Will Apple Merge iOS and Mac OS X?

| Hidden Dimensions

“Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything, except over technology.”

—John Tudor

Apple currently has two very popular OSes. iOS is brand new and Mac OS X, while still fairly modern, is ten years old and has its roots in something Apple would like to leave behind: the PC world and the mouse. Will Apple try to merge these two OSes?

The first thing to think about is that this decision, if that’s what it will be, is as much customer and finance driven as it is technical. That is, does it make sense to even think about doing it? How does Apple benefit? Sure, it’s probably Mr. Jobs’s vision to leave the PC world behind, but are there tangible benefits? For example, selling a bunch more iOS apps to Mac customers. Or increasing the Mac’s market share.

That naturally brings up the relative numbers of iOS devices out there compared to the number of Macs. We know there are 120+ million iOS products in the field in 2010. If that rising number were to eventually swamp the number of Macs, then there could come a time when Macs are in such a minority that it makes sense to think about a merger. However, right now, Mac sales are on the increase, iPads aren’t cannibalizing sales, and Dan Frommer has reported that “Mac computers and iPads… can grow in tandem, at least for the foreseeable future.” That doesn’t include iPod touches and iPhones, but even so, one can argue that with an estimated 60 million active Macs on the planet and 50 percent of all new cutomers coming from Windows, a merger doesn’t make sense any time soon.

On the technical side, iOS is a descendant of Mac OS X and has been stripped of many processes and functions that make Mac OS X a full-fledged UNIX OS. Even so, they are kissing cousins, and it wouldn’t be hard to add features from iOS to Mac OS X — or restore certain key functionalities that are in Mac OS X to iOS. Considering the magic Apple has pulled off in the past, for example, the Blue Box (“Classic” inside Mac OS X), I don’t believe that it would be challenge to merge the two at some point.

Recall, in the past, Apple has criticized Microsoft for having too many versions of Windows. Combine that with Mr. Jobs’s historical tendency to avoid bloat with unneeded, duplicated resources and you have a preconditioned mentality at least thinking about the prospect.

Merge or Subsume?

Speaking of the Blue Box, another idea that has been occasionally brought up is to run Mac OS X apps within iOS until the day comes when Mac OS X fades. The problem there is that any given Mac OS X app may require access to APIs and processes that have been stripped from iOS. That simplification of iOS is one reason after all, why we never see a spinning beach ball in iOS. All in all, I don’t see this as a productive path.

Dual Boot?

Perhaps a better idea is to develop technologies that allow both OSes to alternately run on next generation hardware. I and others have fantasized about a next generation MacBook Air that has a removable display lid. When detached, it’s an iPad. When connected to the keyboard and base assembly, it boots into Mac OS X. That’s just a fantasy, but it does when our appetite for creative thinking by Apple. In fact, other more concrete concepts, driven by actual patents, may be forthcoming on the new MBA.

What Developers Think

The best article I’ve seem on the developer take is at ars technica. A small group of developers believes that the two OSes will merge over time, but that it will take years to do so.

Left unsaid were the politics, strategy, and economics of such a decision by Apple, some of which I got into above. It may be that, at some point, Apple decides that there are just too many professional and technical UNIX users out there who love Macs to do anything that would upset them. A premature push into a merger, even if technically possible, has UI implications that many customers just don’t want to deal with. Maybe it’s better to let time, technology, and the sales of iOS devices naturally lead the way rather than trying to force the issue.

Developing Technology

One key difference between the iOS and Mac OS X is that in iOS we’re on a mobile device, and touching the screen, via multitouch, is a not only a joy but easy to do. On the other hand, large desktop or notebook displays, however, pose an ergonomic challenge. No one wants to sit at a desk and reach out to a 27-inch vertical display. That would strain the arms and neck. This is the most common concern expressed about such a OS merger.

In the Apple Magic Trackpad we see an early technical approach. For now, it enables users who’d rather use a trackpad than a mouse, and does support certain gestures, but the gestures are Mac OS X related and it isn’t a complete ergonomic solution as Gizmodo points out. The Apple Magic Trackpad is just the initial foray into thinking about how it could be expanded to provide an iOS-like interface to the Mac OS.

