Forget the iPhone OS! What About the Next Mac OS?

April 6th, 2010

You know that Apple will spill the beans about iPhone 4.0 on Thursday, April 8th. Lots of speculation is out there, ranging from enhanced multitasking to an integrated email Inbox and more hand gestures. Since the answers will be known soon, there’s probably little sense speculating any further, unless you want bragging rights if your guesses turn out to be correct.

More to the point, whatever Apple announces will be available as a free download for your iPhone and iPad (yes that’s what it’s user license says) and for a modest fee on the iPod touch. You can expect that update to arrive in a roughly summer timeframe, coinciding with the expected release of the next generation iPhone.

But you also know that Apple will hold its annual WWDC event perhaps a short time before the iPhone release, where Steve Jobs will no doubt demonstrate the product and its new OS. But is that all there is?

In recent weeks, you may have come to believe that Apple only sells mobile devices. If it’s not an ad for the iPhone, there’s one for the iPad, sometimes only minutes apart on your favorite TV show. You almost begin to think that Apple is, once again, ignoring the product that made it famous — the personal computer.

Yes, the Mac. The last hardware updates occurred last year. First the fancy iMac with a 27-inch model offering an optional quad-core processor. A few weeks later, Apple added another processor option for the Mac Pro and then only silence.

Last week’s release of Mac OS 10.6.3 seems an attempt to do a wrap-up release, getting as many fixes into one update as possible, along with a slew of security enhancements. Aside from some random complaints — not unusual in such circumstances — most Mac users who ran the update have had no trouble whatever.

In recent weeks, there have been rumors that a MacBook Pro update is in the offing. The current lineup is, so far as the computer world is concerned, long in the tooth, dating back to June of last year. With new Intel “i” series processors available, including quad-core versions that consume less power, I’m sure some of you are lusting after the possibility of a souped up MacBook Pro that would challenge desktops when it comes to performance.

But where is it?

One possibility is that Apple has had problems working out the graphic chip lineup. NVIDIA and Intel have been embroiled in a legal dispute over the former’s rights to build chipsets that work with the latter’s latest processors. That would prevent the sort of twin graphics chip layout the higher-end MacBook Pros have now, based on the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor and adding the ability to switch to a faster, discrete processor when you need the utmost 3D and gaming performance.

Assuming NVIDIA and Intel don’t come together, Apple would probably have to go discrete all the way, facing higher production costs, or choose one of those lame Intel integrated graphics chips for basic display chores, and scaling up to a separate chip for anything else.

Regardless, when Steve Jobs said “Not to worry,” in one of his famous pithy responses to a concerned customer, I suppose you can be assured Apple is sensitive to the problem and will have a solution soon.

Meantime, there’s always Snow Leopard’s successor, 10.7, with an unknown feline code name — and I won’t try to guess which.

Apple promoted Snow Leopard as a leaner, meaner version of Leopard with plumbing enhancements to deliver at least the potential for improved performance, but few new visible features. Actually they were called “enhancements,” so you wouldn’t mistake them for anything significant. But apps that support the new programming tools have been slow to arrive. For the most part, Snow Leopard is little faster than Leopard for most of you, unless you happen to be using one of those 10.6-savvy apps.

So it would seem logical that 10.7 will again sport loads of feature enhancements to justify a full upgrade price. Assuming a release in 2011, Apple might deliver an early developer release at the next WWDC, to give software companies time to play with the new features and begin to update their products.

On the long haul, you have to wonder just what Apple needs to do in order to improve Mac OS X. I have talked to a number of people in recent months about a wish list, and there are precious few meaningful suggestions. This is the dilemma faced with a mature operating system. Other than making changes for the sake of change, as Microsoft has evidently done with Windows 7, just what can Apple do to boast 200 or 300 new OS features?

Translating ideas from the iPhone OS might be a possibility, but the fundamental innovations in Apple’s mobile platform relate to multitouch and other methods to simplify the system for products with smaller screens and low-power processors. Although possessing a processor with a estimated speed of a mere 1GHz, the iPad runs incredibly fast. Most functions appear to happen instantaneously. Yet even the fastest Mac, with quad-cores and better, can’t deliver instant response consistently. So maybe the things Apple has learned from a slimmer OS might translate. Then again, that’s not a feature you can sell to people who want to see loads of visible changes.

So the 10.7 wish list remains open, and I hope to see some suggestions for major improvements, not just minor enhancements. The doors remain open for your ideas.

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12 Responses to “Forget the iPhone OS! What About the Next Mac OS?”

  1. DaveD says:

    My hope is that one of Apple’s internal goals is to fine-tune hardware and software to reduce energy consumption. I found it distressing when the power requirements on notebooks went up in the last 10 years. I would not mind paying $29 for a Mac OS X upgrade just for “enhancements” every two years. I am willing to stop waiting for windowshading.

