Is Apple planning to kill off Mac OS X?

As Gerald Ratner will testify, standing on stage and panning your own products isn’t a particularly effective sales strategy. Yet when Steve Jobs announced last night that he was “going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device”, it wasn’t a million miles away from the “total crap” quip that cost Ratner his job and, very nearly, his company.

Does Apple really want or even need full-fat Mac OS X? The evidence increasingly suggests not. In four short years, iOS has acquired a 16.8% share of the smartphone market, according to Gartner: almost double the 9.3% market share Apple's spent 10 years building with Mac OS X.  On tablets, iOS and the iPad accounted for 80% of all sales in the first quarter of 2011, according to Context. iOS is mainstream: Mac OS X isn’t and likely never will be.

Over the past couple of months, there have been continual rumours that Apple is testing the iPad’s A5 processor in its MacBook range, suggesting Apple believes iOS could stretch further than smartphones and tablets.

The only part of Apple’s portfolio where iOS doesn’t make sense is in the high-end

Indeed, recent developments in Mac OS X itself have borrowed heavily from iOS, not least touch gestures and, crucially, the Mac App Store. Even the new version of the operating system itself is a download-only “app”, available exclusively from the Mac App Store.

You can see why a transition to iOS is appealing to Apple. Why would Jobs want to keep giving software companies a free ride on Mac OS X, when it could migrate MacBooks to iOS, mandate software purchases via the App Store only, and take a 30% cut of the revenue?

The only part of Apple’s portfolio where iOS doesn’t make sense is in the high-end. Yet, Apple's already discontinued its Xserve range of servers and the company barely speaks of its corporate customers these days: it's almost exclusively fixated on the consumer market.

Could Apple eventually phase out Mac OS X? I suspect it's already doing so.

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