Apple’s release of OS 10.9 Mavericks a month ago forced business analysts and brand loyalists alike to consider the direction the company was taking. Apple’s customers had previously ponied up their hard earned cash enthusiastically and unquestioningly with each successive revision of the “world’s most advanced operating system.”
How could the Cupertino tech giant ever give their iconic jewel of an OS away for free? Even though they were charging less and less for their operating system releases in recent years, why forsake revenue streams (from the OS) entirely, joining the Androids and Ubuntu’s of the world?
Possessing the deepest pockets (read cash reserves) of any company out there, in years past we could count on Apple’s marketing department to blitz us with the feel good advantages and new features each OS version contained. The familiar, “It’s like getting a whole new Mac!” word blast spanned several generations of ad campaigns carried out on televisions and sales floors across America. Operating system announcements were some of the most looked forward to events in the entire tech world. Fans and critics alike would anxiously stand by for word from Steve Jobs as to what the next “big cat” operating system release would bring.
The brand that is Apple is one of the most enduring in all of tech. By purchasing the latest and greatest Apple has to offer, consumers are assured of having the best, highest functioning and most reliable software and hardware known to humanity. Or are they?
Apple’s shift to free operating systems is more a threat to itself than any flavor of Linux or Microsoft Windows. By giving away their OS, Apple loudly proclaims their OS is not where the money is for them. By bundling the OS with new Macs, Apple has risked cheapening the overall experience for consumers and further distorting the poor opinion of Macs in the workplace by the greater technology world at large.
Television news viewers can still see video monitors in the background of news anchor desks displaying the Windows XP screen saver. The communications, printing and graphics industries that once were Apple’s bread and butter are run on computer operating systems that actually cost money. While Microsoft’s business model is a different beast entirely than Apple’s, it arguably better represents the adage, “you get what you pay for,” when it comes to operating systems.
Apple hopes to standardize the Mac user experience by prompting a move en masse to Mavericks. It is supporting a lot of different and older Macs than most Apple operating systems have in the past. While more users than ever can join the “It’s like getting a whole new Mac” party, the reality may be that “free” in this case, could perhaps signify it’s not worth making the move to.
Is free cheap?
Perception is a funny and strange thing. It is often the precursor to a brand’s evolving—both good and bad. After competing with Microsoft for years over the virtues of its computers compared to PC’s running Windows, Apple conceded the desktop wars. The business world runs on Windows workstations and Linux servers. Apple is pretty much non-existent in corporate America, to be kind. I would suggest that by giving away Mac OS 10.9, Apple has conceded the operating system battles to Microsoft and ironically, the freely available, open source Linux OS platform.
Where Apple still has a firm grip is on the mobile consumer market. Macs have lost relevance for Apple in favor of iPads and iPhones. The one market segment Apple will dig in its heels for a fight is the mobile arena–where it will not go quietly into the Android night.
Consumers used to have to pay for the privilege of using Macs and the Mac OS. They used to say using a Mac instead of a PC was like driving a BMW instead of a Chevy. This analogy may have been more appropriate back in the day when new operating system features actually represented value. What Mavericks does better than providing features consumers find new and compelling is prompt the shift of Mac OS X to more of an iOS mentality and focus. OS X Mavericks reeks of mobile-related influences, yet is this where the emphasis for Apple’s consumer Mac desktop line should lie going forward?
Apple’s reputation for innovation, boldness and taking risks has always preceded it. While free is free when it comes to Mavericks, beware of the hidden costs of upgrading such as the need to update third party software. For consumers, the operating system itself may be heralded as free, but not entirely, really, and especially when the cost of updating accompanying application software and peripherals is considered.
At the end of the day, the reality is that no operating system, even if offered free, is entirely free of charge. Should someone encounter difficulties upgrading (Apple indicates the vast majority of users do not have issues), what is the time it takes them to address these glitches (in terms of troubleshooting and restoring from backups) worth?
Perhaps you really do get what you pay for. For thousands of Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion users out there, witnessing the first month of use for Mavericks from the sidelines has not been without its share of lessons—the greatest of which may be, when it comes to free operating system upgrades, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may (for the first time) be what best applies for users considering installing Apple’s latest OS.