  2. dfs says:

    What new features could OSX.7 boast? Well, we’d hope for a couple of unexpected and wizzy new features along the lines of Exposé and Time Machine to generate the necessary headlines. But to boost the number of features Apple could include, they could look at some of the most popular shareware items available. In no particular order these might include momentum scrolling (SmartScroll), better window manipulation (Mondo Mouse), f-key assigning (Keyboard Maestro etc. etc.), multiple clipboards (too many to mention), multiple docks (ditto), better open/save dialogue boxes (Default Folder). Some of the routine maintenance chores performed by utilities such as Onyx and Cocktail could bundled with the OS, and it could include some maintenance and repair tools beyond Disk Utility, maybe even a disk-defragmentation utility Haxies, one hope,s are dead and gone, but some of most useful ones could be revived by Apple itself (particularly Fruit Menu and Window Shade). Some familiar OSX features cry out for improvement. Since Apple is otherwise so big in telephony, Address Book desperately needs to be brought up to speed by giving it phone-dialing capacity (you use it to store your numbers, you should be able to dial them as well). Spaces could stand a lot of improvement making it task-oriented rather than application-oriented (so you could use windows created by the same application in different Spaces desktops in a stable and reliable way, something you can’t do with the current implementation). Software Update could be expanded to deliver upgrades of third party software as selected by the individual user, along the lines of MacUpdate Desktop. Finally Apple might very well think about developing OSX equivalents for some of its iPhone and iPad apps with its computers as well. It would be very logical to include e-book reading software with the OSX (more business for the Apple Store) and facilitating GPS technology for laptops would seem to make sense as well. All of these things of course don’t add up to 200 or 300 improvements, but they suggest ways the list could be started.

  3. SonOfA says:

    Just some things off the top of my head..

    I would like a 3D dock when pinned to the side of the screen. I never have my dock at the bottom. I would like the ability to resize windows from anywhere not just the measly bottom right hand corner. I would like my computer to continuously share it’s internet connection wirelessly. Every couple of times when I restart I have to turn it off and then turn it back on, sometimes multiple times just to get it working again. Annoying!!

  4. Gerald says:

    To pick a nit:

    “NVIDIA and Intel have been embroiled in a legal dispute over the former’s rights to build chipsets that work with the latter’s latest processors. That would prevent the sort of twin graphics chip layout the higher-end MacBook Pros have now”

    Just because NVIDIA got pissed at Intel for copying without licensing and had an injunction put against them does not mean that the entire world is forbidden from making chipsets to bridge NVIDIA GPUs with Intel CPUs. Only Intel is forbidden from this activity. Apple, a builder who is in control of it’s own hardware, can easily license the right to make such chipsets.

  5. Andrew says:

    Also, the Intel integrated on the I7 chips isn’t half bad, and can easily be combined with a powerful discreet chip.

  6. hmurchison says:

    There are alot of ways that Apple could go with 10.7.

    1. New filesystem – even basic consumers now need respite from data corruption, and management of files. Time Machine could be so much better if it’s linked into a more modern fs. Dedupe would be sweet as well.

    2. App management – We need an apple uninstaller and tool for 3rd party updates (Software Update). I shouldn’t have to buy a product to manage my software updates. Sparkles nice but a Software Update for 3rd parties could be fleshed out so much more with rollbacks and other stuff.

    3. Make it easier for Mac software developers to port existing code to the iPhone/Touch/iPad ecosystem.

    4. Resolution Independence

    5. Improved Speech technology

    6. Homegrown notification system. I’ve got too many “helper” apps eating up RAM and other resources. Apple should take the notification system for iPhone OS and beef it up for Macs. Again Growl is nice but a bit too basic IMO

    7. Mac Store. Seriously create a marketplace where developers can get attention to their software for a small cut. Sure the developer can still sell on their own but having a larget marketplace a la the App Store would be a long ways towards Mac users being exposed to new software.

    8. MobileMe – Integrate it into the OS and give new computer users 6 months of service for free. Blend the service so well that it’s hard to tell what comes from local storage versus the Cloud.

    9. FTP – Just build in basic FTP support which could come in handy for plenty of people.

    10. Integrate Mail, iCal, Addressbook and more into one uber Information Center- Leave the individual apps but take their data and wrap it into a nice single pane view for people who are always managing the flow of emails, calendar data and contacts. Mix in a bit of social networking support as well.

  7. SteveP says:

    A definite YES to #s 5 and 10.

    I feel like I’ve been alone on the speech issue.
    My computer is FEMALE! Her voice is “Victoria” but that is really marginal.
    I understand that the male voice was upgraded with Leopard. (I don’t have it, so I don’t know.)
    But why can’t they add a high quality female voice? (Preferably one that sounds like Catherine Deneuve! 🙂 )

    The thing to remember about including in the OS all the little add ons that are available as separate apps is that if Apple did this there might be patent issues – or, even if there weren’t, there might be public debate about “theft” like there was with “Watson”. By NOT including some of these things Apple encourages a large group of developers.

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  9. Ken Heins says:

    would love the old modifiable Apple menu where you could individually delete items, STILL miss it!

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