Why Apple took iOS back to the Mac

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion brings iOS, iPad innovations back to the Mac

Steve Jobs said they named today's event Back to the Mac because they were taking innovations they'd made with iOS -- iPhone and iPad -- and bringing the full circle to OS X. That says a lot about the importance of iOS to Apple but it says even more about Steve Jobs' beliefs on the future of computing.

iPad, it's been said, represented the beginning of the truly personal computer, beyond the command-line Apple II and the graphical interface of the Mac. Simple but powerful, it was a computing appliance anyone could use without getting lost in programming languages or buried in windowing environments.

Years ago, upon his return to Apple, Steve Jobs rebooted the Mac with OS X. A NeXT-generation, gorgeous Aqua UI built on top of the rock solid BSD UNIX system. That gave it two layers. Power users could open Terminal and type away and seldom, if ever, bother with Aqua while more mainstream users could point and click around a far easier paradigm.

Easier but not easy. And that's where today's event was so import...

Even a task as simple as sending some pictures via email required opening iPhoto, group selecting the pictures, dragging and dropping (or cutting and pasting them) into Mail, then finding your way back to the iPhoto window when the email finished sending. Sounds easy, but if you've ever had to help your mom, dad or any non-computer friend do it you know it can be beyond frustrating for the both of you. ("My internet is gone! What? What's a 'browser window'? Click what where?")

That's why I joked when iPad was announced that, if all it did was make it so I never had to do tech support for my mom again, it would be a hit. It did and it is. Why? With iOS you launch the full screen Photo app, hit the Share button, tap on some pictures, they pop up in an embedded email ready to send, and you're right back in Photo when you're done.

Well that's exactly what Phil Schiller showed off for the Mac with iPhoto '11. Full screen. Embedded email. It wasn't alone either. Other apps got the full screen treatment as well along with a variety of iPhone and iPad-like UI elements to make them much clearer, easier experiences. (We even got some 3D-like environments with the carousel view in Projects).

And that was just the beginning. Mac got an App Store as well. Today the process to get an app involves 1) Searching the web for it or buying it off a shelf, 2) downloading a file and mounting a disk image or inserting a CD/DVD, 3) running an installer, 4) watching a lot of confusing words flash on the screen, maybe being asked to pick drives or quit other apps or otherwise jump through hoops, 5) remembering to unmount the image or eject the disk so you don't run it from there by accident, 5) Finding the app, 6) Launching it.

Contrast that with how it will work 90 days from now -- how it already works on iOS today. Night and day. A version of home screens called LaunchPad even makes it easier to find apps, and folders to keep them better organized. The same way they are -- and we're used to using them -- on iOS.

In some ways its as bold a re-imagining of the mainstream computer as iPad, only not as limited. Just as in the past where the UNIX gurus could launch Terminal and the rest of us could live in the GUI, now there's a third layer -- people for whom even the GUI is confusing and impenetrable can live in the LaunchPad and App Store.

If the Mac was a truck and the iPad a car, Steve Jobs has just shown off the crossover, the minivan, the SUV.

iPad 2 will likely raise the bar again on the mobile, iOS device side and come WWDC 2011 when OS X 10.7 Lion likely goes Gold Master, we may see even more mainstream features, and again in OS 11 whenever that happens -- maybe as part of a grand unification. But that's clearly the future now. Not if -- when.

Microsoft might have wanted a PC on every desk and in every home but Steve Jobs wants one in everyone's hands and in everybody's comfort zone.

Today, like the iPad, the Mac personal computer got more personal, and for Apple and Steve Jobs, I think it's only the beginning.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Why Apple took iOS back to the Mac


I don't like the lack of an optical drive in the new Mac Air. Might as well just have an iPad.

@Corey , the OLD MacBook air didn't have an optical drive. It was and still is an external addition, or you can "borrow" the optical drive or another computer via networking and software that comes with the air

Sounds absolutely brilliant - but what about those programs that Apple probably won't want us having on our shiny new Lion? Maybe it's a silly question, but will we still be able to use freeware, shareware, is it going to be be a closed system like iOS, will we be jailbreaking our macs in 6 months time?

