Apple’s Change From OS X to macOS Hardly ‘Muddies the Waters’

| Editorial

On June 30, an article was published at Computerworld claiming that Apple’s change from “OS X” to “macOS” will “do nothing for the Mac except accelerate its downward spiral as a fringe hardware product… and muddy the waters.” I would like to look at this article with a critical eye and set the record straight.

Apple's four OSes

Apple’s OSes going forward.

First, let me say that it’s great that there’s a thriving community of authors who have valuable contributions, and even opinions, to offer. It keeps us all on our toes and spawns diversity of thought.

However, in this case author Bob Skelley makes so many clearly mistaken assertions that it’s worth examining them in some detail. For reference, here’s the bold claim. “OS X rebranding further marginalizes Mac.

The Fallacy of the Unsubstantiated Metric

By way of introduction, I want to point out that there’s a difference between plausible differences of opinion and outright, dubious claims that fly in the face of known facts. No matter how authoritative someone sounds, if history and easily verified information contradict the statement, then there is no authority at all. I call this the fallacy of the unsubstantiated metric. There is no recognition of reality or research in the claim—just fantasy wrapped in emotion and rhetoric.

Point by Point Analysis of macOS vs. OS X

1. The first argument the author makes is “The addition of numbers to denote specific releases and updates is not only appropriate, but helps users better understand what OS they’re using.” That may work for, say, Microsoft, where the notion that “10” is better than “8” or “7.” But it’s an arbitrary business decision.

Apple, in practice, has had no trouble understanding customer mentality and suppressing the geekiness of numbers to its advantage. Instead the company has effectively focussed on the charm of big cats and famous landmarks, things that evoke memory and visual images. In the Apple world, we speak freely about how Mavericks was great. Yosemite came later and was problematic. El Capitan, which came yet later, made many things better again. I’ve never run across a situation where this naming was confusing because it lacked the crutches of a numbering scheme.

2. Next is the argument that the change from “OS X” to “macOS” muddies the waters. Unsaid, but implied, is that this change harms the brand of the Mac. That’s hard to justify when the actual word “Mac,” short for Macintosh, is injected in to the name of the OS, “macOS.” If anything, this is reaffirmation of the brand, not a departure.

One might better argue that the change from “Mac OS X” to “OS X” in 2012 muddied the waters, but that’s water under the bridge. There really is nothing sacred about the character string “OS X” except that it’s been around during a time when Apple evolved and has emerged into a more coherent, better branded naming conventions for its OSes.

3. The author also claims “Changing the name of an already entrenched operating system (with a rich history of innovation) is consistent with Apple distancing itself from the Mac altogether.” He goes on to make the wildly unsubstantiated claim: “But macOS is an appropriate name for an operating system on a once iconic personal computer Apple would prefer fades away.”

This is another departure from known facts, but I need not come to the defense of Apple’s commitment to the Mac. Instead, I’ll refer to what Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, said on the 30th anniversary of the Mac in 2014. “Apple executives on the Mac at 30: ‘The Mac keeps going forever’” Excerpted….

Every company that made computers when we started the Mac, they’re all gone. We’re the only one left. We’re still doing it, and growing faster than the rest of the PC industry because of that willingness to reinvent ourselves over and over….

It’s not an either/or [iOS or Mac]. It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all… It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way….

There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable.

Above, Phil Schiller referred to the fact that the Mac is growing faster than the rest of the PC industry. It’s unlikely that Apple would want to distance itself from this growing platform with a rich and capable working environment essential to so many customers and developers. One that continues to evolve and please so many, especially on the MacBook/Air/Pro line.

MacBook with macOS Sierra

Image credit: Apple

Puzzles

There are other puzzling assertions. The author refers to the “whateverOS” naming convention that gives us watchOS, tvOS and iOS. Skelley declares, “It is embarrassing for the Mac to be lumped in with this lot. It deserves more respect than that.”

The iPhone with its iOS has been a phenomenal and much loved product from Apple. It’s responsible for Apple’s meteoric growth and generates over 65 percent of Apple’s annual revenue. How is it, exactly, that departing from “OS X” and going to “macOS” amounts to being “lumped in” ?

Finally, to reiterate, we’ve only recently lacked the string “Mac” in the OS used in Macintoshes from 2012 to 2016. Recall that before the introduction of our UNIX-based Mac OS X in 2001, we also had the classic Mac OS. With all that in mind, its hard to see how the short-lived “OS X,” a branding outlier, has earned such sacredness that it has burned itself into the heart of the author.

Final Thoughts

I adamantly support the prerogative of the Computerworld author to express his views and to invite us into contemplation and reflection about Apple. In the end, however, his assertions just don’t bear up under the weight of Apple’s history, Apple’s own documented success with the Mac, Apple’s legendary branding acumen and connection with customers and statements made by Apple’s own SVP of marketing about the future of the beloved Mac platform.

5 Comments Add a comment

  1. The author refers to the “whateverOS” naming convention that gives us watchOS, tvOS and iOS. Skelley declares, “It is embarrassing for the Mac to be lumped in with this lot. It deserves more respect than that.”

    Apparently he isn’t familiar with the concept of branding. It’s not just putting the company name on things, branding includes maintaining a common look and feel, appearance and NAMING CONVENTION. Piper aircraft named all of their planes after American Indians, Cherokee, Comanche, Apache, Seneca and so forth for this reason. You hear a plane call in calling itself “Seminole 3756Charlie” you knew it was a Piper. Microsoft has kept with Windows through 3.1, 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, 7, 8, and now 10? Why? It’s not because they have a lot of Windows decals they want to use up. If you see a system running Windows you know it’s Microsoft. For a long time Apple used i as their convention, iMac, iPhone, iPad, and so forth. Fine for the early 2000s, but now it seems a bit dated. This is why I like the new convention. watchOS, tvOS, macOS, and soon phoneOS, padOS, and carOS. It is a common branding that ties everything together. I like it.

  2. MacFrogger

    Almost a “Macalope” article John – just without the humor. 😉

    Still, you are too kind to the author. As Lee said, this is totally a click bait article, and while we all respect you (you’re a gentleman AND a scholar!)…do you really think this guy believes what he wrote?

  3. Very much agreed, John. How silly! honestly, it was already MacOS before it was OS X, I feel like I’m stepping back in time! Bring on the system extensions (on second thought, don’t. I don’t miss troubleshooting the little buggers!)! 😉

  4. +

    Nice article as always, John. Regarding marginalization of the Mac, I’ll just say what many here (likely you included) have said many times in the past: If for no other reason, the Mac will never be marginalized for the sake of Xcode. So long as there are a gazillion iPhones selling every quarter, those phones will need apps, and for that you need Xcode. For Xcode you need a Mac; therefore, iPhones are utterly dependent on Macs for all of their App Store app-y goodness. Thus Apple can’t marginalize the Mac. Period. And that says nothing of all of the other markets where Macs are so important.

    As for the new name, I agree it just makes “Mac” prominent again. Plus Apple kept the California landmarks going with Sierra, so to me this is about the biggest non-issue I could imagine. My only issue with the new OS isn’t “macOS” as a name, but that my early 2008 iMac no longer makes the upgrade cut….

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