Prior to the 30th anniversary of the original Macintosh on January 24, I wrote about the possibility that Apple might soon merge iOS and OS X, creating a single hybrid operating system for both Macs and mobile devices.
Apple had no direct response to my request for comment, but three company executives—marketing VP Phil Schiller, software engineering VP Craig Federighi, and software technology VP Bud Tribble—indirectly answered some of my questions when they invited Macworld to Apple headquarters to set the record straight, insisting that OS X and iOS will always be separate entities:
“To say [OS X and iOS] should be the same, independent of their purpose? Let’s just converge, for the sake of convergence? [It’s] absolutely a non-goal,” Federighi said. “You don’t want to say the Mac became less good at being a Mac because someone tried to turn it into iOS. At the same time, you don’t want to feel like iOS was designed by [one] company and Mac was designed by [a different] company, and they’re different for reasons of lack of common vision."
What Apple's Executives Didn't Say
That all sounds like a pretty definitive nail in the integration coffin, at least until you think about it a bit.
Over the past decade, the rising popularity of the iPhone and iPad—both powered by a touch-optimized “mobile” version of OS X—led many to believe that Apple would eventually fold its Mac line into the ever-growing iDevice division. But Apple prefers the “cross-pollination of ideas” that exists between OS X and iOS, even though Federighi has led all development efforts for both platforms since the iOS and OS X teams effectively fused in late 2012.
“It’s obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience?” Federighi told Macworld. “We believe, no.”
As I noted previously, many developers and other experts think Apple will eventually release something like an “iPad Pro"—a tablet with a detachable keyboard that could switch easily between iOS and OS X and thus run both iPad apps and Mac programs. (Unsurprisingly, the iPad Pro is already a fixture in the Apple-product rumor mill.)
In the Macworld interview, Apple’s executives unanimously rejected the notion of putting iOS in a Mac. But nobody downplayed or even mentioned the idea of porting a full version OS X to a mobile device—such as, for instance, that aforementioned “professional-leaning” tablet with a detachable keyboard.
“It’s not an either/or,” Schiller said. “It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Schiller's right: Tablets have certain advantages over laptops and vice-versa, but that only helps to make the case for the iPad Pro, not against it. To be clear: Schiller is saying Apple would never strip down the Mac to make it more like iOS. But Schiller is leaving the door open to smartphones or tablets that become more than what they already are.
A Natural Evolution For iPad
Remember when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone? He called it “the best iPod we’ve ever made.” And yet, since the arrival of the iPhone, the iPod is no longer Apple's cash cow; in the company's most recent quarter, the iPod only accounted for 1.6% of the company's revenue. Meanwhile, the iPhone is hotter than ever, earning more than 56% of the record $57.6 billion in revenue Apple pulled in last quarter.
Products evolve. The iPod as we know it has become the iPhone, even though though both product lines still exist. So, unless Apple feels particularly sheepish about creating a Microsoft Surface lookalike, there's no reason Apple couldn't push the iPad to become "more than just a tablet." Sure, the iPad started on iOS, but a "professional" version of the iPad running OS X would almost certainly have broad appeal.
An iPad Pro could work from a technical side, since Apple’s mobile devices are already getting to the point where they can handle desktop-level software. In fact, Apple loves to advertise that its iPhone 5S is the world’s first 64-bit smartphone with desktop architecture thanks to its A7 chip, which also powers the iPad Air.
A larger iPad with more interior real estate for processors might be able to handle OS X with a “layer” of iOS that only activates when the tablet’s keyboard is detached. Add a few ports for peripherals (maybe—finally—USB!) and Touch ID for security purposes, and you’ve got the first Macintosh Tablet: A powerful laptop when the keyboard's attached, and a full-featured iPad when the keyboard's detached.
The Enterprise Incident
Why would Apple create this product? Simple: To solidify the company’s standing as the preferred tablet for the enterprise—98% of Fortune 500 companies currently deploy iPads—while also appealing to small businesses and local merchants that use affordable mobile solutions like Square for processing customer payments.
Before iOS devices came along, Apple organized its Mac products in a quadrant system, as portables and desktops further divided into professional and consumer categories. Now that the iPhone and iPad are beginning to mature, it would make sense for Apple to begin categorizing iOS products this way, too.
We're starting to see it with the iPhone, where Apple already has two tiers: The 5S for those who need fast, cutting-edge technology (like professionals), and the 5C as a cheaper option for consumers thanks to older (yet still reliable) technologies.
There's no reason Apple couldn't—or shouldn't—apply the same strategy to the iPad. With very little effort, it could sell a more versatile tablet packed with technologies and features—the ideal iPad Pro—alongside the "classic" iPad with the familiar touchscreen-only experience.
Apple doesn’t need to sell an all-in-one iPad solution, of course. But it would make lots of sense. After all, the iPhone was an all-in-one solution (phone, Internet and music), and look how that worked out.
Lead illustration by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite