we’ve recently come out with a pure play trackpad as well for our desktop users. So this is how were going to use multitouch on our Mac products because this (image of a touchscreen MacBook Pro) doesn’t work.

Two things about that.

  1. The problem wasn’t touch, the problem was vertical touch, and US 2010/0007613 A1 has a solution to that. Of course, an iOS device doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be touch…
  2. Apple will never make a cell phone. Apple will never make a tablet. Apple will never have a Mac app store. *cough*

iOS mouse support

iOS does not have native mouse support, but it’s been hacked in by jailbreakers, and from what I’ve seen, works fairly well. You do lose multitouch, but remember, Apple’s moving towards devices like the Magic Trackpad for pointing on their computers, and that would have multitouch.

Apple’s abandoning of pro users

Of course, a locked-down, single-tasking UI (even if iOS supports background applications, the UI is inherently singletasking, with always maximized windows) isn’t suitable for pro use. So, what’s the answer, there?

Ultimately, it looks like Apple is pushing pro users off of their platform. It only takes one look at the uproar over Apple’s neutering of Final Cut Pro X to see that Apple is either incompetent, or they just want to alienate their pro users.

For that matter, look at the Mac Pro – it’s been shoved in the back, and hasn’t been updated in quite a while. (Admittedly, the current LGA1155 incarnations of Sandy Bridge aren’t suitable for the Mac Pro, so I could be wrong, there.)

And, Apple canned the XServe, because nobody was buying it.

Back to the Mac

I mentioned Back to the Mac… but it’s a sign of what’s to come. And, in my opinion, it’s a repeat of Apple II Forever. The point of Apple II Forever was to launch the //c, and to state that Apple was committed to the Apple II – something that Apple kept doing right up through 1992… until the moment that they discontinued the IIGS, in December 1992. But, the title “Back to the Mac” was even more blatant – it means that they weren’t focusing on the Mac, and didn’t care if that got out.

Speaking of comparisons to the Apple II… Apple managed the transition from the Apple II to the Mac quite badly, in my opinion. The platforms were completely incompatible, making things harder for Apple II users to migrate, and solutions to make migration easy weren’t around for quite a few years of the Mac’s life. Eventually, disk formats began to be shared between the Mac and Apple II families, and later, almost a decade after the Mac’s initial release, an Apple IIe compatibility card was released for the Mac LC.

With the OS X to iOS transition, things are much more elegant. I’ll get into some of this later, but the obvious one is that the OS is actually the same OS under the hood, making porting far easier. Also, there’s always the Internet for data transfer now…


Apple’s pushing their new iCloud nowadays for data storage, and this is a big one.

With this, data migration is a complete non-issue – basically, Apple’s getting people to migrate their data NOW, years before they will ever acknowledge the death of the Mac.

Also, with the announcement of iCloud and iOS 5, Apple has finally provided a way for iOS devices to be independent of a desktop computer – something that’s rather important if it needs to replace such a machine.


Lion has promoted even more of an iOS-ification of OS X than previous versions. While it could be argued that it was an attempt to make user interfaces consistent between Apple’s two OSes… well, that was done back with the IIGS, too.

Rumors of Macs that actually do run iOS

In May, Macotakara reported that an ARM-powered MacBook Air was being tested. This is just a rumor at this point, though.

15″ and 17″ MacBook Air rumors

Recently, there have been rumors that the MacBook Pro line will be merged into the MacBook Air line.

User behavior

User behavior as of late has also demonstrated that locked-down, tabletified OSes with single-tasking UIs may actually work well for most users. For business users, they’ll need a conventional desktop OS and desktop computers, but Apple’s not strong in that market, and can afford to abandon it, leaving that to Microsoft.

My predictions for what will actually happen

Within the next five years, here’s what I predict Apple’s computer line to be:

iPhone/iPod Touch – 3.5 or 4″, running iOS, touchscreen only
iPad – 9.7″, running iOS, touchscreen only, support for external keyboard and touchpad
iBook – 11.6 to 17″, running iOS, touchscreen, keyboard, and touchpad, replacing the MacBook Air
MacBook – 13.3 to 17″, running OS X, touchpad and keyboard only (maybe a touchscreen), replacing the MacBook Pro
iSlate – 21.5 to 27″, running iOS, touchscreen and external keyboard and touchpad, replacing the iMac
Mac – no display, running OS X, touchpad and keyboard only, replacing the Mac Pro, iMac, and Mac Mini

Within the next ten years, I predict that the MacBook and Mac will be gone, because Apple will eventually figure out a way to handle self-hosting iOS development.

What does this all mean?

If you’re on OS X, start looking at OS X alternatives. You’ve still got a while, but eventually, it looks like Apple will abandon the platform, and it won’t take long before OS X is completely obsolete. Of course, if you’re fine with getting an overgrown iPad a few years from now, carry on.

If you’re on another platform and want to go to OS X, don’t break your ties with your old platform, and don’t get too entrenched in the Apple ecosystem. OS X still has a lot of life left in it, but ultimately, it looks like it’s doomed in the forseeable future, to me.

If you’re a developer, and you want to see OS X survive, now may be the time to look at projects like Haiku, and model an OS X clone after them. The great part is, there’s already a project that does some of this – although more targeted at OpenStep, OS X’s predecessor – GNUStep. Remember, it’s taken Haiku over a decade to catch up to where BeOS was when it died.

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