Monday, July 25, 2011

A walled garden with OS X

A nice take from somebody i know.

Apple recently announced, along with the release of OS 10.7 Lion, the new line of MacBook Air and Mac Mini. And, with that, now gone from the product line is the MacBook. A few of the details about the new products are very telling about what
Apple might have in mind for the coming months and years.

Not having had a chance to use it yet myself, I won't comment too much on Lion, beyond pointing out the obvious that Apple is looking to make it more similar to the iPad. It's clear they're looking to capitalize on the simplicity of an interface that has already won the hearts of millions. With that said, however, I don't think that will necessarily increase the popularity of the MacBook Air, either, as they are two different devices. Nonetheless, this does hint at plans to homogenize the product lines in some ways that give me cause for concern, as I'll get to below.

I won't delve into the details of the product specifications, because again, pointing out that they're now faster and more powerful is not only unsurprising, but in and of itself is also not very interesting. What is interesting, however,is that the Air comes standard with a 64 GB Solid State drive, and neither the Air nor the Mini includes an optical drive.

To get the obvious observations out of the way, that seems like a very small hard drive. And yes, it means you can't easily install software from a CD, or burn a DVD of your kids to send to grandma. To be fair, it is possible to wirelessly "share"
an optical drive from another desktop or laptop that is so-equipped. But, it seems more clear that Apple intends to do away with them almost entirely in due time.

But, let's consider for a moment the implications. The solid state drive is nice... it's very fast, it's very quiet, and is less prone to failure since it doesn't have moving parts. These are all great features, to be sure. But, one cannot escape
the fact that it's small. (Larger sizes are available, but at a substantial premium.) Clearly, Apple is banking on iCloud being the primary means of mass storage for users. While I agree that leveraging the cloud offers some excellent
possibilites, I also can't help but feel like Apple is forcing it down the throats of users.

Looking briefly at the lack of optical drives, one can see where this is going. There are obvious advantages to losing the optical drive, particularly in terms of battery life savings (one less motor running), cost savings (less hardware in the case),
and form factor (can make a thinner Air). End users may have mixed views on whether or not these advantages outweigh some of the lost functionality. The obvious alternative to optical drives, at least for software, is electronic distribution. The release of Lion is a perfect case in point. My feeling is that this is less to do with any of the above advantages--true as they may be--however, and more of a nudge for users to migrate to using the Mac AppStore.

Given the relative success of the iPhone/iPod/iPad AppStore, it's no surprise why Apple would like to duplicate that for OS X applications as well. Not only would this provide an entry point for more developers to produce apps for distribution,
but more importantly for Apple, it ensures they get a piece of the pie on every sale.

My big fear for this is that eventually Apple will setup a walled garden with OS X, much the same as they have for iOS, where everything is locked down in such a way that all software has to be purchased through the AppStore, and approved by Apple.

Now, this type of control is not always all bad, of course. It is exactly the reason why their products and software always feel so well put together, seemless integrated, and never in a state of conflict with one another. At the same time, I cannot help but think of a few examples where this has resulted in questionable behavior by Apple, ranging from the ban of iPhone apps created by cross-porting from flash (which has since been lifted), to features like WiFi Sync which are scheduled to be part of the standard platform but are suspected as having been ripped off from other developers.

I really hope this is not the ultimate path of the Mac product lines. At the same time, where Apple's approach has always been to maintain control over every aspect of their platform, I would not put it past them, either.

- Posted using BlogPress, please follow me on twitter @schlotz69

Location:Spinning Wheel Ln,Brooksville,United States

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