CUPERTINO—Just a day after Apple announced the merger of its iOS and OS X teams, talk of a merger of the two products is running rampant with some claiming that engineers have been well into the process for years.
Rumors began in October 2010, when Apple previewed OS X 10.7 Lion, showcasing many features from the company's mobile operating system that were making the jump to the company's desktop operating system. Lion's successor, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, continued this trend with its release in July 2012.
But, according to Ahmad Singh, a former Apple operating systems engineer, a string of public releases have indicated such a move for years. “[OS X 10.5 Leopard]'s release date was pushed back multiple times, debuting a year late. The excuse was software engineering for the iPhone,” he said. “It started with Intel support in Tiger and a desire for a mobile version of OS X.”
Apple followed Leopard with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard which, oddly, contained few new features and instead re-engineered the operating system's underpinnings. Apple released the update for a mere $30, and indeed performance had been increased, but many developers felt that the Leopard-Snow Leopard progression was a two-part shift in Apple's operating systems strategy.
“The changes in Snow Leopard significantly improved parallel processing, which is where the industry will focus for the next decade or so,” Singh said. “But those changes also reflected the design philosophy used in the creation of iOS. OS X development has been affected by iOS since before iOS was fully realized.”
If that's true, said Rob Stafford of marketing research group InterPhase, then Lion and Mountain Lion are just icing on the cake. “The interface changes make sense because the weight of Apple's sales are in iOS products, but seem to reflect deeper changes invisible to end-users,” he said. “The low-level stuff was for Apple developers who had to leverage resources between iOS and OS X, and the interface stuff was for end-users.”
Singh elaborated on such changes that he witnessed before leaving Apple in August 2011. “Very few people were assigned only to iOS or OS X,” he said. “Most of Apple's operating systems team did both as needed, which is why Leopard was so late and why Apple has adopted a standard timeline for releases.”
That timeline, publicly debuting with Lion in 2011, rolls out iOS and OS X updates in a regular, annual schedule that is quite unlike Apple's previous operating system releases, which had gaps of between six and thirty months. It includes a new OS X release in summer, a new iOS release in Fall, and a significant update to iOS in Spring.
What comes next after 2013, when iOS 7 and OS X 10.9 will debut, is at the center of current speculation among Apple developers and power users. "It's ten years since iOS and Leopard development began," Singh said. “Ten years of engineering a platform that runs on everything from an AppleTV to a Mac Pro.”
Apple took from OS X what it needed to start iOS, Singh said, but it never made sense to keep the two separate. “It's significant overhead on the operating systems team.”
Stafford mirrored this as well. “It's extra marketing resources to talk about two products,” he said. “In the future, Apple will talk about mobile or desktop features, or traditional, touch, or speech interfaces,” he said. “Not OS X and iOS.”
The timing would also forestall humorous and confusing operating system versions like OS X 10.10 or iOS 10, which mire the operating system branding and further undercut marketing two separate products.
“[Steve] Jobs saw this ten years ago when Apple were preparing a mobile operating system,” Singe said. “He envisioned a period of complexity and intense development overhead with two related but specialized operating systems, followed by a period of simplicity and reduced overheard with one unified platform.”
Anonymous sources in Cupertino have claimed that this grand strategy is simply called “OS” and not only outlines the current iOS/OS X release timeline, but also merging the two products in the near future. “This has been on the books internally since 2009. Every operating system release since then has been a part of it.”
There is no indication of what the merged platform will be marketed as, but Apple has used internal codenames for shipping products, such as OS X 10.2 Jaguar, so the OS moniker may persist.
Stafford wouldn't be surprised: “Naming a single, unified operating system after the Apple name, which has huge brand value, makes the most sense. ‘OS’ would more immediately describe the platform and product better than either iOS or OS X does now.”
Our anonymous source only suggested that Apple watchers wait and see.