Apple: Closed Is the New Open

We’ve seen the “Back to Mac” event. We know what’s upon us: a new Macbook Air, iLife ’11, and FaceTime. But the story of the show, even if you don’t even realize it, is that Apple has begun phasing out Mac OS X.

It’s funny. Even though I had a feeling that Mac OS X and iOS would eventually merge, I had no idea it would be so soon, just as I noted in my predictions for “Back to Mac.” I figured that, at the very least, Apple would wait for a few more years while iOS matures on the iPad and iPhone. I thought Apple would introduce another device in the future running iOS exclusively to ease us into the idea of iOS on our traditional computing platforms.

I was wrong.

The Transition

It was inevitable: Apple’s philosophy with its products includes having control over the entire experience. With Mac OS X in its current form, Apple doesn’t control the entire experience. However, with a migration of Mac OS X towards iOS, slowly this control could be shifted towards Apple.

This, as I mentioned before, would lead to the demise of Mac OS X. Mac OS X, at least as it stands now, does not comply with Apple’s philosophy. Apple has very limited control over what the user does with the operating system. That poses problems — including security, piracy, and interoperability, just to name a few. Not to mention that Apple receives 30% of the profits from third-party applications with iOS, whereas Mac OS X gets them nothing after the initial purchase.

Being able to control the entire experience — hardware, software, distribution, pricing, development, third-party application distribution, etc. — is the solution for Apple; it wouldn’t shock me if this has been their goal all along. The iTunes platform is, after all, a significant part of the Apple’s money-making machine. Creating hardware that taps into this ecosystem of rich content would ensure that Apple maintains control and contributes to the growth of their content platform: Apple TV, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPhone were the ones that started it all. However, the iMac, Macbook, and Macbook Air lineup of products did not conform to that philosophy, until now.

Everything has changed with the announcement of Mac OS X Lion. The most noteworthy portion of the announcement is the inclusion of an App Store specific for the Lion. This is what everyone should be paying attention to. The inclusion of the App Store on Lion (and on Snow Leopard), however, presents us with many questions.

Questions & Answers

Will iOS replace Mac OS X?

This was the warning shot heard around the world. I’m now more confident than ever that Mac OS X’s days are numbered. Apple is slow-playing the transition to the iOS platform, but it is probably for the best. The move makes perfect business sense and perfect Apple sense.

This initial step will put Apple in a position to slowly move its existing Mac OS X consumer base to iOS, without the shock of simply ditching Mac OS X altogether. With that in mind, I’ll give Mac OS X another two to three years tops before the product line is ended and almost every piece of hardware that Apple offers is running a version of iOS.

Is this the end of open platforms for Apple?

Yes, it is. And while it won’t happen overnight, I am certain that this move signifies Apple’s intention to remove the company’s association with “open platforms.” This isn’t entirely a bad thing for the non-hardcore geek. The Web is proving to be a viable development platform, especially with the development of HTML5 and CSS3. In fact, the Web is the future of open, cross-platform development — Apple just so happens to be putting an exclamation point on it by phasing out traditional operating systems like Mac OS X.

However, a more significant issue here is going to be the freedom for developers to create traditional software for the App Store. Unlike Android, which is pretty much a free-for-all, the iOS platform has plenty of restrictions placed on its developers. I’m sure the thought alone pisses off many developers who have not yet developed for iOS. Either way, some developers are going to be happier and benefit more than others.

Is this the end of piracy?

Piracy is an interesting topic, especially when it comes to iOS. There are ways to jailbreak the iPhone, and that leads to piracy. However, is this risk worth bricking your device? I’m not so sure Apple would be inclined to nuke your $1,000+ computer, but it is an interesting question that I’m sure will be posed in the future.

Regardless, there will be crackers that will find ways to exploit the App Store on Mac OS X and on iOS. I’m sure that Apple will be fast to patch them. The crackers will come back with another solution. It will eventually evolve into a back-and-forth between the two, with the pirates eventually winning in the end. However, it’s obvious that a move towards iOS could dissuade would-be pirates from committing piracy.

I’ll pass on the debate over whether this is good or bad, at least for now.

What happens to larger companies that develop expensive software for Mac OS X but want in on the App Store? Will they be forced to surrender 30% of their profits to Apple? This was the question posed by Aaron Brazell (@Technosailor) on my Twitter account (@JMowery), which quickly caught my attention.

I bet that question is on the minds of Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft, and quite a few others. Their applications cost consumers, professionals, and businesses hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to license. Surrendering 30% of that to Apple seems like a pretty big deal. How will these companies make up those expenses? Charge more?

To be honest, I’m not sure what this means for companies who develop professional tools for Mac OS X. There is always the possibility of exceptions (a free pass, if you will). Then there is the possibility that Apple will make these companies pay to play. Yet another is the creation of a separate iOS store. Regardless, I don’t believe that this issue concerns Apple at the moment; consumers are the ones driving Apple’s billions in profits.

Conclusion

Indeed, the iOS platform has just received affirmation from Apple that it is the future. Mac OS X’s future is even more in question than ever before; it’s on its last few lifelines. But everything has changed.

The future of computing is going to be challenged. No longer will the debate be between iPhone vs. Windows Phone 7, Mac vs. Windows, or Apple vs. Microsoft. The debate for the coming years will be over open vs. closed. We know which side Apple represents, we know which side Google represents, and we have a vague idea of which side Microsoft represents. This argument is sure to take precedence now.

No matter what, though, it’s a new age of computing, and Apple is in the drivers seat. I’m not saying things will not be bumpy, but it will be an interesting ride, nonetheless.

Are you going to be tagging along? Let us know!