That's a decent observation. However, the article does make a really good point. Apple has essentially centralized everything, from hardware to OS, and now, to apps that runs on your Mac as well. How it'll evolve a few years down the track, nobody can tell. However as of this moment, the majority of people will love this simply because its as simple as you can ever get. I think this line says it all:
".....but Steve Jobs wants one in everyone’s hands and in everybody’s comfort zone."
Comfort zone is the keyword there.

Great post, Rene. I agree that although iPad is clearly the next big thing in personal computing, there's still huge room for improvement on the last big thing. 10.7 is just the beginning of the hybridization of iOS and Mac OS. I think in 2 or 3 years it'll be time to fully merge iOS and Mac OS into a single scalable Apple OS.
And I think in 2 or 3 years it may be time to merge the iDevice and MacBook hardware as well. I expect Apple to develop more powerful multi-core ARM variants that can be scaled from iPod touch to iPhone to iPad to Apple TV to, you guessed it, iMacs and MacBooks. Mac Pros and Xserves could still run Intel chips with a Pro build of the Apple OS, but consumer computers and iDevices would run a custom Apple system-on-a-chip.

Anyone peeved at iWeb being left untouched?... I mean, do they not care about it?... why no updates or a new pro version? I use it all the time but it's looking so late 90s now. I just can't believe they left it untouched and it would have been a big reason for me to upgrade.

I think after the ipad sales disappointed in the last quarters earnings they are doing this to get a different revenue stream. Who will pay almost the same price for an ipad if you can get a mac and an ipad in a netbook style device. I think the ipad is dead after this is released.

Just a heads up....in one of the last paragraphs, you used 'its' incorrectly...it should be 'it's':
In some ways its as bold a re-imagining of the mainstream computer as iPad, only not as limited. Just as in the past wh.........
Basically, if you're trying to say 'it is', the apostrophe replaces the second i, in which case 'it's' is the correct usage.

this is BAD news and here is why.... Apple will NOT start by making 3rd party software illegal on Macs, with the advent of the so-called App Store. It's just a prelude. But rest assured, that is EXACTLY where they are going? How can I say something like this? It's their TRACK RECORD. It's exactly what they want to do, and their previously stated intentions. They
A. Want to take 30 percent of all developers' profits
B. Will do so by conning new users into believing App Store is the ONLY way to get new software.
C. Will with OS XI introduce no 3rd party software unless through the App Store
D. Jailbreaks will be available, but no real software maker will be willing to make software for a jailbroken machine.
E. Will drive off all innovation because MAKING A DESKTOP APP IS EXPENSIVE. You spend how much developing it and then Apple can just say "Sorry we don't like it?" one day and destroy your company? Sorry, this is why most App Store apps are cheapo things that nobody tries new things with. Because they're afraid of losing their major investment. This is QUADRUPLED on a desktop environment.
I will NEVER buy a Mac now. I was going to, but this scared me off right quick. I have an iphone -- it's not my main computer. I can live with the limits. No WAY you are limiting my choice of software on MY computer.

it's only one of the ways to install apps on your mac, the usual install way will still be available. I cant see why apple wouldn't allow free apps on there as they do with the ios. obviously i doubt torrent apps will be on there, but then there is always the usual install process. If apple wanted to lock down the mac they would have removed the terminal so you couldn't tinker at. i see this an amazing step to simplify app purchasing for the masses.

So in simple terms...
They're dumbing down the computer experience for the ever deteriorating intelligence of the average American.

We need more articles like this on tipb. I like this opinion based stuff, sure it's less concrete, but it's good stuff. I agree with you, I felt the same way after the keynote, Apple has everything changing so drastically, and it's moving so far away from what we "know" as a computer, I feel like we're watching evolution occur right before our eyes.

