macOS 10.etc.etc.

Image source: Intego

On the latest episode of the The Talk Show, John Gruber and John Moltz discussed macOS’s confusing history of version numbers. Whilst it was brief, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had some thoughts to share on the branding of Apple’s beloved operating system.

To frame this discussion, let’s review macOS over approximately the last 20 years: when Apple bought NeXT in the 1990s, the fusion of classic Mac OS and NeXTSTEP became Mac OS X. The new name made perfect sense at the time, as Mac OS X was preceded by Mac OS 9, Mac OS 8 and so on, and brought drastic changes, both in appearance in its technical underpinnings. It was worth the numerical leap.

Of course, at this time Apple also kicked off its somewhat unusual relationship with the Roman numeral ‘X’, which led every Apple fan to cringe as they heard myriad users pronounce the number ‘X’ as ‘eks’ rather than ‘ten’. (We now continue that painful tradition today with the iPhones X, XR, XS and XS Max.)

With each version of Mac OS X came a handy big-cat moniker, such as Cheetah, Tiger and Leopard. A moniker like Tiger made it easier for all users to name each system, without having to remember the decimal point and various minor revisions. Each name was more memorable and gave the system a kind of personality. Furthermore, versions such as Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion, with their added descriptors, told users that they were more minor revisions of their respective predecessors, Leopard and Lion.

With the arrival of Mac OS X Mavericks, Apple dropped the big cats for Californian landmarks and tourist hotspots. A big question arose at this time, however, as Mavericks was version 10.9: what would Apple do for the next version? Surely it wouldn’t ship Mac OS X 10.10! It should go to 11! A ’10’ after the decimal point is essentially equivalent to a ‘1’, which would send the naming of the OS back in time. Of course, Apple broke all code-naming conventions and shipped Mac OS X Yosemite, with version number 10.10. People eventually sort of got over it…

When iOS 11 was on the horizon, many Apple fans thought, ‘Oh yes, now it all makes sense! Apple wants to sync the newly renamed macOS with iOS 11, making macOS 11! It was Apple’s intention all along!’. Even with many Spinal Tap jokes darting around about Apple turning it ‘up to 11’, the company still didn’t do it.

Right now, with macOS Mojave (technically the fifteenth major OS X-style release), we’re sitting on version 10.14.4. This number is a complete mouthful and surely confusing to any newer user, if they ever happen to see it under ‘About This Mac’.

For me, there are two plausible major reasons why Apple has not yet made the leap to version 11 or some other new brand name for its operating system.

The first reason, perhaps, is that Apple hasn’t been bothered to do it. Many tech commentators have complained about the company’s recent lack of enthusiasm in the Mac and its obvious focus on iOS as the more popular system. As Marco Arment has often said on Accidental Tech Podcast, the Mac and macOS have seemingly been in ‘maintenance mode’. Why would Apple bother changing the code-naming convention if it isn’t even that motivated to extend the capabilities of the operating system?

The second possible reason is that Apple has been waiting for a momentous occasion to do this—a new operating system with considerable changes could be enough justification for the shift to version number 11.

Whilst numerous sites are already referring to the next version this year being called macOS 10.15 (and Apple has almost certainly decided to do this anyway), I would argue that this year is actually the perfect opportunity to make the leap to version number 11.

If all the rumours are true, as MacRumors has listed here, we may expect the following from macOS at WWDC in June:

  • the split-up of iTunes into new Music, Podcasts and TV apps;
  • new window-management capabilities;
  • the introduction of Siri Shortcuts as a potential replacement for Automator;
  • the death of 32-bit apps; and
  • perhaps most excitingly, Marzipan apps that are cross-platform (for iOS and macOS) and redefine technically and aesthetically what it means for a Mac app to be a Mac app.

Considering these potential big changes, Apple could show its more devoted users that it really cares about the Mac by giving it a whole new kind of marketing-love. We may not only witness the disintegration of the monolithic media app that is iTunes, but also a fundamental shift in the kinds of app that we can run on macOS and even how we interact with desktop software.

All of these changes sound just as profound, if not more profound than the move to Mac OS X and the subsequent Intel transition. Sure, these were massive changes, but they didn’t have the same kind of obvious, average-user-facing effect that something like Marzipan could have.

I would argue that the habit of naming each system macOS 10.etc.etc. has become almost symbolic of Apple’s lack of clear messaging about the Mac. One change of name could completely reverse that.

So Apple, if you’re listening and it’s not too late, take macOS up to 11 in 2019 and let the world know just how much you love the Mac. Let just one number tell the story.