Intellectual masturbation: Does OS X preview Apple’s future product line

This iBrotha article was originally published at by Rodney O. Lain. In honor of Rodney’s death, a good friend and contributor, we are reposting here with the permission of MacAddict. We would like to thank them for their generosity in allowing us to remember Rodney by keeping this archive of his work.




Intellectual masturbation: Does OS X preview Apple’s future product line

fri jun.23.2000



…the end is in the beginning and lies far ahead.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man



Many people, especially us Mac users, have tried to divine Apple’s next moves time and time again, to no avail.

I’m no exception.


Since hindsight gives a better perspective than the crystal-balled soothsayers among us, I think it’s better to look to a far better source if we want an idea of what Apple is up to: let’s look to Apple. Rather, let’s look at the hints and clues that Apple has given in the past about the company’s future.

n When Apple design wunderkind Jonathan Ive was interviewed shortly after the introduction of the original iMac, he was asked to divulge details about future Apple products. “If you look at the iMac, you’ll get a pretty good idea of where we’re headed,” he replied, deflecting requests for insider info.

n Larry “Big Mouth” Ellison has all but advertised the fact that Apple is positioning itself to be a producer of digital appliances, whatever those will be.

n One year before Apple introduced the iMac, Paul Kunkel’s published Apple Design: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group. This coffee-table pictorial, an Apple aficionado’s must-have, highlights every Apple product from the Apple I prototype and the original Macintosh to the eMate and the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. What I found most intriguing, though, weren’t the aforementioned products and never-released Apple creations like the TimeBand, a wrist-bound, Dick-Tracy-esque computer, but rather the colored materials shown in the few last pages. One was a tangerine-looking piece called “Terrestrial,” the detail of a “future desktop CPU product” (iMac?). Another was called “Celestial,” the detail of a “future portable product” (iBook or some other, forthcoming product?).

Could each of these occurrences have been hints at Apple products that we know and love today? Who knows?

This line of reasoning led to the following.

Mac OS X and Apple’s ultimate plan

Many are bummed out that Apple has emphatically said we will never see an Apple-branded, Palm-like device. Likewise, many have vented their spleens over the features included in and omitted from Mac OS X.

In the midst of this, Apple has given possible clues to what could be coming down the pike, which could justify the things Mac users are complaining about. Using Mac OS X as a template, let’s try to sneak peak future Apple products…

Steve Jobs has been adamant about Apple’s plan to have a single OS, Mac OS X Server notwithstanding. Also, note that Apple has adhered to it’s four-quadrant product matrix: iBook, iMac, PowerBook, Power Mac.

But how are we to reconcile this with future Apple devices referred to by Ellison and Jobs (remember, the iMan publicly mentioned an “executive laptop”)?

I don’t know about the hardware, but I have a better understanding of why the future Mac OS will be a shadow of its current GUI: a more streamlined OS is better for a company that wants to produce devices that provide the customer with a unified user experience across the entire product line.

For example, let the professionals show us how *not* to implement a product line…

Where in the world are they trying to go today?

There’s no wonder why Windows CE has been such a flop. Microsoft tried to shoe horn Windows into a handheld, which ain’t gonna happen, if you’ll excuse the grammar.

Windows, which is already a kludge of an operating system, vis-á-vis its graphical user interface (GUI): it’s crowded; it suffers from terminal featuritis; many features are counterintuitive. Now imagine taking all of this and shrinking it from a 17″ screen into the 3″ x 5″ screen real estate of a handheld computer. That ain’t gonna happen, either.

Palm Computing was vindicated in its assertion that minimalism will win out in the handheld market.

(Now, the Pocket PC may prove a contender — not that I’ve extensively used one yet to prove this point; it’s just that Microsoft is infamous for getting it right the third time. Also, I’m sure they’ve gotten it right this time, because the Pocket PC now has an Apple Menu — er, a Start Menu — in the upper left-hand corner, where it belongs; wish they’d tried that with Windows 1.0… Apple would have won that “look and feel” thing. But I digress…)

Apple, however, may be thinking big picture.

Imagine creating a line of digital appliances that require a good, visually pleasing — and user friendly — OS. Also, you want to maintain consistency across your product line. Do you create several OSes — like, say, the Mac OS and the Newton OS? No! You revamp your bread-and-butter OS. You make it feature rich — with the prerequisite room for third-party tweaking — yet, you also make it simple enough so that whatever device you have it running on, it will look good.

Imagine having a device the size of the Newton running Mac OS 9: control strip, Apple Menu, pop-up folders, yada yada yada. It’d look good on a full-sized Mac, but not on a smaller-screened device.

Now, imagine the same device running Mac OS X, which can also run on iMacs and Power Macs. This may be where Apple is headed: an OS that is visually uncluttered enough to run on the whole range of Apple devices, present and future.

In conclusion…

I could be wrong here, but I think my idea is in line with what Apple has been doing since the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Steve Jobs.

What has Jobs been preaching since day one? Simplicity and consistency in product line. Simplicity and consistency in GUI (not counting QuickTime 4, Sherlock, iMovie and Final Cut Pro).

Couple this with what Apple is doing on the hardware side: Apple is aligning its desktop- and portable devices so that they share a common motherboard (read UMA). If you’ve seen one motherboard, you’ve seen them all. Ditto for the industrial design (well, this is true if the PowerBook becomes infected translucent plastics).

And such a strategy makes good business sense, if Apple’s goal is to woo the consumer market, which needs consistency. A less complex Operating System would just make common sense.

OS X, contrary to many complaints, is to be less complex than current incarnations, at least graphically speaking.

Well, enough of my intellectual masturbation. I just wanted to throw out my two cents and think out loud on the one topic has held the collective Mac user’s attention more than any other.

It may not be a logically arrived conclusion, but I think that it has merit.

What do you think?


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