The future is iOS, not Mac OS X

WWDC revelations point to a future where the Mac is sidelined

The future is iOS not Mac OS X

The WWDC keynote was ostensibly an equally balanced affair, with Apple providing insight into the near future of two equally important operating systems: Mac OS X for Apple computers, and iOS for Apple portable systems.

However, on closer inspection, it's clear that the two systems are no longer afforded equal billing. In fact, the word 'Mac' was rarely mentioned with regard to the desktop operating system and Apple CEO Steve Jobs was clear about Macs effectively being 'relegated' to becoming 'just another device' that can happily work with Apple's new cloud service, iCloud.

It's too soon to say that Apple is about to knife Mac OS X and mount its big cat heads on the Cupertino HQ's walls, while iOS looks on nonchalantly.

But it is clear that Apple sees its future as being increasingly away from its history in traditional personal computing.

Jobs himself said as much when he recently spoke of the post-PC era, and with iOS 5, Apple's making good on that claim. iOS 5 in combination with Apple's iCloud service finally detaches the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad from its oddly symbiotic relationship with iTunes on a Mac or PC.

Come this autumn, new devices won't need iTunes to activate at all, nor even to share and restore data. Instead, you'll take your device out of the box and set it up wirelessly; you'll then have the option, if you've previously used an iOS device, of restoring data from iCloud.

And iCloud also hugely changes working with documents on iOS, making it simple to store content and push it to various devices.

So far, so Dropbox, you might be thinking (and, to some extent, that's fair enough), but the point is that iOS devices and the apps installed on them can now be rid of iTunes, Macs and PCs entirely.

They will by the end of 2011 truly be independent devices, with increasingly powerful and capable apps running on a system largely devoid of the complexity of computing platforms bogged down by years of history.

Lion's share

When it comes to what Apple is now officially branding 'OS X Lion' - note the lack of 'Mac' in that title - it's perhaps telling that the majority of new standout features aren't extensions of the Mac experience; instead, they're attempts to make the Mac more like iOS.

Bar Mission Control, which is akin to Exposé and Spaces being smashed together with a hammer, you get Launchpad (the iOS springboard), full-screen apps (like on iOS), a Mac App Store (which will even include the only means of installing Lion, which itself is effectively afforded 'app' status), a streamlined Mail, far more emphasis on multi-touch gestures, auto-save and app resume.

The take-home here is that OS X is increasingly becoming a transitional operating system, in part to get consumers hooked on the iOS way of doing things, sending them to where Apple really wants them: iOS devices.

Counter arguments typically centre on the pro space: you can't run Photoshop on an iPad (although you can bet Adobe's working on that, if it has any sense) and you need a Mac for high-end video, audio and programming work.

But that doesn't help the platform's future; instead, we're looking at the Mac eventually existing in an increasingly niche 'workhorse' space, right up until iOS devices are 'powerful' enough to take over high-end tasks, too.

With Apple iterating iOS devices and iOS itself surprisingly quickly, this switchover may come sooner than you think, and it's likely that this year's WWDC keynote is the tipping point - the date people will look back on as the moment Apple 'cut the cord', let iOS off on its own adventures, and started the gradual long-term decline of the Mac in favour of its touchscreen-based offspring.

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