Is iOS the Future of the Mac?

When I used an iPad for the first time, I couldn’t help but think that it felt like the future of computing. The iPad not only impressed me with its beautiful interface, but also delighted me with an effortless user experience. No matter how much I used the device, it never became cluttered or disorganized like my Mac. Apps launched quickly and I never had to spend time fiddling with window sizes or knowing what apps were running. Everything simply worked.

Apple has touted OS X as the most advanced operating system, but with iOS revolutionizing many computing paradigms, it is beginning to feel outdated. If Apple is to truly make the Mac the personal computer of the future, we will need to see some bold changes; changes that may eliminate some of the staples of desktop computing that most of us can’t imagine living without.

I think that Apple can, and will, successfully transition us to a future where iOS runs across all of its hardware. Read on for my take on why our computing world is headed this way.

It’s All In The Name

After a decade of OS X versions named after big cats, we finally find ourselves with Lion. Apple definitely made a strategic move in naming OS 10.7 after the proverbial “king of the jungle”. It is pretty difficult to imagine using a lesser cat for a future operating system (Lynx or Ocelot? No way). And it is unlikely that Apple could ever gracefully move on to an operating system called “OS XI”.

Apple also tipped its hand a bit when it changed the name of iPhone OS to iOS. Of course, a name change was necessary once the iPod Touch and iPad joined the ranks. But if it were meant to remain solely a touch operating system, it could have been named something like Touch OS. With a name like iOS, Apple made a statement: this is the OS, the future of all of their products.

When Apple renamed iPhone OS to iOS, it may have signified bigger plans for the future.

When Apple renamed iPhone OS to iOS, it may have signified bigger plans for the future.

Lion Was a Transition

Lion’s tagline is “OS X meets the magic of iOS”. I would say that so far, it has been a fairly awkward meeting. It was clear when Lion was unveiled that it was really just OS X with some iOS features tacked on. I don’t know anyone who uses Launchpad on a regular basis, and fullscreen mode just feels like a hack on top of the operating system.

Sure, Lion tried to give us a taste of the magic that makes iOS so enticing, but in the end, it did not make any bold enough changes to truly revolutionize the Mac experience.

How Will iOS Revolutionize the Mac?

iOS is about changing paradigms. In particular, it is about simplifying the computing experience by taking away choices that the user has to constantly make in order for things to run smoothly. Here are some aspects of computing that iOS on the Mac could change forever.

No Visible File System

For most of us, the visible file system has been a staple of the computing experience since we first used a personal computer. With a visible file system, the user can explore all of the files and folders contained on a hard drive, move them around, and delete them.

On Macs, the beloved Finder has served us well since it was introduced on the very first Macintosh computer. Finder has been such an icon of Mac computers that when Steve showed off the iPhone, some may have expected to see a little Finder in iPhone icon form. But with the first iPhone OS, Apple eliminated the user’s ability to directly see the file system of the device.

So how exactly does iOS avoid having a file system? Basically, everything on iOS is app-oriented. This means you can never find a file and open it as you might on OS X. Instead, in iOS you must open an app first, which will then present you with the files it handles, whether they be Pages documents, music files, or photos.

iOS apps must showcase files to you at startup, since the OS has no visible file system.

iOS apps must showcase files to you at startup, since the OS has no visible file system.

Why get rid of the visible file system? Quite frankly, because users make a mess of it. If someone asked me what my least favorite part of the computing experience is, I would say cleaning up my desktop and Downloads folder. I let them get overrun for weeks, until finally I can’t handle it anymore and go on a deleting rampage. Instead of a desktop covered with folders and files, we might see the iOS home screen with a grid of apps, emphasizing apps as the main focus of the user experience.

What your desktop could look like with iOS.

What your desktop could look like with iOS.

No Need to Manage Windows

Since the graphical user interface first appeared on computers, we have really only known them to have overlapping, resizable windows. And we often find ourselves fiddling with these windows. We adjust them to our desired size for the content, try to fit two or three windows side by side, and have to deal with a ton of windows after a busy day of work. I would like to think that 10 years from now, we will not spend nearly as much time or energy getting our windows the way we like them.

After a busy day, I often have a ton of windows to deal with.

After a busy day, I often have a ton of windows to deal with.

With iOS, the user is never given the option of resizing, minimizing, or closing windows. Instead of having to deal with windows, every app takes up the entire screen, and you cannot create multiple windows of an application.

We know that fullscreen apps work well on the smaller screens of iPhones and iPads. However, Lion already has fullscreen functionality, and I don’t find myself, or many people I know, using it often. In order to make the best use of real estate on the larger screens of Macs, Apple needs to provide an intelligent way to let multiple windows share the screen space at once.

As for the best way to do this, we may have seen a hint of what the future holds from one of Apple’s competitors: Microsoft. With Windows 8, Microsoft has similarly rethought window management. Rather than letting the user resize and overlap many windows, it instead lets you snap windows side by side, filling up the entire screen.

In Windows 8, no more pileup of your open windows.

In Windows 8, no more pileup of your open windows.

This works particularly well if you are multitasking with two apps at once; say for example, working on a document in Pages and looking at a to do list, or browsing the web and chatting with a friend on the side.

On larger screens, iOS could adopt a split-screen approach to window management.

On larger screens, iOS could adopt a split-screen approach to window management.

Automatic Process Management

A common problem that new Mac users face is expecting OS X to function as Windows does, where closing all of the windows of an app will quit it. My parents, for example, make their Macs slow down to a crawl because they don’t know how to properly quit apps. But users can’t entirely be blamed; Apple doesn’t exactly make it easy, since you either need to go through the menu bar, right-click the Dock icon, or use a keyboard shortcut to quit an app.

With iOS, this problem was remedied with automatic process management. In this system, the user never has to quit an app or decide which apps need to be running. The operating system takes care of this busy work, suspending apps when necessary to free up memory, and automatically resuming them when the user needs them. iOS’s multitasking system handles everything for the user, and generally keeps the device from running sluggishly.

These blue indicator lights don't exist on iOS, because the user doesn't need to worry about what apps are running.

These blue indicator lights don't exist on iOS, because the user doesn't need to worry about what apps are running.

