OS X should adopt more than just features from iOS

Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X LionRumors are circulating that features from iOS, like iMessage and AirPlay Mirroring, are on their way to Mac computers via OS X. That’s great, and I’ll welcome those additions, but Apple should think about taking things one step further, and bring the core update philosophy behind iOS to its desktop predecessor.

Big features headline frequent updates

With their extensive, near-constant beta testing schedule and early looks at upcoming features in both minor and major point iOS releases, Apple does a good job of keeping up hype even when what’s new isn’t all that flashy from an end-user perspective. The key is in highlighting a few big, noticeable changes, and making sure they stay both in and out of view thanks to “closed” developer access.

Then, make those updates more frequent than the releases we currently see for OS X (even if they’re arguably less dramatic) and include major feature additions and changes even in some big minor point upgrades. As it stands, only big cats make big splashes with OS X; doing away with that kind of update nomenclature altogether and more closely mimicking the simple iOS system would make event-caliber updates a much more frequent occurrence — and help OS X feel as nimble, dynamic and anticipatory of user needs as its mobile cousin.

All rides included in the admission price

At $29.99, OS X costs remarkably little as it is, especially compared to the competition (which makes sense, since Windows doesn’t make money from primary hardware sales). But why not take it one step further, and offer OS updates free for the life of the product, the way they are with iOS? Admittedly, that would carry costs; but Apple can offset those costs by driving more users to the Mac App Store (where it gets a 30-percent cut of all software sales), which should be energized by more frequent feature additions and new APIs for developers to take advantage of, if OS X takes the path outlined above of more frequent, feature-driven updates. The App Stores accounted for $3.6 billion in revenue since the iOS version was introduced in 2008 according to figures from July; the Mac App Store, which debuted in January, could probably still be doing more to contribute to that total.

Free updates would also have the benefit of making for an even more unified user base, in terms of the software version they’re running on their Macs. That would help keep the user experience more consistent across the board, and result in fewer dollars spent on software support and customer service for legacy software.

Expand the warm glow of the halo effect

IOS has had a very positive effect on Mac sales, something dubbed the “halo” effect. Apple’s iOS user base continues to grow at an astonishing rate, and bringing those customers into the fold for OS X will be easier if the relationship between hardware and software on the one platform more closely mirrors that of the other. Apple is still selling a record number of Macs, too, but the growth of its mobile division is still outpacing that of its traditional computers.

For many, the idea of a device that you buy that’s then provided with frequent, free software updates for basically the life of the product (or at least the two to three years many own a smartphone for) is now standard practice. If that becomes the norm for owning a Mac, too, it will be a great advantage Apple’s computers have over other Windows-based PCs that are available. Removing the financial impediment to being current is going to be a huge advantage with younger device owners, who prize cutting edge tech.

When software stops intruding

iOS has done something very well that the competition hasn’t yet been able to master: Make software as invisible as possible. Part of that has to do with how its updates are handled and distributed. OS X paved the way for iOS (it even was called OS X in its early days, somewhat confusingly), but now that relationship should be reversed, to help the Mac keep growing as Apple’s mobile efforts take up more and more of the spotlight.

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