You might have missed the fact that Apple’s iPad Pro is about 50% faster than the new Retina MacBook. That’s right, Apple’s ARM chip running iOS is faster–for the same price point–as an Intel chip running on OS X.
As Apple’s mobile devices–powered by their AX series of processors–become more powerful, the inevitable question comes up: Whither OS X and Intel?
I’ve long wondered whether OS X would be ported to the ARM architecture to work on a MacBook-like device that used an Apple A10 chip (or maybe a new B-series).
The other possibility, of course, is that the opposite happens: instead of OS X coming to ARM, iOS (already on ARM) would gain a mouse-and-keyboard interface. And, just as watchOS and tvOS were created to handle the Crown and Siri Remote, there would be a new AppleOS or mouseOS or macOS that would be based on iOS but have a different user interaction mechanism.
I used to be on the fence about which option Apple could take, and thought it was a 50:50 probability as to whether OS X would be ported to ARM or whether iOS would gain mouse-and-keyboard functionality.
But a while back, Benedict Evans, a VC analyst at Andreesen-Horowitz, tweeted this:
“Apple has replaced operating systems before. iOS will replace OS X in due course too. Modern versus legacy.”
And ever since then, I’ve come more and more into his camp, thinking he’s absolutely right. Let me explain why.
In a nutshell, here is why this makes sense:
- Apple has become an iOS & ARM-focused company. Apple is entirely based on ARM & iOS: from watch to iPod to iPhone to iPad to, presumably, Apple Car
- Apple has made steady progress on custom ARM chips and shows no sign of stopping. Ax chips are faster than Intel mobile chips (in the Retina MacBook and Surface Pro 4). Apple will only get better, and rumor is they’re working on their own GPUs, too
- Apple can save significant costs with 1 platform and no Intel tax. Why support 2 chip architectures (ARM & Intel) and 2 OSes (iOS and OS X) indefinitely? That makes no sense.
For this to work, iOS has to slowly pull more and more from OS X. The nice thing about this for Apple is that they can reimagine how a feature might work and implement it differently in iOS, as long as it gives users a similar benefit and gives Apple more control and security. For example, OS X has unlimited multitasking whereas in iOS this was reimagined to time-limit how much work can be done in the background, to save battery life.
Similarly, IPC (inter-process communication) is complex and powerful in OS X, but has potential security issues, whereas in iOS, it is (so far) limited to Extensions.
So, really, iOS becomes, over time, the OS that Apple wishes OS X were: a mobile-friendly but also desktop-capable OS that has great battery life and great security.
When Apple released the Retina MacBook with a single USB Type C port, I had an aha! moment. USB Type C looks almost like a Lightning port that Apple uses for all their iOS devices. Apple prefers iOS over OS X because it’s more locked down–you have to use the App Store to install apps, so it’s inherently more secure than OS X. The Retina MacBook with USB Type C could be Apple’s way of getting users used to laptops with a single port. USB is not locked down the way Lightning is, so it is quite expandable, but it is quite remarkable to see a laptop with a single port.
Now Apple would want to move from USB C to Lightning, but trying that on OS X would be problematic. But what about introducing a (non-Mac branded?) laptop running iOS and with a single Lightning port? (It may or may not have a touchscreen.) That would give Apple all the control they want: it’s running iOS and has a Lightning port, but it looks just like a laptop. It’s not the iOS we know and love today, of course–it would be modified (and much like tvOS and watchOS, be branded differently as, say, AppleOS) to work with a keyboard and mouse/touchpad like any other laptop.
This would be the first transition device. Sure the twittersphere and blogosphere would wail and moan about the non-expandability of this new iOS-based laptop, but Apple would simply point to the Retina MacBook and say, “See, we already have a device with a single port. It’s just iOS now.”
This would benefit Apple in terms of security, control, app distribution, performance advantage (right now, now laptop maker can claim they’re any faster than another because they all use Intel chips), and lack of any Intel tax, increasing margins.
I’m convinced that this ARM-based laptop will exist, and will lead the way to the eventual slow decay of OS X and the rise of an iOS derivative powering the computing devices of the future. Apple will iterate on this year after year, effectively replacing more and more Intel devices over time. This is the future.