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Could Apple turn iOS 6 into a desktop operating system?

Apple unveiled this week the latest generation of its iOS operating system for its mobile devices - iOS 6. This is due to arrive in the Autumn of 2012 with 200 new features, for the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, iPad 2, new iPad and fourth-generation iPod touch devices. The previous version of the platform, iOS 5, was announced around the same time in 2011 and boasted more than 200 new abilities. iOS 5 also introduced the online iCloud service. This offers in-the-cloud storage for all the recent Apple devices, with the ability to sync-up data with products linked to the same account. iCloud synchronises mail, contacts, calendars, photos, apps, books and music to iPhones, iPads, iPod touch devices and computers, using its 5GB of free storage, associated with an Apple ID. Could this service and iOS be better utilised?

We have now seen iOS grow from a mobile phone OS that couldn't support copy and paste for two years, to being a versatile platform that can now be found not only in mobile phones, but in tablets, portable media players and TV-attached digital media receivers. The latest two incarnations of the OS, coupled with the advent of the Apple iCloud service, has pushed the feature list to almost 500 new functions and within just two generations. iOS could now very well be a contender for a 'lite' desktop operating system.

I am not talking about huge changes, where Apple rips out the Mac OS X and replaces it with a mobile phone operating system, but Apple could test the waters out, by including the iOS on its notebook and desktop range. This could be added as a quick-boot OS installed on a small amount of flash memory, possibly in a cut-down version. This would allow Mac owners to gain access to a functioning, full operating system within seconds.

Asus, Acer, HP, Lenovo, Dell and Sony have embedded this type of fast-booting OS into their motherboards and laptops. The Linux version these companies implemented is from a company called Splashtop, with the platform named Splashtop OS, or Express gate in Asus' case. It is a Linux-based cut down operating system that boots in five seconds. This offers access to a web browser and a Skype client, among other features. It really isn't very big in size and is installed onto flash memory in much the same way as iOS has been.

Apple could offer the same functionality as it currently does in its iOS devices, with access to all the data stored in an iCloud account, within seconds of turning on a computer. The footprint of the iOS 6 beta only runs in at a little under 900MB for the iPhone 4S version, or the more appropriate version might be the new iPad iOS, at just over 1GB.

Moving on from this could be an iOS installed on a very low-cost netbook running applications based in iCloud, instead of just being stored within them for back-up purposes. This will offer another dimension to Apple's online storage, which has already been expanded from the days of MobileMe to encompass much more.

Google has partnered with Acer and Samsung to produce low-cost Chromebooks that operate in very similar fashion to this concept. They use a lite operating system (Chrome OS) and applications from the Chrome Web Store. These apps run inside a Chrome web browser, over an Internet connection so that no apps are actually stored on the hard drive.

Apple could produce a low-end MacBook Air, with a SIM card slot, based on a greatly reduced set of specifications that could rival these Chromebooks. They could run from either the full iOS or a 'lite' version, with a heavy reliance on iCloud. Instead of just storing any of the 650,000 iTunes App Store apps, these applications could be run from iCloud, inside the Safari browser.

I feel this may succeed, especially with Apple's loyal customer base almost guaranteeing sales, coupled with the fact that the company already has the key elements in place.

The evolution of the iOS 6 has now matured, so with its improved functionality and iCloud ready to be fully utilised, the 'MacBook Air iOS version' could be just around the corner.

Rob Kerr is a journalist with more than 14 years experience of news, reviews and feature writing on titles such as Wired, PC Magazine, The Register, The Inquirer, Pocket-Lint, Mobile Industry Review, Know Your Mobile and The Gadget Show. The mobile phone world is his real passion and forte, having owned a handset as far back as 1994 where he has seen them grow from just a business tool to a necessity in everyone’s everyday life.