If iOS is one day powering our Macs, there will be no more running lights under apps in the dock, and no more quitting applications. The user will simply switch between apps as needed, and the operating system will do the dirty work for them.

The End of the Menu Bar As We Know It

Let’s face it, the menu bar probably doesn’t get used extensively. It is mostly there for overflow; to hold all of the features that developers couldn’t easily fit into the app’s interface. Menu items like “File” and “Edit” are vague terms that hold features that are either unused, or that users have learned to perform with keyboard shortcuts, like saving, copying and pasting, undoing and redoing, etc.

Some aspects of OS X, like the visible file system, overlapping windows, and menu bar have been around since the Lisa in 1983—nearly 30 years!

Some aspects of OS X, like the visible file system, overlapping windows, and menu bar have been around since the Lisa in 1983—nearly 30 years!

Macs need to lose the menus that have been around since the days of the Apple Lisa, and embrace the sleek, black title bar of iOS. Granted, there are some features from the menus that will need to find a new home. For example, “Bookmarks” in browsers, like Safari, and “Filters” in Photoshop are frequently accessed, and will likely need to be relocated to the app’s interface. We can see this already in the iPad version of Safari, which has a button you can press to see a drop down of your bookmarks.

Developers will have to find places for functions that were previously stored in the menubar.

Developers will have to find places for functions that were previously stored in the menubar.

A Unified App Ecosystem

If iOS comes to the Mac, will it run existing Mac apps, iOS apps, or both? The reason Macs can’t easily run iOS apps—and developers have to therefore rewrite a lot of code to port their iOS apps to the Mac—is because OS X does not support a framework provided to iOS developers called UIKit. In order for developers to easily port their iOS apps to the Mac, Apple would need to bring support for the UIKit framework to the Mac.

If iOS apps could run on the Mac, there would no longer be two separate App Stores—the iOS App Store and Mac App Store—there would simply be the App Store, a grand unified ecosystem of apps for any of your Apple devices. Currently, you can buy Universal apps for iOS, which run on both iPhones and iPads. In the future, you could buy a Universal app that supports the iPhone, iPad, and Mac all at once.

Someday we might see Universal apps that work across all Apple devices.

Someday we might see Universal apps that work across all Apple devices.

Once iOS apps can easily run on the Mac, it is hard to say how existing Mac apps will be supported. Users have spent a lot of money and become dependent on the vast body of software that has been created for the Mac the last 11 years, since the introduction of OS X. Some people could not live without 3rd party software such as Adobe’s creative apps, Microsoft’s Office Suite, and other big name and independently developed apps.

However, getting Mac apps to live side by side with iOS apps considering the aforementioned paradigm changes—no visible file system, no menu bar, drastically different window management, etc.—would be no easy task. Apple would need to announce the changes far in advance and give developers a transition period to get their Mac apps ready for the new frontier.

This unification of apps across devices would also be the perfect time for Apple to finally make a move that some long time users have been dreading: requiring developers to distribute all software through the App Store. Apple controls all app distribution on iOS devices, and likely plans on making the switch to this model on Macs one day. As more and more developers bring their apps to the Mac App Store, it becomes easier for Apple to one day pull the plug on downloading and installing apps from the web.

Still, some apps that have long existed for the Mac wouldn’t even be allowed in under current rules. People have tolerated the lack of torrent apps on current iOS devices, but would they be willing to give up torrent software on their Macs, or would Apple have to make some exceptions to the rules to prevent too much rebellion from users? There might be a day when people need to jailbreak their Macs in order to gain some of the freedoms that would be lost in this transition.

Let’s Talk About Hardware

So far, I have been painting a picture of iOS running on existing Mac hardware. After all, millions of people currently own iMacs and MacBooks, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to alienate these users by forcing them to upgrade hardware if they want the latest software.

However, iOS has only appeared on touch devices so far, and it is possible that the Mac hardware may evolve to enable more touch interaction. Steve Jobs famously said of touchscreen Macs, “We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical.”

I believe the key to that statement is “vertical”. If touch screens don’t work on vertical surfaces, it is possible that Apple is going to come out with laptops and desktops where the screen can be repositioned at more convenient angles. Indeed, the patent for such a design has already been filed for what is essentially a tiltable touchscreen iMac.

Apple filed a patent for a tilting, touchscreen iMac in 2010.

Apple filed a patent for a tilting, touchscreen iMac in 2010.

This layout would easily allow the user to switch between touch and cursor-based interaction. Allowing both modes of input would be useful, because while touching a screen can feel more natural, it is not well suited for selecting specific parts of text or doing professional work that involves precision.

Interestingly, the company Lenovo recently released its IdeaCentre A720, which as many have pointed out, closely resembles Apple’s diagrams.

Future iMacs might look similar to Lenovo's Ideacentre A720

Future iMacs might look similar to Lenovo's Ideacentre A720.

Lenovo also recently showed off its new IdeaPad Yoga, which combines the traditional laptop with a tablet through a flipping keyboard. While this is an intriguing design, flipping the entire keyboard back and forth might feel cumbersome, and leave the keyboard exposed to damage when in the tablet mode. Perhaps a better method would be having the keyboard slide out, as some mobile phones have long done.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga is an innovative take on the combined laptop/tablet.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga design is interesting, but probably not ideal.

Time will tell if these alternate form factors appeal to users at all, but one thing is sure: Apple has undoubtably been testing many different prototypes over the years, and won’t release a product unless they are convinced it is the future.


Apple got the chance to design an operating system UI from scratch with its touch devices, and they made many bold design choices that paid off. While users might fear drastic paradigm shifts coming to the Mac, a computer that has been so reliable so many years, I believe it is necessary in order for Apple’s technology to remain modern. If the speculations in this article are true, it will certainly be exciting to witness the transition to a radically different Mac experience.

Many thanks to Tyler Murphy, who provided vision and mockups for this piece.


Add Yours
  • Neat vision, but don’t you think that the mac would simply be nothing more than an huge iPad with an integrated keyboard ? Beside, don’t you use Dropbox on your iPad, because you miss this old good files system ? How do you import a picture from your photo library to a website with your iPad ? Their still a lot of added value on OS X, maybe.

  • Touch screens for computers have been ruled out by Apple repeatedly over the years, as humans aren’t built to hold our arms up for any period of time. Steve Jobs has been quoted saying exactly that; so until a new interface is found, we’re not going to see a touch screen iMac in the near future.

