Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

By request: Apple and OS convergence

In every issue of Six Colors Magazine, we’ll take a request from a subscriber. This one comes from Kevin Miller:

“I’d like to hear your take on Tim Cook flat-out denying that they want iOS and OS X to converge. Literally true? Or one of those check-back-in-five-years things?”

There was a time when it seemed clear that iOS and OS X were going to converge. Take Lion in 2011. That release was full of features and design changes that seemed to bring it closer to its mobile counterpart. “Natural scrolling” and auto-hiding scrollbars were introduced, matching the scrolling metaphors across the two platforms. LaunchPad aped the iOS home screen. Auto-save and versioning allowed you to quit apps without saving and keep your files intact—and in fact, the OS itself could shut down apps if it wanted to recapture resources.

Over time, iCal became Calendar and Address Book became Contacts and iChat became Messages, all in the same of harmony. As a Mac user it would have been hard not to feel that iOS was closing in.

But after Apple got rid of Scott Forstall, there seems to have been a change in philosophy on this point. In early 2014, I got to interview Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and Bud Tribble at Apple on the occasion of the Mac’s 30th birthday. And their message, which they hit upon again and again in our interview session, was this: The Mac’s not going anywhere, and it’s not converging with iOS.

Let me quote Federighi verbatim from that interview:

To say these two should be the same, independent of their purpose, let’s just converge, for the sake of convergence, is absolutely a nongoal. You want to feel to some extent that these are authored by the same hand, reflecting of the same set of beliefs and principles, and yet logically the consequence of their purpose.You don’t want to say the Mac became less good at being a Mac because someone tried to turn it into iOS. At the same time, you don’t want to feel like iOS was designed by this company and Mac was designed by this company, and they’re different for reasons of lack of common vision. We have a common sense of aesthetics, a common set of principles that drive us, and we’re building the best products we can for their unique purposes. So you’ll see them be the same where that makes sense, and you’ll see them be different in those things that are critical to their essence.”

And Tim Cook, on a conference call a few months later, famously said this:

I think anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that products are about tradeoffs, and you begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn’t please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator but y’know, those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is in the Toaster-Fridge business with Surface, which acts like a Windows tablet (with an appropriate touch UI) in tablet mode but like a standard Windows PC (complete with keyboard and mouse!) when in PC mode. Even Google is feinting in this direction with its convergence of Android and Chrome OS.

As I wrote in my iPad Pro review:

The iPad alone makes as much money as the Mac does, and both products are dwarfed by the success of the iPhone. iOS is Apple’s flagship operating system, so rather than mash the Mac and iOS together, it’s decided to keep them separate.

But what are people going to want? Converged PC tablets? Tablets with the power of PCs but none of their trappings? Or perhaps smartphones for some, large American-designed tablets for others. Always in motion is the future. Over the long haul, I think Apple’s approach is the correct one: The Surface’s convertibility smacks of a transitional product if ever there was one. But since we’re in a transition period right now, maybe something like the Surface is what people want.

And that’s why I can’t help asking myself, if Apple made a Retina MacBook whose screen popped off and became an iPad, would I buy it? It seems like such a Frankenstein product, so inelegant a concept and so clearly not the way the world is going. And yet, I would be tempted. Not because it’s a bold direction forward, but because it’s a compromise that grants me some comfort in a time of change.

So is it possible that Apple will build a device that is an iPad and a Mac? It’s possible, but even if it does so, it will likely be a weird transitional hybrid, not something that will stand the test of time. People use Macs because they’re Macs, and making a Mac into an iPad ruins that. Let the Mac be the Mac, and the iPad be the iPad. I believe that, and I think Apple does, too.

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