macOS 10.16 — What the Mac Needs Next!

I’m even more conflicted about the future of the Mac than I am the future of the iPad and for almost exactly the opposite reasons.

On one hand, you have traditional computer users who’ve grown up on Apple and the Mac. Pros and power users who, for the last couple of decades, have been well-served by the relative openness of the Mac, that beyond its lickably slick interface and integration with the rest of Apple’s ecosystem, it was BSD Unix under the hood and, for the last decade, Windows any time you wanted it as well.

On the other hand, there’s a new generation of Mac users who’ve been halo’d over from the iPhone and iPad. Far more casual and mainstream users who value things like simplicity, security, consistency with iOS, that provided many of the benefits of a traditional computer while still being friendlier and easier to use, and even grow with if you wanted to.

And… I’m not actually sure how much this is even debated inside Apple. Not since Steve Jobs dropped an iPad in front of the Mac team and asked, point blank, why can’t you do this?

But, here’s the thing: Apple already has iOS so who and how much does it really benefit the broader market to continuously make macOS more like it? How much does a MacBook have to become like an iPad before announcing an iPadOS clamshell just makes the kind of sense that is more?

John Gruber of Daring Fireball has often said the lightness of iOS is what lets the Mac stay heavy. But do the current rumors about macOS show that it’s about to get every bit as light?

macOS... What?

The very first version of the macOS — then OS X — beta was Kodiak, like the bear. The code-names, though, were based on the big cats. Cheetah first.

Steve Jobs and Apple’s crack marketing team, as senior Vice President of software engineering, Craig Federighi, calls them, liked the big cat names so much they ended up using them as the brand names. Puma, Tiger, Leopard, Mountain Lion.

In retaliation or… just… capitulation… Apple’s software team switched to wine-based codenames. Pinot, Chablis, Zinfandel, Cabernet.

All except for Snow Leopard, but that’s a story for another video.

Then, when we got to the 9th version, Apple switched brand names from big cats to California landmarks. Mavericks, El Capitan, Sierra, Catalina. And, when we got to the 11th version, they also changed code names, to… apples. Gala, Fuji, Lobo. At least up until a couple years ago when everything changed.

See, until then, iOS codenames had been based on Ski resorts, watchOS codenames mostly on beaches, and tvOS… just… I don’t know, random words.

Then, those couple of years ago, everything was ideals — watchOS glory, iOS hope, macOS liberty… and now it’s just all over the place.

But, for the vast majority of Apple’s operating systems, no one sees any of that because the only thing that’s kept public is the version number. iOS 13. iPadOS 13. tvOS 13. watchOS 6.

For everything but macOS, which is currently at 10.15.

And here’s where I argue that, while codenames and brandnames are cool, they’re also a lot more overhead.

If someone talks about iOS 12, you know exactly which version is before it and after it. Because you can count. If someone talks about macOS Mavericks, well, you might need to think about it some or run to Google.

The full version number, 10.whatever, has been meaningless since Apple took macOS to dot 11. So, I’m hoping they drop not only the band names like Mammoth, Montery, and Skyline, but the prefixes and make the conventions consistent across the full software lineup.

iOS 14. iPadOS 14. tvOS 14. watchOS 7. macOS 16.

Yes, we’ll lose the Craig jokes about macOS Weed or Laguna Seca, but he’ll always have that crack marketing team and their photos to make fun of.

Come at me in the comments.

macOS Stability

macOS Catalina, like iOS 13, has been tough. It feels like we’ve been saying that for years now though.

The running joke is that every year should be a ‘snow’ year, in reference to the widely held misconception that OS X Snow Leopard had no new features, just a ton of stability improvements.

It just had so few features Steve Jobs and the marketing team came up with no new features as a way to cover for that.

Anyway, the reason for a lot of the pain in macOS over the last few years is because Apple has been basically rebuilding the entire operating system one module at a time. Which is a lot like rebuilding plane while in flight.

See, there’s no next.. NeXT yet. Which was the operating system Apple bought to replace the old system software and which became OS X, now macOS.

It was a complete rip and replace. A software transplant.

Instead of ending macOS and starting something new, Apple is instead ending parts of macOS and replacing them with things that are new.

APFS, the Apple File System, is replacing HFS+. Catalyst, or UIKit on the Mac is replacing Cocoa. DriverKit and its ilk is replacing kernel-level access. And more daemons are being re-written from the ground up than the last season of Lucifer on Netflix.

I’m guessing, especially in light of what’s coming next, the hope is to get everyone to the other side of this as quickly as possible, no matter how painful that makes it along the way.

