The iPhone isn't a distraction, it's the point

No sooner did Apple announce that Leopard had been delayed did the gnashing of teeth and the rending of clothes begin among Macintosh users. Curse the iPhone ! It’s nothing but a distraction to Apple, which has more and more become a consumer electronics company !

No. The iPhone is the point.

When the iPhone ships in June, it will be the second consumer electronics device to ship this year that uses a version of Mac OS X but isn’t a Mac. The first, of course, was the Apple TV, Apple’s interface for widescreen TVs that makes it possible to sync and stream the contents of your iTunes library to your home entertainment system.

This is exactly what many of us have been waiting years for Apple to do—migrate out of a singular focus as a computer company and to bring the technology that powers its computers and its design sensibilities to many different products. And it’s something that Apple’s main competitor in the computer space—Microsoft—has been doing for years.

The iPod, of course, has served as Apple’s gateway drug, introducing many people who’d never consider a Mac to their first taste of Apple product ownership. Most of the evidence is still anecdotal, but there’s definitely an indication that consumers who get iPods are more likely to consider the Macintosh when it comes time to buy their next computer. And they’re definitely visiting Apple retail stores and checking out the Mac while they’re in there.

But the iPod doesn’t leverage OS X, and it doesn’t really give its users a “Mac-like” experience. The same goes for the Apple TV—it’s largely just a bridge between iTunes on your Mac or PC and your home entertainment system.

That’s really different from the way the iPhone will work. The iPhone provides a fundamentally different and, from what’s been shown so far, a much more Mac-like, user experience. It has Wi-Fi. It has a variation on Safari for browsing the Web. And it’ll integrate perfectly with the Mac. With any luck, it’ll have an even more profound influence on future generations of computer buyers than the iPod has had.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple has announced a delay in shipping Leopard from June, around the time of its Worldwide Developer Conference to October. Again, this isn’t a bad thing.

At least some of the people I’ve spoken to, including those involved in Mac OS X application development, are relieved at the delay. It gives them more time to make sure that their code is up to snuff. It also gives Apple more time to resolve any remaining issues, and get developers working on supporting the new features in Leopard. Lest we forget, Apple on Thursday also indicated that it plans to present a complete feature-set to developers who attend WWDC.

There are others who I’ve spoken to about this that are equally grateful for the extra time—IT staff responsible for supporting Macs in their installations, for example. Any additional time they have to prepare for the transition is welcome.

By and large, it seems like the biggest percentage of people really put out by this delay are consumers who wanted to buy new Macs but didn’t want to pay for Leopard on top of that—people who were counting on getting a free upgrade or getting a new machine with OS X 10.5 pre-installed.

But I really think that that’s putting the cart before the horse. You should buy a new computer when you need the new computer, not hedging your bet that you can wait it out for something better to come down the road. It’s inevitable that a better model is just around the corner and that you’re going to feel some sense of buyer’s remorse: Almost every time we post an article about a new Mac model, one of the first posts in response will be from a reader who’s upset because he or she just bought the model that it replaces.

Getting back to my first point here, I fully recognize that the iPhone isn’t everything to everyone: There are certainly a fair number of folks out there who say the iPhone isn’t for them. In some cases it’s the price. In other cases it’s the carrier. There are countless justifications for why some people aren’t going to get the iPhone, and all of them are perfectly valid. I certainly know a lot of Mac users who don’t have iPods or Apple TVs, and have no interest in getting them, either. That’s fine.

But at the end of the day, Apple’s goal here is to present a product that’s got the fit and finish we’ve come to demand from Apple. It’s one of the few companies out there that can really deliver what it has promised, even if the deadline slips.

Should we really expect anything less than excellence from Apple? I certainly don’t want to. The alternatives just aren’t good enough.

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