    • I noted that quote in the hardware section, but mentioned that Apple has patented some possible solutions to this problem. I believe that iOS could run on existing Mac hardware, and that the hardware would evolve to include touch interaction as well.

      • Actually Apple has been looking into running the Mac OS X on the same type of processor as the iPad, at least for laptops, so it’s actually going the other way, not iOS apps on the Mac, more like Mac OS X on a future iPad/MacBook Air hybrid.

      • Patents are created to keep other companies on lock!–not necessarily a pathway.

  • iOS won’t replace OS X until they ‘invent’ the appropriate touch interface.
    typing on the keyboard is so much faster than a touch screen.
    maybe the magic trackpad can replace for some people the mouse, but for me and many others any Desktop OS needs a precise pointer to select the smaller UI elements.
    I won’t even know what solution hybrid or not could arise to this, the only thing I know is that sooner or later more touch will be used in Desktops OSs but they need a radical shift of position of the concept of Desktop Computing.
    And this does not include shifting the angle of a touch screen from vertical to horizontal. You can’t stare at table for long enough until your neck stars hurting. Why do you think people read their newspapers taking it in front of them.

    • So much for ergonomics! Why aren’t people even mentioning the pain/strain of using these tilt/touch screens for long periods of time? It’s as if 20 years of ergonomic training flies out the window.

  • Not sure what makes you think that moronifying a perfectly good desktop operating system is a good thing. If Lion (or something even worse) is the “future” of computing, then I’d like to stick with the past, thank you very much.

    • I agree that Lion did not do a great job of bringing iOS’s features to the Mac. Many of them feel too much like afterthoughts (they were).

      But I believe that simplifying interfaces does not only make them more fit for inexperienced users—it makes them more human. I think that Apple could reduce the amount of mental work and time that all users put into managing their computers, without alienating advanced users, if they design it properly.

    • I think the Ipad is more than just a name it’s a vision. I think I would be lost without mine.

  • Good article however I don’t think Apple will ever merge OSX and iOS fully, There will be shared features of course but iOS was designed specifically for small portable touch devices. Some of the features are interchangeable but they still cannot be completely interchangeable.

    A product has always but one main duty, to fulfill it’s purpose if Apple were to change OSX to a more iOS like operating system they would be removing a lot of the reasons that people even own a laptop or a desktop.

    My main point is, I agree that Apple will continue to take inspiration from iOS for OSX but I believe it’s highly unlikely that iOS will be the future of desktop computing. To each function it’s own, iOS works for portable use OSX works for desktop use.

  • The problem with all this is that the iOS is basically about CONSUMING content. Its well known that it isn’t particularly suited to making content. So moving it to be the major operating system on macs will only make macs less productive. No file system? Do I really have to open an app just so I can get to a file and then choose which app to open that file in later?

    Then what about video editors? How do they organise their files, or web developers? Without a file system of some type, keeping all your documents at hand will be a nightmare. If I have a document which I cant remember what file format it is, I search in Finder for it. What would I do in an iOS world? Open each app and see if I can see it in there?

    I sincerely hope that Apple don’t go down the route of making iOS the default system or else I can see people switching to Windows again.

    • I agree, it would be a huge paradigm change not to have the Finder and probably it won’t work well for most professionals, but I don’t care if Apple removes the finder from the dock, to make it less prominent or comes out with something new.

      • I have no issue with them removing it from the dock – I very rarely use it anyway. I prefer spotlight and keyboard shortcuts, but it would be a disaster if they dumped it completely out of the OS

    • iOS does have finder

    • you choose an app, open the file and that;s it – no need to choose the app to open it again

      • Already exists in OX/OS and long before ‘apps’ came along. Open the software, file > open or file > open recent. That’s a major use of most software’s ability to remember the last saved file.

        Losing access to the file system on laptops or desktop macs would be an instant deal breaker for me (as would menu or window management loss); lack of file system is the most annoying aspect of iPad and, as said above/below, renders it a pretty consumer device and not much more.

    • Exact – its all about consuming.
      People who actually do something with their computers – move on.
      Pros? Dont even dare to think about Apple those days.

    • “Without a file system of some type, keeping all your documents at hand will be a nightmare.”

      For cases where people need to group different filetypes together in a project, such as web design or coding, apps could list all of the resources in-app as Xcode currently does:

      Even without a visible filesystem, I think you could have powerful file management in-app.

      “If I have a document which I cant remember what file format it is, I search in Finder for it. What would I do in an iOS world? Open each app and see if I can see it in there?”

      I believe we’re moving toward a future in which users don’t know the explicit filetypes or extensions of files, they simple know what “type” of content it is, and know which apps can handle that type of content. Gone are the days of downloading videos in different file formats and having to open them in different video players that support the codec.

      • “For cases where people need to group different filetypes together in a project, such as web design or coding, apps could list all of the resources in-app as Xcode currently does”

        I don’t want to be forced to use another app. I have a well used set of apps, Coda, Transmit, Textmate, Dreamweaver, Photoshop that I have honed my workflow on. If I want to open a file in a number of different apps, I want to be able to open it from the file not the app.

      • i think you should try to use the spotlight function for that. it will find the file for you and opens it in the app it needs.

        in future iterations SIRI wil probable be advance and smart enough to understand it when you ask her where the file is.

  • While I don’t see the Mac running iOS, I do see it running iOS apps.

  • First, thank you Anna for very good & clear article. I think it very hot topic, so, happy you find strength to point out your vision on the future of Mac OS.

    I sure iOS never came to Mac World. But one thing may changed coordinally: development. There are no reasons to make Mac OS X like OS (even if they would have one OS behind), but there are clear steps from Apple (and Mac engineering team) that says that applications would take the same approaches as from Mac as from iOS. Here is my article on this:

  • If iOS as it is (with all its restrictions) replaces OSX it was my last day with a mac. That is my opinion. Don’t get me wrong iOS is perfect for my iPad but I won’t by a Computer for much more than a 1000 Euro and then can’t decide on my own what programs I wan’t to have, share files within all apps and all that stuff ( inclusive working under the hood of the OS). I mean iOS is an castration of the user. It’s ok on a periphery device like the iPad, but not for a fully functional computer

    • Same here, except I also think the iPad I have is crap and I’m glad I didn’t spend my own money on it.

      • I agree. I’m not a fan of iPad. It’s a toy, not a professional machine.

  • I can’t really see them moving Macs to iOS. I can see OS X (and probably OS XI) running iOS apps, but iOS would be a terrible move for people (like me) who buy macs because they do a lot of design and web development work. I use two displays daily, one with a web page up in Chrome and one with my text editor up so that I can quickly make changes on the fly. That wouldn’t work with iOS.

    I used to hate Windows, but really don’t mind using Windows 7. If Apple suddenly lost all of their marbles and moved Macs to iOS, I would have no problem running only Windows on my Mac.

    The Windows 8 example in this article is true, but it completely ignores the fact that you can still get to the desktop and run apps in a windowed mode very easily. Microsoft knew that if they wanted to add the new Metro UI, they had to keep the other stuff around some way.

    I really can’t see Apple losing all sense and moving this way. After using iOS for years, there are lots of places that I think it needs improvement and can take ideas from other mobile operating systems (programmed better than them, of course).

    • I don’t think Apple would do what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8, where they are totally redesigning the operating system but still allowing you to access the old OS as a self-contained app in case you need it. It does not seem elegant enough.

      Apple is usually confident enough to make bold changes and force users to get used to them. People are talking about leaving for Windows if Apple made some of these changes, but I don’t think that Apple is foolish enough to release an update that would render their product unusable for millions of users. They surely test different types of interfaces extensively and will only push a design if they believe it will improve the user experience for most users.

      • Apple IS foolish enough to do that: Make an update that renders their product unusable for millions of users and force these users to follow Apple’s paradigms and get used to their idiosyncrasies!
        Look what they did with iMovie and Final Cut: Nothing more but “Smashing a perfectly good guitar”!

  • I’ve been an loyal Apple user since the first imac, but if the next OS is anything like iOS, I’m out. I switched to Android because Apple locked up my iPhone so much. It’s my phone, that I paid $200 for and continue to pay for each month. So let me do whatever I want with it. I’m an adult, I can make my own decisions, good or bad. If they even try to pull garbage like that then I’m out for good. The mac app store has me worried, that is clearly a step in that direction. I fear at some point we will have to jailbreak our macbook pros to install Adobe premiere because Apple has decided that Premiere duplicates functions of Final Cut Pro.

    • I completely agree. I think Apple could be making a big mistake soon. Either that, or the majority of casual computer users will continue to buy Apple products like the consumer zombies they are.

    • I absolutely agree!
      iOS on Macs might work for people who use their Computer to check E-Mails, browse their favorite Websites and write a couple lines of text, etc.. (but do one need a 3500 EUR Mac-Pro for stuff like this?!?!)

      I can’t imagine making Web-Designs and Development (including local Development using MAMP) in iOS on a MacPro! How would one produce Music in LogicPro, install VST- or Audiounit-PlugIns, organize and use Samples, Loops, Templates and all that stuff without an visible Filesystem?!?! (same for every other Pro App)

      How would professional Apps in general work with no visible Filesystem/Finder and without a Navigation?!?!

      I DON’T think the menubar is just “to hold all of the features that developers couldn’t easily fit into the app’s interface.”

      Anna, I’d love to see you working with Photoshop on an MacPro running iOS! ;-)

      I’ve been working with Mac for almost 15 years – If iOS is coming to the Mac – I’m out!

      But Apple is getting a Company for Consumer Products and not for Pro Products anyways.

      • The only thing apple needs to add is a file system that wil show only the files that are eligible for the app you use. if its not on the list it won’t show. In that way apple an the developers can work on an solution for in app file share between other opened apps or files on iCloud dropbox Etc. It doesn’t even need to be a finder like file system in a way it is a separate app. It only needs to be accessible within apps if needed.

    • Lion is OSX on diapers. It is good for infants and the elderly, but not for active adults.

  • Very interesting, I personally think there must be still a longer transition to this idea. iPad must evolve to OS X and OS X to iPad, and they will stop in a middle point.

    There is a lot of functionality iPad needs to add and many things OS X needs to get rid of.

    As for files, people must still be able to handle files, but in a better way they do now. Sand-boxed applications and files is a must have. If you receive a file is to use it with one application, if you can use it with more than one, then pass it to the other, but always managed by the application that is using it, not in the “filesystem hole”.

    • I completely agree. I don’t understand why people don’t get this. Obviously, if iOS is designed for the Mac, there will have to be tweaks to the way files are shared. They could be sent to one app from another without a central file system. In-app management is the future, and it’s so much easier to use than Finder. Why everyone thinks that the current features of iOS will be the only thing that exists on a Mac are beyond me. How stupid do they think Apple is?

  • A lot of the pragmatic issues with this article’s perspective have already been covered, but there is one underlying principle that has been utterly misrepresented in the wording. There will always be a file system. It is not being remove in the OS (that’s Operating System); it is merely being more and more hidden from the user. And until there is a backup system that doesn’t fail or corrupt its back ups every 4 to 6 months (that’s Time Machine), access to the file system itself for selective backup of critical data in isolated sets will always be needed. Even if a full system back up actually becomes viable, that need will never go away as a separate issue. Cutting off access to a file system to handle critical files of data is not a smart move. Treating all users as dumber than the operating system in a “half it our way, not yours” one size fits all is not a smart move.

    I came over to a mac some three years ago. So far it has been a worthwhile (not superior) experience. But I still run virtual machines on a regular bases for the lack of function, features… and software… in the Mac world. If I’m to be cut off from file system access as well as given a one size fits all operating system that thinks it knows better than me in how to do my array of task… bye bye Apple!

    • I tried to specify that the “visible” file system would be removed, or as you said, hidden from the user. I know that an operating system needs to have a file system under the hood, but I believe Apple could eliminate Finder as a way of directly exploring and managing the file system.

    • There are much better ways to “back up” files without needing direct access to them. I’m sure Apple will come up with a back up system completely different from anything we’ve seen before that would allow you to have control without dealing with an antiquated file structure like OS X uses. I don’t see iOS as “dumbing down” anything. I see it as a smart progression in the way we interact with technology.

