Is This the Start of an All-Mobile Apple?

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Bertrand Serlet, the Senior Vice President of Mac Software Engineering — colloquially known as one of the fathers of Mac OS X — is leaving Apple, the company announced.

The move has sparked speculation that Apple’s future is much more about mobile devices than the desktop computers with which it built its reputation.

Serlet has worked with Steve Jobs for 22 years – first at NeXT, the company Jobs founded after being ousted from Apple in 1985, then at Apple itself after Jobs’ return in 1997.

Serlet’s job will pass on to his deputy in the department, Craig Federighi.

In a statement, Serlet said: “I’ve worked with Steve for 22 years and have had an incredible time developing products at both NeXT and Apple, but at this point, I want to focus less on products and more on science. Craig has done a great job managing the Mac OS team for the past two years, Lion is a great release and the transition should be seamless.”

Serlet’s contribution to the development of OS X over the last decade shouldn’t be underestimated. As Darrell Etherington at GigaOm puts it: “Serlet’s departure definitely marks the end of an era.”

The next version of OS X, 10.7 Lion, represents the beginning of a new era of OS X development under Federighi’s leadership. First announced with the fanfare “Back to the Mac”, it was designed with iOS in mind, and brings many features from there into OS X. Apple is going to great lengths to bring the two platforms closer together, to make aspects of one work logically in the other.

They’re not one and the same, and quite possibly never will be. Handheld devices will always have different user interfaces to desktop devices — and that’s true even if the desktop ones have sleek touch-sensitive surfaces like their handheld cousins. But they are drawing ever closer together, their separate paths less divergent, more parallel.

Serlet’s departure is the end of an era, but doesn’t mark the beginning of another centered on mobile computing. As far as Apple is concerned, that new era has already begun — with the launch of the original iPhone.