Apple has never really been an open source type of company. Which is kind of ironic, since some of its core foundations are built on open source software. This makes you wonder how big of a deal it is that Apple released the source code for iOS? Maybe a bigger deal is that Apple released the source code for macOS kernel for the ARM architecture. The kernel is the lowest layer in an operating system that orchestrates how a computer runs and how users are able to access hardware resources. But while it is a critical piece of the OS puzzle, it doesn’t give you a look at the entire user experience. So, in a way, this open source release of macOS and iOS kernel code will benefit only a small subset of the computing industry.
Ever since the first version of OS X, Apple has regularly released the kernel source code for Macs. In theory, you could learn from it or even build your own projects from it. But it’s not so simple for iOS. Even if you had the source code, it wouldn’t matter much unless it was optimized for the ARM-based chips that you see in most phones and mobile tablets. This is particularly relevant if you’re interested in iOS since you now have code that would theoretically run on an iPhone or iPad. However, it’s not quite the breakthrough move it seems at first sight.
This is just the kernel. Which, like we said, is the low-level code that governs the most critical functions. It doesn’t cover the interface, developer frameworks or apps. These are the parts that truly define iOS or macOS. Those elements are still closed off, so you would have to build most of the platform from scratch. You won’t see iOS on a Galaxy S8 anytime soon. Apple also offers a relatively limited source code license that isn’t as flexible as, say, the GPL license used for Linux. You certainly aren’t about to install macOS on your ARM-based Chromebook. And besides, there are rumors of Apple developing ARM-based companion chips for Macs. It may need ARM code even if it has no intention of ditching Intel for CPUs.
So is this even a big deal? I don’t think that it is. The fact that you can now download the ARM-optimized source code of Apple’s kernel doesn’t mean that much. Maybe Apple wants to share the kernel of the iPhone in order to get feedback from the open source community? Which could mean that Apple is working on a version of macOS that runs on ARM chips? There are other possible solutions that we might want to consider. Maybe it was by accident? There have been a ton of technology leaks (and others) over the past few months so maybe this was just another one of those.
Or maybe Apple just wants to mess with people. I’m not saying they’re sadistic, but you just never know. Overall, I don’t think this is going to have a large impact on things. It sounds like this is something they have done in the past, and now they’re just giving you something else to look at. In some ways, it will help, but I think generally, this is just something else that we get excited about and shouldn’t.