- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

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

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.