Apple’s CEO Tim Cook made headlines this week when he spurned suggestions that his company might merge its mobile and desktop operating systems:
We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad. … Neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.
Cook’s comments indirectly belittle Microsoft’s Surface line, which combines a mouse-first desktop environment with more touch-friendly elements.
To be fair, Windows 10 is a solid effort, the fullest expression yet of Microsoft’s computing vision. Unlike Windows 8’s ill-conceived “Frankenstein experiment,” Windows 10 converges interaction paradigms with a tempered, desktop-anchored approach.
Use the OS for long, however, and you’ll see the seams: legacy UI that can’t be easily navigated via touch. For example, the new, finger-friendly Settings app in Windows 10 almost (but not quite) replaces the legacy Control Panel, which demands a mouse cursor. Presumably, over time, Microsoft plans to root out such vestiges of the desktop era, replacing them with more consistent, touchable UI.
Tim Cook rejects Microsoft’s strategy, in which computing’s past slowly transforms into its future. By contrast, Apple started fresh when it launched the iPhone and its touch-friendly interface eight years ago.
If we call Microsoft’s approach “convergence”, we might label Apple’s strategy as “supersession.” Over time, the replacement platform (i.e., iOS) matures to the point that it can replace the legacy alternatives (including Mac OS) altogether—or, at least, for the vast majority of users.
I had my doubts about supersession’s viability up till now. iOS felt too small, too hampered, too limited to ever replace a laptop. I’d often feel as if I were wrestling with iOS rather than hitting my “productivity zone.” Drafting a tablet to fight a PC’s battle felt silly. And the market seemed to agree; the iPad’s cratering sales—along with the Mac’s continued growth—cast doubt on Steve Job’s assertion that the “post-PC era” had arrived.
But more recently, Apple’s mobile platform has taken strides that make supersession more viable. iOS 9—with its improved keyboard shortcuts and multitasking support—makes it much easier to do work on the iPad. In fact, I now write most blog posts (including this one) on my iPad Air 2. I’ve enjoyed the experience enough that I just purchased a premium keyboard dock.
The iPad Pro, released just a few weeks ago, further demonstrates Apple’s commitment to mobile productivity. The Pro offers an improved typing experience (via an optional hardware keyboard), vast screen real estate (another mainstay of desktop machines) and a pressure-sensitive stylus (replacing PC drawing tablets). Can the iPad Pro replace your laptop now? For most power users, the answer is “No.” But suddenly it’s much easier to see how that might happen in the not-too-distant future.
Regardless of whether mobile OSes “converge” with the desktop or “supersede” it, one thing seems clear: most people will buy just one non-smartphone computer. It won’t make sense to own both a desktop-class computer (whether a Mac or a touchless Windows PC) and a tablet (whether an iPad, an Android slate, or a touch-enabled Windows option).
In adopting these strategies, both Apple and Microsoft are constrained by their current market positions. It makes sense for Apple to pivot its popular mobile platform into a productivity powerhouse. The Mac, despite its recent growth, remains a minority desktop player. Meanwhile, Windows Phone has struggled to earn market share and developer support, Microsoft would be ill-advised to bet big on that platform. Desktop Windows remains dominant (at least in sheer number of users); it makes sense to start there instead. ↩