Backing Into a Solution

Right now, I don’t think Apple has any concrete plans to force a merger of the OSes. But you can be sure Scott Forstall thinks about it. In 2010, people recognize the value of Mac OS X on the desktop and in notebooks compared to ultra-portable devices. In time, however, the vision of Mr. Jobs, business opportunities, technology, serendipity, and some really creative thinking will likely lead to a day when the old WIMP interface of Mac OS X is gone, even if slightly modified Mac OS X apps still run on our future Mac products.

It’s going to be a tricky, interesting path for Apple to follow, and it’ll be, I believe, evolutionary, not revolutionary. The technical aspects of merging the two OSes are just part of the problem. Timing, customer feedback and perception, financial concerns, cannibalization, the ingenuity of Apple engineers and developers will likely lead to the final solution. In the end, however, one thing is almost certain. In 2015, no shipping Apple product will include a mouse. You can take that to the bank.

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Isn’t iOS basically just a subset of Mac OS X, with some additional APIs for handling multi-touch displays and other iGizmo-specific hardware?




“Apple would like to leave behind: the PC world and the mouse”

Yeah, if Apple WAS the PC world, with 90%+ of the world’s computers! I think rather that they would LOVE to be the PC world, with OS X on that many computers! Also, anyone who uses both a trackpad and a mouse, and thinks about it, realizes that you only use a trackpad when you don’t have a mouse, because the mouse experience is SO MUCH BETTER.

This is the same thinking that has been touting “thin clients” (no hard drive) for the last 10 years, and “the cloud” for the last 3. It tries too hard to be out front of the next wave of change, without considering how very well computers work now. Notice what happens in office environments where many Mac powerusers still won’t work off the server, because having two copies of your work is slower but safer!


“In 2015, no shipping Apple product will include a mouse. You can take that to the bank.”

Yes, and “future thinkers” looked at the button, invented hundreds (or thousands) of years ago and said: “in the future clothes will all have some kind of velcro-like fastener. You’ll push a tab and it will automatically unzip”. But the button persists, because it is an invention that hasn’t been improved on. Common sense and low cost keeps it around. So with the mouse.

See you in 2015, with an “I told you so?” Still, we don’t begrudge that John needs to write an article to get paid, right? wink


Not only do I agree about the 2015 prediction, I actually believe it will happen even sooner.

For thousands of years, humans have been interacting directly with their object of work. Grinding, cutting, breaking, pounding, squeezing, pinching, flipping, pushing, pulling, we touched the thing we worked on. Then, some fifty years ago, somebody invented this rather unintuitive concept of doing work by pushing buttons on one device, and getting results back on another, seemingly unrelated device, a few feet away. Humans, adaptable as we are, figure out how to use it, but it didn’t change the fact that the system wasn’t all too intuitive. Because of that, we need to teach every new generation of humans how to use such a set of devices.

Then, three years ago, iOS appears. We now have a computing device that allows us again to directly interact with the object of our work by touching, pinching or flicking. We don’t need to teach children how to use this computing device; they simply use it, because it is intuitive.

There is absolutely no valid reason why a 30” display multi-touch cannot be used to control future Macs. Obviously, it won’t be upright. When we write on paper, we don’t put paper upright either. Horisontal, or slightly tilted (like a drafting table) display would prevent ergonomic issues. I have no doubt, Apple will engineer this UI so that it can tell the difference between a tip of a finger and resting arm.

I am absolutely convinced, by the time Mr. Martellaro’s deadline arrives, we will all be telling our children horror stories about this totally cumbersome and clumsy device we used to move around our desk, in order to control our computers, and we’ll wonder how we ever got anything done with such a device.


As for the current feature set of iOS 4, obviously, it is not set in stone (see iOS3, iOS2 and iOS1 for the pace of advancement).

We can safely expect some level of file system access (or other type of universal file management solution) fairly soon. Same thing for third-party add-on hardware that may be needed for proper desktop work (scanners, printers, cameras, keyboards and other external devices).

Mac OS X, as well as whatever is the Windows flavour du jour, are a result of an effort for adding features and solutions to a 30-year old concept. System 7 could fit on a floppy disc. OS X 10.1 could fit on a single CD-R. Panther could fit on a single DVD-R. Snow Leopard can’t be squeezed even onto a DVD-DL (8.4GB), without stripping out some major components; in other words, default Mac OS X installation is well over 10GB. The point is, desktop OS has been growing in size, without proportionately growing in functionality, efficiency and features. It seems like iOS will be an effort to re-boot the desktop OS development process.


