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  • The Leopard Report: Apple Needs to Add Lots of Extras

    June 29th, 2006

    Over the next few weeks, lots of tech people will vie for your attention with their grab bags of wish lists for the next Mac OS X upgrade. Some suggest that Apple might even ditch the feline code-name, and use something with greater marketing potential. On the other hand, they’ve made a big deal of this naming convention, so this seems rather doubtful at this stage.

    There will be plenty of talk about fixing the Finder, smoothing Spotlight’s interface, revising the Dashboard metaphor, and other issues. But I have another matter to talk about on this occasion, that of the software bundling. You see, there’s this company in Redmond, Washington that’s struggling hard to deliver a long-delayed operating system, and they’re going to include lots and lots of stuff. Apple is going to have to pull out all stops to compete.

    Sure, Apple has some neat extras with Mac OS X, such as iChat, Mail and Safari, but a lot of what they do is focused on that collection of digital lifestyle applications that must, like batteries in some electronic appliances, be purchased separately. This isn’t to say that paying $79 for the latest annual update of iLife is a bad deal. As more and more applications are added to the suite, and features expanded, it’s actually quite a bargain.

    On the other hand, this is war. Apple has its first opportunity in years to really boost market share. The holiday season is theirs, and it’s quite probable that Leopard might even beat Windows Vista to the starting gate, even though Microsoft protests it’s still on schedule for a January 2007 consumer release.

    So here’s a game plan: Make all subsequent iLife upgrades free, tethered to the operating system. That way everyone who uses Leopard and its successors will be on an equal playing field. You won’t have to buy a new Mac to get them free, nor buy an annual revision to stay up to date with the latest and greatest. Sure, Apple might be losing a potential income source, but hear me out! I think more copies of Leopard will be sold as a result, and I suspect a lot of you wouldn’t object to paying, say, $159 for the privilege if it included more goodies as part of the package. And, yes, this should be a Universal installer, so you won’t have to buy a separate upgrade kit, or use a different DVD, depending on whether you have a PowerPC or Intel-based Mac.

    Another significant change would be the policy to change you extra for QuickTime Pro. How many times do you want to access a feature, only to see that annoying item in the menu indicating you have to spend $29.95 for the upgrade to make it work? Here Apple is acting like the troubled Detroit auto makers who used to list everything, including air conditioning and even a decent radio, as optional equipment. It seems petty to cripple QuickTime unless you have the activation code. That sounds like something you expect from Windows, and I really wonder whether this is much of an income source for Apple.

    As far as I’m concerned, you ought to be able to enjoy all the features without this nickel and dime policy.

    So there you go. Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, with a $30 price increase, but adding iLife and QuickTime Pro as part of the deal. When you consider the possible upgrade costs of Windows Vista, and the amount of time you spend looking over the various versions to see which one is right for you, this will seem like an incredible bargain.

    But there is one more thing: Those maintenance updates, such as 10.4.7, have become much too large for many to handle in a convenient way. Even though Apple, by losing the built-in modem on its computers, wants us to believe that broadband is simply everywhere, you and I know this just isn’t true. Tens of millions of Internet surfers in the U.S. alone are still using dial-up connections. In some rural areas, broadband is an unfulfilled dream, unless you want to pay extra for a satellite Internet hookup.

    So how do you resolve the problem? One way would be to offer free quarterly update DVDs for the life of the operating system; that is, until the next version comes out. Another would be to offer an optional subscription program that could, perhaps, include your .Mac subscription. That would be yet another reason to sign up for some extra services.

    Yes, there are indeed lots of things that ought to be fixed and improved for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. You know there will be lots of eye-candy too, so Apple can tout its standard repertoire of 150 or 200 new features. But this proposed package of extras may be the most compelling of all.



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