Opinion: Apple's iOS 4.2 is OS X's Prophet

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Apple [AAPL] is pushing out iOS 4.2 today, and as it does it is dropping a few hints as to the philosophy informing its evolution of software as it treads with great determination toward Lion, which will itself offer us initimations of the future direction of Apple's operating systems for both mobile and computing devices for this Apple planet.

Inevitable iGradualness

Last week I wrote a brief report in which I attempted to bring together all the most likely future elements we can expect within the iPad 2.0. In one of these I took a slight risk and discussed how we'll see closer integration between iPad and Mac apps in future.

"You'll be surprised how similar the user experience of the Mac apps and their iPad equivalents will become over time, particularly within Lion," I wrote.

Readers didn't seem keen.

This is not quite true.

iOS already on the Mac

Apple's iOS developers already test apps they build on their Macs using an on-screen iOS device simulator. Apple's official developer tools only let you build apps on a Mac...isn't that integration enough?

There are limitations. You can only use two finger gestures, you can't effectively test runtime or speed. It isn't perfect. But it's there. Some touch gestures which are ever so natural on an iPad just don't feel right on a Mac, not even when using a Magic Trackpad.

Those movements which don't feel appropriate won't be making the cut to any future hybrid of iOS and Mac OS X.

However the emulator means iOS apps can already run on a Mac, at least to some extent. The lack of GPS or gyroscopic data limits the depth of the experience, of course.

Other readers got my point.

I'm not arguing that we'll see Mac OS apps on an iPad next year, just that the evolution of both will bring the user experience ever closer together.

"...lets say - in 2 to 3 years from now, you can see Macbook Pros running iOS that will be hybrid (Touch + Full keyboard support). And eventually (about 5 to 6 years) an integrated iOS covering Phone, Tablets, Laptops, Desktops-all-in-one OS that will be all touch with full support for wireless, external keyboard. Apple will be a dominant OS inching nearer to Windows with the help of tablets and Phone supremacy."

Most seem to believe:

"Mac OS apps in general don't work well with touch input."

But we're already using touch with our Mac OS apps. Think about it. Apple is forcing an evolution of the mouse as an interface. MultiTouch trackpads, the Magic TrackPad, these all use touch to replicate common mouse gestures while also enabling new ones.

There is a difference in windowing, and in the complexity of commands which can be executed on a Mac rather than on an iOS device.

Smash the system

The notion of hierarchical menus means you can have lots of powerful features stashed deep inside an apps interface. Apple already has a plan for this, which you can read about here.

Readers who reject the notion that in future iPad apps will feel so much like their Mac equivalents that for most users the experience will be almost the same should really stop for a moment and look at iLife.

iLife already offers a ton of features borrowed from iOS. In future it is going to offer more. iWork, too, is being retooled as one of the first Mac App Store apps, and is also available as separate applications on the iOS App Store.

Both iterations are powerful and effective. In use you'll feel more and more familiar with using the software on whatever device you choose. My belief is that one day most users won't come across any huge differences when using the applications on a Mac or an iPad -- though typing may be a little more fiddly on the latter.

WWDC 2011 -- and beyond

To all intents and purposes, you'll find the iOS picking up more gestures from MultiTouch, and vice-versa. Eventually even though the computing devices might be different, the gestures you are making with your 'mouse hand' will be the same on all devices.

This evolution is already taking place. That most users don't notice that is testament to Apple's gentle approach.

Eventually MultiTouch will emerge as its own metalanguage used across all Apple devices.

It will become so seamless that the interface will just feel the same across any app on any Apple-supported program, so long as developers stick with official guidelines (Hi, ADBE).

Also today with the release of iOS 4.2 (anticipated for 10am Pacific) we can expect to see updates to Apple's iWork apps, which will gain multitasking support as well as support for AirPrint. This will make iOS devices extremely effective solutions for use with iWork. A veritable business productivity tool, some might argue.

We'll be seeing and hearing so much more about this evolution in the run-up to WWDC 2011.

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This story, "Opinion: Apple's iOS 4.2 is OS X's Prophet" was originally published by Computerworld.

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