Has Apple Forgotten the Mac OS? (Updated!)

April 12th, 2010

You know that sales of new Macs are increasing at a speedy pace, generally faster than the rest of the PC industry. You also know that Apple’s mobile platform has long since surpassed the Mac in terms of total user base. With 80 million and counting, against roughly 30 million folks owning Macs, you might see reason for Apple to care less about the computing platform that made it famous.

Also consider how Apple has promoted new Mac hardware. Pretty much all recent upgrades have been announced with simple press releases, even the iMac, said to be the hottest desktop computer in years. At the same time, Apple’s mobile platform and even the iPod both earn special media events, where the press is invited to San Francisco or Apple’s campus in Cupertino to get personal treatment and even time to get hands-on experience with the new hardware.

All right, it’s true that new versions of the Mac OS also get the full treatment. Then again, special demonstrations plus lots of WWDC sessions are essential to help developers learn about new features and updates to Apple’s development environment. No way to avoid that.

Now in the wake of the unveiling of iPhone 4.0, there are reports that Apple has put off Mac OS 10.7 in order to allocate more developers to work on the mobile platform upgrade. Of course, it’s not that anyone outside of Apple can know for sure. There may be loads of reasons for a presumed delay, if one exists, and perhaps it’s just to give Apple more time to devise a load of sexy new features and make sure they are fully integrated into the existing OS structure.

It’s not as if you actually need a new version of Mac OS X. Snow Leopard is still pretty new in the scheme of things, and the vast majority of apps still don’t support the most important new features, such as better performance with multicore processors and harnessing the power of advanced graphics chips.

Even the enhanced 64-bit support hasn’t lit much of a fire when it comes to companies who build the software that takes best advantage of accessing more system memory. In the forthcoming Adobe’s Creative Suite 5, out of over a dozen apps in the various production packages, only three —Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects — are listed as providing 64-bit support. Then again, I doubt Adobe could offer any reasonable excuse if these high-power apps didn’t gain that capability with this revision, since the Mac was bypassed in CS4. At that time, by the way, Adobe’s excuse was that Apple just completed its Intel migration, and thus there wasn’t enough time to take advantage of Apple’s revised development tools. Then again, Adobe does a lot of cross-platform stuff, and didn’t Steve Jobs poke holes into that approach because he regards the results as “sub-standard”?

When it comes to Mac hardware, it’s not as if speed bump upgrades have been coming at a fever pitch. On the other hand, Tuesday morning’s MacBook Pro upgrade — a step that vindicates the pithy email from Steve Jobs telling a customer not to worry about the long delay since the last refresh of this model — does indicate that Apple is still in the business of delivering compelling upgrades.

Although the announcement arrived in press release form, in keeping with their recent posture, it does offer the promise of up to 50% faster performance. The graphic chip dilemma, the response to the conflict with NVIDIA and Intel over the former’s license to build integrated graphics for the latter, was resolved in possibly a less satisfactory fashion. Basic graphics are now handled by an Intel HD Graphics chip, with the option of using the discrete NVIDIA GT 330M when you need superior performance.

As with the previous model, pricing for the cheapest MacBook Pro starts at $1,199. The 17-inch version, the only one containing an ExpressCard/34 slot, lists for $2,299. Battery life is estimated at eight to nine hours, due to the greater power efficiencies of the new parts.

Now as to the OS itself, remember that Apple exists to make a profit, not to upgrade its personal computer operating system on a fixed timeframe. That upgrades comes when they decide that they can provide value in a new version, perhaps sell lots of upgrades and, more to the point, push out more Macs that take better advantage of the new features. If sales are moving along at a good clip, and Mac users aren’t filling Apple’s Feedback pages with loads of complaints about a long-in-the-tooth operating system, I suppose there’s no real incentive for them to move forward any faster.

Then again, maybe the rumors about a delay in 10.7 are just that — rumors. Maybe Apple is working full steam ahead on getting the new version out according to an internal timetable that, of course, we know nothing about. Yes, it’s true Apple delayed Leopard’s arrival to finish the first iPhone OS, but don’t assume history is about to repeat itself.

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14 Responses to “Has Apple Forgotten the Mac OS? (Updated!)”

  1. dfs says:

    These rumors of personnel being pulled off one Apple project to support another one always assume that Apple’s employees are so flexible and multitalented that they can be deployed wherever management wants them at the drop of a hat. It’s a little hard to imagine a corporation staffed entirely by Renaissance Men.

    • Peter says:

      @dfs, It may not be engineers involved. Remember that it takes more than just engineers–especially at Apple–to produce a product. You need Quality Assurance people, you need Graphic Artists, Sales, Marketing, etc. etc.

      I agree that I’m not sure you can just grab some guy who works on Workgroup Manager and say, “Hey, we need you to optimize this iPhone App–it eats too much power.” But, at the same time, the person working on the new and improved Workgroup Manager for Mac OS X 10.7 may have to wait on his icons because the graphic artists are all busy doing iPhone icons.

  2. hmurchison says:

    Even if 10.7 is delayed it really means very little as it “feels” to many like Snow Leopard just hit. I think the typical Mac user is relatively unaware of “missing” features in the current OS which is a testatment to how mature OS X has become by version 10.6.

