It all started with the original iPhone, the phone that changed it all due (to a large part) to a modified OS X version which didn’t even have a name of its own back in January of 2007. Four years later we have Mac App Store, Apple’s online bazaar for Mac software, and Lion, the latest Mac operating system with iPad-like gestures, full screen apps and instant-on performance. What happens next year is Apple merges OS X and iOS into a single operating system, Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek tells Barron’s:

We believe Apple is looking to merge iOS (iPhones/iPads) with OS X (Macs) into a single platform for apps and cloud services starting in 2012-13.

Misek says Apple will kickstart the transition with a 2012-2013 MacBook Air, and complete the switch by 2016 with the Mac Pro and iMac family. He is speculating that a next-generation MacBook Air will run Apple’s quad-core A6 chip, turning the company into “the first such multi-device platform capable of PC-like strength”. Of course, we’ve head rumors about Apple testing an ARM-based MacBook Air and other analysts have called for ARM-based Macs in 2012. Misek’s thoughts also correspond with Jean-Louis Gassée’s interesting observation that Apple-designed chips based on ARM blueprints and ultra-thin MacBook Air designs are the future of Macs. But what are the benefits of merging OS X and iOS into a unified operating system?

According to Misek, it’ll help Apple negotiate more favorable and broader licensing agreements related to streaming premium entertainment content to people using their mobile devices and computers. “Users want to be able to pick up any iPhone, iPad, or Mac (or turn on their iTV) and have content move seamlessly between them and be optimized for the user and the device currently being used. We believe this will be difficult to implement if iOS and OS X are kept separate”, the analyst argues. We’d add that a unified platform would greatly expand the addressable market for developers who’d no doubt be required to learn new tools in order to write universal apps that scale cleverly from the iPhone’s screen to the 27-inch iMac. The process is already underway, mind you. At this year’s WWDC, one of the sessions included new ways of constructing interfaces in third-party Mac software. The process calls for advanced padding relations between the individual user interface elements that ensure apps look great regardless of the user’s screen resolution.

Finally, this idea of OS X/iOS merger shouldn’t be viewed as outrageous. When Steve Jobs in March of 2001 introduced Mac OS X v10.0 code-named Cheetah – the company’s initial version of the software for public consumption – he dubbed it Apple’s new operating system “for the next decade”. Well, that decade has passed and if history is any indication, Apple will reboot OS X and its users will once again participate in a major transition. Let’s not forget that Microsoft too is moving towards a single operating system – Windows 8 – said to scale from smartphones to tablets to desktop computers and servers while supporting both ARM and x86 architectures.

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