The Point-and-Shoot Mac

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

From the moment Apple delivered its one-two punch of a forthcoming Mac App Store and iOS-like Launchpad and Mission Control features in Mac OS X Lion, the blogosphere has been working overtime to predict what it all means. Back in October, I posted my own initial thoughts on the matter. While I expressed concern over the future of third-party utilities, my general outlook was to remain calm and wait-and-see.

I’ve had trouble waiting. Over the subsequent weeks, I found myself continuing to return to this topic. Where exactly is Apple heading with all of this? Does Apple really hope to transform the Mac into a giant iOS device? Would Apple actually risk making such a dramatic change? Would it throw overboard all of the third-party software that could not or would not run under an iOS variant of Mac OS X? Is Apple ultimately seeking the same level of control over third-party Mac software that it now exerts over iOS apps?

I don’t have certain answers. But I am ready to make some dramatic predictions. As with any predictions, they come with an associated level of confidence. In this case, while I believe these predictions represent the most likely future, my degree of confidence is not so great that I would be shocked if they turn out to be wrong.

My primary prediction is this: The Mac line-up will eventually split in a new way; there will be iOS-based Macs and traditional Mac OS X-based Macs. Further, the iOS-based Macs will wind up with the the lion’s share (wordplay intended) of the Mac market, far outselling traditional Macs.

Point-Shoot

What will these iOS-based Macs be like? For hardware, given Steve Jobs’ recent critique of vertically-oriented touchscreens, I suspect they will bear a greater resemblance to today’s MacBook Air than to the iPad. This would also help Apple to maintain a clear dividing line between the market for Macs vs. iPads. For software, however, these Macs will be very much an unambiguous iOS device. There will be apps specific to the Mac (just as the iPad can now run apps that won’t run on an iPhone), but these Macs will otherwise be a full-fledged member of the iOS team.

Before the naysayers start shouting, allow me to explain a bit further. To do so, I need to take a detour into the world of cameras and photography.

Point-and-shoot vs. SLR cameras

My very first camera (I got it when I was a kid) was a point-and-shoot camera. Suffice it to say that this category has been around for a long time. Still, as recently as the 1980s, if you were at all serious about taking pictures, you owned either a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera or a high-end fixed-lens camera. By “serious,” I don’t mean professional or hobbyist. I mean simply that you wanted a quality level beyond the basic Kodak-moment™. Low-end point-and-shoot cameras were not up to the task. Although my wife and I were casual photographers, we owned SLR cameras, each with a couple of lenses. This was common back then. Our cameras did have an Auto mode, but we learned to make use of f-stop and shutter speed controls. Professional photographers had more expensive better quality equipment, but we were all working with the same technology.

This is no longer the case. Over the years, the quality of point-and-shoot cameras has dramatically improved. As a result, especially with the maturation of digital cameras, point-and-shoot cameras are now the norm for all but professionals and the most dedicated amateurs. For many people, their smartphone is a good enough camera.

By and large, these simpler cameras don’t offer multiple lenses, large zoom ratios, superior low-light photography, or top-quality optics. But most people are willing to give up these advantages in exchange for a decent easy-to-use camera that fits in their pocket.

It’s not just a question of saving money. Top of the line point-and-shoot cameras can cost as much as $400. They may offer controls that go well beyond Auto mode (even if most people don’t use them) — allowing you to select ASA speed, exposure level, white balance, and such. Still, they are fundamentally a different animal from SLR cameras.

Most camera companies offer models in both categories, sometimes adding an intermediate category between the extremes. But it’s the point-and-shoot cameras that dominate the market.

Back to the Mac

Perhaps you can already see where I’m heading. I believe the point-and-shoot vs. SLR camera split is analogous to what will happen with Macs. Just as digital technology breathed new life into point-and-shoot cameras, iOS will lead the way to a new type of Mac.

There will be both “point-and-shoot” iOS-based Macs and “SLR” Mac OS X-based Macs. There is already a quasi-split of this sort, with the Pro Macs on one end and the MacBooks and iMacs on the other. But these all run the same software. And the not-so-secret truth is that most Mac owners don’t push the hardware limits of even the lowest-end Macs. Most Mac owners will never own Photoshop (or even Photoshop Elements). They will never launch Final Cut Pro (or even Final Cut Express). On their own, they will never discover that Terminal is on their drive; they have no interest in exploring the Library folders or otherwise dealing with the technical details of Mac OS X. They don’t want to master six different methods of installing, updating and uninstalling software. They don’t need the fastest CPU or the largest hard drive. They just want a simple-to-use goof-proof computer that can adequately handle their daily rather minimal tasks.

In other words, they want a point-and-shoot Mac — which is precisely what an iOS-based Mac would be.

Initially, you won’t have to choose between the two types of Macs. As the vast majority of the differences in the two systems will reside in software, Macs will ship with both types of OS installed. You’ll have the option to switch between them — similar to how you can now switch between Mac OS X and Windows. This means that the same hardware will be sold to run both OS versions.

Eventually, I expect this too will change. I expect Apple will customize their hardware to match the OS. The iOS-based Macs will ship with adequate but not top-of-the line internal hardware and minimal expandability options. They will offer some sort of touchscreen support. In contrast, the traditional Macs will look much like the Pro lines of Macs today. Eventually, when the split is complete, Apple will sell Macs that run only the iOS-based OS and others that run primarily the traditional Mac OS (probably with an option to switch to an iOS mode, if needed).

