Spy shots show OS X without the ‘Mac’; could clones return?

No run-up to Macworld Expo or WWDC is complete without the spy shots of the banners inside San Francisco’s  Moscone Center, and this time is no different. No making the rounds is a Flickr photoset of banners hung outside the keynote hall posted by Gernot Poetsch. One in particular is especially interesting. It shows two banners: one referring to the iPhone’s OS as “OS X iPhone” and another referring to Mac OS X 10.5 as simply “OS X Leopard.” No mention of “Mac” anywhere. This would mark the first time, well, ever, that Apple has referred to the Mac’s operating system without including “Mac” or “Macintosh” in its name (before Mac OS 7.6, the operating system was known as “Macintosh System” and then the version number).

Okay, so why on Earth would Apple do this? John Gruber of Daring Fireball seems to think that Apple is simply unifying the iPhone OS and Mac OS branding, and this is probably the simplest and most logical explanation. But another part of me wonders if Apple is up to something else.

This is the part where I come up with some absurd speculations.

Has anyone noticed that Apple has been remarkably silent in regards to the Psystar Open Computer? I’m not the first to speculate this, but maybe Apple is testing the waters to open up Mac OS X to the wider world beyond Apple-branded Macs. Would it hurt Apple’s hardware sales? Maybe. But I think Apple makes good enough hardware that many would want to buy an Apple-branded machine regardless.  Also, opening up OS X to the wider PC world would allow Mac OS X to compete in areas that Apple hardware doesn’t compete in (in other words, another company could sell a $400 desktop system with Mac OS X preinstalled, while Apple sticks to the mid-range and higher-end of the market). And maybe removing the “Mac” from Mac OS X is a strategic move so Apple can spread OS X without diluting the Mac brand. You want OS X? You can choose from a number of PCs with OS X installed. But if you want a Mac, you still have to buy through Apple.

Will this actually happen? I’m not holding my breath. But with Steve Jobs, you never know what’s next. Sure, he killed the clones in the late 90s, but a lot has changed since then.

So is dropping the “Mac” from OS X a sign of things to come? Or is it just to unify the marketing between the Mac OS and iPhone OS? Stay tuned.