Why Apple Won’t Merge OS X and iOS in the Near Future

on July 23, 2012

One of the interesting rumors floating around the Valley these days is that Apple is on track to merge OS X and iOS and move Mac users over to their ARM based processors and leave Intel. If you follow Apple and know their history, you understand that they are more then capable of doing this. Over the Mac’s existence, Apple has actually moved the Mac OS to three different chips sets and has migrated their core OS from one processor core to the other quite seamlessly.

The reasoning goes that Apple could bring the two operating systems together to run on their own chip sets and save them having to pay Intel for their chips and instead use their own ARM processors to run a single merged OS and UI environment. Although this is a plausible idea and could possibly happen some day, the soon-to-be released updated OS X Mountain Lion suggests that this will not happen any time soon. This new OS, which brings a lot of the greatest features of iOS and many of its apps to Mac OS X actually makes the two operating systems even more alike then they have been. But each OS still serves a purpose and these enhanced cross OS functions makes it possible for both operating systems to co-exist and compliment each other for some time.

In fact, I think we are seeing more of a pattern in which OS X will continue to harness the robust power of Intel’s Core architecture for some time yet. And Intel’s 3D chip architecture that is in the works could continue to advance Moore’s law in ways that it would still make sense for the Mac OS to mine the Intel X86 based chipset for many more years. I have a good handle on Intel’s roadmap and I don’t see anything coming from ARM that could match what Intel will have two or three years from now. It is much more likely that Apple will continue to use Intel for many years to come and thus will need two distinct operating systems to meet the needs of both sets of customers.

Keep in mind that the Mac is still optimized for what I call heavy lifting computing. While simple word processing, email and even a bit more advanced applications can be done with iOS apps, the more power hungry apps still require the advanced power of OS X and advanced processors. This is especially true for those using it for graphics design, electronic publishing, video editing, advanced photo editing and many engineering applications where the Mac is used for managing IT functions, especially in education environments.

Yet, many who use the Mac for these apps also use an iPad and iPhone and have enjoyed many of the features in iOS and want the same ones on Mac OS X. This is where Mountain Lion really shines. Although it adds more then just iOS features, a lot of its value is in bringing over these features to the Mac. And there are a couple of really good examples of this.

One thing many iOS apps excel at is the ability to share info from an App or Safari via a drop down menu that lets you post directly to twitter, an email account, iMessage, and more. Now, that little arrow that signifies info sharing in iOS is in the tool bar in Safari on OS X. But more importantly, Apple is publishing the API for this feature so that developers can also include this sharing feature into apps for Mac OS X. If you use this feature on an iOS device you know who handy it is in iOS apps. Now the Mac gets the same functionality.

iMessages: Now any iMessage that comes up on your iOS devices is also displayed on the Mac in the Messages app. Again, cross OS functionality at its best.

Reminders: Many times I jot a reminder on the reminder app on my iPad, but to access it while working on the Mac, I have to literally pick up the iPad to see it. Now the reminders that I enter on an iOS device will also show up in my reminder app on the Mac.

Notes: I use this constantly to make lists, record meeting notes etc but they are isolated to iOS devices. But with Mountain Lion, all of the notes I have created on my iPad or iPhone will now be readily available for me on my Mac as well via iCloud sync.

Notification Center: This is one of the great features of iOS. Users can set alerts and notifications, which can then be accessed by a drop down scroll page that can be seen when the iPhone or iPad is still locked. This is a handy feature and with Mountain Lion it too comes to the Mac when this OS update ships this summer.

Airplay Mirroring: Here is another feature that is used a lot with iOS devices. Consumers use this to “push” their pictures and video to their Apple TV and now this type of mirroring comes to the Mac. This is really cool if a conference room uses a TV for presentations and has an Apple TV connected to it. That means that your Mac can use Airplay Mirroring over Apple TV and there is no need for messy wired connections at all.

These are just a few of the iOS features that come over to the Mac and make the Mac even more functional and in ways, an extension of your other iOS devices. But at the same time the Mac keeps its own powerful OS structure and supports the thousands of apps built for use on this platform as-is.

This is important to understand if you look at the future of the Mac. As I stated above, Apple could migrate Mac OS X so that it can use their ARM processors and it could happen. But given the ARM roadmap, it probably will never compete with Intel’s continued exploitation of Moore’s law.

But Mountain Lion really does bridge the gap and gives people who love these features in iOS many of the same functions now on a Mac. And it makes sure that at the same time all apps written for the Mac continues to work out of the box.

Also, if you look at the advanced tools Apple has for creating apps for the Mac and the new Mac App store that in many ways mirrors the app store for iOS devices, you see that both operating systems could co-exist together for some time and keep users of both quite happy. But the Mac OS, with its greater horsepower will continue to be valuable to power users and those who need the Mac for heavy lifting tasks. I see Mountain Lion giving Apple more time to focus on other innovations in the short term. This would take the pressure out of trying to even do an OS X port to their own ARM chips, especially if ARM can’t keep up with Intel’s offerings.

As Tim Cook has pointed out, the real growth and profit center for Apple has shifted from Macs to iOS devices and it is here that I think they will put most of their resources. Although the Mac is still important to them and continues to grow, innovation with iOS software and iOS driven devices seems the priority for them now. I see Mt Lion filling a big gap and allowing Apple to continue to have cross device functions but still give their power users and their consumer audience everything they want and need from Apple.