Blog Post

Should There Be iOS Support for the Mac?

My daughter loves her iPhone (s aapl), and recently observed that the iPhone OS reminds her a lot of Mac OS Classic System 6 — the operating system on which we both cut our computing teeth some 18 years ago. I think she has a valid point.

Even on our respective underpowered and memory-challenged 8MHz Motorola (s mot) 68000 Mac Plus compacts, with their puny 2.5MB of RAM, System 6 was amazingly lively — especially when booted from their external 20MB SCSI hard drives rather than standard, floppy-drive booting. Startup was much faster than with Snow Leopard on a Core 2 Duo, and once it appeared, the System 6 GUI’s tasteful and spare simplicity was charmingly elegant in razor-sharp one-bit black and white, although if you had a “color Mac” you could assign colors to folders. Until displaced by System 7 in 1991, System 6 provided a basic co-operative multitasking function called MultiFinder.

Notwithstanding its limitations by today’s standards, System 6 was in many respects my favorite Mac operating system version ever. It’s not very useful nowadays for anything but the most rudimentary computing tasks on antique hardware, and it never had more than vestigial Internet support, but I’ve fantasized from time to time about how great it would be if Apple were to offer a System 6 UI skin for OS X — especially back in the day when OS X running on my older, slower, Power PC hardware was more than a bit, well…sluggish. Nothing sluggish about System 6, or, back to the main point of this screed — the iPhone OS. Dual-booting the iOS on a Mac along with OS X for power and versatility when you need it would be a super value-added feature for Mac users.

Given that the iOS is a direct derivative of OS X, developed from the same Darwin core, and when you can run Windows and Linux on Macs, it seems silly for it not to be supported by the Mac, opening the vast selection of iOS apps to Mac users.

With multitasking, folder, and Bluetooth keyboard support as well as greater optimization for the iPad’s larger display all coming in iOS 4, the iOS’s appeal as a lean computer operating system will be even more attractive.

Major advantages afforded by running the iOS on the Mac would be faster boot times (perhaps even faster than old System 6) and a “greener” carbon footprint thanks to its economy of power consumption — the latter a potential major advantage for laptop users when running on battery power.

Some are suggesting that Mac OS 11 might well even be merged and integrated with the iOS, which seems plausible and logical. In the meantime, there’s much to be said for adding iOS dual-boot capability to OS 10.7.

Would the ability to run the iOS on your Mac appeal to you?

31 Responses to “Should There Be iOS Support for the Mac?”

  1. I think we’re going to see a major split in Apple. iOS will be on all consumer products and Mac OS will be on all the ‘pro’ products. Sadly, I see the ‘pro’ products becoming a shrinking market and there will be more and more consumer products.
    I also grew up with older Macs (512k) and they where FAST and simple. I can see why apple are creating more specialised products running iOS.
    The only thing I really miss is the ‘hobby’ PC – The Apple II was a great example of an affordable customisable, programmable home computer.
    What I would like very much to see Mac OS become a standard on a ‘hobby’ PC, something anyone can afford and pull apart, learn on and create great apps for iOS devices on. ;-)

  2. Someone’s probably already had the idea of the trackpad on a MacBook running iOS. It would be able to run when the MacBook is asleep or off, and would save you having to boot up full OSX if you just wanna check a site or your mail or something. The details would need to be ironed out but it’s a fundamentally good idea I think.

    Weren’t there some Windows laptops with another screen running Linux or something along those lines? They were nice but ahead of their time I feel.

  3. Shock Me

    I think for this to happen you would need an interaction surface surrounding your keyboard. In this surface an A4 processor could be placed. It could start with the dashboard as the video output. Your fingers could all be pointers with cursors tracking each location. Just as you don’t pickup your mouse and slide it over the screen, the interaction surface would stay on the desktop like a digitzing tablet.

    I can see this working. It already works with the mobile mous app.

  4. Sid Farcus

    Why would anyone who relies on their Mac for their living, want to dumb-down their computer? iOS has no command line, no automation, no inter-application communication. No drag and drop between apps, no file system… etc, etc, etc.

    I don’t understand why those limitations would appeal to anyone?

