The Bright Future of AppleOS and Multi-Touch Universal Computing

Steve Jobs once noted that Apple’s extensive user testing studies didn’t favor using multi-touch on a Mac screen.

But that was a long time ago during a Mac special event in October 2010 where he introduced iOS features to its Mac counterpart.

A long time ago, at least, in computing years.

What Jobs rightfully pointed out back then was that hardware was one reason that multi-touch didn’t work in a vertical desktop computing environment. Touch wanted to be horizontal and vertically oriented touch was “ergonomically terrible.” Additionally, there was an internal architecture issue with the hardware. Apple’s touch-based devices operated on a different chipset than its desktop counterparts.

Things continue to change on all these fronts.

The Microsoft Surface suite has since shown how touch can work on the “desktop.” Hinges on Surfaces, whether the laptop-like form factor of the Surface Go and Surface Pro or the larger desktop Surface Studio, enable both desktop-like and touch-oriented experiences. On the flip side, magnets in Apple’s Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro transform it from tablet to a more traditional desktop computer.

There’s a coalescing across these form factors but which will win?

The answer is…they all will.*

From external to internal hardware design, the introduction of Apple’s ARM chipset on the Mac is monumental. Tim Cook inferred that the move to Apple Silicon is the next milestone in Mac’s history and a “game changer.” As one example, ARM runs iOS apps without any modification on the more traditional desktop Mac computing environment.

Hardware is just one part of the story.

On the software side, the introduction of iPadOS in 2019 was ironic for those who have been around since day one of touch in the Apple ecosystem. “iPhone OS” as it was called back then, was rebranded to “iOS” when the iPad hit the scene. By splitting off almost 10 years later, iPadOS seemed to fragment the ecosystem even further.

With the forthcoming macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple is finally retiring Mac OS X, proving that a more unified platform is coming. macOS 11 brings all-new design inspired by iOS and iPadOS. From iOS-like app icons, increased corner radiuses, removal of bezels, and greater attention to screen real estate, it’s the start of a much more touch-friendly desktop operating system.

This new macOS, soon to be powered by ARM, which can run iOS and macOS apps, showcases the future of an AppleOS and multi-touch universal computing ecosystem.

AppleOS will have the smarts to adapt to the form factor, screen size, and preferred computing paradigm of the user. That means if someone has an iMac but wants to use it in multi-touch mode, the OS will know the difference between a Magic Mouse, Apple Pencil, or finger. Apps in this ecosystem will be built to move easily across screen sizes and input methods.

Users won’t have to decide between iPhone, iPad, or Mac in the sense of “which is my main computing device” or “which device is best for this task.” All of them will be. Users will no longer be tethered to the iPad because it’s the only device that supports the Apple Pencil for sketching and drawing. Likewise, the Mac no longer will be their only choice to carry out “pro” desktop activities.

AppleOS and the future multi-touch universal computing paradigm will not negate the advantage of one form factor over another. Instead, users will have more flexibility than is offered in today’s computing environment, where a specific OS and device is demanded by default.

Big Sur in the form of macOS 11 and ARM are exciting advancements. Years from now, they will be seen as foundational for AppleOS. Somewhere within Apple Park, in an undisclosed location (of course), that future is being worked on right now.

* Much like the debate between native and web. I regularly noted back in the late 2000s that both would win their respective mediums.