It’s easy to get so focused on the details on the present that we miss the obvious questions about the future. When John Siracusa wrote about the dangers of Mac OS X getting old in 2005, that had only been around for five years—but he wasn’t wrong that Apple would need to address major shortcomings in the operating system in the long term.
So with iOS riding high (and serving as the basis for pretty much every major Apple platform that isn’t the Mac), it’s hard to imagine what comes next. And yet some tweets by Steve Troughton-Smith made my eyes pop open. After linking to a fascinating Ars Technica story about Fuschia, Google’s next-generation operating system project, Troughton-Smith wrote: “We’re far enough into the age of mobile that the big players are designing the OSes that’ll follow it-surprised if Apple isn’t doing same. It’s not so crazy to think that Apple would want to replace both iOS and macOS with something new and more unified. Post-XNU [the Kernel that runs iOS and macOS], post-BSD [Unix, the underpinnings of iOS and macOS].”
Replace macOS? Okay, we’ve played this before—just as the Mac has changed chip architectures every decade or so, we’re now 17 years into the macOS/OS X era—and the classic Mac OS lasted about the same amount of time. iOS is comparatively young, but it’s still 10 years old, and built on top of the Mac OS X base. Perhaps its time is coming, sooner than we think. Or perhaps not. Let’s look at Apple’s long-term OS choices:
Plow ahead on both fronts. In this scenario, Apple continues to maintain two separate (but related) base operating systems, macOS and iOS. iOS continues to receive a lot of attention, but macOS also gets major new features, especially ones that are synergistic with additions to iOS. It’s a lot of extra work to have two totally separate operating systems (leaving aside the iOS derivatives that run the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePod), but the Mac’s not a Apple wants to abandon and iOS isn’t going to replace it, so we’re left with a steady state.
The continued existence of the Mac gives Apple a powerful out when it comes to iOS development. If there’s something iOS can’t do, some market or user type that it can’t serve, Apple can point at the Mac and declare it the solution.
This, then, seems to be the current state of affairs: Apple’s investing in iOS, swapping out bits and pieces as it goes, allowing it to grow into something more powerful—but not embarking on a crash course to build it into a Mac replacement. macOS keeps hanging around, gaining new features but not with any urgency. It’s not the most exciting scenario—and it certainly could turn out to be the wrong one—but sometimes slow and steady really does win the race.
Jason covers a lot of interesting points in his post, go read it to get the full impact.