      Take installing apps for example. On a Mac (let’s exclude the App Store for a moment), if I want to install something, I download it, open the downloaded file, click on the install icon, go through all the install steps, then have to trash that downloaded install file…and then go hunting for the app if I want to open it or add to the dock. On an iPad, I tap the install button and that’s it. That’s just one example, but who would call that dumbing down? I call it smart and way overdue. What if everything on the Mac was that simple? Personally, I think OS X is more complicated than it can be, and frankly, I’m tired of having to use my computer in much the same way as I would have had to running OS 6 or Windows 3.0. That notion is just ridiculous in 2012. Time for a MAJOR change in computing UI.

  • If Apple really does come up with an OS without a hidden file system, I definitely see myself switching to Ubuntu. The newer versions of it have a quite gorgeous UI and I will be able to use all the open-source software I’m currently using on my Mac. Another horrible thought: What will happen to the Terminal when there isn’t even a visible file system?

  • This would be the worst move ever by Apple.

    • I bet apple wil find a solution for it that suck less hard then you would’ve imagined.

  • A thought that comes to mind after reading this article is that there could be a more substantial split in the macbook line to account for “consumers” and “prosumers”. Surely, the average consumer who uses computers for entertainment more than anything else could transition to a mac with a more iOS feel. However, for many of macbook users – designers, video editors in particular – we need the menu bar, we need to be able to see our files without opening up the app that it correlates to, and touch screen is virtually useless. What more could touch screens possibly add to our workflow that we can’t attain with our multi-touch trackpads? Not to mention – many people simply need a mouse to do more precise work. Imagine asking an architect to use autoCAD on a touch screen computer. That would be almost be a new form of torture.

    • And you forgot the keyboard.

      Power users, programmers, people who Get Things Done—people who innovate the very landscape of software—rarely use a pointing device, because a keyboard is faster, and often even *simpler* to use, when you know how.

      • I was predicting that Apple would make this operating system available for existing Macs, and not necessarily release redesigned hardware for several years. I was not suggesting that they would eliminate the keyboard and trackpad/mouse to make everything touchscreen based.

        Power users are not the only ones making use of input devices. I think that all users enjoy using a tactile keyboard for writing papers and emails, and that the precision provided by a cursor is extremely useful even in mundane tasks such as selecting specific text on the screen.

  • Not ideal view of the future.
    I think what Microsoft is doing with Win8 is much more interesting.

    I don’t want OSX to become iOS, but I want OSX to have what iOS has in a way or another. Maybe kind of iOS emulator on top of OSX. Kind of like Win8.

    Sounds akward, but the ideal situation at least to me would be to have ASUS Transformer like Apple device. In table form it would run that iOS layer (act like iPad) and when attached to the keyboard dock it would use the full OSX. That’s the future laptop/tablet I want to buy.

  • If this is the future of the Mac – than i am no longer a Mac-User.
    I dont care about those toys.
    I need a powerful desktop – not an MBA, iPad.
    But i think there is no future on the Mac for people like me – and that makes me sad.
    I really wish you all will be happy with your toys and gadgets…

    • +1
      Agree fully when it comes to actually doing my work.

      But as I mentioned before I wouldn’t mind if Apple would introduce a Transformer like “tablet-book” that would be iPad and full Macbook at the same time. But that might be just wishful thinking knowing Apple is making loads and loads of money selling both separately.

  • You’re overlooking the critical detail that Lion is crap! The iOS features such as Launchpad simply don’t work. Auto-correct is a disaster, just as it is on the iPhone, and the lack of a “Save As” command in apps such as Keynote shows that a hidden file structure will not work for serious users.

    The only way that will work is if users have a choice. They can run iOS for the desktop, or — with the ease of one click — hide it entirely. Experts need an expert interface, it’s that simple.

    • Yes, our days on the Mac-Platform will be over soon.
      And i am not happy about that.
      A combination of Windows (for the graphics heavy stuff) and Linux (for developing) seems to be the future.
      Leave iOSX to the gadget loving infants…

    • I don’t know if you are just engaging in excessive forms of hyperbole, but Lion is far from crap. Frankly, I barely notice a difference while working in Lion vs working in Snow Leopard/Leopard (and I’ve been doing all of my work on OS X for the last 5+ years). I never bother to use Launchpad, but only because I use launcher apps and know my computer’s file structure in and out. Just coming to the platform fresh, I could see using the feature. Auto-correct works, effectively, the same way it always did except with a relatively minor facelift and the “Save As” command is functionally equivalent to the “Duplicate” command.

      In general I don’t agree that Apple is going to go the route of merging iOS and OS X for one simple reason that everyone overlooks. Apple focuses VERY heavily on interface design and hardware ergonomics and, in general, they know better than anyone that mobile electronics function differently and are used in fundamentally different ways. The sizes, placements and orientations of buttons, sliders, input areas, etc all need to be useable and conform to the hardware form factor and that which fits in my pocket, like an iPhone, will never have the same form factor as even Apple’s smallest notebook, let alone the 30in iMac and Cinema Display’s which they also sell and will have to run the same iOS/OSX is claiming to be the future.

      Frankly, I find most of this product fortune telling ridiculous. I mean, come on, one of the main arguments for why the article writer thinks they will be merged is that there aren’t cats larger and more distinguished than lions, and that OS 11 sounds stupid, in her opinion.

      Here is what I think is actually going on but is being misinterpreted as Apple moving in the direction of merged operating systems. Sometimes when working on a project, you realize a clever way of solving a problem or performing an action. In the case of apple, while working on their mobile OS they found a few features which would be generally useful for ANY type of electronic device and then decided it would be wise to implement them on the newest release of their PC operating system. Apple’s crack team of marketers realized that by suggesting the new features were “iOS inspired”, the general populace which is comfortable with their iPhones and iPads but hadn’t switched from Windows might not find the transition so daunting if they thought they would be getting a familiar experience. The crack team of Apple interface designers probably didn’t mind this decision as they, more than any other designers I’ve ever seen in the electronics arena, enjoy creating a consistently uniform user experience and probably liked the idea that you could hop from one apple product to another and have your interactions with the device feel clear and intuitive.

