Point and Shoot Mac? Not so Fast

Over at The Mac Observer Ted Landau wrote up some well reasoned, and mercifully non-hyperbolic, speculation about the future of the Mac under the headline The Point—-and—-Shoot Mac. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for those who like seeing me go into a frothing rage) the article is clearly presented as speculation, well thought out, sensible, and ultimately wrong.

In his column, Ted draws an analogy based on the camera market. Ted postulates that the desktop Mac as we know it is analogous to the (Digital) Single Reflex Lens camera, while iOS based devices are akin to “point-and-shoot” cameras. Ted then speculates that, in the future, Apple will split the current line-up of MacOS devices into two branches. One based on Mac OS X and one based on iOS. He describes these new devices thusly:

What will these iOS-based Macs be like? For hardware, given Steve Jobs’ recent critique of vertically-oriented touchscreens, I suspect they will bear a greater resemblance to today’s MacBook Air than to the iPad. This would also help Apple to maintain a clear dividing line between the market for Macs vs. iPads. For software, however, these Macs will be very much an unambiguous iOS device. There will be apps specific to the Mac (just as the iPad can now run apps that won’t run on an iPhone), but these Macs will otherwise be a full-fledged member of the iOS team.

I actually think that the analogy to the camera market is actually a very good one. In fact it might be the best analogy between the personal computing market and another that I’ve encountered. Nonetheless I have a different prediction for he future of the “desktop” (by which I also mean laptops) Mac market.

What Makes a DSLR

I’m not going to go into the details of the technical differences between point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs. If you’re unfamiliar with such, this article by Shawn King for The Loop is a good place to start. Instead I want to focus on a few specific points.

To the mind of the average consumer, the difference between your average point-and-shoot camera and a DSLR is simple: DSLR’s cost more and make better pictures (we’ll ignore the fact that that statement is not always accurate for now). In terms of the technology involved, the difference between a DSLR and a point-and-shoot basically come down to these three points:

The first two points I think can really best be applied to the intrinsic hardware differences between current iOS devices and current Mac OS devices. It seems unlikely that any improvements in computing technology won’t be even more dramatic when you are not designing a device that fits in a pocket. It’s the last point that seems most applicable to the operating systems in question, and it’s the point I want to focus on.

Auto Mode and Operating Systems

While there are some point-and-shoot cameras that present the user with the full range of manual controls present in a DSLR, the intrinsic limitations of their hardware make the efficacy of those manual controls questionable. On the other hand, almost every current DSLR has an “Auto” mode that is just as easy to use as that of their point-and-shoot brethren. The advantage that the DSLR in Auto mode has over the point-and-shoot is the vastly better hardware.

My speculation is that we will never (as defined in the time-frame of the computing market) see an “iOS Mac.” Instead, as we’ve seen from the limited OS X 10.7 demo, more and more of the “Auto” features of iOS will be offered in the Mac OS, while still maintaing the full range of manual controls currently there.

Of course, this is all speculation. Maybe I’m right, maybe Ted’s right, maybe Skynet will make this all moot.