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Apple moves to unify its OS and interface

Cleaner look-and-feel, more powerful mobiles

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Two recent reports indicate developments in Apple's efforts to transform itself from a second-tier computer company into a top-level consumer-electronics powerhouse.

First, a story published today by AppleInsider reports that Apple "has filed for a trademark for its OS X operating system but without the 'Mac' prefix that has accompanied the name since its inception."

Second, multiple postings on MacNN, MacRumors, The Graphic Mac, and others discuss the rumored overhaul of Mac OS X's Aqua user interface (UI), code-named "Marble," when version 10.6, Snow Leopard, is released this year.

Regarding the trademark report, our search in the US Patent & Trademark Office's database shows that the "OS X" trademark filing was made back on November 12, 2008. No matter. Its implications, taken with the rumored Snow Leopard UI upgrade, are further proof that Apple is seeking to homogenize its product line, both in name and look-and-feel.

The "Marble" UI, it is rumored, would move the appearance of Mac OS X's UI - make that OS X's UI - more in the direction of the darker, sleeker interface elements found in Apple's professional applications, perhaps even further than what the company uses in its consumer applications such as iTunes.

Minor changes in this direction have been made in recent years. Witness, for example, the subtle move from a blue to a shaded-charcoal Apple-menu icon in Leopard, and the white-on-black button lettering in parts of iTunes. Apple's consumer-level creativity suite, iLife, has included white-on-black dialogs for some years.

It's time for OS X's Finder interface to reflect the more mature design of many of Apple's applications. And it's time for all of its applications - from utilities such as Activity Monitor to pro apps such as Final Cut Studio - to look like they are from the same company.

The shortening to "OS X" unifies a split that was emphasized at Apple's 2008 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), when the company decorated the conference hall with dueling banners - one touting OS X Leopard and one promoting OS X iPhone.

The distinction was important at that time - even though OS X iPhone is, at its core, as OS X-y as OS X Leopard - because Apple wanted to lure developers into working with the iPhone software development kit (SDK) it flogged at WWDC.

It worked - there are now more than 10,000 iPhone applications in the iTunes App Store.

Now, however, it's equally important for Apple to unify its branding around one OS X: the one that will appear as Snow Leopard.

According to all reports, Snow Leopard will be radically tighter than OS X Leopard, thus allowing more of its functionality to be squeezed into the tiny confines of the iPhone, iPod touch, or any other mobile device that Apple chooses to introduce.

Snow Leopard will also incorporate OpenCL, which will enable the offloading of CPU tasks to increasingly powerful mobile GPUs, such as Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX543, which we discussed earlier this week.

The frosty feline will also include the new QuickTime X, which Apple describes as "a streamlined, next-generation platform that advances modern media and Internet standards." The key word in that description is "streamlined."

To be sure, the OS X that will run on Macs will enable powers not available on the OS X that runs on mobile consumer devices. But the distinction will narrow.

Apple's mobile devices will become more capable, and the look-and-feel among all Apple devices and applications will become more unified.

At least that's what the future looks like from this vantage point. Apple, as is their policy, won't comment on future products.

Oh, and to all of you who believe that the name change to "OS X" is a harbinger of Apple offering its operating system for use on non-Apple PCs, we have have two simple words:

Dream on. ®

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