Leopard Isn’t The Problem

April 12th, 2007

Apple announced yesterday that Mac OS X 10.5, code/marketing-named “Leopard,” will not ship in Spring as promised, but will instead ship in October. (Confoundingly, the “Hot News” item at Apple doesn’t even have its own link, naked among the other public relations tidbits. Perhaps a sign that they’re not proud of the statement).

The announcement caps off a season of speculation alleging fluctuations in Leopard’s ship date. While early 2007 brought us lunatics predicting a March release, more recent speculation has hinted that a substantial delay was inevitable. This theory was soundly rejected by Apple less than three weeks ago, in a response to what turned out to be quite an accurate preview of the brutal truth.

The news has inspired reactions by respected Mac OS X developers (Gus Mueller, Brent Simmons, David Weiss, among others) and users (David Chartier, John Gruber, the Macalope, and many, many others). But while these people offer intelligent views on the relative pros and cons of the delay and its consequences to ordinary people, I don’t see much reaction to the core problems in Apple’s confession. I envision a bunch of PR folks sitting in an office toiling with the fact that they’ll have to break this unfortunate news. What to do, what to do. One of them has the brilliant idea that they can simply “blame” the iPhone. By blaming a problem on what’s widely perceived by the public to as a success, it will somehow make the company appear mature and well-reasoned in its decisions. Something more excusable than a company that occasionally fails to work a miracle. And somehow this idea made its way through some review process and all the way to public release. In stark contrast to Steve Jobs’s brilliantly candid Thoughts On Music, this statement sounds made-up and poorly thought-out. Bluntly crafted, sleazy marketing bullshit.

The best we can hope for is that it is only sleazy marketing bullshit. Because if what Apple’s telling us is true, then they’ve confessed something tragic: they’re incapable of building more than one amazing product at a time. The iPhone looks like it will be an amazing product, but if Apple can’t keep an OS team focused and operational at the same time as they keep a cell phone team hacking away, then the company is destined for extremely rough waters as it attempts to expand the scope of its product line.

What happens when the phone takes off, and Apple’s stuck following through on their Mac OS X commitments? “Sorry, no iPhone 2.0 until 2009 – we’ve had to move everybody back to OS X!” Needless to say, even with the apparent comingling of iPhone and iPod technologies, this situation leaves me unable to speculate as to when a dramatically new iPod might find time to be developed in this environment.

If Apple is truly so strapped for talent that they can’t focus on more than one product at once, then it’s a symptom of a sickness within the company. Perhaps they’ve regained success too quickly. If a company with a market capitalization of $80 Billion, and a cash account of at least $6 Billion, cannot hire enough people to build three of the hottest, most demanded products in consumer electronics (the iPod, the Mac, and the iPhone, if it’s not obvious), then maybe it’s time to reevaluate their modus operandi for attracting and retaining talent.

The first thing Apple should do is go global. Their products are universally renowned, yet the company requires the vast majority of its engineering teams to live and work in California – in a suburban, high-cost area of California, at that. Sure, Apple has a few small teams scattered around the world, but mostly as side-effects of specific acquisitions. The message to all Mac developers I know is being heard loud and clear: if you want to be part of this revolution, you’ll have to move to Cupertino. By limiting the company’s ranks primarily to those people willing to live in this one particular geographical location, they shut down their ability to attract a huge number of talented individuals.

If Apple’s having trouble growing its ranks of geniuses, the solution may require something that no amount of cash or stock can buy: a change of attitude.

64 Responses to “Leopard Isn’t The Problem”

  1. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    This blog is definitely not speculation free. I doubt it ever will be.

  2. John Davis Says:

    Mark writes:

    “Maybe Apple just spoke the truth. It is what it is.

    The iPhone uses OS X. Key OS engineers working on the iPhone release needed to stay on it longer than expected, thus, hurting Leopard.

    Maybe some managers will be fired and spill their guts. Then we’ll know exactly what happened. Otherwise, it’s just wasted words and time on speculation.”


    Gone are the days when a whole operating system would fit on a floppy with a few k to spare!

    OSes are vastly bigger. They have to do more. Apple has limited resources. They had to sacrifice something. The iPhone will make big bucks for Apple, giving them cash with which to hire more engineers.