      Where Microsoft is, mistakenly in my opinion, heading in the direction of a single OS for all electronic devices, I would put my money on Apple continuing to use the “appropriate” OS for its respective hardware.

      • I hope you are right.

      • Let’s hope so. BTW, Duplicate is a messy, labor-intensive workaround to the elegant Save As function. So much for Apple simplicity and ease of use!

  • Come on! I’m using both Launchpad and fullscreen mode every day… :-)
    While I like these features and would agree with you about the general direction of OS X development, I don’t really like this future…

    • Launchpad is a second, independent logical representation of your applications. It’s silly to create this extra abstraction, and it’s a lot slower to use than the Finder or Spotlight. Plus we already have a Dock, it makes Launchpad completely redundant.

      Fullscreen is not a new feature, and doesn’t have anything to do with iOS. It’s mainly the fact that developers have new APIs to make fullscreen apps. Fullscreen apps, in case you didn’t know, already existed long before Lion…

      • @Hawk: I’m new to Mac, just bought a MacBook Pro 13″ about 5 months ago. You’re right about Launchpad, but… Actually it’s showing up by a press of a button with all your apps, while dock have limited space on a notebook screen. It’s very easy to use, while as a new user I open Finder’s Apps folder from the menubar.

        For an experienced user, Launchpad maybe just another new way to access your apps…

  • If iOS is the future of Mac, there will be no mac in my future

    • Once direct access to the file system disappears, I’ll disappear direction Linux.

  • I think we’ll continue to see parts of iOS on OS X and vice versa, but Macs will never use iOS itself. Macs would be useless. Why would you spend $1000-3000 for a big iPad?

    • +1

    • + Another 1
      And let’s be frank:
      What’s REALLY needed is not OSX evolving to IOS,
      but IOS evolving to OSX !
      So that we can actually DO something on those (Very nice) gadgets, especially those that are too big to be put in your pocket anyway.
      But I admit: Not buying an iPad because you can not do anything (Except consume) on it makes me somewhat of an oddity.

    • iOS isin its adolecency right now. It will mature an get more and more features OSX already has.

      Wait and see before you say it wont work,
      And you dongt have to buy a new Mac. The one you use right now will still perform good if apple would announce a complete new Mac line based on the ipad with a mature version of iOS on it.

      You current computer will ben outdated from thatmoment on. but still functions theway you liked it.

  • If Mac OS X becomes even more super-simplified like iOS I’m switching to Linux.

    iOS is for casual computer users. Mac OS X has to stay powerful and transparent.

    I want control over my computer.

    iOS is great, but it’s a toy compared to OS X.

    If you think iPad is so great and the future of computing, why don’t you just shut up and keep using your iPad, while those who actually know about computers keep enjoying OS X.

  • As widely observed, the two operating systems are suited to their respective hardware and the cross-over between the two is going to be limited if the iPad/iPhone continue to exist for content consumption and Macs for content authoring ….after all why would Apple create a unified platform that favoured content-consumption but drove content developers elsewhere.

    It is difficult to see Apple reducing the functionality of the Mac platform through a unified OS as they need to incentivise the iMac and Macbook lines if they are to sell for several thousand £s/$s.

    Ergonomically, I think there are issues with the current OS X interface on larger screens, as whilst 27-inch displays may be beautiful for viewing movies and essential for working with palette-intensive apps like Photoshop et al, the current menubar and general interface features do cause additional eye-strain. I would prefer to see a more context-sensitive interface that concentrates control within comfortable eyeline.

    It is of concern that the Mac App Store does not accommodate many of the most useful utilities, simply because their usefulness comes from them subverting the usual behaviour of OS X ….but it is difficult to see the application eco-system becoming entirely closed and served through the App Store without Apple relaxing its current rules considerably, otherwise Adobe, Microsoft, Autodesk will likely walk away and that would severely undermine the Mac platform. I personally believe that in the long-term Apple will move to make the Mac App Store the sole means of acquiring and installing software but that the necessary steps that will accommodate the key software vendors may actually benefit developers currently locked out …and therefore benefit us the users.

  • Computers can do heavy work. Heavy work that the average user doesn’t need. They can do well with a iPad, because they just to get some things done.
    But there are also specialized users, who do need to know what’s going on and what is their device doing.
    So, maybe OS X, and traditional operating systems will being stop used. Maybe iOS devices, well, other devices who just get the things donde, will be used more.
    Steve Jobs said it, we’re starting a Post PC era. No, personal computers aren’t dead, they are just too complicated for the average user.
    Still, I think that at some point the Mac will become more like iOS. The paradigm has changed, if it’s a iOS on steroids I wouldn’t complain. I like fullscreen apps, they help me stay focused on what I’m doing, I like to have my clutter of windows, but sometimes I need to focus on only one! I also helps me to have some apps at hand. Launchpad seems a nice way to open the apps, although if I’m in a hurry it’s better spotlight. I don’t like to have my dock cluttered except with what I have open.
    Things that could be changed…I’m thinking of the menubar. While I find it comfortable on an 13 inch Mac Book pro, it would be really annoying on larger displays.

  • Is iOS the Future of the Mac? Possibly, but not in it’s current form.

  • Why I like the mac and would refuse to switch to an iOS software: File system. Who doesn’t like full control of every file on the computer and easy access to any directory?

  • Dear lord I hope not.

    Okay, more seriously though, hopefully there would then be an alternative to use the traditional desktop. No one can possibly argue for iOS -type interfaces when it comes actual work. Regrettably Apple doesn’t have much history in offering options.

  • iOS is the future but we are talking about iOS 7 when it will gain some essential options like better multitasking between open apps, basic file downloading in safari (probably coming in 5.3 or 6.2) and simplified customization because there’s a reason people keep jailbreaking their devices – additional missing tweaks like widgets on lock screen etc.
    iOS 7 will be the year when a blazing fast iPad4 comes out with NFC, 128GB drive and hopefully thunderbolt. Then it should really be capable of replacing a notebook in 99% of the time. And if that device will be used by most people then notebooks must change, the main differance will be a physical keyboard. So 16 months of waiting left for a new OS X. By then there will be a whole generation of users that are used to knowing only iOS.

