Could this be the future of the Mac?

First things first, totally get that I led with a question. But not so sure Betteridge’s law applies here.

Samsung rolled out their latest and greatest smartphone yesterday, the Galaxy S8. Interesting phone, includes a new digital assistant named Bixby, a fingerprint scanner/encrypted facial recognition, and a desktop dock (a la Microsoft’s Continuum).

Bixby is not ready for primetime, but this article will give you a sense of Samsung’s plans. Note that the current incarnation has none of the tech Samsung got when they bought Siri’s original maker, Viv, so there’s clearly a long way to go there.

As to the fingerprint scanner, I am struck by the fact that Samsung placed it on the back of the phone, adjacent to the camera and, most importantly, made it off center. Back of the phone means you are searching for the scanner blindly. Adjacent to the camera means you’ll be regularly touching the camera lens cover (dirty/oily hands mean camera lens smudges).

And off center is a design bias, likely designed for right-handed people. The Apple Watch has a design bias as well, but you can turn your watch upside down if you want to switch wrists, there’s a setting that flips the interface. But the phone has no such mechanism. A nit, but the devil is in the details, no?

So now we get to the crux of the matter, the desktop dock, called Dex. The Dex is a hockey puck shape, an inch or so wider than the phone, with a fliptop cover that reveals a USB-C port into which you plug your phone. Dex has other ports and connects to a desktop display, mouse, and keyboard.

You can read about the details and watch a video of Dex in action in this Engadget article. Bottom line, when the Galaxy S8 plugs into the Dex, you’ve got access to a desktop experience, complete with mouse cursor. This is still Android, but a desktop hybrid. And I like it.

Phone docking into desktops is not new. Not sure if this is the first example of this concept, but back in 2011, Motorola had a product called the ATRIX 4G, allowing one of the early Android phones to dock with and power a Motorola laptop.

Back to the headline. Could this be the future of the Mac? As iPhone processing power increases, could Apple create a hybrid desktop product driven by some future version of the A10 Fusion (the 64-bit system on a chip that drives the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus), a product that looks and acts like an iPhone, but that doubles as a desktop experience when you plug it into a dock, complete with large display, mouse, and keyboard?

If that device was powerful enough to support applications like Xcode, Photoshop, Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, etc., this could greatly simplify Apple’s product line, pushing all software development to Swift and iOS.

Could it happen? Time will tell.



  • JimCracky

    Maybe.

  • John Kordyback

    Needs Flash.

    • mjoecups

      I hope you are joking.

  • iOS would need a visible file system for this to work. I can`t rely on iOS to create my videos or audio jobs if I must use iCloud. iCloud is not prime time, either.

    • freediverx

      iOS’s restrictive file system is a huge impediment, but in my opinion it’s an easier problem to solve than the touch vs cursor UI problem.

      • mjoecups

        It’s not a problem. It’s a feature.

        That what articles like this seem to not get. MacOS and IOS are two different animals on purpose.

        So no, an iPhone will not become a Mac, unless Apple seriously goes off the rails, which I don’t see happening.

    • icloud is separate than the iOS file system. iOS didn’t have a visible file system before icloud, files were and are tied to apps.

    • GlennC777

      I kept an open mind on this point for a long time, but I’ve pretty much concluded the lack of a nested, user-viewable file system for iOS was and is a serious mistake on Apple’s part.

      The more we use devices like iPads as “computers” rather than primarily as web browsers, the more this becomes a problem.

      • Bryan Pietrzak

        Couldn’t disagree more. The average person has little to no understanding of the file system. Why do you think everyone stores so much crap on the Desktop?

        That’s not to say that Apple couldn’t improve the file “picker” experience. But a full blown user accessible file system is not needed, nor wanted, by the masses.

        • mjoecups

          I am with Bryan on this. Actually I think the whole concept of the user needing to navigate a “file system” is stupid and arcane. Computers are powerful enough and smart enough (theoretically) to know what we work on and where it is. Forcing users to navigate the actual disk structure is dumb.

        • GlennC777

          Maybe you’re right. I’ll admit to not knowing what the average user wants. It does seem to me that once you accumulate lots of files of any kind, some sort of nesting system, and the ability to actively edit it, becomes increasingly mandatory.

          I suppose Apple’s strategy is to make files easily searchable rather than giving users the ability to organize them manually. Fair enough. Still not my preference.

  • This is what I think the future of computing is. The phone is the true realization of the personal computer. In the future everything else will just be a screen or terminal that is brought to life by your phone.

    • freediverx

      In this future you imagine, how will developers design interfaces that deliver the richness and efficiency of desktop apps like Photoshop without sacrificing readability and touch-friendliness when used on handheld devices with smaller displays?

      • I do not understand why this is a problem. Already today we have developers bundling multiple interfaces in one app bundle.

