A dramatic change is taking place within our computing world. It’s no longer Mac vs. Windows. Desktop vs. notebook. Computing as we know it has gone mobile to the masses and the change will have long term implications for all Mac users.
The Mac we know and love today will be part of that change toward mobile ease-of-use. After years of abuse from Microsoft and Adobe and PC users who wished ill upon our cherished platform, it’s Apple itself that could destroy today’s Mac.
Evolutionary Change Becomes Revolutionary
Computing evolution sometimes feels as if it moves at a glacial pace. My first PC was an Osborne 1, so I cut my teeth on CP/M long before Unix and DOS, long before the Mac and Windows.
I’m comfortable with old school, yes, but pretty good at picking out trends toward the future.
My first Mac was a 128k version, circa spring of 1984. It didn’t do much except crash with a flair not matched by PC DOS machines. Over the years, the Mac changed, of course. Out with beige, in with color. Out with Mac OS, in with OS X and Unix. Out with PPC and in with Intel. Out with plastic, in with recyclable aluminum.
Looking back over the past 25 years or so, those are enormous changes, but may well be dwarfed by the change agents moving swiftly upon us. Part of future personal computing changes will be directed by Apple, and that may include destruction of the Mac as we know it.
Change The Present, Change The Future
In the past 10 years alone, our favorite Cupertino gadget maker has fomented dramatic change on industry after industry. OS X was pushed onto Mac users. The iPod, and iTunes and the iTunes Store changed how we buy and use music (and, to a lesser degree, TV shows and movies). Apple uprooted the retail music industry. Intel was brought in to give the Mac equal CPU footing among a host of cheaper PCs.
Change has accelerated. Apple feared that their dominance in portable media players would be short lived as the world began to move quickly toward the smart phone. Apple’s response was to rewire our expectations of what a smart cell phone should be. Along the way, Apple rewired how we use smart phone apps, how we find and download and install those apps, as well as how apps are used. How did people get apps before the App Store? A quaint relic of just a few years ago. Remember the stylus? In just a few short years it became a relic, too, thanks to Apple.
Apple is a change agent that is driven to create new and different tools and new and different ways to use those tools, yet makes them so compelling as to require customers to stand in line to buy the latest and greatest, sight unseen. Who else foments that kind of change? Apple customers take such changes with pleasure. Most of the time.
Adobe, Flash, And The Apple Experience
Part of the change Apple is pushing has become more public. The iPhone doesn’t run Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash, yet sales exceed the most optimistic forecasts. The iPod touch is a sleeper hit, a music and media loving game system. The iPad is the latest Apple darling gadget that also doesn’t run Flash anything. No Flash ads. No Flash movies. No Flash audio. Apple just said no to Flash.
Despite the fact that Adobe’s Flash doesn’t work for squat on other mobile devices, my view says there is something else afoot. Flash is a resource hog, whether Mac or Windows or smart phone, yes. But there’s more to the story.
Apple is all about user experience, even more so today than in decades past, thanks to CEO Steve Jobs’ perfectionism (and the resources assembled to produce gadgets with built-in desire). Apple wants Mac and iPhone and iPad developers to write software, apps, using only the tools Apple provides. Cocoa, Cocoa touch, Xcode Objective-C, et al. This is where the present and future become separated from the past.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that Adobe’s Flash apps use their own interface when running on Mac or Windows. It’s not Windows. It’s not Mac. It’s Adobe. Remember the promise of Java? It is a programming language that promised that developers could write once, run everywhere. In reality, Java became more of a write once, debug everywhere effort, at least on Mac and Windows desktop apps.
Java apps are a watered down, lowest common denominator app, never able to achieve either the interface or functional capability of Cocoa and Xcode and Objective-C. Worse, Adobe’s apps, which mostly run on both Mac and Windows PCs, adhere to Adobe’s interface guidelines, rather than Apple’s, and are designed, programmed, and compiled in such a way as to make it difficult for Apple to advance the state of OS X as rapidly as Steve Jobs may want. In other words, for the Mac, Apple is somewhat beholden and constrained by Adobe’s inability to keep pace with Apple as change agent for the Mac platform. To control the future of Apple computing, Jobs and company may destroy the Mac.
And that’s a good thing.
Use Our Bat And Ball Or Don’t Play
What is happening is blindingly simple, which is why not many are paying attention to what may become of the Mac after the iPad becomes the star of the Apple show. To write an app for the iPhone or iPod touch or iPad, software developers must use Apple’s tools. Apps are placed and sold and downloaded from Apple’s store. It’s clean. It’s neat. It’s simple. It’s working very well. It’s the future for the Mac, too.
