Reality Check: Apple not killing the Mac OS for iOS at WWDC 2010
June 9th, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
Dan Lyons of Newsweek , in a desperate bid to get noticed again, has abandoned his iPhone rejection / Android adoption schtick and has raced back to the Apple tent to announce his latest revelation: Apple is deemphasizing the Mac OS X platform to focus on iOS this summer, therefore the Mac is dead and Apple will seek out its remaining desktop users and beat them to death and leave them to die in their own blood (I’m exaggerating slightly).
The Lyons’ din
This all makes sense, if you think about it for a while, because everything Lyons says is equally ridiculous. That’s why he’s known as the “Fake Steve Jobs” (when he’s mocking others for money) and “the Fake for Steve Ballmer” (when he’s mocking himself for money).
However, there is nothing original or incisive about Lyons’ latest troll. It’s a standard template for pundits to take every announcement by Apple and turn it inside out. If the company announces new X, they point out (with as much worried handwringing as possible) there was no Y or Z at the same event, ignoring that Apple never throws all its cards on the table at once.
If you’re really brilliant, you might notice a correlation between the timing of Apple’s announcements and the release date of the products being announced. Apple doesn’t have a new version of Mac OS X to sell right now, nor are buyers clamoring for a major new release given that Snow Leopard just came out last August. Do the math.
Secret for a reason
Apple’s savvy marketing is limited to its public facade. Under the surface, the company is busy working on a lot of things that it doesn’t want to talk about. If it did, or allowed leaks that got other people talking about those things, then it wouldn’t be able to focus the discussion on what it wanted to talk about.
There’s also other strategies involved. Imagine if Adobe or Google were to realize what Apple was planning well ahead of time, rather than finding out about things at the same time as the rest of us. Imagine if AT&T were to realize the impact of FaceTime were Apple to officially announce the future release of an iPod touch with a front facing camera.
It seems plausible that the reason last year’s iPod touch didn’t get the camera that was planned for it was because Apple didn’t want proprietary VoIP like Skype to get firmly entrenched before it could get out iPhone 4, iOS 4, and FaceTime as its open standard for video chats.
The only reason to talk without getting paid to talk to is talk for attention or to affect change. Apple already has plenty of attention, so when Steve Jobs talks, it’s either to make you buy something or to change your mind about what’s important. Often it’s both.
Is the Mac getting terminated?
The idea that Apple is abandoning Mac OS X wasn’t invented by Lyons. Windows Enthusiast pundits have long claimed to believe that Apple was preparing to retire Mac OS X to adopt Windows on its Mac hardware, citing Boot Camp as proof. This is absurd to anyone who thinks about how much Apple has invested in Mac OS X over the past decade.
Surely such a switch would have made far more sense a long time ago, and makes increasingly less sense as Mac OS X grows ahead of Windows in terms of mindshare and technical sophistication and usability. Pundits’ sense of reason is a bit like homeopathic medicine, where the less you have the more powerful it purports to be. And there’s no side effects!
What they aren’t as clear on is how Mac OS X stacks up to Windows. While Microsoft seems very competent in some areas, it’s woefully incompetent in many that matter, particularly in mobile devices. Microsoft has been perpetuating Windows CE, an entirely independent mobile kernel, alongside the desktop NT kernel used by Windows XP/2000/Vista/7 for almost fifteen years now.
In contrast, Apple has one kernel which scales from the iOS to Mac OS X, works across a variety of CPU architectures (something Microsoft couldn’t manage to maintain with NT), and shares technology between its desktop and mobile devices.
Psst: iOS is OS X!
The result is that new billion dollar businesses that Apple created over the past decade, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, are all contributing toward development of the Mac platform by extension. Microsoft can’t manage to create desirable mobile products, and can’t even pipe its desktop billions into solving that problem. Apple is doing the reverse, except that both its Mac and iOS devices are profitable.
But the Mac isn’t nearly as profitable, nor as easy to sell. Apple has more than doubled its Mac sales twice in the last decade, shifting from 700,000 units per quarter around 2004 to 1.5 million in 2007 and around 3 million per quarter now. That’s pretty impressive growth, but nothing like the explosion of around 9 million new iPhones and 10 million iPods per quarter, with millions of new iPads joining the party this summer.
It would be completely irresponsible for Apple to focus its current efforts on Mac OS X when it’s gearing up to release iOS 4 and ship iPhone 4 under intense competition of “buy one get one” shipments of Android in the US. By getting iPhone 4 out now, and out quickly, Apple will snuff out attention on Android here and completely clobber Nokia’s new N8 in Europe, which won’t ship for another several weeks after iPhone 4 gets its worldwide launch.
Apple hits when the iron is hot, not when pundits demand details for their blog entires.
How to promote the Mac OS
The best way to promote the Mac as a platform is not to crowd iOS and iPhone 4 off the WWDC stage to talk about a distant future release of the desktop OS. It’s to sell enough iPhones, iPads and iPod touches so that there’s another hundred million users exposed to Apple’s technology, and impressed enough to buy Macs too.
