Apple OS

I saw an interesting blog post saying that rumors are rife that iOS and OS X are going to be merged (now that the relevant engineering teams are both under one person). It seems pretty clear to me that Apple would have to plan not to have two OSes at some time in the future, and the options are:

  • Phase iOS out in favor of OSX
  • Merge iOS and OSX
  • Phase OSX out in favor of iOS

The first option seems laughable, although it does have the advantage that Apple already has it all working (OSX can emulate iOS pretty well and could presumably be engineered to run it perfectly, probably even natively). It’s also hard to credit simply because Apple appears to be moving to use iOS across its product line (the new Nano is all but an iOS device, for example) and adding a ton of bloat to it wouldn’t help with this.

The second option, which is what the latest rumors suggest, seems like the most desirable option. The idea here would be that Cocoa and Cocoa Touch live on top of the same kernel, side-by-side, and run natively or possibly have a Rosetta-style ARM/x86 emulator sitting on the side to run older software (assuming Apple decides to pick one or the other CPU architecture for a given device — they could “easily” just stick some ARM CPUs in every Mac if they wanted to).

The third option has the advantage of delivering a simpler, lighter operating system in the long run, with the disadvantages of abandoning a huge amount of software, having to port or create from whole cloth entire slabs of functionality, and delivering a simpler, lighter operating system (after all OSX is pretty lean thanks to almost merciless shedding of “legacy” functionality). Ultimately, the third option would probably be to OSX what OSX was to Mac OS — devices would boot into iOS and then load the OSX “compatibility box” only as needed, and eventually not at all.

A resulting “AppleOS” will have a complete OS on each side of the divide, allowing Apple will to ship touch-only devices with pure touch interfaces, non-touch devices with pure keyboard/mouse interfaces, and hybrid devices, such as a “Macbook Flip” which can mix and match. Beefier devices can have all the software installed, while leaner devices can essentially just have the iOS components.

So, I predict that iPhone OS will subsume Mac OS X within three years. Obviously, it will long since have ceased being iPhone OS, of course. Hence, the title of this post.

That’s me, in 2010, predicting the third option’s inevitability. I guess I could point out that Steve Jobs died in the mean time, which may have slowed things down (one can only imagine that the process of merging the two operating systems caused significant internal tensions). I guess I’ve got another year before I’m wrong, but I still think it will happen by 2014. I would further argue that the accelerated pace of Mac OS X releases (which would deliver 10.10 in 2014) gels with this speculation.

But there’s actually no real way to tell the latter options apart — assuming iOS has been built with an eye towards eventual reunion it’s quite possible options 2/3 are working in the lab right now (just as NeXT had NeXTStep running on PowerPC hardware years before cutting the deal with Apple).

WWDC Keynote

I didn’t predict so much as wish for stuff this year. Here’s how Apple did:

  • Using Twitter integration to afford a unified message interface. No. While Twitter integration is nice, all they’ve done is made doing stuff with Twitter a little bit slicker. In fact, Apple has actually made things worse in some respects.
  • iCloud digital locker for content purchased from iTunes moving forward. Yes.
  • iCloud streams to all Macs and iOS devices. Yes. (But no video.)
  • AppleTV allows purchases which become available immediately via iCloud. No.
  • iCloud digital locker for content purchased from iTunes in the past (or with a small added fee). Yes.
  • iCloud digital locker that (say) identifies tracks you’ve ripped, or your CD or DVD, and offers to sell you a digital/streaming version at a discount. Yes. ($25/year, music only.)
  • iCloud as an alternative to DropBox. Yes, unless you need Windows support.
  • iCloud to provide streaming backups for Time Machine. Yes, but not exactly.
  • iCloud as a replacement for MobileMe. Yes.
  • Gaming on TVs via AirPlay and AppleTV using iOS devices as controllers. Yes on iPad2 and presumably an as-yet-unannounced A5-based iPhone.
  • Apps on AppleTV (or its successor) via iOS5. No, keep dreaming.
  • Gaming on AppleTV using iOS devices as controllers. No, keep dreaming.
  • From left field: iCloud acts as virtual DVR based on content Apple can establish you have access to — actually that sounds like a really great idea; e.g. if you can prove you have basic cable and thus receive CBS, Apple gives you access to a streamable version of the Mentalist the day after it airs. Even better, Apple simply negotiates TV rights as if it were a new cable provider and makes everything available on demand. No, but I still think it’s a brilliant idea for a third party.

