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  • The Lion Report: OK, Keep it Cheap

    June 2nd, 2011

    When Apple releases Mac OS 10.7 Lion, whether at next week’s WWDC, or a few weeks thereafter, I’m sure that the goal will be to entice you to upgrade as quickly as possible. Consider Snow Leopard. All right, it wasn’t intended as a major feature update, but Apple set the precedent for just $29, and sold loads of upgrades.

    Sure, I expect Microsoft would boast that Windows 7 had far more new features compared to Windows Vista than Snow Leopard compared to Leopard. I’m not about to dispute that, though, aside from a few questionable interface changes and the expected bug fixes, Windows 7 doesn’t seem that much different, and surely not enough to warrant paying three figure upgrade prices rather than two figures.

    Apple can certainly justify a much larger price tag for Lion, what with loads of new (and visible) features, not to mention the greater integration with the iOS. I can see the possible logic in that decision, because it eases the transition between iPad and iPhone and a regular Mac. Where possible, functions on one are carried over to the other. Apple cherishes smoothness. That’s why typing on a regular Apple keyboard provides nearly the same feel as a Mac note-book. It’s all deliberate, and it’s also why there’s a Magic Trackpad that mirrors the functionality of the note-book trackpad.

    This is something the other tech companies can’t grok. They haven’t grasped the advantages of making their products work the same or almost the same as often as possible. To them, Apple is a walled garden that forces customers to exist in a restricted environment, rather than a brilliant move to free you from focusing on the machine, and, instead, concentrating on the task at hand, which is running the apps you need.

    In any case, Apple will also be exhorting developers next week to make their apps compatible with Lion and, of course, iOS 5. Since the iOS is free, there will be no issues preventing customers with compatible hardware from downloading and installing the upgrade when it becomes available. By the same token, Apple will want to make sure Mac users adopt Lion quickly. You already know that it will be available from the Mac App Store, in addition to a retail copy with a DVD and a tiny user guide with tiny print. Apple hasn’t said that officially, but the facts are out there.

    You also know that Apple has been on a price cutting binge for software. Aperture, a photo editing app, is ow navigable for $79.99 at the App Store, rather than $199, which is the price for the boxed version. I rather suspect that Apple won’t consider such a price disparity with Lion. There will be one price for all and, after suggesting that it will be $79 in a recent column, I’ve changed my mind.

    When Steve Jobs announces the shipping date of Lion next week, the retail price, unboxed from the Mac App Store, or in retail packaging, will be $29. Since the online setup allows you to use software on all your Macs that are licensed under your iTunes account, there probably won’t be any “Family” edition, although there will be multiple user licenses for businesses.

    Remember that Apple doesn’t earn much of their vast profits from the sale of the Mac OS. The product is built to sell hardware. This is what the fools who continue to clamor for Apple to license their crown jewels to other companies fail to understand. They still labor under the illusion that the core of Apple’s problems early on was the refusal to license the original Mac OS. Had they done that, they claim, Apple wouldn’t have been left behind in the OS wars with a single digit market share.

    When Apple actually gave in and tried licensing the OS in the mid-1990s, it nearly killed the company. Apple is structured to sell hardware, not operating systems, the opposite of Microsoft. The cloners went after Apple’s key markets with a vengeance, so Apple was saddled with what appeared to be second-rate hardware.

    Steve Jobs’ vision, one instilled in Apple’s corporate DNA, is to sell the whole widget. Operating systems do not exist separate from the hardware they run on. Thus, making profits from OS sales isn’t a priority. They also know that many more copies of Lion will sell if they reduce the price to a level that is hardly above a casual purchase. The $29 price you paid for Snow Leopard, for example, would buy you a large pizza with several toppings, a side salad, and several soft drinks. It’s as casual a purchase as you can get.

    At $29, loads of Mac users will overload the Mac App Store servers to download the multi-gigabyte Lion installers. But Apple’s new server farm, being readied for the launch of iCloud, will be able to handle those demands with aplomb. Yes, people who prefer to have physical media (or can’t wait hours for to retrieve a download) will buy the boxed versions of Lion, but think of the benefits to the environment if you get a digital copy instead, and I haven’t begun to consider paying more than $4.00 per gallon of gas to drive to the local Apple Store to pick up the box. Does that even make sense anymore?

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