  5. Charles

    Why do I see this suggestion so often? There are so many problems with it. iOS apps are designed for touch and macs don’t have touch screens. Using them with a keyboard and mouse would be a pain in the ass. I can’t imagine scrolling through large lists like I do now. Accelerometer? GPS? Back facing camera? They also aren’t designed to operate in a window or really be resized. I bet you’d find the experience to be worse than you imagine.

    Apps are also designed for the iPad or iPhone. Trying to run them when the screen size differs significantly won’t be a good experience either.

    Try imagining using your iMac with a touch screen? Lifting your arm up constantly to reach the screen? Ugh. A notebook isn’t much better. Pressure on the screen pushes it back. Small netbooks with touch screens are normally significantly smaller than 12″ so it’s more like a hand holdable device. Apple already has the iPad which beats those devices for the most part.

    No, it’s not coming to Macs anytime soon. The two OSs are designed to live on very different machines and Apple can support those well. They isn’t any need for merging them. They share a lot of code which is the only place sharing needs to be done.

  6. I can’t.see any advantage in running iOS on a mac. It would almost certainly be slower and I can see absolutely nothing to be gained. certainly I have no use for a touch screen when I have a keyboard and mouse. I certainly would not install an OS where iOS is primary and the full Mac OS is secondary

  7. Matt Harzewski

    No, I can’t see it happening. I can’t say I would care for Apple to go down that road, either. iOS is designed for devices of a certain form factor with a certain input device. OS X is designed for a keyboard and mouse, and to do things that are simply not feasible on an iPhone or iPad.

    It makes the most sense for them to stay separate. iOS is for casual browsing devices like the iPad and iPhone, while OS X is for a full-size computer.

  8. Sorry, but that doesn’t make very much sense to me.
    Firstly, iOS is designed for touch controls and Mac OS is for mouse/trackpad and keyboard controls. There is no mouse pointer on iOS! It just wouldn’t work.
    Secondly, iOS would look terrible on large screens. It’d either have twelve insanely large icons and a dock, or it would be littered with many small ones. Either way, it would be failish.
    Thirdly, iOS would simply fail at being the OS for everyday work. No windows (windows, not Windows!), no peripherals support, hardly any software development possibilities on it.
    Finally, even dual booting would not save iOS from sucking (I’m not being rude here! at being a desktop OS. Also, I fail to see any benefit from having iOS on my Mac anyway. If I want to go large-screen with iOS, all I need is to hook up my iDevice to my TV and a Bluetooth keyboard.
    That’s my two cents on this topic. Time will show who was right.

  9. I could see iOS being useful on the Mac, but it too would need to be more touchy, but simply having compatibility between iOS and Mac OS, would be a great integration perspective for “every day” users. Possibly in something like Apple TV, or MacMini, with touch screen capability.

  10. There’s nothing really “silly” about iOS not being able to run on a Mac. While, yes, iOS shares a common core with Mac OS X, the UI of an iDevice – software and hardware – is completely foreign to that of a Mac.

    The only desktop-native screen resolution iOS can achieve is 1024×768, which is not only pretty poor quality on most monitors, but also not sized properly for most monitors (most being widescreen now). Additionally, iOS requires a touchscreen. Macs have the Magic Mouse, and potentially a multitouch tablet-style input device coming, if you believe the rumors, but they still work like a “mouse”. You need a cursor that visually indicates position on screen, which iOS does not have.

    Finally, and really most importantly, iOS is ARM-based, not Intel-based. So while iOS and Mac OS X may share a lot of similar code, they are compatible only with completely conflicting chip architectures.

    This is never going to happen.

  11. Gazoobee

    What people don’t seem to understand is that iOS is OS-11 (eventually). Arguments about which one should support which are kind of specious.

    Talking about “supporting” iOS on OS-X means only two things:

    1) being able to run iOS apps in OS-X
    2) being able to install iOS on your desktop

    The former may be possible and may happen but it’s just not necessary or useful in any significant way. It’s a solution for casual access, maybe.

    The second will only happen when iOS is capable of doing all the things the desktop does and will occur the same day the desktop (OS-X 10.9.5 probably), dies.

    et voila! OS-11 (also known as iOS).

