Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bookmarks Bar folder labels, brevity, and OS naming

I don't, but if I did have a Bookmarks Bar folder for Android, it would probably be labeled "Andrd" for the sake of brevity. Brevity is at a premium because I have a lot of Bookmarks Bar folders, and like for them all to be visible when I'm browsing. I do have a folder for non-Apple websites that focus on Apple and its products, and that folder is named "iOSX". If I weren't so concerned with keeping it short and more concerned with precision in folder labels, I might rename it i/OS/X, to indicate that there's a spectrum of devices running a spectrum of operating systems, all closely related.

What primarily distinguishes iOS from OS X is the user interface paradigm supported, touch screens versus mouse/trackpad and keyboard. But this quickly becomes a less clear distinction when you consider that iOS devices already support keyboards, both virtual and physical, and might at any time gain support for pointing devices, and Mac trackpads already support gestures, even if they're not identical to iOS gestures.

At some point in the not-to-distant future, maintaining the distinction between OS X and iOS may no longer make sense, but by that I don't mean the obsolescence of keyboards and mice, rather I mean support for whatever user interface equipment is available, be it touch screen, trackpad, mouse, keyboard, eye tracker, stereo video for mid-air gestures, or voice, with an API that makes basic functionality available regardless of the user interaction mode, while offering the opportunity to tweak performance in particular modes.

This is far easier to say than to do, but there's some evidence to suggest that Apple has been hard at work making it possible.

A secondary distinction between iOS and OS X relates to the sandboxing of apps. In iOS, third-party apps on non-jailbroken devices have been sandboxed from the get-go, whereas on the Mac sandboxing is a recent thing, and only necessary for apps distributed through Apple's App Store. For that matter, kernel extensions are still allowed in OS X, and will continue to be allowed on a limited basis in Mountain Lion. But the issue isn't really about sandboxing versus developer latitude; it's about security and utility, two goals which aren't necessarily at odds.

When Apple finds a way to bring the utility of OS X to iOS, without sacrificing security, and to bring the security of iOS to OS X, without sacrificing utility, it will be time to discard the distinction, and perhaps rebrand the recombined system "iOSX".

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