Why Apple's reorganisation spells the unification of iOS and OS X

Why Apple's reorganisation spells the unification of iOS and OS X

Summary: The pieces are now in place for Apple to bring together its mobile and desktop operating systems - a move that will be a no-brainer if Windows 8 turns out to be a success.

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The departure of Scott Forstall as the man in charge of Apple's iOS efforts seems to have many reasons behind it. Much of the coverage is focusing, rightly, on the likely negative factors, in particular Siri's tepid performance and the Maps debacle. Also, Forstall's mania for skeuomorphism.

But there's more to it than that.

Forstall may have been, in John Gruber's words, an "obstacle to collaboration within the company". Indeed, the Apple statement about the changes is clear that they "will encourage even more collaboration between the company's world-class hardware, software and services teams".

What might those changes look like? I suspect they will involve the fusion of Apple's desktop and mobile operating systems. Yes, iOS is already based on OS X, but I'm talking about the two officially becoming one operating system, with one UI, at some point in the medium-term future.

The two key post-Forstall job redefinitions were for Craig Federighi, previously in charge of OS X but now overseeing iOS as well, and Apple design guru Jony Ive, who is also now in charge of 'human interface' across the company.

According to Apple, Federighi's new role "brings together the OS teams to make it even easier to deliver the best technology and user experience innovations to both platforms". The company is a bit less clear about what 'human interface' means.

Whatever it means, though, iOS is long overdue for a UI revamp, and Forstall's departure makes that all the likelier.

Getting touchy

Now, let's put all this in a wider theoretical context — specifically, a context that also involves a successful Windows 8.

Much of the Windows 8 drive is around touchscreen laptops. Steve Jobs famously scoffed at the idea, saying it would be an ergonomic disaster, but then again he also scoffed at the form factor that Apple has just embraced with the iPad mini.

Touchscreen laptops, or convertible tablet-laptops that allow multiple form factors, may or may not take off. I'd say they have a good chance — the first wave of touch-enabled Windows 8 notebooks includes some very attractive hardware, and Windows 8 is a very touch-first OS.

And, from the very beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft's treatment of tablets and desktop computers involves one OS — well, two if you consider the 8/RT split, but that's a split along processor architecture lines, rather than form factor, and will be irrelevant to many consumers.

So that's one thing: Microsoft could make consumers quite at ease with the idea of using a common, touch-based interface across mobile and desktop devices. That in itself would leave Apple's bifurcated strategy looking rather outdated — if people get used to manipulating stuff on their desktop screen by hand, just as they do on a tablet, they won't be satisfied with a non-touch screen for long.

And it would just be silly for Apple to develop a second kind of touchscreen interface for its desktop products.

The 'human interface'

But the other aspect of Microsoft's offensive is one we've not fully seen yet. The current crop of Windows 8 tablets and PCs is missing a killer feature that we know Microsoft is already working on: Kinect for PC.

Although it currently involves the use of a peripheral, I would be stunned if Kinect did not become an embedded feature in Windows 8 devices, at the very least in a future iteration of the Surface. How would it work? I'm not sure — I'm not a 'human interface' designer — but the possibilities for new gesture controls are extensive to say the least.

That, I suspect, is where Ive's new responsibilities come in. In the realm of the 'human interface', Apple is playing catch-up. Microsoft is way out in front, having used the Xbox 360 version of Kinect as an astonishingly successful testbed.

Now, put yourself in Apple's position. Even without considering the issue of Apple TV, if you're developing new, perhaps even post-touchscreen interfaces, do you want to do that in two separate streams, or one? Wouldn't it make so much more sense to unify the two platforms with a consistent UI? To do otherwise would likely involve teaching users two similar yet non-identical gesture languages.

Of course, all this remains theoretical for now. Jobs may have been right — perhaps people will shun touchscreen notebooks. Maybe tablets will totally obliterate the desktop market.

But I doubt it. And, if Apple still has to maintain both mobile and desktop lines in future, it would be in its best interests to at least unify the interface. The ingredients are all there for it to do so, and now the right people have the right responsibilities to make it happen, too.

It's easy to see Google as the competitor that drives the most development in Apple's OS strategy these days. Chances are, that key rival will soon turn out to be Microsoft instead.

Topics: Apple, iOS, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Windows

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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54 comments
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  • Oh then

    suddenly combing a toaster and a fridge is a great idea after all? LOL the isheep never ceases to amaze me
    Xenon8
    • "Oh then suddenly combing a toaster and a fridge is a great idea after all?