I should note that iCloud is free to iOS5 and 10.7 users for 5GB of online storage, $25/year for unlimited music storage via iTunes match. No word on pricing for added data not for music. And, again, no word on video.

Of course Apple delivered a ton of stuff I didn’t get to, especially on iOS. (Making predictions about Lion would have been easy and a violation of the NDA we’re all subject to.)

  • Improved notifications. Obvious, but also a two-edged sword. (The problem with having a “good notification system” is that everyone overuses it and it becomes noise.)
  • Reminders with geotagging (so you can remind yourself to buy milk when you go to the store vs. at 5pm when you won’t necessarily be at the store). Very, very cool.
  • Over-the-air-everything. Activate your device in the store, sync to iCloud, wireless sync to desktop.
  • Newstand. So that maybe I won’t rely on every damn magazine to implement a decent download interface.
  • iMessage. Noooooooooooo!!! Great, so now there’s yet another freaking place to check messages. This is the opposite of what Apple should be doing. Oh yeah, and it’s iOS-specific.
  • Mail inbox in portrait mode (iPad only).
  • Instant Camera Access with volume button as shutter release.

Unified Messaging. Not.

You could argue that the improved notification system will act as a unified messaging system but in fact it won’t for two important reasons.

First, all kinds of things will generate noise in it (Game Center?) and unless you set your preferences carefully it will probably become Just Another Annoying Thing. I hope that it will be great but the proof will be in the pudding.

Second, at best it only unifies incoming messages. What about outgoing? What if I want to phone someone who just texted me? Or text someone who just left me voicemail (“In a meeting, ttyl”)?

Meanwhile Apple has added iMessage, a new proprietary messaging app that’s kind of like Twitter and SMS and IM but not and different and iOS specific. WTF? Is this the next product from the Ping team? (On The Talk Show, Gruber seemed to think that iMessage is great because it will help create vendor lock-in the way BBM has for Blackberry. Ugh.)

Even so, iOS5 looks like an incredible update. If it’s available for preview by developers it will definitely be the first prerelease version of iOS that goes on my iPhone and iPad.

tl;dr

10.7 is as expected. iCloud looks both awesome and free, but not a replacement for Dropbox if you need to share files with Windows users (who may be you). But then it’s free, so who cares? iOS5 hits all the right notes except for unified messaging which is a case on two steps forward (Twitter integration and improved notifications) and a small step back (iMessage probably won’t matter because I expect that no-one will use it).

Developers, developers, developers…

While I’ve go your brain addled with images of Steve Ballmer prancing around and screaming like a lunatic, it’s interesting to reflect on two significant events in the mobile app world that have occurred in the last week. I suspect these events may not be wholly unrelated.

Behind curtain number one we have Apple finally bringing common sense to its rules for developers. If I may paraphrase: “your app will be judged on its usefulness and quality, and not on how you’re writing it”.

Behind curtain number two we have Microsoft finally shipping WinCE 7. Er Windows Mobile 7. No wait, it’s Windows Phone Series 7. Correction, I mean Windows Phone 7.

One of the fascinating things about Windows is that it has really great, easy-to-use developer tools and, by and large, really terrible software. Take word-processors for example. The only word processor anyone using Windows will voluntarily use (unless they’re a “Freetard” to quote Fake Steve Jobs) is Microsoft Word. On the Mac, Word has serious competition, notably including Pages, but also old favorites like Nisus, and innovative specialist tools like Writeroom and Ulysses. I’d suggest that if Microsoft tried to threaten Apple with pulling Word from the platform today, Mac users would hardly blink.

There’s no question that there are far more potential developers of software for Windows Phone 7 than there are, even now, for iOS or Android. But does it matter? All those developers had ample opportunity to flood Windows Phone 5… oh wait Windows Mobile 5… with fabulous high quality apps. Why didn’t they?

