Why Apple is making OS X more like iOS

When Apple unveiled its preview of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion earlier this year, many people in the blogosphere concluded that Mac OS X was being “iOSified.” In other words, features from iOS were being ported to OS X for use on the desktop, a continuation of the Back to the Mac campaign Apple first initiated with Mac OS X Lion. Some lamented that this has been a bad thing—as if features that work, in some cases, better on iOS than on the desktop, shouldn’t be added to OS X, because the former is a mobile operating system, and the latter built for the desktop.

iOS and OS X have the same foundation, and there is no reason why efficient features of one shouldn’t be added to the other. But Apple is, in my opinion, developing a much deeper and longer term strategy in iOSifying OS X.

In its most recent fiscal quarter, Apple’s earnings were dominated by sales of iOS devices. Out of $39.2 billion in revenue, the iPhone and iPad represented three quarters of the company’s sales. While Mac growth is still well ahead of the rest of the PC market, the Mac now makes up less than one-fifth of the company’s revenue. Apple is making some 75 percent of its income from product lines introduced within the past five years.

iOS devices are driving sales for Apple.

At the same time, there’s another stat Apple presents during its quarterly earning announcements: Half of the Macs sold at the company’s retail stores are to new customers—to switchers.

Put yourself in the shoes of a person who owns an iPhone or iPad. If they want a new computer, and they have been happy with their iPhone or iPad, they might consider buying a Mac. When they go to an Apple Store today, they’ll look at a Mac and see applications like iCal and Address Book, or System Preferences and iChat. While the icons are similar enough for them to figure out the link between these and their mobile equivalents, it would be a lot easier if they saw Calendar and Contacts; Settings and Messages. And those little Share buttons? People use them all the time to send things by e-mail, but it’s not immediately clear how to do this in OS X.

Apple’s Mac growth is impressive, but the company can do so much more to bring into the fold people who have already been converted to iOS. What better way to do so than to say, “You know how to use an iPhone; so you already know how to use a Mac.” This iOSification is not a dumbing down of OS X, but rather a drive to create consistency across the two platforms. I certainly don’t expect touch-screen laptops—just think how tired your arm would get after constantly raising it to touch the screen—but making the two operating systems coherent is the best thing that Apple can do to get new customers to buy Macs.

In addition, Apple’s iCloud strategy is clearly designed to link the two types of devices. With OS X Mountain Lion, iCloud will be enhanced, managing reminders, notes, passwords and much more. Once Apple makes iCloud syncing fully transparent, the ability to switch from an iPad to a Mac will be simple enough that it will become second nature.

I can see Apple launching a major marketing campaign to get its iOS customers to buy Macs. With the rapprochement of the two operating systems, I can even picture a new commercial the company might run. It might start something like this:

A: Hi, I’m an iPhone.

B: I’m an iPad.

C: And I’m a Mac.

The three characters can then go on to point out how easy it is for one of the hundreds of millions of iOS users to buy a new Mac, enter their Apple ID, and start working (and playing). They could show how so many familiar apps and concepts make picking up and using a new Mac simple for anyone who is used to an iPhone or iPad.

Taking the best of iOS and adding it to OS X will not weaken the desktop platform, as some have suggested; the features being added are those that have proven effective on mobile devices. If anything, this cross-pollination will improve both platforms, and simplify tasks for those who use both platforms to get things done. And, in the end, the iOSification of OS X may be the catalyst that allows Apple to take Mac sales to a new level.

[Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Kirk is the author of Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ.]

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