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The Mountain Lion Report: Has the Ardor Cooled?

While Apple only rarely releases official figures on OS adoption rates, there are ways to find out, roughly speaking, through third-party surveys of Web activity. The sampling may not be as exact, say, as a Gallup Poll, but the numbers ought to show rough trends.

One of those tracking firms, Net Applications, analyzes data from unique visitors to roughly 40,000 sites. The stats reflect the OS those visitors are using, and it focuses largely on percentages rather than estimated total users.

Based on that and similar surveys, we know that Windows 7 recently became the most popular OS on that platform, finally beating Windows XP, which was released in the fall of 2011. In the scheme of things, such figures demonstrate that Microsoft has failed to deliver a compelling case for the enterprise to upgrade to the latest and greatest versions of Windows. The situation might even be worse with Windows 8, which changes the traditional look and feel big time. It’s hard to believe businesses would take the risk and undergo heavy retraining costs to bring employees up to speed without a proven net benefit.

Now by making Mountain Lion a fairly trivial upgrade from Lion, at a $19.99 upgrade price, it’s clear Apple made a move that would encourage as many Mac users as possible to upgrade. According to  Net Applications, some 22.3% of Mac users had upgraded to OS 10.8 as of September, a tad over two months after release. This is essentially the same percentage of Mac users who upgraded to Lion within two months of its release.

However, it appears that growth has slowed considerably, with Mountain Lion’s increase in September estimated at half the adoption rate as Lion in its second month. Or maybe the early adopters have already spoken.

Overall, Lion and Snow Leopard (10.6) get a 32.7% share, each. Leopard receives less than 10% of the OS X market share, but that number will probably continue to decline slowly as Mac users upgrade their computers. Simple OS upgrades are difficult, since most users of 10.5 cannot upgrade to Lion or Mountain Lion because of the heftier system requirements.

But lets look at the slowing adoption rate. Does that mean that Mac users aren’t satisfied with Mountain Lion? That’s hard to say, as the Net Applications survey deals strictly with numbers that may only indicate approximate trends. Customer preferences aren’t being surveyed.

It’s also true that, over time, Mountain Lion’s growth will be largely confined to the sale of new Macs. Mac users can usually only downgrade if their computers shipped with an older OS. Besides, it’s not as if OS 10.8 would seem to present problems for Lion users, other than a few compatibility issues with third-party software.

So it would appear the Mountain Lion adoption rate doesn’t differ all that much from previous versions of OS X. On the other hand, what is normal for Apple may not be normal for some tech pundits who will try to put a bad spin on the situation. They might suggest that Mac users aren’t happy with Mountain Lion and are thus avoiding it like the plague, despite the fact that customer reaction seems as positive as any recent OS X release.

I’ve heard similar grumblings about iOS 6. Apple announced within days after the upgrade came out that some 100 million iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users had upgraded. That’s an incredibly high adoption rate, considering that some 400 million iOS devices have been activated over the years. But the upgrade is free and easy to manage and, so far at least, Apple’s mapping problems appear to be the main potential impediment, although nothing stops you from downloading a third-party mapping app if you prefer.

It’s not as if there’s compelling evidence that the adoption rate fell off the cliff after the first few days, although the numbers would surely flatten to some degree. At the same time, older Apple mobile gear won’t be able to upgrade to iOS 6. If your iPhone is predates the 3GS, you have a first generation iPad, or an iPod touch older than the fourth generation model, you cannot upgrade. Even on supported hardware, the earlier models lose some features, which surely lessens the incentive to switch.

Apple will be announcing Q4 2012 earnings on October 25. You’ll know how many iPhone 5s were sold through September 30, and there may even be some additional information on the Mountain Lion and iOS 6 adoption rate. It’s premature to make assumptions that OS 10.8 is not doing so well, or that, after the initial 100 million installations, interest in iOS 6 died. Indeed, there’s yet another survey, from Onswipe, a Web conversion provider, indicating that nearly 60% of iPhones have already upgraded to iOS 6.

Certainly if Apple’s revenue isn’t quite as good as analysts might expect, there may be reason for concern. When Apple didn’t move as many iPhones in the June quarter as some analysts expected, Apple’s stock took a temporary dip. It happened yet again when Apple announced they had only sold five million copies of the iPhone 5 as of the first weekend on sale, even though it was quite clear that Apple ran out of stock early.

It’s easy to suggest that Apple is in trouble, but those who are trying to find evidence for that condition appear to be grasping at straws. Yes, the Mapgate affair is a legitimate concern, but, as the Maps database is expanded and repaired, even that controversy will die down soon enough.