        Why could you not have a Photoshop like app that than has a mobile mode and when on a desktop gives you a desktop version?

        • freediverx

          Among other reasons, bloat and development costs. This would raise the bar for what it takes to keep an app financially sustainable.

          • Except it is already happening now and seems to be financially sustainable. For example there is Lightroom and Lightroom Mobile.

            So in the future you might have Lightroom Mobile on your mobile and when you access a stationary screen either your phone feeds it the desktop version or the desktop version is pulled from the cloud and you are now working in the desktop version of Lightroom.

            Seems to me like you are objecting for the sake of objecting. There are so many example of companies developing multiple versions of apps. Look at Apple apps like Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Already being developed in 3 versions. The same example I made with Lightroom could apply with any of those apps.

          • rick gregory

            Note, though, that Lightroom is made by a huge, multi-billion dollar developer. Most devs specialize and aren’t going to create two version of everything unless they know there’s significant ROI… and look at the ROI for App Store apps… people whine if something is more than $3.

            There’s no compelling need for this vision. At all. If you can and want to use iOS as your primary OS do it now. Get an iPad/iPad Pro.

        • mjoecups

          It promotes cruft.

      • lhagan

        That’s simple – they don’t. Desktop apps that require a cursor only work in desktop mode. Mobile apps only work in phone mode. Where Microsoft went wrong was trying to mix the two on the same screen. If desktop and mobile apps coexist on the same processor & disk but use a completely different screen & interface, where’s the usability problem?

        • freediverx

          Right, but now you’ve traded a usability problem for a development/design problem. How would Apple keep lazy developers from creating Microsoft-style applications that poorly blend touch with cursor input?

          • John Barnes

            Easy. Don’t allow cursor input unless it’s in a desktop mode. Core functionality of the app could be shared as it is with universal iOS apps now. The desktop mode could simply be a third set of UI views that would allow for a cursor based interface.

        • mjoecups

          The same program with two different interfaces IS a usability problem.

      • David Stewart

        It would be possible to have touch-only or mouse-only apps. You might have Photoshop on the device, but it would only be available when docked (maybe it would have a touch-enabled viewer app for mobile use).

    • Glaurung-Quena

      “In the future everything else will just be a screen or terminal that is brought to life by your phone.”

      Where does your vision of the future of computing leave those people who require more CPU ommph than a phone can deliver?

      All other things being equal, computing power is a measure of watts. A phone CPU maxes out at a couple watts. But the most advanced things we use our computers for require a hundred watts, or more. And don’t mention moore’s law — things that need a 12 core setup with 120w TDP today might become possible on a phone tomorrow, but one thing that’s certain about computing is that we will find new uses for 120w TDP processors tomorrow, even as they become overpowered for the things we use them for today. It’s not like we stopped making computers that fill entire rooms the minute we became able to do the company’s payroll on a computer that sits on a desk.

      • Guy

        It leaves them with buying a desktop computer or laptop with more power. IF iOS goes the same route as Jide with the Remix OS, Samsung with Dex, or the others that are doing (or will do) the same thing, then we’re still right at the crux of it. What does the average person need from a mobile/desktop computer?

        The key point is the average person. They aren’t opening Photoshop or Final Cut Pro with 20 layers all rendering at the same time. They’re checking email, going online, using relatively simple apps, and other more mundane tasks that power users aren’t considering when they buy a computer.

        Actually Apple has the advantage here in that developers won’t have to create apps for 40 different Android desktop environments, just the one.

        • Mo

          Agreed. But it still looks to me as though iOS could continue to eat away at the edges of macOS capability, without ever fully consuming it.

          • Guy

            Remember something that Jobs said (and forgive me I’m paraphrasing), “If someone is going to replace one of our products, better it be us,”

            Even if this becomes reality, there are still plenty of jobs that a dedicated desktop computer will be better at. Even if this is true, the Mac isn’t going away.

        • Glaurung-Quena

          “They’re checking email, going online, using relatively simple apps, and other more mundane tasks that power users aren’t considering when they buy a computer.”

          For which a phone or tablet will be more than adequate and much cheaper.

          The thing is, people thinking up this sort of mugwump device are almost always professional writers or journalists ot consultants, people who do a ton of typing, but otherwise don’t need a lot of cpu power. And in 99% of the cases, they will just be better off with a laptop and a phone.

          As I said elsewhere in this thread, if your job depends on your being able to type, and you are using a phone that plugs into a KVM for all your computing needs, then you must take a KVM with you, because you never know when you will have to be productive in a place where there is no KVM available, or where it is broken/missing. In which case, you may as well just take a laptop along.

