Apple OS X 10.9 Lynx looms, patents suggest better iCloud

Apple [AAPL] spent over a billion dollars on R&D in its last quarter and it appears we'll be seeing a little of what the company's been working on as OS X 10.9 development seems to be on track for introduction this year.

[ABOVE: As seen at Superbowl, Samsung's latest ad's quite amusing, and doesn't overtly poke fun at Apple users for a change.]

Traffic signals

AppleInsider cites traffic reports from site visitors which seems to show visits from Macs running the next iteration of the OS shot up last month:

"While October visits from OS X 10.9 were around three dozen total, the number swelled into the thousands in the just-concluded month of January."

The company has committed to frequent OS upgrades for Macs, the current version of the OS shipped in July 2012, while the preceding version made its debut in July 2011.

In both cases Apple talked a little about what to expect from the OS before the release, seeding the software across its developer communities. Apple discussed OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion on February 16 2012. The company keeps its own schedule but the increased frequency of site visits from Macs running OS X10.9 hints at a similar schedule this time around.

R&D spending hits a billion

The company has been making deep investments in research and development in recent months. Its most recent financial report confirms that it spent 33 percent more on R&D across the December quarter, at a cost of $1,010 million (up from $758 million in the year-ago quarter).

"This increase was due primarily to an increase in headcount and related expenses to support expanded R&D activities," the company said (italics mine).

"The Company continues to believe that focused investments in R&D are critical to its future growth and competitive position in the marketplace and are directly related to timely development of new and enhanced products that are central to the Company’s core business strategy. As such, the Company expects to make further investments in R&D to remain competitive," it reveals in its 10Q regulatory filing.

These investments may consist of strategic purchases of patents and technology firms (such as 2011's Anobit purchase); use of new production processes; and the creation of new R&D centers, though some of these investments will be booked under different categories.

Investment in new R&D hubs is also taking place. Most recent reports have confirmed the company to be looking at launching new hubs in China and Israel.

The company has a consistent pattern of maintaining R&D spending even when economic circumstances change. This is precisely what the firm did during the 2000 dotcom crash, when other firms such as HP or Dell chose instead to reduce their spending on product development.

This spending comes as the company is heavily rumored to be developing new production processes for various products, including new iterations of iPhone and the much-storied Apple television.

What to expect

Mac OS X 10.9 is expected to see the introduction of support for Siri and Apple Maps on the Mac. It's also possible the company may begin to introduce a more 3D-like user interface within the OS, or potentially within iOS.

Recently filed Apple patents discuss a depth perception system with a laser keyboard for future devices while another posits a "3D display nvironment that uses orientation data from onboard sensors, like a gyroscope and compass, to navigate the system."

While expectation is that such new user interfaces are destined for the company's iOS devices, the firm has consistently cross-pollinated logical elements from its Mac and iOS devices between the two operating systems.

With 3D in mind it's interesting to note Maya-Systems confirmation last week that Apple has acquired 18 patents related to "innovative axis-based user interface technology".

Apple OS X 10.9 heading to release

[ABOVE: Maya-Systems offers interesting cloud-focused UI elements.]

The iCloud OS?

"Maya-Systems’ technology offers an intuitive way to display any virtual content in a superior manner. This transaction attests that Maya-Systems axis-based user interface is ahead of the growing demand for axis-based user interfaces," the company press release reveals.

IamOrganized is one Maya-Systems product which could, potentially, become part of the file browsing system for iCloud and, by inference, iPhones and Macs.

This is described as: "The first all-in-one file manager, sharing platform, cloud storage and workflow management tool to utilize the innovative axis-based user interface technology."

While it's blatant conjecture to imagine Apple's ready to deploy such technologies as an element of new OS introductions in 2013, it is interesting to note the company purchased these patents in Q3 2012, while confirmation of the acquisitions has only recently emerged.

IamOrganized is a highly visual file and email management system that's designed to offer a unified UI when accessed from different devices. This cloud-native system also includes workflow management, sharing and pre-formatted task modules.

Given Tim Cook's previous assertions regarding iCloud ("I would view iCloud not as something with a year or two product life; it's a strategy for the next decade or more. I think it's truly profound."), it seems extremely probable Apple will move to make its online service more transparent, easier to manage and more directly useful than before.

However, as the popularity of mobile devices grows and the company moves to deploy flash storage across a growing number of its Macs, it seems inevitable that whatever file management UI improvements we might see within iCloud and OS 10.9 will be designed to also become essential elements across all its operating systems.

This doesn't mean the user experience needs to be exactly the same.

“We don’t subscribe to the vision that the OS for iPhones and iPads should be the same as Mac,” Cook told BusinessWeek. “As you know, iOS and Mac OS are built on the same base … Customers want iOS and Mac OS X to work together seamlessly, not to be the same, but to work together seamlessly.” 

However, given the current anti-Apple sentiment, the fact the company has accelerated testing of OS 10.9 shouldn't be seen to suggest an imminent release: the company can ill-afford any errors within its OS subsequent to its disastrous release of Apple Maps, particularly as investors continue to challenge its "innovation" and voice concern at its future products road map.

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