Come OS X Yosemite, what next with desktop operating systems?

June 11th, 2014

Now, that WWDC is over there has been a lot of buzz around the next generation operating systems that Apple has announced, both for the desktop as well as for the mobile. Dubbed, OS X Yosemite for the desktop and iOS 8 for the mobile, these two operating systems will be driving many a changes in how people will use computers in the coming future.

The non-technical press has been giving out its reviews about the two operating systems as purely improvements over its predecessors, there’s actually a great deal of change that developers can see, in the foundation of these operating systems, and what kind of opportunities the next generation devices can bring.

I have frequently been ranting about Apple losing itself after the death of Steve Jobs, but after WWDC 14, at least on the software front, I have hopes of a possible point of inflection, aimed at continued development and contribution to the world of computing. I continue to remain critical as the developments are restricted to the Apple ecosystem, and primarily not driven by delivering large scale social access to impeccable technology, but for the purpose of increased profit in the hands of some. And of course, those who can afford to use the technology at its advent, they can revel in the pleasure of being the fortunate ones.

However, regardless of patent battles and copyright laws, the advancements become ubiquitous over time. For example, the multi-touch interface that was once the forte of Apple in 2007, became a universal feature among most mobile phones we see today. Even the desktop touchpad on modern non-apple laptops has adopted multi-touch with many leading brands and features such as pinch-to-zoom are pretty common today. I wouldn’t like to endorse that only Apple Inc. is responsible for industry advancement, but definitely as the world can view it, they are so far the most successful in releasing user-recognisable advancements that become commonplace in times to come.

With the announcement of OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple has announced a more unified experience between the desktop and the mobile, extending some features into the common man’s world, which were earlier the “luxuries” for users within the Apple ecosystem. Users of iMessage and FaceTime could until OS X Mavericks, receive FaceTime Video and Audio calls from the convenience of their desktops (laptops included) and also read and answer texts received on Apple’s iMessage platform. But, as pointed during the WWDC 2014 Keynote, the feature does not work with users who are not using iMessages or FaceTime to make calls. With the launch of OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, this problem will be resolved. As users will be able to take regular phone calls and answer regular SMS Text Messages from the convenience of their laptops / desktops.

The next amazing feature that Apple will be releasing with the upcoming releases, will be called “Handoff” – a feature that will allow you to continue reading/writing texts in emails and documents seamlessly between your mobile devices and the desktop. For the common man, it means while you were on your way to work in the bus or your chauffeured car, and were busy composing the text to an email on your iPad or your iPhone, you could seamlessly complete the composition when you reach your desk from your laptop or iMac.

Although, both these features may look and feel somewhat snobbish for someone who’s not using Apple products as yet, there is a great deal that can be envisaged about desktops to come, and the scope for an emergent operating system in the future.

One of these, could be a unified application – which means, that while this feature may look restricted to the Apple eco-system as of now, it could soon transcend into a unified experience for a lot of the other applications that people use on the desktop and their mobile devices. Off late, there are already messaging applications such as LINE, which allow Mac users to login to their mobile accounts using a QR Code scan, and provide users with desktop notifications for their messages. The experience could well be supplemented with a seamless Handoff between the devices.

Come-Yosemite-Wide 2

I have a lot of applications on my mobile that provide me with valuable news and information, regarding current affairs, weather, sports and technology. As of today, there are not many applications available for the desktop that would do the same, other than RSS readers or actually visiting the desktop version of their individual websites. At times, it becomes cumbersome to locate the same article that I was reading on my iPhone or iPad, when I want to transition using to my laptop once I am at my desk. Perhaps, soon we could be looking at the “Handoff” feature being extended to these apps, with seamless integration for all forms of content and information that happens between the mobile phone and the laptop.

Ofcourse, there would be certain trade-offs with regard to battery power, data transfer speeds owing to continuous syncing between the devices, or the devices with the cloud from where the information could percolate to multiple devices. I am sure Apple will need to work on the iCloud glitches before they are able to roll out such a feature that spans far across the scope of their own native applications.

The Utopian expectations I could have from the computing world, would be that of all platforms coming together in seamless integration – which means that we could have access to our favourite applications with the same rich experience across the platform of our choice. Given today’s context of software and platform rivalries, this could require the emergence of an all new open platform that allows code developers to unleash their creativity and release apps while also being able to pay their bills and advance their careers.

What it would mean for end users, is you can walk into a technology store, and pick up your favourite gadget based on the form factor of your choice, with a user interface or operating system of your choice and when you walk out, you wouldn’t need to worry about having your contacts being synced in, or your favourite applications, documents and data. This will require some serious intervention, as technology developers will need to move up from trying to amass a chunk of the user population to become loyal users of their platform, to being service providers who will provide technology for the masses as a whole. In effect, it could even mean that service providers would respect subscribers from other networks to be using their network, as long as they are users. It could also mean, a move up from monetisation and advertising, into serious content pushing and social responsibility for all. Something, in line with having city-wide wi-fi in Singapore or internet access being a birthright in Finland.

It wouldn’t matter whether you are a Windows user, or an Apple user, or a Google user. So long as you like an application, you would be able to download it, and your hardware would be able to run it, regardless of age or vintage, naturally only being restricted by certain hardware features which your device may or may not have at the time of purchase. The application will be ubiquitous across all devices you presently own, which would facilitate the handoffs as you move from desktop to laptop to tablet to mobile phone, maybe even the refrigerator in your kitchen or the living room game console would be integrated into the same cloud of services that you are hooked onto as a user.

The dream seems a distant reality today, but features from OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 seem like a move in that direction, and we could certainly be looking at great developments, and much faster than in previous years, in times to come.

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