@Keisuke - I think that you are on the right track with that. Apple, as always, wants full control and has found a model that will give it to them. It works on iOS, so now they will take it to the next step...or better yet, take iOS to the PC, of which the Macintosh is one. This takes the Personal out of PC, though. IT is the dumbing down of computer use - Rene says as much with, "if all it did was make it so I never had to do tech support for my mom again". So, as we and our children have grown accustom to and increased our knowledge of computer use, Apple wants to dumb us down...much like the public school system has done with the rest of our education...geesh!

For as long as I can remember, there has always been a "Mail" button in iPhoto. One click opens Mail with the photos already attached.

I think "stupidity" should be added to the disclaimer at the bottom, along with "spam advertising, or inappropriate language or content". :roll:

Lion will be a transitional OS. Rene is almost right. Apple is, as usual, ahead of the curve and has found the next UI. However, I don't think they will keep the command line around for long, and even windowing may disappear eventually. I think it's brilliant. I've come to hate multiple windows almost as much as as I came to hate command lines. Of course, the hardcore geeks will whine insufferably and stomp their feet, but they'll lose out in the end.

Nicely put. As for those who fear the open Mac's demise I think we are too quick to throw the baby out with the bath water here. iOS devices, by design and necessity, must always work as advertised. When you hit the home button you get what you're looking for - always. A Mac with a layer of iOS on it should function the same way but only while operating within that layer. Once you opt out of this layer your Mac should do whatever the hell

It's not about dumbing down the experience or enhancing the user experience. Although I think this is great since Apple isn't stopping anyone from loading programs the old fashion way. And an app store is convenient. I hate keeping track of programs either downloaded or on cd's and the serial numbers. Then having to update or search to see if there's an update. App store does all this.
But Apple's primary reason is to make money. Make no mistake, they see this as a great opportunity with a 70-30 cut. Can iAds be far behind? Let's hope not.
Also, the more Apple can integrate iOS devices (or iOS itself) to Macs, the better off they will be. Providing incentive for iphone users to purchase Macs will be huge and vice versa.
No other platform comes close to this. Android makers can't offer you a reason to buy anything else they make. There's no ecosystem other than an app store for those users.
What it boils down to isn't WP7 vs android vs iOS. It comes down to this:
Google apps & search vs MS office/windows integration/zune/xbox vs itunes media & apps/mac integration/direct company support for hardware & software.
And so taking more of iOS "back to the Mac" is brilliant especially for Apple but customers benefit as well. The more they do so, the stronger Apple will be.

Just out of curiosity how is Apple taking 30% of developer's profits? In general if you are investing enough to do apps for the MAC OS you likely have a distribution contracts, duplication services, printing, etc.....all of which are huge costs. The dev company still pays the middle men. Apple is taking the middle man's cut, and frankly from my experience (in other fields) these stores, distributors, etc take more of the pie than 30%. Now I suppose you can go the route of only an on-line store and only loose about 10% (maintenance, fees, store creation etc) or at least your time and resources and a smaller %. But here your traffic increases greatly, and with less work or resources required. This all sounds typical in business to me.

Just an aside, based on my last post, i see MS being successful with WP7 because of the core services they bring. I see Google bringing the least. Are those google apps strong enough (desirable) to carry android over what MS and Apple have?
MS is trying awfully hard to avoid android frag.

You're correct. For many devs, apple's 30% will be a bargain for what they get. I only made the argument that Apple will benefit and will the user experience.
Still, i can't imagine Office for Mac for example being offered in app store subject to 30% less for MS.

Agree completely, Larger established dev companies already have (and will continue to have) those expenses, and MS certainly can't / wouldn't rely on a competitor for their distribution.

You know... the more I read, the more I think an app store for the Mac may be a bad idea.
The main reason I think this is that Apple will control the method of distribution, meaning they also impose their set of values on what is allowed and what isn't, just like the iOS App Store. People have complained about Apple's issue with imposing their set of values on iOS devices and I'd rather not see that with the Mac.
There is also the 30% Apple will take for the convenience of having an app in the store as opposed to a developer simply putting their wares online for people to purchase and download. Yea, there is all that overhead a developer won't need to worry about but I would be curious if the profit a developer gets would be greater if he/she maintained the node of distribution.
Hopefully, you will still be able to install programs outside of the App Store. If Apple does restrict program installation to this App Store, then that would be a major step backwards.