Apple is doing well because they have an OS based on UNIX that has a UI and feature set for server and desktop use and different version of that OS with a UI and feature set for handheld devices. They have been very smart to use the same core with specialized layers on top that are appropriate for the target devices.

Microsoft has a desktop OS they tried to cram onto a tablet. They have sold into a few niche markets, but essentially the experiment has been a failure. For handhelds MS went with a completely different OS that has done rather poorly no matter what they call it.

Google is closer to the Apple approach with Chrome OS for desktops and Android OS for handhelds. I don’t know how similar the operating systems are, but they seem to be growing in opposite directions.

I don’t think Apple is going to change course. Some iOS features may make it into the desktop OS and some more desktop features may make it into iOS, but they won’t merge because they serve fundamentally different markets.

I’m confident that most of us will still be clicking mouse buttons in 2015. I use a MacBook Pro all day at work with an external kb and mouse. I’m much less productive when I’m forced to use the built-in kb and trackpad.


I will just repeat my prediction from last year: iOs and MacOS will eventually merge.  Apple’s flagship device will be an iPhone-sized touch screen gadget that presents the iOS subset when you are up and about but when you connect/link it to a screen and keyboard, the mobile device becomes a track pad and the MacOS superset emerges.  One device to rule them all.

other side

Not only do I agree about the 2015 prediction, I actually believe it will happen even sooner.

Over 30 years ago we were promised the paperless office.  Not only did it NOT happen, today many places are using as much paper as ever.

So call me a skeptic whenever we’re promised wondrous new technologies that’ll cause a mass paradigm shift in a few years (the only technology that ever accomplished that was the World Wide Web)

There is absolutely no valid reason why a 30? display multi-touch cannot be used to control future Macs.

A 30” high-gloss screen covered with finger smudges isn’t exactly a step forward.


There is another possibility; that iOS will supplant OS-X. I expect over time iOS devices will grow more capable and more powerful. As the products evolve people will opt for an iOS device rather than an OS-X device. Eventually Apple’s system sales will be >90% iOS and only a few high end people will need ‘big iron’ running OS-X.

This has happened before. A lot of people, myself included, used to automatically get the top end Macintosh or PowerMac. Whether the IIci, or the First Gen G3 or G4 systems, we got them fully loaded. We needed that hardware to do what we needed to do. Then the iMac came along. Weak at first but over time they got better. Eventually they got powerful enough to do what we needed to do. Now iMacs outsell Mac Pros. Indeed MacBooks, which used to be the Tiny Tims of the line, got to be good enough for most things and are now outselling Mac Pro’s rather handily as well. 

Soon Apple will have an assortment of iOS devices from iPod Touches and iPhones on the bottom end, through tablets and slates, to 17” touch screen notebooks (with a real keyboard) and video out, and more. People will be able to both create and use material on these devices. At that point the idea of a mouse, or seeing your hard drive, or the desktop, or opening a terminal session, will be very old school for the vase majority of users. iOS will just be the natural way they interact with their systems.

I must add two things. I haven’t used a mouse on any of my systems in a couple of years. The improved trackpad is so intuitive that I even use it for games. It is possible to retrain people. Secondly while I think that iOS will slowly replace OS-X I think it will take around a decade. This is because it’s easier to create hardware than to retrain people. People are used to the Mouse and Desktop, and Icons. Changing their comfort zone, especially for a work environment will be slow.


In response to vasic…
I envisioned a giant touch screen computer back in 1990. It was based on my experience with manual drafting, using Macs and Windows PCs and seeing applications like Illustrator and PageMaker that had an edit mode and a “finished” mode. I thought it ridiculous that you couldn’t have both views open at the same time on separate displays and have the finished product update live.

The desk itself looked similar to a giant notebook computer with file drawers holding it up. Where a notebook has a display my desk did too. It would open up to reveal a screen almost 5’ x 3’ making it the ultimate home theatre in addition to being a computer desk. This huge vertical display was meant for viewing finished work and, being more than an arms length in front of the user, would not accept touch input.

The lower half contained some traditional horizontal desk space for physical things like books, plus a tilting touch screen for editing. The screen accepted input from fingers and a variety of stylus tools. For example painters would have a stylus with a brush end to provide realistic tactile feedback.