    John Davis

  3. Steve W Says:

    This weeks announcements; New Mac Pros w/ quad core CPUs, Final Cut Pro and FC Server, Leopard delay, iPhone on time.

    Poor Apple, they can only work on one thing at a time.

  4. John Davis Says:

    Steve W, you write:

    “Poor Apple, they can only work on one thing at a time.”

    Perhaps you don’t have much idea quite how much work there is in Leopard. It’s a huge job. The iPhone is also a huge job. Tiger is already a better product IMO than XP or Vista. Vista took FIVE years. Leopard is going to take HALF of this and be a much more important product.

    Why don’t you cut Apple some slack?

    John Davis

  5. Steve W Says:

    Apple should announce it’s second quarter results to the financial community this Wednesday. Those results will either exacerbate or negate the impact of this delay. That’s why Wall St. hasn’t reacted yet. That is probably why Apple made the announcement now.

    Apple introduced the new Mac Pro this week. Some potential buyers probably planned to wait until June and the release of Leopard. Apple probably announced the Leopard delay to discourage waiting. It is probably these fence sitters that are most upset about the delay.

  6. Duff Says:

    the only thing i can see wrong in this arguement is that the iphone is new, therefore every line of code has to be written or ported, the iphone 2 (whatever you want to call it) won’t come with a completely rewritten os, instead it’ll build on the one they already have, therefore not taking as long to write the code for! and i think that the team has been working on the os for the phone just because it is coming close to release and there are a few bugs, it would be exactly the same for os x if there was nothing more important, there is no ONE team for this, and ONE team for that. the people who write the code in the ipod would also write code for os x and the iphone and even the a-tv, if necessary. that is how all of apple’s products work so well together, because they are a small company where everyone has some insight into other departments, because they work in/with that other department! this is maybe the reason that the company is small, so there aren’t individual teams working on everything seperatily, therefore not producing as much, but of a higher quality. i believe this is the problem with microsoft, they have some of the best programs ever, but everything they come up with, regardless of whether it could take the market or not, doesn’t work seamlessly with every other product of theirs. this can sometimes be attributed to third party hardware, but if they have such a huge employee base, why do they have difficultly. it has nothing to do with how many people you employ, just how well intergrated into your business each of them is! i believe apple employs the best people they can find for each field. and they keep it small so that it all works! and remember apple is a completely vertical business. shouldn’t microsoft that has partners to help it, be able to do a better job than apple?
    they are not blaming the iphone, they are telling you the truth about why one of their products will be late, that or the true reason is a complete secret that no one knows about, they have an os x already, and they want to get the iphone out on time, because they currently have no product that fits into that catagory. if you ask me, tiger can quite easily hold its ground against vista. i also think that there is more to this picture than what we know! how do we know that the iphone and os x are the only things being delivered this year, what about the ipod? its their 30th year celebration… could there be something else in the works that we don’t know about? maybe that is what’s truly holding os x up!

  7. Duff Says:

    p.s. what you said about a coupon to collect leopard when it is completed would be an awesome idea and would definitely encourage switchers or potential switchers to change, i know i would take that opportunity if i didn’t think that a completely revamped line of desktops and macbooks… um… laptops, were nipping at leopards heels!

  8. charles Says:

    About spreading out engineering over several centers:

    Google CEO

    When you divisionalize you wind up with no cooperation across divisions?

    So it may very well be that we will hit such limits. Let me give you an example of where our model will break down.

    The model that I’ve just described completely breaks down when you have a large amount of international engineering — which we intend to do. So I project that everything I’ve just told you is going to break down.

    Why does it break down when you have so much international engineering?

    Time zones. You can’t get everybody — even on conference calls you can’t get everybody in a virtual room to build a consensus. So if you go through, we have a big operation in India, Zurich, we’re considering engineering in a whole bunch of other places in Europe, of course you have a very successful group in New York and Kirkland and Santa Monica already. So you now span time zones such that you can’t fundamentally do an integrated meeting in that sense.

    Why do it, given the downside?

    Well, because we want the best talent all around the world. There’s an enormous amount of programming talent in China, we want that talent to work at Google. And the fact is they want to work in China, they actually like China, it’s their home, or the U.S. won’t allow them in. So we have to adapt, just to be very clear here, we have to adapt the culture that I’m describing with this international development focus.

