Several years ago, Chris Kemp, the former CTO of NASA told me in an interview that, “when you are carrying around a tablet, you are carrying around a gateway to the cloud.”
At the time we were talking about the as-yet unreleased BlackBerry PlayBook.
While that woebegone tablet has never caught on in the popular market, we are seeing tablets move in that direction with each successive generation of hardware and software upgrades.
Apple took another step recently with the announcement of iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion. The cloud is converging tablets, smartphones, desktops and laptops. And Apple is not alone.
The biggest announcement from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference was the new MacBook Pro with Retina display that will run Mountain Lion. For Apple, this is perhaps the closest it has come to truly converging the iPad and the MacBook in terms of both software and hardware specifications.
Let’s start with the software. Apple is looking to merge the experience on Mac laptops and desktops with that of its mobile devices.
Increasingly, OS X is starting to look a lot like an iPad interface and not a traditional Mac interface. The underlying principle that is driving the functionality that will be found on both iOS 6 and Mountain Lion is iCloud.
Apple’s cloud system is at once two things. It is first a personal cloud system that allows you to sync your contacts, photos, calendars, documents and more. That is the whole “i” part of iCloud.
But, “cloud” is really the pertinent word. For instance look at iMessage, Notes, Game Center and Notification Center. All of these will be sending information across Apple devices whether they are running OS X or iOS. This is not done auto-magically, though sometimes it seems that way. It is done through the cloud, which ostensibly runs on the same backend system that iCloud does.
The hardware of the new MacBook Pro is also informed by what Apple has learned designing the third-generation iPad. Foremost, the Retina display that looks very much like Apple tacked a new iPad onto a MacBook.
Yet, it is not just about the display. Mobile devices like the iPad are built with solid-state flash memory. The innards of the new MacBook are all flash-based. There is no spinning disk inside the new MacBook. Think of what would happen if you took the insides of an iPad and put them on steroids. That is the new MacBook Pro.
What Apple is doing is consolidating its software, hardware and user interface across its mobile properties. Add the cloud as a backend structure and the experience across devices should, theoretically, be seamless.
This approach is not unique to Apple. Microsoft is moving in the exact same direction with Windows 8. The Metro interface of Windows 8 is heavily informed from what Microsoft created with Windows Phone.
Even in terms of hardware, Microsoft is taking a more mobile-based approach by developing Windows 8 to be run through both x86 and ARM-based processors. And Microsoft will create a dynamic cross-device environment by going, “to the cloud,” as its commercials like to say.
Google too has bought into the concept of merging platforms. Instead of desktop to tablet, it has been smartphone to tablet. The purpose of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was to unify its smartphone versions (Gingerbread and before) with its tablet system (Honeycomb).
We will see how much further Android converges with Google’s Chrome operating system in the future.
The merging of mobile and desktop hardware and software design with mobile design is the future of commercial computing. The cloud makes this possible. Just look at the new iPad and MacBook Pro.