Leopard: Apple Embraces Windows and Gaming

One of the things Apple does vastly better than Microsoft is move their users between operating system versions. With the one exception of a massive installed base bath they took when they moved to OSX, losing about half of their market at the turn of the century (these were folks that probably weren’t buying product anyway), Apple has been well ahead of Microsoft in terms of installed base migrations.

To be fair, a lot of this is due to Microsoft’s huge business base and the unwillingness of that base to move. The consumer/small business/creative market for Windows is faster moving, but based on the numbers I’ve seen, Apple is at least twice as successful moving these groups than Microsoft is. That has been painfully evident with Vista, which has been moving slowly.

Apple is evidently going to increase their pressure on this target audience with Leopard. Based on what is being shown, and what is currently happening in the market, they will attack on four vectors: Marketing, Applications Compatibility (gaming), UI, and Multimedia.

Marketing

The WWDC conference is heavy advertising, and the keynote even opened with the PC guy dressed as Steve Jobs, joking about selling tens of dozens of copies of Windows Vista. However, the iPhone ads are where to actually look for the marketing attack. You’ll note that each spot focuses on one thing the user might want to do and presents that thing in a compelling fashion. The result has been demand for a product that, had anyone else brought it out, would have been a failure, which is nothing short of amazing.

When you can take a product that shouldn’t sell at all and build legendary demand for it, that is marketing at its best. Think about it — touch screen phones have not sold well. I can’t even recall a regular phone without a removable battery, we’ve been buying small and it’s big, and the price of the darned thing is over five times what someone typically pays for a phone.
Now, we’ll see how well it actually does, and once folks actually have one of these things, demand could fall off sharply, but the fact that they can generate demand like this for a limited product showcases power. What happens when this same kind of power is focused on Leopard, which is actually very competitive?

Historically, Microsoft just hasn’t been able to market like this, and it is likely costing them billions in lost opportunities. Apple specifically made fun of Microsoft’s different product SKUs by pointing out that the Basic, Premium, Enterprise, Business, and Ultimate versions of Leopard were all the same. This is a keystone product; it makes little sense to make it difficult to buy, and of the two companies, Apple “gets” this.

This is one of Apple’s most powerful tools, and it appears to continue very strongly.

Windows Compatibility: Apple Has Game

One of the critical limitations for Apple has been the inability to run Windows applications, which make up the vast majority of the market. Apple is addressing that on several fronts and demonstrated game after game running on the Mac at the developer’s conference. Games are hard to do under the Mac, and that was demonstrated when World of Warcraft crashed on stage. (This is early code, after all; it’s amazing it runs it at all at this point.)

Over the years, Mac folks have written me when I’ve pointed out the game problem and said, well, they’d rather be outside playing golf or some such game anyway. Now, at least they will get the choice with Boot Camp built in. It still looks to me like VMware and Parallels will be better, but native Boot Camp does move the bar significantly and appears sharply improved (demos can be misleading, so we should wait till final code before passing full judgment).

Leopard is also supposed to better (seamlessly) access documents across the network, something that Windows Vista has recently done better. This makes the Mac vastly better at interoperability. What is interesting is that was also a core strategy for Microsoft going forward. Regardless of where you fall on the Apple vs. Microsoft scale, the fact that both are working to improve this should help the Mac audience more as they are the least interoperable now, and that is good news for the Mac faithful or anyone thinking of that platform. (It will make life a bit easier for Windows folks as well, but we’ll leave that for another time).

They are even putting Safari on Windows, which is kind of interesting given that it appears most Mac folks actually prefer Firefox over Safari. First iTunes, now Safari — it makes you wonder how many other applications (iLife, anyone?) will come across.

UI: Black is Beautiful

We got hints of the new gloss black Windows frames surrounding the new user interface. Apple continues their strategy of making the desktop look incredibly distinctive. They simply do nice UI work. Vista is competitive, but Apple had the benefit of seeing Vista months in advance of its shipment and has clearly enhanced Leopard to show well next to it.

Stacks is interesting because it can open a number of files without launching the core application. This allows for vastly faster load times and implies you don’t actually need the core application (read: Office) to see the file.

But the key focus is simplicity and making it easy for people to do cool things — for instance, using iChat, but being able to change where you appear to be or who you are. On stage, Apple’s CMO was able to put his mouth real time on a picture of Microsoft’s CEO (the crowd loved it, and I know this to be a lot of fun).

Tasks that should be simple (like Backup and Restore) are vastly better. I’ve covered backup software for some time, and no one focuses on the restore process well enough. I was impressed that Apple seems to have focused on Restore adequately for once. This suggests they are getting much more focused on security, which, while a little late, does add to the value of Leopard.

Multimedia

This shouldn’t be a surprise, as it has always been an advantage for Apple. They’ve been extending outside of their computers for some time and are now showcasing this capability within the iPhone. Their professional market lives for performance in this area, and it appears Apple is giving them that performance with Leopard as demonstration after demonstration — particularly the Video Game demos — showcased solid improvements in this area.

But here is where it likely will get interesting: we don’t have the hardware story yet, and that story won’t be told until Leopard ships later this year. Will it do a better job of supporting Intel’s Turbo memory than Vista? Will they shift from ATI to NVIDIA across the board or move to Intel graphics as Intel would prefer (Intel is now their closest and best partner)? And what about support for Viiv devices?

Hardware is the major part of this story we still don’t know fully yet, but the word is they are working with Intel for what should be a very impressive line of products for the second half, including new iMacs and maybe a redesigned Mac Mini. We’ll just have to wait until then and see if they meet these expectations.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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