      Typical apple MO, mock something first, then (when the whole world already uses it) going to adopt this.
      Mr.SV
      • RE Oh then

        Don't forget: they also claim they invented it first and sue the hell out of anyone else.
        rush4you
        • They Invented "Planned Obsolescence" w/ Product Differentiation Sales!

          This whole theory presented here by this author, flies in the face of their long term goals. They are totally unprepared for combining the only two platforms they really invented, for the sole purpose of selling iSheep one or more of each device used in different scenarios, for their "Planned Obsolescence" business model!

          But the real problem lies underneath them delaying and putting off making the big change from backwards compatibility in an attempt to keep the inevitable fragmentation, that progress brings to the design table. They made decisions when Steve Jobs came back, that they may very soon find they regret. Even on forming the foundation of iOS, many bad decisions were made for backwards compatibility from an Operating System designed basically of Pieces and Parts of other Operating Systems. Mac OS, NeXT OS and FreeBSD and it's a surprise this Hodgepodge of soup to nuts OS has worked this long!

          The most egregious decision, was in keeping HFS file system. Created from legacy 1984 Macs based on file systems running on hardware that could only run one task at a time in Apple computers. Even though they revamped HFS to HFS+ it still remains a predominantly single threaded file system. Where tasks are stacked one on top of the other. This has been the major cause in preventing iOS from running multiple applications. But they did not want to make the break with "Backwards Compatibility" to OS X and it's Mac OS past.

          When you stack NeXT UI (Object Oriented Interface) on a FreeBSD Kernel on a Legacy File System, base of Mac OS and attempt to meld them together using layer upon layer of abstraction, someday you will be forced to rewrite that OS from the Ground Up. That day is almost upon them and complicated by the fact they didn't make a proper break, when they wrote iOS in the first place. They did not foresee it becoming the success it's become. Which makes it all the more ironic, that they didn't prepare better for the Future in writing it ground up then.

          The only thing that's saved them to this day on OS X is learning from BeOS by first writing the Virtual Database Sub File System for iTunes. That brings with it features that make it instantly searchable and able to run multiple tasks within those applications residing on it. But their Legacy HFS+ file system still prevented them from doing instant search and running any semblance of pervasive threading on it. So they hired Dominic Giampaolo (of BeOS Fame in writing BFS) to write a Search Tool and Virtual Database Sub File System, that became Spotlight. A virtual clone of BFS FIND Tool, but without the benefits of running on the native root file system like Haiku's TraX find tool!

          But like all "After the Fact" solutions, it only put a mask over the fact that one day they would still be forced to write an OS from the ground up and make a complete break with their legacy Mac OS past. They will sooner or later need to write a completely new file system above all else and completely discard their pieces and parts OS-X now running with barely any teeth and completely gone gray. So the real problem lies in the fact that Apple has continued to put off making changes at it's very roots to make a basis for any semblance of future. They are again back in the same place they were in the 90's searching for an OS to replace Mac OS, that they should have completely tossed out and run Virtualized on top of a New OS instead. Like Microsoft has done with XP!

          Neither iOS and OS X are prepared to make any sort of decent transition into a Unified Cross Platform OS. They are standing on a precipice with one foot still in it's Past (w/ Mac OS HFS+) and one foot in their future graves. Apple has simply waited too long to make the changes necessary to prepare for the future and on that note, Microsoft is about to leap way ahead of them. Their unification of platforms is going to be remarkable and something Apple can never do. Because when they only stripped down the BSD kernel for feature phone type mobiles and wrote the only Touch Screen Framework they have on it. That after not hiring their first Touchscreen Engineer till November 2004 and now they've completely missed the boat. They missed the chance to write a ground up Desktop OS and UI for the future. That could have enabled them to port it to more feature rich Smart Mobile Devices in the FUTURE!
          KronJohn
          • HATER!

            Hate much? Yes you do. Hating on others just for an escape?
            TimeForAChangeToBetter
        • HATER!

          Hate much? Yes you do. Hating on others just for an escape?
          TimeForAChangeToBetter
      • HATER!

        Hate much? Yes you do. Hating on others just for an escape?
        TimeForAChangeToBetter
    • What really amuses me

      Is that you say such integration is for - how did you oh so wittily and originally (not) put it? Ah yes - "iSheep" and yet such a unified platform across desktop and mobile is exactly what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8. Seriously you cannot make this stuff up.
      athynz
      • ??

        Apparently you read things differently.

