Why iOS is the future of Apple (and how we got here)

As the world shifts to mobile devices, Apple puts its development resources where they matter

Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) begins Monday and this year Mac fans are hoping for hardware updates, a new streaming music service, iRadio, and substantial updates to both iOS and OS X. What I'm looking forward to most are Apple's plans for iOS 7.

(Apparently, developers feel the same way; this year's show sold out in just three minutes.)

Not so long ago, WWDC was all about Mac OS X, the desktop operating system that's now more than a dozen years old and in it's ninth iteration (OS X 10.8).

In 2001, Steve Jobs introduced the BSD-based Mac OS X as the future of the company and said Apple would use it as the foundation for its computers for the next 15 years. Six years later, Mac OS X was stripped of its non-essential elements and turned into an OS for mobile devices - the iPhone and iPod touch in 2007, and the iPad in 2010.

With the arrival of iOS, Apple gave us something we didn't yet know we wanted - or needed: a way to carry a computer in a pocket. That was the genius of the original iPhone; Apple's new device was less of a phone with computer-like functions, and more like a computer that also worked as a phone. For most people, using the new iPhone didn't feel like computing at all.

OS X begets iOS

Apple took what it learned in developing OS X for the desktop - how things looked, how they worked, moved and responded - and used that UI expertise to connect iPhone owners to software in a way that had never been done before. Suddenly, swiping and tapping was all the rage.

iOS reached people in a way OS X never could, with touch, and it was that visceral connection that helped launch the iPhone - and later the iPad - into the stratosphere. Apple was no longer just a computer company; it was a mobile computer company leading the way toward the post-PC world.

Almost as importantly, the iPhone and iPad helped break through the price barrier that had for so long kept computer users from buying Apple products. Although the first iPhone was priced at $600 initially, newer versions like the still-available iPhone 4 start at $0 (with a two-year contract), and the cheapest iPhone 5 is only $199.

The more popular the platform, the bigger the audience -- and the more likely it is that the platform will grow. Developers know this, and act accordingly. That's why the Apple App Store now has nearly 900,000 apps - many of which are quite good. Apple knows this, too, which is why iOS 7, slated to be previewed at WWDC on Monday -- carries on its shoulders a heavy responsibility. It has to serve as both a rock-solid foundation for developers and a robust OS for users.

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