Trends at Apple

iOS and OS X are constantly becoming more similar, through learning from one another. This is a simple recap of what’s happened so far, and what might be in the works.

From iOS to OSX

Present

  • OSX now receives yearly upgrades, just like iOS
  • OSX’s documents auto-save, just like iOS’s
  • OSX apps have been renamed to match iOS
  • iOS’s launcher exists on OS X as “LaunchPad”.
  • iOS’s full-screen mode is now an option on OS X.
  • iOS’s gestures (pinch-to-zoom, etc) have made it to OS X. *1
  • iOS’s single-feature-apps are deconstructing OS X apps:
    ** Mail => Mail + Notes.
    ** iCal => Calendar + Reminders.
    ** iChat A/V => Messages + FaceTime.

Near Future

Free Upgrades

Currently, iOS upgrades are free. OS X upgrades cost $20. That price has been decreasing each year. How long until it’s free? What would this mean for Apple’s competition?

Not only would this be hard for Microsoft to handle (since its OS is one of its 2 cash-cows), but it would be great for the customer, AND it would mean that there is almost no barrier to users upgrading, which means a large chunk of Apple’s user-base would always be on the latest version of its OS. This would allow Apple to constantly keep innovating and pushing out new features, which developers can feel free to adopt immediately, confident that users will be able to take advantage of them.

Famously, at least in-part thanks to free upgrades, iOS 5 captured 60% of all iOS users in just 15 weeks. It took Android Ice Cream Sandwich 15 weeks to reach just 1% of its users.

Apple is optimizing itself to take maximum advantage of the “Ohhhh shiny!” factor. Fresh OS -> fresh apps -> gotta have it.

Paid Upgrades

Apple’s “free upgrades” do have a hidden cost, though: only the most recent generation of hardware gets all of the new features. The previous generation gets a few less, and three generations old hardware gets only a couple. Hardware beyond three generations old doesn’t tend to receive any upgrades under the iOS model. This encourages a regular pattern of upgrading your hardware. Apple loves regular upgrading because that’s where they make their “real money”.

Hardware that runs OS X tends to be more expensive than hardware that runs iOS, so it should last a bit longer. I don’t think it’ll last much longer, though. Perhaps 4 years compared to iOS’s 3.

On OS X Mountain Lion, 1-generation-old 2011 MacBooks cannot run AirPlay, and my 4-generation-old early 2008 MacBook is the newest computer on the list of computers entirely incapable of running Mountain Lion. Yes, it can keep happily running Lion, but if you’re the kind of person who enjoys regular updates, that just won’t do.

Looks like this plan is already in action. OSX just isn’t “free” yet.

From OSX to iOS

OSX is the granddaddy, but it can still teach the young iOS a trick or two.

  • Twitter integration is already in Mountain Lion, and will be coming to iOS6 in the fall. It’s already making me use twitter.com much than before, and it makes TweetBot feel like a 2nd class citizen. *2

  • The Mac has long been a connected machine, with no carrier-supplied “voice” connection. This tradition will carry over to iOS. The iPhone will not be disrupted by a new phone from Samsung or Google. It will be disrupted by a free software update. Apple will start selling iPod Touches with 3G/4G, and enable FaceTime & Skype over Wi-Fi+3G+4G for all OSX & iOS devices. It will prevent the carriers from being able to make this optional. It will not require you to have a phone number associated with the device, just an iCloud account. This will turn all iPod Touches, iPads, Macs, and MacBooks into a massive global “carrier replacement system”. Voice will cease to be a feature. Finally, everything will just be data. You’ll be able to purchase data plans on the device itself, just like you can now on the iPad. You’ll be able to call any other OSX or iOS device for free, from anywhere, any time, and the person on the other end won’t have to be running an app to receive your call. It’ll work just like FaceTime does now, except that it won’t ever have to touch the phone network; it’ll be pure VOIP. For contacting people who don’t have iOS or OSX devices, Apple’s massive DataCenters will also turn on a massive PBX, which will create IP-to-Phone connections for you, the same way Skype-Out currently works. It might also give you a number where people can reach you, in case they only have a phone. Contacting telephones will either be very very cheap, OR free with your iCloud account. This will force the Carriers to adapt or die. They’ll need to change to a data-only model ASAP, because their voice business’s days will be numbered. Customers will love it. Carriers let the Trojan horse through the gates years ago, when they started letting Apple devices on their networks.

