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Mac OS X Poised for Tremendous Growth?

It’s nice to see Mac sales consistently besting 1.5 million units every quarter nowadays, and there’s talk that the magic two million figure may be reached as early as the current quarter. This sounds like a lot, and it is as far as Macs are concerned. But sales of a couple of million computers are dwarfed by the likes of Dell and HP, which traditionally record sales in the tens of millions.

On the other hand, the Mac OS is apt to appear in lots of unexpected places, and, before long, Apple’s operating system market share may actually be higher on products other than its personal computers. Of course, some of those products might, in a sense, be personal computers too, but I’ll avoid that labeling for now at least. That may change over time.

First there’s Apple TV, which is basically a slimmed down Mac with a slimmed down operating system designed to funnel your multimedia stuff from Mac or PC to TV. Of course, the iPhone also uses what Apple calls “OS X” to avoid the Mac link, although the guts are derived from the same parent.

So, assuming 270,000 iPhones sold during that magic 30-hour period last month, Mac OS sales did indeed exceed two million during the last quarter, and that doesn’t count the Apple TV.

Can you see where I’m going?

Consider the prospects for the next iPod, which some are referring to as a possible major upgrade, a so-called 6G model. Supposedly it’ll leverage Apple’s touch screen, and, of course, employ a version of OS X that doesn’t include support for telephony and Internet connectivity. In other words, half an iPhone, more or less, with the usual options for Flash memory and miniature hard drives.

There are some who suggest that elements of Mac OS X are already present in the more recent versions of the iPod, but Apple isn’t talking. No surprises there.

Between now and the end of the year, Apple could sell more than ten times as many iPods as Macs, plus a million or so iPhones, or even more. By 2009, industry analysts are speaking of iPhone sales that might resemble what the iPod is doing today.

Every single iPhone and most iPods will add to OS X’s market penetration, with or without the word “Mac.” So where would you place the operating system’s market share then?

Now it’s quite true that Apple isn’t the only tech company leveraging operating systems across several platforms. Microsoft has Windows Mobile for smart phones, and various flavors of Linux grace other wireless phones.

Indeed, your cable or satellite TV set top box is basically just another specialized personal computer with its own operating system. The famous TiVO digital recorder, for example, uses Linux to power its world-class interface, the very interface that gave it a win in the courts in that action against Dish Network. Although the courts haven’t resolved that skirmish yet, TiVO’s software will soon turn up for some Comcast and Cox cable TV customers.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine some future version of Apple TV incorporating all the functions of a TV set top box, which would, in effect, pit Apple against TiVO. And to think some tech pundits once suggested that Apple would do well to acquire TiVO because of its stellar software. Sure, right.

So what does this incredible expansion of Mac OS X’s market share going to mean to you and me? Frankly, not a whole lot. But for Apple, it’s a wonderful achievement, because it shows off their ability to take the very same technology and deploy it among a number of products that you might regard as only peripherally related.

As Apple grows, it means there will be a lot more R&D money with which to improve Mac OS X and fund other Apple product categories. In fact, there are probably an unimaginable number of gadgets that this operating system could run. Anything that requires a microprocessor, a storage device, and some form of networking would be ideal.

I’ll leave it to you to envision the possibilities, as I’m sure Apple is doing right now.