In the marketplace, sales of traditional Macs will start a steady decline. The less expensive, easier-to-use, iOS-based point-and-shoot Macs will emerge as the best-selling models. By far. This will be true despite the restrictions of an OS where all (or almost all) software must come from the Mac App Store and where end user access to the system software is practically non-existent. It will be a trade-off that most Mac users will be happy to make — just as they now do so with their iPhones and iPads.

How long before this transition takes place? I believe it has already started — with the MacBook Air, the Mac App Store and the forthcoming Mac OS X Lion. I expect the changes will really kick in with the arrival of the first full iOS-based variation of Mac OS X in a couple of years, probably as a component of Mac OS X 10.8. The hardware split of the Mac line should be complete within five years. The era of the point-and-shoot Mac will have arrived.

Comments

FlipFriddle

Well, if you’re right, as a content creator that’ll put me and others of my ilk back to the high-end (expensive) machines again. Currently I can do my work on the “consumer” level Mac, the iMac, where I used to have a tower (G4). It was fun while it lasted…

spudgeek

You might be onto something here Ted and if your predictions are on the right road, I do hope you’re wrong about switching between iOS and OSX on a Mac.

You?ll have the option to switch between them ? similar to how you can now switch between Mac OS X and Windows.

I imagine the Mac SLR user would also enjoy the P+S experience of iOS but not the switching mechanism. I would hope that the Mac iOS capabilities would run within OSX… iOSX anyone?

Nonsuch

I think you make good points about the necessary evolution of personal computing, but the idea of Macs running two separate operating systems goes completely against the grain of what Apple is about: simplicity.

I think it’s more likely that Mac OS X will evolve in a way that abstracts more and more of the underlying architecture away from the user. I can see the Finder becoming, not the “always-on” app it is today, but what its name implies it is: a utility for finding things, that the user evokes when needed and then closes and forgets about. I think Mac OS X will one day allow people to live entirely in their apps they way they do now on their iPads (except that the guts will still be accessible for the users with the desire and the know-how to go poking around).

Lancashire-Witch

I think it all depends on your orientation (No - not that sort of orientation).

I know people who are app orientated. They launch apps from the dock- mail, safari, pages, itunes, iphoto etc. They rarely, if ever, use the finder.
They are the ideal candidate for a point-and-shoot Mac.

On the other hand there are those users who are File orientated ....

iOS is, of course, very app orientated.

skipaq

In the next couple of years, I think that today’s Macs will take on more iOS features but remain OSX. Unless iOS hardware and software mature to the point of doing what a person buys a Mac to do there is no incentive for users to switch. Like FlipFriddle, I am among many millions of Mac users who have no need of a tower. But the iMac is perfect for my work and personal use. Five years from now? An iOS based Mac may make sense; but my heart still says OSX.

geoduck

I think the File-Oriented / App-Oriented idea is spot on. I know a good number of Users, Win and Mac, who don’t have a clue if I tell them to go there and open the file. But if they are in Word they find the file immediately. For them everything happens inside an App. They see no difference between a browser opening different pages and Excel opening different spreadsheets.

Rather than seeing two lines of Mac I’d look for all Macs have both environments. There is precedent for this with Apple’s FrontRow. You CAN play video and audio content, look at your pictures, and such by going into the files or open FrontRow, the rest of the Mac environment goes away and you just have your media to choose from. I could see a FrontRow style iOS application that would hide the regular finder and just give you the iOS environment. Regular Apps would show us plus you could download and run iOS specific Apps. A lot of people would set this as their default startup environment and never look back.

This would keep with SJs preference for continuity across product lines. He doesn’t like splits.

Lancashire-Witch

I think I’d take this further.

The “App-launchers” seem bemused by Automator, disk images, disk utility, installing new applications, Keychains, the Console, the Terminal and so on. They may, in a quiet moment, wonder whatever happened to QuickTime Player 8 and 9.

Maybe they didn’t grow up with with personal computing. Maybe they have never used Windows 3.1 or even Mac OS9. Yep, geoduck, they can’t see anything wrong with FrontRow.
They are the ones who really do want it to “just work”- fast and cool - and they may need just as much computing power as the file-finders who, I suspect, will resist any move towards a more appliance-like environment and hark back to the days when Apple was less popular. They do their own trouble-shooting. They want to be able to tweak their machines because they don’t always see eye-to-eye with SJ. They want LightPeak on their next toaster.

In all, Ted, I think there will be less of a hardware distinction than you imagine. P&S cameras have a remarkable amount of horsepower under the hood.

But, as always, I could be wrong.

zewazir

Actually, I see things heading the other direction.  Instead of more products relying on the simpler iOS of current ultra-portables, I see ultra-portables gaining in ability until capabilities of the iOS they run merges with OS X. Simultaneously OS X will gain much of the convenient aspects of iOS.  The end result, as I see things progressing, will be a single OS which is easily conformable to match the abilities of the hardware it is loaded on, and the needs of the user, from basic smart-phone w/basic apps to top-end Mac Pros running top-end real time video editing.

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