  • freediverx

    This piece, as many others preceding it, misses the point entirely. The gap between iOS and macOS is based on neither processing power nor display size. It’s all about the differences between their fundamental user interface designs.

    iOS is designed around a touch-based user interface, which demands larger, touch-friendly screen elements and controls. This leads to simpler and less cluttered app designs, while also restricting the potential richness and complexity of those interfaces.

    macOS is designed around a pointer-based user interface, which allows for more complex applications that expose a great deal of functionality on the screen. This allows for powerful applications with rich interfaces like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, but the smaller screen elements are unsuitable for smaller displays or for touch-based interactions.

    Samsing is following in Microsoft’s failed path, trying to create a “jack of all trades” product with lots of compromises that doesn’t excel at anything.

  • john doofus

    This is too inelegant for Apple. Sounds more like something Microsoft would do. They kind of specialize in pragmatic kludges.

  • I think the future of computing lies in thin clients. You’ll have a Mac with no hard drive, and a unit which stores your data. That unit will also provide that data – essentially, your home folder – to other devices, such as an iPhone and iPad. It would have to sync with those devices, however, since you use them in a mobile environment. But I would bet that we’ll see some form of system like this in the near future; it just makes sense to have one set of data that you can share with all your devices.

    • freediverx

      The need for those devices to work offline rules out the idea of doing away with local data storage. There is a middle ground, and we’re already there with iCloud, Dropbox, and similar services.

      • The future is online all the time. Offline is a thing of the past.

        • rick gregory

          You and others like Kirk who promote this likely have very good, stable high speed internet. So do I. Not gigabit, but 100m.

          Many people don’t. Average speeds are still around 10-15m and it’s easy to find places in the US where that drops to single digits or entirely out. Hell, it’s a reason Verizon, Sprint and the others have dueling commercials about phone coverage.

          Then there are use cases where someone doesn’t live in a place with poor broadband but is in that situation periodically – working from a plane, on a subway, in a coffee shop, etc.

          You, Kirk and others are making the classic mistake of projecting your reality as if it was the entirety of reality. Now, in 50 years? You may well be right. But here’s a thought – in 2000 I had 1.5m DSL in my condo. IN 2017, I have 100m… and 5m upload. For what you’re talking about to happen, I need AT LEAST 500m in both directions and I need that reliably and everywhere.

          • My internet is not great. I’m not talking about all online. I explicitly said that this utility would sync data to your devices; and I mean when you are at home.

          • rick gregory

            How does it sync to a device with no local storage?

  • Cecil Hardwood

    I know this will not work for everyone but for me I think I could live in an all iOS environment and would welcome Apple doing something like this. For my use my MacBook Pro is almost overkill.

  • fustian24

    There are three competing visions for our computing future.

    Google’s vision is that their cloud network will be your computer. They want to sell you very cheap hardware that uses fast internet speeds to do all your work in the cloud.

    Microsoft’s vision is that no matter the device, you run WIndows on it.

    Apple’s vision is that your cellphone is going to be your computer. It will stream graphics and touch information to any nearby screen (even large ones) so that you can work anywhere. Large data will be live in the cloud but all your current work will be cached locally on your phone.

    Apple believes the future is multi-touch and mobile. Because of that, they want all of their major vendors to rethink their apps for mobility. This is why they are not merging MacOS and iOS. If you’re a developer, the cost of going to iOS right now is that you have to completely rethink your app from the ground up for mobility.

    When many people hear the term “mobility” they envision trying to run a large spreadsheet on a cellphone screen. This is not what we’re talking about here. Instead, we’re talking about working on a 5K or a 10K or larger screen in your office embedded in a desk or a drafting table. But that large screen you’re working at is just a dumb graphics terminal used by your cellphone which is doing all the work.

    Programming for mobility is not a requirement for Windows application developers. You can keep the same old crap and it will run just fine because a Surface, first and foremost, is just another Windows machine.

    If you believe that mobility is the future, Apple will clearly get there first.

    But.

    That 5K, multi-touch, stylus-enabled Studio Studio on the swivel stand that Microsoft has just released is more where I think computing will go eventually. But Microsoft really has to follow through here. They have to convince their developers to create new software designed around the studio. If they go with the same old Windows crap and shoehorn minor support for multitouch and the stylus, the Studio will fail.

  • GS

    I believe Betteridge’s law of headlines does apply here. The answer is no. But only in the physical sense of things. That is a step backward, I don’t see Apple being interested in doing that. I think they are driving towards shared connectivity and functionality, but wirelessly. But still, different devices for different needs, not one kludged up mess.

  • eightzero

    I concur. Most people have simple desktop computing needs, and simply want access to their “stuff” everywhere on everything. Imagine a dock that handles the graphics piece (likely a large energy user) and accepts a docked phone. macOS should move this way. I’ve often pined for an app that displays my iPhone on my iMac screen that I can interact with. There are times when I want the big display and persistent cursor; and yet still want to see the same stuff when standing at a bus stop.

