Why Apple took iOS 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.