  • I was hoping for and iPad with 128GB drive, 1GB RAM and dual core 1 Ghz in 2010 so imagine my suprise when I saw the first iPad, it took me some time to understand why it’s not meant to replace a laptop and why iPad 3 will still have 64GB drive as a maximum. It’s the fact that it just DOESN’T need to replace a laptop yet because the iOS isn’t there. When iOS will evolve and gain more functions then OSX won’t be necessary anymore; looking forward to 2013 for that moment.

  • I like iOS on my phone and many average users like it on their iPad too. But… it turns a computer from a computer (as we know it) into an appliance for consuming the web. It is hopeless for designing anything or for writing a longish formatted document for instance. Hey it is a great photoframe/couch companion but can never replace a “General Purpose Computer”.
    For this reason I am sure that new and great (walled garden) appliances will be with us forever (it’s where the money is) but it has reduced my admiration for Apple in a big way. It’s clever but not revolutionary at all.

  • or instead of crying, stomping and pouting over a mere presumption… how about enjoying your current mac and just allow apple do what they do… change (yes, all things change) and when apple changes (and you supposedly switch to you 2nd choice) i guarantee the competitors will not be far behind, producing their inferior copycat versions. If you have a need for the “latest and the greatest” technology advancements, your going to have to say goodbye to something… and it just might be a file system. sorry

    • It’s not an advancement when you lose something essential like file system. There is no valid reason to take out features every pro user wants and needs. We need options. If Apple, for some stupid reason, takes these options away then there is no other option for us than to look elsewhere. Maybe Windows, maybe Linux for some. I’m sure Apple is not that stupid. They will find a way to cater both audiences.

      • OH NO !
        Apple has a history of NOT offering choices,
        but forcing customers to follow theirs.
        And they’re not affraid of bold choices,
        and don’t care if nobody likes them:
        Look what they did with iMovie and Final Cut!
        Wonderfull apps that changed the world (Really),
        now rendered useless,
        in the name of simplicity.
        And they NEVER come back on their choices

      • To paraphrase Stalin, “How many $millions do the pro users have?”

  • Thanks, but no thanks.

    If Apple ever do this I’ll come back to linux.

  • Purpose are the keys here,mac target includes developers. ios are capable of normal users. Mac is the master ios is a slave. I’m sure you are not likely to use ‘lite’ versions of applications on the mac. and user interface with touch is a hard problem, you cannot use small button elements with your fingers. while professional software must have those complex user interfaces.

  • oh, oh arMACeddon, is this the End? (·…·) (~_~) ((o)_(o)) ((·)_(·))

  • is perfect for my iPad but I won’t by a Computer for much more than a 1000 Euro and then can’t decide on my own what programs I wan’t to have, share files within all apps and all that stuff…Thanks !

  • Your statement “In this system, the user never has to quit an app or decide which apps need to be running. The operating system takes care of this busy work, suspending apps when necessary to free up memory, and automatically resuming them when the user needs them.” is not correct. I have 2 Ipads and when things dont’ work as supposed, one can manully kill a/all applications on by one (doubble clik the home button to view all running applications, press one until a – sing appears, then klick the – sign to kill that program).
    Few people know this and will be surprised to see how many programs (all ever used since last power up) are still running in the background.
    I love my ipads and so do my kids but somethimes this is the only solution to make it do what you want it to do.
    The idea or automatic process management is OK but so far it is not working as it should

  • My dock is empty! I only use Launchpad… it’s a lot easier and faster!! Launchpad rocks ;)

    • My Dock is full! I only use the Dock… it’s a lot easier and faster!! Dock rocks ;)

    • LaunchPad:
      – can’t accept drag and drop object from the Desktop/Finder
      – can’t have keyboard shortcut for some items.
      – moves things around the way *it* wants.
      – is terrible when I have more apps than novice users doing just “basic things.”
      – forces me to work with it rather than being discreet like the Dock.

      I don’t mind it, but it’s FAR from being a catch-all solution like some people want us to believe.

  • I have to agree with you, when Lion came out – I also felt that Apple might be moving towards an iOS like system for the Mac.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see some type of touch interface on a future model. Maybe a MacBook Air and iPad combo.

  • You’ve got a great point, and if you hadn’t posted about it I don’t think I would have ever known about the similarities and differences between OS X and iOS.

    I love your mockups! The pictures are so real and if I wasn’t so engrossed in your post I would have thought that it was the next operating system for the Mac.

  • Of course iOS is coming to the mac. And when it happens, the mac will no longer be a computer.

    Apple is getting out of the computer business. That’s why it’s no longer called Apple *Computer*.

    A tablet like the iPad is not a computer.

    The truth is a whole lot of people last century and in the start of this century only bought personal computers because the right devices for them hadn’t been invented yet.

    Can’t say I’ve ever had a problem with a cluttered Desktop or Downloads folder.

    My wife is another story.

  • I never miss the file system on my iPhone and iPad. Android users are for ever showing off about accessing they rifle system, but my reply is that I don’t understand why I would ever want, or need, to do it. They come up with answers about organising music, and copy files directly, and arranging photos, but this just suggests to me that some apps are lacking functionality somewhere. I shouldn’t need to be moving music files around manually, I don’t want to do that, I don’t care where they are stored, I want a nice UI for doing this, and give not a hoot about how it is arranged behind the scenes.

    On my Mac though, oh boy. I use my Mac for development. How would I check out my git, mercurial and svn repositories without a file system? How would I run my build and deployment scripts? How would my local open source web servers and databases work?

    Get rid of the file system, and other than iOS developers using Xcode, you’d lose all developers from the platform instantly.

    I know you only talk about removing the “visible” file system, and by that you mean Finder. So, if it was still actually there, and accessible by apps and the terminal, then maybe that would work. But the very first thing someone would do would be to write a Finder app. But then Apple wouldn’t allow it in the app store, which is a whole other reason this is a BAD idea.

  • I like how thorough your article is. I think one of the most important thing to consider is that throughout the Mac’s history, it has had something for everyone. For those that want it, the simplicity is available for them. Launchpad and a full-screen only environment would be the perfect replacement to a parentally-controlled mac that used the simple finder option.

    For producers though, I believe one of the real powers of the Mac OS comes from being able to drag a file created in one application to an enormous variety of apps.

  • Yet another troll article. iOS is good because it doesn’t have to become Mac OS X. These are two completely different market with different emphasis. Sharing similarities and unified experiences doesn’t mean they are/should be the same thing.

