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).