For inputting large amounts of text a touch screen is not efficient so the desk offered two recessed cavities in the front edge of the desk shoulder width apart. Users would insert their hands in a natural thumbs up position and type on alphabetic keys mounted to the side of the cavity. Forearms were fully supported by armrests on their chair and the floor of the keyboard cavities. Each side had 15 keys arranged as three columns of 5. With such a compact arrangement typing speeds would be high and error rates low. Numbers and lesser used punctuation keys were mounted on the top of the cavities. Users would turn a hand palm up to use them.

All the technology exists to make my desk, but I think today’s visionaries are too focused on mobile computing to make it a reality.


One of the issues that I don’t think was mentioned, is that the Mac OS and the iOS work oppositely, at least at the interface level. If I want to scroll down this page on my Mac, I drag my two fingers DOWN on the trackpad. If I want to do the same in iOS, I move my finger UP.  So the two OS’s are absolutely related, but some re-training will be needed to get people to reverse their actions.


A 30? high-gloss screen covered with finger smudges isn?t exactly a step forward

Most people I know wash their hands with soap before going to work. With of over 110 million users of iOS today, we still have to hear about any major complaining regarding this greasy fingers / smudged screen issue.

After all, we go throughout all of our schooling touching our school notebooks, textbooks, pencils, rulers, protractors, with our “greasy” fingers. It simply never was an issue, and I don’t think it will be, except for the minority of “get-off-my-lawn!” types of folks.


Most people I know wash their hands with soap before going to work.

I really like my 2 yr old MacBook, however there is one thing about it that bugs me. Screen smudges. I don’t even have to touch it. I don’t remember when I touched it. Yes I do wash my hands regularly. Still fingerprints keep appearing on the screen. A touch screen is going to be even worse. What’s more even if you do wash your hands before going to work, how many eat at their desks? Greasy fries and a touch screen, now there’s a nice combination.


Being a developer for over 20 years, I cannot imagine writing code without a standard keyboard which isn’t to say that I couldn’t do it—I just can’t imagine it.  While I can see many end-user apps being augmented with touch screen capability, and user interface layouts being simpler to construct, I just don’t see code development leaving the keyboard behind. 

Having an OS for developers and another for consumers is unlikely and doesn’t provide the end result of a single OS.

Adding multi-touch capability to a desktop/laptop screen would definitely be a great addition to the keyboard/pointer combo but not a replacement.  While the iPhone/iPad simulator could be expanded to allow the apps to be run by users without a mobile device, that wouldn’t help sell mobile devices; so I see that as unlikely as well.



I don’t think your MacBook has a touchscreen. The surface of the display on a MacBook is different from that of an iPad/iPod/iPhone. The ‘oleophobic’ feature that was publicised a few years back as one of the important features on Apple’s iOS devices, is responsible for rejecting any oily substance from staying on the screen.

As for heavy text input, this is obviously not that complicated. Depending on the market response, Apple may continue to bundle their bluetooth keyboards with the future iOS touch-screen iMacs.

If we look at the way Apple bundled hardware with their computers, they tend to listen to the market and make changes. Which is how remote was initially bundled with all Macs with a display, later to be gone from laptops, and only available with iMacs. Same with full-size keyboard, which is now only Build-to-Order option (standard bundle is a small bluetooth keyboard). Apple will likely continue to bundle the small bluetooth keyboard as standard with the future iOS-only iMacs, and if it turns out that the number of people who actually bother with the keyboard is small enough, they may drop it as a BTO option only.

One thing is certain; iOS has no use for a mouse. As soon as Mac OS X disappears from those future iMacs, so will the mouse (and good riddance to it, too).


I’m surprised no-one has mentioned dictating text so the keyboard can be avoided. The only problem I see is inputting math or code

Timothy P. Jenney

For now, I’d settle for having my iOS apps work on my Mac?without having to buy an iPhone SDK. Anyone out there interesting in making a widget to do just that…?


Touching the screen/device may feel more intuitive and comfortable, but I found some activities a lot slower on iOS. Using multiple windows, or tabs in a web browser, and mouse/keyboard shortcuts in OS X permits much faster browsing, for example, than iOS does. It takes substantially longer to read the web sites I frequent on an iPad than on my Mac. I was unwilling to spend that extra time, and that was one of the reasons I returned my iPad. Many other creative applications would take longer, given the current iOS capabilities. How willing are we to accept lower productivity?