  12. Louis Wheeler

    Doesn’t it seem natural that once the iPhone / iPad platform overcomes the hardware limitations of the ARM processors, that iOS will adopt more of Mac OSX? iOS needs the UNIX underpinnings of permissions to keep it from being jail broken. The reverse is also true, because it makes sense for Apple to unify the Mac OS across its entire lineup.

    I would suggest that the iPhone will be on 64 bit hardware in five years and the amount of RAM will be above 256GB. Hence, there will be little reason for the iPhone not to run Mac OSX which has touch screen capabilities.

  13. Let me disagree :) The iOS applications will be relevant only when running on a mac which supports multitouch touch screen, accelerometer, compas, location services, and so on. Basically such a mac is the iPhone and the iPad, which already run iOS :) There ya go

  14. Great! System 6?!?? Sure, let’s return to days of instability. I’ve used every version of Mac OS starting with System 4, and I can tell you that I would NEVER want to go back. As for iOS running on a Mac, I have to ask why. iOS is a customized version of OS X that was developed with mobile devices in mind. This article completely misses that point. Is the author of this post really this interested in Apple cutting their own throat to fulfill his fantasies?

    • As far as I can remember, I’ve never used something below System 7. I have a black PowerBook (Lombard or similar, haven’t yet been able to confirm its full name), running System 9, sitting on my table left from me. I love playing around with the OS every now and then, and I really like it. It’s pretty powerful for its time and has some neat features I even miss on OS X. However, it has the nasty “freeze” that is there since (I think) System 7 and most likely all its predecessors. (“Freeze” means that your Mac just… freezes – it stops accepting input and nothing changes on the screen – you have to do a hard reset. It happens frequently and randomly.) It’s a good OS, it really is, but if Apple wouldn’t have made OS X out of NEXTstep, they’d probably have ended up having an OS that’s based on decades old and outdated code, is unstable, polished up on the very surface, keeps crashing and needs to be reinstalled every year or even more often. In other words, Windows. Only by Apple.

  15. Ultimately I’d love it just in the form of an emulator. You’d launch an “iPhone” or “iPad” application that brings up a window that looks like an iPhone or iPad and in the window is everything you’ve got on your iPhone/iPad…which you could then just interact with directly on the screen.

    Obviously the user experience wouldn’t be great for accelerometer-based apps, but who cares!!?!?! I want what I want! :)

    • Trey Toups

      You can already do exactly that! It’s not really an emulator, but it would work for what you’re talking about. You would have to jailbreak your iPhone/iPad and install a VNCviewer app.. Then on your Mac you would have to install a VNC client, like Chicken of the VNC… You could control your iPhone remotely from your computer.

  16. Yep, that’d be ace.

    But, it might not happen because it’d create competition with Mac apps, which could scare app developers or increase iOS app prices. For example, OmniGraffle is less than £30 on the iPad and it’s awesome, but the equivalent Mac version is about £125 (the ‘standard’ mac version for around £60 lacks features that exist on the iPad version).


  17. I can’t say that I would care to run iOS on a full computer complete with keyboard and mouse support – especially when Apple has wrapped the whole experience in the iPad form factor with a relatively low cost of entry.

    Beyond the technical aspects that OS X and iOS are optimized for two different architectures, I think a lot of the magic and novelty of interacting with iOS using touch gestures would be lost in translation to the desktop. While I agree that removing the size constraints of a tablet or a phone would really make iOS scream in terms of raw power, I believe that, given the rate at which technology is progressing, these portable devices will quickly catch up to desktop computers in many respects.

  18. I wonder if there’s something to be said for having iOS as the ‘boot’ system, and running OS X or even Windows in a virtual system. Certainly having the choice would be useful – but question is, who would have OS X as their main OS, and who would have iOS instead? Maybe that’d depend on your usage habits. Thinking of iOS on a touchscreen Macbook is a nice idea. But then being able to flip into something more heavyweight would be useful too.

    The nicest idea would be a quick boot up into iOS so you could get started (e.g. touch screen surfing), and then in the background, OS X loads up. Power when you need it, simplicity when you don’t.