There is a lot of talk lately about the contrasting positions taken by Apple and Microsoft over operating system convergence. Microsoft, which was early to mobile operating systems but then apparently slept while everything evolved, now makes the argument through its OS and hardware that there should be one operating system to rule them all. Initially, this was pretty ugly but Microsoft continues work on this, most recently with the Surface Book, which I actually find pretty interesting if you prefer Windows.
Apple is taking the opposite approach, arguing Macs and iOS devices are so fundamentally different that they require separate operating systems. Mice and touch interfaces are too far apart and putting both interfaces in one operating system leads to software that is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
This entire debate could be summarized that Microsoft believes convergence gives users the best of both worlds while Apple believes it gives users the worst. Two contrary technology paradigms are getting bashed against each other by two massive technology companies. Good times.
I can’t help but think that some of the reason for these contrary positions is software. The tables have turned and Apple has millions of apps on iOS and Microsoft is struggling far behind. Microsoft finds itself pushing a mobile operating system with little software while at the same time maintaining a desktop operating system with an abundance of software. Through convergence, Microsoft gets to leverage that desktop software on to its struggling mobile platform. It’s a bit of bootstrapping and doesn’t really work unless App developers also address the touch interface but from Microsoft’s position it makes sense. Apple on the other hand has the software advantage and no motivation to Frankenstien Mac OS onto iOS.
To me, the interesting bit of all of this is the long game. What happens when we imagine the state of these positions in five or ten years. In the case of Windows, I think it will get better. All of those legacy Windows developers are eventually going to have to evolve their software for the touch interface or go the way of the Dodo bird. As that happens, the desktop legacy stuff will matter less, as will Windows. The interesting question is what all that will mean for Microsoft, where Windows is such an important part of the bottom line.
Looking to the future with Apple, I don’t think they are looking at this as convergence so much as consumption. iOS and iOS hardware is going to get increasingly powerful. (I’m typing this article right now on an iPad.) There’s still plenty of work to be done but iOS will grow up a lot in the next years and replacing a Mac with an iOS device will get easier. I think Apple sees the Mac’s relevance as substantially less in 10 years than it is today and iOS as substantially more. I don’t think that means there is a whiteboard in Cupertino with the day of the Mac’s death written on it. If I had to bet, I’d say the Mac is around for many years to come. However, I think its overall importance will dwindle and iOS will grow into something else that combines additional power and flexibility with its existing ease of use. That is why I don’t think Apple is interested in convergence.