Apple seeks ways to make us touch our Macs

I've written before on my belief Apple will in future find some way to meld the iOS and Mac OS operating systems together.

Some readers quite correctly observed the huge challenges which must be overcome in order to achieve this.

[This story is from the new Apple Holic blog at Computerworld. Subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

A typical reader response:

"You can't just run conventional applications on a touch device. It's all about the interface, and if you change the interface for touch input, then it's not a conventional program any more, it's an iOS app, right?"

Quite right. I think Apple is considering these challenges:

- How the device would work ergonomically?
- How to enable a touch interface for non-touch applications
- How to take touch and develop it into other interface controls - head mounted, for example?

This doesn't mean the company isn't looking for a solution to these challenges. After all, saying something can't be done or won't be done is a guaranteed way to ensure they never do get done.

In Apple's world, innovation comes from looking to what should be done or needs to be done (the need) and tracing it backwards to find out what is required. That's where iPods come from.

There's no 'never', 'can't', 'won't' or whatever your choice of other negative thinking construct in Apple's lexicon of invention.

Just because an idea doesn't make immediate visceral sense within the current common model for looking in a particular sector doesn't mean it isn't being explored somewhere in Cupertino.

After all, for the longest time the truism was that Apple would never bring OS X to Intel. It did. And had been testing Mac OS X on Intel processors by the time it introduced the first Intel Mac.

That easily suggests Apple is also testing its iOS and apps on processors other than the A4 chip it uses today. Just in case it needs them one day.

I can still remember senior members of the Mac press being confused at the iPhone -- they couldn't make sense of it in their existing world view. Now Apple's selling millions of them. And will sell millions more this year.

So here's an elegant way in which Apple just might begin to seed the notion of a combined Mac OS/iOS device: a dual purpose portable device, running iPad-type applications in one mode, and Mac apps in another.

The patent describes a product in which a multi-touch display slides down over the keyboard to finally form an iPad-like device.

This would essentially be a light, thin Mac with a standard screen when you open it up, and a second screen on the top of the device  (a touchscreen) which would act as an iPad when the lid is closed.


Here's more about this patent.

Consider a recent July 15, 2010 Digitimes report which claimed Apple's next-gen MacBook Air is on schedule to ship in the second half of 2010. It will be equipped with an 11.6-inch display and an Intel Core-i series processor. It will be slimmer and lighter than before.

"The technologies used for the design and concept are expected to be broadly used in the company's other product lines to boost their competitiveness," that report said.

Don't forget that in the months prior to the introduction of the iPad, the Mac rumorists said Apple had two tablets planned. (Do watch out for the 7-inch model later this year).

Given the challenges in imagining and bringing to market a completely touch-controlled Mac along with a stable of professional applications for that Mac, could Apple be pondering a dual-purpose strategy as a way to bridging the gap between its platforms?

Take a look at this video for another notion of how this might work.

In the end, Apple's main ambition is to seize market share and develop its business, while keeping customers happy. These are things it is doing pretty well.

During this week's financial call, Apple's number two, Tim Cook pointed out that the iPad is not a Mac cannibal, but a PC cannibal:

"I think most people external to Apple focus on cannibalization as a negative, and internally we focus on exactly the opposite," he said.

"The Mac has outgrown the market 17 straight quarters -- however, the Mac share is still low. And so there's still an enormous opportunity for the Mac to grow. Certainly the more customers we can introduce to Apple through iPad, iPhone, and iPod, you would think that there might be some synergy with the Mac there. And there may be some synergy between the iPad and the iPhone as well... This is where it's great to have a lower share, because if it turns out that the iPad cannibalizes PCs, I think it's fantastic for us, because there's a lot of PCs to cannibalize. It's still a big market."

Also worth a stab of speculation:

Given that some of the most important applications run on a Mac are the creative ones produced by Adobe, is the current spat over Flash between Apple and Adobe about more than just how useless Flash is on phones?

Could Adobe have been reluctant to invest in development of touch-controlled versions of its software, when Apple approached them?

This is pure speculation, of course, but as Apple CEO Steve Jobs said during the antenna-gate meet-up last week, "things are usually more complex than they seem."

And as he also pointed out in his letter regarding Flash, Apple did once approach Adobe to request video editing software for the Mac. Adobe refused, so Apple bought Final Cut to market. Could Adobe have said no once too often?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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