Myths of Snow Leopard 3: Mac Sidelined for iPhone
June 19th, 2008
Daniel Eran Dilger
Apple’s limited comments on Snow Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X due in about a year, have opened the playing field for rampant speculation. Here’s a look at a series of myths that have developed around the upcoming release. The third myth of Snow Leopard:
Apple is de-emphasizing the Mac as it centers its attention on the iPhone.
Pundits were quick to pounce on the idea that Snow Leopard would be “taking a break” from adding major new marketing features. Many jumped to the conclusion that Apple was simply putting Mac development on hold while it shifts its resources and attention to the iPhone. After all, Apple delayed the release of Leopard last year, ostensibly to put its engineers to work on deploying the iPhone. Is the supposed lack of new features in Snow Leopard an indication that the Mac will drift into irrelevance as the iPhone consumes Apple’s focus?
That idea certainly isn’t new. From the moment that iTunes and the iPod began to take off around 2004, critics began insisting that Apple would drop the Mac and become the iPod company, some even saying that the company could/should/would embrace Windows as the operating system for its computers.
The shift to Intel Macs heightened the pulse of Windows Enthusiasts who so desperately wanted Mac OS X to go away. John Dvorak baited Mac users with the idea as recently as early 2006, suggesting that the only “fly in the ointment” facing Apple’s adoption of Windows would be containing the hysterics of its fans. Dvorak recommended Apple specialize in the GUI with an “executive software layer” “fitted onto Windows to keep the Mac look and feel” and “leave the grunt work to Microsoft.” By the end of the year he was complaining about Vista being terrible.
2007 turned out to be even worse for Windows Enthusiasts. The iPhone, announced at the same time Apple dropped the word Computer from its corporate name, gave them another reason for repeating the “Apple is probably dumping Mac OS X at some point” line, but none of those predictions have materialized and Mac sales have only kept expanding.
John Dvorak Concedes 2007 was a “Crappy Year” for Windows Enthusiasts
The extended multi year failure of Microsoft’s Longhorn project, juxtaposed with the celebrity treatment of Tiger and Leopard in the media, led up to a disastrous debut of Windows Vista in 2007. As Microsoft’s consumer brand wilted, Apple reaped a windfall of new Mac sales that exceeded previous sales records for the company.
Apple postponed Leopard’s release on the Mac in order to prepare for the iPhone debut, not because it decided Mac sales weren’t important, but because Mac sales were through the roof and didn’t need Leopard to accelerate them.
That was in marked contrast to the stagnant PC market, which observers had repeatedly blamed on the delays of Vista. Microsoft was desperately working to ship Vista because higher end consumers appeared to be bored with the existing Windows XP, particularly in contrast to flashy new Macs running the no longer new but still competitive Tiger. In the fall of 2006, Microsoft even began handing out vouchers for Vista to new PC buyers and started fraudulently labeling PCs that could not possibly run the new OS acceptably as “Vista Capable” in a desperate bid to prod the dying PC market.
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Oversold, Overpriced, Under Delivered.
Vista tumbled out of the gate with the usual set of minor problems any new software release would need to get through, but the real problem for Vista was that it had been greatly oversold to PC users. Vista demanded far more overhead than the existing Windows XP because it included a imitative, immature copy of Mac OS X’s sophisticated graphics compositing engine. It also required a revised set of drivers for devices Windows XP already worked with well enough.
On top of all this, Microsoft raised the price of Vista dramatically and set up a confusing hierarchy of editions, selling neutered versions of Vista to OEMs for bundling on new PCs, a trick that Microsoft hoped would result in forcing users to upgrade to the more functional premium versions of Vista at full retail prices.
Microsoft’s pricing shenanigans only exaggerated the performance problems and compatibility flaws of Vista, resulting in a backlash that included everyone from end users to corporations to Microsoft’s OEM PC partners. Dell and HP demanded the ability to continue selling Windows XP, while Acer was so miffed about Microsoft’s Vista hardball tactics that it has launched a new Linux strategy.
Gianpiero Morbello, vice president of marketing and brand at Acer told VNUNet reporter Iain Thomson, “We have shifted towards Linux because of Microsoft. Microsoft has a lot of power and it is going to be difficult, but we will be working hard to develop the Linux market.”
The Leisure Leopard Launch.
Columnists looking for a dramatic angle on things tried to pit Leopard against Vista. They were therefore confused when Apple pushed the Leopard launch out into the end of the year. Why was Apple not pouncing on the opportunity afforded by the weak Vista launch with a rush to advertise Leopard? The answer was that Apple didn’t need Leopard to sell new Macs, as record unit sales throughout 2007 bore out.
Vista had originally been compared to 2005’s Tiger. Vista’s years-long delays didn’t demand an immediate response from Apple the moment it finally arrived. Apple was so far ahead that it had the luxury of devoting its resources to the more pressing launch of the iPhone. That launch certainly did more to draw attention to the Mac than an accelerated release of Leopard would have.