    It’s relatively easy to see how to manage international sales because sales is organized pretty much hierarchically. You have a country manager and you have somebody who runs all of Europe and somebody who runs Japan, somebody runs Asia, and we have that, and that’s traditional.

    Engineering, however, is done in this odd consensus way, right, unusual, and it’s never been done with the kind of engineering, international engineering scale that we’re proposing. It’s a problem to be solved.

  9. Tim Buchheim Says:

    Based on my experience with Leopard seeds, I’d say that they’re just running late and blaming the iPhone so they can say something other than “We’re late.”

    Tiger was also running late, but they released what was done as 10.4.0, and it showed. I was shocked when the 10.4.0 GM was announced.. it still had lots of bugs. Look how many big bug fixes showed up in 10.4.1 and 10.4.2 .. if they’d waited for it to be done rather than sticking with their marketing plan, it would have been another two months before Tiger’s release.

    I think they’re smart to wait for it to be more stable .. there’s going to be a lot of comparison with Vista so they need Leopard to be rock solid. Plus, it will probably help both the iPhone and Leopard not to be released at the same time. Spreading out the releases will likely result in more press for both. I think Apple had been trying to get Leopard ready quick because of Vista, but now that Vista has ended up being less popular than expected, some of the pressure is off so they’re willing to delay the release in order to make it better.

  10. Chris Says:

    Well, it’s nice that Google is dispersing geographically.

    On the subject of Leopard, I think this is insightful, at least up until the concluding paragraph, which seems a bit off the rails:


  11. Chris Says:

    I should note I’ve also heard multiple times from Apple managers that they’re not allowed to increase their headcount despite glaring and justifiable needs. It’s getting a bit ridiculous. You don’t want the obesity of Copland, but the extreme inverse is malnutrition…

  12. RB Says:

    Tim Buchheim,

    Well put!

    Steve has made so much fun of M$’s Vista delays that someone had to give him cover so that he would not have to publically admit that he too had missed a shipping date.

  13. Ronald Frarck Says:

    I see another alternative that makes sense. At WWDC 06 Apple announced 10.5 Leopard but didn’t reveal any secret features, saying that they want to keep them under wraps for fear that Redmond would copy them. Outside Time Machine Apple didn’ reveal much else. Why? What if Apple wasn’t sure that they could actually finish the so called secret features prior to a spring release? What if these secret features have become stable enough, but no quite ready for prime time? A four month delay may be what Apple needs to finish it off the so called secret features. Apple’s software engineers have come to the conclusion that they can deliver a product that was intended to be feature complete , but just needs more time. Thats why no secret features were revealed. If I’m right, Apple will reveal these features at WWDC 07 in June.

  14. Chad Says:

    The gist of this article is something that I’m concerned about with ANY company, not just Apple. If a company becomes too large and spreads itself out into too many directions, it will never properly excel in any of those areas.

    Microsoft is a perfect example of such gluttony. Microsoft wasn’t content with taking over operating systems and office software, but they also decided to extend into TV, hardware, server systems, games & console, music players, etc., etc. Due to their vast marketing power, influence, and bank account, they can force themselves into pretty much any market they desire. The XBox has done OK, as long as you don’t mind that it has lost BILLIONS of dollars. How many other companies could sustain such a business by losing billions of dollars? Perhaps it would have been a wonderful thing for Microsoft to have been broken up. It might have caused some people to truly re-evaluate a lot of the MS products and decide if the product was really worth keeping or not.

    Any company, including Apple, should look at themselves and see if what they are doing is the right thing? Should they try things just because they can? Is it best that Apple is developing Final Cut Studio, or would it be better handled by a third party? What if the iPod division created its own company?

    While a larger company will have more resources to put into their projects, stretching into far too many directions is not so different from a smaller company. A company with 5 employees won’t be able to sufficiently sustain 10 projects, nearly as well as they could by maintaining and improving upon just 2 or 3.

    Hopefully, Apple just misjudged how long it would take Leopard to get out the door. Yes, there has been a several month delay, but at least it isn’t suffering the delay problems of Vista, Copland, or even the first version of Mac OS X.

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