OS Xi Evolution: Merging iOS and OS X into One

Do you recall the film The Fly? In this movie, Jeff Goldblum’s character undergoes a disastrous transformation due to a teleportation experiment gone wrong, merging his DNA with that of a fly.

“[T]he Telepod computer, confused by the presence of two separate life-forms in the sending pod, merged him with the fly at the molecular-genetic level.

When observing the evolution of Lion/Mountain Lion alongside iOS, it’s apparent that these operating systems are on a path of convergence. Entertain this hypothesis: Apple might be gearing up to merge these systems into a unified platform that caters to both mobile and desktop environments.

With the introduction of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple has incorporated several features from iOS such as Game Center, Reminders, and Notification Center. The company is also adopting an iOS-style sandboxing model for apps, demanding higher security permissions. Furthermore, Apple has integrated share sheets to facilitate data sharing between apps, a feature familiar to iOS users.

Even Xcode, Apple’s core software development tool, is being assimilated into this new approach.

As of this spring, Xcode is exclusively available via the App Store, packaged within a sandboxed environment. This shift signifies a major transformation in Apple’s strategy for macOS, with little standing in the way of a full transition.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed skepticism about merging different device functionalities, using the analogy of a toaster fridge to highlight the potential pitfalls of such a strategy. According to Cook, while convergence is technically feasible, it often leads to compromises that satisfy no one.

However, Cook’s stance doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of a versatile OS that adapts to the user’s context rather than forcing a uniform interface across devices. The underlying technologies of macOS and iOS are already quite similar, and Apple is likely to avoid forcing desktop users to adapt to a mobile-oriented interface, and vice versa.

Rather than creating a chimera that tries to do everything but pleases no one, Apple could deliver a tailored experience suitable for different environments, a concept that could be termed “situational computing.”

Apple has previously explored this arena with technologies like AirPlay and iCloud, which enable seamless interaction across devices, suggesting a foundation for more fluid device integration.

For many users, macOS may offer more functionality than necessary.

A simplified interface could meet most needs without the complexity of traditional file management, though more sophisticated capabilities than those currently offered by iOS would be beneficial for tasks such as academic research.

Switching between apps like a text editor and Safari on iOS is cumbersome, and even well-designed apps like Daedalus Touch and Writing Kit only offer stopgap solutions. Most creative and professional tasks require the ability to switch between multiple applications smoothly.

Apple could potentially simplify multitasking on iOS and expand its utility with features like wireless external display support, which is already available through AirPlay. This capability could be extended to all Apple displays, enhancing productivity by treating every monitor as a potential secondary screen.

The Reflection app hints at the possibilities of this technology, allowing iOS devices to mirror their display wirelessly to a Mac. This feature could be expanded to make any Apple display a seamless extension of an iOS device.

Games like Real Racing and educational apps like Bartleby 2 demonstrate the potential of using iOS devices as controllers while utilizing an external display as the main screen.

Imagine an environment where your iPad not only connects to your Thunderbolt Display when in proximity but also allows you to continue working seamlessly as you transition from one device to another, with iCloud keeping your data synchronized across all platforms.

While Tim Cook has cautioned against creating devices that try to do too much, like the proverbial Toaster Fridge, Apple’s history suggests they might still surprise us by creating a versatile, unified platform that redefines user interaction across their ecosystem.

When Apple says “No”, we hear “maybe.” This approach has been a hallmark of Apple’s strategy, dismissing certain technologies before perfecting them.

Tj Luoma

Gary is a dedicated writer for TUAW, bringing a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Apple. With a keen eye for detail, Gary covers everything from the latest iPhone and iPad releases to in-depth reviews of the MacBook Pro and Apple Watch. His insightful articles help readers navigate the ever-evolving world of Apple technology. Gary’s expertise and clear writing make him a trusted voice in the Apple community.