    I think the mobile platform is indeed important and does not quite have the same maturity that Mac OS X has and thus if I’m Apple I’m going to expend a lot of care towards that effort knowing that much of my work will end up benefitting Mac OS X via cross pollination.

    10.7 will come and there will be scads of Mac users incessantly debating whether it’s worth $129 dollars or crying about bugs. Until then I’m going to enjoy my iPhone and iPad and figure out how to deploy the technology at my disposal today in the most efficient manner.

  3. Joe Anonymous says:

    I agree with hmurchison. It’s not like people are clamoring for improvements in 10.6.3. It’s obviously not perfect, but unlike so many previous operating systems (from all vendors), there are not a lot of obviously needed improvements.

    It’s a good OS. Even if the rumor is true (which I am not sure of, anyway), I just don’t see it as an issue. 10.6.x updates will take care of the bugs, let’s let the UI rest for a while.

  4. Brian says:

    The key to Apple’s success lately is their synergy. It makes sense that all the Apple engineers be involved with both Mac and iPhone/iPod/iPad projects to keep that synergy.

    I am hoping we get some news of direction for OS X, but I am not clamoring for it at this point. Honestly, I am not sure that anyone knows where to go from here.

  5. Louis Wheeler says:

    It’s hard to know if the rumors are true, since Apple has not missed any internal deadlines. We know that this happened on the original iPhone, because Apple had missed deadlines. People were demanding an answer. Not so now. The developers would prefer a 24 month cycle to allow them to catch up with implementing 64 bit code, GCD and OpenCL.

    Several years ago, Steve Jobs said he preferred an upgrade cycle of 12 to 18 months, so there could reasonably be an upgrade between September and March. Usually, Apple likes to stir up interest by previewing its upgrades six months earlier, so the 12 month window has already passed. If Apple delays it announcement to WWDC 2010 perhaps in late June, then we are unlikely to see 10.7 before December or January.

    Besides, we are only talking about 3 to 4 months before iPhone 4.0 is released. Apple could shift its workers and we would still have no confirmation that it did. The short answer is that it is not late, yet. What’s the rush?

  6. Why do users assume that switching people from Mac OS X development to iPhone development will necessarily stifle Mac OS X development? These two operating systems have the same roots, use mostly the same Cocoa libraries (with a few differences to account for Multitouch,etc. on the iPhone). Most of the improvements made to the iPhone OS will make their way back to Mac OS X. Therefore, even without a large number of developers working directly on Mac OS X, development on this system continues.

  7. Janey says:

    I’d love to see Apple refine things in Snow Leopard, sell a ton of Macs, and make Adobe feel really stupid. And who knows, maybe they’re slowing the cycle down a bit for a reason. There are a LOT of people that are still on Leopard and haven’t moved to Snow Leopard yet. While Snow Leopard usage is definitely trending up, right now there are still more Leopard boxes out there.

    But, this will change, as things always do.

  8. Don says:

    I’d like to see Apple buy something like Pixelmator, modify it to accept Photoshop Plug-ins, and mix it with a vector program in an iArt suite to match iWork and iLife. Then Adobe be damned!

  9. hmurchison says:

    Janey is correct in that we “don’t” want fragmentation of OS X. It just makes it harder for developers to deliver their products when they have to account for 3 potential OS versions.

    Most of the Leopard holdouts are probably on PPC and just waiting for their next hardware refresh to get an Intel based Mac.

    I’d be more than happy to have Apple open up WWDC 2010 and state “We’re not going to cover 10.7 that much today and there will be no developer preview but we will show you 5 features that ‘will’ be in 10.7 and you should start thinking about how to take advantage”

    Apple could then rattle off 3-5 major features that will form the “Tentpoles” for 10.7. It’s here that information like a new Filesystem with prevention of data corruption and delta changes could be spoken about.

    They could also show a snippet of what they expect the next OS X user interface to look like. A few pictures would go a LONG way knowing how much Apple fans love to chat about things.

    By all means get iPhone OS 4 done. From what I’m reading I don’t think people are even scratching the surface on how this OS is going to profoundly change mobile computing. 1500 new API, this is the largest update we’ve seen for Apple mobile devices and I think it’s going to carry the mobile platform for at least two years.

    The longer we wait for 10.7 the more chances we get some modern stuff that makes the cut.

    Stuff like OpenGL 4.0 and perhaps OpenCL 2.0. I’d expect that by 10.7 launch this will be the first Apple Mac OS version that has full support for Cloud technologies and that Mobileme will be a central strategy for blurring the lines between desktop file managent and Cloud management.

  10. […] of forgetting its users? I don’t think so.  Why else would they be selling so much?  I think he is meaning the loyal, faithful users who should be rewarded for their dedication and sacrifice for the mac […]

  11. Andrew says:

    I like to see Apple take their time. Rushing an OS out the door leads to bugs and glitches. Go slow, please. Snow Leopard is terrific.

  12. hmurchison says:

    Hell I’m probably more excited about the next iLife, iWork & Mobileme major updates.

  13. AdamC says:

    The mobile platform is the new thing and that’s where the masses are heading….

    As for Mac OSX it will still be there and if there is a delay so what. I am still using Tiger on my iBook and Leopard on my enhanced Sawtooth (an illustration of how robust are their hardwares).

    Yea, my family is now Mac based (no big deal to a lot of people but to me it is – 15 years to achieve it with the help of Apple)

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