Early rumors that the Apple tablet would run Mac OS X did not pan out, and by designing the new iPad to run iPhone OS, Apple signaled that it intended to use its mobile OS for all its touchscreen devices. Now, a new Apple job listing
looking for an engineering manager in "platform bring-up" indicates that the company has broader plans for the iPhone OS. As a central focus, the new hire will be responsible for heading up "a team focused on bring-up of iPhone OS on new platforms."
The iPad is the first device to feature Apple's new A4 system-on-a-chip (SoC), combining a 1GHz CPU with an integrated graphics processor, based on the ARM architecture. Not surprisingly, the listing gives extra credit to applicants who have "experience with ARM based SoC's." According to an analysis in the New York Times
, the expected cost of devleoping a chip like the A4 is somewhere around $1 billion US, so it's likely that Apple will be putting its homegrown chipset at the forefront of its new mobile offerings. According to the listing, the manager would be responsible for “low-level platform architecture, firmware, core drivers and bring-up of new hardware platforms."
Observers have begin speculating about potential uses for the powerful, energy efficient A4. Rene Ritchie at TiPb wonders
if the first candidate might not be Apple TV, the perennial red-headed stepchild of the company's lineup. Somewhat less than a computer, somewhat more than a set-top box, the device runs a version of standard Mac OS X and uses a simplified interface to serve digital media. Computerworld's Seth Weintraub notes
that an A4-enabled Apple TV could be "no bigger than an Apple Airport Express," and manufactured so cheaply that it could be free to users (if, for example, subsidized by cable TV subscription) and "attached to the back of HDTVs like a power supply." Weintraub also wonders if the A4 and iPhone OS might not begin moving up the chain to low-end devices like the mac Mini and MacBook Air.
The iPhone OS has received kudos for its design, and given the popularity of the iPhone, it's familiarized more users with a touchscreen interface than any other device. A comScore survey
back in November showed the iPhone as far and away the most popular touchscreen device in the US, with 32.9% of the market as compared to the LG Dare's 8.7%. Small wonder, then, that Apple has decided to leverage the early adoption of the iPhone OS for the iPad. iPhone users will have a familiar interface when they first interact with it, and Apple already knows that even first-time users have a short learning curve with the iPhone. Apple will doubtless continue to tout the large numbers of apps available on the iPhone OS.
The continued focus on the closed iPhone OS rather than the open, Unix-based architecture of Mac OS X is problematic. The ingenuity of the world's jailbreakers being what it is, it's unlikely that Apple will be able to keep any of these new devices locked down for long. At the same time, we all know that the majority of users will be too intimidated to try jailbreaking, regardless of how many easy point-and-click tools are available. It's easy to say "too bad for them," but nobody benefits by having a closed operating system that can't be improved by a worldwide community of developers. In addition, Apple's continued tight control over what apps can be installed on their devices stifles competition and limits user choice.
Hopefully, popular non-App Store titles and interface mods will make jailbreaking increasingly attractive to users, and may encourage Apple to embrace a more open architecture. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now, but change is always possible.