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Apple CEO Cook shuts the door on iOS, Mac OS X merging -- again

Apple's iPads and Macs are going to stay separate products even with all the new similarities between them.

Box CEO Aaron Levie (left) and Apple CEO Tim Cook chat about enterprise technology. Josh Miller/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- That dream for a touchscreen Mac running iOS may never come true.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday dismissed the assumption that Apple will merge its iOS mobile software with its OS X computer software -- which means iPads and Macs are going to stay separate products even with all the new similarities between them.

"We don't believe in having one operating system for PC and mobile," Cook said Tuesday during a fireside chat with Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, a company that provides cloud storage for businesses. Box is hosting its BoxWorks conference this week in downtown San Francisco. "We think it subtracts from both, and you don't get the best experience from either. We're very much focused on two."

Cook's comments echo what Apple has said for years, that its PC and mobile systems will stay separate. Craig Federighi, Apple senior vice president of software engineering, told CNET after the company's iPad and Mac launch last year that introducing Macs with touchscreens was something Apple had no plans to do.

"We don't think it's the right interface, honestly," he said at the time. "Mac is sort of a sit-down experience."

Apple has kept its computer operating system distinct from its iOS mobile software, but features such as "Handoff" from last year's iOS 8 now allow the two programs to better interact. The feature allows users to start a program -- such as writing an email or composing a text -- on an iPhone and then finish it on an iPad or Mac.

"Apple continues to see the need for a continuum of experience but not a need for both experiences to merge if that means there is a compromise to make," Kantar Worldpanel analyst Carolina Milanesi said. "I think that is the right approach."

By contrast, Microsoft has gone the opposite direction. Under CEO Satya Nadella, the company has adopted a "one Windows" strategy, porting its new Windows 10 operating system to PCs, tablets, phones and even its Xbox game console.

The unveiling of the iPad Pro earlier this month revived questions about whether Apple would eventually merge iOS and Mac OS X into one system. The 12.9-inch tablet comes with an optional keyboard and stylus, allowing designers and others to do more with their iPads. Having a bigger-screen iPad could allow people to truly replace their computers with a tablet, something that could be vital as Apple tries to revitalize its iPad business.

Many of Apple's rivals have introduced larger-screen tablets, including Samsung with its 12.2-inch, Android-based Galaxy Tab Pro and Galaxy Note Pro, and Microsoft with its 12-inch, Windows-based Surface Pro. The tagline for Microsoft's device is that it's "the tablet that can replace your laptop."

Cook on Tuesday also noted that more than 50 percent of Apple's mobile device users have downloaded iOS 9, the company's most recent mobile software, released September 16.

Meanwhile, business users are a big target for Apple, and the company can't do it alone, Cook said. He noted that Apple generated about $25 billion in revenue from its enterprise operations in the 12 months ended in June. By comparison, Microsoft generated $93.6 billion in total revenue in the year ended in June, while Apple pulled in $224.3 billion during the same period.

Cook also said Apple couldn't have figured out how to deal with businesses if it hadn't formed partnerships with companies such as IBM, Cisco and Microsoft. "This is not a hobby," Cook said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that Mac OS X and iOS will remain separate. Josh Miller/CNET

"We don't have deep knowledge of all the verticals the enterprise deals with," Cook added. "We need to partner with people. ... Island days are gone."

Apple has made a bigger push with business users over the past couple of years. Last year it and IBM unveiled plans to work together to push Apple's products with business users. IBM operates a sizable consulting and services business, and it also will optimize its cloud computing services, such as device management, security and analytics, for Apple's iOS mobile operating system. Cook has said the IBM partnership "aims to define the way work is done, address key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change."

Apple in 2013 also made its iLife and iWork software free with new Mac and iOS purchases. Microsoft last year finally made its widely used Office software work on iOS. Apple also partnered with Cisco recently to gain a better foothold in the business realm.

The partnerships with longtime rivals including IBM and Microsoft indicate how important business users are for Apple. In the past, Apple positioned itself squarely against those companies, but it now works closely with them.

"We still compete today, but Apple and Microsoft can partner on more things than they compete on," Cook said. "Partnering with Microsoft is great for our customers. That's the reason we do it. I'm not a believer in holding grudges."

Update, 2:55 p.m. PT: Adds more background about iOS and Mac OS X.