PC Pro’s Darien Graham-Smith reported that Canonical founder and Ubuntu Linux creator Mark Shuttleworth believes Apple intends to follow Ubuntu’s lead and merge its desktop and mobile operating systems, contending that Apple has sent a signal with the introduction of its 64-bit A7 System-on-Chip that it is fixing to merge its OS X and iOS environments.
Shuttleworth told Graham-Smith: “When Apple announced the iPhone 5s, it called the processor ‘desktop-class’, and I don’t think that was an accident – it was sending what we think is a very clear signal that it will converge the iPhone and the MacBook Air. There’s no point talking about the desktop performance of your CPU unless you plan to make a desktop device with that CPU.” PC Pro will publish the full interview with Mark Shuttleworth in its issue 231 of PC Pro, on sale 14 November.
Last week quarterly PC sales estimates released by market research firms Gartner and IDC agreed that Apple was the only PC maker among the U.S. market top top five vendors to suffer a year-over-year sales decline during the “back-to-school” quarter, and that domestic Apple Macintosh system sales were down in a an interval during which PC sales globally staged a modest uptick. Gartner’s preliminary estimate is that Apple’s domestic Mac system sales dropped from 2.20 to 2.16 million year-over-year or of 2.3 percent in the quarter. However IDC’s projects a much more drastic decline from from 2.15 million in 2012, to 1.9 million in the quarter year-over-year — an alarming 11.2 percent swoon.
Both firms attribute much of the PC industry’s ongoing woes to users switching from desktop and laptop PCs to tablets for uses like email, Web surfing, and inline shopping, for example the iPad’s cannibalization of Apple’s Mac sales. This has led to suggestions that “peak Apple” may have been reached, and that we’re entering a post Mac era as well as a post PC era. I think not.
So is Apple likely to be even thinking of phasing the Mac out of existence to concentrate on iOS based devices? Some prognosticators think so. InformationWeek.com Associate Editor Michael Endler posted a long and thoroughgoing article last weekend contending that as Mac sales fall, clues are building that Apple is developing a 13-inch iPad-laptop hybrid device, possibly a tablet computer with an attachable keyboard that would turn it into a “laptop PC” device similar to Microsoft’s Surface tablets.
Endler credits Barclay’s analyst Ben Reitzes with having sparked this new round of speculation, predicting in a research note that an iOS tablet-notebook hybrid could disrupt 25-30% of the shrinking PC market, delivering another body blow to laptop and desktop sales similar in proportion to the damage the iPad and other tablets have already wreaked on the conventional PC sector.
Endler acknowledges that Apple CEO Tim Cook had dismissed laptop-tablet hybrids using the analogy of a product that tries to be both a toaster and refrigerator, and last fall characterized Microsoft’s original Surface as compromised and confusing. Nevertheless, Steve Jobs himself once heaped similar scorn on 7-inch tablets, vowing that Apple would never build one, but today the iPad mini has become one of Apple’s most important products.
Endler cites eight signs that could indicate that Apple is prepping a large-screen iOS product:
1. Apple’s been thinking about laptop-tablet convergence for a long time.
2. Multiple sources have claimed a 13-inch iPad is in the works.
3. Apple is reportedly working on a power adapter for a new mobile device that will sit between current iPads and the MacBook Air.
4. The A7 processor will bring desktop-class power to the iPad.
5. Apple’s A7 chip could allow an iPad to run PC-style apps.
6. An iPad hybrid could offset falling Mac sales.
7. The revamped iWork suite could indicate a more productivity-minded iPad.
8. There’s a demonstrated market for an iPad hybrid.
Not everyone agrees that the Mac is likely to be subsumed by the iOS anytime soon. 9To5Mac’s Mark Gurman cites a research note by analyst KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a reliable track record predicting Apple product releases, predicting that far from phasing out the Mac, Apple has a new 12-inch MacBook in the works with an entirely new enclosure design and form factor even thinner and lighter than the current MacBook Air, to be powered by Intel silicon and not Apple’s A8 CPU, with a Retina Display, and potentially selling at a lower price point than Apple’s current MacBooks.coming in Q2 or Q3 2014 that “will redefine laptop computing once again just like the current MacBook Air.” This new MacBook would essentially be as portable as current 11-inch MacBook Air but as capable at productivity as the current 13-inch MacBook.
As for a larger screen iPad, Mr. Kuo also affirms that Apple is working on a sixth-generation iPad with an even higher pixel-per-inch count than the existing 9.7-inch iPad with Retina display, but contradicts rumors contending that Apple is working on a 12-inch or even 1-inch iPad for release in 2014.
So if Ming-Chi Kuo’s forecast proves accurate, there will be no OS convergence next year at least, with a new MacBook Intel powered and running OS X 10.9, and a new 9.7-inch iPad powered by (probably) a 64-bit Apple A8 SoC and running iOS 8 coming along about this time next yea7r. Which would mean that OS X and the iOS will remain separate and distinct entities into 2015, although we can safely anticipate more feature set crossover between Apple’s desktop and mobile OSs.
Of course even Mr. Kuo doesn’t have total insight into Apple’s OS development roadmap, but I think he’s probably on the right track with his predictions for the next year or so. However, in the medium to long term, I’m still of a mind that OS X/iOS convergence is likely inevitable, and that ultimately Mark Shuttleworth will be proved correct in his prediction that someday we will see Apple laptops and desktops powered by in-house designed A-Series silicon and running a merged Apple OS, but nobody should be holding their breath in anticipation just yet.
I think it’s fairly likely that Mac sales will flatten or even decline a bit, but it’s prudent to keep a big picture perspective. Mac sales may be down year-over-year, but they’re still selling in much greater volume than they were, say, eight years ago, before the switch to Intel silicon. I would venture that it’s possible that a “peak Mac” point may have been crossed, but that certainly doesn’t mean the Mac is circling the drain.