Tim Cook Insists That iOS and macOS Shall Remain Separate. He’s Right

MacBook-iPad side by side

Tim Cook recently made some comments about the merger os iOS and macOS.  He may have been misunderstood. Let’s see where it all leads.


Back in December, Mark Gurman at Bloomberg Technology wrote: “Apple Plans Combined iPhone, iPad & Mac Apps to Create One User Experience.” He discussed an internal Apple project called “Marzipan.”

Apple UNIX
The UNIX power of macOS is holy ground for many.

This involves unifying the code base and APIs of iOS and macOS so that Xcode developers can, with relative ease:

…design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

The reason this is a big deal is that, while iOS is a fork of macOS, it’s own frameworks and APIs have evolved over time to meet the unique needs of iPads and iPhones, including the ARM CPUs. By bringing those back into sync, developers can write once and deploy across the platforms, targeting either Intel or ARM. (Maybe, some day, only ARM.) This is, incidentally, why Apple is pushing to make all macOS apps 64-bit. iOS apps already are.

The impact will be huge. Author Gurman notes:

Developers currently must design two different apps — one for iOS, the operating system of Apple’s mobile devices, and one for macOS, the system that runs Macs. That’s a lot more work. What’s more, Apple customers have long complained that some Mac apps get short shrift. For example, while the iPhone and iPad Twitter app is regularly updated with the social network’s latest features, the Mac version hasn’t been refreshed recently and is widely considered substandard. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features and updates at the same time.

2016 MacBook Pro, 13 and 15.
Running iOS apps on a Mac would be helpful.

Common App Basis Doesn’t Mean a Formal OS Merger

Under the hood, however, iOS and macOS have different components. macOS is designed to run various UNIX-y daemons that aren’t needed in iOS. Remember when iOS first shipped on the iPad? It didn’t even run an NTP server, so the internal clock would drift badly.

[What Time is it? Your iPad May Not be Sure ]

macOS doesn’t have the same kinds of sandboxing restrictions that iOS started with, and that’s why it’s possible to draw from various resources to, for example, build an app in Xcode. By and by, Apple had to losen some of these iOS restrictions, and that has allowed more user creativity, but also came at a cost. That cost is explained by iMazing developer Gregorio Zanon: “No, end-to-end encryption does not prevent Facebook from accessing WhatsApp chats.

In any case, in a merger sense, reducing macOS to the iOS levels of protection and simplicity would cripple it. Expanding iOS to the full capabilities of macOS would entirely defeat its awesome security. Rich Mogull, in my podcast, told me that iOS is the most secure mobile OS on the planet. It should stay that way.

Apple CEO Tim Cook during Mac "hello again" event.

Perspective on Tim Cook’s Comments

All this gets us ready to digest Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent comments. “Users don’t want iOS to merge with MacOS, Apple chief says.” Author Wells quotes Cook:

“We don’t believe in sort of watering down one for the other. Both [The Mac and iPad] are incredible. One of the reasons that both of them are incredible is because we pushed them to do what they do well. And if you begin to merge the two … you begin to make trade offs and compromises.

I believe that’s Cook-speak for the idea that users expect to do the traditional macOS and UNIX-y things (“well”) they do on Macs in concert with great apps targeted for that environment. Meanwhile, iOS users will continue to appreciate the convenience and security of their iOS-related devices (iOS, tvOS, watchOS.)

Mr. Cook isn’t going to discuss any secret projects that would, say, allow iOS designed apps to be compiled for a Mac, run in a macOS window, and be operated with a trackpad/mouse. Obliquely, however, he’s saying the underlying nature of macOS must remain fundamentally unchanged.

That’s how I’m looking at the situation right now. App compatibility at the source code level doesn’t imply a merger of the two OSes into one, half-baked hybrid OS that has neither the security of iOS nor the flexibility and power of macOS and its glorious terminal access to the UNIX shell.

5 thoughts on “Tim Cook Insists That iOS and macOS Shall Remain Separate. He’s Right

  • I don’t want them to change the processors on the Mac. That would have major consequences for compatibility and OS operations like BootCamp. The ability to be able to run two operating systems on 1 machine is a big plus with the current Macs and processors right now. Changing that would blow it up and I think that would be a big mistake. I’m glad Tim also thinks merging IOS and Mac OS is also not viable.

  • Really it depends on how you define “merge”. Think developer framework / API convergence; a unified code base for Intel / Apple ARM processors. This would allow for a single app store for iOS & macOS. This only layer that will be distinct to each device is the UI layer. This is my take on what Tim Cook means devices won’t be merged => IOW, you won’t see one device with two distinct UI paradigms like MS’ Surface Pro / Book.

  • Yes, the “users” inclusion sounds like a built in excuse for something that Tim’s Apple would like to do but can’t. I don’t pretend to be a computer expert, I learned the Mac to make the transition from manual Graphic Arts to digital back in 1990. My gut is the source of most of my posts.

    “One of the reasons that both of them are incredible is because we pushed them to do what they do well. And if you begin to merge the two … you begin to make trade offs and compromises.” They pushed iOS because of the cash cow that is the iPhone. Developers and customers pushed MacOS. Apple’s latest MacOS contribution: a new file system – well, we’ll see how everything comes out with that. I don’t think Apple knows where to start to merge the two. They sure can’t figure out a new Mac Pro on their own, they couldn’t figure out the last one on their own. Or maybe they did and that’s why it’s a pariah.

    iOS apps in an enviroment like Classic OS 9 in Tiger (OSX 10.4) only with a trackpad – no mouse or keyboard. That’s the most I would expect from today’s Apple.

  • As long as they can give me a Send button in MacOS Messages, pressing return should give me a new line not send the message. Yeah I know about Control-Return, give me a Send button like we have in iOS.

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