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Summary:

The iPhone was released in 2007 running iOS 1.0 and now, in 2010 we receive our fourth huge update to iOS where Apple’s Leopard and Snow Leopard are largely unchanged from a feature perspective and only maintain system improvements, speed enhancements and other changes.

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Leading up to this year’s WWDC in San Francisco, the amount of articles and speculation about Apple’s commitment to Mac OS grew when Apple announced practically zero tracks dedicated to Mac OS and threw out the IT track completely. Apple also didn’t give any Apple Design Awards this year to Mac OS Apps. The winners (listed here) were only iPad and iPhone apps.

That decision actually inspired Ars.Technica to hold its own ADAs (Ars Design Awards) celebrating Mac OS developers and their work in the past 12 months. Developers gave their opinions on TUAW.com and this quote from Justin Williams of Second Gear Software gave his opinion:

“Whether it’s intentional or not, Apple is saying that the Mac is not an important platform compared to the iPhone and iPad. With great Mac-only software still being released by many top notch companies, I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t find it in the budget to generate a few more of those glowing ADA awards.”

Of course, this is all old news. iPhone 4 is out, iPad is still getting great new apps and Snow Leopard will only be a year old this August. Most of the developers who gave their thoughts on WWDC’s lack of Mac specific tracks stated that Leopard shipped in 2007, Snow Leopard shipped in 2009 and that’s three years of tracks dedicated to a largely unchanged operating system and it’ll just be more of the same from Apple if you do attend those sessions. Besides, iPad is new, iOS 4 is hot and Apple should do everyone a favor by devoting more resources to it. I agree.

But, there’s the argument that I still want to make. The iPhone was released in 2007 running iOS 1.0 and now, in 2010 we receive our fourth huge update to iOS where Apple’s Leopard and Snow Leopard are largely unchanged from a feature perspective and only maintain system improvements, speed enhancements and other changes. Snow Leopard was a welcome update and priced appropriately at $29 but I’m still using the same features in Dashboard, Spaces and Finder that I was in 2007, and that irks me a bit.

[inline-ad]When I sounded off on Twitter about this, the replies were all over the place. Most notably, people were saying that Apple has to compete in mobile and the competition (Google, Nokia, Palm) hasn’t stopped innovating just so Apple can update its Mac OS with new features. Apple had to be happy with its desktop OS as is, maintain it and focus on mobile in order to maintain its competitive advantage and continue innovating beyond competition and it shows. Apple is the most profitable mobile company in the world, but why did it have to do one or the other?

Steve said at the D8 conference a few weeks ago that Apple is the largest startup in the world, and we all know that Apple keeps teams small so innovation moves quickly and Apple maintains huge profitability with very low R&D costs compared to competitors. For that, shareholders must be proud and the big picture shows that Apple is doing a great job. Mac sales are still booming and Mac OS is still ahead of the competition, but that doesn’t mean Mac users don’t feel a little left out by Apple’s choice to dedicate more resources to mobile.

My second point is Apple doesn’t have to act like a startup. Keeping teams small and focusing all of the best talent (which, according to Jobs is everyone at Apple) on a single product at a time is working for them but there are thousands of qualified people in the world who could do great things for Apple and help them simultaneously change the world both in desktop and in mobile without either product suffering. Even in 2007, Apple delayed Leopard’s release because it was busy getting iPhone out the door.

My fear is that Apple will continue to spend all of its time and money on what’s hot right now. Those of us who were Mac users before the Intel switch and before the iPod know that Apple runs like a startup and thus what’s not hot will suffer while it promotes and innovates in one area. iPod was the highlight of the majority of Apple events starting in 2004 and now the iPhone and other iOS devices get Apple’s love but we have to ask, “where would Mac OS be if the iPod and iOS were never made?” Well, part of us knows that Apple wouldn’t be at the size it is today without those products but we also know that the Mac OS could be light years ahead of where it is now if Apple only focused its resources on it.

All we can do as the Mac faithful is trust that Apple will make the right choices and not let us down. We might be the most vocal bunch of Apple customers but we’re also the most loyal. We stuck with Apple through the dark years, through the OS X switch and the Intel switch and we’ll stick with Apple while it spends 90 percent of its time head first on the iPhone. I just hope this “phase” doesn’t last forever. I want a new Mac OS and more breathtaking Mac OS computers.

  1. Yes! I was excited by the Mac Mini update, and am looking forward the the next piece of hardware to be designed and released. It’s hilarious, if you think about it, but it’s fun just to be a “consumer” of Apple’s design.

  2. I’m getting a bit tired of hearing variations of this theme.

    Here is the real reason why you’re “still using the same features in Dashboard, Spaces and Finder that I was in 2007″ while we’re already up to the fourth release of iOS:

    Desktop computing is a much more mature concept. Apple has had over 25 years to perfect the Mac OS. There’s still room for improvement, but it’s not going to happen at as fast of a pace. iOS, on the other hand, has only been around for a mere three years. Apple is still figuring out how to implement some things and deciding which direction the OS should go.

    OS X isn’t going anywhere, but it’s development cycle is slower than that of iOS because there is less for Apple to do at the moment.

