The NeoSmart Files

Why Apple Delayed Leopard for the iPhone

Yesterday’s news: Apple [[AAPL]] takes developers off of OS X 10.5 “Leopard” to hurry up and meet iPhone deadlines.

Today’s news: Why they did it.

This decision was not about (not) missing deadlines for contracts with Cingular, not allocating enough resources to iPhone in the first place, or otherwise neglecting to do the right stuff at the managerial level – iPhone was delayed, yet Apple chose to trade in an iPhone delay for a 4-month postponement of OS X Leopard. Why would they do that? Is iPhone really a bigger deal than OS X 10.5? Does Apple care more about the iPhone than Leopard?

Apple is notoriously quiet about the future of their products – especially their operating system, OS X. While Leopard is but a bump to the minor version of Mac OS 10, it’s supposed to be a big deal. It’s certainly hyped-up for a lot longer than the actual iPhone – both in and out of Apple. So why this “sudden” shift in priorities? The answer is rather clear, and even self-explanatory.

Put it whatever way you like, the only reason Apple is anywhere near as successful as it is now is because of its dedicated fanbase. Whether it’s the iPod, G5, Mac Mini, iPhone, or the rumored Apple-powered BMW, their fans are all over it. Apple’s marketing ploys, from the “I’m a Mac” ads to the iPod commercials and webvertisements all take advantage of this fact – very commendable and smart marketing going on there. However, Apple has one thing in their favor no other company has – to the best of our knowledge – ever had: a fanbase willing to take things way of proportion, and to spread these rumors faster than wild fire.

We’re not here to judge – but these are the facts, and, like it or not, they play a major role in Apple’s most recent decision: to prioritize the iPhone over Leopard with regards to release dates and resource allocation.

The reason is simple: at the moment, the iPhone is the ‘next-big-thing’ for Apple’s fanbase everywhere. Despite the fact that – strictly speaking – OS X 10.5 is the bigger deal and will power the Mac OS platform for the next couple of years and usher in a set of new technologies for developers and users alike, and will, most probably, bring in more cash than the iPhone; Apple’s fanbase is determined that the iPhone is the be-all end-all of the Apple universe – for today.

Apple needs to catch this wave, because getting the iPhone out now rather than 4 months later means that they can capitalize on their eager users’ anticipation, hype, and free advertisements. Like it or not, Apple’s secrecy with regards to OS X Leopard and the user-base’s general non-programming makeup means that they’re focused on iPhone and nothing else.

Anything Apple does before they release the iPhone won’t be getting the users’ full and undivided attention. Delaying the iPhone for a couple of months will naturally result in a inevitable (albeit slight) decrease in the amount of hype going around – just like Duke Nukem Forever’s fanbase is slowly dwindling down to one…

These two facts together make it very much worth delaying OS X Leopard and getting the iPhone out ASAP. In short, unlike most of the other companies on the software/hardware playing field, Apple’s decisions aren’t made by the stockholders alone – what the users want, the users get. After all, whenever it is that Apple gets OS X 10.5 ready, their users will already be lined up to get it.