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Apple and OS X — Mountain Lion, and The Uncertain Future

Apple has been changing a lot lately. And I’m not sure if it’s for better or for worse.

I’m not talking about Jobs’ passing, nor the wild success of the iOS platform, or Apple’s quantum expansion of the tablet and smartphone markets. I’m talking about the roots that allowed all of these new innovations to occur in the first place…Mac OS X (or as Apple has recently “re-dubbed” it, OS X).

Growing up using and repairing Apple hardware, I saw every small change made to their hardware and software line. They introduced new hardware lines, such as the G3/G4/G5 Towers, MacBooks, iPod and even the long-forgotten Apple Printers and Speakers. They also created so many innovative pieces of software it boggles the mind.

All of these product introductions had one thing in common that truly tied them together — they all relied on OS X.

The tipping point of Apple’s recent shift towards iOS was reached about five years ago, right before the time that the original iPhone was released. Apple said in a press release:

iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned.

With the tremendous growth of Apple’s market share in the smartphone market, more and more engineers have undoubtedly been allocated to the iOS platform. Think of how far it came from 2007, when Apple announced the only SDK for iOS would be web-based. Developers cringed and complained about not being able to bring truly native iOS apps to the iPhone. Now it seems, even with only roughly 600,000 apps in the app store, that just about anything you type in has already been developed.

Furthermore, Apple have gone out of their way to port some of their popular iLife and iWork apps such as Garageband, iMovie, Pages, and Keynote to the iOS operating system as well.

Digging a little deeper, it doesn’t take long to find another sad sign that Apple’s focus is drifting away from professional-grade desktop computers. With the recent introduction of Final Cut Pro X, many of the features that have positioned FCP as the industry-standard digital editing software have been removed, and replaced with a more iMovie-esque interface that appeals to consumer/prosumer levels. Even worse, the Mac Pro, Apple’s flagship desktop tower, has been completely neglected since July 27, 2010. How can Apple realistically charge $2500+ for a two year old computer? That’s like charging $50 for spoiled milk.

So, all of this trending towards the increasingly dominating iOS platform leaves us to ask…what the heck is the future of OS X going to look like? Well, this past week we got another glimpse.

It would seem that Apple is working towards an overall unification of both operating systems, as hardware limitations would suggest it is currently impossible to merge iOS and OS X into one operating system. OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion brings many popular iOS apps to the desktop, and alludes to a yearly release schedule for both major iOS and OS X updates. This would also suggest that the resources devoted to iOS development have been freed up to once again work on OS X in parallel. But the byproduct scares me. It’s as if the OS X developers completely forgot what brought them to the point they’re at now. I mean, the main header on the homepage for Mountain Lion reads: “Inspired by iPad. Re-imagined for Mac.”

So this all begs the question, what will the future be like for people like myself who rely on desktop Apple computers to make a living? I’m sure not about to start writing code and designing wireframe website mockups on iOS versions of Sublime Text and Photoshop. And no one developer in their right mind will give up Vim bindings for a touchscreen keyboard (as good as it may be). And from the looks of it, Apple is making a push towards gesture-based interaction on OS X as well…could this mean the long-rumored touch-screen Mac might be coming soon? The advent of the Mac App Store, and recent controversy around sandboxing Mac apps, and digitally signing all non-App Store apps seems to have developers on edge.

I truly hope that Apple continues to develop OS X and iOS in parallel, with very distinct differences and demographics in mind. It’s imperative that Apple keeps core developers loving their desktop OS, because without developers support, all of the wonderful iOS apps in the App Store would not exist. Even as OS X and iOS become very consumer-focused, the developer-friendly environment must be maintained.

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