IOS, iPadOS, WatchOS are now one big platform

Once upon a time, Apple’s business was centered around the Mac, and no one expected the company to update its operating system software more often than once every two years or so.

For example, the Mac’s OS X Tiger update arrived in April 2005, and its successor, OS X Leopard, didn’t appear until October 2007. (It was even delayed because Apple had to redirect resources to a new product, the iPhone.) The next version , Snow Leopard, debuted in August 2009, followed by Lion in July 2011.

In case you didn’t know, the Mac is now just one of Apple’s computing platforms. The iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Apple TV all have their own operating system. And for the past ten years, Apple has updated the operating systems of all these devices every year, previewing the new versions at the WWDC keynote and then releasing them in the fall. Even for a company that has abundant resources, it’s a huge amount of work to get it all done in one go – and year after year.

Now that Apple has gotten all of its operating system ducks lined up, its platforms feel more and more like a coordinated set. That’s never been more true than with the updates announced at Monday’s WWDC keynote, which were less than five self-contained pieces of software than a single experience encompassing them all wherever possible.

Consider all these news:

Stage Manager, an all-new interface for wrangling multiple apps and their overlapping windows, is coming to both macOS Ventura and iPadOS 16. The new iOS lock screen tweaks clearly draw a lot of inspiration from how watch faces work on the Apple Watch and its interface. for choosing it is remarkably similar. People without Apple Watches can still use Apple’s Fitness app on their iPhones, turning the smartphone into a kind of Apple Watch that you don’t wear on your wrist. Apps like Mail and Messages are getting new features that will debut on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac once their updates are available this fall. Freeform, a new Apple collaborative whiteboarding app, is coming to iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple’s Weather app, long a mainstay of the iPhone, will finally make its way to the iPad and Mac. Apple’s most neglected operating system, the Apple TV’s tvOS, won’t get many new features, but some of what it’s getting, such as support for Nintendo Switch game controllers, will be available on other platforms as well.

I could go on. In short, if it made sense for something new to cover more than one Apple operating system, it probably would — to a much more extensive extent than previous WWDC keynotes revealed. (One notable exception: iOS 16’s new lock screen tweaks won’t be replicated in iPadOS 16, though it seems like a good bet they’ll make an appearance in iPadOS 17 next year — and maybe even MacOS.)

The zeal with which Apple is aligning its multiple platforms is, for the most part, a positive development for everyone involved. If a feature is new and smart, wouldn’t you want it to be available everywhere you find it useful? This increasing consistency is also a way for Apple to encourage customers to use more of its products as it spreads trusted experiences across its portfolio. The more a Mac has in common with an iPhone, the more appealing the purchase can be to an iPhone fan who has used Windows PCs before.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if Apple’s unification effort could lead to it connecting some points that are better left alone. Think Stage Manager. During the MacOS portion of the WWDC keynote, Apple software chief Craig Federighi pitched the new feature as an answer to the age-old Mac frustration of working with so many apps that you end up with an overwhelming abundance of floating, overlapping windows. That made sense. But on the iPad, floating window overload is not an existing problem to solve, as the platform has never floated or overlapped windows. Only with the arrival of Stage Manager will they do that at all.

Federighi hasn’t really made it clear why windows on an iPad should float and overlap — at least when it’s not connected to a large external monitor, where the tablet’s traditional tiled, full-height apps may not make effective use of expansive real estate. . It’s also not entirely clear how Apple will reconcile the existing, essentially unrelated window interfaces of macOS and iPadOS with their new shared Stage Manager features.

a lot of the early response I’ve seen Stage Manager from smart iPad users has been critical† It’s still a beta feature that could evolve further before Apple releases iPadOS 16 in the fall, so it’s too early to make a final judgement. But so far, Apple has done a remarkable job of keeping the Mac and iPad very different. Does Stage Manager represent the dawn of a new era where the company cares less about platform differentiation and more about using new ideas wherever it can?

It will take more than a year of operating system upgrades to answer that question. But it could be critical to the future of Apple products.

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