Up next for OS X: An Apple-branded gaming console?

  • Chicago (IL) - Among all the things that Apple trademarked you wouldn't have thought that the company would had applied for the "OS X" trademark as well. Note: "OS X", without the "Mac" prefix. If it were the "Mac OS X" trademark, it would hardly file as news: It is a norm for companies to protect their respective trade names. What Apple's OS X  filing reveals though, is an intention to distance the operating system from the Mac realm, indicating Apple's desire to use OS X on a much broader array of gadgets in the future. Some Apple watchers are convinced we will see more OS X software platforms beyond current desktop and mobile OS X. Like a game console, for instance.

    Apple originally filed for the "OS X" trademark in Tobago and Trinidad in the weeks following WWDC 2008. In addition, another trademark was filed in Asian trademark office in November 2007. The timing of the original Tobago and Trinidad filings isn't coincidental: It was at the WWDC 2008 where Apple first shed light on new plans about its operating system that used to power only Macs. WWDC show banners in the run-up to the event read "OS X Leopard" and "OS X iPhone", while Apple promoted both OS X flavors under the "world's most advanced operating system" and "world's most advanced mobile platform" taglines, respectively.

    True, the new naming could have been purely a marketing or re-branding thing. Such explanations would fall in line with the company's broader re-branding effort that dates back to the January 2007 iPhone introduction when Steve Jobs announced Apple would drop "computer" from its name and would be known from there on as just "Apple, Inc." - indicating that the company wants to become a consumer electronics giant instead of a niche computer player.

    But common sense logic suggests that removal of "Mac" prefix from the "OS X" trademark goes deeper than just re-branding. After all, Apple watchers have been saying for some time that the company will keep spawning OS X-based software platforms in the future, and beyond desktop and mobile OS X versions. OS X currently runs inside Apple's Mac desktops and notebooks, in addition to the Apple TV set-top box and the iPhone/iPod touch that both run a modified version of the operating system.

    The three OS X flavors share the same essential components, but two of them - OS X Leopard and OS X iPhone - have now become distinct software platforms. Guessing what the third OS X-based software platform might be is another thing. Your guess is as good as ours and we can only speculate at this point, but we can safely assume that OS X will in fact power Apple's future gadgets as well.

    Originally based on Mach microkernel (which was derived from the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD)), combined with parts of FreeBSD and NetBSD Unix implementations, OS X sports an efficient code base with a small memory footprint, making it easily deployable into many form factors - from cellphones to full-blown desktop systems. On top of that, OS X brings a set of libraries and high-level frameworks that take care of networking, audio, video, graphics, power management, input and output, security, communication, multi-core processing, and everything else. In short, OS X wraps everything neatly into a single package that's ripe for use.

    We could speculate that Apple might deploy OS X next in a $600 Mac netbook, a Mac tablet or a home entertainment center. It is also entirely possible that none of these products are in the works at all. But if some of these are actually in Apple's queue, they will be most likely based around the existing, perhaps slightly tweaked, desktop or mobile OS X versions.

    For example, there is no reason for Apple not to use current OS X Leopard in a rumored Mac netbook since it successfully powers current Macbooks. On a similar note, alleged Mac tablet or an oversized iPod touch could be entirely built around mobile OS X version that powers current generation of iPhone and iPod touch. Finally, a home entertainment device could be entirely built around the same desktop OS X code that powers Apple TV set-top box. But none of these products have the potential to spawn an entirely new OS X software platform like the Mac and the iPhone did.

    If you ask us, of all future Apple products that come into mind, only a home gaming console could constitute a third, distinct OS X software platform. For start, a console would require Apple's software team to significantly tweak OS X code in order to optimize it for high-performance computations, graphics and sound - the things that matter the most in game applications.

    On top of that, "console OS X" would require some entirely new accompanying components that currently do not exist - like online gaming services, broader support for gaming controllers, more advanced multimedia features with DV-R recording capabilities, in addition to an entirely new user interface. All of this would require more substantial adaptation of the existing desktop OS X code. Especially crafted version of the online game store for online-only games delivery, like the App Store for the iPhone, would complete the picture of the third OS X software platform, in addition to the desktop and mobile OS X platforms.