So my ask here is for Apple to devote as many resources as possible to making every part of the transition as solid as possible to reduce as much pain as possible along the way.

macOS on ARM

The biggest rumor heading into macOS 16 — see how easy that transition was? — by far, is that Apple will preview a version compiled and optimized to run on their own, custom ARM processors instead of the current x86 processors from Intel.

Apple’s done silicon migrations twice before, from the Motorola 6800 series to PowerPC to Intel.

And, each one had its share of promise, complexity, and frustration.

With ARM, some hope Apple will be able to update and iterate faster, offer better, more integrated, more differentiated features, and optimize for both higher performance and better power efficiency.

Others fear they’ll just lose the ability to run Windows, high-end, niche software just won’t ever be ported over, and Apple will use the transition to further lock macOS down the way iOS has always been locked down.

So, basically, the sum of all hopes and fears, and the anticipation of transition being either more or less stressful than transition itself.

My guess is, moving macOS to custom arm processors will prove a huge boon for modern, mainstream Mac customers, the ones who came from iOS and live in apps and on the web. And it may well prove incredibly painful for traditional power and Pro users who work across a bunch of development environments and in a bevy of already barely supported apps.

But, we’ll just have to wait and see.

macOS Apps

About the only other rumors making the rounds are related to apps.

First, that iMessage will be going Catalyst, which is the marketing name for UIKit on the Mac. In other words, porting over the iOS Messages app to the Mac, which should mean it finally gets feature parity with that iOS app re-launched years and years ago. You know what I’m saying. Open bracket sent with lasers close bracket.

My hope is that it doesn’t remove features that are currently Mac-only, namely Screen Sharing, but that Apple actually makes that feature available in both the Mac and iOS versions. Can I get another finally.

Also, that Apple continues to go back and improve the very-bad-not-good original Catalyst beta apps from two years ago and the still-bad-not-great iTunes fragment apps from last year. Where the UIKit versions are just like the AppKit versions… just none of them are spectacular yet.

Second, that the new features rolling out to iOS will also roll out to macOS, including things like translations in Safari.

And, of course, I’m still hoping for media handoff as well, the kind I talked about in the iOS 14 video last week. Hit that subscribe button, seriously.

I’m also going to add windowing in here as well. Apple has made small improvements over the years, including full screen support and side-by-side apps, but windowing overall still isn’t great.

It’s 2020 and still the only way to change an app in side-by-side mode is to destroy the layout completely and start over. Like an animal.

Even iPadOS, which has a far, far more constrained windowing model knows better than that.

It just feels like something Apple could redo completely and devote an entire keynote tentpole to.

This year… macOS invents the window!

macOS Pro

Remember when Coke went to New Coke and everyone hated it so much they turned around and re-launched the original as Coke Classic? No? Ask your parents. Or Wikipedia.

Now, I’m not suggesting the most recent versions of macOS are New Coke — an attempt to make a sweeter, more mass-market-friendly version to more broadly appeal to the mainstream. Because new Coke ended up appealing to precisely no one and I do think the most recent versions of macOS do hold a lot of appeal for people entering the Mac market.

But I also recognize the pain they’re causing to traditional Mac and computer users, the ones who always saw the Mac as the best of both worlds — the shiniest of graphical interfaces over the most open of operating systems.

And that second part seems to be closing down, bit by bit, year after year. From Gatekeeper to system integrity protection to read-only boot volumes to the loss of 32-bit apps, to how privacy permissions are actualized.

A lot of that can be worked around, especially by the people sophisticated enough to disable or otherwise deal with those constraints.

But not everything. For example, 32-bit audio plugins and games are just dead in the water. As far as I can tell, there’s not even a way for the community to keep them going.

Now, I’m not advocating macOS stay locked to the past. Apple’s savage willingness to jettison the old rather than drag it behind them, kicking and screaming, so they can more quickly get to the new has been a huge advantage for many of us over the years.

I’m just recognizing that with each of these changes, traditional Mac users worry more and more that their traditional computing environment is being taken away from them. And unlike mainstream Mac users who, if things were to get too complex, can go to the iPad, there’s no Classic Mac for power users to move to.

There’s just Linux.

That might be perfectly fine for Apple, the way Windows has been perfectly fine for people who felt underserved by hardcore gaming and VR on the Mac.

There’s probably some analogy about how iPadOS getting heavier and macOS getting lighter leaves less room for either brand new or nerdy traditional users on either side.

Instead, I’ll just wonder out loud if there isn’t some way for the company that just re-launched the Mac Pro to also figure out macOS Pro for exactly the same type of niche — just not atoms but bits.