When Leopard did launch it was scheduled for the winter quarter, a timing that would ensure the best possible retail sales. Both Mac and Leopard sales also benefitted significantly from the foot traffic generated by the iPhone, then in full swing along with the new iPod touch and companion iPods. Leopard wasn’t delayed by problems in the sense Vista was; it was fashionably late.
There Can Be Only One?
The Highlander’s high concept doesn’t apply to Apple’s hardware businesses. Rather than overshadowing the Mac, iPod sales dramatically helped erect a halo over Apple’s other products, helped finance its retail store rollout, and widened the potential audience for the Mac.
The iPod also drove a critical mass of buyers to the iTunes Store, which existed primarily to ensure that commercially licensed music would remain compatible with the Mac platform rather than being shackled to Windows by Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM.
The iPhone is doing similar things to support both Apple’s iPod and Mac businesses. Analysts feared that iPod sales would dry up once enough smartphones added MP3 features. However, Apple cut out a strategy around the problem, dropping those fears out of the picture with the release of a desirable smartphone that Apple called its “best iPod ever.”
Apple’s Adventures in Product Cross-Selling.
Over the last winter, Apple still maintained the same level of iPod sales despite the addition of millions of new iPhones. This was in a competitive market during an economic downturn where other makers saw negative growth in their MP3 offerings.
Apple also released an iPod-only version of the iPhone which helped to spread the iPhone platform into markets where the iPhone wasn’t available, and to individuals who had decided they couldn’t switch to the iPhone. The iPod touch has sold more than few iPhones to users who, once touched by the interface, decided they wanted their smartphone to work the same way.
The iPhone has also been reaching out to persuade Windows users to consider the Mac platform. That’s happening both as consumers and executives get the iPhone and are tempted by the similar simplicity of the Mac, but also as developers flock to the iPhone SDK and get a taste of Apple’s Cocoa development tools, which work the same way as on the Mac side.
The Flow of Technology.
The iPhone, iPod, and Mac have been cross pollinating in terms of technology as well. The MacBook Air is a hardware example of Apple’s reuse of design and touch interface ideas between the iPhone and Mac. Another example is in the core OS shared by both products.
Apple didn’t just repackage the Mac OS into a smaller form factor. It developed an entirely new interface paradigm and discarded ideas that make less sense in a mobile device, such as multitasking, windowed applications. Apple also took the opportunity to rethink how a number of development conventions should work. It constructed the iPhone’s UIKit from a retooling of Mac OS X’s AppKit, adding the modern convention of properties as a way to simplify the class interfaces. It then added properties to the desktop AppKit in Leopard.
QuickTime X is another example of repurposing code retooled for the iPhone to provide a highly efficient media playback. Desktop users running Snow Leopard will benefit from that advance as well. And of course there’s also the extensive work in developing push support for Exchange Server on the iPhone, work that will be included in Snow Leopard. Those efforts are also being used to power MobileMe’s push messaging and Snow Leopard Server’s push services.
There is a fourth application of push: Apple’s new Push Notification Service, which allows iPhone and iPod touch users to set up server side notification alerts that don’t require any mobile applications to stay running in the background. Along with Bonjour discovery, PNS will keep iPhones wirelessly connected in all sorts of sophisticated ways that third party developers imagine in their applications.
WWDC 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard Server Takes on Exchange, SharePoint
Apple’s Mobile Me Takes On Exchange, Mobile Mesh
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Where’s the Beef?
All these technologies are flowing back and forth between products in a way that not only shares and builds upon existing ideas, but also creates combined value that is greater than the sum of its parts. Anyone who thinks Apple needs to break off one of the existing legs of the stool in order to attach a new one hasn’t spent much time observing the cross selling going on in Apple’s retail stores.
When Chrysler invented the minivan, did pundits insist that it was getting out of the pickup and car business? When McDonalds began selling Chicken McNuggets, did anyone fear that sales of its hamburgers were going to tank? Apple’s iPod and iPhone investments have been wildly successful in expanding the company’s business and its Mac audience. Both have also resulted in new injections of technology, complementary functions, and third party development interest that all raise, not lower, the profile of the Mac platform.
Finally, the entire idea of the Mac platform being pushed aside by the iPhone is humbled by the fact that out of 147 sessions at WWDC this year, only 62 were iPhone related. That’s less than half, and many of those iPhone-related sessions were also relevant to Mac developers.
The next myth of Snow Leopard looks at what Apple itself is calling the product’s “only new feature,” Exchange Support.
WWDC 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard
Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support — RoughlyDrafted Magazine
Myths of Snow Leopard 2: 32-bit Support
Myths of Snow Leopard 3: Mac Sidelined for iPhone
Myths of Snow Leopard 4: Exchange is the Only New Feature!
Myths of Snow Leopard 5: No Carbon!
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