In a bid to further consolidate its platforms, Apple is projected to create one operating systems for its Macintosh personal computers and iPhone/iPad mobile devices by 2016. The move will allow software for Macs to work on iPads and vice-versa. The idea has a lot of advantages for both Apple and its customers, but it also brings a number of difficulties.
"We believe Apple is looking to merge iOS (iPhones/iPads) with OS X (Macs) into a single platform for apps and cloud services starting in 2012-13. Our preliminary view is that Apple can use a 32-bit ARM architecture to address the vast majority of the OS X ecosystem's needs in 2012-13 except for high-end professional devices. When 64-bit ARM is available in 2016, we believe Apple will have a single OS and hardware architecture," Peter Misek, an analyst with Jefferies & Co wrote in a report.
The idea of equipping tablets with desktop/laptop-class operating system is not completely new: Microsoft Corp. bluntly claims that tablets should feature operating system for personal computers, not upgraded OS for smartphones. Fully-fledged operating system on tablets greatly enhances their capabilities and allow to work with various peripherals, including printers, keyboards, mice and other. Another advantage is that unified operating system means that user will have similar experience across numerous devices.
"Users want to be able to pick up any iPhone, iPad, or Mac (or turn on their iTV) and have content move seamlessly between them and be optimized for the user and the device currently being used. We believe this will be difficult to implement if iOS and OS X are kept separate," wrote Mr. Misek.
It is hardly a huge problem to create an operating systems that will run on different central processing units: Mac OS X from the mid-2000s supported both PowerPC and x86 microprocessor architectures and Windows 8 is expected to support both ARM and x86. It may not even be a problem to tailor user interface of Mac OS for iPhone smartphones. A bigger question is whether Apple plans to unify hardware platforms for its smartphones, tablets and PCs.
Many believe that Apple is looking forward towards multi-core ARM processors as viable alternatives for x86 chips that are used inside Macs today. There are evidences that Apple is even developing its own ARM-based micro-architecture, which will potentially offer much higher performance compared to today's ARM chips. Still, so far no one has estimated performance of 64-bit ARM processors in 2006 and compared it to estimated performance of x86 offerings that will be available on the same timeframe. If performance-wise x86 will be significantly better than ARM, then Apple will hardly unify its hardware platforms.
Apple did not comment on the news-story.