macOS... what?

There's been a lot of speculation about Apple changing the branding on the company's traditional computer operating system from OS X to macOS. That would better match the current iOS, watchOS, and tvOS brands unveiled at last year's Worldwide Developer Conference. I kind of love it. It's not just consistent, it's all shades of retro chic. But... macOS what?

Lucky numbers

At this year's WWDC, if Apple holds to pattern, we'll see the first public preview of iOS 10, tvOS 10 (it's based on the iOS version number), and watchOS 3 (it's not based on the iOS version number). So, if Apple does decide to switch to macOS, which version number would the company attach?

The X in OS X is the roman numeral for 10. macOS 10 would lineup with iOS 10 and tvOS 10, but it wouldn't seem like a step forward. After X comes XI, or 11. macOS 11 would be a logical step forward. The next version number for OS X, though, will be 10.12. macOS 12 would be a leap in one sense, but a solid landing in another.


Apple could also ditch the numbers entirely and go all-in on the landmark scheme the company started three years ago. Following macOS Mavericks, macOS Yosemite, and macOS El Captain could be macOS... whatever California landmark comes next.

To make that consistent across platforms, though, Apple would also have to borrow the codenames, or come up with new brand names for iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. But would ski resorts and beaches be any easier for consumers to understand than numbers?

Forgoing version numbers or names entirely is another tempting option. No more 10, no more El Capitan. Just macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Apple does just that with Mac hardware. There's no MacBook 1 or iMac Artemis. The downside there, of course, is that some designator has to be used for support, so (early 2014) and (late 2015) end up getting attached.

And year-branded operating systems went out of style in 95... or 98... or 2000.

Then there's, heaven forbid, "the new macOS". Shudder.

Anything goes

The thing to remember about branding, though, is that it can be anything Apple — or any other company — wants it to be. The folks at Infinite Loop 3 could choose, at any time, to go with macOS Titanium, iOS Black, watchOS Tatooine, or the new tvOS (mid-2016).

It doesn't have to follow any logic or pattern, or anything other than Apple's executive committee thinks it is best for the products.

A few years ago, if asked, I would have said if Apple ever moved on from OS X to OS 11, that it be for something *next. (Not to be confused with something NeXT.) For whatever would come after Mach and Darwin and BSD and Foundation and AppKit and maybe even iOS as we currently know it. Because something always comes next.

