Was iPhone development the reason for the lack of “features” in Snow Leopard?

Tue, Sep 1, 2009


By now you’re all probably aware that the latest OS X release from Apple, Snow Leopard, is quite thin in the “new features” department.  Instead, Snow Leopard focuses on a number of under the hood improvements which by all accounts make your Mac run snappier and more efficiently.

While it’s obviously a smart move for Apple to step back, take a breather, and focus on actual system performance, John Sircausa raises an interesting point in his recently published Snow Leopard review about the OS’s lack of new and sexy features.

Looking at this graph, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s something siphoning resources from the Mac OS X development effort. Maybe, say, some project that’s in the first two or three major releases of its life, still in that steep, early section of its own timeline graph. Yes, I’m talking about the iPhone, specifically iPhone OS. The iPhone business has exploded onto Apple’s balance sheets like no other product before, even the iPod. It’s also accruing developers at an

It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of the artists and developers who piled on the user-visible features in Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 have been reassigned to iPhone OS (temporarily or otherwise). After all, Mac OS X and iPhone OS share the same core operating system, the same language for GUI development, and many of the same APIs. Some workforce migration seems inevitable.

That’s a pretty on-point explanation.  If you recall, the release of Leopard was at one point pushed back a few months because Apple had to move OS X engineers onto the iPhone project to ensure that it’d be ready for its July 2007 launch.  Bear in mind that this isn’t speculation, but was actually the subject of an official Apple statement that followed on the heels of news that copies of Leopard wouldn’t be available to developers at WWDC 2007.

Apple wrote at the time,

[The] iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned.

We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we’re sure we’ve made the right ones.

Since the iPhone first hit the scene a little more than 2 years ago, Apple has been pushing out new features at a furious pace, with their latest effort being the well-received iPhone OS 3.0 update which went live in mid-June of this year.  With the market for smartphones still in its infancy, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Apple continues to layer on new and impressive features for the iPhone at the “expense” of OS X.

For as much money as Mac sales bring in, the bottom line is that Macs still occupy a niche portion of the market.  That being the case, you can bet that Apple will do all it can to ensure that the same fate doesn’t befall the iPhone.


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Constable Odo Says:

    I have always figured that Apple is short on development personnel for OSX. That’s why I could rationalize why Apple couldn’t add features to their mobile OS as fast as everyone expected them to. Another thing was that I figured Apple was trying to keep both the desktop and mobile OSes nearly the same so there wouldn’t be a huge feature gap between the two. Almost to the point that they’d be nearly interchangeable except for the fact that they run on different processors.

    I think it is OK for Apple to “slack off” on desktop OSX because it seems the desktop user base isn’t moving that much anyway. With so many people obsessed with those crappy netbooks it’s like the desktop sales have taken a growth vacation. The mobile platform wars are really starting to heat up and that’s where Apple needs to be putting all their resources. I can’t picture at what point the smartphone platform is going to stabilize. How many features need to be put in one little handheld device that’s basically a cellphone. I do realize it’s called a handheld computer, but it really was just supposed to mainly handle phone calls.

  2. Mark Says:

    Apple needs to stop with the .1 upgrades and move on to a brand new and totally overhauled OS XI! Snow Leopard is really nothing more than a service pack.

  3. Michael Says:

    @Mark: what do you think Apple is doing with Snow Leopard? There are quite a few fundamental changes made under the hood just for the purpose of strengthening the core foundation of OS X. Perhaps you can learn something by reading Ars Technica’s in depth review of Snow Leopard.

    The fact is Apple doesn’t need to overhaul the OS. There’s nothing to benefit from doing that. Unix has proven to be a very solid and stable operating system.

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