  • I have read your comments and now I’m really depressed – because I think you are probably correct. I use my iMac for my business and so Finder is essential to me for managing thousands of user files which relate to my clients. I don’t use an iPad because it adds nothing to my business and in fact I don’t have an iPhone either, for the same reason.

    What the Mac does beautifully is allow me to run my paperless office in a way that a Windows system could never do without me constantly fiddling, tweaking and generally working around the problems that are inherent with Windows software.

    I really, really hope that Apple keep the OS X variant separate from its mobile systems – those of us using a Mac for business, rather than just playing around with apps like Garage Band, Twitter, iPhoto and all the unnecessary junk (Angry Birds anyone?) will be bereft if OS X is killed off.

    Are you listening Tim Cook?

    • I love my iPhone for all the things it’s good for, but I only tolerate its soft keyboard (albeit still much preferred to other devices) and I wouldn’t do any real work on it. This whole “You only need web browser and email, minimalism is everything!” nonsense is getting really old really quickly. And it’s as if the IT market is *that* simple?

      Besides, basing everything on the lowest common denominator just plain sucks. Thanks to iOS minimalism fanatics, we now have people publishing articles like this one advocating forcing everyone to work in one-screen-at-a-time constraint and other nonsense. Who cares about multitasking, people should only work in one window at a time anyway. Who cares about computer, we should only need web and email anyway. …..Bleh.

  • I love this topic, and it’s one that co-workers (total Apple geeks) and I have discussed a few times. The current state of computer operating systems is the state they’ve been in since the ’90s. Or maybe ’80s? (I was born in the ’80s, so I have no idea what computers were like then.) Anyway, for over twenty years computers have based their file systems on the old desk and file folder analogy. Frankly, it’s old, out-dated, worn-out, and more difficult than it needs to be. I teach people primarily 50+ to use Macs and Apple mobile devices, and unless they’re particularly tech savvy, none of them have a grasp of Finder or how the basics of OS X work. Without a doubt, they have a much easier time learning the iPad or iPhone – but it’s a simpler experience.

    I also can’t tell you how many times one of them wanted to open a Pages document and automatically assumed that it was stored inside the Pages application on the Mac. They had no idea that there was a file that lived in Finder. I believe that their thinking is actually more logical (and human) than what currently exists – Finder and stored files all over the computer.

    Therefore, I’m all for a more iOS-like interface on the Mac, and have wanted one for years, even before Apple invented iOS. Compared to iOS, OS X is a garbled mess. If we are to truly move forward in technology, the UI has got to become much more streamlined, much more organized, and much simpler to use. I like the fact that on my iPhone, I don’t have to worry about where my files are. They’re in the apps, tucked away nice and neat. I don’t have to think about where to save them or how to get to them. If I want to work on one of my documents, I go to Pages. If I want to edit a photo, I go to iPhoto. If I want to edit a movie, I go to iMovie…or whatever apps I use for that stuff. OS X already does that with iPhoto, and I like that all my photos are in the app.

    Don’t worry folks…the people designing this stuff at Apple aren’t stupid. They’re avid users of OS X as well, and they’re not going to suddenly limit your Mac to what an iPad can do. The point is to redesign the UI without sacrificing functionality. Too many of you are trying to see the future through the lens of the present, which is impossible to do. The thing is, there has got to be a better way to do everything than the way we currently understand it. You guys are talking about plug-ins, menus, editing, etc…if you’re imaginative enough, there are ways to do those things without those things. Use Apple’s iOS iPhoto app for example. Many people I’ve talked to think it’s better than the one on the computer. Apple re-imagined ways of editing photos without using a mouse, menu bars, etc. Adobe is working on iOS versions of its software…it can be done, it just takes letting go of old paradigms.

    The future of the OS will be different, but a good different. If you can get past the idea of Finder and file systems, maybe we can get to a better user experience. I’m an avid user as well (Photoshop, web design/programming, Final Cut Pro), and I’m extremely organized (all my files are neatly organized in Finder), but I hate the file system, hate managing multiple windows, hate menu bars, and hate having to use my mental energy just navigating my computer when I could be focusing more on content. That said, navigating around is second nature to me and isn’t THAT mentally taxing, but when I look at my computer screen vs. the iPad screen, I long for the days when my computer operates with the ease and simplicity of an iPad.

  • Yes iOS is the future, you wanna know why? because Android sucks! and it sucks badly. There’s nothing worses fumbling around my Samsung Andriod phone like my thumbs have been hit by a hammer, next time it will be an iPhone.

  • Man, they are dumbing down *all* existing GUIs. When I’m on a desktop computer, I want to use it as one, not as an expensive tablet. Now Windows 8, Linux (with Unity and GNOME 3), Mac OS X converging with iOS in recent versions, I think that only KDE has managed to survive, and I don’t know for how long. It sound like an ode to the average user’s inability to make choices. Brave new world!

  • Hope everything stays as it is now and Mac OS won’t be dumbed down to iOS.

  • I don’t want to be forced to use another app. I have a well used set of apps, Coda, Transmit, Dreamweaver, Photoshop that I have honed my workflow on. If I want to open a file in a number of different apps, I want to be able to open it from the file not the app.

  • I don’t think Finder will disappear from Macs, I think it will become touch friendly. In a few years there may be touch friendly Macs, and the Touch friendly features from iOS making their way to OS X could be an indication that I’m right. I can’t see anything fully replacing Finder in the next 5-7 years. It’s behavior, appearance, and focus will be modified further, perhaps by limiting what you can see by default.

    But even in a pro application, you don’t really need access to the file system thru Finder. With Logic studio you can do practically everything you need from within the application, and songs could be exported directly to iTunes. I think pro users are the only ones who really need access though, and I’ll bet that we’ll be able to forever, albeit with more limitations by default.

    And to everyone who is afraid of change, I hope you know that no one is forcing you to buy a new 12″ MacBook Touch with iOS 9. If you like how your Mac works with Snow Leopard, keep using it! My dad upgraded from WIN98 to WINXP in 2002, and hasn’t upgraded since. That’s 10 fucking years. If Snow Leopard is your “XP” I’m sure you can make it work for 10 years too.