Apple's Leopard delay: Parsing spin, free passes and reality

When Apple's statement announcing the Leopard delay hit something just didn't seem quite right. The release was terse and barely formatted.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

When Apple's statement announcing the Leopard delay hit something just didn't seem quite right. The release was terse and barely formatted. And it didn't take long for the spin police to call BS on Apple's assertion that the Leopard delay was pegged to the iPhone.

The thinking in some quarters--Apple took a lemon of an event (the Leopard delay) and made lemonade by talking up the iPhone's prospects and June launch (see Techmeme discussion).

Two thoughts:

Put a three month delay in perspective. Leopard isn't an earth-shattering OS. We're not talking the jump from Mac OS 9 to OS X or anything. There may be a material financial impact, but it pales compared to an iPhone delay.

There is an element of spin going on, but Wall Street and the media will give Apple the benefit of the doubt. Did Apple spin its statement and rush it out the door as Paul Kedrosky notes? Sure. Does it matter to anyone aside from a few bloggers. No. Apple will always be given a free pass due to the Steve Jobs' marketing halo effect. That's just the way it is.

As ZDNet talkbackers quickly noted Apple's delay will be forgiven. Why? Because it's Apple.

Judging from the early analyst reaction that talkbacker was dead on.

To wit:

JMP Securities analyst Ingrid Ebeling said Mac sales are likely to pause because of the Leopard delay "as consumers wait for the computers to come out of the box with Leopard as opposed to buying a Mac now and paying an additional fee (~$150) for an upgrade." She cut her fiscal 2007 revenue estimate from $24.4 billion to $24.1 billion (Apple's fiscal year ends Sept. 30). But that revenue just shifts to fiscal 2008 as Ebeling upped her revenue estimate to $30 billion from $29.6 billion. Earnings estimates shifted by a few cents.

"Delay in Leopard is disappointing but does not impact demand over the long term.Apple cited the software engineering resources required for the iPhone as the primary reason for the delay, but we believe that development might have been delayed due to more time needed to iron out some of the kinks," she said. "The current version of the operating system, Tiger, is already considered steps ahead of Vista, and we have seen only positive traction in market share gain with Apple."

Prudential analyst Jesse Tortola said "the silver lining in the announcement was that its much-anticipated iPhone is on schedule to ship in late June." Tortola's take was pretty common among analysts. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster noted a "PR impact," but nothing that would indicate longer-term worries. The message: iPhone matters a lot more than the Mac OS.

Bloggers, however, aren't so willing to give Apple a free pass.

Venture capitalist Paul Kedrosky said "moving people at this late date from Leopard to iPhone doesn't augur well for the status of iPhone's software. You don't put on a crash completion program on a soon-to-ship software product (iPhone) unless you are really, really desperate. After all, adding more people to a late software project almost always makes it later."

Actually, iPhone software may not be the worry. Leopard sounds downright buggy--in fact Apple Insider reported the latest Leopard build got worse.

But if you take Apple at its word--that the Leopard's QA team went to iPhone--then maybe the mobile software will be alright.

As with all things the reality is probably somewhere between the mainstream media and Wall Street free pass and a few conspiracy theorists.

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