Adding 4G to the iPad costs $130. I bet most of that is profit. Apple could add it for as little as $50. Now let’s look at the prices for iPod Touch as it exists today. All models are Wi-Fi only. 8GB for $199, 32GB for $299, 64GB for $399. Earlier this year, Tim Cook said Apple would not leave any price points open. We all assumed this meant and iPad Mini, but what if it also meant iPod Touch 4G. Watch what happens if we add it to the mix: 8GB Wi-Fi $199. 8GB 4G $249. 32GB Wi-Fi $299. 32GB 4G $349. 64GB Wi-Fi $399. 64GB 4G $449. Off-contract 16GB iPhone $649, 32GB $749, 64GB $849. This whole theory is starting to look likely.

  • iOS has sandboxed its apps since the beginning, but much to the chagrin of seasoned Mac developers, this is now the rule on OS X, too. This means that apps are black boxes that can only see their own files. For it to see a file from outside itself, you have to “give it” the file, which the app then becomes the new owner of. If you want to email that file, you can’t do it from Mail. You have to do it from the app that created or last edited the file, using the “sharing via email” feature. What implications does this have? Users are going to stop editing certain types of files with multiple programs, and heavily invest in mastering just 1 program for each type of file, so that they’ll always know “this type of file is in this app”. I used to work with text in textedit, textwrangler, and sublime text. I’m not sure which one I’ll choose as a default. Image & video editing will be similarly tricky. Preview cannot see images unless they were saved by Preview. A file created in Photoshop won’t be ‘seeable’ by iPhoto or Fireworks. I believe this is why Apple used to reject apps that duplicated Apple functionality, and why they have not let people change their default browser or mail client on iOS: it could result in documents of a single type being owned several different applications, which would make the user experience less straight-forward. This introduces a bit of a paradox. Apple is at the same time encouraging Developers to build smaller single-purpose apps that sell for a pittance, AND creating a system where users will require large behemoth apps that can do anything and everything one might want to do with a particular type of file.

  • Some people think iOS will eventually get “traditional” multi-tasking, where you can have multiple apps open on the screen at the same time. I don’t think that will ever happen. Notification Centre widgets are Apple’s answer to that. Part of what makes iOS so usable by everyone is that everything runs full-screen. No distractions. No stuff to manage. Pure focus.

The Future

The New iPod Touch & The New iPhone

  • will have a 3G/4G SIM option (same chips as the iPad3)
  • In the past, Apple has added sensors nobody thought they needed, such as the compass. This trend will continue. Android already has a barometer, and Apple will add one to help enhance their Maps and weather apps with real-time crowd-sourced weather overlays.
  • Apple will add other technologies that no other company has in mass production at this time: ** low latency multi-touch: you only need to see this video to know that it’s something apple would be interested in.
    ** haptic feedback: there were many rumours of this being present in the iPhone 4S just days before it launched. Some of the arguments were extremely convincing. Imagine being able to feel the UI and change tracks when your iPhone is in your pocket. It could also help with touch typing, and would be a huge win for the visually impaired (a group we have seen Apple striving to empower). Imagine all the neat tricks we can’t even imaging yet ;)
    ** Apple will develop a smart-stylus that’ll work with their devices. It won’t require adding a capacitive screen to the device, because that would increase device cost. Instead, the stylus will be expensive. It will cater to artists, students, creatives, and business users. It will not be required for any apps, but it will provide higher resolution than a fingertip, and unlike other iOS styli, it will have true pressure sensitivity (like Wacom tablets/styli). Coupled with low-latency multi-touch, this will be killer.

iOS7+

  • The more iOS can do, the more people want to do with it. iOS needs an implementation of inter-application data sharing similar to Android Aspects or Windows Phone Contracts.
  • Enhanced Do Not Disturb: I don’t know why they haven’t done this yet, but I would love to be able to create something like “smart lists” for my phone. If it’s a number not in my contacts, always send it to voicemail. If it’s my family, always let it ring. Let people flag certain phone numbers as spam, and maintain a central anti-phone-spam list. If a caller is on that list, let the user blacklist them and send a “number disconnected” tone ;)

