With The New iPadOS, Apple Is Paving The Way To A Forthcoming Merger Of iOS & MacOS

EDITORIAL: 07.26.19 The advent of the new iPadOS, — a hybrid-like operating system that is part mobile and part desktop, further blurs the lines between iOS, “the world’s most advanced mobile operating system,” and MacOS, “the world’s most advanced desktop operating system,” and this latest move by Apple suggests that an impending merger of its two operating systems is on the horizon, something that continues to look even more likely than ever before (if not definitely).

Apple executives have continued — as they have done so many times in the past — to deny, unequivocally, that they will be merging the company’s mobile and desktop operating systems anytime soon. Apple senior Vice President of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, said that it would be a waste of energy while Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said its users don’t want it. Most recently, at last year’s annual worldwide developers conference, WWDC 18, the issue was addressed by Apple senior Vice President of software engineering, Craig Federighi, who answered the long standing question in three words: “Of course not.”

However? The sheep’s wool is starting to unravel off the wolf (so to speak).

The updated design of the Files app in the new iPadOS adds support for external drives, allowing for easy access to, and management of, files and documents. (Photo: Courtesy of Apple)

A touch-based operating system is the wave of the future and Apple knows it. The tech giant has been, slowly but surely, leading us in that direction — despite all the denials from its senior executives — and the first step in making a merger of iOS and MacOS a reality is through the new iPadOS which was announced last month at WWDC 19.

A majority of the upcoming new features of what has been dubbed “the powerful operating system with a new name to recognize the distinctive experience of iPad” (interesting how Apple did not designate it outright as a mobile operating system) originate from, and are already found on, the Mac.

Features specific to iPadOS originating from or are similar to ones on MacOS that currently aren’t found in iOS — the foundation that the operating system exclusive to the Apple tablet computer was built upon — are ones such as the following:

  • new keyboard shortcuts available when connected to a physical keyboard (e.g., an Apple Smart Keyboard)
  • ability to install custom fonts into the system and manage its usage
  • work simultaneously with multiple files and documents from within the same app
  • with a simple swipe (called Slide Over), quickly view and switch between multiple apps that are open
  • show all the open windows (called Spaces) of a single app (with App Exposé)
  • save and access documents in a central location using the redesigned Files app
  • a column view is now visible when navigating directories of files and documents
  • share files and documents on a shared folder using iCloud Drive
  • ability to access file servers on a Mac or PC with the Files app
  • local storage on the device is now supported
  • support for external drives in the Files app now allows access to files and documents located on hard drives, USB flash drives, memory cards, etc.
  • a download manager is now part of Safari
  • web pages now default to desktop versions when browsing in Safari

The preceding features listed make the iPad act, feel, and function more like, well, a Mac.

Efforts to streamline the mobile and desktop operating systems — something which has been happening on a more regular bases for the past few years now — only further buttress the path Apple is headed towards with iOS and MacOS looking more and more like each other every single year: and the new iPadOS is just another, and a perfect, example of that fact (especially with it being a spinoff of iOS).

On the flip side? The Mac is becoming more and more like the iPad as well, with different elements of iOS (the previous incarnation of iPadOS) having been borrowed and integrated / implemented into recent versions of MacOS like such subtle moves as (just to name a few): the Notes, Reminders, and Photos apps making its way onto the desktop computer environment. Or, major moves like Siri, the AI digital assistant — which debuted in 2011 on the iPhone 4S with iOS 4 (historically significant in that this was the year that the mobile operating system previously known as iPhone OS became iOS) — finally making its way onto the Mac.

Some of the new applications coming this Fall to MacOS Catalina version 10.15 that mirror its mobile app counterparts originally from recent versions of iOS are ones such as the new Music, TV, and Podcasts applications (which replace the former iTunes application) and Screen Time. And, with Project Catalyst (formerly known as Project Marzipan), software developers will be able to create new — or port over — applications for the Mac derived from apps native to the iPad, making those apps specifically designed for the Apple tablet computer work seamlessly on any Mac notebook or desktop computer running MacOS Catalina (and any future updates to the desktop operating system).

Then, there’s the hardware related side of things which provide more solid examples of this convergence we are in the midst of: evidence of Apple wanting you to meld the experience and environments of your tablet with your notebook or desktop computer (and vice versa).

On the iPad, mouse support will be a new feature coming to iPadOS and although it isn’t designed for the mainstream — it’s an Accessibility component for users with disabilities (see related article from this column) — it well could be a, precursor (pun intended), for the day everyone and not just the disabled will have the option to control their Apple tablet computer with a point and click.

For the Mac, one of the major features coming to MacOS Catalina is Side Car, an application which allows you to connect any iPad running iPadOS to a Mac notebook or desktop computer and use it as an external display to extend your workspace. Furthermore, you will be able to use your Apple Pencil to interact with whichever Mac application window is on the iPad screen (e.g. a photo being edited in Photoshop), however, touchscreen controls will be, unfortunately, inactive when an iPad is connected as an external display via Side Car.

I surmise that support for touchscreen controls on the iPad when connected as an external display using Side Car might be a feature Apple decides to activate later down the road in a software update to both operating systems.

Nevermind the fact that there already are touch-based controls on the Mac, specifically the MacBook Pro. Since 2016 Apple has equipped its professional line of notebook computers with a Touch Bar and Touch ID, both giving users a sampling of such touch-enabled features that previously only could be done on iOS devices like, well, the iPad!

