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The Future of OS X and Macs: Forsaken to iOS?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 10/30/2010

Apple was once all about computers, but the company's very successful adventure into the mobile market has substantially changed Apple's focus. How will this hurt or enhance the future of OS X?

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    Back to the Mac - But What Does the Future of the Mac Hold?

    Back to the Mac? To say that the Apple iPhone has been successful is to say that a Tyrannosaurs Rex is a moderately impolite dinosaur. I doubt anyone could have guess that Apple would have such success in the market, including Apple themselves. The recent launch of the iPad has also gone well and has further directed the company's attention in the direction of mobile devices.

    That's great if you have an iPhone or iPad, but it hasn't been of much benefit to Mac fans. OS X is still a nice operating system (indeed, I'm using it right now) but Windows 7 is wonderful and provides stiff competition. In addition, Apple has yet to make moves in some areas that are have been neglected - iTunes, for example, remains a clunky and difficult program on both Windows and OS X machines.

    Apple wasn't deaf to these concerns. They recently held a press conference titled "Back to the Mac" which promised to provide an indication of the future direction of OS X. And what were the results of this conference?

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    Your Mac Should Be Like an iPad

    The Future of the Mac The message from the Back to the Mac conference was very clear - Apple is happy to go back to the Mac, but only in order to revise it so that it is more like the iPad and iPhone.

    Virtually everything that was announced at the Back to the Mac conference, the new iLife 11 suite aside, was focused on lessons learned by Apple's experience with iOS. The App store is coming to the Mac, the new MacBook Airs will be using flash memory instead of a hard drive for storage, new iPad inspired interface features will be introduced, and etc.

    Some of this is promising. The App store, in particular, could be a good thing - although it will be interesting to see if the introduction of a Mac OS X app store has a positive or negative impact on the overall quality of the programs available for OS X computers.

    Other decisions are not as promising, however. The switch to flash memory offers nothing tangible for consumers except for laptops that are slightly lighter and thinner than what is currently normal. That would be huge improvement if today's laptops were too heavy or too thick, but they're not - indeed, most of today's laptops feel incredibly thin and are much lighter than they look. Of course, making the switch to flash memory also means that you won't be able to upgrade your laptop's long-term storage without paying Apple for the privilege.

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    Is the Mac Falling Behind?

    What Apple didn't spend a second answering is how the company intends to compete with Windows 7. At this point the file browsing utility, Finder, is far inferior to Windows Explorer. The current OS X dock is also clearly inferior to the new Windows 7 taskbar, and while the multi-touch gestures are a great advantage, it is an advantage that is now mitigated by other disadvantages.

    OS X, to be clear, was originally released in 2001. Steve Jobs stated during the Back to the Mac conference that Apple has released numerous updates over the years and claimed that no one else (in other words, Microsoft) has been able to match Apple's pace when it comes to updating their operating system. Of course, the reality is that Apple's updates to OS X are far smaller than the updates Microsoft makes when it releases a new version of Windows. There is simply no way around the fact that OS X is starting to feel long in tooth. I was hoping that the Back to the Mac conference would introduce a new and radical Mac operating system. Instead we've been given OS X Lion, which so far appears to be nothing more than reheated iPad leftovers.

    There are some major issues that Apple needs to address. iTunes remains a terrible program. The OS X user interface is different from Windows 7, but no longer superior. And Apple still has failed to offer proper Open GL support, a fact that continues to damage OS X as a gaming platform.

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    It was hard to come away from the Back to the Mac conference with anything other than disappointment. I had hoped that it would provide a revolution, but it didn't come close. Apple clearly thinks that computers should be more like iPads. I think this direction is short-sighted and that Apple has become blinded by its mobile market success. Only time will tell who is correct.