When the news broke that Apple will be releasing Snow Leopard on Aug. 28, much sooner than originally expected, some were questioning its decision to do so. They wondered if Apple should have kept its release date the same to further work out the kinks that might arise with its upcoming operating system.
I'm not one of those critics.
Apple's decision to release Snow Leopard so soon is a smart one. The problem with a September release for the operating system is that it puts Apple in a tough position: it's after the back-to-school craze has died down and it's arguably too close to the release of Windows 7. End users are in limbo right now. They know that both Apple and Microsoft are refreshing their software, so buying new hardware with soon-to-be outdated software is out of the question. Moreover, the prolonged recession has almost guaranteed that consumers will need to choose between a Mac or a Windows PC, rather than buy both.
Go back to school
Offering Mac OS X Snow Leopard now capitalizes on a key sales period: back to school. The back-to-school shopping craze starts correcting some of the losses company's face over the long summer when families and companies are more concerned about vacation than buying a computer.
By releasing Snow Leopard in September, Apple would have missed that period. Consumers, knowing that Apple will be releasing Snow Leopard next month, might have decided to wait for the new operating system to buy a Mac. In the process, Microsoft's Windows 7 advertising campaigns could have swayed their opinions as they got closer to Snow Leopard's release.
"Should we buy a Mac when Snow Leopard is released or wait to see what Windows 7 is all about?" they would ask. It could put Apple in a dangerous position.
But by distancing itself from Windows 7's release, Apple is in a good position. It's just far enough away from Windows 7's October release that it can capitalize on the back-to-school shoppers, but it's late enough that it wouldn't have released Snow Leopard at a time when no one would have noticed.
Get the money now
Apple also realizes that end users simply aren't willing to spend too much cash right now. The recession has hurt both companies and consumers. People only want to spend money when they have to, not because they want to. Realizing that, Apple's decision to move Snow Leopard's release date up should help the company secure revenue that it might not have generated with a September release.
With a recession still impacting the globe, it's better for Apple to get the cash now than wait to see if it can beat out Windows 7 later this year. Users aren't willing to buy both a Mac and a PC. They need to decide between the two technologies. At this point, Snow Leopard can be compared on store shelves to Vista. It creates an easy decision for consumers: buy the Mac. But whether or not they will choose the Mac over Windows 7 is up for debate. Microsoft's upcoming operating system is arguably the best software the company has released in years. It's certainly far better than Windows Vista. And based on my experience with both operating systems, I like it more than Apple's current OS, Leopard. I doubt I'm alone.
If Apple doesn't believe that it can compete with Windows 7, it was smart for the company to release Snow Leopard now. It doesn't want its own operating system to get lost in the hype surrounding Microsoft's upcoming release. It wants it to have its own day with the hype machine. A September release would have made that possible, but it would have been short-lived. With an almost two-month window of opportunity before Microsoft gets Windows 7 to store shelves, Apple can enjoy much more time at the top.
The nature of the Snow Leopard update might have also played into Apple's decision to release Snow Leopard sooner than originally announced. It's not a major refresh, like Windows 7. The operating system is an iterative update over Leopard. It's filled with improvements to Finder, Spotlight, Mail, and other bundled applications, but there's nothing revolutionary. Snow Leopard is an evolutionary update.
Contrast that with Windows 7 and its revolutionary update and it seems clear why Apple might want to distance itself. That's not to say that Snow Leopard's iterative update is a bad thing. But major upgrades tend to attract more attention. They have a longer shelf life in the media. And Apple knows that.
The bottom line
As we consider Apple's decision to bring Snow Leopard to store shelves sooner than expected, it looks like a good one. Windows 7 is looming. Apple (rightfully so) wants no part of that.
So it seems that Apple has, once again, made the right decision. Now we'll wait to see if its sales figures reflect that.