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Could Lion be the end of the line for Mac OS X?

I don’t have any inside information about Apple’s long-term operating system plans, but I’m starting to wonder if “Lion,” the next version of OS X, might be the last version.

I could be wrong, but I’m starting to get the sense that they might phase out OS X in favor of a Mac version of iOS – the operating system now used on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Although Apple has continued to innovate in its laptops and OS X PC operating system, the company is clearly emphasizing its iOS platform which has turned out to be a lucrative franchise for Apple, not just because of what they earn from the hardware, but from ongoing sales of third party applications, cellular airtime and media including music, books, movies and TV shows.

Mac already evolving towards iOS

Apple is making no secret of the fact that it’s evolving the Mac in the direction of the iPad. On a web page it posted last fall to promote the MacBook Air, Apple said, “We learned a lot from iPad” and added that the MacBook Air is “designed around all-flash storage for better responsiveness and reliability .”

Lion, which Apple showed off during the keynote presentation at its World Wide Developers Conference on Monday, is an even further iPadization of the Mac. Lion features an optional interface, called LaunchPad, which Apple describes as a “new, full-screen home for all the apps on your Mac.” With Launchpad running “our open windows fade away, replaced by a full-screen display of all your apps.”  In other words, the user interface on the new Mac operating system will look a lot like the iPad though, to its credit, Apple will continue to allow users to have multiple windows open at once if they chose to do so.

And just as is now the case on its iOS devices, Apple wants you to get those Mac apps from its Mac App Store which will be more deeply integrated into Lion. “When you download an app from the Mac App Store,” says Apple on its Lion preview page, “it automatically appears in Launchpad, ready to blast off.”

So here’s my unsubstantiated theory: At some point, Apple will tell its Macintosh developers that if they want to continue to run their software on a Mac, they’ll have to re-write it for iOS. Apple will also start getting developers to distribute their software through the App Store — which means more revenue for the Cupertino company.

It would be a radical shift, but it wouldn’t be the first time Apple required developers to rewrite software to keep up with its latest hardware and operating system. Unlike Microsoft’s commitment to keep “legacy” software compatible with its latest operating systems, Apple has been known to “break” existing programs and force the developer to rewrite programs.

Apple has a history of breaking tradition. The company was the to drop the floppy disk drive; its MacBook Air is among the first mainstream laptops to come without optical (CD or DVD) drives. And, when Lion comes out, it won’t even be available on an optical drive. If users want the $29 upgrade, they’ll have to download it “from the cloud.”



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