Over one billion people now use the iOS interface. It is often the user interface that most young people first come to know. They know it is a screen made up of colorful icons with the name of the app underneath it. There are folders of mobile apps in addition to a series of top-level screens so the interface can be extended to hundreds of apps. They know to swipe, and they know the apps run in standard ways. Even young toddlers know how to run a video.
Now, consider what desktop user interfaces are like — both Mac and Windows (there are others, but these represent the vast majority of them). You still see icons, but these apps are, for the most part, quite different apps than those on iOS devices, e.g., printer icons, security software, desktop specific apps and many more. Plus, on the desktop, you have different launchers in the ‘tray’ at the bottom of the OS. iOS doesn’t have a file management system whereas the desktop (both Mac and Windows) has an extensive file management system (accessed by Finder on the Mac and File Manager in the Windows OS). [Note: cloud file management systems like Dropbox have become the de facto file management system on iOS that also runs on the Mac and Windows.]
The iOS platform has a user community that is much larger than the macOS community. Users have requested their iPhone apps to run on the Mac (and Windows as well). Messenger now runs on the Mac and iPhone. And, Apple has just announced a set of developer resources that will enable them to build apps from the beginning that will run across iOS (iPhone and iPad) as well as the Mac. It would seem that Apple may want to consider this new initiative to enable the apps to run on Windows platform as well.
Some have suggested that Apple merge iOS and macOS into one operating system that runs on both mobile and desktop. That would be a gargantuan effort as the underlying architecture of these two operating systems is so vastly different. However, Apple can give users something very similar by focusing on enabling a common user experience where the all of the user’s mobile apps will be able to run on the desktop.
In this scenario, iOS users who buy or have a Mac would be able to run the same apps with the same user experience as they have on their iOS devices (iPhone, iPad). The Mac would still be able to run desktop-specific apps as many of these (e.g., Photoshop) have many features that have been developed over many years that utilize desktop capabilities and would not easily port to iOS (and likely would be more difficult to use without a keyboard and mouse).
We applaud Apple for enabling developers to create cross-platform apps. However, they are not the only vendor who’s thinking along the lines of apps running cross-platform. Microsoft has had some success building Office to run on iOS, Mac, and Windows. There are some differences, but the fact is that Office users just want to get work done independently of what device in which they happen to be using.
Here’s another example: VMware has created Workspace ONE which enables them (and partners) to build secure enterprise apps that all run in the Workspace ONE environment that is supported cross-platform.
The result of this process is the embedding of the OS layer underneath the app layer. Sure, apps have always been available on any given OS. But, having one set of apps available on both the mobile and desktop environment creates a sense from the user that the underlying OS becomes less relevant.
If you start with iOS, you know how it works. So, if Apple makes designated apps available on the Mac (as well as enable other developers to do the same thing), then the user continues to run the apps they know how to run in whatever platform they are using. It would seem to be a natural extension of this would be for Apple to add Windows to their new cross-platform development platform. That way, users who have an iPhone and a Windows PC could also run their iOS apps on Windows as well.
The underlying operating platforms are very different. One of the primary differences is the integration of a file management system in both Windows and Mac operating systems. iOS doesn’t support a file management system, so Dropbox has become the preferred solution. Maybe Apple should try to acquire them (for a second attempt).
Is this just a small convenience or is it a mega trend? VMware certainly thinks the concept of a single Workspace is important in the enterprise environment. So do all those who are using iOS devices.
Running apps on platforms running on top of operating systems seems to be the strategic direction for many major software vendors. These app platforms become a virtualization layer much like VMware has done via virtualization of the desktop environment.
Will we see a day when all users focus on is apps that can run on any device they happen to be using and not bother with or try to use the underlying OS? We’ll see an additional integration of services that are now coming into the fold. Services pick up features out of multiple apps and put an experience together that provides an overall service. An example might be a hotel that brings together a number of information processing ‘micro apps’ that support the customer’s visit. More on this next week in my annual outlook and trends for 2018.
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