The New Mac Pro

  • The current tower design has been around for ages. It’s time for a change, and this one’s going to be huge. I believe the new Mac Pro won’t be a computer; it’ll be multiple computers interconnected by optical Thunderbolt. I believe you’ll be able to, essentially, stack Mac Minis on top of one another ad infinitum. Want more RAM & CPU & GPU & disk? Slap another Mini on the stack. The ones you have will never become obsolete. You can just keep adding on. Power requirements might get a bit crazy, but that’s true of increasingly huge towers, too.
  • It will debut at the same time as retina Cinema Displays, and retina iMacs.

OS X 10.9+

  • Continue bringing iOS apps to OS X (iBooks & Podcasts please!)
  • Continue breaking apps into smaller apps (Mail -> Notes + Mail)
    ** get all the cruft out of iTunes:
    *** eBook management should be moved out of iTunes & into iBooks
    *** podcast management should be moved out of iTunes & into Podcasts
    *** video purchasing & rental out of iTunes & into Videos. Call it VideoStore.
  • Continue renaming apps (System Preferences -> Settings)
    ** re-name iTunes to Music
    ** re-name iTunes Music Store to MusicStore (like AppStore)
    ** re-name QuickTime to Movies
    ** re-name iBooks to Books
    ** re-name iBookStore to BookStore (like AppStore & MusicStore)
    ** not sure what to do with iPhoto, since there is already a Photos app on iOS.
  • Continue making apps have “active backs”:
    ** the BookStore will continue to be the back of the Books app
    ** the MusicStore should be the back of the Music app
    ** the VideoStore should be the back of the Video app
  • Unify OSX’s Dashboard so that it’s similar to the search screen on iOS. Both are highly under-used. I originally thought that’s where iOS notifications would go, but they didn’t. On OSX I thought LaunchPad & search would move to the Dashboard area, but that didn’t happen either. For years, Apple has wanted to get rid of the desktop, because it tends to become cluttered & unsightly. I think the ‘Dashboard’ might eventually become the new desktop. It’ll have a search area just like iOS’s. Everything will be auto-aligned. There won’t be files there, just launchpad + widgets.
  • Allow Non-AppStore apps to send notification centre notifications and use iCloud storage APIs, BUT require them to have a developer certificate, AND charge them a nominal per-user fee to cover the costs of iCloud usage. That fee would be < 30%, because Apple would not be processing their transactions or managing their upgrades. I think this is one of those things Apple will do, but hasn’t had the bandwidth to do… yet.
  • I think the dock will become an application switcher, like iOS’s multi-tasking tray. It’ll show the apps you’ve used recently, not apps that are currently running. You won’t purposefully put things there in order to click & launch them. You’ll do the launching from launchpad by clicking on them, or typing and hitting enter. Trash will appear in the dock whenever items are in the trash (so that they can be restored or emptied), but it won’t be there the rest of the tiem. Finder will be just another launchable/switchable app. I’m using it this way now, actually. I removed all icons from the dock (except finder & Trash, which you can’t remove) and I set it to show/hide. I launch all apps by pressing [F4], which opens LaunchPad, and then by typing the first few letters of the app’s name, and hitting enter. Only running applications show up in the dock. Coupled with Mission Control ,AppSposé, and Cmd-Tab, this is incredibly flexible and useful.
  • Messages is horrible. What I love about Adium is that even though i have 3 of your IM accounts on it, they’re merged, and there’s just one “Jeff”. On Messages, every time I want to IM him, I have to choose which one of his accounts I want to send the message to… and if it fails, i have to repeat the process with another account. It won’t be worth trying until iOS6 launches and they unify FaceTime/phone# into a single thing. It really should have been part of the free Mountain Lion update that’s coming with the fall launch of iOS6. BUT THERE IS HOPE. I believe that when Apple finally does roll out some kind of NFC, Messages will work properly. Your devices will be able to sense if your phone is near your mac, and if it is, and your mac is being used (typing is happening/it is not asleep), then the message will only make a sound on your mac. It will also be delivered to your iPhone & iPad, but it won’t make a sound on them. If you’re not currently using any of your devices, and none of them are near one another, it’ll deliver the notification to all of them. If you’re not currently using any of them, but some of them are near to one another, it might deliver the message to the one you’re most likely to have with you (phone, then tablet, then mac — small to large — most portable to least portable). Or maybe it would deliver the message to the one that’s currently moving, or the one that moved last. Or simply deliver it to all of them.

