What If the New iMac Could Run iOS?

Our Macs are the place where we run iTunes, backup our iDevices, and even manage iOS apps on the iPhone/iPad pages. The apps are in there, we just can't run them.  And now we’re waiting a very long time for a new Ivy Bridge iMac. What if the delay is because Apple is working to allow us to run all our iOS apps on a next generation Mac, say, an iMac?


The last update to the iMac line was, roughly mid year 2011. Since then, we’ve been expecting an update to the Ivy Bridge processor, but it hasn’t happened. But then, the processor upgrades typically only improve the speed by 10 to 15 percent, so the urgency isn’t extreme. So why not wait a little longer in order to bring customers something extra, “one more thing,” that would knock their socks off.

For example, the ability to run iOS apps on an iMac.

After all, when we sync our iDevice to a host Mac, those apps are just sitting there, begging to run there as well. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of that awesome capability?

They're all there on the Mac.  Let's let 'em run.

The Pluses

The basic idea here is that on the iMac’s display, a window the size of an iPad display could be opened. There, we could run our native iPad apps as well as iPhone apps in 1X or 2X mode. It would open up a world of opportunity for customers: 700,000 new apps. For example, the spouse has the iPad at work, but one would like to run a favorite iPad app on the iMac. Or the children would be able to run dad’s favorite iPhone apps on their 21-inch iMac. Think games. Oh, my.  And the opportunity in business and education would be staggering. The intrinsic appeal of the iMac would be greatly increased.

The iMac is a popular desktop Mac that has the space and the electrical power to support a second CPU/GPU sub-assembly -- and a high enough price, compared to a notebook, to fold in additional hardware and still, maybe, make money. (But see below.)

Of course, and you’re likely ahead of me here, there has to be a way to use touch gestures, in a natural way, to run those apps. And that means a touch sensitive iMac display. What I’m thinking of is an Apple patent that allows one to tilt an iMac back and use a touch capability. This was a hot topic back in 2010, but seems to have fallen off our radars recently.


When we look at the displays of the future in science fiction, we almost always see a suggestion that the mouse and keyboard will disappear and we’ll be touching our displays for manipulation and speaking to them for text input.

With improvements to Siri, it won’t be too long before we can reliably, effortlessly dictate and edit text to the point where a keyboard would be considered not just a backup, but an anachronism. An iMac with this capability, a touch screen and Siri would set Apple apart, move them briskly into the future, and put the final nail in the coffin of the classic PC and Windows. The Post-PC era would be, essentially, the Dead-PC era.

A final advantage would be that a larger screen iMac could be a test platform for iPads with larger displays, something that’s probably inevitable.

Terra Nova: Image Credit FOX Broadcasting

This is also the best kind of iOS-ification. Rather than twist and contort OS X into a bastardized iOS, we could continue to take advantage of the power of OS X, Mountain Lion and its successors, but still take advantage of 700,000 iOS apps. Moreover, OS X has benefitted greatly from the ability to run Windows and Linux in Virtualization. Why not extend that benefit to iOS, a very popular OS indeed.

Suddenly, the iMac would be the hottest desktop on the planet and outright embarrass the meager attempts by other PC makers at a touch screen interface with Windows 8.

The Minuses

All is not rosy. There are some serious hurdles to overcome with this concept.

  1. Smudged displays. Heretofore, we’ve always enjoyed a smudge-free iMac display, glorious in its sparkling beauty. A touch screen iMac would suffer the same blight as our iPads: constantly in need of cleaning. Blech. Apple would need to develop a new kind of surface that is somehow better than just oleophobic.
  2. Tired Arm Syndrome. Steve Jobs, in the past, pointed out over and over again that Apple research showed that users don’t like to extend their arms for a prolonged period of time. (But it seems to me, it was always in the context of notebooks.) Put another way, Tim Cook is not fond of toaster-fridges. Or FridgeToasters. That metaphor applies well to notebooks, but on a table, where one can rest the forearms and elbows, it’s a different story, Besides, times and technology change. Tim Cook’s prior comments, like Mr. Jobs’s comments about the 7-inch tablet, may have been intended to buy time until Apple could work out the details on the desktop.
  3. Computational Cost. At first blush, Apple would have to basically include a good part of the iPad motherboard assembly inside an iMac. That would raise the price considerably. However, what if Apple engineers could come up with a full, end-user-class emulation mode (not just what developers have) on the iMac’s ivy Bridge processor? (Virtualization wouldn’t work because iOS runs on ARM architecture) I don’t think it would be beyond the engineering talent of Apple. The question is, is it worth Apple’s time and resources, and would it pay off in the market place?
  4. Display Cost. A touch screen on a 9.7-inch iPad isn’t terribly expensive, about US$100. But an entire 21.5 or 27-inch touch screen display would be much more expensive. Our only hope, Obi Wan, is that the industry has been making these displays in huge quantities, and the extension to larger displays is realistic and cost-effective in 2013. One solution might be to have just a section of the display touch sensitive until costs come down.

Clear as Mud

This idea has been discussed amongst the TMO staff, and there’s no clear consensus right now that the pluses outweigh the minuses. Apple would have to feel that the market opportunity were huge for the iMac and that such a move would breathe new life into the desktop Macintosh line, a product whose sales numbers are small compared to the iPad and iPhone.

Significant technical hurdles would have to be overcome, but then that’s Apple’s forte. Apple may need to wait for the technology, commodity part pricing and its own internal development efforts to converge in 2013.

Finally, like the iPod, iPhone and iPad before, no one ever thought Apple could pull off any of those products until brilliant vision and engineering brought the product to life. Then, the competitors were caught flat-footed and embarrassed technically.

This could be another one of those signature Apple coups.