Loop-iness

In a recent The Loop article, “OMG iOS is being OS X-ified,” Jim Dalrymple dismisses the idea that OS X is evolving to become more like iOS (as many others, including myself, have claimed). Nonsense, says Jim. He argues that one could just as easily claim that the iOS devices have evolved to become more like Macs. How so? Because iOS devices have web browsers and email clients and appointment calendars and so on — all of which were on the Mac first.

When I first read the article, it was hard for me to take Jim’s arguments seriously. In fact, it was a bit hard for me to believe Jim even intended the arguments to be taken seriously. As pointed out by a reader comment, his logic essentially amounts to a “strawman” argument. So I was glad to see Jim admit, in a comment reply, that the “article was meant to be sarcastic and nothing more.”

Still, I believe there is a serious intent behind the column or Jim would not have written it. In fact, in a previous Loop column, Jim un-sarcastically asserts: “These claims of Mountain Lion being more like iOS are just shit.” That’s a serious charge. So I’d like to offer a serious reply.

Yes, web surfing came to the Mac before it arrived on the iPhone. But that’s not an example of “Mac-ification” of the iPhone, at least not in the sense that Jim intends. The Mac existed for over twenty years before the iPhone was created. There is no doubt that the iPhone included many attributes of the Mac when it was first released in 2007 — such as a Safari web browser and a Mail app. How could it not? The entire iOS operating system was derived from Mac OS X.

But that’s not the point. The much more relevant question is, now that both iOS versions separately exist, each with their own distinct characteristics, do increasing similarities between the two OS versions derive more from changes going from iOS to OS X — or vice versa?

It is clear that the answer is iOS to OS X. Apple makes no secret of this. Steve Jobs stated back in October 2010, in regard to OS X Lion 10.7: “Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac.” Except for not always agreeing with the “best” part, this is what I and many others mean when we refer to “iOS-ification.” I don’t see why Jim wants to argue with this.

Further, it is almost silly to equate the fact that Macs had an email client or a photo app before iPhones to the fact that OS X Mountain Lion is directly adopting iOS apps such as Reminders and Notes. Almost every computer platform on the planet has an email client and a photo app. These are generic requirements, much like tires on a car. This is quite different from a Notes app in Mountain Lion that is almost a 100% duplication of the look and feel of Notes in iOS. Notes on the Mac is more than a replication of function, it is a replication of design and (most likely) specific code from the iOS version.

Jim further claims: “If Apple were trying to make Mountain Lion more like iOS we would be touching the screen of our computers to interact with out apps instead of using the keyboard and mouse.” This too is a silly exaggeration. First, this is hardly the only criteria by which you can judge what Apple is trying to do here. Second, Apple is using the Trackpad, with its multitouch gestures, to mimic the effect of a touchscreen on a Mac.

Jim even manages to contradict himself in a single paragraph. He writes: “Mountain Lion added the Notes and Reminders apps — that doesn’t make Mac OS more like iOS, it means that…millions of iOS users can open their Mountain Lion computers and have a higher level of familiarity with the apps on their Mac.” Yes, but where does this “higher level of familiarity” come from? It comes from the fact that these Mac apps look and feel more like the matching ones in iOS!

The final question for me is: Why is Jim getting so worked up about this anyway? Why is he so eager to “prove” that this trend is not happening? When I read his columns on this subject, it almost seems as if Jim feels threatened by the idea that OS X might be becoming more like iOS. As if, by admitting this is happening, one would be admitting some essential flaw in OS X, one that Jim feels he must oppose. I’m not sure where all of this comes from.

It is true that some people have been critical of the trend, arguing that moving OS X in the direction of iOS is making the Mac simpler to the point of “dumbing down” the OS. Others (including myself) have argued that some of the changes don’t fit very well; what works on an iPhone is not always suited for a Mac environment. And finally, some have expressed concern that “iOS-ification” will eventually result in a “closed” OS X, where only apps that are purchased from the Mac App Store will run.

These are valid concerns, worth debating. It doesn’t make them automatically true. I see merit on both sides of the arguments. However, Jim doesn’t mention any of this in his columns. In fact, he mentions no basis for his opposition at all. Instead, he just spews venom and sarcasm. So there is no way to know whether or not any of these concerns represent the reasoning behind his position.

Dave Hamilton suggests that Jim and I are, in the end, “saying the same thing; chosen changes are appropriate for Desktop OS.” At some level, perhaps this is so. Maybe the problem is that Jim and I have different definitions as to what “iOS-ification” means. If we could agree on definitions, we might agree in general. Jim and I certainly appear to agree that (as I wrote in my Mac Observer column last week) “Apple has not begun a conversion of OS X to iOS.” Still, both of us would accept that there is an increasing similarity between OS X and iOS — and that such similarity can have the advantage of maximizing “the positive transfer between the two platforms.” Indeed, I find myself largely in agreement with another Loop article on this same subject, written by by Matt Alexander. I assume Jim agrees as well. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. And in the details, Jim’s own postings have taken off in a more extreme and unsupportable direction.

In my view, iOS-ification by itself is neither good or bad. It is good if it works well and improves the experience of using a Mac. I contended, in my just-cited Mac Observer column, that this is precisely what Mountain Lion’s iOS-like features do; the forthcoming OS X “gets ios-ification right.” The trend is obviously bad if and when it goes in the opposite direction. I prefer to focus on such considerations, rather than making specious and dismissive claims that an “iOS-ification” trend doesn’t even exist.

Update: In a Twitter exchange between Jim and myself, which followed the posting of this article, Jim wrote: “If you are saying I don’t get it, you are saying Apple doesn’t get it.” and “Do you honestly think I spent an hour and a half with them and didn’t talk about this stuff?

I find these quotes interesting on two accounts.

First, Jim appears to be implying that his articles are merely a (more colorful) restatement of Apple’s positions. If this is the case, I wish Jim would have acknowledged this in the articles, instead of passing them off as entirely his own opinions.

Second, assuming Jim’s restatements are accurate, he seems unwilling to realize that Apple might “spin” what they tell him. Surely, it is legitimate to disagree with Apple’s public presentation of its actions. If that’s what I am doing (and it’s still not clear to me that this is the case), I would be far from the first person to do so.

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1 Response to Loop-iness

  1. abrooks19 says:

    Nicely thought out, Ted.

    I concur with Dave Hamilton on this one.

    The disagreement, in my view, is a descriptive one rather than conceptual; rather like the proverbial blind men describing different parts of an elephant.

    That OS X is beginning to host features of iOS that harmonise the user experience across the two operating systems merely demonstrates the shared heritage of the two systems and the robustness of OS X, and not that OS X is becoming iOS. It’s the user experience, courtesy of key features, that are converging and being harmonised, not code.

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