Remember when Windows Enthusiast pundits scoffed at the iPod being able to create a “halo effect” in encouraging Mac switchers? They’ve all shut up about that lately apart from the most narcissistic morons among the bunch. It’s also pretty obvious that tens of millions of iPhone users are ready to head back to the Apple Store to buy their next computer.
Focusing its marketing and even its development efforts on the iPhone and iOS is not an abandonment of Mac OS X, because much of the innovation being pushed into iOS is also being shared with the Mac desktop, from the modern architecture of QuickTime X to geolocation services to animated user interface frameworks.
Safari 5’s new extensions borrow from the secure software distribution mechanism created for the iOS App Store. The new Xcode 4 brings the same development tool investments for iPhone to the Mac desktop as well.
It works both ways, too. iOS 4 adds more dependance upon the Mac desktop, not less. From deeper integration with iTunes to PDF reading in iBooks to support for Faces/Places in iPhoto, the iPhone is increasingly a reason to buy a Mac. Additionally, Apple is bringing the Mac OS X desktop look and familiarity to iOS, with a Snow Leopard Dock and a translucent Menu Bar and system wide spellcheck. It’s not a competitor, it’s a companion.
iOS 4 feels a lot like a handheld mobile Mac OS X, in contrast to the way that Windows Phone 7 and Zune HD look nothing like Windows 7.
How to kill a desktop platform
Apple shows no signs of being interested in converting its Mac users into iOS users. There is a clear delineation between the mobile space with smartphones and media players, the handheld space with iPad, and the notebooks and desktops of the Mac platform. They all run the same core OS and use the same native developer environment, each providing an optimized user interface environment that makes sense for that category.
In contrast, Google is busy working on two completely different systems for mobile devices: Android and Chrome OS. While both are based on Linux, Android is a modified Java VM that targets phone devices, while Chrome OS is an entirely web-based system that doesn’t run Android apps nor benefit from much of the work going into Android in parallel. The only common platform across Android will be the poorly performing Adobe Flash and HTML5.
Microsoft is positioned even worse, with Windows CE powering the completely incompatible cloud-based, app-free Kin while the invisible Zune HD and brand new Windows Phone 7 are expected to run new mobile Silverlight apps and mobile XNA games. But its tablets will be running either Windows 7 or Windows Embedded Compact 7, which apparently will also run Silverlight apps, if anyone buys them. Microsoft is also supporting Flash. Oh, and it will be holding a vigil for Windows Mobile 6.x for the corporations who bought into that platform before Microsoft consigned it to purgatory. Five OSs.
If either of the platforms Google and Microsoft are planning manage to gain any traction, it can only be lethal to the Windows desktop monoculture. Google will be promoting HTML5 web apps. Android apps are a short term charade to maintain feature parity with the iOS; the entire platform will eventually be folded into a web-centric strategy, Google openly acknowledges. That’s why the company isn’t putting much effort into Android Market.
Microsoft is pushing Silverlight, which is its Flash-like alternative to open HTML5. While it demonstrates toy games that can run on the PC, tablet and smartphone, it’s pretty ridiculous to think that there will be any real software developed that can scale all those devices in ways that Microsoft itself hasn’t be able to with its own operating systems. Even Apple doesn’t suggest its App Store games are appropriate for the desktop Mac.
Everything Microsoft and Google are doing is a Windows PC killer. Neither company has a decent iTunes competitor for tethering mobile devices to PCs, and there really isn’t any integration or reuse of the technology they’re working on for mobiles that can be applied to the conventional desktop, unless you re-imagine the desktop as simply being a web browser running Flash or Silverlight.
And yet pundits aren’t worried at all about Windows PCs, instead claiming that Microsoft’s monoculture will bounce back real soon now to recapture its former glory as the primary medium for spyware and viruses and the only choice for PC buyers. Not even the fruit-fly lifespan of the netbook has given them pause for thought that tomorrow’s technology might differ from the one they spent a decade and a half uncritically praising.
iOS and Mac OS
What Apple has is not just a core OS and development environment that scales across todays mobiles and desktops, but also business model that can support their development. Apple isn’t just selling ads like Google or trying to license commodity OS software like Microsoft. It’s the only company capable of selling high quality notebooks that cost more than $800, the only company selling tablet devices, and one of the hottest makers of smartphones, humiliating both RIM’s fancy pagers and Nokia’s simplistic “smartphones” and complex devices that nobody’s buying.
While lots of people are predicting further convergence of Mac OS X and iOS, that’s not necessarily part of the plan. There’s good reason for Mac OS X to remain keyboard and pointer-based with windowed apps, while iOS remains a simplified presentation of documents within full screen apps that are entirely multitouch based.
The key point is that only Apple has the pieces in place to pull off this “one core OS, optimized for multiple form factors” strategy. Microsoft is too enamored with the stylus pointer and pens (with good reason: it’s never made a multitouch device that wasn’t a toy), while Google can’t visualize the computing world outside of the web (for good reason: it’s never made a good desktop app nor a desktop OS). Apple has the longest history of creating popular platforms and creating mobile devices, and the most powerful position in today’s market for setting the pace of the future.