iPhone at Mac OS X Leopard's Expense -- a risky strategy?

After eight months of hype, Apple announced today that Mac OS X Leopard will not ship for another six months. In the brief statement, Apple said that the iPhone has passed several certification checks and remains on target for a June release. In the same statement, however, Apple also said that the efforts to develop the iPhone required the company to divert personnel and resources from its Mac OS X team. The result is that the iPhone remains on schedule while Leopard is pushed back till the fall.

The move illustrates the faith that Apple has in the iPhone as the "it" product of 2007 and beyond. However, it also seems a somewhat risky strategy. With the wide range of Windows users hesitant to upgrade to Vista, now is a prime time for Apple to release an amazing new Mac OS X version and win sales from the installed base of Mac users as well as to encourage Windows users to switch to the Mac. It also pits an untried product as Apple's flagship offering, ahead of its long-standing Mac user base.

This may play out in Apple's favor. There is extraordinary interest and hype surrounding the iPhone. No one can dispute that or the fact that it will be an incredible product. However, there is no guarantee about sales figures for the premium-priced device and one can't solidly judge sales simply based on consumer interest.

On the flip side, the delay in shipping Leopard may cast Apple in a Microsoft-esqe light - promising features in a next-generation OS only to delay that product. It also makes the company seem unfocused and preferring to develop consumer devices more than Mac OS X. This could have a negative impact in the eyes of small business owners and IT managers who have recently begun to embrace Macs as never before. It might even lead to slowing Mac sales through the summer months (analysts have predicted slowing sales this spring in preparation to the original Leopard ship date).

Whether the strategy pays off or not, one does have to give Apple some credit for choosing to maintain a quality assurance buffer even at the expense of a delay. If, as Apple's statement reads, Leopard's feature set will be complete by June but untested, Apple could have chosen to ship the product before rigorously evaluating it. However, the company is choosing to deliver a solid and stable product, something that is a laudable goal.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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