While I was on Wikipedia doing some vital research (I was right, Plastic Man has no internal organs) I reminded myself that 2011 is an important anniversary for the two Apple products that made Apple what it is today (most essentially: not a subsidiary of Sony or Adobe). Mac OS X and the iPod were both released 10 years ago.
Mac OS X in particular is the product that saved Apple: it prevented Apple’s whole Ponzi scheme from collapsing. Yep, put a few drinks into even the most ardent Apple supporter and he’ll admit that he promoted the virtues of the Power Macintosh 8110AV with the same desperate, hollow vim as that uncle of yours with a garage full of water filters. Apple had become a pyramid scheme. We’d sunk so much of our enthusiasm and hopes into the Mac OS and gotten so little in return that the only way to keep ourselves afloat was to do whatever we had to in order to bring in another wave of suckers.
“Aha, but what about the iMac?” you protest. “That was Steve Jobs’ first personal product after he came back to Apple. That was released in 1998!”
Oh, you poor, poor bastard. The original iMac was a water filter in a fresh, new Bondi Blue housing. Nothing had really changed. The awesome cosmetic redesign re-energised us all and allowed Apple to stall for time. No, as big a seller as the iMac was, it didn’t save Apple. Mac OS X did that. By the late 1990s, Mac OS Classic had become a boat anchor. It was prettier than Windows, but it crashed. A lot.
Today, everybody wearing white earbuds knows the iOS success story. As with Mac OS X, it was the result of the courage to do new things and a determination to not add a new feature until it worked well, added true functionality and made sense for the product.
It has been such a success that I’ve heard some people speculate that Mac OS X’s days are numbered. This is the point where I remind everyone that while alcohol greases the gears of Difficult Truths, you should cut someone off before the result is a damned-fool utterance like that one or an unplanned pregnancy.
Nope, an iOS takeover will never happen. It’s fundamentally designed for mobile devices. Making it live up to all of the expectations of a desktop OS would be like adapting a car to suit the physiology, cognitive capacity and the daily commuter needs of a squirrel.
But Apple is a company that learns from its failures and its successes. It’s also bold enough to try something new and incompatible. What about a notebook that runs a new, third OS called iX? What could Apple build out of the best parts of iOS and Mac OS X?
I love the iPad’s extreme portability. I love the simplicity of the user experience, too. The Power To Be Your Best is a fine idea in principle, but in the category of keeping my working environment clean and uncluttered, My Best is, well, crap.
This leads to the third thing: reliability. My iPad is the only machine in my office that I know will always work. With the iPad, there’s also an implication that you don’t need to keep syncing files between the device and another computer. If my data is on Dropbox, my iDisk or Google Docs, I’m fine. I can grab my iPad and take off. I don’t need to think about what’s on the device or what I’ll want to accomplish during an afternoon at The Bagel Place With The WiFi.
I love my MacBook because it runs a desktop OS. When I had an 11in MacBook Air for a couple of months I was running the same apps and working the exact same projects that I had on my desktop Mac, despite the fact that the Air was barely more trouble to carry around than my iPad. I like the fact that it has standard ports and an open file system. If a file is on a flash drive, the medium presents a solution and not a problem.
So let’s consider an iPad built along the lines of the Air. It would be a superslim and lightweight design, built as a clamshell notebook with a full keyboard. It would feature an iPad-like 10-hour battery, minimum. One USB port, so I can connect to printers and data devices and load up content on my iPhone when I travel.
The iX OS would run the same apps as Mac OS X 10.7 Lion but with a twist: an iX notebook would only run apps in their full-screen modes. This limitation would firmly define iX as a ‘bridge’ OS. It would maintain and impose a simpler and stabler experience that limits distractions and potential problems.
An Apple iX wouldn’t be just a dumb client for remote apps. It would have an instinctive and intimate relationship with your apps and files elsewhere on the network. Screen sharing would be fundamentally woven into the OS. If you’re on the internet, your Apple iX could ‘find’ your Lion desktop, run the full-screen code from its installed apps and relate to its files just as naturally as anything you had on your local device.
Yeah, the Apple iX is pretty out there. Let’s not even log any of that in as speculation. It’s just an interesting idea to play with. I’ve no idea how, for example, Apple could even market such a thing. They would need to make it clear that it’s meant to be “the power of the desktop with the simplicity the iPad”.
If the Apple iX is a weird idea, the basic premise is sound. If Apple were to crossbreed its two most important products of the past 10 years, the offspring couldn’t help but be interesting. Go down to your local zoo and check out the long, long lines to see the Liger if you doubt it.