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).

Apple OS iOS

There have been two successful OS transformations on the desktop. One was Mac OS Classic to Mac OS X, which was implemented using virtualization. The other was DOS to Windows, which was a slightly weirder affair (initially, Windows was a DOS application, then Windows NT ran DOS under virtualization). You might argue Windows was a horrible kludge, but its more elegant step-sibling (OS/2) handled DOS compatibility by virtualization and failed miserably in the marketplace.

It seems pretty clear, especially given the power of current hardware, that virtualization is the way to handle an OS transformation. Indeed, many commentators have suggested that Microsoft should replace Windows with a brand new modern, lightweight OS, and manage compatibility by virtualization.

Right now, iPhone OS runs under Mac OS X via virtualization. Multitouch is not well-supported (for obvious reasons), but that’s simply a hardware issue (Macs don’t have touchscreens).

Of Apple’s two operating systems, one generates over two-thirds of its revenue, and an even larger proportion of its profits. And that OS isn’t Mac OS X. Apple is notorious (I might say famous, but chose not to) for doing a lot with a little — there are probably fewer people working on Mac OS X right now than on Microsoft Word. But we haven’t even heard a whisper about Mac OS X 10.7.

So, the question is, whither Mac OS X?

Merging it with iPhone OS is impractical for numerous reasons, not least of which is that iPhone OS runs very lean and mean and Mac OS X conspicuously does not. A virtualization solution would allow iPhone OS to continue working beautifully on low-powered devices (by not providing the compatibility box) while allowing higher-powered devices to offer full backwards compatibility.

Of course, Apple already has an iPhone virtualization box for Mac OS X, so a “unification OS” could be released tomorrow if Apple wanted to make Mac OS X that OS, but I think a Tablet computer that boots instantly into iPhone OS and lets you run Mac OS X in a virtual box as needed is far more desirable than a Tablet computer that boots in 30s into Mac OS X and lets you run iPhone OS in a virtual box. Either would be pretty compelling, though.

The other question is, what benefits are there to keeping the two platforms separate? I would argue there are none. iPhone OS devices with a Mac compatibility box would, in essence, answer all the “closed platform” criticisms — the Mac platform is rich and open, and running it on a virtual machine would sandbox it from the managed world of iPhone. Indeed, virtualization affords Apple the option of opening iPhone OS devices without adding risk for users who don’t want it. The only real reason not to go down this route right now is hardware.

There’s your Mac App Store, by the way. It’s the App Store, and iPhone OS running on your Mac.

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.

Snow Leopard: Collada Support

While Snow Leopard isn’t being sold on its new features, it probably could be. Here’s an interesting snippet of Apple’s Snow Leopard pages that a post on Cheetah 3d’s forums put me onto:

Collada Digital Asset Exchange (.dae) files are a popular way to share 3D models and scenes between applications. Preview now displays these files with OpenGL-powered 3D graphics, so you can zoom and rotate around a 3D scene and play viewpoint animations. You can also print the scene or save it as an image or movie file. And you can use Quick Look to display them as well.

A quick Googling of “Snow Leopard Collada” reveals that this little announcement is creating quite a buzz, and not without reason.

What’s Collada? It’s a rich 3d file format that — like FBX and unlike 3DMF — doesn’t suck and — unlike FBX — isn’t proprietary and subject to bizarre incompatibility issues every time Autodesk squeezes out a new version of the SDK.

By “rich” I mean that it enables 3d programs to store almost any information they would store in their own proprietary formats. By “doesn’t suck” I mean that other programs are generally able to get that information out again.

If Apple’s support for Collada goes deeper than simply being able to render .dae files in Preview and QuickLook, e.g. allowing programmers to relatively easily load, retrieve data in usable form from, save, and render Collada files, it could lead to a renaissance of 3d on the Mac, and deliver the benefits that Quickdraw 3D promised and so spectacularly failed to deliver.

The second bit: “retrieve data in usable form from” is the tricky part, since Collada is a very hairy format, which means that an ideal implementation would support all the hairiness, but allow you to access raw data in a lowest-common denominator way — e.g. load in complex NURBS objects and then acquire them as meshes at a specified detail level. One thing Apple might do is pick which bits of Collada to support thoroughly and — if they pick well — effectively create a compatible subset of Collada which different software developers can depend on and treat as the defacto standard (kind of the way Photoshop 4.0’s file format is a defacto standard for interoperable Photoshop documents).

Apple’s support for Collada could also help give Collada the momentum it needs to gain stronger support in the 3d world. Right now, a lot of programs have so-so Collada support and superb FBX support (in large part because Autodesk makes supporting FBX pretty easy). But Collada is richer and less proprietary than FBX. In a sense, Collada is analogous to QuickTime in that it can serve as both a format for storing raw and working content as well as delivering optimized end-user content.

Supporting Collada at OS level could be a great “judo” move on Apple’s part. It would allow the Photoshop wannabes to easily offer Photoshop-like 3D support (easily embed 3d objects in layered documents, and provide texture-painting capabilities), and encourage everyone on the Mac — or interoperating with people using Macs — to support a single rich 3d file format. It creates an ecology where indie developers can create “do one thing and one thing well” 3d tools on the Mac that doesn’t really exist on any platform right now.

We’ll see.

Apple’s Security Issues

Rixstep is one of the most intelligently critical Mac-centric (well, originally NeXT-centric) websites around. Here’s their latest commentary on Apple’s security issues — an issue they’ve been railing about for years.

Now, I’m not about to switch to Windows for the superior security of Vista (which, if anything, is more vulnerable to social engineering attacks, which are by far the biggest threat*), but it would be nice if Apple closed some of the glaring holes before there actually are some real world exploits.

Note: * all the remote attacks to which Mac OS X is vulnerable are in essence going to require a social engineering approach to work in the first place. Whether it’s getting a user to visit a web page with a specially crafted QuickTime movie, or getting a user to download a trojan, the point is getting the user to do something. Vista screws up its warnings by crying wolf so often that the chance of a user inadvertently clicking “yes” at a critical juncture is much higher, and this is something CanWest et al don’t measure.