        Apple (particularly Steve Jobs and Tim Cook) made it very clear that a unified platform would be bad. Microsoft just did it and the chopping of CEOs seems to imply Apple is now changing their minds. Microsoft never said that it was a bad idea, Apple did. That is where the iSheep comment the above posters were making. Personally, I think companies have the right to change their minds, however, they also need to realize they look pretty silly when they are so opposed something to all of a sudden pull a 180 (Tim's comments were that long ago either).
        ikissfutebol
        • Bad idea if Win 8 blows

          it's a bad idea if Windows 8 blows, which it may well do.

          The architectural chasm between Intel and ARM processor lines is IMHO unbridgeable with current technology. The abortion that is Windows RT shows Microsoft's first real attempt at this is faltering.

          Until ARM can run Intel app's and Intel can run ARM app's, customers will just get frustrated and pi55ed off trying to square the circle that is Intel X86 or OSX app's on tabs. Intel running ARM app's does currently exist - See some of the first Intel Androi phones, but the other way is not viable yet.

          For both Apple and Microsoft, and a wider Intel, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Adobe, EA etc.... the only viable middle ground is to cover off both architectures in your software license. Much like digital copies of DVD's.

          - Office 2013 for Windows 8 x86/X64, includes a copy of the RT version.
          - Adobe Photoshop for OSX, includes a copy for IOS, or for X86/X64, includes a copy for RT.
          -
          neil.postlethwaite
          • Lets be serious about the hardware options....

            Apple have an easy life supporting as little hardware and as few drivers as they do. You'll maybe have tried a hackintosh and seen the limited success; all because of the limited support. (Works fine in VM by the way and that does my needs). I mention this as at least MS are offering a solution on Intel and Arm chipsets. They are at least offering something that folk can try, and it might take off, who knows. If it works for some then why not leave them to it and be happy for them? Maybe Arm devices will be great for folk that simply need a bullet proof app type world; and will work regardless of what you do. Maybe the Intel ones will be for the more dynamic folk.

            I love the choice. I love touchscreen and I love mouse.... can't have both with Apple in any guise and at least MS are offering me hope. Touch, mouse and kinnect in future?? WOW !!!

            I've not seen the Arm apps or RT devices yet and haven't any plans as such. I do have an ipad2 and an Asus Transformer for different reasons. What I would say is that the IOS line is a beautiful example of a couple of products evolving and being supported well. I hate Apple mentality, tie-in, and exclusion but its a well thought out product line. Mant others need to takpoor ones.e heed; hopefully MS have and will have a few good devices rather than hundreds of
            johnmckay
    • Wow

      as Elizabeth said I'm surprised that someone able to get paid $6584 in four weeks on the computer. have you seen this (Click on menu Home more information)
      ........http://goo.gl/7MeLJ
      BallBond
      • This a better comment

        than those posted above with hateful references to iSheep and Apple sucks.
        TimeForAChangeToBetter
    • LMAO

      News Flash: Tim Cook eats crow after he buys a Surface RT. Last week Apple fanatics say Win 8 is crap...this week it's "Why didn't we think of this? Quick fire the staff". Apple was a leader at one point but competition has changed the game. Apple knows software about as well as Tim Cook knows hairstyles. Stick to hardware guys and move to Windows.
      Rob.sharp
    • igiveup

      The number of poters on this sight who do not even begin to read let alone understand it worrying. Bill Gates talked the other week about the unification of O/S in the near future so it looks like combining a fridge and a toaster is where we're all heading.
      martin23
    • Xennon8, You realize that some ovens...

      Xennon8, You realize that some ovens now have refrigerator components so you can keep your dish cool and use timers to start cooking it right? So the idea isn't that far beyond. It all depends on how it is developed and marketed.
      BroGnorik
    • HATER!

      Hate much? Yes you do. Hating on others just for an escape?
      TimeForAChangeToBetter
      • PogoBlue

        Are you a 5 year old?
        Blogsworth
  • Leading Article

    The article draws its own conclusion (Microsoft's strategy is very successful) and leads the reader into believing that Apple must now follow a similar path. This is simply not true, and using such logic to tie it to news of the shuffling of people at Apple is at best a fantasy. The author needs to come down to Earth and use facts if he wants to present it as such.
    NerdBeach
    • Doesn't matter

      Doesn't matter if 8 is successful or not. Apple will spin their own efforts as 'a unified UI done right' no matter what. Whether 8 succeeds or not is irrelevant if Apple buys into the premise that Desktop PCs are going the way of the dinosaurs, and/or that there's simply not enough money to be made there compared to (improved) iOS devices. When you make iOS more capable, what would be the point of keeping OS X around.. Or they will just merge, the eventual naming decided based on marketing reasons. (Keeping with iOS or going with OS XI.)
      Han CNX