iPhone OS: Soon considered a computer OS?

The divide between "computer OS" and "smartphone OS" seems to be getting smaller and smaller every day. Eventually, we won't even make a distinction. Is that happening sooner than we thought?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

With Thursday's announcement/town hall demo of iPhone OS 4, a few more gripes about Apple's growing OS and software platform were erased. Multitasking, organized app folders, and more robust e-mail joined the fold, adding to the usability of any iPhone, iPod Touch, or eventually iPad, and closing the gap just a little bit more.

What gap? Why, the gap between our conceptions of what a smartphone or tablet is versus a traditional computer.


Last year, universal search and held-back tools like cut and paste may have been available on other smartphones, but the iPhone benefitted greatly from their addition. Owners of iPhones and iPads and other smart devices would say that what holds us back most when using them are the single-focus limitations and lack of cross-program support.

Rather than erase e-mail, we tend to save everything and search for the mail we're looking for. Most computer users also enjoy running at least a few programs simultaneously most days, if not more.

The iPhone OS still isn't nearly as robust or open as Mac OS X, and is extremely targeted toward mobile use and a particular usage/interface design. But will we see, very soon, a moment where such "mobile OS" platforms are essentially indistinguishable from Windows and Mac platforms? If so, how long will it take? Five years? Three years? Less?

As long as the iPhone OS remains a "closed" OS environment, some say it will never be a true computer OS.

For others, it all depends on their definition of "computer." An iPad might be all some people need, although an iPad still requires a PC/Mac to initially sync with and transfer files between.

With a few key updates a year, the iPhone OS isn't going to catch up in one huge leap, but it might slowly but surely get closer than anyone expects, and sooner than we think. Windows software was one phase change in computers, but smartphone and tablet software interfaces might be the next.