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Will Apple merge the Mac and iPhone in the near future?

Anyone who has been paying attention to the evolution of OS X and iOS will have at some point noticed that the two operating systems are slowly acting more like each other. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical who recently attempted to crowdfund the Ubuntu Edge phone that would double as a desktop PC, has certainly noticed Apple’s seemingly slow merger of its desktop and mobile OS. He predicts that Apple will merge Mac and iPhone hardware one day soon, creating a device similar to the Ubuntu Edge.

When speaking to PC Pro, Shuttleworth said that although his company’s Ubuntu Edge didn’t reach its (ridiculous) crowdfunding goal, it drummed up enough interest in a phone that doubled as a desktop PC, and other companies would adopt the concept as their own. Shuttleworth noted that he was very disappointed that the Ubuntu Edge project did not achieve its goal – we feel Canonical should’ve set the goal a tad lower than its lofty $32 million (£20 million) dream – but it got the job done in the end in terms of spreading awareness.

He used this as a jumping-off point to talk about the way Apple marketed the iPhone 5S, pointing out that the Cupertino company specifically labelled the phone’s A7 SoC as a “desktop-class processor.” Shuttleworth thinks Apple specifically chose this nomenclature as a way to hint at the future of its hardware, stating that it was a “very clear signal” that Apple would merge the iPhone and MacBook Air into one device.

While we feel Apple’s terminology could just be a way to easily describe how powerful the phone is – and not a secret hint nodding at the future of the platform – Shuttleworth likely isn’t as crazy as he sounds. OS X and iOS have been on a collision course for some time now, though both operating systems are traveling in slow trains. OS X has been the more malleable operating system of the two; for instance, it adopted the iOS scroll direction for its trackpad (swiping down scrolls the screen up), the scroll bars changed from barber shop-style poles to the thin grey bars from iOS, and now you can even invoke Launchpad, which is essentially the desktop version of the iOS home screen.

If Apple “converged” the iPhone and MacBook Air, as Shuttleworth predicts, what would it look like? The immediate answer is that it’d be similar to the Ubuntu Edge – a device with the form factor of a smartphone, but one powerful enough to invoke a full desktop when plugged into a display. However, the MacBook Air is a very lightweight and thin laptop, thus making it portable, which is different from plugging it into a static desktop display.

So, if the iPhone became the guts of the MacBook Air, what would Apple’s laptop look like? Having to carry around a separate keyboard attachment isn’t too obnoxious a concept, though it isn’t ideal. Even then, the iPhone’s display would be too small, but a desktop display wouldn’t be portable like a MacBook Air. So, the first solution that comes to mind is a shell, similar to the Asus Padfone (pictured above), where you slip a smartphone into the back of a tablet, and the smartphone subsequently powers the larger device. In Apple’s case, the larger shell would be in the shape of a laptop, complete with trackpad and full-sized keyboard.

Who knows if Shuttleworth is right in predicting that Apple would converge the two devices – especially because that would certainly herald a drop in profit if people were buying MacBook Air shells that were cheaper than the fully fledged laptop itself.

Shuttleworth isn’t the only person who believes this is where the industry is headed, though. My colleague Sebastian Anthony has postulated that, in the future, the PC and smartphone will be one and the same – and Apple’s grasp on the public consciousness would likely have a stronger effect than Canonical’s $32 million (£20 million) funding goal on the second-most popular crowdfunding site. The question is not if Apple or some other company will converge the smartphone and PC, but when.