Apple will not allow their app developers to use other tools to build iPhone or iPad apps, so Adobe’s highly touted cross platform tools—where Flash developers could write an app using Adobe’s tools, and have it published and ready to run on many smart phones, including iPhone, Android, and others—is forbidden. Why? Such tools can never keep up with Apple’s changes, and will hinder the growth of the platform, watering down the user interface, and affecting the performance of the device, and, therefore, the user experience. It happened to the Mac with Flash. Apple won’t allow it to happen to the iPhone and iPad.
Despite a lot of public whining about Apple’s rules for developers and no-Flash stance, we must not forget that Adobe is in business to sell software tools to content creators, regardless of platform; Mac or Windows. If they can sell a tool that will create content all over the place, they make more money. Apple, on the other hand, is in business to create products with a wonderful user experience. That’s the iPhone and iPad without Adobe’s Flash. For apps, it’s Apple’s way or the highway. For now, Apple is winning, and it’s how far ahead Apple has become that sets the stage for the third coming of the Mac.
The iPad Is The Mac Of The Future
Already, there are more developers and tens of thousands more apps for the iPhone and iPad than for the Mac. Apple has become adept at migrating from one set of tools to another, from one CPU platform to another. Allow me to take my imperfect technical vision and use it to gaze down the road another 10 years, and suggest that Apple may eventually destroy the Mac as we know it today, and replace it with a product more related to the iPad.
What? That’s crazy talk. I know what you’re thinking.
It’ll be a cold day in hell when you remove my Mac from my dead lifeless hand. Or, something like that. If Apple was to migrate Mac users to a completely new iPad-like platform, how would they do it? They’re doing it already.
I use two Macs—a big screen iMac for desktop use; mostly work. And a Mac notebook for travel and business. My iPhone drastically reduced my use of the MacBook. It seldom gets off my desk and into a bag. Why? Most of what I need while on the road is handled by the iPhone. But not everything. The iPad handles almost everything else, except for those power hungry computing tasks like audio and movie editing, photo retouching—Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s Creative Suite come to mind. That’s about it. For all but the most powerful apps, seldom used, my beloved MacBook is dead.
What if, in a few years, Apple introduces a Mac Pad, or a Mac touch—smaller and lighter than a MacBook today, but more powerful and capable than an iPad today—and with OS 6.0 which brings in more API’s and more features. The Mac Pad or Mac touch starts to take on the role of what and why and how we use our Macs today. Then, skip to OS 8.0 a few years after that. It’s still something of a closed system but the software does everything that Mac OS X does today—either touch or keyboard and mouse.
Within five or six years, the Mac could migrate to Apple’s new OS platform with nary a whimper. In fact, I can easily envision that Mac and iPad users would stand in line to buy the first and second generation Mac Pads—more power; each running an advanced version of what we call iPhone OS, but no longer just for the iPhone. It’s iPad. And then Mac Pad or Mac touch.
Meanwhile, Apple products could easily sell in the tens of millions each quarter, and software developers will produce a few hundred thousand new apps that are comfortably at home across the entire Apple platform—iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Mac Pad, Mac touch, and eventually, desktop iMac touch, which incorporates everything OS X does today, but more.
At that point in time, less than 10 years from now, all Mac apps would come from the App Store; the Mac becomes as closed as the iPhone and iPad are today. Yet, more usable, more stable, more secure, more attractive, more powerful than any Mac today. I do not expect this Mac transformation to happen quickly, but in retrospect, even 10 years will pass by in a heart beat.
Marketers say that product differentiation is a key to success. How does one differentiate Adobe’s Flash or CS5 from Mac to Windows? How is Microsoft Office differentiated from Mac to Windows? How is a Dell PC different than an HP or a Sony or a Lenovo. Yet, the Mac is substantially different than all of them (and for many reasons). For Apple to remain different, the company must push the product boundaries to the next level, continue to differentiate, and that means, sometimes, leaving the past behind. The iPhone’s touch capability destroyed the notion of how a smart phone should perform. Would a fully enclosed, touch and mouse capable Mac, running an evolved version of iPhone OS (with a different name, of course) be a logical evolution for Apple? It’s not that it’s possible. It’s probable.
As a Mac user, would you welcome such a Mac of the future?