I actually wasn't being sarcastic. The state of American education is abysmal to say the least. But that's a topic for a blog other than TiPB, lol.
@Cardfan Im not gonna give WP7 the nod or the death knell. It is interesting (coming from a Zune user)...but if anything, ignoring the "fragmentation" war cry, the thing to be taken from Android success is that they have a phone that is how they like it. Not the same as everyone else...even if they have the same device.
WP7 tries TOO hard to be like the iPhone. Which isn't a bad thing mind you...but in a world where there's already an iPhone...it's kind of redundant.
I can't wait to see numbers and such after the first few months of it's release to get a grasp on how the general populace will take to it.
But back to the topic of the post...I like windows. If they're moving to making Macs more "iPad" like...I will toss this laptop to the side quicker than Britney Spears can put a baby in front of a driving wheel.
They can add all the iOS all they want. Just don't dare take away from what makes Mac OS X...Mac OS X.

I love gadgets. PCs, Macs, iPhones, and so on. I like the fact Apple is simple but this is getting ridiculous IMO. So instead of teaching people to use computers, Jobs want everything so simple that anyone can use a Mac. Great, now when these people go to work, many won't know how to perform even simple tasks. I'm currently in med school and some people here been so use to a Macs, they can't even do simple tasks on PCs so it has already begun. This will only multiply if iOS/OS X hybrid continues and evolves to another form of iOS.
Agree somewhat with Keisuke but not to the same extent.
That all being said, I will prob still pick one up for my parents or grandparents who just need something to work and as simple as possible. For those who are semi-tech savy, no way should we be getting into this. I already feel a bit hampered from being in the "wall garden" with iPhone, no way am I restricting that to my home computer. This pretty much assures me to stick with iPhone and PCs, Windows and Ubuntu.

I'm a physics professor who does research in particle physics - what drew me to the mac was precisely the BSD linux core and the ability to use UNIX applications on the mac and to do serious scientific computing. It's interesting how the science community has adopted macs. In the early 2000s most physicists I saw at conferences had PCs - it's now almost 100% macs. If Apple ditches this robustness in favor of a dumbed-down operating system they're going to lose a core of hard science users.

Simpler interfaces are not necessarily less powerful. Personally, I find most of my iOS apps are more efficient than their desktop counterparts. UIs will continue to evolve, despite the protests of the geek minority. Now, if we could just rid ourselves of the keyboard. That's always been a horrible input device (QWERTY anyone?).

The Mac store is not exactly revolutionary. It brings to the Mac the same ease of software installation Linux users have had for 6 years (yes, with a searchable GUI.). It will succeed, of course, but it no more breaks new ground than when MS would claim an Apple-originated UI concept as revolutionary because they brought it to a larger audience.

I'm the same age as Steve Jobs so I know exactly where he is coming from. The dream at the dawn of the microprocessor age wasn't personal computers but personal computing - a huge difference. Alan Kay's DynaBook is exactly what Jobs described when he introduced the iPad. Essentially we want access to information and computing power, without having to be computer operators. This isn't about dumbing down the computer experience. It's about no longer having to waste time and effort being your own (or your moms or in my case my kids) sysadmin. I can install any version of Linux and get Bind running and configure Apache. Thank the lord I don't have to. Doesn't make me stupid because I don't want to that stuff. It means I value my time and rather spend it on more valuable things.
Jobs want all Apple devices, from mobile to top of the line have the ease of use of Dynabooks. But he understands that at least on his computers, power users will want to get under the hood. He will never take that capability away. Apple will alway make Macintosh computers ( which for those who may have forgotten are just as much Jobs children as the iOs devices)
Oh, an btw the way, I use iSsh on my iPad and iPhone to troubleshoot my companies remote servers. This is far from a device for idiots. Those who trash Apple & Jobs vision are the true idiots.

It's all about moving to the cloud. Purchased apps can be recalled if catastrophic system failure occurs. It's not the end of the world folks, it's simply another layer of usability built into a rock solid infrastructure.