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Apple Hopes Users Will Grab Tiger by the Tail

By Brad Cook MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 7, 2005 1:33 PM PT

Will it ship later this month, as UBS Investment Research analysts Jeff Brickman and Ben Reitzes speculated in a report issued on Tuesday? Or, as many expect, will Apple CEO Steve Jobs announce that it's shipping when he delivers the keynote address at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference in early June?

Apple Hopes Users Will Grab Tiger by the Tail

Apple continues to stand by its earlier promise, which was that Mac OS X v10.4, otherwise known as "Tiger," will ship "in the first half of 2005."

Next Generation

"The earlier it ships in the first half, the better," Jupiter Media analyst Joe Wilcox told MacNewsWorld. "Microsoft will show its first Beta of Longhorn soon and the media buzz will shift to them. Right now, Tiger has good, clear buzz."

The technology press is awash in stories comparing Microsoft's next-generation operating system, which is currently expected to ship sometime next year, with Apple's, which will beat Longhorn to market and offer features, such as the powerful search tool Spotlight, that its competition has been forced to drop.

Despite the disparity, however, Apple still faces an uphill battle. "No matter what media buzz Tiger gets," Wilcox said, "it's still a minority OS."

Apple hopes that will change, citing its own research showing that users are switching from Windows to Macintosh at higher rates than they were before, but Wilcox doesn't see Tiger affecting that situation. "Tiger appears to be very exciting," he observed, "but people don't buy computers for the OS -- they buy computers to do things."

Microsoft faces its own struggle just getting users to upgrade to Windows XP from Windows 98 and even Windows 95, so Wilcox doesn't see many consumers dropping the dominant OS for the minority one. "There's a tremendous amount of inertia in the market," he said.

Tiger Burns Bright with Features

In fact, Apple currently deals with a similar situation among its own user base, with an estimated 10 million Mac users still running OS 9 or lower, but Wilcox doesn't see Tiger's release prompting many of them to purchase new hardware. "They're not dissatisfied enough with what they have," he said. "Something like iLife would be a stronger catalyst than Tiger."

While Longhorn is "shrouded in mystery, with lots of unanswered questions," as Wilcox described it, Apple has been busy for the past several months touting the more than 100 features expected in Tiger. While many of them are relatively minor, several -- including Spotlight, Dashboard and QuickTime 7 -- have power users eagerly anticipating the operating system's release.

Of all the new features, Wilcox thinks Spotlight, which searches for files not only by name but also by meta-data and even their content, is a potential standout.

"People are generating more and more digital content," he explained, "but how do you find it? For example, you have digital cameras that produce these funny file names, but if you can search by meta-data, you can find what you need and get more value out of it."

The question, of course, is how many of these new features will excite the user base beyond the minority group that insists on having the latest hardware and software.

For example, iChat AV will now enable users to host four-way video conferences, but how many OS X owners are hosting video conferences now? VoiceOver provides more robust text-to-speech functionality, but how many Mac users really want their computers talking to them?

Mini-Applications

Apple has also been heavily marketing Dashboard, a new feature that allows users to access mini-applications called widgets, which float in a semi-transparent layer above the Desktop when summoned and disappear when no longer needed. Tiger ships with several widgets -- including an iTunes controller, a dictionary/thesaurus utility, a word and phrase translator, an airline flight updater and others -- and Apple is encouraging developers to create more.

Wilcox said that Dashboard is "interesting. OS features are nice, but they're not necessary. Only a certain segment of the market wants the latest widgets, for example.

"However, if you pull all those cool features together, they could be enough to drive upgrades," he said.


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