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Article: What’s in a Name?

by on January 27, 2010

With today’s iPad announcement, I’m starting to think that there’s something wrong and confusing how Apple’s operating systems are described. You have three different product families with standalone operating systems: the iPod touch/iPhone, the iPad (which is a bit of an extension of the iPhone OS), and the various Macs. How do you keep track of what Apple has to offer?

The problem is that all the handheld devices collectively run the iPhone OS, which was known as OS X iPhone for awhile and a few other bad combinations of iPhone and the other Apple OS that it is based off of. The iPhone only plays a moderate (and maybe shrinking) role in Apple’s mobile lineup. While it makes sense for each version of the iPhone OS to have a new primary number (1.x, 2.x, 3.x, etc.), I think the primary name needs to be reworked to reflect the mobile platform it supports.

Mac OS X is another problem all together—while it makes sense to those of us who have been around from the early pre-OS X days, I don’t think many understand what the X represents, especially since it’s often written as “Mac OS X 10.whatever.” We have been on version 10 of the Mac operating system for about 9 years. That’s the longest Apple has gone without changing the first digit. I understand that the secondary digit has become the version number associated with changes, but 10.0 and 10.1 had more in common with each other than 10.0 and 10.6. If you really look at features and changes, we ought to be on Mac OS 13 or 14 by now.

I really do not have a solution for what Apple should do, but I think that we have been stuck on X for too long, no matter how cool it is for marketing. Additionally, I don’t think the average user really understands that a .1 release is much better unless they follow the happenings from Cupertino. Cat names also add confusion, since they do not give any sense of order.

Recently, I had a friend who had a Mac running Tiger (10.4) and wanted to use something called “Time Machine” that she had heard about. After explaining that she was two operating systems behind the current one and would need to get at least 10.5, she was a bit surprised that so much had changed in something that, by name, is not that big of an update. We got her MacBook taken care of, but situations like this demonstrate why there needs to be some changes.

What do you think Apple should do about both their handheld/mobile and desktop operating systems? Is the current system fine, or should Apple go with new version numbers, years, or something else?

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