Both iOS & OS X

  • Keychain in the Cloud. It’d be great if iCloud could sync my browser passwords AND sessions and somehow tie them to my device login. If I require a password to login to the device, I should be automatically logged-in to everything. I THINK Facebook’s upcoming app might be the first app to do this. If you’re logged-in to Mountain Lion, you won’t have to provide a login on iOS devices that use the same iCloud account. I hope this is the case.
  • There will be a better way to get files onto your iPhone & iPad. A combination of AirDrop, iCloud sync, and smart-searches/mailboxes/playlists could become the way to achieve that. Define sync rules in iCloud, and let them constantly keep things sync’d on all your devices. But that seems power-user-ish. They need a way for the masses, too. It’s likely that a version of iBooks for OS X would solve a lot of those problems. Drag your PDFs & ePubs into iBooks for OS X, and they become available on all your devices. Now that I think about it, having truly universal apps would solve this. If each app existed for iPhone, iPad, and OS X, BOOM, that solves file sync. It doesn’t solve how to use the same file with multiple apps in a sandboxed world, but that’s another story.

A Frightening Idea

Apple recently announced that it will be building a second massive datacenter. Why, when its first probably still has extra capacity? I believe it’s a failover for disaster recovery.

A friend said to me the other day “You know, if terrorists really wanted to terrorize people, they would bomb the single building that houses all of iCloud”. That sent shivers down my spine. It’s true. If the Statue of Liberty were destroyed, it would be shocking, and sad, but it wouldn’t effect me.

Vapourizing all my documents, family photos, videos, and music in one fell swoop would most certainly traumatize me.

Apple is encouraging everyone to “trust the cloud” more each day. All companies are. They need to be doing all they can to ensure that the cloud is as pervasive as the atmosphere: all-encompassing, protective, and without a single point of failure.

P.S. – this is the first time i’ve tried to use markdown to do a post, so please forgive any formatting issues.

Footnotes:
1: When I only had a 2008 MacBook with button-sporting plastic trackpad that didn’t support gestures, I thought they were a gimmick. Now that I have a new MacBook with buttonless glass trackpad, gestures are a revelation; so much so that I’m considering ditching my magic mouse. [2]: This makes me think that twitter will confidently kill all 3rd party clients

About Derek

Born & raised in Petrolia, Ontario. Birthplace of global oil industry. Educated at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Webified at Humber College in Etobicoke, Ontario. Inspired at TakingITGlobal.org, and in Zagreb, Croatia. Recognized by www.ILoveRewards.com. Former lead developer of www.wikiDOMO.com. Currently a Senior Developer at rTraction.
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2 Responses to Trends at Apple

  1. Breslin says:

    Your “Frightening Idea” paragraph has indeed frightened me… Excuse me while I go back up all my pictures, documents, music etc… :P

  2. Ian says:

    Nice post. I agree with pretty much everything.

    I agree that there is a strange problem, with apps tending to be smaller and more single task, while at the same time there is no mechanism to really have more than one app edit the same file type. I think the solution though is already partially in place. It’s there already for calendar, contacts, photos and partially for music. Apple controls the database of a certain type, and then any app can see and edit it by using an API (which may ask the user for permission to do it first). This way, there is some security to the sharing because Apple controls the API. This works pretty well. There are tons of photo apps and they allow editing and viewing of the same photos from the camera roll (encouraging the whole simple app thing). I can’t imagine how boring photo apps would be in iOS if it weren’t like this. On the Mac, iPhoto and Aperture now use the same photo database.

    I’ve long thought this same idea would be further expanded to books, podcasts, PDFs, Pages docs, etc.. The question to me is how far they will let this idea go. Will 3rd party apps be able to create their own databases, and have other apps access them? My feeling is this will happen, but I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more fully yet.

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