Opinion - News that Apple may announce an early build of Mac OS X 10.6, code-named "Snow Leopard", at next week’s WWDC, targeting January 2009 as the release date for the final. Rumor has it that 10.6 will not deliver major new features, but focus on code optimization instead. Really? Our bet is that Snow Leopard will integrate multi-touch as one of its key selling features, beating a similarly equipped Windows 7 to the market.
Although Mac OS X Leopard has been on the market for only seven months, it seems it is only conclusive that we learn about the next big cat growing up in Apple’s labs. According to the original scoop by the Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), the sixth revision of the OS X could ship as soon as January 2009 and apparently will be Intel-only, leaving PowerPC Mac users for the first time behind. If that is the case, there is now the real end-of-life for PowerPC-based machines. TUAW’s findings are echoed by an ArsTechnica article which claims that "people familiar with the situation" confirmed these findings, revealing that Apple code-named OS X 10.6 as "Snow Leopard".
TUAW suggests that "Snow Leopard" won’t deliver new groundbreaking features. Instead, the software will focus on "stability and security" issues, delivering a full 64-bit Intel-only code. ArsTechnica speculates that Apple may even wrap the code in Cocoa, an object-oriented run-time environment, which Apple recommends to programmers as the foundation to develop Mac applications. Some believe such a move could create compatibility problems for applications written using Apple’s legacy Carbon application programming interface (API).
The tech site reasons that the alleged focus on stability and security in "Snow Leopard" makes perfect sense because of Apple’s focus on mobile internet devices (MID), which would benefit from an optimized operating system to delivering better battery life, an area Apple is struggling to improve.
Multi-touch is the name of the game
Of course, we are deep in speculation territory again, but we aren’t certain that code improvements are all we should expect. To us, this sound very unlike-Apple. All OS X versions Apple has released so far delivered enough new features to justify a new product. It would be the first time for the Cupertino-based company to depart from its strategy in a major new OS X release. What is missing from Apple’s operating system, clearly is multi-touch technology. It is a hot novelty that Microsoft already announced as a big feature of Windows 7. And quite apparently, Microsoft thinks that multi-touch alone can sell the new OS. If we remember that Apple was the first to commercially exploit multi-touch functionality with the iPhone, taking into account that Leopard already supports MacBook Air’s multi-touch touch-pad gestures, it would be silly for Apple to miss the opportunity to integrate multi-touch capabilities on a system-wide level into next OS revision. If Apple skips the beat, Microsoft could have slam dunk to become the first to integrate multi-touch into the operating system by 2009, when Windows 7 is set to be released.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Apple delivers multi-touch capabilities to Leopard or "Snow Leopard" through system updates. But we don’t see that happening either since multi-touch is a much too flashy feature to be quietly brought in through a back door. Instead, it’s a celebrity guest at your party who requires celebrity treatment and media attention.
A new cat out of cage as soon as January 2009?
The TUAW article suggests "Snow Leopard" may go gold by December 2008 in an effort to start shipping in January 2009, just in time for Macworld Expo. Could it really be that soon? In order to find the answer, let’s take a closer look into Apple’s OS X release record so far and Steve Jobs’ remarks. Since Apple released the first version of Mac OS X, the company has been releasing new versions of the software almost on a yearly basis. However, after Tiger was released on April 29 in 2005, it took Apple two and a half years to ship Leopard, which went on sale on October 26, 2007. Apple justified a 30-month gap between Tiger and Leopard with the additional resources needed for the development of the iPhone, an excuse Jobs used to publicly push out Leopard’s original release target. After that unusual slip, Jobs said Apple will release new OS X versions in periods of approximately 18 months.
It means that "Snow Leopard" could be released during April 2009 in a worst case scenario, 18 months after Leopard launched. It is entirely possible Apple will release "Snow Leopard" earlier, targeting Macworld Expo in January 2009 to publicly demonstrate the software’s key features. If you believe Jobs’ claim about a "new OS X every 18 months", this is what you should count on.
And if that is the case, then this year’s WWDC next Monday is the perfect venue to announce the software and, perhaps, reveal or even showcase some of its features. Being mainly a developer gathering, WWDC makes sense to make such an announcement, especially given that the upcoming WWDC eclipses any previous WWDC in terms of importance. Perhaps "Snow Leopard" is what Steve Jobs has up its sleeve as his trademark "one more thing?"