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Monday, October 31, 2011, 10:04 am PT (01:04 pm ET)

Internal testing of Mac OS X 10.8 increases at Apple

Only months after Lion, the latest version of Mac OS X, was publicly released, evidence continues to grow that Apple is hard at work on the next version of its Mac operating system.

Throughout October, there's been a steady increase in traffic from devices claiming to run an unreleased version of Mac OS X, identified as 10.8. While it's easy to fake data like an operating system version, some of the visitors tracked by MacRumors had IP addresses originating from Apple itself. For its part, AppleInsider has seen nearly 1,900 visits from machines running Mac OS X 10.8.

The growing presence of machines running Mac OS X 10.8 suggests that employees at Apple are already using an early build of the next version of the Mac operating system. Similar traffic spikes were seen with Mac OS X 10.7 in late 2009, as Apple began to test what would later become Lion internally.

Lion was officially unveiled a year later, in October of 2010, before it was released in July on the Mac App Store for $29.99.

If Apple were to stick to its current release schedule, Mac OS X 10.8 — whether it gains a new cat name or otherwise — would be released in mid-to-late 2013. The latest major new releases of Mac OS X have arrived about every two years, with Snow Leopard launching in August 2009, while Leopard was originally scheduled to arrive in June of 2007, but actually became available in August of that year.

With a possible release of Mac OS X 10.8 so far out, it's unknown what features Apple could be working on for the next major version of its Mac operating system. Hallmark features of Lion include the Mac App Store, Launchpad, Mission Control, new multi-touch gestures, full-screen applications, auto-save, and auto-resume.

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This August, one analyst suggested that Apple could merge its traditional Mac OS X operating system with the iOS mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad. It was hypothesized that a next-generation quad-core "A6" processor could power a new iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air, replacing the Intel processors found in current Macs with an ARM-based CPU.

Similarly, in May, one report claimed that Apple had built a test MacBook Air powered by the same A5 processor found in the iPad 2 and the newly released iPhone 4S. It was said that the test machine "performed better than expected," though there was no indication that Apple planned to release such a device at any point in the near future.