Seems there would have to be huge leaps in multitasking, memory usage, storage and battery life before iOS could supplant OS X. It may be possible for such technologies—at reasonable prices—to be available by 2015, but I’m a bit skeptical they will.

And I suspect software will be slower to change. Witness the reluctance of Adobe & Flash proponents to abandon that troublesome app to embrace the future in HTML5, a future that’s largely already here. Are users willing to also give up a lot of features for smaller, more nimble applications?


Seems there would have to be huge leaps in multitasking, memory usage, storage and battery life before iOS could supplant OS X

I agree completely.
However I see the current iPad as being akin to the original Macintosh. It’s limited and some see it as just a toy. Over time the environment will grow and become exponentially more capable.


I think you guys are looking at iOS in a very constrained way. The current state of iOS is such because it is built to operate on (fairly) small screens, and fairly limited-feature devices.

Over the past three years, iOS has very steadily grown in features (copy/paste, multi-tasking, folder management, soon-to-come printing). It is obvious that the feature set will continue to grow.

There was absolutely no point in devising a multi-window paradigm in iOS for devices with such small displays. However, with a 21.5” of display real estate, current iOS interface would be obviously sub-optimal for power use. It is only logical that the OS will evolve into full desktop OS, with power, usability and features equivalent to any contemporary desktop OS.

The point of this whole premise is that iOS has excellent foundation to become a proper desktop OS, and the reason for that would be to finally eliminate the unintuitive, unergonomic and inefficient human interface called the pointing device (be it mouse, trackball, trackpad or that red clitoris-like button on Lenovo Thinkpads). Apple bears full responsibility for introducing it to the computing masses (and at the time, it was as revolutionary as it was necessary), and it now has the responsibility for putting it out of its misery.


button on Lenovo Thinkpads

I never thought of it as being quite that Freudian before.


Well, apparently that’s how most college kids call it (figures, right?).


zarf got it right!

Watson in 1940’s said 5 computers are all you need.

Add Watson to Zarf and you differentiate compute-ors into smart-toys and tools.

The iThings are just smart jukeboxes/diaries/camera/TVs/games etc. They compute but to NO end. You carry all YOUR ““NEEDS”” in a pocket.

Macs on the other hand were designed for a purpose to compute for “RESULTS”. Excel to do your hard analysis of stocks, scientific data, finance etc. They were basic so you had to be the brains ( what data - what to analyze - how to analyze etc)
Macs do that for the Ad industry, for Publishing industry, for Design industry, for Apps industry.
“Numbers and code” are written so that iThings work!!!!

Do you think Steve Jobs boys design the code and products on Wintels? They need Watson’s computers to do the heavy lifting so that the Chinese NC machines will work to produce our trivial NEEDS in iThings using iOS!


iOS is NOT a “different OS” to Mac OSX

iOS is a “different interface” to the same Mac OS X, albeit greatly stripped-down for mobile use. Your Mac already has 2 other “interfaces”: Widgets and Front Row, and you can switch between them depending on whether you need the productivity PC, the mini-apps or the media player.

In a recent patent app, Apple calls this “transition between input modes” i.e. between “a high-resolution input mode UI” and “a low-resolution input mode UI” see: <http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2010/08/the-mother-lode-welcome-to-the-imac-touch.html>. In this patent, a touchscreen iMac becomes a big iPad when you push it down closer to flat on your desk.

Since iOS can do almost all of what both Widgets and Front Row can do, my guess is that these will merge into the “low-resolution input mode UI”, and the Mac OS X will remain the “high-resolution input mode UI”.

When that happens, all your iOS apps will then work on your Mac.


all your iOS apps will then work on your Mac.

Skimming that the first time I got

All Your iOS are Belong to Mac

It’s been a rough week.


Star Trek has the answers. They have a multi-touch device built into the desk, and sometimes have a screen in the desk, maybe at an angle, or they have a laptop-like screen, or they have screens on the wall. 

So Apple’s trackpad is headed in the right direction. You’d replace the keyboard and mouse with a multi-touch display for a completely reconfigurable input device, and keep the large monitors right where they are, which is much more ergonomic.

(And it you can add any tactile feedback on the multitouch device, like plastic bubbles that rise from pinpoint air pressure pores, or something even more sci-fi than that, then you don’t have to look down at your hands too much.)

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