  • rick gregory

    Well, there’s an apple patent on a version of this (didn’t you guys link to it??) where the phone docks into where the trackpad is now.

    The main issue is that iOS and OS X are very different OSes and what is good design and practice for one isn’t necessarily good for the other. From touch vs mouse pointer affordances to file system exposure, they work differently. COULD it happen? Sure. WILL it happen? I doubt it.

  • Glaurung-Quena

    No, it’s not. The use case for the mac is shrinking from “a computer that sucks less than windows or linux” to “a computer that can do things you can never do on a phone or tablet, which also sucks less than windows or linux.” There isn’t really room there for a phone that turns into a desktop.

    I keep seeing people fantasizing about this kind of setup and I continue to be bemused every single time. In what possible world is this better than Apple’s current model of synching all your data across all your devices via the cloud?

    The fantasy of being able to go anywhere with all your data in your pocket and not have to suffer so very horribly from carrying the weight of a laptop as well (a whole kilogram! outrageous!) runs aground on the harsh reality that if the KVM setup at the place you are going to is broken or missing, you are screwed, so you’re going to need to have a KVM in your bag, so why on earth not just carry a laptop and be done with it.

    • Space Gorilla

      I tend to agree. I’ve long thought the future is multi-device, appliances that do their job well. I do think the iPhone is an engine of sorts, powering an Apple Network of Things, but I don’t see that extending to powering a desktop set up. I suppose at some point where the processing power is off the charts and storage isn’t an issue, and iOS has matured enough, but even then imagine what a dedicated iMac would be capable of, the iMac would be far better at being a desktop computer.

      • Guy

        Check out the Remix OS. I bought a Jide Mini with silly specs (2gb of Ram, 16GB of storage with an SD slot, 2 USB ports, almost nothing in the way of VRAM, WiFi and Bluetooth) connected it to a 22-inch monitor through HDMI. Worked pretty good including support for MS Office. All in a small little box that cost $70. Was it perfect? No. Would “I” have chosen to use it as my primary computer? No, but then I’m not the average user either.

        • Space Gorilla

          Looks neat. So it’s $70 for the box, a couple hundred for a cheap screen, then a keyboard and mouse? Sounds like all in it’ll cost as much as the new entry level iPad. But you do get a larger screen, which is nice.

          • Guy

            It actually is kinda cool, but Jide has since moved on from this box and it never got the update for the Remix OS 3. It was said because of hardware limitations, but I think Jide wasn’t interested in using resources to do so moving on to other projects.

          • Space Gorilla

            Well, it is such a tiny market. Most people don’t need this kind of set up and aren’t well-served by it, as neat as it is. I can dock a MacBook Air and get a better experience plus have a laptop to take with me when I want.

          • Guy

            True, but did your Macbook Air cost $70?

          • Space Gorilla

            The actual cost of the dock system you’re talking about is not $70. Realistically it’s a few hundred.

          • Guy

            If you include the cost of the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and maybe if you need it an SD Card yes. All those are reusable with another system through

          • Space Gorilla

            You have to include those items, otherwise you don’t have a functional computer. And it isn’t practical to take the box and hope wherever you travel to has all the proper accessories just waiting for you to use. And you can’t use it on your lap either.

            A MacBook Air is essentially another system, and it’s more portable, more convenient. And I can dock it just like the $70 box. It is certainly more expensive but for a computer I’m going to use for five or six years at least I’m not terribly concerned about whether one solution is $500 and the other is $2,000. I got seven years out of my last MacBook, which worked out to a little less than $300 per year. A coffee on the way to work every day will cost you more than that annually.

  • The Pool Man

    This will be the future. For Android.

  • nutmac

    I can easily see iPhone becoming an iPad with such accessory, or better yet, a recent patent where iPhone docks into a MacBook style device.

    It makes a perfect sense since many iPhone apps are universal binary already and iPad is what Apple sees as the future of computing.

    But turning iPhone into macOS device would require too many design compromises and constraints.

  • Juil

    In short = No

    In long = This is a concept that mostly pleases the mind… It has no real practical bonuses (apart from maybe saving money?). You need all of the accessories to transform your phone into a desktop environment – yet when you take your phone with you, you leave behind a dummy desktop that is rendered useless…

    So no, not so clever after all. Apple’s approach to make each and every form-factor of devices as good as they can make them and to focus on interconnecting these devices between themselves seems superior to me.

    • Guy

      How useful is your desktop computer when you walk away from it? Don’t answer as a power user, but from the outlook of an everyday Joe.

  • Mo

    “This can’t be the future of computing, because my beloved current use-case demands that it doesn’t.”

  • freedonuts

    I’m all for it!