Mac O’Clock
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Mac O’Clock

WWDC 2020

Your iPad Pro could soon be running full macOS

They literally demoed it to us

I’ve had a theory that Apple will move to merge macOS and iPadOS for a while now. iPad hardware is efficient and powerful in a compact form factor but is not quite ready to become your main device.

If an iPad were to run full macOS, well that would change things.

After the announcements of WWDC 2020, I think we are getting closer to a single powerful OS which will drive both iPads and Macs.

Here’s a breakdown of why this will happen.

The shift to ARM processors

If you didn’t already realise, the vast majority of Apple’s ecosystem is already powered by custom ARM-based silicon chips — all except the Mac product line.

Apple are beginning a two-year transition to custom silicon to leverage known power efficiency and performance improvements. Over the years they have developed vast in-house expertise while working on the custom chips we see in iPhones and iPads.

An ARM-based custom silicon chip means Apple are no longer tied to intel, making the development processes more fine-tuned, streamlined and financially beneficial to Apple.

The ARM architecture of the new Macs will be shared with that of iPads. In layman terms, the binary instructions which both iPadOS and macOS Big Sur (ARM) are built on are the same — therefore there isn’t any fundamental reason preventing app distribution for the OS’s becoming one.

That’s right, one app store for iOS and macOS. It wouldn’t be identical on each device but would work similarly to the way the app store currently works between iOS and iPadOS.

Because of the shared ARM architecture, iOS apps can already run natively on Big Sur ARM — this was demoed during the keynote.

Credit: Apple

Yeah, they literally demoed it to us

During the final part of the Event Keynote, Craig was delighted to admit that they had been demoing Big Sur on a ‘Mac Development Platform’. It uses the same Apple A12Z Bionic chip that ships in iPads today. This means that they could effectively run macOS Big Sur’s ARM variant on an existing iPad with little to no modification of the kernel.

Credit: Apple

The macOS UI

The design changes to macOS Big Sur are very iPad like. In an unconventional move, the desktop OS now seems to be taking design inspiration from its touch screen counterpart.

Changes to controls such as brightness and volume now seem to be better suited to a touch screen interface. The click to explore more options is taken directly from the iOS touch screen design language.

Credit: Apple

Introduction of ‘Mac Catalyst’ apps

Apple have made it easier than ever for developers to release iOS apps onto a Mac. Catalyst now enables developers to tap into the native controls and properties of macs. Devs can integrate mac specific features into what would otherwise be an iOS app. This means that developers can focus on a single core app, then use the catalyst library to support Mac-specific controls.

Sidecar

Sidecar connects an iPadOS device to a Mac to enable it to be used as a secondary display. While not new, this feature has enabled Apple to understand the interactions and behaviours of a touch screen with macOS.

Credit: Apple

Mouse and Trackpad support on iPadOS

It was long-awaited, but as of iPadOS 13, iPad users could finally use a mouse and trackpad. Apple have leveraged a non-conventional approach to some interactions yet, behaviours still mimic a traditional mouse. This has allowed Apple to experiment with mouse UI interactions on a touch screen device.

A Big Sur iPad would switch between touch and trackpad control depending on how the device is being used.

Credit: Apple

The iPad marketing message — it’s a computer

It’s not a computer. But it’s close. Apple want to realise this vision. For many people, iPads are capable devices which perform just about every daily task. For pro users — think developers, content creators, data scientists — iPads are just not ready to replace macs. They simply don’t currently support a wide enough range of ‘pro’ apps, but they certainly are close to offering the power these tasks demand.

Credit: Apple

Time will tell

We’re on the verge of something special. When I first held the iPad Pro 2018 in my hands, I was in awe. A thin slice of glass and metal which was capable of taking on a PC. We’ve come a long way over the past 10 years. We are not far from a hybrid of pro-grade touch screen apps.

Although there have been no specific announcements so far, the evidence points towards a future merger of iPadOS and macOS.

For now, we can only wait.

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