Now, though, I dig the idea of macOS and sooner rather than later. And I dig the idea of a macOS 11 or macOS 12. How about you?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Well for several years it was Mac OS X and only in recent years dropped the "Mac" so this would be like going backwards and Apple doesn't normally do that.
  • But it could mean Apple is trying to standardise their naming for their OSes. iOS
  • no, never.. they never came out with just a 'Macbook' again.. they never went back to 4" smartphone.. Never tried going back to plastic (iPhone 5c) .. Nope.. they never do that. LOL
  • Re-read my comment. I said "Apple doesn't normally" not "Apple never"
  • It makes sense because when they dropped the "Mac" from "Mac OS X" recently, that was the point at which OS X was actually being re-purposed for use on other devices. OS X was not just for Macs alone at that point. Now those other devices have their own OSs, and there is nothing left that runs "OS X," that isn't a Mac. Ergo, "macOS," the OS just for macs. Not that I think they will, but it also makes sense if Apple is thinking of allowing the OS to run on other hardware. i.e. - "It's a Windows machine, but it's running macOS." etc.
  • I really feel the move to "MacOS" would be appropriate, and that its time has come. "OS X" is now the oddball in branding across the product lines, and is just an odd convention to begin with. On the other hand, "OS X" is the platform to which all other Apple OS's are built from, right? It's conceivable to keep that name moniker; however it would still make for an odd OS name for the Mac line.
  • Well, the Cocoa Core Frameworks are the platform. Currently, OS X's implementation of O.G. Cocoa is the odd man out, as all of the others are Cocoa Touch. (I think. I understand that tvOS apps can run on iOS and vice-versa without much modification. I was pretty certain that they said that the watchOS API is Cocoa Touch derived.) I'm not saying "macOS will be a touch UI" but I wouldn't be surprised to see Cocoa Touch API support on macOS, thus letting iOS apps run windowed with only a recompile for x64. They'd probably require a multitouch trackpad since some elements of the UX require gestures, but it would be an interesting proposition for users, especially as more pro creation apps appear for iPad Air and Pro. Imagine using an iPad Pro art app with a Wacom Cintiq attached to an i7 Macintosh. ... Imagine...
  • I believe it will be Mac OS and then the version number (x) much like iOS 9.3 or Watch OS 2.0. Easy to distinguish between the devices they serve and the OS version provided.
  • Well... Technically, OS X was originally the tenth "major release" of System/Mac OS... So if we are currently on OS X 10.11, that is 10 + 11... So in therms of the Mac, it means we are right now on the 21st major release of System/Mac OS/Mac OS X/OS X. (although I'm sure Mac OS 8.5 would like to also be considered a "major releases") So who is willing to bet it will be MacOS 22 (I jest, I jest;)
  • Or they could do something truly maddening and ignore older Mac OS releases. The last commercial release of NeXTSTEP was 3.3, with a preview release of 4.2 in 1997. Rhapsody/OS X Server 1.0 could be called NeXTSTEP 5, while OS X 10.0 could be NeXTSTEP 6. I'd say that Leopard would be 7, with Lion as 8. This release could be set as a milepost and be NeXTSTEP 9. macOS 9 Back from the dead!
  • macOS 9... That would be great!! All my legacy apps would work again!! :¬)
  • Only as long as the old Finder comes back :D
  • Still think this sounds like a breakfast cereal. "New Mac-Os, now with more fiber!"
  • MacOS would fit well into the current naming scheme, I don't know the version number though
  • Lowercase 'm', though... or all loose all **** shall break. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think they could have a lot of fun with a variation of the quote by character Nigel Tufnel in "This Is Spinal Tap" macOS: This Time We're Going To 11
  • How about just macOS, and then a name from some place in California. Then we can call each subsequent dot release "update #" macOS San Francisco
    Update 1
    7 macOS Mountain View
    Update 1
  • macOS Humboldt County is my absolute favorite release.
  • I hope you're joking. The naming after "famous" Californian landmarks is one of the most offensive things Apple has done in recent years. It's downright xenophobic really. If they are going that way, they might as well start using "famous" people as well like "macOS Rhianna" or "macOS Kanye" and the celebrities can pay for the privilege. At least that way the name would match the tacky fake gold and pink tinted metal etc.
  • Are you serious?
  • Yes indeed. Naming operating systems over playgrounds of the rich and famous in California has gone down pretty badly in the rest of the world. It was a colossal PR mistake at best that it didn't occur to Apple that people would be offended by them naming their OS after the places all their rich employees hang out in Cali. This is the kind of bad optics that Americans tend to be blind to in general though thinking as they do that the rest of the world finds them wonderful (as opposed to insufferable).
  • "Rich employees" Public beach
    Mountain in public park These aren't playgrounds of the rich and famous, and you still haven't said how it's xenophobic. I assume you have an issue with every Apple device nowadays and will boycott because they all point out designed in California.