With all that’s been done by the tech giant so far — on both the software and hardware side (primarily on the former with its mobile and desktop operating systems, especially with the new iPadOS) — could the next step be a touchscreen Mac?

A major hardware related component that points to the day we see a touchscreen Mac in the product pipeline, and more importantly, a merger of iOS and MacOS — the new iPadOS notwithstanding — is the impending transition by Apple from Intel processors to the ARM chipset produced in-house by the tech giant which will be the internal components used in all of its hardware and devices moving forward beginning as early as next year.

As Bloomberg reported last year, the initiative (known internally as Kalamata) is part of a larger strategy that will make all Apple hardware and devices from the Mac to the iPad work more similarly and seamlessly together.

According to information provided by the website Cult of Mac, ironically on the topic of why you’ll never own a Mac with an ARM processor, MacOS can’t natively run on ARM chips —at least not currently (a top secret project to port Mac OS X onto ARM did exist at one point in time) — but iOS was designed to do so from the start.

if Apple is indeed making ARM its default chipset for its computer hardware (its already inside its iOS devices), logic would dictate that a new desktop operating system is needed that is based on iOS, such as one that is, short of being unified, a hybrid version melded with the best parts of MacOS and it appears that the new iPadOS is a step in that very direction, a desktop-class mobile operating system.

And, for starters during the initial transition to ARM processors, this hybrid operating system would also need to run on hybrid hardware like a notebook computer equipped with a physical keyboard and trackpad plus a touchscreen display. (I can just see the Apple tagline for the product now: “Say hello to the all-new iBook.”).

Apple has filed two patents for Macs with touchscreens: one for an iMac with a touchscreen and one for a MacBook with a touchscreen keyboard. Whether those designs will see the light of day in the near future remains to be seen as the company is known to file many patents which never ever go into production.

If you think about it? Apple technically already has a pseudo hybrid touchscreen Mac of sorts in the form of the iPad Pro which debuted in 2015. The tablet, designed for the professional user crowd (e.g. photographers and artists), has been touted as a replacement for a Mac notebook computer. The Apple Pencil —— which originally was available only for the iPad Pro but is now supported on all iPad models (2018 iPad and 2019 iPad Air and iPad mini) — for the time being is as close as anyone will get to interacting with the device with a mouse-like peripheral. And for those who need a keyboard, Apple sells a Smart Keyboard to boot!

Add in to that equation the new iPadOS — with its MacOS-like capabilities — and you’ve got an even more powerful mobile device that’s a viable solution for modern computing built around an ARM chip as its hardware, and for its software, iOS as its foundation, and at its core, Mac OS X.

iPadOS was born of iOS and MacOS, all three operating systems tied together with Mac OS X at its root level. iOS itself is an offshoot of Mac OS X: remember what operating system the late co-founder and Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, said was running on the iPhone (where iOS first debuted in the form of iPhone OS) when he unveiled it in 2007?

At the heart of the matter is MacOS. It has been more than three decades of point and click with a mouse on desktop computers, and also, in much less time, — a trackpad on notebook computers. Both peripherals in recent years, specifically the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad from Apple, have gained support for multitouch and gestures (adopting such features found in iOS). With the touchscreens on our smartphones and tablets being ubiquitous since Apple reinvented the phone 12 years ago when multitouch was first employed in an iOS device (and further proliferated with the debut of the iPad in 2010), the most logical step forward would be a touch enabled user interface for a desktop computer operating system of the future. It’s only a matter of time when that will happen and that day is drawing ever so near.

A famous quote that comes to mind is one that Steve Jobs used in a slide onscreen during one of his keynote addresses at a Macworld Conference & Expo one year (I can’t remember which year it was) from former ice hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, who said the following:

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

The company is going to do what it wants to do and take the lead to where it thinks the industry should go, bringing its users along with it, and it certainly isn’t going to dwell on whether, as Cook said, its users don’t want it — a merger of iOS and MacOS — to happen!

After all, this is the innovator that was always ahead of its time with such moves like ditching the floppy disk drive in its original iMac in 1998 in favor of a sole optical disc drive when all the PC makers were still installing it in their desktop computer towers, or, the more recent move in 2016 to remove the headphone jack from its smartphones beginning with the iPhone 7.

iPadOS is a preview of what’s to come, demonstrating where Apple is heading, what with MacOS taking a backseat and its focus and efforts in recent years solely on the iOS ecosystem: from the mobile operating system itself to apps and devices (primarily with the iPhone but the even bigger leap now being the iPad).

Apple Vice President of product marketing, Greg Joswiak, summed it up best when he said that the iPad was the company’s vision for the future of computing. And a sign that that future is already here is with the new iPadOS.

With its new powerful operating system designed exclusively for the iPad, Apple has a Trojan Horse (so to speak) of sorts in its hands — what with its laundry list (again, so to speak) of features adopted from the Mac — and the company is giving everyone on both sides a taste of the best of what each competing operating system has to offer before an eventual merger of iOS and MacOS. If that isn’t proof that suggests a harbinger of a forthcoming unification of its mobile and desktop operating systems headed our way? Then, the tech giant almost certainly has been (as Schiller said) wasting its energy.

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