Part of the problem is that while Microsoft’s development tools are easier to use, they don’t offer developers sufficient control to produce a truly polished user experience* unless the developer simply gives up and writes his/her own GUI layer. (I can’t speak for the very latest APIs, since I don’t have any experience with them, but those APIs are younger than Cocoa Touch, so the arguments about “number of available developers” and “mindshare” go in the opposite direction.)

* E.g. Windows edit fields don’t behave correctly (in pretty much any respect). If you want an edit field that behaves properly (with respect to text selection, tabbing, etc.) you pretty much have to write one from scratch yourself, and then it will be different from the “standard” control. Windows has had this problem since Windows 1.0 and Microsoft’s obsession with backwards compatibility (which is highly selective) means that while you may not be able to restore backups made with old versions of your backup software, bad UI design ideas from 1984 are still faithfully reproduced in 2010.

So, let’s suppose you’re a Flash developer who was hoping to develop iPhone Apps, but Apple closed the door in your face which led you to consider learning Silverlight in the hopes that at least you could kind of transfer your skills over to WP7 development. Time to cancel that order for “Headfirst into Silverlight” on Amazon, huh? (Sorry, that book doesn’t exist.)

Market Share Slices

The biggest problem for Android developers right now (and I speak as someone with a game I’d love to port to Android) is that the Android market is so fragmented, and there’s no sign of it getting better. Assuming Windows Phone 7 is at all successful, I suspect what we’ll see is most of the current Android handset manufacturers shipping two (or, of course, more) versions of much of their hardware, one for Android and the other for WP7, possibly with highly confusing branding, and certainly with equally confusing hardware. The carriers already try to stamp their own logos on everything, so figuring out whether you’re getting a Verizon Samsung Supernova with Android or Windows Phone 7 is going to be tricky for people who know what an operating system is. How many times will a kid send their parent out to buy them X and end up with Y?

And while it’s not clear who the winner is, what we’ll see is something like this: LG has this new phone it wants to sell (which looks just like an iPhone crossed with a sidekick and then whacked with the ugly stick, based on past performance) and releases two versions of it, one with Android and another with WP7. One sells better than the other, leading the other to be hugely discounted to get rid of excess inventory. From a developer’s point of view, this sounds really great, doesn’t it? (Oh, and once again, consider the parent sent out to get X and coming back with Y? “It’s exactly the same phone but it was on clearance.”)

If this situation is going to be fixed, two things need to happen. First, users need to demonstrate — loudly and with their wallets — that these practices are not acceptable. Second, Google must take a stand for the end user and insist that parts of Android must be included on every device in order to bear the Google name — and that all carrier installed apps and services are easily and freely removed by users at their discretion.

From Will Carriers Destroy the Android Vision on Engadget.

I’d have to say that given what’s been happening with Android, we ought to be rooting for WP7 over Android at this point. I mean, at least Microsoft doesn’t go through multiple incompatible major version releases in a single year. At least Microsoft is trying to enforce some kind of interoperability standard on handset makers. (Heck, if WP7 is successful, it may even help simplify the Android handset market.) There’s some chance of having a vaguely sensible platform, isn’t there? But given the fact that carriers and handset makers will always be able to point to their “free” and “open” Android alternative, I’m guessing Microsoft will be pretty much screwed. Either let us walk all over you or we’ll just use our free bizarrely customized crapware bloated Android distro. Did I mention it’s free? kthxbye.

Final Aside

I really wonder if there is any such thing as “the Android vision”. It seems to me Google wanted the lowest common denominator smartphones to be able to generate ad revenue for them sooner rather than later, and that’s as far as any “vision” went.

Mission accomplished (well, kind of).

It also seems to me that the number of people buying Android phones because of any “vision” is very small. Most of the “voting with wallets” in the cellphone market is people wanting the cheapest product that does X, Y, and Z. Hoping for people who “vote” this way with their wallets to make some statement about bloatware is asking a bit much. It hasn’t happened in any other commodity market or we wouldn’t have — to pick an example — forced bundling of cable TV stations. (How many of us would opt to simply not receive the home shopping and TV Guide channels?)