This week is WWDC — Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference. Apple showed off the features and capabilities of the upcoming desktop and mobile operating systems. One aspect that is subtle, but also very significant, is the way Apple is merging and converging the two.
The line between desktop and mobile has been blurred for some time now, but more so as a function of how mobile devices have usurped many of the primary functions traditionally reserved for PCs — email, web surfing, social networking, etc.. What Apple revealed at WWDC was much more significant than whether or not your mobile device can or will replace your PC. Apple's vision for the future is more about making your mobile device and traditional PC one and the same — obliterating the line between the two rather than just blurring it.
Mac OS X Yosemite is the next iteration of Apple's desktop operating system, and iOS 8 is the next version of its mobile operating system. What Apple revealed this week at WWDC, though, is that the two will share a number of capabilities, and users will be able to seamlessly flow from desktop to mobile and back again much easier with the new versions. It's an obvious evolution of technology — one that Microsoft needs to take note of and implement for its own platforms and devices.
Apple revealed that the new OS X will allow you to start writing an email message on an iPhone and then finish it on a Mac, or start writing a document in Pages on a Mac and then continue to work on it from an iPad. That capability has already existed on some level, but Apple is making it smarter, more automatic, and more intuitive.
In previous versions of Mac OS X and iOS, Apple introduced a wireless file-sharing capability called AirDrop. However, iOS could only AirDrop with iOS, and Mac OS X could only AirDrop with Mac OS X. The new versions will allow users to share files wirelessly from a Mac to an iPhone or iPad, and vice versa, which makes the feature infinitely more useful.
Using an iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad as a Personal Hotspot is also not a new feature in and of itself, but it is another area where Apple is making the integration of desktop and mobile more seamless. Mac OS X Yosemite will automatically detect your iPhone and allow you to connect and use the Personal Hotspot with just a few clicks.
The biggest news, though, when it comes to the convergence of desktop and mobile, is how Mac OS X Yosemite will be able to act as an extension of the iPhone or iPad, even for phone calls and text messages. Mac OS X Mavericks already has the ability to send and receive messages in Apple's own proprietary iMessage service, but Mac OS X Yosemite will expand that capability to include standard SMS text messages. In addition, users will now be able to send and receive phone calls using the microphone and speakers of a Mac, making it a natural extension of an iPhone and simplifying communications while working on a desktop or laptop PC.
To be fair, Apple won't achieve its full vision with Mac OS X Yosemite or iOS 8. This is just another step in the evolution of the desktop and mobile operating systems. However, it's clear that the future will bring us a connected, integrated whole — where desktop and mobile are extensions of each other that so that users can flow seamlessly between the two.
Microsoft has the foundation with Windows, Windows Phone, and the vast ecosystem of applications and services to accomplish the same thing. In fact, Microsoft has the potential to do it much bigger and better than Apple... if it is done right.
Your move, Microsoft.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.