Now that the key details about Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, not to mention iCloud, are available, you have to start wondering about Apple’s competitors, and how they’ll react. Certainly the presence of Steve Jobs, at least for part of the keynote, seemed a plus, although some analysts couldn’t avoid reminding you that he seemed as thin and frail as before, and that his movements, while climbing stairs, appeared somewhat slow. It’s also important to note that Apple’s stock price, after staging a brief rally, dipped once again at the end of the first trading session after the WWDC keynote.
But I don’t think that’s necessarily an indictment against Apple’s announcements, or their impact. Sure, there were no hardware introductions, but Apple never promised their would be. There was enough on the plate, though, to make rival companies cringe, and Microsoft has to be at the head of the pack.
By demoting the venerable PC to an equal seat on the table next to smartphones and tablets, Microsoft’s core business is being summarily dispatched by Apple. The hub of your digital lifestyle has been relegated to the status of just another connected device; your iPhone or iPad can be activated, synced and updated online without the need to connect to a Mac or PC, so the cord is cut.
This is totally opposite of what you’d expect from Microsoft, who is still trying to make the PC the focal point, simply because they earn the largest share of their profits from the sale of Windows and Office licenses. Sure, Microsoft is hoping to provide a veneer of Windows Phone 7 integration with Windows 8, but it appears to be noting more than window dressing. Underneath the altered skin, it’s still Windows for better or worse. Although things might change between now and the official release date, it’s clear Apple has worked far harder to embed the best of the iOS — or at least the features that make sense — in Mac OS 10.7.
But the unkindest cut of all was Apple’s decision to sell what is clearly a major system upgrade for $29.99, a mere 99 cents higher than Snow Leopard, which was never advertised as a major feature release. I expect the number of changes in Snow Leopard were probably roughly compatible to the real changes between Windows Vista and Windows 7. Only Microsoft charged you full price for the retail upgrade, and I expect they will justify a similar price structure for a Windows 8 upgrade box for the very same reason. I also don’t expect that Microsoft has a clue how to make it a credible online-only release. Apple has perfected that technique with the Mac App Store, which now includes the Lion developer releases.
Sure, Microsoft could try to imitate Apple in the same fashion as they pay lip service to mobile OS integration in the next version of Windows. Windows 8 might be available in some new online app repository, but don’t expect Microsoft to seriously consider a retail price of under $30. If they did, they’d lose tons of money, considering all the cash they pour into (or squander on) Windows development. I once suggested on my tech radio show that Microsoft probably spends more than Apple has on every single version of Mac OS X for a single Windows reference release, though I admit I’m just shooting from the hip there. Yet efficiency is not in Microsoft’s DNA.
Worse, with Apple integrating everything into a powerful online ecosystem, iCloud, the best way to enjoy the user experience will be to go all Apple. Even though PC sales are relatively stagnant or dipping somewhat these days, Macs continue to move at a healthy clip. Making it painless for Mac users to upgrade to the latest and greatest OS — well, if you’re using Snow Leopard at any rate — is only going to smooth the migration path.
What’s more, a key feature of Lion is “Windows migration.” Says Apple: “With OS X Lion, you can migrate all the information from your old PC to your new Mac. Lion automatically transfers your documents, contacts, calendars, email accounts (Outlook and Windows Live Mail), and photos stored in Picasa, and puts them in the appropriate applications”
That’s no casual move. It means the irritating chore, for most users at any rate, of moving from a PC to a Mac is no more complicated when using Apple’s Migration Manager to grab the data from another Mac or hard drive when you set up a new machine. You start the process, go out to lunch and, when you return, your Mac is ready to run.
Sure, the migration procedure might be more complicated if you have a custom PC configuration, or you’re using documents created in apps for which there’s no Mac equivalent. But so long as a translation capability exists in the apps you are using, it may not matter that much.
Over the next few months, Microsoft will be struggling hard to understand what Apple has done with Lion, iOS 5, and, of course iCloud. You will hear loads of promises that Microsoft has better ideas, and that they will arrive real soon now. Some pundits will remind you that Apple probably cribbed a few ideas for iOS 5 from Windows Phone 7, and the Android OS. But it doesn’t matter one bit. It’s the entire user experience that counts, not whether Apple invented each and every feature from scratch.