The Future of OS X

My general-purpose desktop computer is a 27″ iMac.  It’s a beauty with 2.93GHz Core-i7 processor, 16GB of memory and 730GB of SSD storage (250/480).  As far as hardware is concerned, it is virtually perfect.

I was running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on the machine for quite a long time.  I didn’t upgrade to 10.7 Lion because, well, I was happy with 10.6 and saw no compelling need.  Those in the loop will know that 10.7 was the version of OS X that Apple decided to start integrating with iOS — it was when Apple brought iOS “Back to the Mac”.  I figured I’d give it a miss, let them sort out any teething problems, then jump in when they release 10.8.  OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion was thus my upgrade path from 10.6.  In order to give the new interface a fair shake, I even added a Magic Trackpad to my setup.

That was about three months ago.  I’ve used it every day since then.  For several hundred hours in total.  What’s my opinion?  Well…

It is said that sometimes one “can’t see the forest for the trees”.  I interpret that as meaning “too close to see the big picture”.  When you upgrade to every single iteration of a new OS (as I have done for decades) it is easy to get lost in the minutia of interface changes and lose track of what is happening to the operating system as a whole.  Upgrading from 10.6 to 10.8 let me experience double the normal amount of changes and, in doing so, it is now quite clear what Apple is doing with the OS and where it is going.

Perhaps my most significant observation is that OS X is training desktop users to become trackpad users and contains assumptions of (via optimisations for) mid-to-small screen sizes.  There are just so many examples of this that such a conclusion is unavoidable.

It is impossible, for example, to navigate smoothly and with precision from one corner of a 27″ screen to the other using fingers and a trackpad.  Increase sensitivity and you lose precision.  Now try dragging multiple items from one corner to the other without using the other hand or a thumb to suspend the items mid-drag and complete the process after repositioning the other three fingers.  Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Rocket science is not required in order to appreciate the implications of this.  Apple has always been a hardware company.  Apple software serves Apple hardware.  Always has, always will.  (This is the reason why they sell iPhones for $1,000 but give away the iOS for free.)  OS X will serve whatever role the host hardware needs it to serve.  The host hardware of the future clearly does not have a 27″ screen or a mouse.

RIP: Mac Pro and, ultimately, all desktop computers (iMac/Mac-mini).

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion works well (and makes sense) on my MacBook Pro.  None of the issues that I identified on the desktop are issues on the laptop.  It seems clear that OS X has a new master now.  It no longer serves the desktop.  It serves the laptop.

The nail in the coffin for this is the inexorable decline in (net) revenues for Apple’s desktop operations (iMacs, PowerMacs, Cubes, MacPros, etc.):

  • 2001: 51.86%
  • 2002: 49.25%
  • 2003: 39.87%
  • 2004: 28.66%
  • 2005: 24.66%
  • 2006: 17.18%
  • 2007: 16.37%
  • 2008: 14.99%
  • 2009: 10.08%
  • 2010: 9.51%
  • 2011: 5.95%
  • 2012: 3.84%
  • 2013+ figures so low that Apple stopped reporting them and merged the desktop and laptop categories together in their financial reports under the single heading (‘Mac’).

Apple is not alone in this.  The desktop market worldwide is shrinking.

To continue to tune OS X for the desktop (a tiny and shrinking market) makes no sense.  This is why Apple has stopped doing it.  Apple has shifted its focus away from supporting a tiny and shrinking desktop market to an expanding laptop market.

There is only one logical conclusion to be drawn from this:  If you are a desktop Mac user, the OS will become less and less in tune with your needs as the years roll on.  Eventually (if it doesn’t already) OS X will feel restrictive, hostile and even toxic.  The pressure will build for you to either migrate to a laptop (and perhaps stick with Apple hardware) or migrate to a desktop running some other OS.

The future is… inevitable.

I suggest that if your workflow needs a keyboard, mouse and large screen that you consider future upgrades carefully.  It is always better to jump than it is to be pushed.

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