  • MacOS Air Sent from the iMore App
  • "There's no MacBook 1 or iMac Artemis." That's not true. My 2009 iMac from Spring of that year is designated an iMac 9,1. My Mac mini is a Macmini 3,1. Any one who knows to look in System Information knows this, be it a desktop, laptop, what have you.
    Quite the oversight.
  • I think he means public facing. They don't say "buy the iMac 9,1".
  • I go by what people say, as opposed to what people say on their behalf. Mr. Ritchie can always address it.
  • I know, I just speculate.
  • Part of me thinks they'll retrograde either Mavericks (when they moved away from cats) or Yosemite (design refresh) to macOS 11.0. Yosemite would probably make the most sense since it was 10.10... Or maybe they'd keep the 10 because it's an evolution of OSX, then "macOS 10.0" as the start. Or, this year's Mac OS is a significant pivot and starts heading towards a more harmonious relationship with iOS (apps can be written for both platforms at the same time), giving them a reason to start this year's Mac OS at 11.0.
  • Since OS X gave birth to all other OSes, I think it should remain as is. These are not different OSes, just variations of the main operating system. Computer and information appliance are different product categories. So they don't have to be handled as if they are similar. OS X for computers, others for information appliances.
  • MacOS 10, so it is in step with IOS 10, tvOS 10 etc. Apple often releases features that impact both OS X and IOS, so using the same version number would highlight the compatible versions. Consider it the Apple ecosystem version number. Sent from the iMore App
  • The numbering should be like on iOS and watchOS. And it should be definitely macOS (Mac are Macs and they always will be). Sent from the iMore App
  • Every SW producer faces this dilemma. Users are easily confused about cross platform compatibility when version identifiers run the gamut. Given macOS is the longest running, and underlying basis for the other OS, perhaps simply aligning all release numbers to the macOS release (10.12 for next MacOS, iOS, watchOS and tvOS). Throw in xOS "Tuolumne" (how much talk would pronouncing that name cause) to all OS releases for the number challenged users. So macOS, iOS, watchOS and tvOS "Tuolumne" would refer to the 10.12.x release for all OS. I expect, as the newer OS (watch, tv) mature, adopting the same annual cycle as Mac and iOS is probably inevitable. Mid-cycle releases (10.12.1, etc) could be used to introduce new mid-year product release specific features with major releases focussed on enhancing cross platform functionality.
  • Holy smokes, I think your on to something here... So with a release name like "San Andreas", it would be something like...
    - MacOS San Andreas (version 10.12.0)
    - iOS San Andreas (version 10.0)
    - tvOS San Andreas (version 10.0)
    - watchOS San Andreas (version 3.0) Seems plausible to me...
  • Lol how about macOS Millennial ... Shudder. I have seen macOS popping up all over though. Open the new notepad as an object and you'll see a macOS folder in it. I'm not opposed to the name change. The only thing I oppose is the idea of iOS Interface taking over OS X. And yes I'm one of those late comers who says Oh Ess Ecks, I always liked the sound of that name, like it stood apart from convention os naming convention. When I found out it was Oh Ess Ten, I just couldn't assimilate. Mind you, my old windows box is labeled Wintendo because I only use it as a gaming platform now. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's called Oh Ess Ten?!?!?!
    Man, you ruined it for me. The Ecks was so much better.
  • I like the idea of "macOS" a lot. (lowercase please!) As to the number, a really BIG reason for switching the name at all is that "OS X 10.13" looms in the future so to keep the naming at "macOS 12" would be foolish. That makes next year "macOS 13" and that's just awful. Starting at some ridiculous number like 22 would be just for geeks and make no sense to the public, who actually don't remember where OS X came from let alone what happened before it. So ... "macOS," either with no other numbers at all or starting at 1.0 again is the sane, rational response here. But hey, this is the "new Apple" so who knows that they will do?
  • I think that the OS scheme apple has needs to change. Microsoft kind off did it in 2012 with windows 8, and completely did it in 2015 with windows 10. i know apple uses the os x kernel in ios, but i think they should unify the kernel and software layer like microsoft has so every device has the same os but each device has custom tailered software for the device. may i suggest AppleOS, and say for iPad, for iPhone, for Mac, for Watch, and For tv after the name to show what device it is for, and have a unified app market for the os.
  • Rene, I believe when Apple published MacOS on their website they used a capital "M" instead of a lower case "m". I do recall Phil Schiller on John Gruber's Talk Show mentioning that using a lower case "w" in watchOS and using lower case tvOS makes sense to them and for them to trust them on this one. I think using capital M in MacOS shows that all the other OS's are branches of MacOS. What do you think?