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  • Is the Mac OS Dying?

    August 31st, 2010

    You know that Apple is, nowadays, earning far more income from mobile products than from Macs. Right now, more people own products powered by iOS than powered by Mac OS X, so you begin to wonder where this all might be heading.

    Recently, Apple applied for a patent covering touchscreens on regular Macs, which would appear to mean that you’ll be able to use them in roughly the same fashion as an iPhone or iPod touch, counting for the differences in screen size.

    The possibility of running the iOS under — or in place of — Mac OS X has also gained traction among people who love to speculate about what Apple is up to.

    There is also that statement that Steve Jobs made before he returned to Apple, that the company he co-founded should milk the Mac for all its worth, and then move on to the next great thing. That thing, it appears, must be the iOS, and now that it is more popular than the Mac, are we seeing the handwriting on the wall?

    Consider, also, the last WWDC, where Apple almost pretended there was no Mac or Mac OS X, except for a few workshops. You could almost believe that Apple had put Macs on the back burner, except to release simple product refreshes to keep the products from growing stale.

    Then there are those quotes from Steve Jobs comparing the PC to a truck, and the mobile platforms to slick cars. That indeed conveys the impression that Macs are becoming outmoded, and, except for a small devoted core of users, will soon become extinct.

    But wait a minute! It’s also true that more and more Macs are being sold each and every quarter? Sales increases continue to lead the PC industry overall, and estimates score potential Apple sales as reaching — or perhaps exceeding — four million this quarter. Compare that to the final quarter of 2000, where Apple moved less than 400,000 Macs.

    The continuing growth of the Mac segment comes at a time when Apple seems barely spending any marketing money to spur sales. New models seldom garner more than a simple press release; indeed, the last MacBook refresh didn’t even merit that. Apple is clearly depending on the “halo effect,” that sales of iPhones and iPads, and even iPods, introduce people to Apple’s cool and iconic technology, thus convincing them that their next PC purchase ought to be a Mac. That may be why those cute “Mac Versus PC” ads have been discontinued.

    Now it’s fair to say nobody has said the PC is forever, although I suppose Microsoft would wish it so, since they wouldn’t have to spend so many billions of dollars in failed attempts to move beyond their core operating system, server and productivity software products. Then again, Microsoft makes huge profits from those legacy products, so it’s not as if they were in danger of folding anytime soon. Even if sales were to flatten and, ultimately, decline, that process might take years to complete. Microsoft’s executives still have plenty of time to fatten their bank accounts before the boom falls.

    As far as Apple is concerned, I suppose it is possible to craft a version of the iOS for desktop Macs. After all, that OS is derived from Mac OS X. But the simplification is largely to make it possible to use touchscreens. A traditional setup with mouse (or trackball) and keyboard wouldn’t require so many sacrifices, although there might be things that could be ported over to help make Mac OS X more useful to beginners and those for whom a sophisticated Unix-based OS is just too much for their needs.

    But the real question is why Apple would want to ditch Mac OS X and deploy the mobile version on regular Macs. I fail to see where that would make any sense, except perhaps to refine interfaces here and there. If people really want the iOS — and require many of the functions a PC offers — the iPad and its successors ought to fill the bill nicely.

    Indeed, I have suggested on several occasions that the iPad is the Mac of the future, although a lot of changes will have to be made between now and then before that makes sense. I don’t need to bore you with a laundry list of what you can’t do on the iPad, beyond the lack of a conventional file system and — so far at least — the lack of native support for printing. At least you can get apps to print your documents and Web pages, but they require a desktop Mac or PC to connect to a printer for that to happen. The iPad also requires iTunes for syncing; it cannot exist all by itself, at least not yet.

    As far as Macs are concerned, I’m not selling mine anytime soon. You shouldn’t either, unless the iPad does everything you need a computer to do.

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