The latest big release from Apple is not a new computer, a new tablet or a new iPhone — it’s OS X Lion, the latest evolutionary stage of Apple’s phenomenally successful operating system. In a world where we focus so much on the design aesthetic of the physical objects we hold in our hands, it’s easy to forget the significance of the operating system in creating our digital world.
The rapid evolution of Mac OS X — from Cheetah to Lion — is what transformed Apple into a technology platform rather than just a technology product. The operating system is essentially the DNA — the instructions and code for describing how the magic happens. And, ultimately, like your personal genetic code, these instructions determine what is physically possible. Lion is a major overhaul of Apple’s operating system. It includes 250 new enhancements that make it possible to re-create the same types of functionality found on devices like the iPad and iPhone on your computer. By updating your operating system to Lion, you are essentially sprinkling in a few extra sequences of genetic code that make possible things that were never possible before.
Compare Apple’s success with the recent misfortunes of Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) and mobile phone maker Nokia. Unlike Apple, these two companies are floundering when it comes to platform adoption rates. Again, it is the limitations of their DNA. Take a look at these graphical depictions by Horace Dediu, a former Nokia employee-turned blogger. The charts show technological platform adoption rates around the world . It’s clear that, in the race to become the first global platform with one billion users, it’s Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android that now have a commanding lead. Not surprisingly, Nokia is now abandoning it's own operating system Symbian and partnering with Microsoft. Meanwhile, RIM was forced to re-think its operating system for its PlayBook tablets.
Against the backdrop of record quarterly earnings and a surging stock market valuation, Apple is on track to become the single most valuable company in the world, bypassing the industrial and energy behemoths that we typically think of as comprising American economic might. Hardware may be made in China, but operating systems are created in Silicon Valley. These systems, powered by American ingenuity, enable the creation of technology platforms with tens of millions of users. For now, Lion is the reigning king of that technology jungle.