    As a side note, I’m still holding onto one of my pet Apple theories. I think that Apple will start licensing OS X to other manufacturers in a few years, should Mac sales fail to keep up with the growing revenue from iPhones. They’ve had years to build a mature OS in their own playground. I could totally see them supplementing the income from their own hardware sales by licensing the OS to a few manufacturers.

  3. I believe that this year was a very busy year for Apple.
    They released iPad, which has been rumored for years, and
    also did a huge update on the iphone. So we can not expect
    big updates within 2011 on iOS devices. I think we will get an
    update on Macs this year! ;)

  4. I agree with all the sentiments for both sides of the argument (yes it does hurt sat on the fence)

    One thing that does irk me though is how much cash Apple has that it could be investing in both sides of the coin, rather than investing heavily on one and then saving the rest for “some bold moves in the future”, or what ever that quote from jobs was in the quarterly meeting a while back.

    I get the saving mentality and maybe more companies should do it, but some of that money could go into developing the desktop software together with iPhone. At least they haven’t stopped innovating on the materials/design side of things, the unibody concept is awesome

    1. Apple has over 30 Billion in Cash. I agree that they want to move one team of innovators around to work on one or 2 products at a time (Leopard delayed due to iPhone release date) but when you have 30 billion in the bank, you’d think a company would hire more “geniuses” to innovate on many levels at once.

      Investors give Apple more criticism for not spending that money or giving shareholders dividends on the cash but Apple calls it the “war chest” to be used for anything that they want which could be the takeover of a company where they could essentially buy Amazon, Dell or a large chunk of Google or simply use it for the dark years which could come along (as apple was nearly bankrupt in ’97).

      It’s obviously their goal to keep small teams and we certainly can’t say that Apple has done poorly with this game plan as it’s working for them very well since Steve’s return.

  5. Victor Panlilio Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    “I want a new Mac OS and more breathtaking Mac OS computers.”

    http://www.mondaynote.com/2010/06/13/thus-spake-steve-jobs-the-pc-isn%E2%80%99t-dead-yet/#more-2806

    Compare and contrast with:

    http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/why_apple_has_put_mac_os_x_on_the_back_burner

    Key bit:

    “If Apple had hired additional programming talent, spawned off or augmented a separate Mac OS X group to keep work alive while the legacy team had forged onward with iOS 4, think how they would have felt at WWDC. They’d be fretting that the iPhone and the iPad were getting all the attention. Morale would be in the toilet. They’d be haunted by the spectre of Apple someday abandoning the Mac platform, and that all their efforts would go for nought.

    Efforts to bring coherence to the two OSes, fold the best of iOS into Mac OS X, would be sabotaged by the Mac team.

    Instead, thanks to the vision of Mr. Jobs, Apple maintains one coherent OS team that keeps the OS underpinnings in sync, maintains excitement about the future of the company, and that is ready and eager to bring the best of the iOS learning curve to the Mac platform, unhindered.”

    Hmm.

  6. IMO there’s another reason. iOS 4 or 5 is going to be getting slowly into more devices. sooner or later it will start easting up leopard dominance on macbooks too – at least in think versions like air and future netbooks. it may even be the primary os with an option to run macos. there are lots of advantages for apple in this, including the store of course.

  7. Don’t forget that the “classic” Mac OS saw 9 major version (or so) over a 16 year period. OS X is on version 6 in it’s 10th year. I think the progress is fairly similar all things considered. When you compare it to Windows it seems downright ridiculous.

  8. Apple’s focus is where it should be. Innovating. Every time they update the MacOS and new Macs, apart from simple hardware component updates, they have to thread an ever-slimmer needle to continue making the product better. My MacBook 2009 is better than the 06 model but only by a little.

    The mobile/iDevices world is wide open. The world is their oyster and it just doesn’t get any better than this for an creative, visionary company competing in a free market with only a few intelligent, agile competitors.

  9. Actually, I had a great laugh with one of the engineers at WWDC.

    I was there as a Mac developer and whenever I would ask a weird Mac-related question, the engineer would look confused for a moment and then say, “…on the iPhone?”

    I told them that, next year, I was going to make up a T-shirt that said, “I’m a Mac developer, dammit!”

    Anyway, after one such exchange, I made the off-hand remark about how I should go to some iPhone sessions since you guys are dropping the Mac (obviously joking) and one of the engineers laughed and said, “Do you really think we want people developing iPhone apps on Windows?

    I don’t think Apple will be porting Xcode to Windows anytime soon. So you’ll still have Mac OS X for running that.

    Furthermore, there isn’t really an iOS team and a Mac OS X team. Most of the technologies in iOS come from the Mac and it’s a two-way trip–improvements made in iOS will come back to Mac OS X.

  10. Well said, Adam. I like the approach of pushing and supporting mobile and iOS – like you said, it’s hot and it’s moving fast. I’d still like to see that Apple doesn’t forget OS X.

    Steve said they were a mobile company because of iPhones and notebooks, but let’s not forget that notebooks are not iPads and they don’t run iOS. Some of the best developers on earth make OS X apps and they deserve some love too.

    The phases will come and go, but there needs to be a constant (if smaller) stream of love for your core.

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